With the dust barely settling from Nikon’s D3 and D300 double-whammy the re-invigorated maker’s latest addition to the range is the compact size 35mm full-frame D700 aimed squarely at arch-rival Canon’s Eos 5D. Although it has taken three-years for the maker to mount a challenge to Canon’s dominance in the pro-arena, Nikon appear to be taking the matter very seriously.
As the D700 packs the same 12-million pixel CMOS sensor and similar image-processing pipeline to that found on the maker’s top-flight D3, you’re literally getting D3 image quality at two-thirds of the ticket price. Nikon hasn’t artificially disabled the sensor’s performance in any way, so, with a native ISO6400 maximum sensitivity expandable to the equivalent of ISO25600, you get the same extraordinary low-light capabilities. If you’re unfamiliar with the D3’s performance, the D700 delivers a perfectly usable file at ISO3200 and possibly ISO6400 if pushed, but above that images are pretty gritty. Detail is surprisingly high from a Raw file especially, but can’t match the outright resolution of Canon’s 1Ds Mk III.
Where there is a slight difference between the two Nikon models is in the processing power, but the D700 can make 14-bit Raw captures at up to a respectable 4fps, or 5fps at 12-bit. Add the optional vertical grip and frame rates increase dramatically up to 8fps at 12-bit. One big plus over the D3, other than the smaller body size, is the inclusion of automated sensor cleaning. It was a bit of an oversight on the D3 considering the adoption by Canon on its full-frame 1Ds Mk III but the addition on the D700 means the 100-percent viewfinder is cropped slightly to 95-percent.
Some other shortcomings, compared with the D3 include a slightly tardier auto-focus system, despite the claims that it’s the same module and there’s a slight hesitancy in displaying images during playback or info on the data panel. You can’t expect the twin CF card slots either but the 3-inch LCD screen is the same high-quality 920k dot panel found on both the D3 and D300. And while the D700 shares much of the body design of the D300, rather than the D3, it has the larger prism and protruding ocular that makes composition and focusing a much more satisfying and positive experience. A viewfinder blind is a nice touch too. The slight increase in weight, and bulk, over the D300 helps balance lenses such as Nikon’s mind-boggling and very well corrected 14-24mm f/2.8 zoom and a real must have for this camera.
But, while the ergonomics and balance of the body is truly something of beauty, we weren’t happy with a somewhat flimsy pop-up flash, poorly fitting rubber cover over the I/O sockets and simple sliding mechanism of the CF door. Yep, there’s no lock on the CF card cover. But these really are small gripes as both the camera and the files it produces have the feeling of being touched by magic. Nikon seem determined now to beat Canon at its own game, rather than following a different path. If we must have a whinge though, where are the AF-S primes to replace the now discontinued 58mm f/1.2 Noct-Nikkor, 35mm f/1.4, 28mm f/1.4 and 105mm f/1.8? My guess is, now we have the ideal platform, we will see them sooner rather than later.
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