Wichita, Kansas (July 1, 2008) -- Considering the first hour of my career in 2008 was spent in Times Square, New York during uncommonly mild temperatures (taking pictures of revelers with Nikon's flagship D3) and cheering "Happy New Year," I guess what was about to follow shouldn't have surprised me, but it did... at least a little.
Shortly after the confetti fell, representatives of Nikon in Tokyo contacted me. They asked me if I might be available for testing the durability and weather-resistance of a brand new camera that wouldn't be released until July 1.
I was delighted, and honored, to accept the challenge. But what if the pre-production camera failed under adverse conditions? Colleagues and I were anticipating a busy severe weather season. Could the camera handle getting wet (a given in my profession)? Could the camera handle getting dirty... REALLY dirty? Could the camera handle being violently bounced around in the backseat of a storm chase vehicle, or worse... dropped while fleeing an approaching tornado?
On April 3, 2008, I got my chance to find out. Two representatives of Nikon's headquarters in Tokyo flew to Wichita, Kansas (their very first trip to Oz, no less) and handed me the camera. That camera is Nikon's newest FX-format digital SLR -- the D700.
Nikon asked me to test the camera and "do my best" to photograph what it is I photograph: atmospheric portraits and weather landscapes. The time I was given: April 3 - May 31, 2008 -- the heart of storm season.
Now, before I give my "official" comments I want to make one thing very clear. I'm an extreme weather photographer, NOT a camera reviewer. I'll leave that up to seasoned folks like Rob Galbraith, Thom Hogan, and Fred Miranda.
Okay, that said, I need to point out something else. 2008 yielded some of the largest, most frequent, and challenging weather events I have ever covered in seventeen years of working as a professional, full-time storm chaser.
Yeah, yeah, so what about the durability and weather-resistant operation of the D700?
After 18 hard-core storm chases transversing nearly 9,000 miles over 59 days and more than 200 severe weather warnings, I am delighted (and relieved) to report that the D700 not only passed with flying colors, but it exceeded my expectations.
One event in particular impressed me. On May 8, 2008, Jim Reed Photography intern Robin Lorenson (fresh out of Brooks Institute) and I documented a rare, and spectacular landspout tornado in western Kansas.
As the twister weakened, I was able to dash up to the disintegrating debris cloud and take some of the closest photos ever captured of a tornado of that type. Video of me running up to the vortex was shown on Good Morning America, Inside Edition, ABC World News Tonight, and on many other TV shows (see image below).
The camera held in my right hand is the D700. Our storm chase vehicle, the camera, and yours truly were covered in dirt and dust by day's end -- but safe and uninjured. It literally took two days to clean everything. Although VERY dirty, the D700 performed flawlessly and never stopped working!
As weeks passed, and the record-setting severe weather season continued, the D700 was subjected to heavy rainfall and, believe me, the camera got SOAKED. It was constantly around lightning and, at one point, was hit by a falling hailstone. Still, not so much as a hiccup. It performed reliably on every level.
While hurrying toward the end of a mission, the D700 was even dropped onto a concrete driveway. The circular polarizer was destroyed, but the camera was fine, and continued to perform as if nothing ever happened.
So, with respect to durability and weather-resistance, I give the D700 an "EXCELLENT" rating.
The D700 has many other qualities that I like (among them: it's ability to shoot in low-light conditions, fast continuous shooting, large image sensor, very fast start up, a self-cleaning sensor, and an Electronic Virtual Horizon line to help with balancing the image). When this year's wild weather finally settles down, I'll try to update this report.
In addition to thanking Nikon for the opportunity to test-drive the D700, I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to my 2008 storm chase team: Robin Lorenson, Katherine Bay, and Mike Phelps.
To see some of the images I captured with the D700, please visit the "New Nikon D700" gallery under "Images." Nikon also has it's own special page dedicated to the D700, which includes photos and video. You can view the site, by clicking here.
In the meantime, don't forget to buy that NOAA weather radio!
See more of Jim's work at www.stormchaserbook.com