Nikon D700 review

*Disclaimer* this is a post intended for my fellow photogs out there. If you are a bride or groom and are wondering why the heck you are staring at a camera review on a wedding photographers blog… Please don’t be alarmed, I am lucky to be entrusted by Nikon with some of their most awesome photography equipment. Every so often I will get a new piece of equipment and I run it through the wringer then post a review. Just give this page a little scroll and you will find tons of fun wedding and engagement goodies to ogle and a way to navigate to older posts at the bottom.  =)

Last month I received a pretty amazing e-mail from the people over at Nikon… The short story is that they sent me to WPPI and hooked me up with a bunch of their best gear. Aside from getting to attend some pretty amazing workshops and hang out with a bunch of Nikon Pros, they (Nikon) had asked me to put the D700 through the wringer. Why? (You ask). Well, I can tell you what I do know. I know that Nikon is a fantastic company driven by photographers that only want to create amazing products. They are dominant in many areas of photography and a bit less dominant in others. One of those areas is wedding photography. I don’t have any solid figures but I bet for every Wedding Photographer using Nikon products there are ten others using Canon products. Why? (you ask again). I really don’t know why. I started my career as a photographer using Pentax equipment and over the course of the last couple years I have had the pleasure of utilizing both Canon and Nikon bodies along with my trusty Pentax gear. I have put the Canon gear through its paces, specifically the 5d mkII, and a couple of the primes, but for the last month it has been Nikon’s turn. What a turn it has been…

Just as  a bit of a disclaimer; I am not a tech guru, I am not an imaging specialist, and I am most certainly not a “pixel peeper”. I am a full time wedding photographer that needs to rely on his gear like a airplane relies on its engines. If one of those engines isn’t working properly then the plane crashes and burns. Same goes for me. So if you want a review with fancy terms, graphs, 100% crops, and stuff like that… well I am probably not going to do you any good. If you want a honest review from a 6’2” dude that loves weddings and is very conscientious of what his end product looks like, then this is your kinda review. =) Now on to the camera…

Build quality: First and foremost, the D700 is built like a cinder block, and it could probably do the same amount of damage if swung or thrown at something or someone (aka; stay out of my shot or you will meet my D700). But seriously, it is rather heavy and feels incredibly solid. It is built with plenty of moisture and dust sealing so you are covered from the elements. (This was a pretty important feature for me. Coming from a Pentax background where all of the upper end cameras are heavily sealed, it was nice to know that I could expect the same level of durability and resistance to whatever nature could throw at me.) It feels like a indestructible* hunk of magnesium, not like some of the other “pro” level cameras from other manufacturers. The D700 is simply one of the most exquisitely built pieces of photographic hardware that I have laid my hands on. When you hold it you just know you have something in your hands that was assembled with a copious amount of care.

*Cameras are not indestructible.  😉

Ergonomics: This is a big one for me. I tend to shoot in manual mode 95% of the time. So, the amount of time it takes for changing settings is pretty darn important. One thing immediately stuck out at me; Two control wheels. That little detail basically defines a pro camera from everything else for me. Granted there are lots of amateur oriented cameras out there with a dual wheel design… but still, a pro-level camera should have both a front wheel and a back wheel. In my case; one for shutter and the other for aperture. I simply cannot do my job right unless I have that one little thing… and the D700 covers that.  The second thing I look for is how a camera feels in your hand. I am what some people call “stupid”. I prefer the term “calculated risk taker”. The reason for all  this name calling is my inability to tolerate the evil NECK STRAP. I shoot “strapless”.  Ever since I was a kid I always equated, person with camera around their neck on a strap, to geeky foreign tourist. I know this is far from the reality, but it still gives me a phobia of neck straps. Thus, a camera has to mold to my hand and feel like an extension of my arm. There needs to be little grooves for my fingers to hold on to. There needs to be a little ridge for my thumb to pressure balance, grip the camera, and help offset any weight from big ol’ 70-200mm VR II that I love. The D700 accommodates all of these needs.  That is really all it takes to swoon me in the ergonomics area… Since I have a camera in my hands for about 10-15 hours for a typical wedding (I shoot all day), how it feels is pretty darn important. It is also worth mentioning that I have some pretty big mitts, and while the D700 is of decent size on its own, it made all the difference with the battery grip. Funnily enough I actually prefer the ergonomics of the D700 with the grip over the D3s. Crazy huh? The D700 + grip just fits better in my hand when I hold it in portrait. There is also the topic of the AF selector being closer to your thumb with the grip on… but I won’t go there. I would suggest that shooters with smaller hands might want to just stick with the body w/out the grip, but that is for you to decide.  

Menus: I am probably not the best guy to ask about this since I really don’t care all that much about the “fancy” features. I will say the menu is super easy to navigate and is very visually pleasing . Being a photographer pretty much categorizes me as a visually oriented person. Thus making it important to me if a menu looks “pretty”, and in comparison to other cameras, the D700’s menus are very pretty.

Autofocus: This I where Nikon has gotten everything right (not that they have gotten anything wrong). We are talking about 51 points here people!!! That is AF point crazy talk!!! It honestly is a bit crazy and coming from a camera with much less points… let’s just say it takes some serious getting used to. Once you have figured out what points work best for you and get good at adjusting on the fly, it all becomes second nature.  The thing that really stands out about the AF is its ability to focus in just about any condition and hold focus. My jaw literally hit the floor after locking focus on a bride and groom during their first dance in a VERY dark ballroom… this may not be that big of a deal to many of you but I am used to AF hunting and having to resort to manual with a little bit of “spray and pray” mixed in. Since shooting  a wedding and a bunch of engagement sessions with the D700 I am quite literally floored with the AF performance. It just plain doesn’t miss. (Edit; of course it misses, every AF misses sometimes, but the proportion of out of focus shots to in focus shots is extraordinarily low with the D700.)

Oh and BTW, the AF is crazy fast at locking on too.

View Finder: Not much to say here except it is not 100%. It doesn’t really bother me all that much… I wish it was 100%, just for composition. But it really doesn’t matter all that much if you know what to expect… just takes a little getting used to. For you bean counters out there, the actual viewing coverage is 95%.

Built in flash: Cute, but for my type of photography… 100% useless. I suppose it is useful if the D700 is your momtog  kit and you are using a short lens on it. I am not really sure why Nikon designed it with one. Most of the pros I know that use the D700 either glue it shut or tape it down (keeps it from popping up when not needed). I suppose this is somewhat of a back handed complement to Nikon. Because of their superior ISO performance they are slowly eliminating the need for on board flash.

Resolution: 12.1 MP. Which is more than you will likely ever need. Yes, yes, I know, the other guys have cameras with 21 MP and there is even one with 24+MP… and those are all great cameras. But for my line of work there is really no need for that type of resolution. All it seems to do is create bigger file sizes and suck up HD space. The reality of it is that anything over 10 MP for Wedding Photography is a bit of overkill. That is of course, unless you are blowing up an image to fit on a bill board. Even then a shot out of the 12.1 MP D700 would look absolutely flawless if processed with the right image software (software that all large prints go through anyway). Just for a point of reference; I used to shoot only with the Pentax K10D. It is 10 MP. I have had a couple of images from that camera blown up to 20×30 (with out processing ) and they look stunning. I would expect only better from the D700 at that size.

(BTW, if you are all worried about the whole MP thing and just have to have the most mega pixels available. Then still buy a D700 and rent the D3x (24MP) when you just can’t do with any less than all the resolution in the world.) 

Image quality: Lowlight = awesome. Regular light = awesome.
I have honestly never seen better image quality. I cannot distinguish the image quality difference between the ones that come out of a D700 from the ones that come out of a D3.

Rear LCD: Stunning 3” 920K Pixel color LCD. It really is beautiful and makes for a excellent medium to share a quick shot with a bride. I wish I could get satellite on the back of my camera… do you have any idea how good Melrose place would look on the back of this thing!!?? (yes, I just admitted to watching Melrose Place and forfeited my man card all in one sentence.

White Balance: I have been pretty darn impressed with the auto white balance on the camera. I really haven’t had to move out into anything else… with the exception being the odd lighting situation where you just plain cannot make whites look like white. In those situations I usually manually adjust the white balance. Even then, I would be happy to keep it in auto and adjust it later in PS.
Battery Life: I have managed to get 720 shots or so out of a single charge. Not too bad. I am glad I have the battery grip though and I will be adding a couple extra batteries to the bag just for security. I love the fact that there is a battery meter on the top that actually tells you the battery life with some semblance of accuracy.

Bottom Line: I put this here because if you are like me you probably just skimmed over everything above thinking to yourself “ I just want to know if I should buy this thing or not”.

The short answer is yes. It is an amazing camera with incredible image quality and fantastic ergonomics. Not to mention some of the best lenses and zoom lenses on the planet.

“Should I buy this for wedding photography?” HECK YES!!! If the Low light performance doesn’t convince you it is a good idea… well I don’t know what will. With the lens line up that Nikon currently has there is no good reason you can give me that would make me think that you should even consider another brand.

Here is the deal, it is the photographer that makes the image. The camera is just a tool. But you need to have the right tools if you are going to excel at any particular job. For some people Canon is the be all and end all, and a lot of canon-istas will argue that they have a unbeatable prime lens line up. I am not debating that Canon has good stuff. What I have been saying and am now saying even louder is that the gap between Nikon and Canon is narrowing with Nikon coming out a nose ahead. They have basically dominated with their far superior AF system and they are continuing to develop amazing hunks of glass like the newly released 24mm f1.4. As far as the best system for MY style of wedding photography… well it has to be the Nikon D700 for 4 reasons;

1. Awesome low light (I hate the look of flash and will do everything not to use it.)
2. Incredible ergonomics. (everything is where it should be, and the camera balances and fits perfectly in my hand. Especially with the battery grip.)
3. It has a front control dial and a rear control dial (to some this is trivial but to me this is HUGE).
4. Superior AF (locks on when nothing else will and tracks like crazy).

I hope some of you found this review helpful. I know it is tough picking a new system or switching entirely so hopefully some of what I have said will help motivate you.

(As a side note; I was able to spend a decent amount of time on the phone with a Nikon pro the other day . Lindsay (that is his name), is the incredibly brilliant  Sr. Product Lifecycle manager for lenses, speedlights & Accessories for Nikon USA. He did an amazing job answering a bunch of questions that you e-mailed in and asked via forums that I am active on. I fully intended to post all of those answers in this post, but in the end felt it better to separate all of that information from my “opinions”. SO look for that in a upcoming post called “ask a Nikon Pro”… catchy name huh? I am thinking that I might do a series if Lindsay will tolerate my pestering every so often.)