A wolf in sheep's clothing
Until you’ve used a full-format digital camera — or unless you’re a user of 35mm film cameras — it’s hard to understand what all the fuss is about. The truth is, once you’ve used a camera with a full-format sensor, it’s hard to revert back to a digital camera with a smaller frame size because the view just looks so constrained. But full format cameras (such as Nikon’s D3) are very expensive and have a massive body to boot. The D700, however, is a full format, 12.1-megapixel camera that resides in a body that’s almost identical to Nikon’s D300.
- Full-frame sensor, smaller and lighter body than the D3, useful Live View, virtual horizon, comfortable to use
- Slightly slower than the D3
If you're already a D-SLR user, the next step up is a full-frame camera. Consider the D700 for its size and more competitive price compared to the top-of-the-line D3, as you won't lose too much in the way of features and capabilities.
It’s very much a professional-grade camera in a smaller-than-usual body, and it also costs about $2000 less than the D3. It may sound funny, but at $3999 it can be considered an entry-level full-format camera for the professional user or dedicated — very dedicated — hobbyist.
Because it’s something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the D700 doesn’t look like it’s anything special compared to Nikon’s mid-range D-SLRs (such as the D300), especially when you notice that it also has a built-in pop-up flash. But the fact is, the full-format sensor makes it a very special camera.
It’s capable of capturing natural-coloured images with breathtaking clarity and detail. Its sensitivity starts at ISO 200, at which point noise is barely noticeable; but even at ISO 1600 the noise isn’t overbearing unless you zoom in to the picture at 100 per cent. An ISO speed up to 6400 can be selected. It was hard to pick up any signs of fringing or haloing, as dark areas and high-contrast areas all looked clean and free of any aberrations.
We used a Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm lens with vibration reduction for our tests, which is compatible with a full-frame (FX format) camera. The camera will also accept DX format lenses. As long as the camera is set to detect DX lenses, you will be able to use the smaller-frame lenses without the images looking like they were shot through a telescope! When a DX lens is installed, the optical viewfinder will use an illuminated rectangle to show you the available area of your shot. Anything outside the rectangle won’t be in the shot.
The D700 has four main modes for exposure (the same as the D3): manual, aperture priority, shutter priority and programmed auto mode, which adjusts the shutter and aperture automatically. Its drive modes include single shot, continuous (low and high speed), timer and mirror up. Mirror up is designed to minimise the shake caused by the camera’s mirror moving to an up position. It’s especially useful when shooting with a long exposure.
In the continuous modes the camera will shoot at around five frames per second until the buffer is filled; this is slower than the D3, which shoots at up to nine frames per second. The buffer indicator in the viewfinder indicates that this camera is good for up to 13 continuous shots.
Surprisingly, the D700’s Live View feature is actually quite useful, especially if you’re a newshound caught in a crowd and need to reach high above your head to take a photo; Live View will let you frame a shot in this situation using the LCD screen, and you can autofocus, too, and snap the shot once the focus point turns green. It shouldn’t be used in situations where the optical viewfinder can be used, but for awkward high-up or low-to-the-ground shots it can be useful.
Another useful feature is the virtual horizon, which can be used in conjunction with the camera’s function button to show you if your camera is level. It will show you this in the camera’s control panel, and it’s especially handy when setting up landscape shots on a tripod. It can also be used in Live View mode.
The function button can, in fact, be assigned to pretty much any menu function, including bracketing options. This can involve a bit of a learning curve, but it’s a great way to access a function you use on a regular basis. For focusing, the D700 has 51 points to select from, and it can focus in one of three modes: manual, single-servo autofocus (which locks the focus point once the shutter is pressed half-way down), and continuous servo autofocus (which can track and continually focus on moving subjects).
All up, the D700 is almost identical to the D3, but it comes in a smaller and lighter chassis. Its full-format sensor is definitely the stand-out feature, so if you’re already a D-SLR user the D700 is perhaps the next model you should aspire to own.
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