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Features & handling
Naturally it’s the inclusion of the full-frame sensor from the Nikon D3 that has attracted so much attention to the new D700, but similarity between the two cameras doesn’t end there. From its superb 3in LCD screen and Live View (with its innovative ‘virtual’ horizon) to the autofocus and metering systems, the D700 offers so many of the professional camera’s features that it can be tricky to tell them apart from their spec sheets.
The main difference lies in the smaller, lighter body, which shares many similar features to the cheaper D300. The camera bears more resemblance to the D300 than the D3, as it doesn’t have the built-in grip to house the second LCD and controls. But the body is slightly larger than the D300, and the grip in particular feels more substantial. Also, the D700 has a built-in flash and a dust-reduction system, although the 5fps frame rate is well down on the 9fps offered by the D3.
The layout of the controls is excellent, with well-spaced buttons that fall perfectly to hand. The rear 3in LCD is among the best on any D-SLR, giving a clear, sharp image for both playback and Live View, and menus that are clear and easy to navigate. This last feature is essential, as the D700 has one of the most comprehensive ranges of user-changeable settings and custom functions around. To simplify things even further you can use the MyMenu system to give you quicker access to those settings you change most often, and even assign them to the function button.
Although the viewfinder itself is bright, clear, and much larger than those you’d get on any D-SLR with an APS-C-sized sensor, the 95% coverage is disappointing. Because the viewfinder image is so good it lulls you into a false sense of security (there were many times during our test that shadows, people or general obstructions at the edge of the image appeared on the LCD screen that were not apparent in the viewfinder). It’s something that you can get used to over time, but even the cheaper D300 gets a 100% viewfinder, so it’s disappointing to find the new D700 limited in this way. Performance
Perhaps to the keep price down, Nikon has compromised on the D700’s shooting speed, offering a frame rate of only 5fps (compared to the 9fps offered by the D3 and 6fps by the cheaper D300). Adding the MB-D10 grip to the D700 (with either AA batteries or the EL-EN4a battery) will increase this performance to 8fps.
Even so, compared to the full-frame Canon EOS 5D, the performance of the D700 is superb, with good write times and reasonable frame rates. There are no real problems with the D700’s autofocus system either; it’s fast, accurate and offers the option of up to 51 autofocus points (which you can simplify down to 11 if you choose, using the custom function menu).
Sharing the same sensor technology as the D3, results are just as impressive. Image noise is almost non-existent up to ISO 800, and the colours, saturation and sharpness are excellent all the way from ISO 200 up to 6400. Even when noise is visible at the higher ISO settings, the results look more like traditional film grain than those from most other digital SLRs, so they still look good. Sharpness and saturation, which normally suffer at high ISO settings, are both still very good all the way up the ISO range.
Some people may think that the 12 megapixel resolution is low, especially with some cheaper models now offering 14 megapixels. But just like the D3, the quality of the images from the D700 isn’t simply down to the resolution. The images are so free of noise that they can be enlarged more, and if necessary, easily interpolated with good results when printing larger than A3. Verdict
Deciding whether the D700 is worth its substantial price tag proves far more difficult than almost any other part of this test. The image quality, most of the handling and even the less tangible ‘want factor’ should all make the D700 the perfect balance of professional qualities and price. But at the time we go to press the body alone costs almost £2000 – that’s twice the street price of the D300 and around £800 less than the flagship Nikon D3.
So, compared to the street price of the D3, it seems like great value, but if you start adding the MB-D10 grip and the batteries to increase the frame rate the difference starts to narrow to the point where you might as well have just bought a D3; when it comes to the D300 it starts to make even less sense. For the cost of the D700 you could buy the D300 and some truly amazing lenses as well.
But here comes the rub; the D700 is still a great camera and offers good value for the features on offer. What it does is fill a niche in the market for certain users. If you want the high ISO performance, full-frame sensor, built-in flash and great build quality of the D3 in a smaller, lighter body, then it’s a winner. But for most photographers the D300 gives you 95% of the features at around half the price, so offers much better value.
|Focal length conversion:
||1x or 1.5x in DX crop mode
|LCD monitor size:
||JPEG, TIFF and RAW (NEF)
||Auto, program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual
||3D Color Matrix Metering II, centre-weighted and spot
||200-6400 (expandable to 100-25,600)
|Shutter speed range:
||1/8000sec to 30 seconds + Bulb
|Continuous shooting speed:
||5fps for 18 frames (RAW or TIFF), 33 frames (JPEG)