I am making this review of the Nikon D700 from the perspective of someone who also owns a Nikon D300.
Without qualification, the Nikon D300 is a superb camera. So many superlatives have been used with the D300 that I will not repeat them here. All the superlatives used with the D300 applies equally well to the D700. I will add however that as good as the superlatives may have been with the D300, the D700 deserves a bit more.
Let me explain.
The Nikon D700 is equipped with a full frame FX sensor (36.00mm x 23.90mm). This is the same sensor used by the Nikon D3. Nikon D3 12.1MP FX Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) The D300 on the other hand uses the APS-C sensor (23.60mm x 15.80mm). Both the D700 and the D300 have about the same 12 megapixel rating (with the D300 actually slightly higher).
The D700 having a bigger sensor than the D300 but with about the same megapixel rating means that the size/pixel density of the D700 is much lower than the D300. The ratio is 1.4MP/cm2 vs 3.3MP/cm2 for the D700 and the D300 respectively. A lower ratio means lower noise and this ratio favors the D700. For the D700, this translates to lower noise in capturing the same image than when using using the D300.
The D700 lower noise level in turn translates to the D700 being able to operate at a higher ISO level than the D300. The D700 can operate as high as ISO 25,600 while the D300 can go up to ISO 6,400. It is of course quite rare to shoot at such high ISO as it will always be better to shot at a lower ISO rating. But if both the D700 and D300 were shooting at the same ISO, the D700 will have lower noise levels. Simply put, the higher ISO capability of the D700 versus the D300 indicates the higher level of performance of the D700's sensor vs the D300.
My actual use validates this theoretical advantage. I noticed that while the noise level of the D300 is very good at ISO 1600 and even 3200, the D700 consistently showed lower noise level than the D300 shooting at the same ISO setting and light condition. This is most noticeable when shooting at night with many bright lights in the periphery of the main subject.
In terms of color rendition, I have not noticed any significant differences between the D300 and the D700 in the limited time that I have been using the D700. It may be due to the fact that I have conducted my test at dusk and at night.
When using the D700, the full frame sensor means that one will not need to convert the focal length of the lens by a factor of 1.5x. So a 50mm lens will be a 50mm lens for the D700 rather than its 75mm equivalent when used with the D300.
While this may appear to be a disadvantage on the telephoto side, its gain on the wide angle side is considerable and can only be described as an eye opener. The D700 advantage in wide angle application does not just come from its wider perspective. Rather, it is how the D700 maximizes and makes full use of such excellent lens as the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 that makes buying the D700 such an eye opener.
The resulting images taken with the Nikon D700 and the Nikon 14-24mm are clearer, sharper and crisper compared to the D300 even when the focal length in the D700 is zoomed out to its equivalent in the the D300 (21mm in D700 and 14mm in D300). Vignetting is not noticeably worse even when the D700 is used with the 14-24mm glass fully open at its widest focal length (14mm, f/2.8). This is surprising considering that the D700 is now using the full lens instead of just its sweet spot in the center (which would have been to the advantage of the D300 due to its APS-C sensor).
It is not just the wide angle lens that benefited from the D700. Even the slight vignetting I noticed with my 85mm f/1.4 shot with the D300 at f/2.8 is not considerably worse in the D700. I am very surprised at this rather unexpected results as I had expected the opposite. At any rate, vignetting is easily corrected in post-processing.
Still, I should add that for corner to corner sharpness (such as in landscape photography), the D700 with its full-frame sensors will be more demanding on the lens than the D300 with its smaller APS-C sensor.
As to the physical differences between the D700 and the D300, while these two models are roughly equal in size, the D700 is slightly heavier than the D300. This is not an issue for me at all.
What tilts the balance in favor of the D700 is its view finder which is significantly brighter and better than the D300. This difference is very noticeable when switching from the D700 to the D300 and vice versa.
This much improved viewfinder however is a mixed blessing. One disadvantage that the D700 has over the D300 is that the D700 viewfinder captures only 95% of the image while the D300 viewfinder captures 100% of the image shot. So the actual image captured is slightly bigger than what appears in the D700 viewfinder. I understand that this resulted from fitting the bigger sensor from the D3 into the body size of a D300. Given the better image quality of the D700 viewfinder and the better quality of its pictures, I am willing to work with this disadvantage and simply compensate for it during actual use. But I hope that Nikon corrects this though in its next iteration of the D700.
The D700 has an advantage over the D3 as it has an integrated flash which the D3 does not have. The integrated flash is extremely useful when used with the other components of Nikon's Creative Lightning System.
The Nikon MB-D10 Battery Pack Nikon MB-D10 Multi Power Battery Pack for Nikon D300 & D700 Digital SLR Cameras from the D300 fits the D700 perfectly well. This is very convenient as I can opt for a smaller and lighter package when I do not need the MB-D10 for high-speed shooting. This is one advantage that the D700 has over the D3 where the battery pack is integrated with the camera. But a D700 with an MB-D10 is bigger and heavier than a D3. And even when the D700 is equipped with an MB-D10, the D3 is still faster. This makes the D3 a better unit for sports photography.
Since I shoot mostly portrait, special events and landscape and seldom shoot sports, the D700 is perfect for my needs and I can do without the D3. The D700 lower price tag means that I can get the D700 with at least one of Nikon's professional lens.
Ideally, the D700 should not be used with the DX lenses. This said, it is possible to use the DX lenses with the D700. The D700 makes the switch to DX lens automatically without need to fiddle with any control. Because the DX lens covers only a section of the D700 sensor, the maximum resolution of using a DX lens on the D700 is only 5.1 megapixel. This smaller coverage is automatically delineated by a box in the D700 viewfinder. In addition to the lower resolution, the extreme two ends of a zoom lens is not usable. Within these limitations, the D700 can use DX lens and produces very good pictures albeit on a smaller resolution / file size.
The D700/FX (1.0x factor) and the D300/DX (1.5x factor) effectively doubles my lens option. For those planning to own both the D300 and the D700, it would be wise to choose a glass that would be usable with both bodies.
In closing, I consider the D700 a good complement to my D300. Except for my Nikon 18-200mm DX lens (which I bought for my Nikon D200), all my glasses and accessories for the D300 can be used with the D700 at its full resolution. I will use the D700 in those times when I need the best results shooting wide angle and/or at high ISO speed. In those times when I need the extra reach, the D300's 1.5x crop factor makes the best use of my telephoto lenses.
Edit: November 22, 2008
I continue to use both the Nikon D300 and the Nikon D700 and often bring both together whenever I go out to shoot. In those times when I just bring one camera body, I choose the D300 whenever range and higher pixel density is a major concern (bec. of the 1.5x crop factor effect on the field of view due to the smaller APS-C sensor but with resolution still at 12megapixel). The D300 is an excellent camera and its 1.5x factor is very handy when I need to reach out with a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom or with my 180mm f/2.8 prime without need of using a teleconverter. For almost every other instance, including portrait, landscape and low light photography however, I find myself reaching out for the D700.
After over 3 and a half months of use, I can safely say that the color depth of the D700 is significantly much better than the D300. The range of colors, the color details, the varying shade of colors, and the dynamic range that the D700 is capable of capturing is considerably better and richer than what the D300 is capable of. This advantage is best appreciated when taking portrait and landscape photos. The difference in dynamic range is specially noticeable when shooting at higher ISO settings as noise imposes considerable limits on the dynamic range possible. The D700 is clearly better than the D300 on dynamic range at high ISO settings.
One other difference I should mention between the D300 and the D700 is the difference that the sensor size has on effective depth of field. The bigger the sensor, the shallower the depth of field while the smaller the sensor, the greater the depth of field. Point and shoot cameras with minuscule-sized sensor often have the greatest depth of field.
The D700, having a bigger full-frame sensor, has a shallower depth of field than the D300 (which has the smaller APS-C sensor) at the same aperture setting given the same equivalent lens focal length. The difference in the effective depth of field is about one stop. At the same equivalent focal length, the equivalent depth of field of a D700 at f/2.0 would be a D300 at f/1.4.
The shallower depth of field of the D700 would be an advantage to a user who would like to isolate a subject and blur the background. The deeper depth of field of the D300 would be an advantage to a user who would like to keep several subjects at difference distances in focus. I use the D700 where I need to isolate a subject, blur the background, and get the best bokeh. This effect is most noticeable when shooting at wide open apertures from f/1.4 to f/2.8. This, plus the color advantage of the D700, makes the D700 my preferred body for shooting portraits.
Finally, one difference I notice between the D700 and the D300 is that the D700 has a better damped shutter release button. I find that it is easier to release the shutter in the D700 than in the D300. This makes a big difference when shooting at low shutter speeds.
With the D800 finally available, I thought I'd share my analysis on the D700 vs the D800
Factors that works 2 ways: Higher resolution = greater details = but requires higher memory card capacity = but requires higher storage capacity = but requires more RAM and faster CPU and better graphics card
Improvements in the D800 over the D700 other than sensor resolution
1. 100% Viewfinder 2. Better AF 3. Better metering 4. Better WB 5. HD Video 6. Improved dynamic range 7. Improved color 8. Superior live view functions 9. Bigger 3.2" LCD screen 9. Improved ergonomics and now with more buttons 10. Lighter in weight by 95 grams 11. Higher capacity battery 12. Extra SDHC slot and support 13. USB 3.0
Disadvantage of D800 vs D700 other than sensor resolution
1. 5fps vs 8fps on FX using battery pack 2. Higher resolution requires slightly higher shutter speed to shoot handheld to achieve the same corner/border acuity. 3. Higher resolution requires the best lenses to get good results, specially at side & corners 4. Higher resolution means lens diffraction occurs earlier at f/9 instead of f/13 with D700 (if more DOF needed) 5. Optional MB-D12 battery pack for D800 is priced almost double the optional MB-D10 battery pack for D700
The D800 is not a true D700-replacement in that it does not use the D4 sensor. Except for a slower frame-rate however, the D800 outperforms the D700 in all respects. I have placed an order for a D4 and also added an order for a D800E. I will however still be keeping my D700.
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