Nikon D700 Digital SLR Camera Review

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel & Steve Marquette, November 2008
Manufactured by: Nikon Canada Nikon USA
Requires: A serious interest in photography
MSRP: US$2,999.95, CAN$3,299.95

Following hot on the late 2007 heels of its magnificent, class leading D3 Professional Digital SLR camera, Nikon released the D700 just six months later to a mixture of surprise and amazement. The surprise was first and foremost caused by the fact that Nikon released another top-of-the-line camera body so soon after the D3. The amazement resulted from the approving exclamations of all the early reviewers of the D700. The questions everyone seems to ask when confronted with a D700 purchase decision are straightforward: is the D700 a 'baby' D3, is technical image quality as good as the D3, and, how sturdy is the D700 compared to the D3. We'll answer all three questions in this review. The Nikon D700 Digital SLR camera is a 12.1 megapixel, with a full-frame (Nikon's new FX format) CMOS sensor, boasting extremely intuitive use, high speed operation and responsiveness, extremely good low noise/high ISO performance and a big fat stack of other features and functions. This review was conducted and completed by two different D700 photographers over a period of two months.

Nikon makes digital SLR cameras with two different sizes of sensor: a) the formerly standard APS-C Nikon sensor (the DX) which captures a smaller image size than the newer full frame sensor, and b) the Nikon full frame (FX) sensor which is essentially identical in size to a 35mm film frame which means it has a surface area 43% larger than an APS-C sensor. All of the older 35mm Nikkor lenses gathering dust on store shelves (and stored away in camera bags) now have new lease on life. At the same time, all of the current crop of digital SLR lenses which were designed specifically to accommodate the smaller APS-C sensor size are kind of useless on a full frame digital SLR.


You can physically attach and use the so-called DX Nikkor lenses on a full frame Nikon DLSR and get great images, but you'll end up with a smaller image size. The reason is simply that the image circle cast on the FX sensor by a DX lens only covers about 5 megapixels worth of photo-diodes on the surface of the sensor. The evolution of digital SLRs came full circle back to the 35mm size and format with the release of the full frame Canon 5D about three years ago. Nikon trumped Canon with the release of the D3 in 2007, and with the release of the D700 in 2008 has advanced the state of the art (and more important, the number of full frame DLSR choices).

The D700 is not a baby D3 although it is physically smaller because it does not have the integrated vertical grip of the D3. That means the D700 is merely a full size digital SLR to which an optional vertical grip can be added. The D700 is also a full featured SLR and offers at least one important feature that is, irritatingly, missing from the D3: an automatic sensor cleaning system. The sensor cleaning system does a very good job of completely removing light, non-welded dust particles and other small detritus including short bits of hair and other pollution. The D700 shares the D3 autofocus assembly, autofocus subsystem and autofocus configuration menus. The D700 may also benefit from autofocus programming which is somewhat better optimized (a guess for sure, but based on the fact that the D700 was released six months after the D3 means somebody had to test and tweak the autofocus programming). According to Nikon, the D700 and D3 autofocus systems are identical. That's good news considering the stellar, class-leading performance of the D3.

There are no obviously discernible differences between identical studio images made with a D3 and D700 using the exact same lens in carefully controlled conditions. I can't put it any more concisely. We set up the two cameras in a studio and made about 260 carefully controlled identical shots before we got so tense and irritable that the effort of trying to find any substantive differences kindled our better judgement and we simply gave up. Image quality from a D700 in the hands of any competent photographer is superb. Here are some shots:

  1. Iron Fence at Sunset
  2. Bad Teeth . . . Soon
  3. Fall Flowers After the Rain
  4. Finial & Leaf Twisted
  5. Photographing the Space Ship

The D700 is almost as sturdy as the D3. In strictly practical terms reflecting the way in which a D700 can be used in day-to-day photography, it is in fact every bit as sturdy and impact resistant as the D3. For brute force, shoving, shouting and banging around in a dense photography scrum at a hot news event I'll take a D3. For run & jump/run & gun tension, noise, dust and filth in hot zones, I'll take a D3. For everything else (which means 95% of everywhere I travel and 95% of everything I shoot), I'll take the D700. You will not find a tougher or more consistently reliable and weather resistant camera in this form factor at any price. I've dropped my D700 in the muck of an Algonquin Park creek bed, cleaned off the camera and kept shooting as if nothing happened. My D700 has been banged around on crowded London tube trains at rush hour in sweating heat. It has been clicking away perfectly in sub-zero weather recently in northern Ontario. No worries. There are a few too many nooks & crannies in which dirt can collect, but the outer body materials can be scrubbed clean with a moistened, soft bristle toothbrush without any visible signs of wear.




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