Nikon D700 Digital SLR Camera review . . . continued

So what's left to consider? How about Nikon's decision to resist the megapixel 'war' and stick with a 12.1 megapixel FX sensor? Good choice. Somewhere between 12-14 megapixels worth of photo-diodes on a sensor surface loads the chip sufficiently to achieve extremely high quality images without the signal degradation caused by too many photosites packed onto the surface of the sensor.

The technology will progress no doubt, but the current technical state-of-the-art means that 12+ megapixels provides the best high ISO/low noise performance while also capturing a base image resolution that can be printed at very high quality in sizes up to 16"x24" (A2). That's a big print. Software tricks including complex resizing and interpolation algorithms offered by specialty image processing software can print high quality 12.1 megapixel images at even larger sizes.

Cons: If we spend more time actually taking pictures than analyzing our cameras' feature and functions, we'll all become better photographers. The Nikon D700 is no doubt a superb photographer's camera for amateurs and pros alike. Nonetheless, waxing poetic about the D700 has to be tempered by the existence of some annoyances. First, the Compact Flash (CF) door on the right side of the body is a slide-out affair, simple enough to use, secure when it's closed and in use. But it can also be inadvertently pulled open if your grip shifts slightly when lifting the camera out of your camera bag. The positions of the AF-On and AE-L/AF-L buttons are too close together, and the AE-L/AF-L button is too far to the left making it just a bit of a long reach even for medium size hands. As well, the two buttons are not sufficiently different which makes using them by touch alone (e.g., while looking through the viewfinder at a composition) something which requires many days of regular shooting to master.


There is a myth about absolute weight being important for stable (blur free) handheld photography. So I have a hard time understanding why the D700 (1.13kg/2.5lbs) is 38% heavier than the superb new D90 (0.82kg/1.8lbs), battery and CF card included, except for the notion built up during a couple of generations of marketing effort by camera makers convincing us that unless a camera feels substantial it can't possibly be so. In fact, the marvelous Nikon D200 and D300 both weigh under two pounds (they're both 0.9kg/1.9lbs full loaded) and the D300 also features much of the same water resistant gaskets and other heavy duty usage features of the D700. At 800-900 grams (1.75-1.95lbs) the D90, D200 and D300 are all more than heavy enough to accommodate perfectly stable handheld shooting, so I think Nikon has just added needless weight to the D700 for marketing purposes. The printed User's Manual is a model of categorically organized detail, but it's a failure as a comprehensive guide or reference. Nikon cameras have advanced to the point at which the lists of features and functions have become a daunting learning challenge for even intermediate level photographers. The entire user's manual has to be re-thought in terms of providing at least three levels of Getting Started guidance (beginner, intermediate & advanced — with progressively more complex tutorials in each section). Indeed, the absence of any practice shooting tutorials, to the best of our knowledge, in any SLR user's manual published by any camera maker, is a real miss.

The Index in the D700 user's manual is missing a lot of items and remains more of a detailed version of the Table of Contents than a true reference index. Nikon also needs to step up with a detailed, search-able, online/HTML (please NOT a PDF document) version of the user's manual which could provide a comparatively inexpensive means of providing the whole thing in color. Whichever bunch it was at Nikon that it was a good idea to provide end users with a method of fine tuning autofocus performance ought to be reprimanded until they agree never to do anything like this again, at least not without a clearly illustrated color tutorial on how to perform the adjustment. It's a marginally useful feature accompanied by poor documentation which results in a supreme time waster which ultimately rarely provides any measurable improvement in the D700's extremely precise autofocus performance.

Pros: Praise Nikon for including an effective, built-in sensor cleaning system (something which is missing from the D3). Higher marks still to Nikon for including a customizable My Menu feature. It's easy to select any number of frequently used menu items and link to them through My Menu. If you're regularly switching Picture Controls between, e.g., Standard +2 for nice skin tones when shooting people and Vivid +1 for saturated colors when shooting landscapes, link to the Picture Control entry in My Menu. Among other things, I've got Auto ISO Configuration, Picture Controls, Format CF Card and half a dozen other things in My Menu which allows me to get at them very quickly as opposed to rooting through each menu section to get at each item in their various locations. My Menu can reduce delays and make your photography more effortless, so give the programmer who came up with this a gold star. The Non-CPU Lens function is one of the things that long-time Nikon users will appreciate after they mount older or non-Nikkor manual lenses. I used a manual focus Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/2.0 lens on the D700 with full metering and auto adjustments in-camera simply by inputting the largest stop and the focal length in one of nine customizable slots in the Non-CPU Lens menu. Whenever I attach the Zeiss (or one of three other older manual focus lenses I use), I just select the correct custom setting and start firing. There are two prominent improvements in the D700 which set it apart from all of the competition: excellent dynamic range and high ISO performance. While not quite up to the expansive dynamic range of the best 35mm film, the D700's sensor and EXPEED processor have been designed and programmed to produce images with wonderful and surprising dynamic range.

Looking at the results from the D700 and recalling some shooting conditions recently that taxed previous SLRs into image full of blowouts, I am truly beginning to completely forget about film. High ISO performance in conditions that even as recently as 2007 would have caused us to call it a day for want of a couple of thousand watts of additional lighting, now provides amazingly clean, effectively noise-free images up to ISO3200 and highly usable and (more important) eminently printable images shot at ISO6400. As with the D3, from which the D700 borrows and updates much of its power and functionality, in the hands of competent photographers the results are quite simply wonderful. The Nikon D700 digital SLR camera is nothing so much as extension of your creative interests and your eyes. It functions reliably and consistently in an enormous range of shooting conditions that can stop other cameras dead. I've traveled enough with my D700 to have shot in rain, mist, sleet, muck, equatorial heat & humidity, salt spray and snow without even a hint of trouble. An inappropriate lens choice is going to give you trouble in adverse conditions long before the D700. Most of all, the D700 is not limited by its technology or by design compromises. The quality of images you make with the D700 is limited only by you. The better you get, the better your images will get. The Nikon D700 is a D3 for the rest of us without $5,000 to drop on a camera body. If you're serious about doing lots of great photography, this is where the smart money hangs out. Highly recommended.



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