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D700 Digital SLR Camera

The D700 inherits the overwhelming picture quality performance of Nikon's flagship FX-format D3. With its high sensitivity of ISO 6400, high-density 51-point AF, and scene recognition system as well as a host of other D3 features, the D700 offers top class performance at a more affordable price and easier-to-handle size, and thus heralds a new age in the evolution of digital cameras. We met with the people in charge of the D700's development and talked about the concepts and inside stories behind the advent of this remarkable new camera.

Naoyuki Murakami
Executive Staff, Design 2, 1st Designing Department, Development Headquarters, Imaging Company
PROFILE:
Murakami has mainly been in charge of mechanism design for camera bodies for more than 20 years since he entered Nikon in 1987. He was involved with the F-801S, ProneaS, F6 and other silver-halide film SLR cameras, and then he led the development of the D40. The D700 is the second model he has been involved with since moving to digital cameras. In his free time, Murakami likes to go to the soccer stadium a couple of times a month to watch soccer matches.
Kazunari Orii
Deputy Manager, 1st Development Department, 2nd System Division, Nikon Systems, Inc.
PROFILE:
Orii entered Nikon Systems, which heads software development, in 1990. He was originally mainly in charge of proposing user interfaces and specifications for cameras. After finishing with the F90, Orii moved on to the D2X and D200 digital cameras, and since the start of development for the D40 he has worked with Murakami. Orii loves all kinds of sports.

The dream to propagate high image quality that would break down the barriers separating the professionals and amateurs

Please tell us what inspired you to develop the D700.

Murakami, talking about the advent of the D700 and product concept

Murakami:

As Nikon's flagship model, the D3 was well received by critics for its FX-format (full-frame) CMOS sensor, high sensitivity, and other features that gave professional users high-quality images. Some people felt, however, that the size and price kept the D3 out of the reach of general users. We wanted as many people as possible to enjoy the photographic performance of the D3, so we decided to design the D700 as a more compact, more affordable option.

When did you start developing the D700?

Murakami:

We started when the D3 was released. We picked up a D3 and started to study ways to make it easier for ordinary people to handle. We talked about what sort of user interface would be most suitable for ordinary users.

Mr. Orii, what sorts of requests did you, who are in charge of software, receive at first?

Orii:

Marketing people came to us first, asking us if we could make an SLR that studio photographers would find easy to use. They suggested we make a camera that inherited the features of the D3, just as the F100 had become a compact version of the F5 with equivalent performance. They wanted the camera to have the same sensor as the D3 and be highly versatile. They proposed making a camera that studio photographers would enjoy using. These photographers don't need superior continuous shooting performance, but they like light weight and straightforward handling.

So you were also targeting professionals.

Orii:

Yes. We started with Murakami-san's proposal that the sensor be the same as the D3's sensor, and after that we thought about what sorts of functions and performance could be appropriate for the targeted users. We were thinking not only of ordinary users but also commercial photographers who were not engaged in sports or news reporting, and specialist photographers working in such areas as weddings and schools. We wanted to make a camera that all these people would enjoy using.

The fascination of a new camera that inherited the photographic performance of the D3 in a compact body

The CMOS sensor is the same as the one in the D3, but how about the other kinds of sensors?

Orii, describing his focus on packing the D3's high performance in a compact body

Orii:

The AF and AE sensors are also the same as those in the D3. We have not compromised on anything that the professionals who use the D3 like about it.

It seems that quite a lot has been inherited from the D3. How did you go about selecting what D3 features to use?

Murakami:

Our approach was not to compromise on the basic performance of focusing, determining exposure, and shooting a beautiful picture. However, we lowered the continuous shooting performance of 9 frames per second on the D3 to 5 frames per second on the D700. The D3 has a large battery at the bottom of the body to supply the high voltage needed to drive the high-torque motor at the speed required for continuous shooting, and if we had kept this feature, we could not have made the camera any smaller. The smaller body for the D700 was made possible by using the same battery as the D300 and placing it inside the grip.

Did you conclude that 5 frames per second would be sufficient for most professional applications?

Murakami:

Yes. Of course our first topic of discussion was how many frames per second to aim for. My position was that operational feel in continuous shooting was more important than the number of frames. We concluded that a speed of 5 frames per second was indeed necessary in order to release the shutter with a good rhythm. A prerequisite of a good camera is the excellence in operational feel. The decision to have the D700 shoot 5 frames per second determined our choice of motor and drive mechanism specifications.

When I first saw the D700, I was surprised at how much could be packed into a camera of its size, especially as it is closer in size to the D300 than it is to the D3.

Murakami:

I'm glad you felt that way. The D700 has the same width as the D300, because we designed it so that it could use the same battery pack. But one difference is that we included a pentaprism for the FX, which made the area above the optical axis higher. In our original plan the pentaprism unit was actually bigger. After talking back and forth with the design division about what shape would make the camera look smaller and better balanced, we ultimately came up with the current size and shape. We worked hard at making the camera ergonomic and easy to use as well as good-looking.

How tough is the D700? It seems that a lot of metal parts have been used in the body.

Murakami:

With this class of camera, we had to assume that a heavy lens would be attached to it for some types of photography. We needed to ensure that the lens mount would be sufficiently strong, and the body supporting it of course needed to be very durable, too. So we used a lightweight but strong magnesium alloy not only for the front of the body but for the rear as well. For drip-proofing, we used a sealant at the joints of covers and in the gaps between operating parts to keep water from entering the camera. From the aspects of both cost and technology, it was a real challenge for us to protect the entire camera from water.