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This review is optimized for a screen resolution of min. 1280x1024, smaller screens will result in sequenzing of images

 

            Nikon D700           

Is this the Be-All and End-All of DSLR photography?

 

 

I consider myself as pretty lucky to get one of these brand new cameras just a couple of days after the official presentation to the public. Just a few days, but I was able to test it, to take some photographs, to look at it more or less in detail and to come to a conclusion. If you don´t have time to read the full review and want to get the summary in one sentence, then here it is: If you can, get it!

Usually, I am not that enthusiastic about anything, but that D700 appeals to me very much - it is (just) still afforable, takes wonderful pictures, is very pleasant in operation and handling and almost everything works very well.

 

D700 mit dem 14-24/2,8 G-ED AFS

A review, which is a report, should be a bit systematic and should attempt to describe the properties and characteristics of the camera, but as a review is written by a human and not by a robot, it is as always, subjective. I want to admit, that I do have a significant affinity towards Nikon, but this does not mean that I always using Nikon - most of my photography, I do in medium format with two Rollei SL66SE, a Mamiya RZ 67 Pro II or in large format with a Plaubel Profia and a Linhof Master Technika. So - why digital, why a digital SLR?

Digital Photography has changed the landscape of photographic technology in the past 10 years and progress is very impressive. Conventional photography, which is based on film, has been overtaken in all areas except fine art photography. In my opinion, one of the key reasons is the demand for instant visual information - one just does not want to wait anymore for the film to be processed, dried and printed - a sign of what I call "rapid-movement" society. Advertising - in previous times done to last several months or a year, is in our days valid for maybe a week or at best a couple of weeks. After that time, the message has to be reconsidered and changed to attract attention.
And the "normal" users, they want to be part of that speed and action - a photograph must be here now, not in a day, not even in one hour, it must be available right now. There is a long list of advantages of digital photography (as there is a long list of drawbacks, but this is an other story) and the newly released D700 is a perfect camera for a certain group of photographers - those who are in between professionals, taking several hundred shots a day and the advanced amateur, shooting maybe a couple of hundreds per month, user which put quality in front of top shooting speed and maximum usage (not to say that the D700 with 5 fps is slow, but some do need more speed - not me!)

The D700 is smaller than the D3 and a bit larger than the D300. If you add the additional battery grip, then its size is almost the same as the D3 but it still is a bit smaller and lighter. The additional size of the D700 compared to the D300 is mostly due to the larger viewfinder prism - the D700 is a full format 35mm camera whereas the D300 is a DX size camera, which incorporates also the smaller sensor. You can see the difference in size in the image below

 

The shutter, well, it is not made for 300.000 shots, it is made for 150.000 shots or as one can read in some other literature, for 100.000 shots - is this a problem in that class of camera? No, I do not think so - if you shoot 300 exposure a day and 365 days a year, then maybe, but the target customers for this camera usually do not do this - they probably shoot 400-600, maybe a 1000 per month - so you can calculate yourself, how long it takes until the camera needs a shutter service....long enough to see a new one on the market and to have used that D700 well enough to replace it.
The vibrations and noise of the shutter are very small - audible, yes, but not much and the vibrations are normal, nothing to worry about. The delay after turning on that camera is very short - 0,12seconds and the shutter release delay is short as well - only 4/100 seconds - so the total time from switch-on to exposure is about half a second, which is OK. If you want to reduce the vibrations, you can put the mirror in the up position and release the shutter only, this reduces the vibrations significantly and is an important feature of the camera.

The viewfinder of the D700 is bright, clear and informative. Not at all overloaded with uninteresting information and data. All important information is clearly visible and the displays can be read under all lighting situations. I like the larger viewfinder of a full format camera compared to the smaller one of all DX cameras - for me, this is a key advantage of FX format cameras! What I do not like too much is the fact, that the viewfinder displays only 95% of the full frame - so you cannot compose an image completely by using the viewfinder - you would have to use the large backscreen if you want to see exactly what the picture will contain. 95% is fine and common for most SLR´s but I prefer the 99,0% of the D3 and the D300 viewfinder - why was this not done here? Well, I guess it was not done because of two reasons -weight/size and cost of the body. OK, this is a slight drawback of the D700, but the price difference to the D3 (at time of publication the D700 is about half the price of the D3 in Europe) needs to result in some compromises.

The sensor of the D700 - 12,05 Megapixel on 23,9x36mm, CMOS type - enough for printing photographs on A0 if viewed from a normal distance. The sensitivity range, like of the D3 is with normal setting from ISO 200 to ISO 6400 with extensions on both ends - down to ISO 100 and up to ISO equivalent 25600. I did not see much of a difference between ISO 200 and 100 (like at the D3) and the noise at ISO 6400 is as low as with the D3. It is very very low and you can shoot at ISO 6400 and still get acceptable results. If you go beyond ISO 6400 - then there is a slight difference in my opinion - you might be able to recognize it on the comparison photographs as well. The D700 at ISO 25600 seems to me to be a bit noisier and revealing more grain than the D3 -more of it a bit later.
A dust removal shaker is also incorporated into the D700 - which in my opinion is an almost worthless feature as it does the same as all others does - shake the dust off the sensor. But where does the dust go - it stays inside the body and a few shots later, you can see it again, right? In my opinion, a simple blower is the easiest way to get rid of dust, but an incorporated dust shaker is a nice marketing feature!
The sensor, as mentioned, is a FX format sensor. If you put a DX coded lens on the camera, the viewfinder shows it, not like the D3, which shows a gray mask, but some lines which tell you the boundary of the DX format. So far fine - what the D3 has got but not the D700 is the option to choose the 5:4 format for photography. This is nothing very important, but a very nice format for some applications like portraiture. For general applications or landscape photography, the 4:6 format (24x36) is usually more desirable. Again, maybe another (acceptable) compromise of the downgrading (excuse this word) the D3 to the D700.

On the backside, you find the same display like the D3 has got - large, bright and informative. You can judge a photograph by looking at this display - not that it can replace a larger monitor, but you can see how the image will look like. Here you can see how this looks like on a real image

 

Most buttons and knobs are identically located and function almost identical to the D300 - not fully identical, but most similar. The viewfinder shutter is an important feature ( no surprise ) as the meter reading is influenced by 1 to 2 stops if light comes from the backside into the camera (tried and proven)

 

 

Quality of color rendition - another important asset and criterium of a digital SLR - is it comparable to the D3? It is the same, better or less impressive? Again a 14bit A-D converter plus the same EXPEED color algorithms working in 16bit - fine, but does this show in comparable colors?
Well, I think, that D700 color rendition is very impressive and pretty comparable to the D3, in some aspects maybe even slightly better. You can jugge yourself by looking at the color charts which you can find a bit further down.
What did not change - well, the White-Balancing. It is OK, but not more. The WB in its automatic mode is usable, no question, but I am not really happy with it - it did not improve over the D3. As soon as you ligthing environment is a bit strange or odd, the Auto-WB cannot cope properly with it. Manual adjustment is necessary and works fine, especially if you use the "WB-pre" function in combination with the Expodisc to get the white point right - works very well! The built-in fine adjustment option by means of a color matrix like the La*b* color system is a very handy feature - you can see a screenshot below - it works well and the adjustment achieved with it is excellent, provided you understand what you are doing (sorry for the German menu, I do not have the camera on hand anymore to add new and English coded screenshots!)s
 

 

The options to store the images is limited to one storage card - CF type. The writing speed of the camera is said to be 35MB/sec, which is fine and makes it more or less necessary to use fast writing CF cards. One slot only - another compromise compared to the D3 and targeted at the user group of that camera I guess. I am not absolutely happy with it as even for semi-professionals and serious "part-time" shooters, an internal back-up of the images is a tremendously interesting feature. This is such a nice option of the D3 to use the second slot either as additional memory space or as a simultaneous backup in case something goes wrong with the main CF card. But OK, the D700 is not the D3, it is smaller, ligher and has to have some less features and benefits.

It has got a built-in flash - that is nice and a plus over the D3. Not that this flash can replace a proper add-on flash like the SB800 or the new SB900 (which is nice but expensive), but in many situations, which require not a full flash but a little more light from the front, it is a very attractive feature. It pops up higher than the one of the D300 but still, if you use very wide angle lenses, the flash creates shadows in the lower part of the image because its vertical distance from the optical axis is still to small to avoid shadowing.

Something, I like a lot is the "Fn" button on the front side of the camera - it can be used as you like as almost all customer functions can be assigned to this button. I used it for bracketting, a function, hidden inside a couple of layers of the customization menu, which is not too easy to find, especially if you do not have a manual on hand.

The "Live -view" function, which is known already from the D300 and D3, can now added to the virtual horizon as additional layer - quite nice, but nothing precise enough to use to a precision alignment of the camera. However, I think it is a nice feature for those who have troubles holding a camera horizontally...maybe.

 

Virtual/artifical horizon

Live-View, as mentioned before, nice feature and one big advantage over the viewfinder - you see 100% of the image instead of 95%. What you see is what you shoot, that is for certain applications of importance. The information displayed in that mode is just not too much, a bit much, but still, the image is the dominating part of what you see.

LifeView

What else can I tell you, before I start with the images, shots and tests and their results - is there anything on or with that camera, which I do not like too much - yes, there are two topics. The first one, I mentioned before, is the fact, that the viewfinder shows only 95% of the final image. The other one is the fact, that the battery is not too powerful for that camera. It is working fine, but the large capacity, which one has got with the D3 is not large at all. One should not forget - that large and bright display on the back consumes power, the many functions consume power and if you start playing with all of them, you end up with a battery level, which is half full or half empty, depending on how you see it. And this not after 500 or 600 shots, it happened to me after maybe 200 or 300 shots. The way out is to use that battery grip - then you are fine again, but this adds weight and size.
Anything else - yes, a little one - the rubber door on the left side (from the back) which closes the access to the connections like USB, that rubber door seems to close a bit weak pretty soon and I guess, after several hundred cycles of opening and closing, it will probably not close to tight anymore. It is a bit fragile.

The door for the CF compartment, it is simple and not as sophisticated with a locking mechanism like the D3 has got it, but it seems to work - at least for the time being. Maybe something to test thousands of times and the D700x one day will have a more sophisticated closing mechanism.

Resolution of the images - something which interests me a lot. You might have guessed it already, I do like to see how well a digital camera resolves details. I do not want to start again one of those neverending discussions about ---how many MPx are necessary to get a good print in that and that size - but a few considerations to start with: `Pixelsize is 8,4micron (like the D3), the D300 in comparison has got a smaller sensor and approximately similar sized pixels - which therefore have to be smaller, meaning that noise is more with the D300, which is proven, because the photon/noise ratio is worse. If you assume that you need about 300dpi for a good photographic print and if you assume a 10inch print, it means that you would need 3000 pixel over 10inch to get to this result (if you assume further, that you can translate 1 pixel into one dot). I know that these assumptions are not really correct, but just to show you what you can get. The 300 dpi assumption is based on a viewing distance of about 10 inches, but to view a large print, normally people stand much further away than 10 inches, probably at least 20-25inches. This means that you can enlarge your print further and I would say, that to achieve good results with the D700, you can print up to A2 or even A1 size. Always not taking into account what enhancements and improvements you can do in Photoshop...


And the conclusion - do not worry about pixels and how large one might be able to print, just take good images and print them, the camera is suitable for this task ( Would I get stoned and beaten up for such quick and dirty assumptions??) If you are in need to print in wall-size, how about the new Hasselblad with a 50MPx sensor....?

Due to the very limited time, I was allowed to use that camera, I tried to get as much information as possible and to make as many tests as possible with the equipment I have on hand and to document my findings with screen shots, pictures and data. Some functions of the camera work very fine, a few, I was not able to find working according to marketing literature. One of the is the "vignetting reduction" - nothing happened, whatever I tried to do. This function is supposed to suppress the vignetting/darkening of the image corners when using a lens which shows vignetting. It seems to be more a marketing feature and less a physical one. Later then, I was told by Nikon, that it works only if the sensor sees a real darkening in the corners, but not if there is just (!) 1 or 2 stops less exposure compared to the middle of the image. OK, maybe, but 1 or 2 stops is quite a lot and if there is a feature, which is supposed to counteract it, why not let it do its job already under these parameters? In the two crops below, you can see two blue-sky shots - the upper one with no VC on and the lower one with VC activated. Do you see any difference?

 

VC off

VC maximum

Something similar I found with the newly released SB900 flash, which otherwise is a very nice and attractive flash. It is supposed to offer three different angles of illumination - from narrow over normal to wide - I also could not see a difference in eveness of illumination, whatever setting I was using when I photographed a white blank wall.

Saturation of color - this setting can be changed and these changes are very well visible. There are three different pre-programmed settings, which can be further refined if you like, but even with these three settings - standard, normal and brilliant/vivid. ( I hope the denomination in English is not too different), the results differ visible and a lot. Just look at the three crops below - left crop is neutral, middle one in standard and right one with brilliant/vidid.

Below the three crops, you find a link to the full resolution crops - on those, you can see the color difference much better because the compression algorithms for website publishing do have a significant influence on the color reproduction of the compressed JPEG files

                   

left -neutral, middle - standard, right - brilliant/vivid
Link to full resolution crops

The performance of the White Balancing algorithms is another topic, which is always of interest. The D700 offers many different settings plus the usual automatic mode and several possibilities to do it manually with a lot of subfunctions and matrix adjustments. As with previously tested cameras, the automatic function works quite well as long as the light is somehow "normal" - an average daylight with some clouds. But if one uses a different light, the automatic WB mode is not anymore working too well - color rendition is incorrect and the automatic setting of the white point is inaccurate. As I have mentioned before, the manual setting works well, especially in the WB-pre mode plus that little Expodisc device, which I strongly recommend to use. The color rendition can be adjusted not only by setting a proper white point manually but additionally by changing the color matrix like you do when locating a certain color in an La*b* matrix - works fine, is accurate enough to get to acceptable colors. However, you need a bit of understanding of color management to do this, but I presume, if you are into digital photography, you anyway know (hopefully) something about color management.

I do not want to repeat the whole series of shots taken with different light sources and color temperatures, it is similar to the one you can see in my D3 review, just one comparison - the left shot below, a standard print target was taken with cold-white fluorscence lamps and automatic mode and the right shot was taken after manual adjustment of the white point in WB-pre setting with the Expodisc filter.

 

    

left - coldwhite fluorescence lamps and right same light after manual setting with Expodisc in WB-pre

It is clear, that such light is not a standard light for photography, but I wanted to see how the color management of the D700 can cope with it and how much it is identical to the D3. it seems to be more or less identical. Usually the white-point determination of the camera is pretty accurate, as much as such a system can be. If you use a well calibrated monitor and a color managed system, you can see differences, but for most applications, it can be corrected easily.

Noise - another topic of interest. The D3 showed a very impressive noise performance - very low noise up to ISO 6400 and even at highest ISO settings, 25600, one could use the results- within limits of course, but please, ISO 25600 is rather high! Now how does the D700 perform - I did the same night photographs as I did them before with the D3, just this time, when I had the camera, it was raining. This means, that the reflection from the surface of the roads is not as high as it was under dry weather, meaning that the house fronts are not as bright as they were for the D3. However, even taking this into account, my (preliminary) conclusion is that yes, the D700 is more or less comparable, especially up to ISO 6400 but at the two highest speeds, the D3 is still slightly better. If I get a chance to repeat those sets of tests under dry conditions, I would love to do so, but for the time being, I think that especially at ISO 25600, the D700 shows a bit more noise and grainyness compared to the D3 - but judge yourself, you can see the crops below.

 

far left - D700 at ISO25600 -----middle D3----- upper right - D700 at ISO6400

 

I made several dozen shots are various settings and always the results are more or less identical - at ISO 25600, the D3 seems to be a bit sharper, less noisy and overall better performing than the D700. This would not at all surprise me, because I would guess, there must be more differences between these two cameras which count for the tremendous price difference.

Another option, which sounds interesting to me is the option to either take an image with 12bit depth or with 14bit. I took several shots of the standard color test chart (IT8.7) and compared the results visually. Not much of a difference, maybe what one can see (surprise...) that the brighter color patches show a tiny bit more color tones at 14bit. The expected tonal difference in the darker patches, I could not see, they just seem to be a bit darker (what else...) but not more differenciated in color. If possible, I want to evaluate the originals with measuring equipment and see, if the data show some differences. Anyway, not a difference which I would call significant and worth to keep in mind.

 

14bit

 

12bit

Resolution targets - something I like to play with very much. Theoretically there should be no difference between the D700 and the D3 because both host the same sensor and according to marketing, the same processors. Well, I wanted to see what happens and used a ISO 12233 target and evaluated the resolution performance by checking the MTF depending on various settings of sharpening.

 

As the lens of choice, I  used the 2,8/60mm AF Macro lens from Nikon at 1:8 - a lens which is very well corrected and not a zoomlens. As usual, the RAW images have been converted to TIFF in Capture NX2 and evaluated with that powerful program IMATEST. Here the results, starting with standard setting ex works for sharpening, which is 2 on the built-in scale:

 

I enjoyed very much to see that this standard setting is more or less exactly right regarding sharpening - almost no undersharpening and virtually no overshooting /overcontrasting at the edge of white-black. MTF about 2250 LW/PH which is fine and within the expected value range for that sensor at full format and that pixel size.
As you might know, sharpening has a very serious influence on the MTF and to demonstrate this, I have repeated the same shots with various values of sharpening. First with absolutely no sharpening within the camera, it was set to 0, zero.

As it can be expected, that calcuated MTF is lower. The next one was with setting 5 on the scale from 0 to 9, which is the middle setting - the MTF is higher but with visible overshooting and oversharpening effects. Such a setting does not offer any advantages to the image quality, it just makes the black-white borderlines look strange and creates whitish lines along the border.

Unfortunately, many reviews and many publications of test reports do not take this into account and publish very high MTF values without commenting on the setting for sharpening and other influencing factors. This results in the effect, that published data are usually barely comparable unless the complete set of parameters have been revealed as well. Something else needs to be mentioned - many reviews show high MTF values by using (as I have done here on purpose) LW/PH without explanation. The issue is that two details are only resolved if between the two of them an area exists which is in brightness at least approx. 20% different - then these two details can be seen as separate. With other words, it does not really make much sense to count all "lines" across the picture height and say - Oh, I can count 2250 lines - half of them have to be "white" and the other half have to be "black" to make sense to see those 1125 lines separate. As nothing is digital here, there is a gray zone - 20% is an assumption of a limit, others put it at 50%, depending on after-shot processing and purpose of taking that image. You will see some more about these 20% and 50% when you later get to the results obtained with the Siemens star.

The Siemens star is another important tool for measuring MTF. I prefer to use the sinusoidal star as it is more accurate and theoreticall more appropriate to determine MTF with that type instead of the binary one which only contains black and white and nothing else.

The results obtained with this method are pretty comparable to the ones before - again same optics, 1:8 setting, ISO 200 and Adobe RGB. Again, I started with the standard setting for sharpening, 2 on the 0 to 9 scale. Please note, that here I used the LP/PH result display, which is fine - it shows as results the linepairs (black/white) per picture height - to compare directly these results with those before, you must multiply the data by 2 to get to LW/PH

 

 

As mentioned above, the screen shot shows the data as LP/PH which is half the numerical value of the usual form of LW/PH. To show you the direct comparison, here below exactly the same again but this time with LW/PH - now you can see that the data are very well comparable to those obtained with the "slanted edge" method.

 

 

No review without color rendition, color accuracy and precision of color reproduction! The Colorchecker SG, a very powerful evaluation tool was photographed (6500 K light, Auto WB) and various settings of color saturation and tone have been used to get the results which you can see here.

First to start, Adobe RGB, setting of color to neutral, color saturation to 0 and color tone to 0 - both in the middle, no plus and no minus to get the data for the middle setting - evaluation done as always with the program IMATEST

 

 

Here the results in the CIE 1931 xy chromacity diagram

 

Changing the saturation changes the color rendition - how, you can see in the two following charts. First chart with a reduction of the saturation from 0 to minus 3 and the second chart below an increase of saturation from 0 to plus 3 on the D700 scale - all other parameters identical settings.

 

Changing the color tone away from zero (0) setting, the results change of course as well - in the following two changes made - first the tone reduced from 0 to minus 3 and below then the tone changed from 0 to plus 3 on the D700 scale:

 

What can be demonstrated with those diagrams? It can be shown that color change depending on the settings, which is to be expected, but one can use these changes and settings to simulate certain brands and color films to mix and match color from film and digital color. I did not have time enough to simulate a certain film, but these possibilities are very interesting if one wants to keep a certain color rendition which is known from a certain brand of color film. Please however, keep in mind, that the deviations, you can see in all diagrams, between the theoretical color locus and the acutal one has, depending on the color itself, a different meaning and visibility. A certain "distance" between ideal and Camera, to use the IMATEST expressions, results in different visual impression, and this is because of the non-linearity of the CIE1931 chart itself - but explaining this would be beyond the scope of this review.

Overall, I can conclude, that the color rendition of the D700 is very good. To show an easier to read chart, I used the standard well-known Gretag color chart with the 24 color patches and used the settings. The results with that chart are similar to the results before and in addition, IMATEST is calculating also the color error for the neutral tones from white to black and shows them in a very overemphasized mode to make the minute differences well visible to the observer on the screen:

 

All other types of graphs, you know already from previous reviews - they are basically self-explaining and well documented: 

In this diagram, the color locus within the CIE 1931 chart, one can see that the results for the mean Delta E (deviation) is smaller than the one obtained by the more sophisticated Colorchecker SG chart - my first explanation would be that the limited amount of colors in the standard color checker chart is the reason for this result so that if one uses more and more different colors, then the DeltaE increases somehow.

 

The standard color space, which Nikon uses by default is their sRGB. This color space is slightly narrower than Adobe RGB. To compare the D700 in sRGB, I did the same tests in that color space.

Whatever test I have done, overall, I am very happy with what I have found out. Yes, there are some topics and points, which I mentioned, because I do not like them, but the overall concept of the D700 is a very attractive one - a price, which is still more or less affordable, a camera with a lot of good and valuable features and which takes very good images. It is a very interesting and future oriented alternative to the D3 and should attract lots of happy customers. If I would have the money, I would sign into the already long waiting list of people who want to get it.

As the end of this review, which does not claim at all to be complete, you can see a few shots taken with that camera on the few days, I was able to use it. The first shot at a place in Austria, called "Hohe Wand" (High Wall) which is a very windy place but interesting and photogenic (3300ft altitude above the plains surrounding Vienna with an altitude of about 800ft), the second shot a details of the protestant school in downtown Vienna, the third one close by, the oldest tree in that park (about 160 years old) and the last one at a "Heurigen" outside Vienna - a usual retreat for locals. If you like to see the entire non-compressed image at least in JPEG, I have added links to the relevant files, but they are pretty large, so please accept some loading time.

If you liked what you read, I am happy - enjoy reading!

 

Hohe Wand, Niederösterreich
Direct link to JPEG(from RAW)

 

Evangelische Schule Karlsplatz, Wien
Direct link to JPEG(from RAW)

 

Der älteste Baum am Karlsplatz, Wien
Direct link to JPEG(from RAW)

 

Beim Heurigen in Pfaffstaetten, Niederösterreich
Direct link to JPEG(from RAW)

 

 

I hope, I did not make too many typos and spelling mistakes, English is not my mothertongue....

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