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By www.kenrockwell.com

 

The Nikon D700 is Nikon's, and the world's, best serious digital camera. The old professional D3 costs more and runs faster for sports, but the D700 is newer, smarter, smaller and lighter.

 

The D700 has image quality indistinguishable from the klunky old D3, both in terms of sharpness and at high ISOs. The D700 has the same superb 3" LCD, but handles even better than the old D3 better due to a new INFO button and smarter firmware. I own a D3, and I prefer the D700 except that the D700 lacks the 5:4 crop mode I often use (most people don't care).

 

Even at $8,000, the overpriced D3X isn't an improvement over the D3. Sorry rich people. The D3X is the same as the D3, except that it only has the same frame rate as the D700 (maybe even a little slower), and the D3X lacks the high ISO performance of either the D3 or D700.

 

Unless you're a full-time sports, news or action pro, the D700 replaces the D3 for studio, wedding, portrait, nature and landscape pros, as well as all advanced amateur photographers. (I'm a very strict grader for what defines a pro; everyone else is amateur.)

 

Forget the D3X, unless you're printing everything at 20 x 30" (50 x 75cm) and up, since the D3X is a hair slower than the D700, and has nowhere near the high ISO performance. I've made great 20 x 30" prints from a D40; pixels aren't worth what they used to be.

 

The Canon 5D Mark II costs a little more, and the choice between the two is easy. The 5D Mark II is the best thing Canon makes, but the D700 is better for almost everything.

 

The D700 wins for just about everything, especially action and taking pictures of your friends, family and kids. The D700 has superior autofocus performance over the Canon 5D Mark II. The 5D Mark II's AF system is inferior for photographing moving kids in dim light. All my D700 shots made with a 50mm f/1.4 indoors are just about perfect, most of my 5D Mark II shots made with a 50/1.4 USM just can't nail the focus because the 5D Mark II lacks the face recognition of the D700. The D700 magically focuses on a moving kid's nearest eye, while the 5D Mark II usually mis-focusses on his shirt, sleeve or background. At f/2, depth of field is so narrow that most of my 5D Mark II photos are useless for moving kids. Who needs 21MP if they're out of focus?

 

If you have incredible Canon lenses and regularly make prints many yards (meters) wide, the Canon 5D Mark II has more pixels, but the AF and ergonomic (handling, speed and comfort) performance of the D700 is superior. The 5D Mark II is mostly plastic, while the D700 is mostly metal. The D700 is sculpted to feel great in your hands all day, while my hands start to hurt fast holding the less well designed 5D Mark II. Nikon shooters can't believe that when you take a picture on the 5D Mark II, that you can't zoom or look at any other pictures until you use your other hand to press the play button manually!

 

Get the 5D Mark II if you're photographing things that hold still or pose for you AND you need to print them Bismarck  sized, otherwise, get the D700.

 

I average 5,000 shots every month on my D3. When I got a D700, there wasn't much difference. The D700 has exactly the same image quality, and handles just a little bit better. I can't say anything better about the D700 than that. The D700 is a D3 with a smaller battery (unless you add the grip) and a cheaper finder screen system, and that's it. The D700 even has the superior rear thumb control of the D3, not the crappy single-piece thing from the D300.

 

The D700 is a mostly improved version last year's $5,000 camera, for just $3,000. If you want to read all the good things I think about the D700, read my D3 review in its entirety, and read this review simply for what differs between the two.

 

The thing I missed most in the D700 is the option to shoot in the professional 4:5 aspect ratio, which fits more of my subjects better than the outdated 2:3 aspect ratio of 35mm film and most DSLRs. On my D3, I program the FUNC button to let me chose my framing with one finger without having to take my eye from the finder.

 

To make up for it, the D700 adds an AUTO option to the Auto Dynamic Range mode, which will probably give the D700 slightly better image quality in difficult light with less twiddling (I leave my D3 set at Normal, since it has no AUTO setting), and more importantly, the D700 added a much needed way to get to my color saturation and contrast Picture Control settings, as well as a way to display the huge INFO panel on the 3" LCD, each with just one tap of one finger on my shooting hand. On the D700, I can get to all the menus with just one hand.

 

Which is better? If I didn't use the 4:5 mode so often and have a personal issue with the obstructive black AF sensor markers and too-small exposure compensation marks in the D700's finder, it's obvious that the D700 is better so long as you're not shooting action at 9FPS.

 

The D700 uses the same image sensor and has exactly the same image quality as the D3, even at ISO 3,200.

 

The D700 has some subtle, but critical firmware improvements which make it far easier and faster to use than the D3. I can shoot the D700 with one hand, but need to two hands to set Picture Controls and get to the menus in the D3. See my D700 User's Guide for details. In the D700, I can program the FUNC button to call up my Picture Controls, program the power button to call up the rear INFO display, and another tap of the INFO button gets me to other frequently used menu settings. The D3 lacks these options, so it takes a second hand on the MENU button to do all this. Time wasted jacking with more button pushes on the D3 needing an extra hand means missed photos.

 

The D700 isn't much bigger than the small-format (DX) amateur D300.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I'm an FX junkie. DX was always OK for snapshots, but you just can't get anything on DX equivalent to 14mm ultra-ultra wide on FX, and if you want to shoot in available light, ISO 6,400 looks great without excuses on the D700 or D3, but not on any DX camera.

 

For most people, the D300 gives exactly the same results as the D3 or D700, but if you need to shoot in the dark or with ultra-ultra wide lenses, or are simply fed up with the crappy little finders of DX cameras, welcome the D700. Even if the only difference between the D700 and D300 was the finder, the huge finder of the D700 alone is enough to justify the D700 for many people. It would for me, but "Is It Worth It" is different for each of us.