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DCRP Review: Nikon D700
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 15, 2008
Last Updated: December 11, 2010
The D700 ($2999, body only) is Nikon's midrange, full-frame digital SLR. It takes everything that's great about the $4500 D3, and puts it into a midsize body that's not much larger than the D300. The D700's main competitors include the new Canon EOS-5D Mark II and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900, both of which cost about the same.
Some of the highlights on the D700 include:
Sounds pretty nice, eh? Keep reading to see how the D700 performs -- our review starts now!
What's in the Box?
The D700 will be available in two kits. You can buy it in a body-only configuration ($2999), or along with a 24 - 120 mm VR lens ($3599). Here's what you'll find in the box for both of those kits:
If you purchase the lens kit, then you'll be ready to start taking photos right away. The 24 - 120 mm kit lens is good, but not great (it had more corner blurriness than I would've expected). Full frame cameras tend to push lenses pretty hard, so you'll need some serious glass to get the most out of the D700. If you attach a "regular" (non-DX) lens to the camera, then you won't have any focal length conversion ratio to deal with. You can use DX-format lenses too, though the resolution will drop to 5 Megapixel, and a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio will become a factor.
Like all D-SLRs, there's no memory card in the D700's box, so you'll need to pick one up (if you don't have one already). The D700 uses CompactFlash cards (Type I only), and I'd recommend a 2GB card to start with. The camera supports UDMA cards, so if you want maximum performance, it's worth picking up one of those.
The D700 uses the same EN-EL3e lithium-ion battery as several other Nikon SLRs. This battery packs 11.1 Wh of energy, which is on the higher end of the spectrum. Here's how that translates into battery life:
As you can see, the D700 is the battery life king in the midrange, full-frame D-SLR category. And, should you want more juice, you can use the battery grip that I'll describe in a moment.
I should point out two things about the proprietary batteries used by the D700 and all the other cameras in the table above. For one, they're expensive -- an extra EN-EL3e will set you back at least $30. Second, unless you're using the optional battery grip (described below), you can't use an off-the-shelf battery to get you through the day when your rechargeable dies.
The D700 with its optional battery grip; image courtesy of Nikon USA
Speaking of the battery grip, here it is. It's called the MB-D10, and it can hold a number of different batteries. Straight out of the box, it can hold an additional EN-EL3e, or eight AA batteries. By purchasing the BL-3 battery chamber cover, you can also use the EN-EL4a battery, which is almost twice as powerful as an EN-EL3e. In other words, with an EN-EL3e in the camera and an EN-EL4a in the grip, you can take a whopping 2900 shots without recharging -- nice! As you'd expect, the battery grip also gives you additional controls for shooting in the portrait orientation.
But wait, there's more. If you've got the EN-EL4a battery in the grip, the continuous shooting speed on the D700 increases from 5 to 8 frames per second.
When it's time to charge the EN-EL3e battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes around 2 1/4 hours for the battery to fully charge. This isn't one of those handy charges that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
As is the case with all digital SLRs, the D700 has a plethora of optional accessories available. I've compiled some of them into this table:
An impressive (if not expensive) list, and there are plenty more accessories available, believe me.
Nikon includes a pair of software programs along with the D700. The first is Nikon Transfer, which you'll use to transfer photos from the camera to your Mac or PC. You select which photos are to be transferred, where they're going, and you're done. You can also select a backup location for your photos, just in case something goes horribly wrong.
Once that's done, you'll find yourself in Nikon ViewNX, which you can use for organizing and sharing photos. Here you can the usual thumbnail view, and you can assign photos to various categories, or give them "star" ratings. ViewNX lets you see the focus point used on a photo, listen to voice memos, and convert RAW images to JPEGs.
ViewNX has very basic RAW editing capabilities. You can adjust the exposure compensation, white balance, sharpness, contrast, highlights and shadows, and D-Lighting. You can also change the Picture Control setting, if you wish (more on that later). The annoying thing is that you have to do all this while looking at the thumbnail image, which isn't terribly helpful.
Nikon's solution for RAW editing is known as Capture NX2 (priced from $150). This software lets you tons of RAW properties, including white balance, exposure, tone curve, the Picture Control setting, saturation/sharpness/contrast, noise reduction, and vignette control (to name but a few things). Capture NX2's unique U-Point Technology lets you select a spot in the image that you want to retouch, select the radius of the area that will be affected, and then adjust things like brightness, contrast, saturation, noise reduction, and D-Lighting for that area. You can also "paint" these same things onto selected areas of a photo. It's a unique approach to photo editing that, while not for everyone, is pretty powerful.
Another option for editing RAW files is using Adobe Photoshop CS3 or CS4 -- just make sure your Camera Raw plug-in is up-to-date!
So what is RAW, anyway? The RAW image format (Nikon calls it NEF) stores unprocessed data from the camera's sensor. Because of this, you can adjust all kinds of image properties without degrading the quality of the image. So, if you botched the white balance, you can change it in your RAW editor, with no ill effects. It's almost like getting a second chance to take a photo. Since the bundled software hardly lets you do anything, you'll want to pick up a better RAW editor to really take advantage of the format.
The downsides of the RAW format are that 1) the file sizes are significantly larger than JPEGs, 2) camera performance can be slower, and 3) you must post-process each image on your computer in order to convert it to a standard image format.
Camera Control Pro 2
Live view in Camera Control Pro 2 (even the "virtual horizon" is available!)
Another option software product for the D700 is Nikon Camera Control Pro 2, which costs a whopping $153 (it's included for free with Canon D-SLRs). As its name implies, Camera Control Pro lets you control the D700 from your Mac or PC over the USB connection. When you take a photo, it goes straight to your computer. Most of the camera's settings are adjustable and, as you can see, live view is available too.
Nikon includes the camera equivalent of War and Peace with the D700. Covering almost 450 pages, the manual covers the camera in detail, and that's good news, since it's a complex piece of equipment. I also appreciate the "Q and A index" at the front of the book, which helps you quickly find answers to common questions. Documentation for the bundled software is installed onto your computer.
Look and Feel
Though its nowhere near as large as its more expensive sibling (the D3), the Nikon D700 is still a bulky, heavy camera. And that's not a bad thing -- you wouldn't this $3000 camera body to feel cheap or plasticky. The D700 has a magnesium alloy frame, and it feels very sturdy in your hands. The body is sealed against dust and moisture, so it'll hold up in pretty extreme conditions.
The D700 has a good-sized right hand grip, though the camera's heft means that you'll want to support the lens, as well. If there's one camera that's the model of "button clutter", it's the D700. There are buttons, dials, and switches scattered on three sides of the camera. In other words, it's not for the faint of heart -- so be prepared to read the manual.
Alright, here's how the D700 compares to its two competitors in terms of size and weight: