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Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review

The Nikon D700 has been launched and London braces itself for Matt Grayson's imminent arrival.

| Nikon D700 in Digital SLRs

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700 Front Body
The Nikon D700 is a new addition to Nikon's full frame stable currently only occupied by the pro-spec D3. Sharing the same sensor and other features, is it something to take seriously or simply a camera to bulk out the product line?

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700Nikon D700: Specification

  • Resolution: 12.1Mp
  • Image sensor: CMOS Nikon FX format
  • Sensor size: 36.0 x 23.9mm Full frame
  • Dust reduction: Yes
  • Storage: Compactflash, UDMA enabled
  • File format: JPEG, RAW (12 or 14bit), TIFF
  • Viewfinder: SLR type with fixed eye-level pentaprism
  • Frame coverage: 95% (vertical/horizontal)
  • Shutter: Electronically controlled vertical travel focal plane shutter
  • Shutter speed: 1/8000 - 30sec in steps of 1/3, ½ or 1EV, Bulb
  • Flash sync: 1/250sec
  • Continuous shooting: 5fps (upto 8fps with optional booster grip)
  • Metering type: TTL- full aperture exposure metering using 1005-pixel RGB sensor
  • Metering system: 3D colour matrix metering II, Centre-weighted, Spot
  • D-Lighting: Yes, active
  • Focusing: TTL phase detection AF, 51 focus points (15 cross-sensors) by Nikon Multi-CAM 3500FX
  • Flash: Built-in manual pop-up, TTL flash control
  • Flash guide: Guide no. 17/56 (ISO200)
  • Live view: Yes, TTL phase-detection AF, Tripod mode using contrast-detect AF, 100% coverage
  • Monitor: 3in TFT LCD, 920,000 dot (307,000 pixel)
  • Interface: USB 2.0, HDMI
  • GPS: Yes
  • Battery: Li-Ion EN-EL3e
  • Size: 147 x 123 x 77mm
  • Weight: 995g

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700Nikon D700: Modes and features
The Nikon D700 appears to be a middle ground model for users that want the full frame ability of the D3, but can't afford it. The sensor is exactly the same which is a little surprising with word of Sony developing a 24Mp full frame sensor.

Compactflash has been retained and is UDMA compatible so those stupidly fast Lexar cards can be used to full effect. Of course to get the complete benefit of UDMA, a card reader must also be compatible which then only leaves it down to the performance of your computer.

Live view is available in the D700 with 100% coverage but the viewfinder coverage is only 95% which, Nikon say, is due to the dust reduction feature which uses 4 separate frequencies to dislodge dirt particles.

Looking at the sensor, the same one has been fitted to the D700 from the D3 and also uses the gapless lenses on the chip to increase the amount of light that reaches the photo diodes. The more light that reaches the sensor, the less noise there is.

The data runs through a 12 channel parallel read-out for added speed. It also runs at a lower frequency which, in turn, reduces noise.

A human recognition system detects skin tones in the image and starts to centre the focusing and metering on that area. The system can intelligently discern between people in the foreground and similarly coloured objects in the middle or background and using the scene recognition system, will analyse information from the focus and metering system. It will then be able to calculate that the skin coloured object in the distance isn't a face and prioritise the object in the foreground.

Nikon D700: Compared
So how does the D700 compare to the D300 and D3? If I were to be finicky, I would point out the D300 has a slightly larger resolution of 200,000 pixels, although it's a cropped sensor. ISO sensitivity is an increase on the D300 but matches the D3 with a range of ISO200-6400 and the equivalent of upto ISO25,600 is also available.Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700

Standard continuous shooting performance is slower than both the D300 (6fps or 8fps with grip) and D3 (9fps FX, 11fps DX) as it's reduced to 5fps because of the FX sensor. It does have the boost of upto 8fps available with the grip.

The D700 has the same start up and shutter lag times of the D3 at 0.12sec and 0.040sec respective. Only a slight improvement on the D300 as it is which has a start up time of 0.13 and a shutter lag of 0.049sec

So it seems that the D3 has gone on a diet and this is the outcome as the D700 comes in at a leaner 995g from the roly poly D3 and its 1240g. However, it's still heavier than the D300 which weighs in at 825g.

Nikon D700: Build and handling
Some interesting features are on the D700 here. Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700The body is made of a magnesium alloy for durability and to combat weight issues. The same magnesium alloy also surrounds the prism, mirror box and rear body.

The shutter blades are made of a new material which is a mixture of kevlar and carbon fibre. The new shutter system has been tested through 150,000 cycles to ensure durability and a self-diagnostic has been fitted to make sure it's always running properly.

The body is weather proofed to keep out dust and moisture with O-ring seals where connections are made. Nikon say that the weather proofing of the D700 is superior to the D300 and equivalent to the F6.

The lack of height means that the base of your hand has no support like what you get with the D3 but it's no different to holding any other smaller camera. It is well balanced though with what weight it does have not being an issue.

Ergonomically, the camera builds on a previously tried and tested layout so Nikon aren't testing any waters with the D700. Instead they've played it safe and kept the design similar to the rest of the range. The rubbery grip material covers a large area of the camera including the thumb pad, HDMI/USB/Video output slots and the bottom left of the camera where any stray fingers that aren't operating something would sit.

The buttons are all sturdily made and feel firm without making it difficult to use. From a personal point of view I find it difficult to get on with the navigation pad because of the nature of its design. I find it wobbles around while I'm using it and it's not as responsive as I'd like.

The CF door is a pull and snap opening type and I'd prefer to see one similar to the D3 with the button lock and spring as I think it looks more professional. The card door on it is the same type that's found on lower spec models.

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
Despite the light, the rest of the shot is balanced thanks to active D-Lighting.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
Using a sensitivity of ISO4500 and noise isn't visible.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The continuous shooting has a top speed of five fps which works well capturing candid as well as action shots.

Nikon D700: Performance
I tried a couple of the D700's features to see how it performed and needless to say it did well on all counts. The continuous shooting captured the action of the subject jumping through. I managed to get seven images in what I thought was a second, but at 5fps it must've been just over. EXIF data confirms this with the images spanning across two second markers.

The D700 has Active D-Lighting the same as the D3 and this is designed to raise the dynamic range of the picture. It has three settings of low, normal and high along with an off setting if you decide not to use it. In the sample images I've illustrated the capability by using the off and high settings. With D-Lighting activated, more detail has been recorded in the bales with contrast boosted and colours saturated.

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
Landscape image with Active D-Lighting switched off manages a decent exposure but the colours and contrast look a little tepid.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
With Active D-Lighting set to the high position, more contrast is put into the whole image with detail still retained in the darker trees.

The picture colour settings have also remained and these are preset modes to boost or reduce the colour on your image. There are four settings of standard, neutral, vivid and monochrome to change the image to black & white. The poppy in the foreground is more red with the vivid setting and the grass is greener (no pun intended). This is a handy setting, although with the market that the camera is aimed at the users should be using an editing suite effectively enough to boost colours there.

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
This image was taken with the colour setting to standard.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
With the setting at vivid, the red of the poppy and green of the grass is boosted.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The colour chart test shows boosted primary colours and good mono tones. the skin tone looks pale though.

If you think your images look a little off colour, you can adjust the colour balance in playback by going to the retouch menu and choosing the colour balance setting. The image you choose can be adjusted using a colour square and RGB histograms ensure you get the right setting.

The colourchart image has given a good result with a nice, rich blue, vibrant yellow and balanced earthy tones. The mono tones are nicely reproduced although I think the skin tone is a little pallid.

I took two pictures for the portrait mode with flash and without. I like the image without flash as it's given a warm and even result with good detail and no overcooking on the highlights. I don't like the flash result though. It's burnt out the right side of the subject just below her neck and also the nose. Nice catchlights have been captured in the eyes and there's more detail in her hair but it's also created a nasty shadow under her chin.

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The portrait image.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The portrait image with built in flash.

Nikon D700: Focusing and metering
The 51 point AF system is available in the Nikon D700 with the 15 point cross section points that work with lenses as low as f/5.6 which is an improvement on other systems which generally only work with brighter lenses. Similarly to the D3, the D700 also uses the MultiCAM 3500 system which is Nikon's best focusing system to date.

The D700 has two autofocus (AF) settings and one manual. The switch to change the settings is found next to the lens mount under the lens release button. The letter 'S' signifies single focus mode which will lock onto the subject and remain locked while the shutter release is held down.

To track a subject, you must switch the focus mode to 'C' which stands for continuous focusing. In this mode the camera will find the subject and if they move in the image, the camera will use the 3D tracking system to follow them.

Under the navigation pad on the rear is the AF area selector switch. This allows you to decide whether you want the camera to use all 51 AF points in area focus mode, 21 or nine in selective (Nikon call this Dynamic area AF) or individual points in single point mode.

Alongside three focusing modes, there are also three metering modes to choose from. Nikon recommend you use the 3D colour matrix option for most situations and to a part this is a good idea as the system will analyse most of the frame and select the appropriate exposure for the whole image. Let's face it, though, as a photographer, you're here to take amazing images and they're not necessarily all a perfect exposure across the entire image.

Luckily centre weighted metering and spot metering are both available for other scenarios and only serve to give you more control. To change the metering modes, you have to twist the wheel which sits on the top right shoulder of the camera next to the viewfinder.

Nikon D700: Noise test
If the noise results of the Nikon D3 are anything to go by then we're in for a similar treat of gobsmackingly noise less images.

Just like its big brother, the D700 has a true sensitivity range of ISO200-6400 and equivalents of ISO100, 12,800 and 25,600.

The ISO lo setting is the ISO100 equivalent and you'd not know that this is a recreation. The image is super smooth with tons of detail in the petals and vibrant colours.

The kind of changes indicating the development of noise usually seen at ISO400 aren't seen on the D700 until ISO1600 which just goes to show how the trinity of sensor size, processor and gapless lenses on the photo sites works in harmony to give you superior results.

Even at ISO6400 there's no indication of any purple blobs usually seen deposited on the black area at ISO800 and above. However, there is a red dot which shows noise trying to sneak in the back door. I thought maybe this was a dead pixel but it's not present on the portrait images that I took after these.

It's only on ISO hi2 which is the ISO25,600 equivalent that you can see any definite deterioration in the image quality that's worthy of moaning about. That's the problem though: How can you complain about the noise effect that an ISO3200 image would give when you're shooting at ISO25,600?

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The lo1 test (ISO100 equivalent).
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The ISO200 test.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The ISO400 test.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The ISO800 test.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The ISO1600 test.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The ISO3200 test.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The ISO6400 test.
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The hi1 test (ISO12,800 equivalent).
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Nikon D700
The hi2 test (ISO25,600 equivalent).

Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review:
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Nikon D700.

Nikon D700: Verdict
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: The specs show the camera to be a worthy model with the Nikon name. I wouldn't go to say they've pushed boundaries with this camera, but it's still a step in the right direction.

The D3 and D300 have helped Nikon regain the number one spot with over 50% share of the market. They are already 20% ahead of forecasts for this year so hopefully the D700 will help them maintain this position.

If nothing else it makes the Nikon FX format more affordable and available for the masses. With an RRP of £1999.99 (body only) it still keeps the D3 in the top pro league at £800 more.

Looking at the numbering of the camera, it looks like Nikon are releasing this model as a go between for the D300 and the D3 which isn't a bad thing. After all, years ago Canon released the EOS 50e because photographers wanted eye control focus from the EOS 5 but didn't want to pay the same price.

The Nikon D700 appears to be a similar release with features of the D3 but in a somewhat clipped format. It shows that Nikon are listening to the users and developing gear to suit what people want which is something that Nikon are, quite rightly, very proud of.

Nikon D700: Plus points
Full frame
Smaller and lighter than the D3
Nikon D700 Digital SLR Review: Great noise performance
Virtual Horizon
Excellent focusing system
New shutter blade material and system

Nikon D700: Minus points
ISO200 is the lowest true setting
Portrait with flash is over exposed

I've awarded the Nikon D700 with our highly recommended award because of the image quality, features and performance.


The Nikon D700 costs around £1779.99 and is available from your friendly ePHOTOzine shop here.

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Photographs taken using the Nikon D700

MossyCubism or Popart?UntitledEye on the ball!Diamond aka BagpusView from the topOn top of the worldSurf's Up!Thinking about it!Riding the WaveMrs K.UncoveredUntitledEven a bird stands by itJust as he said

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IanA 19 3.0k 12 England
Another plus point over the D300 is the option to include copyright info recorded at the time of the shot straight into the EXIF!
Now I wish the D300 had that.

cameracat 19 8.6k 61 Norfolk Island

Quote:Portrait with flash is over exposed

Thats funny, Coz mine does not do that......Smile

Quote:ISO200 is the lowest true setting

Is this really an issue today......!

cameracat 19 8.6k 61 Norfolk Island

Quote:Thats funny, Coz mine does not do that

Just a thought, For the odd close in portrait, Where one might use the on-board or external SB800 etc, I do turn the " Active D Light " off........!

The Active D Lighting may be the reason your results where slightly overexposed, Because it tries to hard to keep detail in shadows etc.

In most other situations it makes a great job of detail retention, But I'm not convinced it's much use in portraits.....Sad

That aside, This is a superb camera........!

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