Nikon D700 review

This camera is not a hot new gear from Nikon, it was produced in July 2008 and until now my D200 worked perfectly. But when time came to make a change, the D700 was the perfect choice. This camera is just amazing! ISO, weight, ergonomics, performance, battery life, just a really good piece of hardware! I got it just one week ago, and these are my first impressions.

At a glance

  • 12.1 megapixel full-frame sensor.
    Enough MP for almost everything, prints of 14.1″ x 9.4″ for 300dpi and 21.2″ x 14.1″ for 200dpi. Only in case you really want to print huge prints you better try more expensive gear like Nikon D3X, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Hasselblad H4D or Mamiya DM56 or just buy a traditional medium-format film-base camera. Cheaper and better quality.
  • Image Sensor Cleaning (vibration)
    This is a really convenient feature. Usually technical service don’t ask too much for cleaning the sensor but it’s really annoying to find a dirty dark point in our pictures and realize that you are not able to do anything to clean it up in that moment. Some cleaning sets come in hand for those situations. But I strongly discourage to use them, only in case you really know what you are doing.
  • ISO from 200 to 6400 and forcing until 25600 to 100:
    This is one of the greatest thing of the D700. The sensibility is just amazing. Almost no noise even at 6400 ISO. Check bellow for some examples.
  • Don’t threw away your DX lenses!!
    They are supported. The resolution will drop to 5MP but you can still use them. Check examples bellow
  • 51-point focus sensor:
    Forget about previous problems to focus with the D200 and some old lenses. D700 auto focus just works even for wide apertures.
  • Active D-Lighting:
    This system increases the dynamic range. Check examples bellow
  • Magnesium body and buttons are sealed against moisture and dust.

ISO

This is my most important feature, because I realize mainly many pictures in low light conditions. The ISO of the D700 is just awesome.
The FX format opens many new possibilities about light sensibility. Noise reduction is the first thing that receive a positive impact due the bigger size of the CMOS sensor.
Check the images bellow. Click each of them, they will open in a new window in full resolution:

Click on the image to see in full resulution

ISO1600 ISO3200 ISO6400
D700 ISO 1600 D700 ISO 3200 D700 ISO 6400
ISO1600 ISO3200 ISO25600
D200 ISO 1600 D200 ISO 3200 D700 ISO 25600

Just compare, ISO 6400 on the D700 has less noise than the ISO 1600 on the D200!!
I suggest to shot from ISO 200 to 1600 for best low noise performance. Anyway at 3200 it still just works fine.
Higher ISO level will increase a lot the noise. Usually I prefer to shot in black and white for those huge ISO level pictures. Colors get drained and details get lost.

What to do with my DX lenses?

Don’t worry! Your DX lenses will work just fine. The only thing is a reduction in resolution. It just drops to 5MP.
Advantages of DX format is that you can get a 127mm/1.8F lens for the price of a 85mm/1.8F lens. The DX format applies a crop factor of 1.5. This means that all your non DX lenses need to be multiplied by this factor. So a normal 50mm lens will become a 75mm lens. DX format cameras, for example a Nikon D200, have a smaller CMOS and that means more noise at high ISO but you can get more megapixels for that cropped image. For example a Nikon D200 have a DX sensor and a resolution of 10MP. That means that for a smaller surface compared to D700 FX format we have just 2MP less. Because DX lenses match perfectly with this format, we have an effective 10MP image.
If we use the DX lens on a FX format, the sensor is bigger but the lens project the effective image over a smaller surface. Remember that a DX lens was designed only for DX format cameras so the projected image will fit a DX format area over a bigger FX format area. Of course in this process we lose some resolution. That’s why using a DX lens in a D700 we have only 5MP instead of the 10MP of the Nikon D200.
For example if we use a Nikon D3X instead of a D700 and a DX lens, the cropped image will have 10MP instead. Just because the D3X has more megapixels than the D700.

Check these images for a better understanding:

No DX crop
If we don’t apply the AUTO DX crop on the D700 this is what actually a DX lens projects to the focal plane. Lens: AF-S Nikkor 18-70mm DX

DX crop
After apply the DX AUTO Crop on the D700 settings, we can use any DX lenses. Remember that we are actually using only some portion of the CMOS sensor corresponding with only 5MP.

DX on D200
Same lens used on the D200.

Batteries

You can use the same batteries as the Nikon D200 and D300 EN-EL3e. The performance is great if you don’t make a extensive use of the flash. I just can use one battery for the whole day. Anyway, a second replacement battery is a must to just be safe. Only in case you need a frame rate bigger than 5fps the battery grip (same as D300) will come in handy. If you are happy with 5fps you can just same money and keep only one more battery in your pocked. The MB-D10 battery grip is expensive and add an extra weight to the camera.

Things that I really love of the D700

It’s robust and well made. The camera is really strong and you can notice that you don’t have a crappy piece of plastic in your hands.

Nikon improved the accessibility and it has more buttons near my right hand. So with just one hand I can access even more options compared with the D200. It also have the info button. Really useful!! Check the pic bellow:

D700 info button
D700 info button


It not only shows at a glance all the camera parameters but it also let me access those parameters directly from the menu.

The virtual horizon! I have already one in my tripod but having one integrated in the camera is just a great idea!

D700 virtual horizon


A personalized menu. I can just add the options I want to have right away to use instead to look for them through the menu. It also have the same option as the D200 to create a personalized menu with the most used options as well.

Live View! This is one more option that I can’t live without. I usually don’t like to see what I’m about to shot in a screen. I prefer to see through a viewfinder. Anyway for some situations the live view is really useful. Now I don’t have to lay down in the ground to shot in a weird angle. It also helps for some “discrete” photos so people don’t realize that actually you are taking a picture :-) it also helps for manual focus under low light environments. The live view lets me zoom in the actual view and see exactly how focused the image is.

D700 ive view

D700 live view
You can also use the virtual horizon in the same live view!

Advantages of FX format

With the FX format the era of cropping factors comes to an end. You have the same format as a traditional 35mm camera with the advantage that all the old Nikon f-mount lenses will work exactly in the way they where supposed to. It also has the advantage to obtain real focal length for prime lenses.
FX format will improve the ISO as well. The CMOS surface is bigger and it allocate the same number of pixels than an equivalent DX format reducing electronic interference when a high ISO is applied and, therefore, reducing the noise at high ISO.

FX format 50mm
50mm prime lens on D700 FX format
D200 DX format
Same 50mm lens on D200 DX format.

Now a fisheye

Fisheye D700 FX format
Fisheye AF Nikkor 16mm/2.8F on D700 FX format
D200 fisheye DX format
Same lens on a D200 DX format

Remember that for Nikon digital, only D700, D3, D3s, D3X are full format. Other cameras, will have the same behavior as the D200 examples above.

Active D-lighting! Increase the dynamic range. This helps a lot in situations where the image is composed by very different exposure levels. For example, you want to shot a room with an open window. If we want to see the image outside the window, we have to adjust the exposure, but at the same time we cannot see the interior of the room because it will be dark. If we adjust exposure for the room, we will see a white square instead of a window. Usually HDR is the digital solution for this scenario. Anyway, Active D-Lighting will help increasing the dynamic range of the image and, therefore, showing an image closer to the one we are seeing with our on eyes.

Check the examples bellow:

No Active D-Lighting system.
No Dlight
Look at the grass in the bottom. It’s over exposed. Anyway we can see what is about under the tree.

Active D-Lighting system
Active D-lighting
Now the grass is not over exposed and we can still see what is about under the tree. This image is closer with the one I saw with my own eyes.

Who should buy this camera

The D700 is more expensive than the D300 but the extra price is totally worth paying. Anyway if you never, or just in rare occasions, need to take pictures under low light environment and you are not able to do any long exposure, maybe a D700 is not the best choice. In this case maybe a D300 is better for you.
If you want to shot people in movement in low light environments like parties, close locals, concerts and so forth, this is the camera for you!!

In case you are not a night images hunter, think about the advantages of a FX format when using prime lenses or old Nikon lenses. You get the real no cropped area as with a 35mm camera.

That simple! The main advantage of the D700 is the high ISO performance and the FX format. The rest is almost the same as a D300.

If you are a D200 or D300 user, you can save money reusing many accessories. Remote cord control, batteries, the grip (only for the D300) and so forth.

Until now these are some of the pictures I took with the D700, more are coming :-)