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DCRP Review: Nikon D700
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 15, 2008
Last Updated: December 11, 2010

Front of the Nikon D700

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:

Camera Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon EOS-5D Mk II 850 shots LP-E6
Nikon D700 1000 shots EN-EL3e
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 880 shots NP-FM500H

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

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.

Nikon D700 with the MB-D80 battery grip
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:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Lenses Varies Varies The D700 supports nearly all Nikon F-mount lenses; do note that DX-format lenses will have a 1.5X focal length conversion ratio
External flash

SB-600
SB-800
SB-900

From $179
From $315
From $405
Get more flash power and less chance of redeye with these Speedlights.
Wired remote control MC-30
MC-36
From $55
From $124
The MC-30 is a basic shutter release button attached to a 85 cm cable; the MC-36 offers a backlit screen, shutter release lock, and a timer
Wireless remote control ML-3 From $179 Another expensive way to take photos without touching the camera
Battery grip MB-D10 From $227 Get at least twice the battery life, faster continuous shooting, and extra controls for portrait shooting
Battery chamber cover BL-3 From $35 Allows you to use the EN-EL4a battery in the battery grip
AC adapter EH-5a From $69 Power your camera without draining the battery
Wireless file transmitter WT-4a From $619 Allows the camera to connect to a wireless or ethernet network; requires its own power source, whether its a battery or a AC adapter
Magnifying eyepiece DK-17M From $33 Increases the viewfinder magnification by 1.2X
Angle finder DR-5 From $185 Lets you look into the viewfinder from a 90 degree angle; you can also enlarge the view by 2X
* Prices were accurate at time of publication

An impressive (if not expensive) list, and there are plenty more accessories available, believe me.


Nikon Transfer

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.


Nikon ViewNX

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:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon EOS-5D Mark II 6.0 x 4.5 x 3.0 in. 81 cu in. 810 g
Nikon D700 5.8 x 4.8 x 3.0 in. 83.5 cu in. 995 g
Sony Alpha DSLR-A900 6.2 x 4.6 x 3.3 in. 94.1 cu in. 850 g

The D700 isn't the largest of these three full-frame cameras, but it's easily the heaviest.

Alright, let's start touring the D700 now, shall we?

Front of the Nikon D700

Here's the front of the camera, without a lens attached. The mirror gives you a good impression of just how large the camera's full-frame, FX-format sensor really is. The benefit of a full-frame sensor is two-fold. For one, the large sensor allows the individual pixels to be larger, which means better sensitivity, resolution, and dynamic range. And, since the sensor is the same size as 35mm film, there's no focal length conversion ratio to worry about -- a 35mm lens has a 35mm field-of-view.

The exception to the focal length conversion rule comes when you attach a DX-format lens to the D700. Those lenses are designed for cameras with APS-C sensors, such as the D60, D90, and D300. In that case, there will be a 1.5X focal length conversion that you'll have to take into account. You will also need to lower the resolution to 5 Megapixel with these lenses (unless you like vignetting).

You can release an attached lens by pressing the button directly to the right of the lens mount.

Like the D300, the D700 offers a dust reduction system. The camera passes ultrasonic waves through the low-pass filter, which "shakes" the dust off it (in theory, at least). You can choose to have dust reduction operate when the camera is turned on and off, or you can run it manually. Since dust can be a real annoyance on a D-SLR, features like this are always welcome.

At the top of the photo you'll find the D700's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The D700 is the only one of the three midrange, full-frame D-SLRs to offer a built-in flash. This flash has a guide number of 12 meters at ISO 100, which is about average for a D-SLR. Should you want to add an external flash, you can do so in numerous ways: via the hot shoe, flash sync port, and even wirelessly. More on that later.

On the left side of the lens mount we find the AF-assist + redeye reduction lamp, the depth-of-field preview button, and the customizable Function button (which, by default, activates bracketing). Over on the grip you can catch a glimpse of the shutter release button (with the power switch around it) and the camera's front command dial.

Now, here's a closer look at the items of note on the right side of the above photo:

Here you'll find the flash sync and ten-pin remote terminals, which are kept under a rubber cover. The remote terminal is where you'll attach optional remote shutter release cables, or a GPS unit (which requires a special adapter known as the MC-35).

Underneath those I/O ports is the aforementioned lens release button, and you can also catch a glimpse of the focus mode switch, as well. And that's all for the front of the D700!

Back of the Nikon D700

The D700 has the same ultra-high resolution 3-inch LCD as the D300 and D3. This screen features a whopping 920,000 pixels, so everything is very sharp (especially the menus).

The "view" in live view mode You can overlay the virtual horizon tool on the screen

Like the D90, D300, and D3, the Nikon D700 supports live view on its LCD. This allows you to compose photos on the screen, just like you can on a compact camera. To use live view, you must first rotate the drive dial to the "LV" position, and then you must press the shutter release button to light up the LCD. Once you've done that, you'll have a sharp, bright, and fluid view of the frame at your disposal. You can overlay a composition grid on the screen, though a live histogram is (surprisingly) not available. One tool I really like is the "virtual horizon", which can help make crooked photos a thing of the past.

There are two focus modes to choose from on the D700 when using live view. Handheld mode uses the camera's 51-point phase detection AF system, which is what would be used if you were shooting with the viewfinder. While it's very quick, the mirror must be flipped down in order for the camera to focus. This causes a blackout on the LCD of roughly one second while the camera focuses. If you want a more point-and-shoot experience, then you can use tripod mode. This uses the sensor to perform contrast detect AF on whatever spot in the frame that you desire. This system is sluggish though, so it's not well-suited for action shooting. Focus is activated with the AF-On button when using tripod mode, and the shutter release button with handheld mode.


Enlarged frame in manual focus mode

Live view is especially useful when shooting in manual focus mode. You can use the zoom in/out buttons (to the left of the LCD) to zoom into the image (by up to 13X), allowing you to check for proper focus.

This screen can be shown on the LCD Pressing the Info button allows you to change these settings

When the LCD isn't being used for live view, it can be turned into a secondary info display (in addition to the one on the top of the camera). From this screen you can also change a few camera settings (by pressing Info again), including the Shooting and Custom setting bank, noise reduction, Active D-Lighting, Picture Controls, color space, and what the Function, Preview, and AE/AF-lock buttons do.

Straight above the LCD is the D700's large optical viewfinder. The magnification of the viewfinder is 0.72X, which is bit higher than the EOS-5D Mark II, but less than the one on the DSLR-A900. The viewfinder coverage (95%) is the smallest of the three midrange, full-frame D-SLRs. Naturally, the camera shows you the focus points (all 51 of them) on the viewfinder, and a composition grid can be overlayed as well. .When you attach a DX lens, the viewfinder will display the capture area. Under the field-of-view is a line of data showing virtually every camera setting imaginable. Some of the notable items include metering mode, image size, shutter speed and aperture, exposure, ISO, and shots remaining. A diopter correction knob, located on the right side of the viewfinder, will focus what you're looking at. There's also a switch to close the viewfinder, which may be a good idea if you're shooting with a remote shutter release or the self-timer.

To the left of the viewfinder we find the playback and delete photo buttons. To the right we find the AE/AF Lock button, which has the metering mode switch around it. The available metering modes include 3D Color Matrix II, center-weighted, and spot. Continuing to the right, we find the AF-On button and the rear command dial. The two command dials are mainly used for adjusting manual exposure settings.

Below all that is the four-way controller, which you can use for menu navigation, as well as manual focus point selection. The controller can be locked so you don't accidentally change the focus point. Underneath that is the AF Area mode selector, with the available choices being auto area (51-point), dynamic area, and single-point. Dynamic area is similar to single-point AF, except that the camera will follow your subject to other focus points if they move a little.

Under that switch is the Info button, which toggles the information shown on the LCD display.

Jumping to the left side of the LCD now, we find these buttons:

Next view, please!

Top of the Nikon D700

There's plenty more to see on the top of the D700. Over on the left we have three buttons, plus the release mode dial which sits beneath them. The buttons let you adjust the white balance, image quality, and ISO sensitivity, and I will tell you all about those when I get to the menu section of the review.

The release mode dial (which requires a press of an "unlock button" in order to rotate it) has these options:

Alright, it's time to see how the D700 performs in its two continuous shooting modes. Unfortunately, I didn't have the battery grip with my review unit, so I can't tell you how it performed with that. Nikon says that the camera can shoot at up to 8 fps with it, so we'll have to take their word for it. Here's how the camera did using its built-in battery:

Image quality setting Continuous Low * Continuous High
14-bit lossless compressed RAW+Large/Fine JPEG 17 shots @ 3.0 fps 15 shots @ 5.0 fps
14-bit lossless compressed RAW 19 shots @ 3.0 fps 17 shots @ 5.0 fps
12-bit lossless compressed RAW+Large/Fine JPEG 17 shots @ 3.0 fps 15 shots @ 5.0 fps
12-bit lossless compressed RAW 21 shots @ 3.0 fps 18 shots @ 5.0 fps
TIFF 17 shots @ 3.0 fps 17 shots @ 5.0 fps
JPEG (Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 3.0 fps 89 shots @ 5.0 fps
JPEG (DX-format, Large/Fine) Unlimited @ 3.0 fps Unlimited @ 5.0 fps
* At default 3 fps setting

As you can see, the D700 performs admirably -- and as advertised -- in its continuous shooting modes. I simplified this chart quite a bit, as there are numerous other RAW formats at your disposal. And yes, the D700 supports the TIFF format, which is a rarity these days. While you can shoot continuously in live view mode, do note that the screen will go black as soon as the first shot is fired.

At the center of the above photo is the D700's hot shoe. For best results, you'll want to use one of the Nikon flashes that I mentioned back in the accessory section of the review. These flashes will work with the camera's metering system, and also support nice features such as high speed sync (otherwise the maximum available shutter speed is 1/320 sec). If you're not using a compatible flash, you'll probably have to adjust its settings manually. You can also attach an external flash via the flash sync port I showed you earlier, or you can cut the cord entirely and go wireless. Using this "Commander Mode" feature, you can control two sets of wireless flash groups (and you can have more than one flash per group), as long as they're the SB-600, SB-800, or SB-900.

Continuing to the right, we find the D700's LCD info display. This shows just about every possible camera setting -- far too many to list here. A backlight is available by pressing the power switch past the "on" position.

Above the info display are the Mode and Exposure compensation buttons. The mode button lets you select from the following:

Option Function
Program mode Point-and-shoot; a Flexible Program (Program Shift) feature lets you select from various aperture/shutter speed combinations by using the command dial
Shutter priority mode You select the shutter speed, while the camera picks the appropriate aperture; shutter speed range is 30 - 1/8000 sec
Aperture priority mode You select the aperture, while the camera picks the shutter speed; aperture range depends on what lens you're using; the kit lens has a range of F3.5 - F22
Full manual (M) mode You select both the aperture and shutter speed; same ranges as above; a bulb mode is available here, allowing you to keep the shutter open for as long as you wish

The D700 is strictly business when it comes to its shooting modes -- there are no scene modes here!

The aforementioned exposure compensation button has a range of -5EV to +5EV, in 1/3EV increments. The last thing to see on the top of the D700 is its shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it.

Side of the Nikon D700

The first thing to see on this side of the D70 are the two switches on the kit lens. The switches are for auto/manual focus and vibration reduction (image stabilization). Since the D700 doesn't have image stabilization built into the camera (in fact, no Nikon D-SLR does), you'll need to rely on the lens for that capability.

Just to the right of the lens mount is the lens release button. Above that is the flash mode / flash exposure button, with the manual flash release above that. The flash modes include front-curtain sync, redeye reduction, redeye reduction with slow sync, slow sync, rear-curtain sync, and slow rear-curtain sync. The flash exposure compensation range is -3EV to +1EV, in 1/3EV increments.

Below the lens release is the focus mode switch, offering manual, single, and continuous AF. Single AF locks the focus when you halfway-press the shutter release button. Continuous AF will keep focusing, even with the shutter release button pressed. If the subject is in motion, the camera will track them around the frame.

Continuing to the right, we find yet more I/O ports, which are under a rubber cover. Let's open it up for a closer look:

The ports here include HDMI (cable not included), video out, USB (high speed, of course), and DC-in. The rubber cover over these ports doesn't seal as well as I would've liked.

Side of the Nikon D700

On the opposite side of the camera is its memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door of decent quality. As I mentioned earlier, this slot supports Type I CompactFlash cards only, so the three of you that still use Microdrives are out of luck.

Bottom of the Nikon D700

On the bottom of the D700 you'll find a metal tripod mount and the battery compartment. The door covering the battery compartment is of average quality. Pulling back the rubber seal just above-left from the battery compartment reveals the contacts for the optional battery grip.

The included EN-EL3e battery can be seen at right.

Using the Nikon D700

Record Mode

Flip the power switch and the D700 is ready to go right away. And yes, that's with dust reduction turned on.

Autofocus performance really depends on both your lens, and whether you're using the viewfinder or the LCD to compose your shot. With the viewfinder, focus times range from 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle and 0.4 - 0.8 seconds at telephoto. If there's not a lot of contrast in the scene, or if lighting levels are low, focus times approached -- but rarely exceeded -- one second.

Live view focusing performance depends on whether you're using handheld or tripod mode. Handheld mode, which uses phase detection AF, focuses just as quickly as shooting with the viewfinder, though there's about a 1/2 - 3/4 second lag while the mirror is flipped down and then back up. Tripod mode uses contrast detect autofocus, which is quite slow. Expect multi-second focus times if you're using that focus mode.

Both shutter lag and shot-to-shot delays were minimal on the D700. You can just keep firing away!

After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.

Now, here's a look at the numerous image size and quality options on the D700. Do note that I included both the FX-format (full frame) and DX-format resolutions in this table.

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # images on 2GB memory card (optional)
Large (FX-format)
4256 x 2832
RAW/lossless compressed
(12-bit)
13.3 MB 100
RAW/lossless compressed
(14-bit)
16.3 MB 77
RAW/compressed
(12-bit)
11.0 MB 26
RAW/compressed
(14-bit)
13.8 MB 23
RAW/uncompressed
(12-bit)
18.8 MB 100
RAW/uncompressed
(14-bit)
24.7 MB 77
TIFF 35.9 MB 53
Fine 5.7 MB 279
Normal 2.9 MB 548
Basic 1.4 MB 1000
Large (DX-format)
2784 x 1848
RAW/lossless compressed
(12-bit)
5.7 MB 229
RAW/lossless compressed
(14-bit)
7.0 MB 177
RAW/compressed
(12-bit)
4.7 MB 312
RAW/compressed
(14-bit)
6.0 MB 260
RAW/uncompressed
(12-bit)
8.1 MB 229
RAW/uncompressed
(14-bit)
10.7 MB 177
TIFF 15.3 M 124
Fine 2.5 MB 637
Normal 1.2 MB 1200
Basic 600 KB 2400
Medium (FX-format)
3184 x 2120
TIFF 20.7 MB 95
Fine 3.2 MB 496
Normal 1.6 MB 976
Basic 0.8 MB 1800
Medium (DX-format)
2080 x 1384
TIFF 8.8 MB 220
Fine 1.4 MB 1100
Normal 700 KB 2000
Basic 300 KB 3900
Small (FX-format)
2128 x 1416
TIFF 10.0 MB 211
Fine 1.4 MB 1000
Normal 700 KB 2000
Basic 400 KB 3900
Small (DX-format)
1392 x 920
TIFF 4.3 MB 480
Fine 600 KB 2400
Normal 300 KB 4400
Basic 200 KB 7800

Now that's a long list! I kept the RAW+JPEG options out of the table to keep it as simple as possible, but rest assured that the D700 can take a RAW and JPEG (at the size of your choosing) at the same time.

Images are named using the following convention: DSC_####.JPG (or .NEF), where #### is 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained ever if you switch or erase memory cards.


Help is available for every menu option -- a nice touch

Moving onto menus, now: the D700 has the same menu system as Nikon's other recent D-SLRs. Getting around the menu is easy, and if you're confused about any of the options, just press the Help (image protection) button for an explanation. The menu is divided up into six sections, containing playback, shooting, custom, setup, retouching, and My Menu/Recent options.

Here's the full list of menu options for you:

Playback menu
  • Delete (Selected, all)
  • Playback folder (ND700, current, all)
  • Hide image (Select/set, deselect all)
  • Display mode - what is shown on the LCD in playback mode
    • Basic photo info
      • Focus point (On/off)
    • Detailed photo info
      • Highlights (on/off)
      • RGB histogram (on/off)
      • Shooting data (on/off)
  • Image review (on/off) - post-shot review
  • After delete (Show next, show previous, continue as before) - what photo is shown next after one is deleted
  • Rotate tall (on/off) - automatically rotate images taken in the portrait orientation
  • Slideshow - standard slideshow feature
    • Start
    • Frame interval (2, 3, 5, 10 secs)
  • Print set (Select/deselect, deselect all) - for DPOF print marking
Shooting menu
  • Shooting menu bank (A, B, C, D) - you can store up to four sets of shooting menu options here
  • Reset shooting menu - back to defaults
  • Active folder (New, select)
  • File naming - select three letters to replace "DSC" in the file name
  • Image quality (NEF/RAW, TIFF, JPEG fine, JPEG normal, JPEG basic, RAW+Fine JPEG, RAW+Normal JPEG, RAW+Basic JPEG)
  • Image size (Large, medium, small)
  • Image area
    • Auto DX crop (on/off) - whether camera automatically selects the DX crop when such a lens is attached
    • Choose image area (FX format, DX-format)
  • JPEG compression (Size priority, optimal quality)
  • NEF (RAW) recording
    • Type (Lossless compressed, compressed, uncompressed) - from small to large file size
    • Bit depth (12, 14-bit) - the more bits, the more color data that is recorded; file sizes are larger, as well
  • White balance (Auto, incandescent, fluorescent x 7, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, color temperature, preset manual) - see below
  • Set Picture Control (Standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome) - see below
  • Manage Picture Control - save Picture Controls that you've created into nine custom spots
  • Color space (sRGB, Adobe RGB)
  • Active D-Lighting (Off, auto, low normal, high) - see below
  • Vignette control (Off, low, normal, high) - corrects vignetting (dark corners) when using type G and D lenses (non-DX)
  • Long exposure noise reduction
  • (on/off) - reduces noise in exposures longer than 1 second
  • High ISO noise reduction (Off, low, normal, high) - when off, NR is only applied when ISO is Hi 0.3 or above; when on, it is performed at ISO 2000 and above
  • ISO sensitivity settings
    • ISO sensitivity (Low 1 / ISO 100 - Hi 2 / ISO 25600)
    • ISO sensitivity auto control (on/off)
      • Maximum sensitivity (400 - Hi 2)
      • Minimum shutter speed (1 - 1/4000 sec)
  • Live view
    • Live view mode (Handheld, tripod) - I described these earlier
    • Release mode (Single frame, continuous low, continuous high)
  • Multiple exposure - combine several photos into one
    • Number of shots (2-10)
    • Auto gain (on/off)
  • Interval timer shooting - for time-lapse photography
    • Start time
    • Interval - between each shot
    • Number of intervals / number of shots

Custom settings menu

  • Custom setting bank (A, B, C, D) - you can store four sets of these, as well
  • Reset - back to defaults
  • a1: AF-C priority selection (Release, release+focus, focus) - whether focus lock is required for a photo to be taken when using continuous AF
  • a2: AF-S priority selection (Release, focus) - same as above, but for single AF
  • a3: Dynamic AF area (9, 21, 51 points, 51-point w/3D tracking) - how far the camera will track a moving subject when dynamic AF mode is used
  • a4: Focus tracking w/lock-on (Off, short, normal, long) - how long the camera waits before it follows a moving subject
  • a5: AF activation (Shutter+AF-On, AF-On) - what activates the AF system
  • a6: AF point illumination (Auto, on, off) - in the viewfinder
  • a7: Focus point wrap-around (Wrap, no wrap)
  • a8: AF point selection (11, 51 points) - how many points you can select from manually
  • a9: AF illuminator lamp (on/off)
  • a10: AF-On for MB-D10 (AF-On, AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AE lock [reset on release], AE lock [hold], AF lock only, same as Func. button) - for use with optional battery grip
  • b1: ISO sensitivity step value (1/3, 1/2, 1 step)
  • b2: EV steps for exposure control (1/3, 1/2, 1 step)
  • b3: Exposure comp/fine tune (1/3, 1/2, 1 step) - for exposure and flash compensation
  • b4: Easy exposure compensation (On [auto reset], on, off) - whether the +/- button is needed to adjust exposure compensation
  • b5: Center-weighted area (8, 12, 15, 20 mm, average)
  • b6: Fine tune optimal exposure - this lets you tweak the exposure from -1 to +1 in 1/6EV increments for each of the metering options
  • c1: Shutter-release button AE-L (on/off) - whether exposure locks when the shutter release is halfway-pressed
  • c2: Auto meter-off delay (4, 6, 8, 16, 30 secs, 1, 5, 10, 30 mins, no limit)
  • c3: Self-timer delay (2, 5, 10, 20 secs)
  • c4: Monitor off delay (4, 10, 20 secs, 1, 5, 10 mins)
  • d1: Beep (Off, low, high)
  • d2: Viewfinder grid display (on/off) - whether a composition grid is shown in the viewfinder
  • d3: Screen tips (on/off) - whether hints are shown when adjusting settings on the shooting info screen
  • d4: CL mode shooting speed (1 - 7 fps) - set the frame rate for continuous low mode; do note that you need the battery grip for anything above 5 fps
  • d5: Max continuous release (1 - 100 shots)
  • d6: File number sequence (On, off, reset)
  • d7: Shooting info display (Auto, dark on light, light on dark) - customize the colors of the info display on the LCD
  • d8: LCD illumination (on/off) - whether the info display on the top of the camera illuminates when the exposure meter is active, or just when you press the backlight button
  • d9: Exposure delay mode (on/off) - delays shutter release for a second after the mirror is flipped up
  • d10: MB-D80 battery type (AA alkaline, AA NiMH, AA lithium, AA NiMn) - what you're using in the battery grip
  • d11: Battery order (MB-D10 first, camera first) - what battery is used first when the optional battery grip is attached
  • e1: Flash sync speed (1/320 sec [Auto FP], 1/250 sec [Auto FP], 1/250 - 1/60 sec)
  • e2: Flash shutter speed (1/60 - 30 secs) - slowest shutter speed the camera will use with the flash
  • e3: Flash control for built-in flash (TTL, manual, repeating, commander) - manual lets you select the flash output between full and 1/128; repeating option creates a strobe effect; commander is for controlling two sets of wireless flashes
  • e4: Modeling flash (on/off) - fires the flash when doing a depth-of-field preview
  • e5: Auto bracketing set (AE & flash, AE only, flash only, white balance bracketing) - see below
  • e6: Auto bracketing in M mode (Flash+shutter speed, flash+shutter speed+aperture, flash+aperture, flash only) - what is manipulated when bracketing in full manual mode
  • e7: Bracketing order (MTR>under>over, under>MTR>over)
  • f1: Backlight switch (LCD backlight, backlight + info display on LCD)
  • f2: OK button
    • Shooting mode (Reset, highlight active focus point, not used)
    • Playback mode (Thumbnail on/off, view histograms, zoom on/off, choose folder)
  • f3: Multi selector (Reset meter-off delay, do nothing) - whether pressing the four-way controller reactivates the metering time
  • f4: Photo info/playback (Info up/down + playback left/right, info left/right + playback up/down) - more customizations
  • f5: Assign Function button
    • Func. button press (Preview, FV lock, AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AE lock [reset on release], AE lock [hold], AF lock only, flash off, bracketing burst, matrix metering, center-weighted metering, spot metering, top item in My Menu, live view, +RAW, virtual horizon, none) - define what this button does
    • Func. button + dials (Choose image area, shutter speed & aperture lock, 1 step shutter speed+aperture, choose non-CPU lens number, auto bracketing, dynamic AF area, none)
  • f6: Assign preview button - same as above
  • f7: Assign AE/AF-lock button - same as above, more-or-less
  • f8: Shutter speed and aperture lock (Shutter speed lock, aperture lock)
  • f9: Customize command dials
    • Reverse rotation (on/off)
    • Change main/sub (on/off) - switches the function of the front and rear command dials
    • Aperture setting (on/off) - whether aperture can be selected with the command dial
    • Menus and playback (On, on w/o image review, off) - whether the dials can be used in menus and playback mode
  • f10: Release button to use dials (yes, no) - whether you need to hold down a button to adjust its setting with the command dial
  • f11: No memory card (Enable release, release locked)
  • f12: Reverse indicators (+0-, -0+) - how the exposure meters are represented

Setup menu
  • Format memory card
  • LCD brightness (-3 to +3)
  • Clean image sensor
    • Clean now
    • Clean at startup/shutdown (Startup, shutdown, startup and shutdown, off)
  • Lock up mirror for cleaning
  • Video mode (NTSC, PAL)
  • HDMI (Auto, 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i)
  • World time
    • Time zone
    • Date and time
    • Date format (Y/M/D, M/D/Y, D/M/Y)
    • Daylight savings time (on/off)
  • Language
  • Image comment - attach text comments to your photos
  • Auto image rotation (on/off)
  • Dust off reference photo - for the dust removal feature in Nikon Capture NX2
  • Battery info
    • Battery meter - current power
    • Pic meter - how many photos have been taken since last battery charge
    • Calibration - whether the EN-EL4(a) battery with the optional grip needs to be calibrated
    • Charging life - overall health of your battery
  • Wireless transmitter - for use with optional WT-4 adapter
  • Image authentication (on/off) - for use with optional Nikon Image Authentication software
  • Copyright information - attach artist and copyright info to photos
  • Save/Load settings - to a memory card
  • GPS
    • Auto meter off (Enable, disable)
    • Current position
  • Virtual horizon - see below
  • Non-CPU lens data - supply focal length and maximum aperture for older Nikkor lenses
  • AF fine tune - tweak the focus for up to 12 different lenses
  • Firmware version
Retouch menu (I'll discuss all of these in the playback section)
  • D-Lighting (Low, normal, high)
  • Redeye correction
  • Trim
  • Monochrome (Black & white, sepia, cyanotype)
  • Filter effects (Skylight, warm filter)
  • Color balance
  • Small picture (640 x 480, 320 x 240, 160 x 120)
  • Image overlay - combine two RAW images into one
  • Side-by-side comparison

My Menu / Recent Settings

You can either have your own custom menu, or a list of recently accessed menu options here

Now that was a big menu. Although I think I described most things fairly well, I do want to touch on a few of the features from that list.

Adjusting a Picture Control This "grid" shows you how the Picture Controls compare

Let's start with Picture Controls. The D700 has four preset Controls (standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome), and there's remove for nine more custom Controls. The following properties can be adjusted in a Picture Control:

You can quickly adjust the first five items on that list by using the aptly named "Quick adjust" option. You can save Picture Controls to a memory card so they can be used with Nikon's software products, or moved to another camera.

Fine-tuning white balance Selecting WB by color temperature

As you'd expect on a D-SLR, there are plenty of white balance controls available. First off, you have the usual presets, like sunlight and fluorescent (in fact, you have seven subtypes of that one). Each of those can be fine-tuned, as you can see in the screenshot above-left. You can also use a white or gray card as reference with the "preset manual" mode, and the result of that can be tuned as well. If that's still not enough for you, you can manually select the color temperature, from a range of 2500K - 10000K.

Nikon cameras have had D-Lighting in their playback modes for a long time. That feature allows you to brighten dark areas of a photo with the push of a button. In 2008, Active D-Lighting arrived, which allows for improved overall contrast while a photo is actually taken. By default, Active D-Lighting is set to off on the D700. You can also select from auto, low, normal, and high. Here's what this feature does in the real world (click the setting to change the photo):

Off (default)
View Full Size Image
Auto
View Full Size Image
Low
View Full Size Image
Normal
View Full Size Image
High
View Full Size Image

While Active D-Lighting certainly brightens up shadow areas, it's not as dramatic as the regular D-Lighting feature in playback mode. What it does well is reduce highlight clipping, which especially at the normal and high settings (just look at the sky to see what I mean). Using this feature will slow the camera down slightly, and it may increase noise or distortion at high ISOs, but for everyday shooting, leaving it at Auto or Normal seems pretty safe to me.

Another feature worth a mention is vignetting control. Vignetting, as you may know, is the darkening of corners around the edges of the frame. This feature attempts to digitally correct for that annoyance, and there are three "levels" to choose from.

There are three types of bracketing to choose from on the D700. The camera can bracket for exposure, flash exposure, and white balance. For the first two, the camera can take anywhere from three to nine shots in a row, each with a different exposure value (the increment between each shot can be 1/3, 2/3, or 1 EV). WB bracketing works in the same way, except that the interval is 5, 10, or 15 mired.

Remember how I showed you the virtual horizon that you could overlay onto the live view? You can also find it in the setup menu. I wish every camera had this!

Now it's time for our standard photo tests. I used a few different lenses here, and I'll tell you which under each test photo.


Lens used: Nikon F1.8, 50 mm

The D700 did a super job with our macro test subject. The colors are just right -- both accurate and nicely saturated, as well. The subject has the "smooth" look that is a trademark of digital SLRs, though some may feel that it's a little soft. If you're looking for noise, keep looking -- you won't find any.

The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. The kit lens can get as close to your subject as 50 cm. If you want to get closer you'll want a dedicated macro lens, and Nikon has four to choose from.


Lens used: Nikon F4.5-5.6, 70-300 mm VR

It's hard to find fault with the D700 in the night shot department. The only thing I can come up with is that the image is a bit too yellow. Otherwise the news is all good. An incredible amount of detail is captured, the buildings are sharp, there's no noise, and purple fringing is nonexistent. The camera didn't blow out highlights like many cameras do in this situation, either.

Now, let's use that same scene to see how the camera performs at higher sensitivities. I'll start with the "low" ISO 100 setting and work my way up to the "high" ISO 25,600 (!) option. The shot above was taken at ISO 200, which is the default sensitivity.


ISO 100 (L1.0)

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12,800 (H1.0)

ISO 25,600 (H2.0)

The ISO 100 - 400 crops are completely noise-free. You can see just a tiny hint of noise at ISO 800, but it's nothing to be concerned about. It doesn't get much worse at ISO 1600, either. At ISO 3200, the noise starts to eat at details a little bit, but again, not enough to keep you from making a midsize or even large print. ISO 6400 is probably a good place to stop in low light situations. There's still enough detail for a small or midsize print, especially if you're shooting RAW and post-processing. Above that, the images don't have much left in the line of detail. There's also some banding visible at the highest settings. All-in-all, though, a stellar performance by the D700 in this test.

We'll see how the D700 performs at high sensitivities in better lighting in a bit.


Lens used: Nikon F3.5-5.6, 24 - 120 mm VR

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the 24 - 120 mm kit lens. This will give things like buildings the appearance of being curved, as you can see in this photo. I was surprised to see some pretty substantial corner blurriness with this lens. Full frame cameras tend to require high quality lenses, and unless I just have a bad copy, the 24 - 120 isn't one of them. While there's some vignetting in our distortion test, I didn't see any of this in my real world photos.

I actually had to request a second D700 in order to take my redeye test photo, as the flash on the original one wouldn't fire! I wasn't expecting to actually see any redeye, and what do you know -- I was right.


Lens used: Nikon F3.5-5.6, 24 - 120 mm VR

Now it's time for our studio ISO test. Since the lighting is consistent in this test, it's comparable between all the cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each ISO setting, viewing the full size images is always a good idea. Here we go, again starting with the "low" ISO 100 setting:


ISO 100 (L1.0)

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600


ISO 3200


ISO 6400

ISO 12,800 (H1.0)

ISO 25,600 (H2.0)

No, I didn't make a mistake and use the same photo for the ISO 100 through 1600 shots. The D700 is truly amazing at high ISOs -- easily the best results I've ever seen. You can spot a bit of noise at ISO 3200 and 6400, though it's not nearly enough to prevent you from making a large-size print. I never thought I'd say this, but the ISO 12,800 shot is still very usable. In fact, if you clean up the ISO 25,600 shot with NeatImage and run it through the Unsharp Mask filter, even that photo can be printed. Okay, you can wipe the drool off the keyboard now.

Slap on a good lens and you'll get excellent quality photos out of the D700. The only real issues I encountered were the tendency to slightly overexpose, and the aforementioned corner blurriness with the kit lens. So, drop the exposure compensation by 1/3 stop and you'll get nice exposures, with colors that really "pop". Images have the Nikon SLR soft/smooth look, and if you want things sharper straight out of the camera, you can use the Picture Control feature to increase the in-camera sharpening a notch. As you saw in the previous test, the D700 has no noise issues until the sensitivity gets really high, and even then, it's still usable. I didn't find purple fringing to be a problem with any of the lenses I used with the camera.

I've got two photo galleries for you to pour over. Take a look at our standard gallery, with all the usual shots, or have a look at our bonus Sonoma gallery. View the full size images, maybe printing a few if you can, and then decide if the Nikon D700's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

There are just a few D-SLRs that can record movies, and the D700 isn't one of them. One of the D700's competitors, the Canon EOS-5D Mark II, can record high definition video.

Playback Mode

The D700 has a pretty fancy playback mode by D-SLR standards. Basic features include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge an image by as much as 27 times, and then move around. This comes in handy for checking focus, or looking for closed eyes. You can move from one image to another while maintaining the current zoom setting by using the rear command dial.

Most of the hardcore playback features can be found in the Retouch menu. The options here include:


Previewing the effect of D-Lighting

The D-Lighting feature found here is different from the Active D-Lighting option in record mode. It brightens dark areas of a photo effectively, though don't expect it to improve overall contrast levels like Active D-Lighting does. You can select low, medium, or high levels of D-Lighting, and keep in mind that this feature may bring out some noise in your images. Here's what it can do:

Before D-Lighting After D-Lighting

Nice improvement!

Another retouch tool lets you adjust the color balance of a photo, with an interface not unlike the one used for fine-tuning white balance.

The last feature I like in playback mode is the ability to delete a group of photos at a time, instead of just one or all of them.

By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but if you press up or down on the four-way controller you can get a lot more, as you can see above. Do note that you may need to turn on some of these screens in the playback menu (display mode option).

The D700 moves from photo to photo almost instantly.

How Does it Compare?

It's hard not to like the Nikon D700. It offers a full frame sensor, stunning photo quality, and blazing fast performance -- just like the much more expensive D3 -- all in a body not much larger than the D300. There's very little to complain about here -- the camera has a slight tendency to overexpose, it's not terribly easy to use, and the software bundle isn't the greatest. And that's about it. If you'll allow just this one baseball metaphor: Nikon has hit one out of the park with the D700.

The D700 is a midsize, heavy digital SLR that feels like it was cut from a solid block of metal. It's larger than the D300, but not nearly as bulky as the D3. The camera is exceedingly well built, with numerous weather and dust seals, though the one over the side I/O ports doesn't like to stay shut. The camera has a large, secure right hand grip. The D700 is a bit of a poster child for "button clutter" -- it's loaded with buttons, dials, and switches. In other words, it's not for the faint of heart. The camera features a full frame 12.1 Megapixel FX-format sensor, which offers superior photo quality and no focal length conversion ratio! Well, that last part isn't completely true: if you attach a DX-format lens, a 1.5X crop factor comes into play, and the resolution drops to just 5 Megapixel (though you can turn this off). The D700 features an ultrasonic dust reduction system, to minimize what can be a very annoying problem.

On the back of the camera you'll find a large 3-inch LCD with a stunning resolution of 920,000 pixels -- just like the D300 and D3. The LCD isn't just used for menus and reviewing photos, though. You can also compose your photos on it, with your choice of two focus modes. While the handheld mode focuses quickly, the tripod mode (which uses contrast detect AF) does not. Other handy tools in live view include a composition grid, virtual horizon (for keeping shots level), and the ability to zoom in and verify proper focus. One thing missing here is a live histogram. Most people will probably be using the optical viewfinder instead of the LCD for shooting, and the one on the D700 is pretty nice. It's a large viewfinder, with a magnification of 0.72X, though its 95% frame coverage is the lowest in the trio of midrange, full frame cameras that I've been mentioning throughout this review. The D700 is expandable with a capital "E": there are three ways to use an external flash (hot shoe, flash sync port, or wireless), it supports numerous remote shutter releases, and GPS connectivity is just an expensive accessory away.

The D700 doesn't pretend to be for buyers stepping up from point-and-shoot cameras -- there are no scene modes here. What you will find are the usual manual exposure controls, numerous ways to adjust white balance, three types of bracketing, and more customizable buttons than you'll ever need. The D700 has one of the deepest custom settings menus I've seen, as well. The Picture Controls feature is here too, allowing you to have sets of color, sharpness, and contrast parameters. The camera also supports six different RAW formats, so if you've wanted a camera that can take 14-bit uncompressed RAW images, the D700 is for you. It's a shame that Nikon bundled such poor RAW editing software with the camera -- you shouldn't have to pay extra for a capable editing program (or remote capture software, for that matter) on a $3000 camera.

As you'd expect, camera performance was first-rate. You don't have to wait for the D700 to "warm up" when you hit the power switch -- it's ready to go right away. Focusing times vary on many factors: what lens you're using, whether you're using live view, and (if you're using live view) which of the two focus modes you selected. If you're shooting with the viewfinder or handheld live view, you can expect very responsive focusing performance. Even in the worst case scenarios, focus times stay under one second. The camera's elaborate 51-point focusing system can track a subject as they move around the frame, making the D700 a great choice for action shooters. On the other hand, tripod live view mode is most definitely not for action. It takes 2 or more seconds to lock focus, and there's just one focus point to choose from (though it's movable). Shutter lag is only an issue if you're using tripod mode live view, which requires some mirror flipping before the photo is taken. Shot-to-shot delays were not a problem. The D700 screams when it comes to continuous shooting, allowing you to take at least 15 RAW, RAW+JPEG, or TIFF files in a row at 5 frames/second. If you have the optional battery grip, that number jumps to 8 frames/second. Speaking of batteries, the D700's numbers are best-in-class, and with the battery grip (and the appropriate battery) you can take almost 3000 shots per charge.

With a good quality lens attached, the D700 is able to produce truly amazing photos. Based on my experiences with the 24 - 120 mm kit lens, I'd say "skip it" and buy something better, as there's quite a bit of corner blurriness. WIth that out of the way, I can tell you that the D700 produced photos with accurate, vivid colors. The camera has a tendency to overexpose by about 1/3 stop, though that's easy enough to fix. Images have a "smooth" look that some may consider a bit soft, and if you agree, you can use the Picture Controls feature to sharpen things up to your liking. The D700 is easily the best high ISO performer I've ever seen. In good light, you can comfortably make large-sized prints at ISO 6400 without having to do any post-processing. The ISO 12,800 sensitivity is quite usable and, if you don't mind doing a little post-processing, so is the ISO 25,600 setting (!). Naturally, the camera doesn't let you go quite that high in low light, though things are very clean until you pass ISO 3200. The camera had no trouble with purple fringing on any of the lenses I tested.

If you want the photo quality and "what you see is what you get" benefits of a full frame sensor, then look no further than the Nikon D700. It offers you a fantastic mix of photo quality, performance, build quality, and features, without having to spend the money on a D3. It's a rare day indeed when I review a camera that makes me want to sell all my gear and "switch brands", but the Nikon D700 may just be that camera. I can highly recommend it, without hesitation (though you might want to pass on that kit lens).

What I liked:

What I didn't care for:

If it's a midrange, full frame D-SLR that you're after, then the only other players are the Canon EOS-5D Mark II and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A900.

As always, I recommend heading to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Nikon D700 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

There are two galleries associated with this review: the standard one, plus a bonus Sonoma gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

 

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