Nikon D700 Review

The Nikon D700 digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera is a cross between the full-frame sensor (FX – 24×36mm) D3 and the small-frame sensor (DX – 16×24mm) D300. The D700 is the economy model of the D3, using the same sensor and digital electronic processing pipeline as its bigger brother, minus a few high-end features such as a built-in vertical grip and dual compact flash memory cards. The Nikon D700 is a professional camera with 12 MP.

On August 23, 2007, Nikon invited the press from around the world to Tokyo and announced two new digital SLR cameras, namely the nikon_d3, and nikon_d300. As the first Nikon DSLR with a sensor that is essentially the same size as the traditional 35mm film frame, the D3 was a landmark camera. At the same time, the D300 demonstrated that Nikon would continue to support the DX format. Despite the huge price difference, the D3 and D300 share a lot of components such as the Multi-CAM 3500 AF modules that features 51 AF points.

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Almost a year later, on July 1, 2008, Nikon introduced its second FX-format DSLR in the D700. Contrary to a lot of speculations, the second FX body is not a 20+MP camera. The D700 is essentially a cross between the D3 and D300. Therefore, it can be viewed as the economy model of the D3 or the FX version of the D300. Internally the D700 shares a lot of the same electronics as the D3. However, the external controls are very much D300-like. The three of them share the same auto-focus module the Multi-CAM 3500.

The Nikon D700 can be purchased from one of our trusted merchants in the following combinations:

  • nikon_D700
  • nikon_D700-kit1

If you are new to digital photography, start with the photo.net guide Building a DSLR System.

Auto Focus|auto-focus
Viewfinder|viewfinder
LCD Monitor|lcd-monitor
High ISO Performance in Low Light|high-iso
12-bit vs. 14-bit Capture and RAW Compression|12bit-vs-14bit
Flash|flash
Memory Cards|memory-cards
Batteries|batteries
Controls and Custom Settings|controls
Shutter Sound|shutter-sound
Choosing a Lens|choosing-lenses
Compatibility with DX Lenses|dx-lens-compatibility
Compatibility with Older Lenses|compatibility-older-lenses
Nikon D700, D3, or D300?|comparison-d700-d3-d300
Compared to the Canon 5D, 5D Mark II and Sony A900|comparison-canon-sony
Key D700 Features|key-features
Conclusion|conclusion
Where to Buy|buy
More|more
Example D700 Photographs|d700-example-photographs

Even though the D700 may be the economy model, its feature set is still extremely strong with only a few luxury items absent from those on the D3. The following list is a summary of the D3 features not available on the D700:

  • Dual Compact Flash memory card slots
  • Highest build quality from Nikon with a shutter rated at 300K actuations; the D700 is rated at 150K actuations.
  • 100% viewfinder, 95% for the D700 with a 90% frame area
  • A dedicated lock button to lock the shutter speed and aperture
  • A dedicated Bracket (BKT) button for exposure bracketing
  • Voice recording
  • Integrated vertical grip with dedicated controls for the vertical orientation, although the D700 has the MB-D10 vertical grip option
  • Separate back LCD for ISO, image quality, and white balancing controls
  • 5:4 crop mode and under the crop mode, the area outside of the crop is grayed out. The D700 only provides a frame outline for the cropped area.
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Similar to the D3, the D700 is fully capable for action photography. Start up time is 120 msec and shutter lag is a short 40 msec, both just like the D3. Otherwise, the D700 is every bit as suitable for demanding action and low-light photography as the D3. The D700 can capture at 5 fps native with one EN-EL3e battery inside the camera. But just like the D300, if one attaches the optional MB-D10 vertical grip/battery pack (with either an EN-EL4/EN-EL4a battery or 8 AA batteries inside), the D700 can capture at 8 fps at the full 14-bit mode, very close to the 9 fps from the D3. The good news is that unlike the D300, the D700 can capture at the full 14-bit mode without any loss of frame rate exactly like the D3, while the D300 drops to only 2.5 fps in the 14-bit mode.

On the other hand, the D700 has some advantages of its own:

  • It is smaller and lighter than the D3
  • It has a pop-up flash. While it is under-powered and cannot rotate to bounce as a primary flash, its main advantage is that it can serve as the master for the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) to control remote iTTL flashes
  • The D700 has the on-demand gridline option in its viewfinder that helps the photographer keep the horizon straight. However, the viewfinder is a bit dimmer and when there is no battery to power it, the viewfinder becomes very dark and blurry. That is not a fault but merely a feature that is shared among all Nikon SLRs with the on-demand gridline feature dated back to the film SLR the F80/N80.
  • On-camera AF assist light

Auto Focus

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The D700 uses the same Multi-CAM 3500 FX AF module as the D3, and the D300 uses a very similar Multi-CAM 3500 DX. It has a total of 51 AF points and among them 15 are cross type that are sensitive to both horizontal and vertical patterns. If you hold the camera horizontally, the 15 cross-type AF points are the ones in the center three columns, 5 to each column. Under dim light, typically the cross-type AF points perform much better. This is an AF module optimized for action photography but is less suitable for still subjects, especially in the FX format.

On the D700, the Multi-CAM 3500 can track moving subjects at 8 fps with the optional MB-D10 battery pack. My testing of the D3, D700 and D300 cameras indicates that the new AF module can track moving wildlife, birds in flight and various sports with ease. For action photography, I would rate it a step better than the auto-focus on the D2X that uses the previous generation of Nikon’s best AF module, the Multi-CAM 2000. With the D2X, roughly 80 to 90% of my surfing images are in focus. With the Multi-CAM 3500, it is quite close to 100%.

For photographing still subjects, one can select any one of the 51 AF points from the Multi-Selector pad on the back of the camera and use that to directly cover the subject in the viewfinder. Using the pad to move the selection one AF point at a time is slow. Therefore, there is an option to make only 11 AF points (out of the 51) selectable (Custom Setting a8). Additionally, if one presses on the center button of the Multi-Selection pad, it resets to the center AF point.

While the 51 AF points from the Multi-CAM 3500 cover a good portion on the D300’s DX frame, on the D700’s FX frame, which has over twice the area, the 51 AF points only cover the center 25% of the frame. Therefore, some old-fashioned AF, lock focus, and recompose may once again be necessary. In particular, if the camera is held in the portrait (vertical) orientation, there is no cross-type AF point in the top 40% of the frame, where the subject typically is. It can be a problem under indoor dim light. That is a disadvantage the D700 shares with the D3.

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For photographing moving subjects, the D700 has the Dynamic AF Area option to choose a cluster of 9, 21 or all 51 AF points to track the subject (Custom Setting a3), with the center of the cluster at any one of the 51 AF points. A cluster of 9 simply represents a center AF point with a circle of 8 surrounding it to form a square. A cluster of 21 has a second layer surrounding the 9 inside.

The general rule of thumb is that the fewer AF points that are involved in deciding the focus, the less calculation the little computer inside the camera needs to make such that the faster AF will be. However, using only 9 AF points, it is rather easy for the D700 to lock onto the background when the subject briefly moves off the covered area, causing the common “back focus” problem. My experience is that using 21 AF points seems to be a better compromise. If one selects all 51 AF points, there is a further option to engage 3D tracking, where the Multi-CAM 3500 takes additional information from the 1005-pixel metering CCD inside the viewfinder into consideration. Since the metering CCD is sensitive to color, 3D tracking is designed to keep track of a subject’s movement provided that it has a different color and/or a lot of contrast from the background. My experience with this option is mixed. For smaller subjects that are covered by one or two AF points, the Multi-CAM 3500 can track the subject for a short while, but after a few AF point hops, it tends to lose track of it and latches onto something else instead. For larger subjects that can occupy 10 or 20 AF points, tracking works a lot better.

Unlike the D2X and D200 that have a Closest Subject Priority AF mode, the Multi-CAM 3500 replaces it with Auto-Area AF where it intends to automatically detect the subject. If the lens used is a D lens (including all AF-S and G lenses) that can relay focusing distance information to the camera body, the D700 has the ability to detect human faces automatically. For the new 3D tracking and face detection features, I would say there is still plenty of room for future improvement.

Viewfinder

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The D700 has a large and bright viewfinder that shows 95% of the image with a 90% frame area. For those who were familiar with the viewfinders from the 35mm-film SLR era and have been complaining about the smaller DX-format viewfinder, the good news is that the D700’s viewfinder is back to the old size. Personally, I am already quite happy with the viewfinders on the D2X, D200 and D300. While the D700’s viewfinder may be even better, it makes little difference to me.

Across the bottom of the viewfinder area is a list of essential information including focus confirmation, metering mode, exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, sensitivity ISO setting and frame counter. The scale for over and underexposure is from -2 to +2 stops, same as most Nikon SLRs but down from the -3 to +3 on the D3. Fortunately, the scale on the top LCD remains from -3 to +3. Given the improved dynamic range on the D3 and D700, a wider scale seems helpful.

Unlike the D300, the D700 uses a D2/D3-style round viewfinder eyepiece that is removable. It also has a built-in viewfinder curtain that can block any stray light from entering into the viewfinder when there is no photographer behind the camera, thus affecting the accuracy of the meter. The viewfinder curtain also serves as a lock for the eyepiece; it has to be closed before the eyepiece can be removed. Over the years, I have lost a few eyepieces as they come loose; Nikon has finally solved that problem. The D700’s eyepiece is interchangeable with those for the D2 and D3 family cameras.

LCD Monitor

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The center of the back side of the Nikon D700 is a 3-inch, 922,000-pixel (640×480, multiplied by three colors) LCD screen. The large LCD is very convenient for reviewing images and magnified details. The display can be scrolled to review exposure information (time stamp, shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity, white balance, etc.), histograms, and blinking highlights.

The exposure and auto focus information on the top monochrome LCD can be duplicated onto the back LCD by pressing the dedicated “info” button. Since the back LCD has much higher resolution, it can provide additional details such as which AF point is currently active, which group of AF points is used in Dynamic AF, and the current frame rate. The D700’s LCD shows additional information on Shooting Menu and Custom Setting options selected.
Similar to most new DSLRs introduced in the last year or so, the D700 has the live view option. Instead of using the traditional optical viewfinder, the photographer can compose with a live image on the back LCD. This option is very convenient for photographing from either a high angle such as raising the camera above everybody’s head among a crowd, a low angle for macro work, as well as precise focus tuning. And if the 95% viewfinder on the D700 is a concern, live view does show 100% of the frame.

The D700 also has the Virtual Horizon feature, which debuted with the D3 a year ago. It functions the same way as a bubble level for photography or construction work. The D700 will display a circle on the back LCD, and a horizontal line indicates by how much the camera is tilted. The line’s color turns green when the camera is level. However, the Virtual Horizon is close but not quite 100% accurate. I find that most of my landscape images still require a tiny bit of rotational adjustment in Photoshop to keep the horizon absolutely level.
The D700 uses a BM-9 LCD cover, which has a notch to accommodate the round multi-selection pad on the back of the camera. Otherwise, the BM-9 is almost identical to the BM-8 for the D300. In fact, the BM-9 can be used on the D300, but the BM-8 does not quite fit the D700 because it lacks the notch.

High-ISO Performance in Low Light

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For years, high-ISO performance was an area Nikon DSLRs were lagging behind the competition, but the D3 completely turned that around in 2007. The D700 is simply every bit as good as the D3 in this aspect due to the identical sensor and image-processing electronics between the two. ISO 1600 and 3200 are very usable under indoor, dim light conditions and even ISO 6400 is acceptable. For more information in this area, please reference Photo.net’s Nikon D3 Review and the corresponding high-ISO wedding image samples.

Such excellent high-ISO performance greatly changes my way of photographing under indoor, dim-light conditions. First of all I use a lot less flash. It now becomes possible to boost the ISO to 1600 and hand hold under existing artificial light indoors or at night. I can even stop down the lens a bit to, e.g. f/5.6 to gain some optical quality and depth of field.

12-bit vs. 14-bit Capture and RAW Compression

14-bit capture was another new option debut with the D3 and D300. I have studied a number of otherwise identical images at both 12 and 14 bits under indoor and outdoor conditions. Other than the fact that the 14-bit image files are larger, the difference is subtle. I have a difficult time telling them apart. Under high-ISO, low light conditions, 14 bits might provide a little more details in the shadows.

On the D300, the problem is that in the 14-bit mode, it becomes a 2.5 fps camera. There is no speed penalty for the D700, which remains at 5 fps, and 8 fps with the MB-D10 in either 12 or 14 bits. The image files will be somewhat larger. Keep in mind that JPEG files are always 8 bits.

The RAW compression option has been available on Nikon DSLRs for several generations. Previously, it has always been lossy compression. Nikon has some algorithm to compress the highlight data such that the difference is not easily detectable by human vision. I have also compared a number of compressed vs. uncompressed RAW files, and I cannot observe any difference. On the D3, D700 and D300, there is now a lossless compression option, which lets you save some memory space without any loss of details.

Since memory card and disk drive prices have decreased significantly in the last few years, for D700 users, you might as well retain as much information from the camera as possible. I would stay with 14-bit captures and lossless RAW compression (or uncompressed RAW), but practically, in most situations, there is little observable difference from 12-bit captures with lossy compression.

Flash

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The D700 has a built-in pop-up flash which only has limited power and cannot rotate for bounce flash. However, its main advantage is that it can serve as the commander in a Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) master to control external flashes.

Among Nikon external flashes, the best ones are the nikon_SB-900, and nikon_SB-800, followed by the nikon_SB-600. All of them have swivel heads that can be tilted upward for bounce flash in both the horizontal (landscape) and vertical (portrait) orientations. Both the SB-900 and SB-800 have more power and can also serve as the master in a Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) set up. They can accept an external high-voltage power pack for faster recycle time, which is critical for event photography such as weddings. The SB-900 has some additional features such as a very large zoom head that can concentrate the flash beam for a 200mm lens and a thermostat to prevent overheating.

Additionally, there is a small flash, the nikon_SB-400, that has limited power and capabilities as well as a nikon_SB-R200_remote, as part of the nikon_R1C1, for macro and product flash photography. The SB-R200 can also be used as a remote slave flash in a CLS set up but not the SB-400.

Alternatively, one can mount the optional nikon_SU-800, onto the D700 as a CLS controller but not as a flash. The SU-800 is available separately or as part of the Nikon R1C1 Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System.

Memory Cards

The D700 can accept one Type I Compact Flash (CF) card that is UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) compatible so that it can take full advantage of the high write speeds in some of the latest CF cards, such as Sandisk Extreme IV and Lexar 300x UDMA. However, it does not accept any Type II CF cards such that microdrives are incompatible.

Batteries

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Similar to the D300, the D700 uses one EN-EL3e battery inside the camera. The EN-EL3e is a 7.4v, 1500mAh Lithium-ion battery and an improved version from the earlier EN-EL3 and EN-EL3a. While the new EN-EL3e can be used on the older DSLRs such as the D70/D70s, the old non-e model batteries cannot be used on the D700. With a fully charged EN-EL3e, Nikon rates the life of the battery at 1000 image captures, which is a lot less than that for the D300. This number will vary, depending on your use of flash and/or image previewing on the LCD.

Similar to the D300, the D700 accepts an optional MB-D10 battery pack, which doubles as a vertical grip. With the battery pack on, the internal EN-EL3e battery may remain inside the D700 but is no longer mandatory. The MB-D10 battery pack can be powered by one of three ways:

  • Another EN-EL3e battery (once again, the earlier EN-EL3 and EN-EL3a are not compatible). The D700 remains at 5 fps with this power source.
  • Eight AA batteries with the MS-D10 battery module, included with the MB-D10. The frame rate increases to 8 fps.
  • One EN-EL4 or EN-EL4a battery originally designed for the D2 and D3 series DSLRs; it requires an optional BL-3 battery chamber cover. The frame rate also increases to 8 fps.
    When the MB-D10 is attached, the D700 user may select to use the power in the MB-D10 first or the internal EN-EL3e battery first (custom setting d11, Battery Order). However, batteries are only required either inside the camera or inside the MB-D10. In other words, one can attach an MB-D10 with no battery; in that case the MB-D10 strictly serves as a vertical grip with its own set of shutter release, command dials, and multi-selection pad.

Battery life on the D700 with only the EN-EL3e does not seem to be as good as that on the D300. While I have not used its battery to exhaustion, after about 250 NEF captures, the battery indicator loses 2 out of the 5 bars. I like to review my images on the back LCD, and I am sure that practice contributes to battery usage. But given the small size and low price for the EN-EL3e’s, carrying 1 to 2 spares around should not be a problem.

Controls and Custom Settings

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The higher-end Nikon DSLRs use a Custom Setting Menu to customize the camera for each photographer’s individual needs. The settings are grouped into four banks, A, B, C, and D. Each bank contains a complete set of customization for a type of photography or for one of several photographers who share that camera. For example, you may have Bank A for portraits, B for sports, C for landscape and D for indoor flash work.

Each bank contains six groups of settings from a to f:

  • a) Auto Focus
  • b) Metering/Exposure
  • c) Timers/AE Lock
  • d) Shooting/Display
  • e) Bracketing/Flash
  • f) Controls

Understandably, it will take some time to master all the custom settings, and most likely one will not need to use every option available. I would emphasize that if you use auto focus, you should at least be familiar with some of the group “a” options:

  • a1: Continuous Servo (AF-C) AF Priority: Either Release, Release + Focus, or Focus. If you select Focus Priority, the D700 will only take pictures when the in-focus indicator (a circle in the lower left corner of the viewfinder) is on. If it is not in focus, pressing on the shutter release button will not fire the shutter. Release Priority is the default for AF-C and will give you the same behavior as in Nikon film SLRs.
  • a2: Single Servo (AF-S) AF Priority: Either Release or Focus, but Focus Priority is the default in this case. Again, if you select Focus Priority and the in-focus indicator is not on, pressing on the shutter reason will do nothing.
  • a5: AF Activation, either pressing the shutter release button lightly or the AF-ON button will initiate auto focus or only pressing the AF-ON button will initiate auto focus.

Note: if you choose Focus Priority for a2 and AF-ON only for a5, pressing on the shutter release will not engage AF and as long as it is not in focus, the D700’s shutter won’t fire. You may incorrectly think that your D700 is “not working.”

Another custom setting that deserves some attention is “f8,” which lets you lock the main command dial and/or the sub-command dial, depending on the exposure mode. This is an option that is not present on the D3, which has a dedicated LOCK button on top of the camera, or the D300. The catch is that in case you engage the lock unintentionally, you may thik your command dial is “broken.”

For whatever reason Nikon removed the dedicated Auto Bracketing (BKT) button from the D300, and that same design continues on the D700. Instead, the BKT button is now programmable. Unfortunately, when my D300 was new, I had accidentally engaged bracketing and I was wondering why my images from that day all had inconsistent exposures. I would watch out for this problem on the D700.

Shutter Sound

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The D700’s shutter is rated for 150K actuations while the D3’s is better built for 300K actuations. However, the D700’s shutter is a lot quieter. When I was testing the D3 earlier this year, I photographed a wedding from way back on the balcony of a large church with my 200-400mm/f4 zoom lens. Unfortunately, the shutter was so loud that another photographer downstairs in the front of the church could hear every click. In fact, I was quite surprised when he commented that the timing of my captures was good. Fortunately, the D700 has a much quieter shutter. That may be an advantage for weddings and certain wildlife photography when it is important not to disturb the subjects.

For some reason, Nikon supplies a low-quality shoulder strap with the D700. It is not as well made as those for the D2X, D3 or even the D300.

Choosing a Lens

Practically every Nikon F mount lens introduced since the beginning of the AI era (Auto Indexing, debut in 1977) can be mounted onto the D700. There are a few rare exceptions such as two F3AF lenses specifically made for the AF version of the F3 in the early 1980’s. Nikon DX lenses with a small image circle for DX DSLR can be used either with vignetting on the D700 or you can engage the DX crop mode so that the D700 only captures a 24×16mm DX image at 5MP.

Interestingly, Nikon is packaging the D700 with the nikon_24-120, lens as a kit. The 24-120 is essentially a mediocre and slow 5x super zoom that is fine for casual photography. I would assume that most of those who buy the D700 are more serious photographers, and they would be better off with a constant f2.8 zoom for indoor, low-light conditions.

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  • nikon_24-120, is the only optional kit lens available for the D700. Originally designed for film SLRs back in 2003, this is a consumer-grade super zoom that emphasis convenience for casual photography. It is fairly slow at f5.6 on its long end. Construction is typical for a consumer lens as the zoom ring does not rotate very smoothly.
  • 50mm/f1.4 AF-S, is Nikon’s first standard lens that has a built-in silent wave AF motor. Announced just before Photokina in September, 2008, this lens should be available in late 2008. We have not had an opportunity to test it yet.
  • nikon_14-24, is a super-wide zoom that has a rather limited 1.7x zoom range. This lens has a huge bulging front element with a non-removable built-in lens hood around it for protection. As a result, it is impossible to put any filter in front, and there is no gel filter slot in the back as some Nikon fisheye lenses do. Distortion and flare are both extremely well controlled for such a super wide. For those who prefer the extreme wide effect, this is a wonderful lens to use. For landscape photography, I find 14mm to be too wide; often it is not easy to find such a large foreground and the subject tends to become very small to have a good composition, and the 24mm long end is also too restrictive. The inability to use any filter can be a major problem for landscape work. However, the 14-24mm is wonderful for building interior images, especially in tight corners. The convex front is a bit of vulnerability for this lens.
  • nikon_17-35, has a more traditional 2x zoom range from super wide to moderate wide. It was originally sold with the D1 in 1999 to compensate for the smaller DX sensor, which was still a new concept at that time. It continues to perform very well on the D700. The 17-35 accepts 77mm front filters. For those who don’t need to photograph at the very extreme wide angles, this is a more conventional and versatile choice than the very extreme 14-24/2.8. In particular, this is an excellent choice for landscape photographers who use polarizers or rectangular graduated neutral-density filters. Though they overlap in the super wide ranges, the 14-24/2.8 provides superior corner-to-corner sharpness over the 17-35/2.8.
  • The nikon_24-70, a moderate wide to short telephoto. This is a very convenient zoom lens for everyday use as well as for event photography such as news, weddings, and parties. The 24-70 is an upgrade from the older film lens nikon_28-70, and has the advantage of an extra 4mm on the wide end, which is significant. The 24-70 is also slimmer but a bit longer than the 28-70, making the 24-70 easier to hand hold. The 24-70 is a G lens with no aperture ring. I have observed a moderate amount of barrel distortion and extremely serious vignetting at 24mm, f2.8. It would have been a problem on film. In this digital age, those optical flaws can be corrected to a large degree with post-processing software such as Nikon Capture NX2 and Photoshop. The vignetting is very obvious at 24mm, f/2.8 if the subject is a uniform blue sky or white wall. However, in real-life situations, one rarely uses f/2.8 outdoors in sun light, and this type of vignetting is not easily observable in typical indoor images. The vignetting lessens at f/4 and disappears by f/5.6. I have tested four different samples of this lens, and the vignetting is very consistent on all of them.
  • nikon_70-200, covers a slightly wider range than the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D ED AF Zoom Nikkor, $975 (review), which has been a favorite since the late 1980’s. Nikon introduced no fewer than four different versions between 1988 and 1998. In 2002, Nikon introduced the current version, extending the short end to 70mm and added vibration reduction (VR) to AF-S. VR makes it easier to hand hold in low light conditions. This is an excellent lens for news, sports, events/wedding and fashion photography. Wide open at f/2.8, it also has a bit of vignetting; if it is stopped down to f/4, sharpness improves significantly. On the full FX frame near 200mm, image quality deteriorates drastically in small areas in the extreme corners. This can be a problem for those who require corner-to-corner sharpness but in general not a major concern.
  • nikon_24/3.5-pce, in 2008, Nikon added three PC-E lenses into its lineup. PC-E stands for perspective control with electronic coupling. These are tilt-shift lenses that can correct the converging verticals and alter the plane of focus to keep near/far subjects in focus. In particular, the 24mm wide-angle version is wonderful for landscape and architecture photography. The other two 45mm and 85mm are macro lenses designed for small-product photography. All PC-E lenses are manual focus only. The 24mm/f3.5 PC-E comes with a very shallow lens hood. Watch out for flare if the sun is in front or to the side of the lens.

Compatibility with DX Lenses

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You can also mount Nikon DX lenses, designed for 16×24mm small-sensor DSLRs, onto the D700. Similar to the D3, the D700 has the DX-crop mode to capture a DX-size image, regardless of whether the lens mounted is DX or not. It also has the auto DX crop feature so that the D700 automatically switches to the DX-crop mode when a DX lens is mounted. (There are some compatibility issues with non-Nikon, third-party lenses that the auto-DX-crop feature does not properly engage. As a result, it engages the DX crop when some non-DX lenses are mounted and does not engage when DX lenses are mounted.)
Some DX zoom lenses can actually provide a large enough image circle to cover the entire FX frame on the long end of their zoom ranges. For example, the Nikon nikon_12-24, can cover the entire FX frame from about 18mm and longer. For the nikon_17-55, it is about from 28mm to 55mm. I have tested those lenses on FX bodies. The problem is that even though the image circles are large enough to cover the entire FX frame, once it is outside of the DX area, which those lenses are designed for, the optical quality deteriorates drastically towards the edge of the frame. For example, the 12-24mm/f4 DX at 18 or 20mm provides very poor edge performance on the full FX frame. It becomes good only at its longest 24mm setting.

Compatibility with Older lenses

Nikon has never changed the basic F mount since the original Nikon F from 1959. The D700 is fully compatible with almost all F mount lenses, both manual focus and auto focus, since Nikon introduced auto indexing (AI) in 1977, with a few rare exceptions (such as the two AF lenses specially designed for the F3 AF version). Pre-AI lenses from 1959 to 1977 must be AI converted before they can be mounted onto most modern DSLRs. Some of the early fisheye and super-wide lenses that protrude into the mirror box and require a mechanical mirror lock up also cannot be used.

Similar to the D1, D2, D3, D200 and D300 family DSLRs, the D700 has the traditional mechanical aperture setting linkage so that it can meter with manual-focus lenses that have no built-in CPU, for both center weighted and spot metering. Additionally, the D700 has a mini lens database inside. If the information for manual-focus lenses is pre-programmed into the database so that the D700 body knows what the maximum aperture is, matrix metering is also available.

Nikon D700, D3, or D300?

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The D700 is literally a cross between the D3 and D300. While the D700 is a bit larger, the external controls are almost identical to those on the D300, and the two share the same optional vertical grip with battery pack: the MB-D10. The main difference is that the D700 uses a D2/D3 style round eye piece with an eye-piece shutter. Both the D700 and D300 have a pop-up flash that can serve as a master controller in a Nikon Creative Lighting System, an AF-assist light and on-demand gridlines in the viewfinder.

Internally, the D700 is almost identical to the D3 with exactly the same sensor, image-processing electronics, and auto-focus system. The D3 can capture 9 frames/second (fps) while the D700 can capture 5 fps native or 8 fps with the MB-D10 grip and appropriate batteries. Therefore, the two are almost identical as far as their image capture capabilities are concerned. The main differences that separate them are the 100% viewfinder in the D3, dual compact-flash card system so that you can record each image into both cards simultaneously, an integrated vertical grip that uses the powerful EN-EL4e battery,

  1. For wedding and indoor event photographers, the D700 and D3’s low-light, high-ISO capability is a clear advantage. Both have very good AF performance under dim light; a slight down side is that all 51 AF points are concentrated in the center of the frame. A lot of wedding photographers prefer the dual CF card system on the D3 for the extra security in the rare occasion when memory cards fail. It is a big advantage to simply put two 16G CF cards into a D3 and with no need to change cards for the entire event. However, without the optional grip, the D700 is lighter and easier to carry around all day.
  2. For sports photographers, especially those who shoot from a monopod, the D3 with the integrated vertical grip seems to be more convenient. For those who shoot actions with a high frame rate, the optional memory upgrade (essentially doubling the memory size and therefore doubling the memory buffer depth) available only for the D3 can be important.
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The difference between the D300 and D700 is essentially the format, DX vs. FX. If you need high ISO performance, the larger photosites in the D700 (and D3) has a clear advantage from ISO 1600 and up. Additionally, if you use a lot of wide angles and perspective control lenses such as the 24mm/f3.5 PC-E, the FX format gives you more lens choices such as the excellent wide zooms in the 14-24mm/f2.8 AF-S and 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S. The 24mm PC-E is not all that wide on DX and there is no wider option for tilt/shift lenses.

On the other hand, if you use a lot of super telephotos, DX will give you more reach with the same lenses. For example, the nikon_200-400, is far more effective on DX. Additionally, Nikon provides a number of compact and convenient zooms for travel and casual photography such as the very popular 18-200mm AF-S VR. Any equivalent lens for the FX format will be much larger.

Compared to the Canon 5D, 5D Mark II and Sony A900

Until the D700 was announced, Canon’s 12MP EOS 5D was the only “prosumer” level FX-format DSLR (in Nikon terminology) below $3000 in the three years prior. Shortly after the D700’s introduction, Sony added the 24MP sony_a900, while Canon updated the canon_eos5d to a canon_eos5d_mark2, which features a 21MP sensor. All three cameras are full-frame format and are priced in the same range. The major difference is that the A900 and 5DII have roughly twice the number of pixels, which can be an advantage for certain types of photography such as landscape and studio portraits. However, having more pixels in the same area means each photosite is smaller. The exact trade offs will have to be demonstrated by head-to-head comparisons. (The 5DII is not yet available on the market at the time this review was written.) Additionally, the A900 has 9 AF points and a maximum rate of 5 fps and the 5DII has 9 AF points and maximum 4 fps, compared to 51 AF points and 8 fps on the D700 with the MB-D10 grip. The A900 has in-body image stabilization that is unique to Sony among full-frame sensor DSLRs. Both Canon and Nikon use in-lens stabilization.

Key D700 Features

  • 12.1MP 4256×2832 pixels
  • 23.9×36mm CMOS sensor, Nikon FX format with optional DX (24×16mm) crop.
  • 12-bit or 14-bit capture options
  • New Multi-CAM 3500 FX AF module with 51 AF points, 15 of them cross type
  • 5 fps capture native or 8 fps with the optional MB-D10 battery pack/vertical grip and appropriate batteries
  • Sensor sensitivity from ISO 200 to 6400, with an extended range from Low 1 (roughly ISO 100) to High 2 (roughly ISO 25600)
  • Built-in pop-up flash that can be a Nikon CLS master
  • One Type I Compact Flash memory card, not compatible with Type II and microdrives
  • USB 2.0 interface, HDMI high-definition video output (PAL/NTSC)
  • Active D-Lighting and in-Camera Retouch Options
  • AF fine tune
  • Live view option
  • Virtual horizon (built in electronic “bubble level”)
  • Auto sensor cleaning

Conclusion

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After the introduction of the D3, most of the speculations were that Nikon’s second FX-format DSLR would be a high-pixel-count camera in the 20+MP range to compete against canon_eos1ds_mark3. Another school of thought was that Nikon would introduce a prosumer camera with a much reduced set of features. The D700 turns out to be neither one of those. It is merely a slightly reduced D3 while retaining most of the important features. Therefore, the D700’s strengths are essentially the same as the D3’s, minus a few somewhat important but not absolutely critical features such as a 100% viewfinder and dual compact flash card slots, but it is roughly 1/3 cheaper and a lot smaller.

In other words, the D700 is another 12MP DSLR that has state-of-the-art high ISO results that is extremely suitable for indoor wedding and event photography under dim light, although those wedding photographers who prefer the absolute safety to guard against memory card failures may prefer the dual CF slots in the D3. Just like the D3 and D300, it also has Nikon’s current best AF module in the Multi-CAM 3500, making it very suitable for action photography. However, for those who photograph action with a high frame rate, you need to add the MB-D10 battery pack to achieve 8 fps, and with the MB-D10 attached, the D700 becomes a really bulky and heavy camera, somewhat taller than the D3 around the top of the viewfinder.

In my opinion, the main advantage of the D700 is its smaller size without the MB-D10 grip, making it easier to carry around for an extended period and on hikes. It turns out to be an excellent all-purpose DSLR, but I am particularly spoiled by the fact that under low-light conditions either indoors or at night, I can just boost the ISO to 3200 or even 6400 and still can capture some good images while hand holding the camera. Its 12MP sensor should be sufficient for very large prints, but with recent introduction of canon_eos5d_mark2, and sony_a900, that are both in the sub-$3000 price range just like the D700, some photographers may wish for more pixels from Nikon, potentially at the expense of low-light performance.

Where to Buy

You can buy the nikon_D700, or the nikon_D700-kit1 from one of our trusted merchants at a reasonable price.

More

Example D700 Photographs

8032356 nikon_24/3.5-pce. The 24mm PC-E has quickly become one of my favorite lenses. In this case at the Acadia Nation Park just after sunrise, I tilted the lens a little to alter the plane of focus to get both the foreground and the town of Bar Harbor in the background in focus. I used f/11 to get a deep overall depth of field and 1/80 second on a tripod.
8211411 nikon_24/3.5-pce, f/8, 1/30s. The town of Guanajuato, Mexico is well known for its colorful houses. I shifted the 24mm PC-E a bit to keep the window frame straight. I used f/8 to get some depth of field and 1/30 second on a tripod.
7919556 nikon_14-24, set at 14mm, f/11. This glass sculpture by the famous sculptor Dale Chihuly is in the atrium of the Camino Medical Group building in Mountain View, California. To avoid getting the railing in the frame, I used the 14-24mm super-wide Nikon lens at 14mm to capture both parts of the sculpture. Aperture was set to f/11 to gain depth of field.
8211334 nikon_70-200. The excellent high ISO capability in the D700 comes in handy at night. During this Day of the Dead celebration in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the entire area was very crowded so it was not practical to use a tripod. For this image, I used the 70-200mm AF-S VR wide open at f/2.8, boosted the D700 all the way to ISO 6400 and managed to get a reasonably fast 1/200s shutter speed to freeze the action at this road-side performance.
8211375 nikon_28-70, set at 28mm to capture both the decoration in the foreground and the church in the background. I boosted the D700 to ISO 3200 and managed to use f/3.2 and 1/60s to get a good hand held image.
8211452 nikon_28-70, set at 70mm, f/8. Guanajuato, Mexico, is also well known for its tunnels. In this particular one the left side is for pedestrians while the right half is for automobiles. I set the camera on a tripod and timed the arrival of a car so that it would travel the entire distance inside the frame during a 3-second time exposure. I set the D700 to the base ISO 200 and my 28-70mm to 70mm, f/8.
7924133 nikon_200-400. The D700 is also an excellent sports DSLR. Here I used the 200-400mm/f4 AF-S to capture the action of 2005 Maverick surfing winner Anthony Tashnick in action in Santa Cruz, California.

Text ©2008 Shun Cheung. Photos ©2008 Shun Cheung and Hannah Thiem.

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    • I really appreciated the great job you did with the D700 review. It is compact yet offers so many details, I feel like I am reading more than just a manual. The sample photos at the end could really help in deciding between the lenses along with the descriptive details earlier. The only thing I would have liked to see, literally, is that the sample photos had the option after their first link and being shown, another link to show FULL size and full frame. This really would have been a great influence on how not only the lenses perform but how the D700 captures the detail. Thank you.
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    • Well written, detailed analysis. I'm sold.
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    • We cannot post full size images because that would have been very demanding on photo.net's bandwidth. Additionaly, we also have copyright concerns. That is why all sample images are small JPEGs so that they are not very useful commercially.

      But here is a 600x600 pixel crop of the middle right side from following image:

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    • Fabulous review Shun. One thing that caught my eye - does the D700 in fact have a 5x4 crop? I own one and never noticed this. Is the line vs grayed out on the D3 actually referring to signifying in the viewfinder that the camera is in DX mode? I'm not 100% on this and I'm away from my camera and OM right now. Michael
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    • While the D3 has a 5:4 crop mode, the D700 does not. The D700 can only capture either the entire FX frame or a DX crop frame. Keep in mind that the D700's viewfinder only shows about 90% of the frame in terms of area, and at least on mine, it is also not quite centered. The attached image shows the area viewable in the viewfinder (red frame). By my rough calculation, it only shows 89.2% of the image area. Therefore, any 5:4 framing is not going to be very accurate in the viewfinder. Since the 5:4 mode is primarily for people making the common 8x10 prints without any cropping, any inaccurate 5:4 framing could be a major issue.
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    • Thanks for this well-written review, Shun. The accompanying test images are great as well.
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    • Shun, thankyou for this excellent review which I found great to read and very practical. As you know I am strongly considering the D700 as my next body and your work has gone a long way towards convincing me that, when the time is right, my $3000 will be well spent. Thanks also to you and to Hannah for the various images accompanying this review which are both lovely, and useful to highlight the points that you make about this camera. Warm regards, Bernard
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    • Thank you for the excellent review. One of the best i´ve seen in the internet! Rgds Antonio
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    • Shun, thank you for the great review. I was wondering is the reason for using 21 focus pts on the D700 because the 51pts cover less of the total senor area as oppossed to using only 9 pts on the D300 which covers more of the sensor? Also would you mind terribly posting the setting you use for the four custom menus, Portrait, Sports, Landscape and Flash. Again thank you. By the way I own both the D300 and the D700 so I wondering how the set ups differ.
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    • This was one of the reviews that ultimately got me to take the plunge. I upgraded from my D80 and haven't looked back since. Sure, I miss the smaller size of the D80 (after a day with the D700 around my neck, I definitely notice the extra mass) but I love that the D700 lets me shoot with existing light without having to sacrifice image quality.

      I did a quick side-to-side with my D80 and was amazed that the details and noise at ISO12800 are comparable to ISO1600 on my D80.

      ISO 12800, f/8 @ 1/60s, 100% crop:

      To interested parties, more samples at: www.fotop.net/teruphoto/D700

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    • I had a friend tonight ask me "how many megapixels"? And "I bought a 12 mp Kodak for $99. What's the difference? I took a shot at ISO 6400 and said "that". The D700 just might be the first digital machine that I will keep for many years. It amazes me to no end. I cannot even begin to imagine what improvements could be made, although some could. Jack
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    • Hi, very nice review, i think the best i have read so far and also very objective. I am into bird photography and am planning to buy this camera. but your comments which i have pasted below for your reference have confused me a little: "On the other hand, if you use a lot of super telephotos, DX will give you more reach with the same lenses. For example, the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED AF-S VR, $5900, is far more effective on DX. Additionally, Nikon provides a number of compact and convenient zooms for travel and casual photography such as the very popular 18-200mm AF-S VR. Any equivalent lens for the FX format will be much larger." i want to go for telephoto lenses such as 400mm etc. are you saying that they will not work good with D700 since it is FX. thanks.
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    • maybe there is more to it than just this, but DX is a crop, so a given lens will be more telephoto in DX than in full frame. I think the factor is about 60% so a lens that is 300mm in full frame would be 480mm in DX mode, so your birds will be a 60% bigger image in each dimension in DX mode.
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    • I just purchased a D700. I have Nikon SB-24 and SB-24 and SB-800 flash strobes. The SB-24 and SB-26 are not compatible with the D700 in the TTL mode, No communications between them whatsoever and the shutter won't even fire in TTL. Aperature Mode is okay.The SB-800 is compatable in all modes with the D700. All three flash strobes are compatible with the Fuji S2 Pro. WHY IS THIS? -and it is very unlike Nikon to do this.
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    • I just purchased a D700. I have just discovered that my Nikon SB-24 and SB-26 strobes are not compatible with the D700 in the TTL mode (Aperature mode is okay). That is very unlike Nikon to do this. My Nikon SB-800 is compatible with the D700. All three Strobes are compatible with the Nikon F4 and the Fuji Pro S2.-24. Why is this?
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    • What is the difference when using DX lens and FX lens in D700 FX mode? In other words what is gained with a FX lens?
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    • Thanks for this review. I’ve owned a series of Nikon cameras over the years and I recently moved up to the D700. It is an excellent camera. However, I do have one concern. I had also considered moving to a Canon 5D Mark II, but decided not to because of my investment in Nikon lenses, Speedlights, etc. However, I decided after purchasing the D700 to get new lenses to match its performance, and I now notice that there is a significant difference between high-end Canon lens pricing and Nikon lens pricing. For comparison, here are “similar” camera / lens packages from Nikon and Canon: Canon 5D Mark II = $2699, 16 – 35/2.8 L = $1350, 24 – 70 / 2.8 L = $1110, 70-200 / 2.8 L IS = $1499, Total Canon = $6658 Nikon D700 = $2700, 14 – 24 / 2.8 = $1750, 24 – 70 / 2.8 = $1710, 70 – 200 /2.8 VR = $1900, Total Nikon = $8060 The $1400 difference in lens pricing makes no sense to me. These prices are from Adorama today (5/5/09) and include current promotion reductions from Canon. Canon seems to run these types of promotions frequently, Nikon never / rarely does. Even without the promotion, Nikon prices are significantly higher. I’m also considering a big telephoto (400mm / 600mm) down the road and the price difference nearly pays for a Canon 5D Mark II body. If you are deciding between the two cameras, you may want to consider this. I’m sure the D700 will serve my needs – I just wish that Nikon would get more competitive with their high-end glass.
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    • Nice review. FYI, Peter Burian has recently published both a Nikon D700 Review and a comparison review of full frame digital slrs including the D700, the 5D Mk II, and the Sony A900. Best, Erick
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    • Hi, a month ago i upgraded from D80 to D700, since then i'm very interested with any reviews from the net with regards to D700, after i read all this reviews i'm very happy and contented and i can use my non-DX lenses to thier full potential... thanks guys.
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    • Does anyone know when the next version is arriving?  The new D3s is able to capture images at 100,000 ISO, I am interested in purchasing the next Nikon.  I may be pulling away from Canon, and going back to Nikon for the first time since the Digital age took over.

      Cheers,

      Carlos

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    • no idea but i am happy with the D700. I started with Nikons 20 years ago and am satisfied

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    • four or five years ago, convinced I had everything I wanted or needed I stopped buying photography equipment and started shooting more pictures. My D70 has been a very trusty and reliable camera body for me producing fantastic pictures for me on numerous occasions and continues to do so. But I recently got my hands on a D700 and my eyes were open once again. I was astonished to see the level of sophistication that this new camera body (soon to be obsoleted) has next to my trusty old D70. I mean it is breathtakingly better in every possible respect. I really cannot argue on this point. But Do I really need this new $2500 camera body and in what ways would it improve my photography  I aksed myself. I came to the conclusion that my photography would not fundamentally benefit from this level of technological advancement unless I needed specific features like fast autofocus or live view etc or even the FX mount. At this point the majority of my investment is staying in lenses and I would like to continue to have it be that way. I still think this camera is over priced and it will take a long time to produce something like this in the sub $1000 range. In the mean time my kudos to Nikon for an exceptional camera as I am sure this one is satisfying the professional and advanced amateur market quite satisfactorily !.

      --Luis

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    • Luis; Not much I can add. I own a D700. I am more than satified.  If the D70 shoots Raw then I do not see how you will take better photos but check if the Zone range is wider, meaning detail in what is supposed to be Zones III and VI-VII. You did not mention "self cleaning" I change lenses often. I used self-cleaning once on my Fuji and thank god I had the feature. I remember when these cameras cost $16,000. If you need a better, "funner"  toy then get the D700.  Yes, kudos to Nikon because have been using the F4S and 8008 and the same  four lenses for 18-20 years without any problems.

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    • I agree it would be a fun toy to have, without a question in my mind. I have not had sensor dust issues with my D70 in the last 6 years I've had it due, in part, to how I change lenses and how often. So this hasn't become an issue for me. The only issue for me at this point is the price point on this body. Even at $1800 when it first came out, the D300 was a hard pill to swallow so I stayed away on the fences waiting for prices to drop. I also own and shot N90s and F4s bodies and these cameras still are a dream to shoot and are reliable workhorses. So like I said, I have everything I need equipment wise and while I could easily afford even a D3x body, I think aD700 would be too much of a splurge for me a this point. Hopefully I won't change my mind soon ;-).

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    • I read a review on the D3X (maybe on photo.net). He wrote that he should have bought the D700 and one reason given was the D3X did not have self cleaning. ( think I am  correct on this). Other reason was the D3x was not worth the price and the D700 is. I have a Fuji and have twice had to clean the sensor. Not recommended by fuji but I locked up the mirror, and cleaned with an air can. It worked. Attaching image of my last encounter with dirty sensor on the fuji. I've not had to clean the sensor on the D700 but expect some day I'll have to. P.S. The Fuji takes just as good a photo as the D700 (in Raw)....using the same Nikon lenses.

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    • that's was so interesting ,

      the d700 i will bay it soon , after good try with d90 ,

      but i have some problem with white balance  and the same problem in d3100 ,  its so hard to be shore in d700 there are a same problem with white balance or not ,

       

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