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...
Image Quality & Value For Money
Nikon D700 review – Image Quality
Nikon D700 review – Raw and JPEG
The standard of JPEGs is overall high. Viewing JPEGs in comparison with their Raw files shows that highlights in particular are brought back to a much more detailed level, though I’d still be tempted to notch up the default sharpness setting up a touch. The camera processes fringing out of defocused areas impressively, but predictably it can struggle in focused areas where maintaining sharpness is more of a concern. I found fringing in focused areas of JPEGs slightly dulled rather than removed, so the camera is obviously trying to rectify this. Finally, it’d be nice to have a full version of Capture NX 2, rather than just a trial. Nikon has been generous enough in the past to offer deals on the software to Nikon D300 and Nikon D3 purchasers, so it may well do so again with the D700.
Nikon D700 review – Exposure
Shot after shot, exposures were balanced and detail was well kept. Different exposure settings (such as sensitivity) will dictate the exact dynamic range displayed by the camera, but with an average of up to eight stops you can largely be confident of retaining detail. I did find the Active D-Lighting function useful and effective, but having five different settings is a little unnecessary in the majority of situations, especially if you have to trial and error each one. Either stick to the Auto setting or leave images to post-production.
Nikon D700 review – Noise
With the same processor and sensor as the Nikon D3, it’s no surprise that the D700 exhibits the same fantastic control over noise. Noise rises very steadily through the range, and even at the maximum standard sensitivity setting of 6400 images have a tight grain that doesn’t destroy fine detail too much. There can, however, be a little banding visible around this sensitivity. Images at the maximum ISO 25,600 are noisy, but given how infrequently you’re likely to use this setting – and remembering that no other manufacturer has achieved such results yet – you can hardly complain. As with other DSLRs, there’s a considerable shift in terms of visible chroma noise between the highest two sensitivity settings compared with the rest of the range.
Studio testing indicates that the camera reproduces a relatively light midtone, prefering shadow to highlight detail.
Nikon D700 review – Colour And White Balance
The camera’s AWB system did remarkably well to reproduce faithful conditions, with a slightly lower but still impressive performance under incandescent lighting. The only other issues I encountered with the white balance system was when the camera selected different focusing points for consecutive shots of the same scene. Other than that, colour is pleasing and I didn’t experience any unexpected colour casts.
Nikon D700 review – Sharpness And Detail
The level of detail the camera manages to capture is impressive to say the least, particularly in areas where you may assume detail is lost. This is largely lens dependent, though, with only quality optics matching the sensor.
Nikon D700 review – Value For Money
It’s tricky to judge how good-value the D700 is, for the simple reason that it pretty much sits in a class of its own. On one hand, so much of the Nikon D3’s feature set is now available for almost half of what its asking price was just a year ago, that all of a sudden the Nikon D3 seems a little expensive. Of course, there are differences to justify this, but with the sensor-based cleaning and built-in flash you’re getting a few extras, too. It’s undoubtedly the best camera you can buy for under the £2,000 mark and that’s no easily-achieved honour, but I imagine the average enthusiast would be better served by the Nikon D300, which itself has a number of benefits over the D700.
The big question now is how Canon will respond. Given that its current 5D offers a 12.8MP resolution, its likely that its successor – should Canon ever wish to grace us with one – will surpass that of the D700, and so will appeal to the more resolution-hungry demands of stock photography, advertising and studio work. Sony, too, has all but announced the name of its 24MP pro-orientated model and rumours still circulate about other manufacturers muscling in on the sector. As possible competition to the D700 emerges then its value will have a more meaningful barometer against which to be tested, but at the moment, within its own class, the D700 is unrivalled.