Nikon D700 camera user experience report
Part five: Miscellaneous notes
In this final part of the review I would like to share miscellaneous thoughts and observations on the D700 that have accumulated over a year of using the camera in the field. I leave this as an open–end list so that I can add more comments later.
The D700 is a very complex camera. Although it is easy to use in the basic A, P, S, and M mode, there are so many functions, features and options scattered around the camera that it is nearly impossible to remember all of them or where they are located. Many features will remain unused for most users; some less frequently used functions will most likely have to be figured out over and over again. Granted, it is possible to get the hang of how something works even without the manual; however, it takes a lot more attention than I like. In this sense, the D700 is a "high maintenance" camera.
Battery life is very, very good. On the first charge I took approximately 650 photographs; I almost did not use the in-built flash but did quite a lot of image viewing and menu browsing, as well as transferred a full 4GB CF card to my computer via a USB cable. Generally, I find that two fully charged batteries suffice for a full day of very busy shooting.
The Virtual horizon feature (or, rather, its implementation), is a bit of a gimmick. To be truly useful, it should allow to level the camera not only left–to–right, but front–to–back, too. Also, what is the feature doing in the Setup Menu? It should be in the Shooting Menu instead. Thankfully, however, you can add it to My Menu if you use the function often.
As I mentioned earlier in the report, the D700 boasts a sensor cleaning mechanism that is supposed to keep the sensor spotless. I, however, feel somewhat ambivalent about this feature because, as far as sensor cleanliness is concerned, there are many factors at play that determine how fast a sensor gets dirty as well as how easily, and by what means, it can be cleaned. It is difficult to ascertain how effective the sensor cleaning mechanism of the D700 is.
On the one hand, I am glad to report that the sensor of the D700 does not have any major problems with cleanliness, whether due to the effectiveness of the sensor cleaning mechanism or otherwise. For example, in early October 2008 I dragged the camera all around Southern Xinjiang Province, China, which is a notoriously dusty place. I was using fixed–focal–length lenses and changed them quite often. At the time, the sensor cleaning mechanism was set to clean at shutdown. Occasional dust spots appeared on the sensor and, although some remained longer than others, the sensor generally remained fairly clean and did not call for manual cleaning.
On the other hand, I cannot say that the sensor of the D700 is always spotlessly clean despite being cleaned each time the camera is switched on or off (my current setting). For instance, I used the Nikon D70s for over three years and never had problems with dust on its sensor either, even though the camera does not have a sensor cleaning mechanism. Further, my impression has been that the sensor of the D70s never got noticeably dirtier than the sensor of the D700 does. Nonetheless, I still give the feature the benefit of the doubt and welcome its inclusion.
ISO sensitivity auto control is one of the functions that I use very often. Basically, you set the minimum shutter speed and maximum ISO setting that you want to use, and in A and P mode the camera automatically adjusts ISO when necessary so that the shutter speed does not go below the minimum speed until it reaches the maximum ISO sensitivity that you have set. This feature is very useful indeed but, unfortunately, it is buried deep in the menus. I adjust the minimum shutter speed and the maximum ISO very often depending on the lens used and intended usage of images; these two settings, however, cannot be added to My Menu—only switching the function on and off can be placed there for easy access. I thus have to fiddle with menus much more than is necessary.
The D700 provides colour matrix metering with non CPU lenses if a lens' focal length and maximum aperture are specified in the Setup Menu. However, the camera apparently supports focal lengths of Nikkor lenses only and one cannot set any focal length. For example, the next focal length after 135mm is 180mm, which precludes me from correctly specifying the focal length of the Hasselblad CFi 4/150 lens when I use it on the camera. Also very strangely, the list of maximum apertures is neither in 1/3 nor in 1/2 stops: f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2, f/2.5, f/2.8, f/3.3, f/3.5, f/4, f/4.5, f/5, f/5.6, f/6.3, f/7.1, f/8, f/9.5, f/11, f/13, f/15, f/16, f/19, and f/22. I happen to use a manual 1000mm f/10 lens and the closest aperture that I can choose is f/9.5.
I do not use Live View often but still have to note that its implementation is rather rudimentary. In this mode the D700 offers two autofocus methods—"Tripod" and "Hand–held". In the Tripod mode the camera uses contrast–detect autofocus, which, unfortunately, is very sluggish; on the upside, however, it retains the live view. In the Hand–held mode, on the other hand, the camera focuses using the normal auto–focus sensor and autofocus is fast. The downside, however, is that the live view blanks out when you press AF–ON button and you cannot see what you are focusing on; live view returns only when AF–ON button is released. Also, the mirror slaps up and down each time you use autofocus, which makes operation of the camera very loud and is bound to draw attention.
Also quite strangely, you can have a superimposed Virtual Horizon in Live View but there is no Live Histogram, which is much more important to serious photographers. Even some point–and–shoot cameras have this useful feature and I cannot fathom what Nikon were thinking here.
The Nikon D700 is a very, very competent camera in every respect. It is possible to quibble about implementation of some of its functions but, by and large, it is easily one of the best 35mm DSLRs around (as of early 2010). Be prepared, however, to take the time to learn how the camera operates as well as live with its demanding complexity.
Part five: Miscellaneous notes and conclusion