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My subjective D700 comparisons and comments.

Discussion in 'Nikon FX DSLR Forum' started by grepmat, Aug 9, 2008.

  1. grepmat


    May 5, 2008
    Here are some qualitative observations from early use of a D700, along with some comparisons with a D300 and a D40x, and with some comments about lenses. As background, I recently sold a D200, intending to replace it with a D300 or D700. I considered the D300 a let-down in absolute picture quality in good light – a step backwards, even – but the D700 is amazing as an all-around camera.

    All three cameras absolutely excel within their respective niches. Please note that the comments are “critical” only in the sense of closely examining the results, but I do have some strong feelings. Take them as you will.

    Comparing the D700 against the others, using the same lenses, is interesting. It's no surprise, but the D700 is clearly superior in almost every way. We’re not talking leaps and bounds, but it is almost always apparent. After viewing D700 files for a while, opening a DX file is a subtle let-down. The differences in sheer resolution are very slight to the point of being meaningless, but the contrast, clarity and noise are clearly better.

    What is shocking is how well the D40x did in good light. The noise of the D40x at its base ISO of 100 is absolutely and very clearly better than the D300 at its base ISO of 200. In one set of careful comparisons, it even had better deep shadow noise and detail at ISO 100 than the D700 at ISO 200.

    The picture quality of the D300 was a disappointment in the sense that I was hoping for higher base-ISO performance (which I personally care about most), but it was better when compared against the CCD DX cameras at higher ISOs. Of course, it's a superbly-handling package that does have many advantages. My recommendation for those seeking the best quality at base ISO is to stick with the previous 10Mp CCD cameras (e.g., D40x, D60, D80, D200) unless you can afford a D700.

    The general performance of the D700 at 200 clearly equals or exceeds both in almost every way. Don't expect better resolution, though, as the anti-aliasing filter is not very loose and there's no "per pixel" sharpness advantage. But base ISO photos are truly superb. Up to ISO 400-800 or so, the noise and detail in D700 pictures gets just a bit worse, but one can still obtain nearly compromise-free photos on a 17” printer.

    As everyone knows by now, the D700 excels at truly high-ISO work. It’s amazing to see how well the detail and color holds up out to ISO 3200. One can obtain beautiful photos, almost without compromise, printed to 8x12 and probably larger, at ISO 3200. Personally, I don’t like its performance above 3200, though. So, while I started out searching for a better low-ISO camera, I'm taken by the new possibilities that the D700 affords.

    One interesting thing is that I’ve found that Nikon’s NX2 did a very nice job developing D300 photo’s – way, way better than Photoshop CS3. However, I found that CS3 does a good job with D700 files that is similar in quality, and often better, than NX2.

    I studied the 12-bit vs. 14 bit question using both NX2 and Photoshop CS3. Assuming that these programs actually process 14 bit files (and don’t just truncate them to 12 bit on their way to 16-bit space), I found that 14 bit files provides essentially no improvement at all in shadow detail. I tried everything, separately and in combination: Underexpose by 5 stops, max out shadow enhancement, wildly adjust gamma, etc… Nothing produced any difference that would be visible in any reasonable picture. The only thing I noticed was that there was an extremely slight improvement in shadow smoothness, and (strangely?) a slight reduction in perceived sharpness (probably due to a cognitive effect in which noise sometimes appears to add sharpness), at 14 bit, but again only in pictures which are absurdly manipulated far beyond anything that anyone would reasonably try. I did not look at highlight issues or banding in skies, etc.

    The D700 subjectively feels significantly heavier and a little bulkier than the D300. The D700 plus Nikon’s 24-70 f/2.8 lens (which I have) is a rather large, imposing and heavy package. It attracts a little too much attention, but no negative comments so far. My feeling is that the size and weight are marginal for an all-day, any-day carry.

    Nikon’s 24-70 f/2.8 lens is very sharp and has great bokeh, but it vignettes pretty badly on full frame when opened-up. This is a design issue and not a “sample variation” issue. It’s a shame that Nikon couldn’t do a bit better here, but I guess some compromise was necessary. But it’s so bad that at times Nikon’s own NX2 software’s vignetting compensation function has to be almost maxed-out to cope. Photoshop CS3 has more leeway. They both do a reasonable job, though some spherical non-uniformity typically remains that is visible to those who are looking for it. Realistically, you have to be stopped down to f/8 to have an image that is free of vignetting without software adjustments.

    Nikon’s 70-200VR is a miracle lens on DX, but its performance drops significantly in the corners on full-frame digital. As with the 24-70, the vignetting is bad, but can be fixed. The corner sharpness cannot be fixed and is inadequate for some subjects. If you are considering this combination, do yourself a favor and try before you buy, or keep a DX body for use with this lens. The use of the 1.4x teleconverter does not fix the corner performance of this lens on FX, by the way.

    Nikon’s 17-35 f/2.8 works very, very well on the D700. I pretty much always use this at f/5.6 to f/11, where there is no vignetting and the sharpness is excellent across the frame. Only at 17mm, and then mostly only wide-open, are there any problems, and then only in the very extreme corners (e.g., the last 100 pixels or so). It's very wide on FX and only a few subjects realistically need anything wider. It’s a keeper on FX!

    I also have the 105 VR, but have not made comparisons yet. Finally, I have the 18-70 DX, which does quite well for what it is (a small light lens for my D40x), but it does not stand up to the quality of the 24-70 f/2.8 on the D700.

    The bottom line: The older CCD-based cameras offer as good or better performance at their base ISO of 100 than the others do at their base ISO of 200. The D300 is, of course, a superb-handling camera, but it's base-ISO image quality is worse, while finally becoming superior to the older cameras at higher ISO's. Otherwise – no surprise – the D700 rules. Save space and just use 12 bit files, though, as 14 bits adds nothing to shadow quality. Finally, corner performance such as vignetting and sharpness are serious issues on FX, even at the low pixel density of the D700. I feel that the 70-200VR, in particular, belongs on DX cameras, where it’s one of the best lenses ever.

  2. I pretty much agree with all you said - I too was desperately disappointed by the D300 at base ISO, blotchy blue skies, noisy reds and a clear step back from the excellence of the D200 at ISO100. Shot it for a month, and was very glad that I had a good return policy. Luckily the D700 is cut from a different cloth.

    I find that ISO3200 is about my maximum on the D700. I actually think its real strength is around ISO1000-2000 where it has clear advantages over much pretty anything. I'm not bowled over by the high ISO as much as some folks, its fine, but you are loosing detail and accuity much past ISO2000 - I suspect some undeafeatable NR is kicking in around about there, and I care more about detail than noise.

    Agreed about 14 vs 12-bit - its a marketing thing, not an IQ thing. I'd probably still shoot at 14-bit "just in case", but I don't think anyone has shown more than a theoretical advantage. But CF and HD space is cheap now.

    I agree with your very level headed summary actually, its nice to hear some rounded comments rather than "Best thing eva..."

    I also found the 24-70 a bit borderline for casual shooting, size-wise the hood doesn't help impressions there either. I have actually re-bought this lens (arriving next week I hope) and need to re-evaluate on the D700. On a DX camera, I'd pick the 17-55 f/2.8.
  3. great and thorough review
    it was very nice of you to take the time to give us your impressions

    i was interested about your comment at the end.... about the 70-200 belonging on a DX camera
    i tend to agree
    MY thoughts about THAT lens on the D3 are well-known here

    which is why i am afraid to get the 200-400 over the 300/2.8 or 400/2.8
    because, for 5K if the 200-400 is better on an FX than DX body.... yikes....
    i've made a big mistake

    i eagerly anticipate the NEXT GENERATION 70-200.... which must come one day
    of course, it'll be every bit of 2K and the GEN 1 70-200's value will plummet, accordingly
  4. dutchtrumpet


    May 2, 2007
    Thanks for this thoughtful review. i plan on making the move to full frame soon and appreciate your insight.
  5. From my recent experience (Friday), try it with a CP on - even a very very good one - and it is really terrible vignetting wise, makes it look like my 16-85 from DX days. This really surprised me, I expected far better from a new lens design at $1500 +!
  6. grepmat


    May 5, 2008
    Rich, I've been a bit worried about that. I have Nikon's own circular polarizer (their newer version without the built-in step-up ring) and will try it tomorrow. I'll report back.

    Thanks for the comment.

  7. Dawgneck


    Apr 25, 2007
    So Cal
    Grepmat, thank you for sharing this report.

    I'm thinking of purchasing an used D3 over the D700. I'm reading all I can to help make the best decision.

    Do you think your findings with the 24-70 will be the same on the D3?

    Grepmat and Lanthier,

    Have either of you compared the D700 to the D3? With the lenses you own? What are your feelings?

    Lanthier, what do you think of your 14-24? Compared to your 24-70?

    Thanks in advance for your answers.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 10, 2008
  8. grepmat


    May 5, 2008

    It's pretty safe to say that the 24-70 lens performance will be virtually identical on these two cameras.

    I have not tried a D3. I've tried a 14-24, and it's a great lens. However, it's big, heavy and especially nose-heavy, bulbous and vulnerable, and it can't use filters. It has a narrower range that is more specialized. Over-all, I think it's less practical than the 17-35, which works great on the D3/D700.

  9. Dawgneck


    Apr 25, 2007
    So Cal
    Thanks, Grepmat.

    I was set on the 14-24 and 24-70 until I started reading all the negatives from owners. With the 70-200 being soft on the edges, it looks like the 17-35 gets the gold medal.

    What FX lenses are you going to stay with?
  10. Corner performance

    If one is nervous about a given lens on FX vs DX, simply check the MTF graphs at Nikon Imaging or Nikon Imaging Japan (has charts for older lenses as well) to see how the corner performance holds up. Most don't indicate at what aperture the chart applies. However, from the few lenses that do indicate, at least on the Jaopanese site, it APPEARS to be wide open. Most manufacturers tend to show WO and optimum aperture.

    For MTF newbies, you're concerned with everything out to 18mm (the diameter of the 36mm FX frame).

    70-200 VR: on the long end you clearly see the fine detail in the corners start to soften dramatically at about 15mm. However, if using primarily for portraits, etc - just crop the outer edges and Bob's your Uncle.

    200-400: looks exceptional, but at the wide end, fine detail drops off at about 16mm. On the long end - looks excellent across the frame.

    Unfortunately, unlike Zeiss and Leica, Nikon charts don't show distortion (other than field curvature which the charts will illustrate) and vignetting - at least not as I found so far.
  11. I can't say I'm finding the 24-70 a problem for vignetting, but I don't shoot landscapes. It's a superlative lens IMO, and the last one I'd sell. It does everything extremely well and is, for my money, the finest standard zoom available in any mount.

    The size and weight is something to consider before purchase - it shouldn't be a shock to anyone buying it.

    As for high ISO - NR is always kicking in above 2000 unless set to Off, at which point it kicks in at Hi 0.3. That was established when the D3 came out, so it's not something for debate for the D700 really. Page 278 of the manual confirms.
  12. Can't say I've read many negatives on the 14-24 or the 24-70. The 24-70 is big (a common complaint), but I don't find vignetting a problem, and I'm a bit surprised anyone would buy a full frame camera and complain about it - it goes with the territory. Vignetting is as old as photography itself.

    IMHO the vignette is no worse than, say the 18-70 DX when wide open on DX, and probably better.

    I'm surprised by how little vignetting I'm seeing with my lenses so far,and how well lenses perform (ie 35/2 or the cheap and cheerful 28-105)
  13. Steinar


    Aug 16, 2007
    Grepmat, thank you for a very fine personal review.

    You wrote:

    "...the use of the 1.4x teleconverter does not fix the corner performance of this lens on FX, by the way. "

    Is that for the 24-70 or for the 70-200 ?

    It is written as it is for the 24-70, but not sure ?
  14. I think he's talking about the 70-200 VR. The idea is to shoot about 135mm then use the 1.4x to avoid hitting the "troublesome" 200mm end.
  15. Steinar


    Aug 16, 2007
    Thank you, yes you are probably rigth, but the way it is described... just want to be sure, if the problem can be solved by buying a 1.4 (does not have the D700 yet, but I will go for it tomorrow), because I love my 70-200 on D200 even I got a chance to sell it, and then I could go for the new 70-200VRII as everybody expect will arrive in due time.
  16. grepmat


    May 5, 2008
    My comment on the 1.4 teleconverter referred to the 70-200VR. I have not made exhaustive tests of this yet, but it was not promising at all.

    I understand that vignetting (and corner sharpness issues on many lenses) is par for the course with full frame. However, it's valid to consider the magnitude of these potential flaws in comparison to lenses on DX. In my old film days, I used primes for the most part, and vignetting was not a very serious issue. It seems in some recent designs, Nikon has been going for sharpness and has been willing to compromise vignetting. This plays to the "we'll just fix it in software" approach that lens and camera designers are moving towards (the same can't be done for sharpness).

    But, in my opinion, the 24-70 has excessive vignetting - it's essentially an entire stop at f/2.8 and it doesn't clear up until f/8. I would have hoped for less, and in fact my 18-70 DX is a bit better. Certainly, when people complain that even putting a single filter (e.g., a normal polarizer) on it results in critically-worse vignetting, the lens design is compromised in this respect. As my primary subject matter is landscapes, vignetting is an important issue. Luckily, landscapes are generally shot stopped down a bit anyway, and the vignetting can mostly be fixed in software, but still, it really should have been a bit better. Will I keep the lens? I expect so. It really is exceptional in almost every other way.
  17. dL302


    Aug 7, 2008
    This is the first time I hear a D300 being worse than a D200...

  18. Steinar


    Aug 16, 2007
    We are 2 guys shooting weddings - me with my D200 and my friend with his D300.

    We tested the difference at base ISO and his pic.s was not better, as he said himself, which he was surprised about, but way better iso and way better lcd-screen we all know.

    It was not equal pics, but in some areas D300 was better, and in some D200 was better.
  19. Steinar


    Aug 16, 2007
    Thank you, grepmat.
  20. I do not have a D3 so cannot compare. My vignetting problem is pretty much solely due to the polarizer. A shame as this was a very expensive polarizer. I have yet to field test my 14-24 with the D700 so cannot comment on that. I just went outdoors, bright late afternoon sun, and noticed very little vignetting with the D700/14-24 combo...
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