On July 1, 2008, Nikon somewhat surprised us all with the D700, which would become their killer camera of 2008 (and pretty much the past 3 or 4 years as well). The mid-summer announcement caught us off-guard and immediately made us drool over the specs and, more importantly, the price.
The Nikon D700 is essentially a trimmed down version of the flagship (at the time of release) Nikon D3, with a price tag of only $3000 US when announced. Fast forward six months and you can find the Nikon D700 in the sub-$2300 price range for the camera body. With the introduction of the Canon 5D Mark II at $2700, you can expect rebates and price drops to continue as Canon and Nikon compete for your hard-earned dollars.
Enough marketing hoopla, let’s take a closer look at some of the specs that make the D700 such a drool-worthy camera.
Nikon D700 Key Specs
- 12.1 Megapixel FX-format CMOS Sensor
- Sensitivity Range of ISO 100 to ISO 25600 Equivalent
- High Speed Shooting at 5fps or 8fps with Optional MB-D10 Battery Pack
- EXPEED Image Processing
- 51 AF Points
- DX Crop Mode
- 920,000-dot VGA 3-inch LCD monitor
- 95% Viewfinder Frame Coverage
- Built-in Flash with Wireless Commander Function
- AF Fine Tuning
Nikon D700 Handling and Performance
Simply put, the Nikon D700 handles like a charm. For the money, nothing comes close in terms of the responsiveness. I’ve had a Canon 5D Mark II since early December. While I love the image quality, ergonomics and ISO performance of the 5D Mark II, I have to admit that the Nikon D700 is much more responsive, particularly in terms of autofocus capabilities.
While the D3 has been around for a while now, it’s nice to see a more affordable (relatively speaking) full-framed DSLR from Nikon. There’s something to be said about having a 50mm lens that feels like a 50mm lens, as opposed to a 75mm lens due to the 1.5x crop from DX sensors found in the likes of the D300 and D90. The extra room on the sensor and larger photosites produce clean images even at higher ISOs. I don’t think I would hesitate for too long if I were to need to bump the D700’s ISO up to 6400 to cover a dimly lit wedding reception. Combined with the clean images that the Nikon D700 produces and, perhaps a bit of post processing, the Nikon D700 is a low-light beast.
In order to guage the ISO performance of the Nikon D700 in relation to the Canon 5D Mark II, I conducted a couple of not-so-scientific tests, which are available at the following links:
After looking over these images, I’m sure you’ll find plenty of reasons to gripe about my test methods; however, I think you’ll agree that each of these cameras is a stellar performer in terms of noise performance and overall image quality. Frankly, I’m blown away by both of them.
I also took the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II out for a little stroll through downtown one night. The results of the night shots are amazing. Shooting primarily at ISO 3200 to ISO 6400, I captured a number of images that would be nearly impossible to capture handheld with almost any other camera. Here’s a few of the keepers from the Nikon D700 at ISO 6400:
Keep in mind, these are processed images – but only mildly processed. I made a few adjustments in Lightroom, but nothing else. Again, the noise performance blows me away. You can see more of these series of shots from the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II in this Flickr collection.
Ergonomically speaking, I am not a fan of the D700’s grip. I know this is a personal preference for most and it’s probably my hands being used to a Canon grip, so I can’t gig the D700 too hard for this. I’m sure there are plenty of Nikon shooters out there who think the Canon 5D grip sucks. Just one of my very few gripes though.
The D700 is a button-lover’s heaven. With the D700, you get access to just about every major setting you could want directly on the camera without the need to go digging through the menus on the LCD. The scroll wheels are well-placed with access on your right forefinger and thumb.
I also appreciate the large viewfinder with 95% frame coverage. The rubber eye piece for the viewfinder provides comfort and easy access to the viewfinder while shooting. This is just one of those other little things that I prefer on the D700 over the 5D Mark II. On the Canon, I feel like I’ve got to work to get my eye in the viewfinder more than the D700.
For Live View, the LCD with magnification capability is very convenient. While autofocus is still available in Live View mode, it is a clunky operation that I found no benefit in using. As I have said before, Sony, with its A300 and A350 (Read Photography Bay’s Sony A350 Review) is the only company that has gotten autofocus right in DSLR cameras. In the shots prepared for and ISO comparison between the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II, I was able to take advantage of the Live View and obtain critical focus by manual means – something my eyes may have been unable to help with if I had used the traditional viewfinder.
Nikon D700 Compared to the Canon 5D Mark II
Given the current lineup of both Canon and Nikon, it is impractical to review a camera from either manufacturer without comparing it to a similarly situated camera from the other. This is even more so with the Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II. It would be a disservice to fail to compare these cameras to each other.
As I said earlier, I am primarily a Canon shooter. I bought a Canon 5D Mark II because my kit is committed to Canon. I also think the 5D Mark II is a fantastic camera. In my opinion, the 5D Mark II edges the D700 out in both noise performance and overall image quality. However, it is a very thin edge and is, for most purposes, negligible.
There is so much more that goes into choosing a photographer’s tool than noise handling and image quality. While these two components are very important, they are less of a deciding criteria when you have two cameras that are so closely matched on these grounds.
Where the Nikon D700 wins with commanding difference is autofocus and metering performance. I think the difference in these two features should make the choice easier for those who are evaluating both cameras as a potential purchase. The Nikon D700’s autofocus is much better in low light. And, in my experience thus far, the D700 is much more accurate with its in-camera metering.
For the life of me, I cannot figure out why Canon would put the same AF system in 5D Mark II that was in the original 3 year old 5D. Even an AF system on par with the $1000 Canon 50D would have been a major step forward. The only thing that makes sense is that Canon decided to cripple the 5D Mark II to avoid cannaballizing sales of its flagship 1Ds Mark III. Granted, the 5D Mark II’s AF system is not “bad” but it’s not up to par with the Nikon D700 either.
So, am I returning my 5D Mark II? No. The D700 is a great camera, but I don’t think it’s so great that anyone should trade in their 5D Mark II to change systems. Additionally, I don’t think anyone needs to back out of their established Canon system to pick up the D700. Canon shooters, pick up the 5D Mark II and you’ll be plenty happy for doing so.
Nikon shooters, this is a no brainer. The D700 is probably the best “bang for buck” DSLR that Nikon has ever produced. If you are on the fence about the D700, I’d say get off – plop down your cash and enjoy FX and high ISOs like never before.
If you are not committed to any system in particular and you’re trying to decide between the Canon and Nikon, my hat tip would go to the Nikon D700. Unless you have a specific reason for the increased resolution of the 21.1 megapixels, you shouldn’t even factor that spec into the equation. One thing you might consider though is the file size that you get from the Canon 5D Mark II. I’ve had files over 32MB on the 5D Mark II – Nikon D700 files range from 12MB to 20MB. Over several thousand files, we’re talking about some serious storage concerns. The rest of the specs and performance considerations point me toward the Nikon D700.
Nikon, you did good with the D700. You bit the bullet and surely hurt your D3 sales to fill a thriving niche market. Thanks for chilling out on the megapixels and giving us something reasonable (in megapixels and price) with which to work. I hope the trend toward improving overall image quality and performance continues to the detriment of the infamous “megapixel race”.
I highly recommend the Nikon D700 to anyone looking for professional image quality and performance. There will always be a next-best-thing with extra bells and whistles to try to lure you away from your hard-earned dollars. The Nikon D700 will be a workhorse of camera for many years to come. It’s a bargain right now for around $2500. And, whatever Nikon releases next will overshadow this camera for sure. Don’t forget the D700 though. It may just be all the camera you’ll ever need.
If you’re shopping for the Nikon D700, I would recommend sticking with Amazon.com, B&H Photo and Adorama. These three vendors are reliable, trustworthy and generally have the best (legitimate) prices.
For additional information, news and reviews on the Nikon D700, check out Photography Bay’s Nikon D700 Reviews and Resources.