Nikon D700 SLR Review
By Mike Flacy
Nikon's D700 is a full featured dSLR camera, and is only one of three cameras from Nikon to feature the FX format CMOS imaging sensor (D3 and D3X). The sensor is paired with Nikon's Expeed imaging processor to deliver incredible image quality, with incredibly low ISO noise all the way up to ISO 6400. It also features a 51-point AF with 15 cross-type sensors and Nikon's 3D tracking system, auto sensor cleaning, 920,000 dot BriteView Clear Matte VI screen, FX and DX format settings as well as full set of in-camera editing features.
Assisting you while capturing images is a combination of the; 51-point AF system with 3D tracking, a 1,005 point 3D color matrix metering, SRS (Scene Recognition System) and Active D-Lighting. When combined, these settings provide you with Nikon's famous accuracy and image quality in all of your shots. The SRS system helps the camera to identify a scene and correctly focus and adjust for it, while the D-Lighting feature (with new AUTO mode) extends the camera's dynamic range allowing for more detail in low contrast or shadow areas of an image.
Although this new model is smaller than the D3 and D3X, this camera is by no means small. From the moment you pick it up, you'll notice the size and weight difference over most dSLR cameras. The weight offers a sturdy feel, and magnesium alloy construction gives you confidence that the camera will withstand the tests of time. The body itself is well designed, with camera controls located within reach of all of your fingertips. All of the controls are well placed and easy to use in most situations.
Viewing your captured photos, navigating the onscreen menu system and shooting in live view mode all take place on the 3-inch, 920,000 dot LCD screen. The screen is a pleasure to look at most of the time, however, it does produce a lot of glare that can be very distracting in bright light situations. Even when not shooting in live view mode, you can use the LCD screen to display and quickly change all of the camera's shooting settings. When using the fixed optical viewfinder, which has a frame coverage of approx. 95%, you should have no difficulty framing your shots. All of your camera information is displayed in the bottom line of the viewfinder or displayed on the LCD screen.
With a wealth of exposure settings and combinations of shooting parameters, the D700 can be a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, Nikon has provided a Shooting Menu Bank consisting of four independent areas in which you can store and later recall frequently-used settings, banks A through D. You can also rename these banks to fit the situation in which you use them (like Portrait for example), helping you to recall their purpose later. It also provides Custom Setting Banks to store unique combinations that can be later recalled, simplifying the management of the camera's Custom Settings. Overall, this is a highly customizable camera.
Shooting performance from the D700 was better than advertised, which was a pleasant surprise. It was able to capture its first image after being turned on in just 2/10 of a second. When the camera is pre-focused, the shutter lag is almost non-existent, and between 1/10 and 2/10 of a second when allowing the camera to focus the lens. Shooting in live-view mode, the D700 takes 4/10 of a second for the camera to capture its image when already focused. In single shot mode, the camera was able to capture 5 images in just two seconds without the flash and 5 images in 2.5 seconds with the built-in flash.
The D700 really shines when using the continuous shooting modes, surpassing Nikon's shooting performance claims. In continuous LOW mode, I captured 10 images in 2.7 seconds (3.7 fps). Using continuous HIGH mode, I was able to capture 10 images in 1.6 seconds, which is approx. 6.5 fps. That is outstanding compared to the 5 fps that Nikon has listed. All of our tests were completed using a 4GB Sandisk Extreme DUCATI edition compact flash card, large fine quality .jpg (JPEG), program mode, flash off, Nikkor f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED 24-120mm AF-S VR Zoom lens at 24mm and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. Our speed tests where repeated with the camera on large fine quality .jpg (JPEG) with NEF (RAW) as well. Shooting with both formats (JPEG+RAW) in continuous HIGH mode, the buffer fills around 15 shots. Shooting in JPEG format only, it takes approx. 26 shots to fill the buffer.
Image quality from the D700 is excellent all around. This model really excels at producing images with extremely low noise no matter what ISO you are shooting with. This allows you to shoot with faster shutter speeds in lower light situations without a flash and still capture outstanding images. From ISO 1000 and down, the noise level is incredibly low, if you notice any at all when viewing your images at 100%. As you raise the sensitivity the noise slowly increases, but as you can see in our M&M man samples, you can capture quality images up to ISO 6400, that can still be used for small prints. Shooting outdoors with the Nikkor f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED 24-120mm AF-S VR Zoom lens, I did get a moderate level of barrel distortion at the wide end. Chromatic aberrations were controlled nicely and there was very little edge softness when the image was in focus on the edges.
The D700 was also a pleasure to shoot with indoors. The white balance and metering systems did an excellent job of adjusting to the various lighting conditions, including the pool (difficult for most cameras), when set to auto. When there is not quite enough available light, the built-in flash works very well at shorter distances. The flash provided a slightly cooler image than when shooting without, but the exposure was controlled very well. In our portrait example, the skin tones look natural, and due to the position of the built-in flash unit, red-eye was scarce in most of our flash images.
While shooting our sports subjects (swimming, basketball and snowboarding), I was very pleased with the camera's focus tracking abilities. It allowed the camera to focus quickly and lock onto the subject, even when shooting in very low light situations; including the dark of night where just a spotlight was illuminating the moving subject. The focus system also did a good job of following the subject while shooting in burst mode, allowing you to keep up with the action. When using the flash, however, you are only able to capture one image at a time. There is no burst feature for the flash, which would be nice in certain situations.
Powering the D700 is the EN-EL3e, a 7.4V 1500mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery with external charger. The battery is CIPA rated to 1000 shots on a single charge, which I was able to get several hundred photos on a single charge, including shots with the built-in flash, and when shooting warm, humid and extremely cold temperatures that can shorten the battery life. A battery meter lists the percentage of power left and records the number of shots taken on each charge, while the camera also monitors the battery and notifies you when it is time to replace it.
Bottom Line - Nikon's new professional-level dSLR camera takes the advanced features and quality of the D3 and puts them into a smaller body, which is still larger than the D300. As one of just 3 cameras to feature Nikon's FX sized CMOS imaging sensor and EXPEED image processing, the quality from the D700 is outstanding while the burst performance surpassed Nikon's claims. The extremely low amount of noise throughout the ISO scale allows you to shoot quality images without a flash in situations that most cameras would not have a chance. With a MSRP of US $2,995.95 (body only), this is a camera for serious photographers looking for outstanding performance and quality.
Nikon has announced updated firmware versions for the D700
Details - D700 - A version 1.01 ; B version 1.01 firmware upgrade - Windows
Modifications enabled with A and B firmware Ver. 1.01
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