Nikon D700 12.1 MP Digital SLR Camera - Black (Body Only) Reviews
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Nikon D700 12.1 MP Digital SLR Camera - Black (Body Only)

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A D3 in D300 clothing. a great camera but not a great value

Sep 21, 2008 (Updated Jan 3, 2009)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review
  • User Rating: Excellent

  • Ease of Use:
  • Durability:
  • Battery Life:
  • Photo Quality:
  • Shutter Lag

Pros:Great image quality. High speed, low noise. No focal-length factors. Weatherproof. Smaller than D3.

Cons:Price. You could buy 2 D300s for one D700. DX lenses crop to 5.1 megapixel

The Bottom Line: D3 owners: this is your second body.  Film holdouts: this camera is an excellent upgrade.  DX sensor camera owners: A high price to pay for great image quality.


I bought the D700 as my primary camera and relegated my D300 to backup status. All I really wanted was a second body but in hindsight I think the D700 is overpriced for the image quality improvements and the few additional features it offers.

First a little background. I have been shooting with a Nikon system for the past 30 years, starting with a Nikon FTN. I still own my first Nikkor lens, a 55mm f/3.5 Micro, and because Nikon hasn't changed the F-mount in nearly 50 years, I even occasionally use it with my digital cameras. I switched to digital with the introduction of the D100 and began to make a substantial investment in DX format lenses. After a wholesale trade-in of most all my film camera equipment, I was left with 4 lenses that would work with a full-frame sensor, only 1 of which is a zoom lens and happens to be AF-S, SWM and VR.

Why is this important? The D700 uses the same FX full-frame sensor as their flagship camera, the D3. This is the D700's claim to fame. It's great for those of us who miss the use of wide-angle prime and fisheye lenses, such as my 20mm or the 14mm. Since there is no focal-length (lens angle) multiplier, a 20mm is a 20mm on the D700. On my D300 or any Nikon SLR that uses a DX sensor, my 20mm is effectively a 30mm because of the narrower angle of view. However, this means that my investment in DX lenses may be obsolete.

When Nikon entered the digital market, they swore that they were committed to the DX format and claimed that an FX full-frame sensor was not in their future plans. Maybe not at that particular time, but competition and technology obviously changed their tune. Does this mean Nikon is moving back to full-frame? Possibly with their high-end SLRs, but they have said that they will continue to support and develop products with the DX format in mind. We'll see.

Who Should Buy a D700?

Should you invest in a D700? There are a couple of scenarios that I believe makes the D700 a great choice. First, if you use a pro or semi-pro Nikon film camera, such as the F5 or F100, but haven't yet made the switch to a digital SLR and you have a sizable investment in Nikon lenses, the D700 is an ideal camera. You'll be able to use all your existing lenses without having to make any mental computations for focal length multipliers. Best of all, your wide-angle lenses will not need to be replaced. The D700's layout will be familiar to those who owned an F5 or F100. Digital technology is advanced enough that you won't be disappointed by the results.

The other scenario is the professional who already owns a D3 and needs a backup body but doesn't want to shell out for a second D3. For a little more than half the price of the D3 you can get a D700 and the MB-D10 battery grip. What do you lose with this option? You get a smaller battery, 95% versus 100% coverage in the viewfinder, no rear LCD information panel, half the shutter cycle life, only one CF slot versus two in the D3, and a lower frames/second burst rate. And if you use CF microdrives, they no longer are supported in the D700. But what do you gain? Greater versatility. A substantially smaller body without the MB-D10 attached. Great if you don't want to lug around the D3. With the MB-D10 you have the option to use your D3 batteries. You get a built-in flash for when you don't want to carry a larger unit. You get image sensor cleaning and a few other improved features over the D3.

A Camera for the Rest of Us?

But what about the rest of us who bought a D100, D200, D300 or even a D80 or one of the other Dxx cameras? What do you gain with the D700? The larger FX sensor produces lower noise and better color than the smaller DX sensor simply because the pixel density is less than half--3.4 megapixels per square centimeter on the D300 versus 1.6 megapixel per square centimeter on the D700. That means the individual sensor pixels are larger and can capture more information with less noise--higher signal to noise ratio. The downside to this great resolution and detail is that you'll more easily notice deficiencies in your less expensive zoom lenses. Chromatic aberration, that blue or red color fringing around subjects, will become more apparent. Even the Nikon 70-200mm VR lens, which is a great lens with a DX sensor will begin to show some deficiencies with the FX sensor on the D700.

You will be amazed by the viewfinder image. Compared to a D100 or D70, it is large, bright and pleasure to use. You'll also get a great VGA LCD screen with 920K pixels so you'll be able to see if the shot was in focus or if your model was smiling. But one of the best improvements to both the D700 and D300 is the 51-point dynamic focus tracking and face detection. I have missed more great shots with my older cameras because the focus wasn't spot on. The D700 offers several different ways to focus depending on the subject and its movements. Focusing also uses color information from the 1005-pixel auto exposure sensor to focus track by color.

Is the D700 worth paying twice what the D300 costs? I don't think so. First of all, your DX lenses will work with the D700 but you'll only get 5.1 megapixels instead of 12.1 megapixels. That's worse resolution than most of Nikon's point and shoot cameras. One of the first D700s I saw in use was by a guy in Victoria, BC. He had a 50mm f/1.8 on the camera and I wondered why he didn't have a zoom lens on it. Only after I bought the D700 did I finally understand his predicament. The 50mm was probably the only lens he owned that would not vignette on the larger sensor. In addition, FX lenses which I love on a DX sensor, such as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, suddenly become very mediocre on this camera because of excessive distortion and vignetting. (In fact, this is such an issue that Nikon even included vignetting control on a later firmware release for the D3.) If you have quite a few DX lenses--and you probably have kit lenses or super wide-angle zooms to get wide shots with your DX sensor--you'll probably want to get a new wide to mid-range zoom that works with the FX sensor. A decent one will cost you $700 to $1,500 so now the camera really costs $3,700 to $4,500. At this point, you might be tempted to buy a Canon 5D Mark II and a new Canon lens, except you would miss out on some Nikon features such as great noise reduction and some of the best glass in the industry. Consider the D300 instead. It has most of the same features as the D700, just a smaller sensor.

What other features impressed me?

With a few minor exceptions, the D700's features and controls are almost identical to the D300. The image sensor is the same FX CMOS sensor as the D3 along with Nikon's EXPEED image processing. The body is primarily magnesium alloy with a rubber coating in areas that you hold. It fits nicely in your hand and accomodates both large and small hands. The body feels substantial, solid and is weatherproofed and nicely sealed against the elements. Not waterproof but at least you won't worry that a little moisture will ruin the camera. The buttons are large and easy use, even with gloves on. Live View gives you the same image preview on that large 3 inch LCD screen that inexpensive point and shoots have. But you can also zoom in to check focus and overlay this cool Virtual Horizon to know when the camera is level. It's not the most intuitive interface for Live View but it does work.

The D700 has ISO speeds from 200 to 6400 (100 to 25600 with optional LO or HI settings) that give a wide sensitivity range. Depending on the subject, however, the actual usable range is 100 to 3200 before noise reduction starts to degrade the image. You'll start to notice a lot of artifacting and poor gradation from very dark areas to black. ISO 3200 to 6400 are useful if you really need to get the shot and are less worried about image quality. At this speed you'll notice that many details are lost or muddled. The picture takes on a grainy film-like appearance. Anything higher than 6400, but especially ISO 25600, is more marketing gimmick than useful. There are so many red artifacts that the picture looks diseased. In fairness, the D700's larger sensor makes a huge difference in noise and color rendition when compared to the DX sensor in the D300.

Like the D3, the D700 has virtually no shutter lag and millisecond startup times. You can get 5 fps continuous shooting up to 100 frames using JPEG. Using RAW, the buffer size drops to 6 frames and if you use the 14-bit A/D conversion, the shooting speed drops to 2.5 fps. Adding the MB-D10 with Ni-MH AA or the EN-EL6 with boost the speed to 8 fps. But unlike the D3, switching to DX crop mode on the D700 doesn't increase the shooting speed. Of course, frame rate is dependent on your CF card write speed as well.

Like the D3 and D300, the D700 allows you to store up to 4 different shooting settings and 4 different custom settings. This allows me to quickly switch from my default settings for quick snapshots to a setting for a composed tripod shot or a nighttime shot. I can even give the setting a name such as TRIPOD or NIGHT so I can easily recall the setting. The custom settings offer this same capability but seems less useful since I don't change these very often once the camera is setup to my preferences. One nice feature is the ability to save your settings to the memory card and transfer them to another camera.

The D700 uses a similar eyepiece shutter as the D3. On the D300, I need to remove the rubber eyepiece and slip a cover over the opening. On the D700, I just flip a switch next to the eyepiece and the shutter blocks out extraneous light during long exposures.

The D700, like its bigger and smaller siblings, has Active D-Lighting which fixes exposure problems in overly dark or light areas while maintaining properly exposed areas. Helpful when shooting high contrast subjects, but it could inadvertently change the intent or mood of your images. Since I can apply this fix separately and generate a new copy of the image, I generally leave this feature off during exposure and apply the fix selectively in post-processing.

What failed to impress?

Actually, very little except the price. I think the FX sensor is a superior product over the DX sensor, but because of its size and production costs, I think I should have waited until the price dropped when production increases.

Live View is somewhat disappointing because of the focus issues. To focus in handheld mode, you press the AF-ON button and the mirror drops, focuses and then returns to the up position to display the new image in focus. The instructions say to focus through the viewfinder first, but doesn't that just go against the whole idea of viewing on the LCD screen? Focusing in tripod mode is less precise because it uses contrast detection of the on-screen image for focusing but doesn't need to drop the mirror for this.

The newer Nikon cameras support GPS, heck, the new P6100 point and shoot has the GPS built-in. Why not on the D700? It certainly wouldn't have been difficult to add this nice feature. I think Nikon missed an opportunity here but I guess they didn't want to add too much to overshadow the D3.

In the D300, the 51 focus points occupies nearly the entire viewfinder image. On the D700, since the viewfinder image is larger, the focus points occupy only the center portion of the screen and limits your focusing ability to only the central subject.

Like the D300, adding the MB-D10 grip to the bottom of the camera covers up the battery compartment on the camera. To change the camera battery, you need to remove the grip. Inconvenient at best when the batttery dies during active shooting. On the D80, the MB-D80 grip goes inside the camera's battery compartment and then accepts two batteries inside the grip. A much better design.

Since the D700 viewfinder and pentaprism is larger, the top LCD screen was made smaller. Unfortunately, this meant that it could display less information also. It's missing the focusing point information and much of the compensation info as well. On the plus side, it makes the top LCD much cleaner in appearance.

I'm not sure if this is a plus or a minus, but the CF compartment door doesn't have a release lever. You simply slide it back and the door pops open, much like their other cameras that use SD cards. It hasn't popped open accidentally yet, but it is unusual.

Recommendations

If you have a D3, this camera is a shoe-in for a secondary body. If you're moving from film to digital, this camera is an excellent choice. But for those of us who have older DX format cameras, this camera is not a great value since most of your lenses won't fully utilize the FX sensor. However, if you really want great image quality and a useful high ISO, it might be worth paying twice the price of a D300 for this camera. If you opt to buy the D700 here a some essentials you'll need:

The MB-D10 - it will allow you to get the highest frame rate, longer battery life, plus makes portrait orientation much more comfortable.

Extra EN-EL3e batteries.

A new wide-normal zoom lens - I would go with the 24-70mm f/2.8 or save a few bucks and get the 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR.

High speed 8Gb CF cards - Any card with at least a 133x or higher transfer speed. I use one that is 266x. 8Gb will give you 1.4K JPEG Fine images or just over 300 14-bit RAW images. Get a couple cards at least.


Recommend this product? Yes


Amount Paid (US$): 2999.00
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Solid Enough for a Professional

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