on September 10, 2009
Nikon D700 is the first and the only (up to now) compact full frame (FX) camera Nikon has to offers. It inherits many great features from Nikon pro-DSLR camera Nikon D3 and add some other useful features such as dust reduction and wireless flash commander.
What is special about Nikon D700?
Like its big brother Nikon D3, D700 has incredible clean image at high ISO setting, 51 AF points with several tracking modes include 3D tracking. It shoots 5 fps but can be boost to 8 fps with battery grip attached. Unlike D3, it has compact size but it is not light. It is 995 g.
Body and Handling
Nikon D700's body is similar to Nikon D300 (a crop sensor DSLR camera or DX) in many ways. But of course it has a little bit different here and there. For example. D700 is taller and wider to accommodate larger viewfinder.
D700 body feels very solid and made by magnesium alloy body. It has textured rubber in the grip area. As discussed above, the camera is quite heavy, but it helps to balance the camera especially if you mount it with heavy pro grade lenses.
Although regarded as pro camera, D700 body is not as tough and reliable as top of the line pro camera and some advanced crop sensor camera. There are some irritations for example the rubber side door open up occasionally and the built-in flash also opens up because the flash button is quite sensitive to touch.
Nevertheless, the control and handling are great, just like Nikon D300. Nikon has different philosophy than other cameras such as Canon. Instead pressing button, dial and pressing button again, Nikon requires you to press and hold the button and then dial. It is so to avoid accidental change of setting. There is no more mode dial, but there are so many dedicated buttons for all important camera settings such as ISO, WB, Mode, Metering, Auto focus mode, and many more.
D700 also has top LCD screen like some advanced Nikon cameras (D90, D300), but it is a bit smaller to make room for the viewfinder and flash. So there is no AF points position in the top LCD. But most of the crucial information are there.
The other great thing about the camera is you can program function button and depth of field preview button to other function that you like, it could be activating live view, or set the focus point to center, etc. There wide customization available to suit your shooting style and preferences.
Although this camera has only 95% viewfinder coverage (Both D3 and D300 has 100% coverage), the size of the viewfinder are very big and it will amazed most of people that use crop sensor camera without fail.
Image Quality and Auto ISO
Image quality in high ISO is the best in the world (along with Nikon D3). Images are very clean up to ISO 4000. Image at ISO 6400 is very usable and great in print up to 8' X 11'. The great image quality in high ISO is due to Nikon full frame sensor which has only 12 megapixel and software that control the chroma/color noise out of the image. The noise in Nikon looks more natural compared to camera of other brand.
For pixel peepers (people who likes to zoom in 100% in digital images), you will be very satisfied. D700 is very sharp (depends on the lens too) up to pixel level.
One of my favorite feature of D700 and also Nikon D90 is the Auto ISO limiter. You can effectively limit the ISO and minimum shutter speed. The Auto ISO works very well and accurate most of the time. My favorite way to use this is to set the camera to Auto ISO, and then use Aperture mode and let the camera adjust the rest for me.
It is 3' LCD Screen with 920k res which is standard for mid range camera in the late 2008 and 2009 camera. It is very detailed and relatively good in bright light condition.
Like other Nikon cameras, I feel Nikon menu is pretty confusing because they throw all over items regardless if the item is popular item or not. Therefore, it might take you some time to find some of your favorite menu items. To be fair, Nikon has my menu tab, where you can choose and put the menu item in this tab. Overall, I feel menu could be improved. Canon cameras menu for example, is easier, more logical and simple to navigate.
Auto Focus system & Continuous shooting speed
Nikon D700 has 51 AF points. It is the same as Nikon D3 or D300. It has several dynamic tracking modes include 3D tracking which is very fast and accurate. The AF speed varies depend on what kind of Nikon lens you use. Old Nikon lenses usually slower in AF, same as customer grade AF-S lens like 35mm AF-S f/1.8G lens.
D700 has continuous shooting speed are good (5 fps), but when you attached the battery grip, it becomes 8 fps, which is great for sports or wildlife. It cost several hundred more for the grip, but it worth it, because not only you get more frames per second, but it is easier to shoot in portrait mode. The drawback is the entire package becomes bulky and heavy.
Investing in FX / full frame Nikon cameras means that you are ready to spend money, not only for the camera, but you need to spare some money to get the lenses as well. As a FX camera, D700 does not compatible with many consumer grade lenses which has "DX" letters attached in the lens name. You can still use DX lenses, but your image will be cropped and you will get only 5 megapixel image. Nikon has several primes that work very well with D700 such as Nikon 50mm f/1.4G, Nikon 35mm f/2D and Nikon 85mm f/1.4D. For zoom lenses, there are Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 and Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR.
Most of the lenses above are expensive, but there are some affordable solutions (third party lenses) that cost a lot less, but they are really good for Nikon D700.
Creative Lighting System
Unlike D3 which has no built-in flash, D700 has built in flash. It is due for a reason, to fit in wireless commander features or also called Creative Lighting System (CLS). This system is not perfect because it won't work in certain position and situation, for example in bright daylight, in a great distance, or if the line of sight to the flashes are blocked. However CLS is fun to use and save you money. Nikon D90 also has built-in AF motor so it is compatible with older Nikon AF-D lenses which we often found in fixed focal length lenses / primes.
Nikon D700 has three major competitors in compact full frame DSLR class and some competition from crop sensor DSLR class.
In the full frame category, Nikon D700 competes with Canon 5D mark II and Sony A900. 5D mark II has video mode, and 21 MP, but the image is not as clean as D700 in low light, Also, 5D mark II has old auto focus system which is slower and it also have slower 3.9 fps continuous shooting.
Sony A900 has double the resolution of D700, 100% coverage viewfinder and 5 fps continuous shooting. A900 does not have sophisticated AF system and live view.
Photographers that consider to get D700 should also consider Nikon D300/D300s and Canon EOS 7D. They are not only cheaper but have most of the features D700 has. The other benefit of crops sensor camera is the crop factor of 1.5 (Nikon cameras) / 1.6 (Canon cameras) so you get more reach for sports or wildlife. The drawback of crop sensor camera is it won't be have great image quality in high ISO.
Nikon D700 is an very versatile camera for any kind of assignments. It is great for portrait, wedding, sports, photo journalistic assignments. It is great in bright or extremely low light. I will say it is all-around camera. The image quality is fantastic. However, I will not recommend it for travel because it is an heavy camera, and I don't recommend it to use in extreme environment condition because the built quality and seal is not as good as Nikon D3 or Canon 1D series. For outdoor field sports such as football or soccer, you might miss crop sensor DSLR camera because it has extra reach. Overall this is great camera, with a great price of this class.
Subjective Rating - Relative to competitors
* Image Quality: 5/5
* Features: 4/5
* Performance: 5/5
* Body and Handling: 4/5
* Value for money: 4/5
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