Nikon D700 Camera Review

Sometimes you think you have seen technology hit it's peak and then a product comes along that raises the bar to a whole new level. The Nikon D700 is one of those products! I purchased mine from Amazon but I would also recommend Calumet, Simply Electronics, Jessops or Digital Rev.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4
Resolution: 12.1Mp (Full frame FX sensor)
ISO Range: 200-6400 Extended to 25,600
Frames Per Second: 5fps, 8fps with MB-D10
Processor: EXPEED 14 & 16Bit conversion
Focus Points: 9, 21 and 51 point AF Coverage
LCD: 3inch 920,000 Dot VGA Monitor
Live view: Live view included but not video mode
Weight: 1095g

Introduction to the Nikon D700

Seldom is there a time more exciting to a photographer than getting a new camera. At the time I was purchasing the D700, I had exceeded my previous camera's capabilities, the D80. The ISO wasn't great and the professional F2.8 lenses I had weren't best suited on an APS-C sensor. I had decided on the Nikon D3 until I had spotted the release of the D700. A camera that was the exact same as the D3 in image quality, but in a lighter body, worked with Nikon Creative Lighting System and had all the same extreme low light capabilities for almost half the price of a D3!

Now it's not fair to state that the D3 is redundant as the D3 has more powerful batteries, has a shutter durable to 300,000 shots as opposed to 150,000 on the D700. The D3 is more solid and weather proof than the D700, has a 100% viewfinder, has voice recording, dual memory card slots and a 9fps frame rate with a larger buffer.

For the price difference I knew I could do without those D3 features and picked up the D700 and was blown away by the capabilities of this camera.

D700 Handling & Body

Nikon D700 with battery gripBeing almost the same size as the Nikon D300 the D700 is relatively compact, although much bigger than the D80 and it weighs a lot more. It features a magnesium alloy body and make no mistake, this camera is built to survive the rigours of daily professional use and still function. The camera is also weather sealed around all the buttons. I'm not sure to what degree it is weather sealed though and I won't consider pouring coffee, apple sauce, water, yoghurt and oats onto my camera such as on this YouTube video. I have used it in the rain before but no matter how weather proof it is reported to be, I'm always careful to avoid unnecessary weather exposure.

The weight doesn't bother me until I'm using it with the 70-200mm lens, a flash and the battery pack with AA's in it, the total weight is then very heavy but I can still handle it. The D700 with battery pack is actually heavier than the Nikon D3 and larger in physical size.

A big difference between the D700 and D300 is the D700's large prism required for the full frame sensor makes the D700's viewfinder bulge a lot bigger. This does make the viewfinder larger and when you are shooting with the D700 you can see a lot more of the image and it appears nice and bright. Unfortunately it is a 95% coverage viewfinder which means that when you compose your scene, the actual image captured will contain 5% more of the frame than you saw through the camera.

The feel of the D700 in the hand is good, being a larger body than the lower range Nikon cameras, it manages to fit in your grip nicely. I would recommend the battery grip though as this allows for vertical shooting, providing a second shutter release button and gives the grip some added height at the bottom which makes it feel more comfortable. I have large hands so some users may not enjoy the added length as much as I do. The good thing is that the D700 uses the same battery pack (Nikon MB-D10) as the D300 which allows D300 users to upgrade to full frame and use the same battery pack.

D700 Rear ViewUnlike the D80's battery pack (The MB-D80) the D700 battery pack is an all magnesium piece and accepts the standard EN-EL3 batteries or 8 AA batteries. The benefit of using AA batteries in the grip is that it boosts the frame rate from 5fps to 8fps bringing it in line with the D3's 9fps when shooting RAW files. You can also purchase a kit to use the D3's EN-EL4 batteries which last longer and also allow 8fps shooting but to purchase the battery, battery chamber cover and charger will set you back £250. A bit steep considering EN-EL3's can be picked up for £30 each and you already have the charger anyway.

The LCD screen is a 920,000 pixel, 3 inch screen which is a good size and is very clear.

The memory card slot is disappointingly a single slot affair. The D3 allows you to insert two memory cards and use them to either double up on memory, clone your first card or shoot jpegs on one and raw on the other. A feature that would make the D700 even better for wedding photographers with this security feature.

The inclusion of pop up flash is a bonus for the D700. Not that I ever shoot with the pop up flash but having one allows you to use the camera as a master controller to trigger additional off-camera flashes through a wireless connection without the need for an SU-800 or SB900. This process is called the Nikon Creative Lighting System and is another reason why I feel Nikon have the hands over on Canon.

Button Layout

The button layout is typical of Nikon's common layout which I have become accustomed to. I won't delve deep into every button that it has but I'll cover what buttons and functions I really enjoy.

First off is the dedicated 'Info' button which with one push will use the LCD to show all the settings and modes that your camera is working in. This has been very handy for me when working in the dark. It's much easier to read than the top lcd screen. Another tip with the info feature is that you can set the on off button to not only illuminate your small LCD (As with previous Nikons) you can have it automatically bring up the info screen too.

ButtonsThere are 2 definable function buttons located to the left of the lens mount. Some users may know this feature as depth of field preview as this button commonly serves this purpose on other Nikons. You can customise both buttons to do a range of features with one press. My favourites are 'flash off' which when pressed will not emit flash. This is handy when you are working in environments where it may be inappropriate to use flash at times. Virtual horizon is another feature you can use to check the level of the camera. Basically a digital spirit level!

My function buttons are set to bring up the shot bracketing menu (For HDR mostly) and also access the top feature on 'My menu'. I have this set to the flash command menu so with one click I can adjust flash outputs whilst using the Nikon Creative Lighting System as it generally needs a good few tweaks. A great tip for all you D700 users.

The rotational dial on the left does not feature scene modes typical of novice based cameras but contains: Single Shot, Continual Shooting Low, Continual Shooting High, Live View, Self Timer and Mirror Up options. The continual shooting can be customised to whatever speed you want, I have low set to fire off 3 frames per second and high to be 5 frames per second, although it runs at 8 when my battery grip is connected.

Live view is the ability to see what the camera sees on screen before you shoot, just like compact cameras and comes in 2 modes, tripod and normal mode. This is great for when you are in an awkward postion (Up high or right down low) and you can't get your eye to the viewfinder. Live view for me is great when using for example, the 50mm F1.4 lens on a tripod and due to the narrow depth of field, focus is crucial and must be spot on. With live view you can view the scene on screen and then use the zoom button to zoom right into the focus point and ensure that your focus is bang on. Much easier than using the viewfinder.

In Camera Menu

A quick scroll down the D700 menu and you'll be confronted with endless settings. To an amateur this can be very daunting but to a professional, this is exciting! I shouldn't make it sound like one huge scrolling page as the technicians at Nikon have done a good job of condensing lots of functions into an easy to browse manner.

Just like the button layout, the menu is set out in typical Nikon fashion with vertically arranged tabs that condense sections within themselves.

These are: Playback Menu which deals with what happens when you click play and review your photos. The Shooting Menu contains the options which affect the images at the time of shooting such as folder naming and set up, image quality and file format, colour space etc.

The Custom Setting Menu is the mother of all menus which deals with every possible setting of the camera categorised further into alphabetical order.

View on FlickrA: Autofocus
B: Metering/ Exposure
C: Timers/AE-Lock
D: Shooting/Display
E: Bracketing/Flash

F: Controls

When someone is referring to a setting they can quote it such as 'In option C4 you can adjust the length of the self timer.'

The Setup Menu features the options for adjusting the camera's settings such as date and time, Language, TV-Out settings, Battery Info etc. The Retouch Menu allows you to perform basic editing functions to your captured images such as colour balance, cropping, red eye reduction and so on.

One of the best features of the menu is the custom My Menu. You can grab your most used functions throughout the camera and instead of hunting for them time and time again, you can collate them into a list for quick access.

Another huge bonus with the D700's menu is the inclusion of Shooting Banks and Custom Setting Banks. What this means is that let's say that you shoot fast action sports games indoors and outdoors and you also shoot studio portraits every evening. (You are a busy shooter!) Your typical routine would be to set the camera up for studio work, (Low ISO's, highest quality, shooting raw, spot focus etc) then at night you would be adjusting for your sports games. (Variable ISO's, 3D tracking focus, maybe shooting JPEG's for quick sending to your boss etc) This can all be done in a few clicks. By storing all your studio settings under one profile, such as Custom Setting Bank A: Studio and Custom Setting Bank B: Sports removing the need for twiddling around in between jobs. There are options for using C & D if you have even more shooting set ups.

You can store 4 banks or Shooting options too, you may have one set up for the highest quality raw and one for small sized jpeg for web use. Again there are A, B, C & D options as well.

Shooting with the D700

This is where the fun begins. The first thing I'll cover and the main selling point of the camera is the low light capabilities of this camera. I had become increasingly annoyed at the poor ISO quality of the D80 which became very poor above ISO 800. The D700 boasts ISO 6400 and boostable up to 25,600. Further helped by the large FX sensor which means the space on the sensor per pixel is much enlarged compared to a similar 12mp camera with a smaller DX sensor and this allows a larger area to gather more light.

Naturally after hearing the praise of this camera, I wanted to go out and really test this ISO capability and I was blown away. At ISO 6400 you have a useable picture that does show apparent signs of noise (Noise is the term for pixels that appear speckled and grainy, visible in images that are taken at High ISO settings) when you examine the photograph but appears to give an image that is the same as a Nikon D300 at ISO 1600. If you use a good noise reduction plug in on a D700 image at ISO 6400 such as Noise Ninja then you can almost reduce all signs of noise. The D700 is a camera with immense light gathering power that produces fantastic images that I would not hesitate to use in production.

I have shot with this camera in situations which are almost pitch black using a 50mm F/1.4 lens at F/1.4 and been taken aback at how much light the D700 can pull out of the scene. The Nikon D3s would have the upper hand with it's 12,800 ISO and boostable to 102,400 which must be mind blowing, but the D700 holds it's own in low light conditions.

Autofocus is a fast, but does heavily depend on your lenses of choice. Using the pro Nikon lenses such as the 24-70 F/2.8 or the 70-200mm F/2.8 is instantaneous. In good light, the camera will snap focus almost the moment you press the shutter button. The autofocus sensor allows you to use 9, 21 or 51 autofocus points with a 3D tracking feature too. This feature sounds good and IS good. In 3D tracking mode once you lock focus on the subject (A car, bird, horse, runner etc) the D700 registers the object and will adjust the focus points to always lock onto your subject. I suppose just like missile lock on a jet fighter. This is great when panning and during sports shooting where you need to accurately follow the action. You can also fine tune autofocus for lenses which may need slight corrections to nail focus perfectly.

The 12mp sensor may not be as high resolution as some other cameras on the market but I commend this choice of resolution by Nikon. Firstly, hard drives fill up fast with full resolution RAW files and the D700 will produce files on average 16Mb in size at 14-bit uncompressed RAW, which means when we do the maths. If you shoot 200 pictures in a day, average file size at 16Mb, that's just over 3Gb of photographs. On a 24Mp sensor that's 6Gb per shoot. If you keep all your photos on disc, you will need to invest in serious storage if you photograph regularly. 12mp is enough for me and I've shot photographs for full size bill boards, you don't get much bigger than that.

Overall Impression of the Nikon D700

Upgrading to a full frame camera is quite a commitment. You generally would want to have full frame lenses too which come at a significantly higher cost than DX lenses but the pay off is the fact that Nikon's FX lenses offer the most superior optics. The D700 is a superb camera and I hope I have explained well enough the reasons why I chose the D700 over the D3 or D300 and this helps you make your decision.

For the record, I would now choose the D3s over the D700 and for those looking to purchase a D700, now is a great time to buy before the new replacement model comes out, the D800.

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This blog is written by Paul Nimmo, a freelance website designer and photographer based in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.

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