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Nikon D700 long term test Digital SLR Review

Nikon D700 long term test Digital SLR Review - The D700 has been around for nearly two years so in DSLR terms it is due for its pension. Two ePHOTOzine experts take a long, lingering look at it and wonder if now is the time to snap up a bargain

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Nikon D700
Price : £365
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Will Cheung on the Nikon D700
Gary Wolstenholme on the Nikon D700
Our original Nikon D700 review

The Nikon D700 was announced back in the summer of 2008. Two years on, with digital cameras having a rapid churn rate, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is coming to the end of its useful shelf life and will be superseded shortly. This is pure speculation on our part but it could explain why Nikon UK recently announced that if you buy a D700 before the end of the June you get a free MB-D10 grip worth £260. Moreover, this September is Photokina, a massive bi-annual show in Germany where the manufacturers launch their latest product ranges.
 
With the camera selling at £1784 at Warehouse Express and a MB-D10 worth £260, that takes the body price down to an effective £1504. That sounds a steal, so now could be a great time to pick up a full-frame bargain – unless you want to wait for the Nikon D700X, D700S, D900 or whatever.
 
We asked two long-term D700 users - who betweeen them have taken under 200,000 shots on their D700s - for their very personal views on this popular full-frame Nikon DSLR.
 
Will Cheung, ePHOTOzine's associate editor and freelance photographer/journalist
 

An image made up of of nine 30sec exposures using the camera's multiexposure feature to merge them all.
 
I switched camera systems because of the D700. I had tested it for the magazine I was working on at the time and grew so enamoured of it that I felt lost and empty when Nikon asked for the review sample back. It took me nanoseconds to decide to sell off my existing kit and take the plunge.
 
Upwards of 85,000 pictures later (according to my Lightroom catalogues) and I am still happy. My D700 has gotten drenched on several occasions, and once at Donna Nook the falling snow froze on the camera body it was so cold. It has been bashed around and used almost every day since I bought it. I do not generally molly-coddle kit especially my own, so it is looking used.
 
Only the other week, I left the camera out in the garden to do 400 exposures of the starry night sky, each one lasting 30secs, using the MC-36 remote release. I went back indoors and didn't realize there was a frost that night and the shots were ruined because the lens front surface was covered with a layer of ice. Everything worked fine, though, once thawed out.
 
Cosmetically, my sample is rather tired but not horribly disfigured. I have had problems with bits of the rubber casing coming away. The areas around the autofocus/manual focus control and where the right thumb sits started to peel back. Perhaps rather naively, I got the superglue out and with some careful application sorted those issues. My battery cover is hanging on by a single lug - I do not remember how I managed to break it, but some black Duck tape means it will not fall off.
 
I do wish the rubber protective flap (the one hiding the HDMI and USB connections) on the left side was better designed, though. I would prefer to remove it completely when I am shooting tethered  and clip a cover in place when I am not. And why does Nikon have a mini HDMI on the D700 and a full-size HDMI on the D300 - I use both cameras.
 
Handling has always been great, apart from odd thing here and there, although I did spend a little while deciding which features I wanted to be activated with the Function, AEl/AFL and depth-of-field preview buttons. Early on, I decided that AF should be activated by the AF-ON button, hence this button has been used so much that there are no longer has any markings on it.
 
One handling niggle involves the four-way control on the back for picture previewing. Operation of it has to be very precise when quickly running through images, otherwise you end up looking at the histograms or the metadata. A firmware upgrade to sort this would be lovely.
 
What other points would I change? The integral sensor cleaning system is not very efficient and if I could transplant the every effective Olympus Supersonic Wave technology into the D700, I would. No doubt about that. Shooting long exposures at small apertures really highlights how dirty the sensor gets, even though it is regularly cleaned with the internal system as well as with the Visible Dust Arctic Butterfly and swabs. The problem might be exacerbated by my frequent lens changing – but why have an SLR if you are not going to change lens. Anyway, Nikon can do better with sensor cleaning, in my view.
 
Performance-wise, I am more than satisfied. The AF is generally fast, sensitive and accurate though I must admit that I have done little action shooting with my D700. Personally, I keep it simple and just have the central focusing sensor active. This with the AF-ON button works well for me.
 
 
The cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral captured with a Nikon 14-24mm lens. Seals at Donna Nook. The D700 got covered in sand and ice on this shoot.
Would you shake Darth Vader's hand? Wide contrast range is well handled by the D700. Cardiff at twilight. The D700 has exceptional noise performance throughout its ISO range.

Exposures-wise, my default setting is -0.7EV which I find gives me images I like. I am not one who shoots with histograms to the right – and noisy shadows are not an issue on the D700. I usually know when the Matrix meter will falter – very dark, very light-toned subjects and scenes where backlighting is extreme and I usually take remedial action before I even raise the camera to my eye. Most of my pictures are shot in aperture-priority AE and Matrix light measuring mode.
 
I always shoot Raw, often with Large JPEG too. My Raws I process through Lightroom or CS4 and work in 16-bit until the last possible moment, then save in 8-bit.
 
I am happy to print up to A2-size at home and rarely add an unsharp mask. I know it can bring out detail further but it can look rather overdone if you are not careful so I am fine without using USM. As an aside, too many photographers oversharpen their work – often unacceptably.
 
Battery life is excellent. I have spares, but usually I can shoot productively for a whole day with a fully charged battery. I do have The MB-D10 when greater capacity or faster shooting speed is needed or for portrait shooting when the upright shutter release comes in real handy.
 
I shoot a very broad subject range – sport is one area I do little with – so I know the D700 can cope with most things that get thrown at it. I hope the images in this article reflect the camera's versatility
ISO performance is top drawer and I am happy to indulge in the high ISO settings whenever there is the need. Obviously the D3S wipes the floor with the D700 in this regard, so maybe the D700's successor will have similar technology – in which case, it might be worth waiting for.

Summary
My D700 is like a family member and I must admit I do feel lost if I leave the house without it. In its time ith me, it has proved reliable and I do not recall cussing it at all. It is lovely to use and simply delivers great, high resolution images that print up to A2-size with no problem at all. It has been through thick and thin with me and while I will look at the D700's successor, whenever it turns up, I would happily consider buying another D700. Coincidentally, given the D700's age and how much my camera has been used, I was thinking of investing in another body even before Nikon's MB-D10 offer came up. The offer just makes the notion even more appealling.
 
Gary Wolstenholme, ePHOTOzine's expert reviewer and professional photographer
 

Shortly after taking this shot, the guy in the Speedos landed on my head, and my camera in the mud.

I purchased my Nikon D700 about 18 months ago to replace a very well used Nikon D200, which I had owned for about three years. The D200 had served me well, but was starting to show its age, in terms of the quality of output and in terms of wear and tear. During those three years, it had done roughly 400,000 shots before the shutter finally expired.
 
My main area of work involves taking pictures at concerts and music festivals, so I needed a camera that was good in low-light and rugged.
 
Naturally, I ended up caught between Nikon's D300 and D700 cameras. Apart from for budget considerations, I liked the form factor of my previous D200, especially the ability to leave the grip at home when I wish to travel light, and being able to use the built-in flash to trigger flashes via Nikon's CLS system. I had to rule out the D3 for its price and lack of built-in flash for wireless flash (I use that feature a lot!). The D700 had already garnered a reputation for its low-light ability, having the same 12-megapixel sensor as the D3 for almost half the price, so it was the natural choice for me.
 
A small gig in a local pub called the Cremorne in Sheffield was my first proper opportunity to test the capabilities of the camera. The venue has no stage lighting to speak of (in fact it has no stage either!) and indeed it was very dark in there, so dark in fact that the street lighting outside was brighter. The camera performed admirably, producing a usable result in less than perfect conditions.
 
Shooting festivals in the summer offers up a completely different kind of challenge for the camera, as much of the event is in daylight. Here the dynamic range the camera can capture is just as important as its low-light ability and this was always an area with which my old D200 struggled. Whitesnake's headline slot at Download Festival was the perfect test for the range of tones this camera can capture, as the sun was low in the sky, shining across the main stage. To compound the problem, the stage background was black, and the lead singer, David Coverdale, was wearing white topped off with lots of shiny silver jewellery. This is an area where this camera really excels. Despite the high contrast in the scene, I was able to capture enough detail in the highlight and shadow areas of the image for a pleasing result. Even when the highlights do blow, the transition to the blown areas is very smooth.
 
One of the first things I noticed with the D700 is how sharp the images appear to come out. With my old D200, I had to run a little unsharp mask on all my images before they were ready to send. Now I've had to remove that step from my workflow as the images simply don't need it. With the right lenses you can expect images with biting sharpness from corner to corner.
 

Difficult lighting and fast action were no problem for the D700's AF system on this occasion.

David Coverdale at the Download Festival. Despite the high contrast, enough detail has been retained in the highlights.
 
AF performance has always been more than satisfactory for my purposes, being able to keep up with frenetic action, even in fairly low light conditions. I tend to use all the focusing points if I can, as I tend to use spot-metering and the area metered follows the AF point. In very dark conditions, the central group of AF sensors do tend to give more accurate results, probably as these are cross-type sensors. However recently I have noticed that the camera will sometimes stop focusing in strongly backlit situations, which I have put down to dust settling on the AF sensor inside the camera. A quick puff of air inside the mirror chamber tends to sort it, but some kind of preventative measure would have been nice. Having the ability to customise how the metering system responds to a degree is a feature I've used since getting the camera. I have the +0.5 permanently set for the spot metering mode, so I don't need to worry about dialling this compensation in each time. I also find the auto-ISO feature very useful as the camera will select the lowest ISO possible for the shutter speed I specify. This really helps in rapidly changing conditions. I never get caught out shooting at too low, or too high an ISO setting selected.
 
The wireless flash system works incredibly well and is particularly useful for me when I need to create my own light at smaller venues. I use the built-in flash to trigger my two SB-800s, which I can place anywhere around the stage, either to put light onto the background, or to light the whole room or performer. With TTL metering, flash exposures are very accurate for my purposes, on or off the camera, leaving me to concentrate on taking the shot.
 

For this shot, one SB-800 was placed behind the stage to light up the background.

Being able to set the meter up how I want allows me to cope with harsh back lighting.

Taken with a Nikon 85mm F/1.8 at ISO5600, 1/60sec and f/1.8.

Build quality and reliability-wise, the camera has stuck with me through thick and thin, coping admirably with the thunderstorms at Glastonbury and being knocked about somewhat during general use. At Les Eurockéenes festival in France, the camera was actually knocked from my hands when singer, Ami Shalev of Monotoix, crowd-surfed on top of me. I also sustained a minor concussion, but the camera was fine once I'd cleaned the mud from it. The camera handles well and poses no problems for me working a 16 hour day at a festival.
 
Although the 12 megapixel resolution may seem a little modest when compared to some of the competition, I find it the ideal compromise between quality and file-size. As the quality per pixel is so high, images from this camera can happily be printed full page in magazines and newspapers, even with a bit of cropping. In fact the 5.1 megapixel DX crop mode has come to the rescue at times where I haven't had a lens long enough. The results from this are still easily publishable, but maybe not at full-page sizes. As I shoot RAW all the time, the files generated can still be dealt with quickly by my 2GHz laptop running Windows 7, which is important to me, especially when turnaround time is key.
 
The output from the D700 is easily good enough for being printed up to full-page in magazines and newspapers plus the file sizes aren't so large that they'll slow the editing process down.
 
Although the camera looks well-used after over 104,000 frames have been taken, it still doesn't look too shabby and continues to serve me well. There is quite a lot of brass showing through on the lens mount, as I change lenses a lot, but lenses still sit tightly against the body. The rubber placed around the grip is still attached to the camera firmly, which is a pleasant surprise, as the rubber started to fall of my D200 after a few months. Other than that, the plastic clip on screen protector has many a mark on there. The tempered glass screen of the D3 would have been a welcome addition, but then I suppose that would add to the price.
 
Summary
Time and time again this camera has exceeded my expectations, and proven to be a reliable workhorse. I'll keep my eyes peeled with great interest to see if this camera's successor offer's much more for me, but unless it is much better at the higher ISO settings, I can't see me needing any more than what I have. Maybe I'll be in the market for a second D700 body if the offer of a free grip is still available. For now, I'll have to wait and see.
 
The Nikon D700 costs £1784 body only and is available from Warehouse Express here:

Nikon D700 camera body
 
 

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Photographs taken using the Nikon D700

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Comments


cameracat 10 8.6k 61 Norfolk Island
17 May 2010 2:48PM
Same here after almost 2 years my D700 continues to impress me, Just as it did when I first bought it.

No problems what so ever, No matter what the conditions, No matter what the light.......A truly amazing camera......Grin

If there is a replacement due anytime soon, It has gotta be something very special, In all probability we will have to wait for the replacement of the replacement, Before anything as good as the D700 in real world terms is available......!!!

I think I'll start saving for the D900.....Now.....Grin

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thewaiter 12 1.2k 9 England
18 May 2010 4:46PM
Thanks for the update article. I have had a D200 for the past 3 years and have to agree with Gary’s comments

“The D200 had served me well, but was starting to show its age, in terms of the quality of output” I would add, against in peer group.

I have been mulling over a D700 or its successor for a couple of months and still undecided, the D700 looks great at this price especially with the free grip, but feel certain there is a new model just around the corner, as I’ve waited this long I think I’ll wait and see what happens over the next couple months.... Smile
19 May 2010 9:07AM
Get it ya tart.... Wink
thewaiter 12 1.2k 9 England
19 May 2010 2:53PM
hehehehe... cheeky bugger, I've wasted the past few months deliberating while you were out snapping away !
bobbrooky 5 2 United Kingdom
9 Jun 2010 4:55PM
My D700 has been an excellent camera, the only problem I ever had was something falling out of the flash card socket, when I changed cards, a year after purchase. I had a two year warranty but Nikon Uk would not have it and charged me £105 to fix it. they also did not upgrade the firmware either while it was there. I think Nikon Uk stink.
But the camera is brilliant, marvellous images!
14 Jun 2010 3:18PM
Had mine since 2009 and it still impresses. I took my first no flash gig shots with it a couple of weeks back. The lighting was awful, so quite a few of my handheld shots were taken at ISO6400. They were amazing, although I did add a selective noise reduction to them. My only problem is the amount of dust on the sensor which is due to me changing lenses quite often. It's got to the stage now where it's too much bother using the healing brush/clone in Photoshop.
Foxfire 10 322 United Kingdom
14 Jun 2010 7:55PM

Quote: Thanks for the update article. I have had a D200 for the past 3 years and have to agree with Gary’s comments

“The D200 had served me well, but was starting to show its age, in terms of the quality of output” I would add, against in peer group.

I have been mulling over a D700 or its successor for a couple of months and still undecided, the D700 looks great at this price especially with the free grip, but feel certain there is a new model just around the corner, as I’ve waited this long I think I’ll wait and see what happens over the next couple months....

I am in the exact same position, I am umming and arring if I should buy the D700 with the great offer or should I wait.

My impatient ardour wants me to dive in now, but my common sense tells me that maybe just maybe Nikon will upgrade the D700 to include a version of the D3x chip. Omg that would be orgasmic...lol

C'mon Nikon take us out of our misery,,,,pleeease and tell us about the new D700x/800 or whatever you may wish to call it
Foxfire 10 322 United Kingdom
14 Jun 2010 7:56PM
Just don't add or enhance this Video nonesense. Only because Canon got it, does not mean that Nikonians want this, we would buy a Video camera if we want to take moving pictures
2 Jun 2011 11:05AM
The Nikon D700 is some sort of hybridization of the D300 and D3. The body chassis is that of the D300, the viewfinder that of the D3. Indeed, the D700 shares the MB-D10 vertical grip with the D300, which means that the camera base is essentially the same.
3 Oct 2012 1:25PM
I bought a D700 6 months ago and I was soooo impressed with it. My first FX camera after using the D300s for over a year.

The build of the D700 is a marvel. A total tank. And with the MD-B10 (did I get that the right way round?) added on it gives you a full days shooting without any thought of battery worries.

I bought all the 'recommended' FX lenses. The Holy Trinity was the biggest layout. But then, the D4 was announced. I succumbed to it's charm, and only this last week added it's little sister, the D800.

So what happened to the D700? This marvellous camera is now winging it's way to Oz (Australia to any Troglodytes that don't know that) - with the MD-B10 battery add-on, a Nikkor 85mm F1.8G AF-S lens, extra battery, all the kit and kaboodle that came with the box, including the box. And a 32GB Panasonic SDHC card.

A new, young fashion photographer - daughter of a mate who has shown me her work and all she needs is a 'step up' - is going to get all this 'gratis' as I am a great believer in helping the 'new blood' as much as possible.

She is over the moon about it. Her mum, my old dancing mate from a company with both danced for, is a happy bunny too.

So, I could not give higher praise to a camera than to encourage someone NEW with what I believe is one of the best FX DSLR's Nikon have ever made.

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