The Unforgotten

Derrick Story
4 min readAug 18, 2020

A Nikon D700 once occupied the back of my photo cabinet. Born in 2008, it was an object of desire for many photographers. But that’s no longer the case.

The camera was built around a 12-megapixel sensor, the same full-frame chip featured in the flagship D3, but in a more enthusiast-friendly body. The D700 was suitable for capturing the moments of our lives without overstraining a shoulder or the credit card.

Full-frame digital cameras are the sirens of the photography world. Serious amateurs and pros can’t seem to resist their call. The term full frame points directly to their 35 mm film ancestors. It is the approximate size of a piece of film that powered the photography industry for decades.

The allure of this format is understandable. In addition to its technical prowess, you can take a vintage lens from the 1980s, mount it on a digital full-frame camera, and the perspective is the same as it was decades ago, but with the convenience of digital imaging. It just feels right.

Many of the cameras topping today’s headlines are mirrorless versions of this evolving lineage. Now, instead of an optical viewfinder that uses a prism and mirror, we’re composing via an electronic image that’s essentially a small TV housed in a camera body.

As happens so often in technology, we can’t embrace the new without discarding the old. I never understood this, but I’ve witnessed it more than once. Film SLRs such as the Canon AE-1 Program and Nikon FM2 were belles of ball until replaced by Digital SLRs. And now mirrorless designs have made wallflowers of DSLRs.

The D700 and its peers find themselves in a particularly unenviable position, lost between two worlds.

Film cameras are cool again. Young artists want Nikon FMs, FGs, and FAs. Their mechanical design is appealing in this silicon-saturated world. The tactile sensation of turning a shutter speed dial or pulling down the self-timer lever feels good.

But most early 21st century DSLRs lack the physical appeal of their film ancestors. Plus, their internal technology is outdated. The advantage of a film camera is that you can “change its sensor” by loading a roll that suits your needs. Can’t do that with a DSLR. The sensor it’s born with is the one it takes to the grave.

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