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Nikon D700 Review

by Shun Cheung, November 2008 (updated February 2011)

photography by Shun Cheung and Hannah Thiem


The Nikon D700 digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera is a cross between the full-frame sensor (FX – 24×36mm) D3 and the small-frame sensor (DX – 16×24mm) D300. The D700 is the economy model of the D3, using the same sensor and digital electronic processing pipeline as its bigger brother, minus a few high-end features such as a built-in vertical grip and dual compact flash memory cards. The Nikon D700 is a professional camera with 12 MP.

On August 23, 2007, Nikon invited the press from around the world to Tokyo and announced two new digital SLR cameras, namely the Nikon D3 (review), and Nikon D300 (review). As the first Nikon DSLR with a sensor that is essentially the same size as the traditional 35mm film frame, the D3 was a landmark camera. At the same time, the D300 demonstrated that Nikon would continue to support the DX format. Despite the huge price difference, the D3 and D300 share a lot of components such as the Multi-CAM 3500 AF modules that features 51 AF points.

Almost a year later, on July 1, 2008, Nikon introduced its second FX-format DSLR in the D700. Contrary to a lot of speculations, the second FX body is not a 20+MP camera. The D700 is essentially a cross between the D3 and D300. Therefore, it can be viewed as the economy model of the D3 or the FX version of the D300. Internally the D700 shares a lot of the same electronics as the D3. However, the external controls are very much D300-like. The three of them share the same auto-focus module the Multi-CAM 3500.

The Nikon D700 can be purchased from one of our trusted merchants in the following combinations:

If you are new to digital photography, start with the photo.net guide Building a DSLR System.

Even though the D700 may be the economy model, its feature set is still extremely strong with only a few luxury items absent from those on the D3. The following list is a summary of the D3 features not available on the D700:

  • Dual Compact Flash memory card slots
  • Highest build quality from Nikon with a shutter rated at 300K actuations; the D700 is rated at 150K actuations.
  • 100% viewfinder, 95% for the D700 with a 90% frame area
  • A dedicated lock button to lock the shutter speed and aperture
  • A dedicated Bracket (BKT) button for exposure bracketing
  • Voice recording
  • Integrated vertical grip with dedicated controls for the vertical orientation, although the D700 has the MB-D10 vertical grip option
  • Separate back LCD for ISO, image quality, and white balancing controls
  • 5:4 crop mode and under the crop mode, the area outside of the crop is grayed out. The D700 only provides a frame outline for the cropped area.

Similar to the D3, the D700 is fully capable for action photography. Start up time is 120 msec and shutter lag is a short 40 msec, both just like the D3. Otherwise, the D700 is every bit as suitable for demanding action and low-light photography as the D3. The D700 can capture at 5 fps native with one EN-EL3e battery inside the camera. But just like the D300, if one attaches the optional MB-D10 vertical grip/battery pack (with either an EN-EL4/EN-EL4a battery or 8 AA batteries inside), the D700 can capture at 8 fps at the full 14-bit mode, very close to the 9 fps from the D3. The good news is that unlike the D300, the D700 can capture at the full 14-bit mode without any loss of frame rate exactly like the D3, while the D300 drops to only 2.5 fps in the 14-bit mode.

On the other hand, the D700 has some advantages of its own:

  • It is smaller and lighter than the D3
  • It has a pop-up flash. While it is under-powered and cannot rotate to bounce as a primary flash, its main advantage is that it can serve as the master for the Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) to control remote iTTL flashes
  • The D700 has the on-demand gridline option in its viewfinder that helps the photographer keep the horizon straight. However, the viewfinder is a bit dimmer and when there is no battery to power it, the viewfinder becomes very dark and blurry. That is not a fault but merely a feature that is shared among all Nikon SLRs with the on-demand gridline feature dated back to the film SLR the F80/N80.
  • On-camera AF assist light

Auto Focus

The D700 uses the same Multi-CAM 3500 FX AF module as the D3, and the D300 uses a very similar Multi-CAM 3500 DX. It has a total of 51 AF points and among them 15 are cross type that are sensitive to both horizontal and vertical patterns. If you hold the camera horizontally, the 15 cross-type AF points are the ones in the center three columns, 5 to each column. Under dim light, typically the cross-type AF points perform much better. This is an AF module optimized for action photography but is less suitable for still subjects, especially in the FX format.

On the D700, the Multi-CAM 3500 can track moving subjects at 8 fps with the optional MB-D10 battery pack. My testing of the D3, D700 and D300 cameras indicates that the new AF module can track moving wildlife, birds in flight and various sports with ease. For action photography, I would rate it a step better than the auto-focus on the D2X that uses the previous generation of Nikon’s best AF module, the Multi-CAM 2000. With the D2X, roughly 80 to 90% of my surfing images are in focus. With the Multi-CAM 3500, it is quite close to 100%.

For photographing still subjects, one can select any one of the 51 AF points from the Multi-Selector pad on the back of the camera and use that to directly cover the subject in the viewfinder. Using the pad to move the selection one AF point at a time is slow. Therefore, there is an option to make only 11 AF points (out of the 51) selectable (Custom Setting a8). Additionally, if one presses on the center button of the Multi-Selection pad, it resets to the center AF point.

While the 51 AF points from the Multi-CAM 3500 cover a good portion on the D300’s DX frame, on the D700’s FX frame, which has over twice the area, the 51 AF points only cover the center 25% of the frame. Therefore, some old-fashioned AF, lock focus, and recompose may once again be necessary. In particular, if the camera is held in the portrait (vertical) orientation, there is no cross-type AF point in the top 40% of the frame, where the subject typically is. It can be a problem under indoor dim light. That is a disadvantage the D700 shares with the D3.

For photographing moving subjects, the D700 has the Dynamic AF Area option to choose a cluster of 9, 21 or all 51 AF points to track the subject (Custom Setting a3), with the center of the cluster at any one of the 51 AF points. A cluster of 9 simply represents a center AF point with a circle of 8 surrounding it to form a square. A cluster of 21 has a second layer surrounding the 9 inside.

The general rule of thumb is that the fewer AF points that are involved in deciding the focus, the less calculation the little computer inside the camera needs to make such that the faster AF will be. However, using only 9 AF points, it is rather easy for the D700 to lock onto the background when the subject briefly moves off the covered area, causing the common “back focus” problem. My experience is that using 21 AF points seems to be a better compromise. If one selects all 51 AF points, there is a further option to engage 3D tracking, where the Multi-CAM 3500 takes additional information from the 1005-pixel metering CCD inside the viewfinder into consideration. Since the metering CCD is sensitive to color, 3D tracking is designed to keep track of a subject’s movement provided that it has a different color and/or a lot of contrast from the background. My experience with this option is mixed. For smaller subjects that are covered by one or two AF points, the Multi-CAM 3500 can track the subject for a short while, but after a few AF point hops, it tends to lose track of it and latches onto something else instead. For larger subjects that can occupy 10 or 20 AF points, tracking works a lot better.

Unlike the D2X and D200 that have a Closest Subject Priority AF mode, the Multi-CAM 3500 replaces it with Auto-Area AF where it intends to automatically detect the subject. If the lens used is a D lens (including all AF-S and G lenses) that can relay focusing distance information to the camera body, the D700 has the ability to detect human faces automatically. For the new 3D tracking and face detection features, I would say there is still plenty of room for future improvement.


Text ©2008 Shun Cheung. Photos ©2008 Shun Cheung and Hannah Thiem.

Article revised February 2011.

Readers' Comments


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Steve Lacey , November 19, 2008; 04:39 P.M.


Always watching and learning.

I really appreciated the great job you did with the D700 review. It is compact yet offers so many details, I feel like I am reading more than just a manual. The sample photos at the end could really help in deciding between the lenses along with the descriptive details earlier. The only thing I would have liked to see, literally, is that the sample photos had the option after their first link and being shown, another link to show FULL size and full frame. This really would have been a great influence on how not only the lenses perform but how the D700 captures the detail. Thank you.

Bob Bill , November 19, 2008; 09:40 P.M.

Well written, detailed analysis. I'm sold.

Shun Cheung , November 20, 2008; 11:55 A.M.


Window, 600x600 Crop

We cannot post full size images because that would have been very demanding on photo.net's bandwidth. Additionaly, we also have copyright concerns. That is why all sample images are small JPEGs so that they are not very useful commercially.

But here is a 600x600 pixel crop of the middle right side from following image:

Michael Seto , November 20, 2008; 10:02 P.M.

Fabulous review Shun. One thing that caught my eye - does the D700 in fact have a 5x4 crop? I own one and never noticed this. Is the line vs grayed out on the D3 actually referring to signifying in the viewfinder that the camera is in DX mode?

I'm not 100% on this and I'm away from my camera and OM right now.

Michael

Shun Cheung , November 21, 2008; 12:12 P.M.


D700 Viewable Area

While the D3 has a 5:4 crop mode, the D700 does not. The D700 can only capture either the entire FX frame or a DX crop frame.

Keep in mind that the D700's viewfinder only shows about 90% of the frame in terms of area, and at least on mine, it is also not quite centered. The attached image shows the area viewable in the viewfinder (red frame). By my rough calculation, it only shows 89.2% of the image area. Therefore, any 5:4 framing is not going to be very accurate in the viewfinder. Since the 5:4 mode is primarily for people making the common 8x10 prints without any cropping, any inaccurate 5:4 framing could be a major issue.

Frank Eleveld , November 24, 2008; 08:30 A.M.

Thanks for this well-written review, Shun. The accompanying test images are great as well.

B M Mills , January 21, 2009; 07:44 P.M.

Shun, thankyou for this excellent review which I found great to read and very practical. As you know I am strongly considering the D700 as my next body and your work has gone a long way towards convincing me that, when the time is right, my $3000 will be well spent. Thanks also to you and to Hannah for the various images accompanying this review which are both lovely, and useful to highlight the points that you make about this camera.

Warm regards,

Bernard

Antonio Jose Vieira de Oliveira , February 05, 2009; 02:24 P.M.


D700 & 80-200 AF-S

Thank you for the excellent review. One of the best i´ve seen in the internet! Rgds Antonio

Charles O Allen , February 21, 2009; 01:48 P.M.

Shun, thank you for the great review. I was wondering is the reason for using 21 focus pts on the D700 because the 51pts cover less of the total senor area as oppossed to using only 9 pts on the D300 which covers more of the sensor? Also would you mind terribly posting the setting you use for the four custom menus, Portrait, Sports, Landscape and Flash. Again thank you. By the way I own both the D300 and the D700 so I wondering how the set ups differ.

Teru Kage , March 23, 2009; 12:00 A.M.

This was one of the reviews that ultimately got me to take the plunge. I upgraded from my D80 and haven't looked back since. Sure, I miss the smaller size of the D80 (after a day with the D700 around my neck, I definitely notice the extra mass) but I love that the D700 lets me shoot with existing light without having to sacrifice image quality.

I did a quick side-to-side with my D80 and was amazed that the details and noise at ISO12800 are comparable to ISO1600 on my D80.

ISO 12800, f/8 @ 1/60s, 100% crop:

To interested parties, more samples at: www.fotop.net/teruphoto/D700

Jack Flannery , April 04, 2009; 05:09 A.M.

I had a friend tonight ask me "how many megapixels"? And "I bought a 12 mp Kodak for $99. What's the difference? I took a shot at ISO 6400 and said "that". The D700 just might be the first digital machine that I will keep for many years. It amazes me to no end. I cannot even begin to imagine what improvements could be made, although some could. Jack

Abdul Raffay , April 22, 2009; 01:20 A.M.

Hi, very nice review, i think the best i have read so far and also very objective. I am into bird photography and am planning to buy this camera. but your comments which i have pasted below for your reference have confused me a little:

"On the other hand, if you use a lot of super telephotos, DX will give you more reach with the same lenses. For example, the Nikon 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED AF-S VR, $5900, is far more effective on DX. Additionally, Nikon provides a number of compact and convenient zooms for travel and casual photography such as the very popular 18-200mm AF-S VR. Any equivalent lens for the FX format will be much larger."

i want to go for telephoto lenses such as 400mm etc. are you saying that they will not work good with D700 since it is FX.

thanks.

dan shoe , April 28, 2009; 12:12 A.M.

maybe there is more to it than just this, but DX is a crop, so a given lens will be more telephoto in DX than in full frame. I think the factor is about 60% so a lens that is 300mm in full frame would be 480mm in DX mode, so your birds will be a 60% bigger image in each dimension in DX mode.

Meir Samel , May 01, 2009; 02:33 P.M.

I just purchased a D700. I have Nikon SB-24 and SB-24 and SB-800 flash strobes. The SB-24 and SB-26 are not compatible with the D700 in the TTL mode, No communications between them whatsoever and the shutter won't even fire in TTL. Aperature Mode is okay.The SB-800 is compatable in all modes with the D700. All three flash strobes are compatible with the Fuji S2 Pro. WHY IS THIS? -and it is very unlike Nikon to do this.

Meir Samel , May 01, 2009; 02:34 P.M.

I just purchased a D700. I have just discovered that my Nikon SB-24 and SB-26 strobes are not compatible with the D700 in the TTL mode (Aperature mode is okay). That is very unlike Nikon to do this. My Nikon SB-800 is compatible with the D700. All three Strobes are compatible with the Nikon F4 and the Fuji Pro S2.-24. Why is this?

Meir Samel , May 01, 2009; 03:07 P.M.

What is the difference when using DX lens and FX lens in D700 FX mode? In other words what is gained with a FX lens?

Greg Davis , May 05, 2009; 04:01 P.M.

Thanks for this review. I’ve owned a series of Nikon cameras over the years and I recently moved up to the D700. It is an excellent camera. However, I do have one concern. I had also considered moving to a Canon 5D Mark II, but decided not to because of my investment in Nikon lenses, Speedlights, etc. However, I decided after purchasing the D700 to get new lenses to match its performance, and I now notice that there is a significant difference between high-end Canon lens pricing and Nikon lens pricing. For comparison, here are “similar” camera / lens packages from Nikon and Canon:

Canon 5D Mark II = $2699, 16 – 35/2.8 L = $1350, 24 – 70 / 2.8 L = $1110, 70-200 / 2.8 L IS = $1499, Total Canon = $6658

Nikon D700 = $2700, 14 – 24 / 2.8 = $1750, 24 – 70 / 2.8 = $1710, 70 – 200 /2.8 VR = $1900, Total Nikon = $8060

The $1400 difference in lens pricing makes no sense to me. These prices are from Adorama today (5/5/09) and include current promotion reductions from Canon. Canon seems to run these types of promotions frequently, Nikon never / rarely does. Even without the promotion, Nikon prices are significantly higher. I’m also considering a big telephoto (400mm / 600mm) down the road and the price difference nearly pays for a Canon 5D Mark II body.

If you are deciding between the two cameras, you may want to consider this. I’m sure the D700 will serve my needs – I just wish that Nikon would get more competitive with their high-end glass.

Erick Danzer , July 28, 2009; 01:02 P.M.

Nice review. FYI, Peter Burian has recently published both a Nikon D700 Review and a comparison review of full frame digital slrs including the D700, the 5D Mk II, and the Sony A900. Best, Erick

Hancel Darroca , October 17, 2009; 09:04 P.M.


with 70-200mm f/2.8

Hi, a month ago i upgraded from D80 to D700, since then i'm very interested with any reviews from the net with regards to D700, after i read all this reviews i'm very happy and contented and i can use my non-DX lenses to thier full potential... thanks guys.

Ringo Taylhardat , May 29, 2010; 05:47 P.M.

Does anyone know when the next version is arriving?  The new D3s is able to capture images at 100,000 ISO, I am interested in purchasing the next Nikon.  I may be pulling away from Canon, and going back to Nikon for the first time since the Digital age took over.

Cheers,

Carlos

Meir Samel , May 30, 2010; 12:13 A.M.

no idea but i am happy with the D700. I started with Nikons 20 years ago and am satisfied

Luis Saavedra , October 25, 2010; 09:12 P.M.

four or five years ago, convinced I had everything I wanted or needed I stopped buying photography equipment and started shooting more pictures. My D70 has been a very trusty and reliable camera body for me producing fantastic pictures for me on numerous occasions and continues to do so. But I recently got my hands on a D700 and my eyes were open once again. I was astonished to see the level of sophistication that this new camera body (soon to be obsoleted) has next to my trusty old D70. I mean it is breathtakingly better in every possible respect. I really cannot argue on this point. But Do I really need this new $2500 camera body and in what ways would it improve my photography  I aksed myself. I came to the conclusion that my photography would not fundamentally benefit from this level of technological advancement unless I needed specific features like fast autofocus or live view etc or even the FX mount. At this point the majority of my investment is staying in lenses and I would like to continue to have it be that way. I still think this camera is over priced and it will take a long time to produce something like this in the sub $1000 range. In the mean time my kudos to Nikon for an exceptional camera as I am sure this one is satisfying the professional and advanced amateur market quite satisfactorily !.

--Luis

Meir Samel , October 26, 2010; 12:59 A.M.

Luis; Not much I can add. I own a D700. I am more than satified.  If the D70 shoots Raw then I do not see how you will take better photos but check if the Zone range is wider, meaning detail in what is supposed to be Zones III and VI-VII. You did not mention "self cleaning" I change lenses often. I used self-cleaning once on my Fuji and thank god I had the feature. I remember when these cameras cost $16,000. If you need a better, "funner"  toy then get the D700.  Yes, kudos to Nikon because have been using the F4S and 8008 and the same  four lenses for 18-20 years without any problems.

Luis Saavedra , October 26, 2010; 01:38 P.M.

I agree it would be a fun toy to have, without a question in my mind. I have not had sensor dust issues with my D70 in the last 6 years I've had it due, in part, to how I change lenses and how often. So this hasn't become an issue for me. The only issue for me at this point is the price point on this body. Even at $1800 when it first came out, the D300 was a hard pill to swallow so I stayed away on the fences waiting for prices to drop. I also own and shot N90s and F4s bodies and these cameras still are a dream to shoot and are reliable workhorses. So like I said, I have everything I need equipment wise and while I could easily afford even a D3x body, I think aD700 would be too much of a splurge for me a this point. Hopefully I won't change my mind soon ;-).

Meir Samel , October 26, 2010; 02:47 P.M.

Luis

dirty fuji

I read a review on the D3X (maybe on photo.net). He wrote that he should have bought the D700 and one reason given was the D3X did not have self cleaning. ( think I am  correct on this). Other reason was the D3x was not worth the price and the D700 is. I have a Fuji and have twice had to clean the sensor. Not recommended by fuji but I locked up the mirror, and cleaned with an air can. It worked. Attaching image of my last encounter with dirty sensor on the fuji. I've not had to clean the sensor on the D700 but expect some day I'll have to. P.S. The Fuji takes just as good a photo as the D700 (in Raw)....using the same Nikon lenses.

lola mmar , March 16, 2011; 06:37 A.M.

that's was so interesting ,

the d700 i will bay it soon , after good try with d90 ,

but i have some problem with white balance  and the same problem in d3100 ,  its so hard to be shore in d700 there are a same problem with white balance or not ,

 


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