So what exactly is Nikon's new D700? A D300 on steroids? A D3 Lite?
The fact is, this new DSLR ($3,000, body only; $3,600 with 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF VR lens) is both.
After weeks of shooting in the field and the full battery of tests in the Pop Photo Lab, we see it as an amazing combination of the two cameras. And by combination, we don't mean compromise.
Simply put, from the D3 ($4,540, street, body only) the D700 inherits a 12.1-megapixel full-frame imaging sensor. From the D300 ($1,625, street, body only), it gets a fairly compact magnesium-alloy chassis sheathed in polycarbonate and a pop-up flash.
With both of its siblings, it shares (among other things), a 51-point autofocus system with 3D focus tracking, 1,005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II exposure control, and the EXPEED image-processing engine.
The result is a full-frame camera that doesn't feel like one. You don't have to think twice about carrying the D700 in your bag or on your shoulder all day.
One of the best things: You can get wide-angle shots without the field of view being eaten away by any lens factor. Since the sensor is essentially the same size as a frame of 35mm film, the wide end of Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Nikkor makes it feel like the world is laid out before you, just waiting to be captured.
It's much like the experience with the full-frame D3, which, as our tests showed, has about the same viewfinder magnification as the D700. When it comes to viewfinder accuracy, though, the D3, with its 100-percent accuracy, lets you see exactly what you're going to get. Compare that with the D700's 95 percent (although that's still Excellent in our ratings). Interestingly, the D300, with its
DX (1.5X lens factor) sensor, actually has a higher viewfinder magnification and a near-perfect 99-percent accuracy. However, it crops that 14mm lens' field of view down to the equivalent of about 21mm.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Not surprisingly, the D700 aced our image quality tests of both RAW (converted to 16-bit TIFF) and JPEG files. (Certified Test Results for RAW are on the next page.)
JPEG resolution was 2350 lines at ISO 200, for an Excellent rating. By way of comparison, the D300's resolution was also 2350 lines and the D3, 2320 lines -- an insignificant spread. All three use the same EXPEED image-processing engine to crunch the pixels.
At lower ISOs, resolution remains essentially the same in JPEG and RAW. Noise reduction doesn't significantly reduce resolution until ISO 6400 and beyond. As you step up toward the D700's top ISO of 25,600 (Nikon calls it Hi-2), RAW gives you the option to preserve detail or sacrifice it in the name of reduced noise.
Yet even with noise reduction at its highest setting, the D700 serves up 1960 lines at ISO 25,600. For perspective, consider that, at its worst, the D700 comes within 100 lines of the 12.8MP Canon EOS 5D's best resolution, 2025 lines at ISO 100.
When it comes to noise, the D700 hews closely to the D3, though Nikon's flagship showed slightly less noise at its base of ISO 200, scoring 0.75 versus the D700's 0.93. That's still well within our best ranking of Extremely Low.
With noise reduction at full blast, the D700 doesn't reach Unacceptable levels until ISO 25,600, although it comes close at ISO 12,800. Even at ISO 6400, this Nikon keeps noise to Moderately Low levels.
Color accuracy? The D700 garnered an Excellent rating and, with an average Delta E of 7.2, essentially matched the D300 and D3, as well as the Canon EOS-1D Mark III. That puts these a nose behind Canon's EOS-1Ds Mark III, which scored an average Delta E of 6.98. Olympus' E-3 remains the Pop Photo Lab's color accuracy record holder with its score of 6.7.
As with the D3 and D300, the D700's automatic white balance is tough to beat. In extreme, mixed lighting, it served up neutral colors. Though it occasionally erred on the side of a bluish tint, most notably on a nasty overcast day, this was the exception and easily fixed in RAW processing.
Nikon's 3D Color Matrix Metering II system excelled in determining a proper exposure even in challenging situations. Harshly backlit portraits? No problem. Mottled, high-contrast shadows falling from a forest canopy? The D700 didn't flinch. At times, it's as though the camera were reading your mind. At other times, it feels as though the camera knew better than you.
We are, however, disappointed that the D700's AF system doesn't match the breakneck speeds of the D3. This means that photographers will have to settle for just blazingly fast. In bright and moderate light from EV 12 to EV 6, it's faster than Canon's EOS 40D and 5D, but not as quick as Sony's Alpha 700 or the Olympus E-3.
But low light is paradoxically where the D700 shines, able to focus in under 1 second all the way down to EV -1. At EV -2 (think full-moon dark), it's still quite fast, focusing in 1.25 sec, while the E-3 failed to find focus in such low light in our tests.