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D700 Digital SLR Camera

Change in information display grew out of the limitations of a compact body

In the area of software, do you have any stories of difficulties as you tried to pack a lot of different features into a small body?

Orii:

The D3 has a display panel below the LCD monitor and on the top of the camera, and they both display information. We were also able to place many operation buttons on the spacious rear of the D3. On the D700, however, there is no display panel under the LCD, and the display panel on the top is smaller than it is on the D300 because of the large pentaprism. If the characters had been made smaller in proportion to the smaller display, they would have been harder to see, so we moved some of this information to the information display on the LCD monitor, and designed the display so that such information can be viewed by pressing the Info button. To compensate for the reduced number of operation buttons, we increased the number of functions that can be set via the Function button. Live View has also been assigned to the Function button for easier use.

The user interface also seems to be the result of much hard work on your part.

Orii, explaining how the Info button
and customized functions work

Orii:

Before the D700, Mr. Murakami and I first worked together on the D40. The D40 does not have an LCD on the top and there were only four buttons, so through trial and error we developed the system of switching information displays. We used that capability on the D700 as well. When the Info button is pressed again from the Shooting Information Display, it calls up the Shooting Menu Bank or the Custom Setting Bank, whichever is currently used. Some people think that using these banks would not be very useful, but we actually put a lot of thought into this. In the Custom Setting Bank, for example, it is possible to store custom settings in four different banks with the default names of A, B, C, and D. It is possible to assign different applications for the Function, Preview, and AE Lock buttons in each of these banks. Bank A can be used as it is as a Bracket button, Preview button, and AE Lock button, and if Bank B is set to FV Lock, the Live View button, and the AF-ON button, a single toggle on the Custom Setting Bank from A to B or other custom banks is equivalent to switching three buttons on the D700, letting the user switch immediately to a different style of photography.

That's quite an innovative, convenient function, isn't it?

Orii:

We would very much like users to enjoy photography through the clever use of customizations. It is also possible to assign the “Jump to the top item of the My Menu” function to the Function button, Preview button, or AE Lock button, and when often-used menus are deep in the hierarchy, they can be called up very quickly when this function is used to register it. When the Flash Commander mode or other repeatedly set modes are registered, it considerably reduces the effort required for shooting. This is another feature we would very much like users to try. The D700 also received praise for its adoption of Virtual Horizon displays that can be viewed on the Live View screen.

Murakami:

For users who are particular about such areas as sensitivity, picture control, color space, or noise reduction, we have made it possible for them to directly call up from the information display functions that we thought these people would want to use.

Pleasing sound and feel for the user

In the development of the D700, we have heard that you have also paid considerable attention to the camera's sound and feel, areas not reflected in the catalog specifications. Could you give us some details about that?

Murakami and Orii, the perfect combo
working together for a second time,
generating a constant flow of amazing
ideas

Murakami:

Since the camera is a tool for taking photos, we believe that sound and feel are very important. As I mentioned before, we paid attention to such areas as the ability to shoot with good rhythm, and to absorb the vibration and sound as quickly as possible after the shot is taken, giving the camera a crisp performance. With the D700, since the time when mirror bound ends has been designed to satisfy not the 5 frames per second specifications but 8 frames per second with the battery pack attached, I believe users will experience crisp performance even with single-frame photography.

How did you manage to minimize sound and vibration?

Murakami:

Just like the D3 and D300, we have adopted a mirror balancer in the D700. An inertial part known as a balancer stops the mirror to instantly absorb shock when it comes back down after the shutter is released, and the size and weight of this inertial part must be selected according to the size of the mirror. Of course, the size of the inertial part is determined through calculations and simulations at first, but the final fine-adjustment in increments of 0.1 mm must be performed by a human technician while checking the precision of mirror storage on a high-speed video.

Orii:

When the mirror drops, the image in the viewfinder shakes, as you know. So we tried to thoroughly minimize the shake and mitigate the stress. We did the same with how the mirror pops up. If it doesn't go up fast enough after the shutter is released, the camera can't prepare for the next shot. Normally, it's mechanically easier to have a motor raise and lower the mirror, but it takes time for the motor to start up. To let the camera move as quickly as possible into taking the next shot, in Nikon's high-end models, we use a spring instead of a motor to raise the mirror.

Do all cameras do that?

Murakami:

We use a spring in cameras of the D3 and D300 class. At Nikon, we pay a lot of attention to issues concerning sound and vibration. Since we have many years of experience with mechanism design, when we listen to the prototype of a new camera, we generally know what spring is being used by the sound it makes and whether there is still too much vibration.

Don't you know this during the design stage?

Murakami:

At the initial concept stage, we generally imagine what sort of sound it will make. In the old days, we wouldn't know until we had made a prototype of the camera, but nowadays we can use 3D simulations on a computer where estimations are gradually becoming more accurate. At the final stage, however, we still need to check the minute details by actually using the camera, because it is still possible for unexpected sounds to occur. So we use a prototype now for making final adjustments.

Then do you still make changes at the final stage?

Engineers working tirelessly and
uncompromisingly to the very end,
totally devoted to making a camera
that photographers will find a joy
to use

Murakami:

Yes. When we adopted ways to minimize the sound of the main mirror, it caused another problem—a sound previously hidden in the large sound could be heard. This was the sound caused by the sub-mirror when it folded. This happened just before the camera was to be shipped and we told the factory that we really wanted them to eliminate the sound. They got upset with us.

Orii:

From the simulations up to the final checking stage with the prototypes, we tackle all the issues that concern us one by one. The fact that we work so hard to eliminate issues right up to the release date ultimately gives us the confidence we have in our camera when it goes to market.

I see. So how was the reaction from the market when the D700 was finally released?

Orii:

A photographer I know told me that this was the sort of camera he was hoping for. It was worth the hard work we put into it, because we built the camera while imagining how professionals would use it in various situations.

What sort of camera would you like to make next?

Orii:

We are interested in the recent video technology. If the video functions of cameras have become more accepted when Mr. Murakami and I team up next time, I would like to think up some assist functions for video. Since SLR cameras can take pictures with a shallower depth of field than compact cameras, if well executed, it should be possible for SLRs to take beautiful videos of professional quality. As an engineer, I'm extremely interested in that sort of thing.

Murakami:

There are still lots of issues spinning around in my head. I'm in particular constantly thinking of ways that users can take beautiful pictures smoothly with minimal effort. I would like to focus more on aspects of the SLR that do not appear in specifications, such as operational feel and ease of use as a tool.

Thank you very much for your insights.