Nikon D700 Review
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Nikon D700 Exposure
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slight oversaturation of strong red and blue tones, but better than average accuracy and pleasing color overall.
Skin tones. Again in keeping with what we saw on the D3, the Nikon D700 rendered skin tones just slightly warm/pink. Still, the results looked natural, well within what we'd consider an acceptable range. (Here, too, the D700's saturation adjustment may come into play for some users, letting them knock down the color on skin tones a little, if they find the default rendering a bit too saturated for their personal tastes.) Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.
Hue. With an average hue error after correction for saturation variation of only 5.19 delta-E units, the D700's hue accuracy is almost identical to that of the D3, and thus likewise closer to technically accurate than many DSLRs on the market. All in all, accurate and pleasing color in a compact pro body. Hue is "what color" the color is.
| See full set of test images
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Good color with the 2,600K and Manual white balances. Less than average positive exposure compensation required as well.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
|2,600K White Balance
Once again mirroring the behavior of the D3, the Nikon D700's auto white balance had a hard time with the very warm color balance of the household incandescent bulbs used in this shot, and its incandescent white balance setting is obviously tuned for the cooler 3,200K color of professional studio lighting. The Nikon D700 isn't quite as expensive as the D3, but we still expect better performance from the auto white balance setting in a camera of its caliber. The 2,600K and Manual settings produced much more accurate results. Skin tones and white values looked best with the 2,600K setting, as the Manual option was just a hint cool (though still nearly accurate). The Nikon D700 actually required a -0.3 EV decrease in exposure to get best results, as even the default exposure was just a bit too bright. Most cameras expose this scene best with no exposure compensation, so the Nikon D700's performance amounted to a slight overexposure relative to the rest of the field. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.
Good exposure and color outdoors, though slightly high contrast at the default setting. Excellent highlight/shadow detail preservation, though, and options like D-Lighting, Contrast, and Saturation are a help when faced with tough conditions like these.
|Manual White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
The Nikon D700 handled tough outdoor lighting under harsh sunlight pretty well, and produced good overall color and exposure. The default contrast setting was a bit on the high side, but shadow and highlight detail was excellent, and the D700's adjustable contrast does a good job in situations like this. The camera's D-Lighting option also proved useful under very harsh lighting. (See the full range of contrast, saturation and D-Lighting options on the links below.) Color looks good outdoors, though strong reds are a bit oversaturated. Here again, the D700's adjustable saturation setting is a useful tool. Overall though, the D700 performed well.
Very high resolution, 1,700 lines of strong detail.
|Strong detail to
1,700 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
1,700 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns all the way down to about 1,700 lines per picture height in both directions, which is excellent. (Some would doubtless argue for an even higher lines/picture height rating, but we judge the aliasing that appears shortly after 1,700 lines as an indication that 1,700 is about the limit of the camera's true resolution.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
(Note that we were able to shoot with our standard Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro lens, something that wasn't possible on the Nikon D3. For some reason, the D3 mis-exposed badly when shooting through this lens. So there's a nice point in the Nikon D700's favor.)
Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images with good detail definition. Minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects and minimal noise suppression.
|Good definition of high-contrast
elements, with only minor edge
|Subtle detail: Hair
Minimal noise suppression here,
with good strand detail in
Sharpness. The Nikon D700 captures a lot of fine detail, with excellent definition. Some slight enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left, but they're really pretty minimal. Again mimicking the D3, the D700's in-camera sharpening is very restrained at its default setting. This leaves its JPEGs looking just slightly soft overall, but they take sharpening in Photoshop and other software pretty well. There's still some minor sharpening artifacts present. You'll do somewhat better if you process the Nikon D700's images straight from the NEF RAW files. Overall though, detail is excellent.
We're a bit surprised to see some of the subtle differences between the D3 and D700's images; we expected the results to be essentially identical. There are a number of subtle differences, though, and the Nikon D700's handling of fine detail appears to be one of them. The differences are subtle indeed, but we think the D700's rendering produces slightly more delicate-looking fine detail in its images.
Detail & Noise Suppression. The crop above right shows only minimal noise suppression in the shadows at ISO 200, as individual strands of hair can be seen even in the darker areas. Noise-suppression
systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle
contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the
individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.
JPEG vs RAW
|JPEG vs RAW Comparison
Mouse over the links in the box above to compare the difference in sharpness and detail from camera JPEG versus a 14-bit RAW file processed with Nikon's View NX version 1.1.0, Capture NX2 version 2.0.0 and Adobe Camera Raw 4.5. Camera settings for the JPEG settings were the defaults.
We've found that there is indeed a good reason to shoot RAW, because RAW files have more detail than makes it out in the camera-produced JPEGs. This is also to be the case for the Nikon D700. Its in-camera JPEG processing is actually pretty good, but you can nonetheless produce a sharper, more finely-rendered image by manipulating the RAW files in a good third-party RAW converter.
The camera's own JPEG processing and that of Nikon's View NX and Capture NX2 software produce very similar-looking images (no surprise there), although Capture NX2 gives you more control over image-sharpening parameters. The size of the sharpening operator in Capture NX2 seems to be somewhat constrained, though, preventing you from using as tight an operator as you might like. As a result, finer detail can be revealed by processing in Photoshop, importing via Camera Raw with its sharpening turned off and then applying ~200% unsharp masking with a radius of 0.3 pixels once the image has been imported. (We've generally found that careful unsharp masking delivers better results than we can achieve using the sharpening built into Camera Raw.)
ISO & Noise Performance
Very good noise performance, with low noise levels and good detail even at very high sensitivity settings.
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800||
|These crops taken from shots with
High ISO NR set to "Normal", the default.
Noise levels are remarkably low at the Nikon D700's lower sensitivity settings, with very smooth images up to ISO 800, where there is only the slightest hint of "grain" visible in darker shadows. At ISO 1,600, noise is still very low with excellent preservation of fine/subtle detail. We start to see some minor loss of detail at ISO 3,200 where high ISO noise reduction scrubs away a little fine detail along with the image noise. Noise and the effects of noise reduction becomes obvious at 6,400, with stronger blurring, and increased grain, but chroma noise is kept in check and overall results are still excellent for a 12-megapixel sensor at such a high sensitivity setting. (As with the D3, the D700's big pixels really help with light sensitivity and low noise, and Nikon's sensor technology and noise reduction appear to be top-notch as well.) ISOs 12,800 and especially 25,600 are quite noisy and soft looking, with blotches of chroma noise and little fine detail remaining after default high ISO noise reduction is applied. That said though, even ISO 12,800 images look surprisingly usable when printed as large as 8x10 inches, and ISO 25,600 ones seemed usable at 5x7.
Bottom line, the Nikon D700 matches the D3, with the best high-ISO noise performance of any DSLR we've tested to date. Very impressive!
Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Excellent detail in both highlights and shadows, high resolution and good overall exposure.
Excellent low-light capabilities: This camera sees better in the dark than you do!
|-0.3 EV||Default Exposure||+0.3 EV|
Sunlight. The Nikon D700 did very well under the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above. The best exposure is probably that at -0.3 EV: The mannequin's skin tones are at a good level, and only the very brightest parts of her shirt (on the right shoulder) are blown out. The image looks a little contrasty, but that's just representative of the lighting itself. The key is that highlight and shadow detail are both very well preserved, with good-looking midtones as well. (The very brightest highlights are lost, the very darkest shadows are a bit plugged, but you have to go really far in both directions before you'll find any problems. Noise and noise suppression are quite low in the shadows, and fine detail in these areas looks very good. Still, the camera's adjustable contrast, saturation and D-Lighting adjustments do help fine tune the exposure in conditions like this. (As always though, we remind readers to be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; and it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)
The Nikon D700 turned in a great performance here, capturing bright images at the lowest light level even at the lowest sensitivity setting (and at an amazing 1/15 second exposure time at its highest ISO). Color balance is a bit cool from the Auto white balance setting, especially at the darkest light levels. The camera's handling of noise was again very good, with minimal interference even at very high sensitivities. The AF system was able to focus unassisted down to just below the 1/16 foot-candle light level, and to total darkness with the AF assist enabled.
For all intents and purposes, noise is negligible up to ISO 800, and remains very low at ISO 1,600 and 3,200. Noise levels are moderate at ISO 6,400, but there's still loads of detail to work with, especially when high ISO NR is set to "Off" (which still applies some minimal filtering to JPEGs at ISOs over 2,000 -- RAW files are always left untouched, as they should be). As you would expect, noise is much higher at ISOs 12,800 and 25,600. (Probably no surprise, noise levels at the highest ISOs are noticeably higher under these very low light conditions than they are in our more brightly-lit test shots.)
The D700 gives you 4 options for high ISO noise reduction: Off, Low, Normal and High, so you have some flexibility in deciding how much noise to trade for detail. Except for the "No NR" shots in the table above, all were shot using the Normal NR setting, and Long Exposure NR was enabled, so was applied to exposures longer than one second. Interestingly, we saw somewhat fewer hot pixels (with NR both on and off) at ISOs 12,800 and 25,600 than we did with our D3 test body, making the D700's highest-ISO shots at the lowest light levels somewhat cleaner overall. As with the D3, the D700's Long Exposure NR did not come into play at its highest ISOs, because the shutter speed was still relatively high. (Only 1/8-1/15 second at the lowest light level we test at!) With these ultra-high ISOs, Nikon should perhaps consider offering a way to adjust the Long Exposure NR shutter speed threshold in a future firmware revision.
The D700's autofocus also did very well in low-light, easily able to focus at the lowest light level we test at (1/16 foot-candle) even with its AF-assist light disabled. - And in total darkness when the AF-assist was operating.
At the end of the day, the D700 more than matches the D3's low-light capability; together they're by far the best cameras for low-light shooting that we've tested to date.
How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.
NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D700 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.
Excellent print quality, great color, good 20x30 inch prints, excellent 13x19 inch ones. ISO 6,400 images are surprisingly good at 8x10, even better at 5x7.
Output from the Nikon D700 was good enough to produce good-looking 20x30 inch prints, and sharp 13x19 inch prints. At 20x30, its images were slightly soft looking, but would be more than OK when seen at the viewing distances typical for such large prints. As we noted earlier, the D700 rewards RAW shooters with really excellent detail when its NEF files are processed through a good RAW converter. The difference between camera JPEGs and those from RAW isn't as dramatic as with some cameras we've tested lately, but the results are nonetheless well worth the effort if you care about extracting every last bit of information from your images.
High ISO images were really extraordinary: Together with the D3, the Nikon D700 clearly leads the field in high-ISO performance, thanks to its large pixels, CMOS sensor technology, and Nikon's excellent noise-reduction processing. D700 images shot under incandescent lighting (always the tougher test) looked great when printed at 8x10 inches, all the way up to ISO 6400. At ISO 6400 and at that size, there was a little noise present, but we had to look close to see it (closer than you'd normally view a print of that size), and it was very fine-grained. - There's also almost no chroma component to the D700's noise at ISO 6400, making it even less apparent than noise patterns from many other cameras with similar "grain" size. Shot under daylight-balanced lighting and printed at 13x19 inches, the D3's ISO 6,400 shots were softer and somewhat noisier than those at lower ISOs, but the results were still pretty amazing.
As with the D3, the Nikon D700's noise processing at high ISOs varies quite a bit, depending on the setting you're using. (The following is a direct copy/paste from our D3 test analysis - Examining a number of images shot with the two cameras convinced us that their high-ISO noise processing is essentially identical.) At the low setting (our personal preference), a little fine-grained noise creeps in at ISO 3,200, but it's pretty minimal, and fine subject detail is preserved very well. The Normal noise reduction setting almost entirely eliminates the noise (even at ISO 3,200), but loses a little fine detail in the process. The High setting leaves images very clean, but also very soft, with much more detail lost. That said though, the underlying images are so clean to begin with that the amount of detail loss from any given level of noise reduction is much less than we're accustomed to seeing. (In practice, for print sizes 8x10 or smaller, leaving high-ISO NR turned entirely off produces prints with excellent detail and surprisingly little noise up to ISO 6,400.) As noted, the Low setting was our favorite, it produced surprisingly clean images that still contained loads of fine detail.
The Nikon D700 also did very well when it came to color. As noted earlier in this review, its handling of bright reds and blues seems to be just slightly more subdued than that of the D3, so images containing those colors are a little closer to technically accurate. The difference is relatively slight though, and we found the D700's overall color handling to be very pleasant (meaning, I suppose, that it matched our personal preferences quite well.) A very good performance overall, slightly better than the D3's in this area.
Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon Pro9000 review for details on that model.)
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D700 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon D700 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.