Like the D3 and D300, the D700 provides lots of customization capabilities, including two banks of savable settings with four slots each and a user-definable menu page. As with the D300, your dynamic area options are 9-, 21-, or 51-point AF areas plus 51-point 3D tracking; also like the D300, they're unfortunately buried in the menus. I also like the ability to choose the size of the center for center-weighted average metering. (There are too many options to cover here: download the PDF manual for the details.)
The 5D Mark II, with its movie-capture mode and high-resolution 21-megapixel sensor, overshadows the D700's relatively low-resolution 12-megapixel CMOS--the same as the D3's. But its bread-and-butter feature set is more than enough for any pro. Like its Nikon siblings, it's especially suited for HDR work, with bracketing options of up to nine shots at +/- 5EV in third-, half-, or full-stop increments. Other notables include the now-common Picture Controls for adjusting and saving contrast, brightness, sharpness, saturation, and hue; Active D-Lighting; Vignette control; a rather annoying multiple exposure option, which resets to Off after every batch and requires a trip into the menu system to turn back on; and raw file options of 12- or 14-bit with lossy compressed, lossless compressed, and uncompressed variations. Like the D3, the D700 has a DX crop mode to match DX lenses.
As long as you don't need pro-sports-speed continuous-shooting performance, the D700 is quite fast--just a bit slower than the D3 on occasion. From power on to first shot takes less than 0.2 second. To autofocus and shoot in good light takes 0.3 second, and in dim light only 0.6; shared with the D3, that's class-leading performance. Two sequential shots take about 0.5 second, even with flash, like the D300. The one aspect that the D700 cedes to the competition is its 4.9fps burst rate, though it's more than adequate for most situations. If necessary, you can spring for the MB-D10 battery grip--it uses many of the same accessories as the D300--to bump that to a rated 8fps, which essentially turns the camera into an almost-D3.
Furthermore, with the same AF system as the D300, the D700 delivers fast, accurate focus, even in low light. Disappointingly, though, the viewfinder delivers only 95 percent coverage; this is odd, given that both the D3 and D300 both provide 100 percent visibility. The D700 also lacks interchangeable focusing screens, which many of its competitors offer.
Unsurprisingly, the D700 delivers great photo quality. With a really good lens the photos are very sharp, and the camera renders excellent exposures and a broad dynamic range. Both visually and by the numbers it exhibits first-rate color accuracy, though it seems to have somewhat glitchy automatic white balance under tungsten lights. It has a robust noise profile as well: photos show no degradation until about ISO 6,400, and are still quite usable at ISO 6,400 and ISO 12,800, depending upon subject matter. As for ISO 25,600, they're not as bad as the Canon EOS 50D's at that level, but it's very much an emergency-only option. (Click through the slide show for photo samples and commentary.)
The only possibly significant drawback to the Nikon D700 is its resolution; if you ascribe to the no-scaling school of printing, then the largest 300 dpi print you can get out of its 12-megapixel files is a 14.2x9.4, and moving up to 11x16 requires 15.8 megapixels (though on an Epson at 240dpi you can cover 11x16 at 12 megapixels). Also, at that resolution, its prime competitor is the veteran and now less expensive Canon EOS 5D (so old we don't have comparative performance data for it), which is still widely available despite being dropped from Canon's official product line. Compared with the 5D, the D700 has greater latitude, a better AF system, and a more modern feature set. On the other hand, Canon arguably has a more comprehensive full-frame lens lineup with more options at midrange prices. And, of course, if you want the movie capture, your full-frame options are limited to the 5D Mark II at the moment. (For guidance on where the D700 fits in with the D300 and D3, see Nikon Nirvana: Which Nikon dSLR?) Otherwise, the D700 is a great full-frame camera for professionals and prosumers.
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim light)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)