Tuesday, August 12, 2008

D700 vs. D300, D200, D40 Viewfinder Comparo

Viewfinder performance is an all too often overlooked specification as megapixel count and the latest whizbang features dazzle the eye and mind of todays' digital shooter. But in the old days, Nikon's 100% viewfinder cameras were state-of-the-art for accurate, pro level performance - and they gained a venerated status as a result. Not entirely so today. Rare is the full size viewfinder, and yet, many are the complaints of a less than ideal experience with today's hardware - in part due to the scaling back of this critical design element.

For those who have owned a 100% viewfinder camera, you know what I'm talking about. For the rest, what you don't know hasn't hurt you. Until now. An interesting comparison of the D700, D300, D200 and D40 viewfinder might influence your next purchase simply based on this spec. We spend so much time looking through these devices, I thought it was one of the more critical areas of concern. What do you think?

D700 Viewfinder
Viewfinder: SLR-type with fixed eye-level pentaprism
Diopter Adjustment: -3 to +1 m-1
Eyepoint: 18 mm (-1.0 m-1)
Focusing Screen: Type B BriteView Clear Matte VI screen with superimposed AF points and framing grid lines
Frame Coverage: Approx. 95% (vertical/horizontal)
Magnification: Approx. 0.72x (50mm f/1.4 lens at infinity; -1.0 m-1)

D300 Viewfinder
Viewfiner: SLR Type, fixed eye-level Pentaprism type; built-in diopter adjustment (-2.0 to +1.0 m-1)
Eyepoint: 19.5mm (-1.0m-1)
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 100% (vertical and horizontal)
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.94x with 50mm lens at infinity; -1.0m-1

The differences are obvious. Now compare this info with the lower end D40 body viewfinder specs.

D40 Viewfinder
Viewfinder: Fixed-eyelevel penta-Dach-mirror type; built-in diopter adjustment (-1.6 to +0.5m -1)
Eyepoint: 18 mm (-1.0 m -1)
Focusing Screen: Type-B BriteView Clear Matte screen Mark V with superimposed focus brackets
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 95%
Viewfinder Magnification: Approx. 0.8x with 50mm lens at infinity; -1.0m-1

Why, even the D200 outperforms the D700 handily - its specs can be considered a minimum performance for a pro level camera:

D200 Viewfinder
Viewfinder Frame Coverage: Approx. 95%
Viewfinder Eyepoint: 19.5
Magnification: 0.94x with 50mm lens at infinity

Very interesting. A new $3000 body has less magnification and the identical eyepoint of a $400 Nikon body. When it comes to a key feature for any camera - looking through it - we need to remain aware of Nikon's efforts to consumerize camera design when price advantages translate into feature compromises. This is a more drastic one considering the D700's price tag, IMHO. Am I to expect the view within the D700 to be similar to that of a D40? (I have a D40 and use it less and less due to its squinty viewfinder experience compared to the D300. It's basically a backup body at this point.)

This was also one of the reasons I opted to buy the D300 - viewfinder performance is a pro level 100% with a .94X magnification - and, believe me, you can see the difference. Bright, open and easy on the eyes, you can practically 'look around' the image and study it during composition. Owning a pro level Nikon has always been a dream for me, and the D300 has made it come true as it continues to be the most unique offering in the Nikon lineup today - for now. 'Priced to sell out' is how B&H is describing the D300 - and Adorama no longer has any new stock for sale. The writing is on the wall. At $1624 on the street, it represents a bargain in what Nikon calls their "compact professional DSLR". No other currently available Nikon DSLR has a 100% viewfinder but the D3. In view of the foregoing comparison, doesn't that scare you just a bit?

If you've read this far, you will appreciate the following information published at Luminous Landscape on the viewfinder - "the single most important user interface on any camera". Their advice clearly steers us toward the better viewfinders of the D200, D300 and D3 specs for pro level cameras. The D700 is underqualified for its price point. Buyer beware...

Understanding Viewfinders

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