The Nikon D700 seemingly adopts the D3's spec inside a D300 body, but is the Nikon D700 too good to be true and how does it compare to the D3? The What Digital Camera Nikon D700 review investigates...
Nikon D700 review – Performance
Given the exhaustive functionality offered by the D700, I made my life easier by setting up a Custom Menu with the options I anticipated using most frequently early on. I left the depth-of-field preview button as it was, and assigned Active D-Lighting to the Func button around the front, later changing it to activate Raw shooting.
Perhaps the first thing that strikes you about using the camera’s performance is its near-instantaeous start-up. This is matched by the repsonsiveness of the shutter release, which with so little travel only requires the slightest push for focusing to kick in and a touch more for the shot to be taken. The LCD screen is just as impressive, with a pixel count that’s over three times higher than on most other DSLRs. While its benefits mainly concern image reviewing and zooming in to check fine detail and focus, it also heightens user experience by presenting the menu system and display panel with great clarity. This applies equally to the viewfinder, whose glass pentaprism is large and bright, and all exposure information is clear to see.
With regards to focusing, it really helps that each AF point isn’t a point so much as a small rounded box. Seeing this (or these) over the area in focus is considerably clearer than a small point, and particularly when shooting using the 3D Tracking function, where the focusing point dances manically as it tracks the subject. I shot a number of continuous-burst sequences using the function, shooting everything from ducks in the park, birds in the air, joggers on a racetrack and an assortment of street traffic. I also caught the attention of a footballing street performer in Covent Garden, who, upon hearing of my shooting continuously, was eager to show off his talents. The vast majority of my shots were sharp and focused, and on a couple of shots the focusing point was distracted by a passer-by, but I still managed an impressive hit rate. It goes without saying that subjects with a good contrast to their background will be tracked more easily by the system and a couple of times the focus point drifted off in more subdued conditions. The only other time I found the system swayed is when shooting a white duck against reflections in the water, where the camera was occasionally thrown by the bright reflections. No AF tracking system is infallible, but it would be unreasonable to expect too much more than that of the D700.
Overall AF performance is great, and even when I turned off the AF assist light in a dimly lit cafe it didn’t dawdle too much. Autofocusing is also possible when using live view, in both contrast- and phase-detectionbased modes (respectively titled Tripod and Hand-held). This setup is currently the most common on DSLRs, and with no augmentable LCD screen you could argue that it’s also among the most primitive. Even so, I found the Hand-held mode focused fast enough to capture stationary subject matter. Like all contrast-detection AF modes the Tripod mode is slower, and so cannot be used with such ease. What did impress me, though, was how accurately it ‘trialled-and-errored’ each focusing step; it does so quickly and in quite small increments, which for studio work makes it an accurate and user-friendly alternative to manual focusing. Although I found the camera reliable in terms of faithfully reproducing a scene, a couple of things threw me. For example, I took two shots of a car from similar positions using the same exposure settings. Upon review I was surprised to see one with a coldish, blue cast and one much warmer, and it was only after viewing the two images in View NX that a possible explanation arose. One image had just one focus point and the other had five, so it seems that either I had switched from single-point AF to auto area AF between the two, or simply that the camera’s Auto AF area had chosen a single point for my first image and five for the second. Focusing and metering systems are generally linked in DSLRs, but the D700 also optimises white balance and assesses Scene Recognition among other factors, prior to exposure. What this example highlights is the camera’s nature of optimising each shot prior to exposure, but this in turn means that a greater degree of precision is needed from the user for accurate results.
Whether you’re using a DX or FX format lens, poorer lenses will be scrutinised by the sensor, and DX lenses may show higher instances of corner shading and/or softness than if they were mounted on a DX-format body. Nikon has clearly considered this, and features such as the Vignetting Control (which, surprise surprise, has not just one setting but low, medium, high and auto flavours) are on hand to deal with this. Even so, there’s little point using the D700 with anything but quality optics. This is not to say that you can’t use older lenses and expect good results – I used an elderly Nikkor 60mm f/2.8 G macro lens and was more than impressed by its performance – just as long as they’re good-quality older lenses.