Nikon's new Mid-Level SLR
Canonites have been clamoring for a followup to the full-frame EOS 5D for nearly a year now and there have been heavy rumors of its imminent arrival dating back to October 2007. However, while we're still waiting on a 5D Mark II, Nikon has stepped up to the plate with the new FX format (aka full frame) D700. And, given that it carries over most of the important features of the D3, Canon is going to need to have a serious response if they don't want to fall behind in the eyes of enthusiasts and wedding photographers, many of whom use the 5D as their body of choice.
The D700 ($3,000, body only; $3,600 with 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED Nikkor lens) uses the same 12.1MP CMOS sensor as the D3, with the same 200-6400 ISO range (extendable to cover the equivalent of 100-25,600), as well as the same 51-point (15 cross-type) AF system, 1005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II, and 3-inch 920,000-dot LCD. Like it's bulkier and pricier cousin, the D700 includes two live view modes. One is for handheld shooting and the other for use with tripods. Nikon also carried over the D3's virtual horizon indicator, which can now be used as an overlay on top of the image you're framing when shooting in live view.
Don't expect the similarities to end there. The D700 includes the company's Expeed processing with 14-bit A/D conversion and 16-bit internal image processing. Nikon's D-Lighting in-camera tweaks can be applied in three levels, though the D700 adds an auto setting in case you want the camera to guess how much is appropriate. The pop-up flash includes commander mode so you can wirelessly control Nikon accessory flashes. The AF fine tune custom function lets you adjust the focus of specific lenses to make them focus slightly ahead or behind its normal point of focus. Up to 20 specific lenses can be programmed into the camera, or you can set an adjustment to be applied to all lenses.
Like the D300 and D3, the D700 includes Nikon's Scene Recognition system, which uses the metering sensor to figure out what kind of scene is being framed. It uses that information to help set white balance and exposure settings. The D700 takes things one step further by offering face detection. In Auto-area AF mode, the camera can find a face and use it to set various shooting parameters. In continuous AF mode, the metering sensor works with the AF system to help track subjects that move throughout the frame.
The magnesium alloy body is just slightly larger than a Nikon D300, thanks to the larger sensor, but has a very similar layout and weather resistant sealing on par with the D3. You'll find all the familiar Nikon touches, such as the three Quality, White Balance, and ISO buttons that sit above the wheel that controls the drive modes. It also has Nikon's signature sculpted grip, with a nice indentation on the inside, giving a nice solid feel when pivoting the camera or shooting at an odd angle.
Given that it costs thousands of dollars less than the D3, you're probably wondering what this new camera doesn't have in comparison. The most tangible thing is the lack of a vertical grip, though you can add the same MB-D10 battery grip that fits the D300. And doing so will get you the same kind of continuous shooting advantage as you get when using the grip with that camera. In this case, it boosts bursts from 5 frames per second up to 8fps. You can shoot as many JPGs as your card will hold, or up to 23 12-bit NEF (RAW), or 20 14-bit NEF files before the buffer fills up.
Other differences make sense with the camera's positioning within Nikon's product line and against the competition. For instance, the shutter is only rated for up to 150,000 cycles. That's not shabby, but not equal to the D3's 300,000-cycle shutter. The D700's viewfinder checks in with 95 percent coverage and a 0.72x magnification. That 0.72x number might look small, but remember that higher magnifications are more difficult to achieve with full-frame sensors. At 0.72x, the D700 is in line with the Canon EOS 5D, which sports 0.71x magnification in its finder. Canon's 1Ds Mark III has the best magnification of any full-frame DSLR right now at 0.76x, while the specs for the Nikon D3 report a 0.7x magnification.
All these specs likely have you drooling by now, especially given that the price tag lands well below $3,000. We should take a step back and consider a few things though. First, since the EOS 5D is already at 12MP, and it's likely that Canon will raise that resolution in the next iteration, we may see the D700 surpassed in resolution by the end of this year. Couple that with the fact that the D700 steps down to 5MP if you put a DX-format lens on it, and persnickety users may start to whine.
When Nikon first announced the full-frame FX format with the D3, there was surprisingly little negative pushback about the fact that so many users have DX lenses. This may partially be a result of the fact that most D3 users are pros who can afford to write off new lenses as a business expense. Given the wider audience for the D700, it'll be interesting to see how many Nikonians complain about this issue.
One thing's for sure. This year and next year are sure to see the SLR wars intensify as Canon, Nikon, Sony, and possibly Pentax and Samsung get into the full-frame competition. Nikon's off to a very good start. The D700 will no doubt find a home with many wedding photographers, dentists, and Nikon enthusiasts after it hits stores later this month. If the test results we saw from the D3 indicate anything, this should be one heck of a camera. Keep your eyes fixed on PopPhoto.com for our test results as soon as they're complete.