Pros: Build, IQ, speed, ISO range, low cost for this level, viewfinder, everything
Cons: AF system will befuddle some users. CF door feels a bit weak.
THE D700-WHAT IS IT?
This is the newest FX full 35mm sized sensor based camera from Nikon. Like the Canon 5D, it's a full frame camera in a standard SLR sized body. It will shoot 5 FPS at 14 bit. Add the optional portrait grip and you'll now blaze along at 8 FPS. Except for a few well heeled amateurs, the D700 will find it's way mainly into pro kits. It costs 3000.00 US. Add another 250.00 for the grip. You'll need a high-end battery or 8 AA batteries to get the 8 FPS, but the AA's work very well. The FX camera will not work at the full 12 MP on DX lenses. Instead it will go into 5 MP crop mode and act like any DX DSLR. If you want the crop mode AND 12 MP, keep your D300!
Since the D700 has so much in common with my D300 and the D3 (which I don't own but have used) I will try to report on how the D700 performs and how it's different from the D300 (which I do own) and D3. This is NOT a from the ground up review covering every aspect of the camera. Anyone who posts that here will be doing it in a very vague way. There are better review sites for that. The point of this review is to compare the new D700 to it's natural competition. Few people will buy a D700 as a first DSLR. It's a professional unit and so I'll stick to what's relative to that. Hopefully the folks who rate the reviews will understand that, and rate this appropriately so that it can help the audience that will seek out this review. This is no D80 or Canon Rebel. It's also no Canon 40D or Nikon D200. Some reviewers will probably rate this down, but try to understand that this is an advanced tool. In a review of a dental drill it's natural to expect DENTISTS to be reading it. This review is for advanced shooters or those already making money with their gear.
Ergonomics & Viewfinder:
The D700 is probably going to be viewed as a superior design to the D300 or D3. It inherits the better thumb selector/rocker with center-button from the D3. It's viewfinder is better than the D300, but falls a bit short of the D3, especially in DX mode. Still, the smaller form factor of the D700 makes it able to shoot in situations where the D3 sticks out like a sore thumb. The physical bulk of the D3 made a second smaller body (such as a D80 or D300) mandatory for many shooters. The D700 solves this to a great degree. This is D3 image quality in a reasonably sized package. The downside is that when the grip is attached, for portrait work and/or faster FPS, you end up with a unit larger and heavier than even the D3. Still, I measure a camera by quality AND versatility and this is why the D700 is a clear winner. Go big and fast...or take that grip off and have a smaller package and still have very good speed. You can't lose.
I have a D300 sitting here and I've come accustomed to it's excellent AF module. The D700 is faster. It's main advantage is in acquisition where the D300 had a moment's hesitation. The D700 has improved on that and also added better AF speed in low light. I've done test after test and in poor light the D700 was almost perfect, while on some rare occasions the D300 would hunt. I did these tests with the 70-200 AF-S 2.8 and the 85mm 1.4. I have not yet tried the tracking modes much. Is it as fast as the D3? I don't have one here to compare, but I have used one. The D700 feels easily as fast, at least on AF-S glass.
Other features missing from the D3:
1) This camera has a sensor cleaner, which offers a limited way to remove particles from the sensor. It won't always be able to remove everything, but it's better to have it than not.
2) Pop-up flash is GREAT. First of all it can trigger wireless SB600, 800 and 900 flashes on it's own. Second, you might find yourself with just the camera and you can certainly use the built in flash in a pinch. Again this comes down to versatility and the D700 is a winner. Some feel that a pop-up flash is a consumer feature. This WAS the case, but wireless flash triggering has changed that.
3) Weaker AA filter? I don't know if this is real, but it's not going to be a strength for everyone. The D3 is plenty sharp and resistant to moire. Perhaps the D700 is less so for the sake of greater sharpness.
Stuff I wish the D700 had:
Honestly there's just one thing I wish had been carried over and that's the 5:4 crop mode.
Let me say that the D700 is simply stunning. Forget about ISO 1600 or 3200. They are just fine, even when you blow the exposure a bit. Beyond that you need to take some care in exposure, but ISO 6400 can be pulled off with relative ease. In fact ISO 12800 is quite usable as well! Very impressive. Canon and Fuji fans are not going to have anything left to brag about as the D700 rules the roost in virtually every category. Color and dynamic range are excellent. Is it the best of any camera? I don't have a high end Canon or Fuji for obsessive comparison. But any camera is the SUM of it's features combined with the skill of the photographer. Remove the photographer, isolate the camera and the D700 is a clear winner.
Is the D700 sharper than the D3 or Canon 5D?
Well, some folks have said they are EXACTLY the same and for all PRACTICAL purposes I believe that is the case. Some, who own both, feel the AA filter on the D700 is a bit weaker, making the D700 Nikon's sharpest DSLR. I truly wish I can wrap this up with the following: The D3, D700 and Canon 5D and pretty much every other FX/DX DSLR are so close in sharpness that it has virtually no impact on actual shooting. If you can take a good picture, ANY of these models will work perfectly regarding sharpness. Nikon's default sharpening is lower and always has been. Increase it if you wish. Some reports proved the old D2X extracted more detail than the 5D, but this had ZERO bearing on any real-world shooting. Then many claim the stronger AA filter on Nikon gear is a factor. Well, consider how huge fashion photography is. Nikon may have made a decision on the stronger AA filter to deal with moire on fabrics better. They probably tested the D3 and D700 on moire patterns, pixel peeping themselves into oblivion while trying to meet high standards for moire control.
Is the D700 sharpest? Maybe. But anyone with a brain won't really care. Every FX model made today is VERY sharp. You won't get better photos from a D700 or 5D or whatever. You'll just be pixel peeping. ISO range and color/exposure accuracy is what counts and that's where the NIkon D3/D700 pulls ahead of the pack.
The Crop Mode:
DX is here to stay and you have on the D3 and D700 as well. Select it or the camera can auto-adjust to DX lenses. In spite of the lower resolution of DX crop, the D700's DR and lower noise will STILL make better images than my D300. But that won't hold true under moderate to heavy crops. So I'd call DX mode on the D700 a winner, but initial proper composition is key for success. So, to sum up, the D700 MIGHT replace a DX camera if you're not into making heavy crops often. I do! So my D300 will remain in my kit with the D700.
Compared to the 5D....
It's not really appropriate to take such an old camera to task. The D700 has years of design work ahead of the 5D. The 5D sensor is FANTASTIC and every bit as good as the D700 sensor for all practical purposes below ISO 1600. Yes, the D700 is also better at ISO 800, but it's not a knockout difference most of the time. At higher ISO's the D700 is clearly superior however and has the huge advantage that has reviewers and shooters buzzing. The 5D is also inferior in almost every other respect from build quality, to ergonomics and speed. Canon fans will point to the "soon" to be announced 5D MKII as the true rival. I'm sure Canon is designing a camera that will measure up to the D700 and I look forward to seeing it. But for TODAY, the D700 is the king. Only the Canon flagship with it's amazing MP count is a true rival and many would still prefer the D700 for it's noise handling, flash system and convertible size factor.
This is the best DSLR on the market, unless you need the high MP count of the Canon 1DS MKIII. The intended market for this camera is mostly professional. Wedding shooters, fashion photographers and most others in the field will find this to be an ideal tool. For news/photojournalists this could be close to nirvana!
The D300 is easily the best DX DSLR and now the D700 takes that title for FX. I prefer the D700 over the D3, mainly because the D3's size will (and does) get in the way for too many shooting situations. The D700 with the grip is full size like the D3 when you need it to be, the best of both worlds. In fact the fully rigged and heavier D700 balances BETTER than the D3 with some heavy glass. Try it and see. So we have a blazingly fast FX DSLR with the best speed & ISO range on the market at any price. Just like the D300 and D3, the new D700 is so good that smart pros will simply keep it for years. It's that good.
Lenses used for my testing thus far....
Nikon 24-70 AF-S 2.8
Nikon 70-200 AF-S 2.8 VR
Nikon 85mm AF-D 2.8
Nikon AF-S 18-200 VR
Nikon 50mm 1.4 AF-D
Nikon AF-D 24mm 2.8
I hope some folks will find this review helpful!
The Good Captain and RB