Nikon D700 vs Nikon D800

The D800 is here. Nikon has finally announced a successor to its now long in the tooth D700. The new camera has given us so much to talk about that we figured a versus was only fair.

We aren’t trying to work out which camera is better here, as we would hope the D800 easily grabs the crown. Instead we are looking at the main differences and updates, so you can figure out if holding off a purchase for the D800 is worth it, or if grabbing a cheaper D700 off eBay is the thing to do.

Some of the updates are fairly obvious, such as Nikon’s new prosumer full-frame snapper being able to compete with the 5D MK II for video. Others are much more subtle, but could make a huge difference to the way you shoot. So let's get down to it and tear the meat from the bones of this beefy new Nikon snapper.

Sensor

1st: D800
36.3 megapixel FX-format (24 x 39.5mm) CMOS sensor

2nd: D700
12.1 megapixel FX-format (23.9 x 36mm) CMOS sensor

At the core of any digital camera is its sensor. The D700 launched with a high-performance full frame - that is, the same size as 35mm film - CMOS sensor. Despite being released to market all the way back in 2008, the D700 still performs immensely well in low-light situations. The FX-format hardware inside was quite a way ahead of its time and still outdoes all but the top-end professional part of Nikon’s lineup.

The D800 has gone all out on the megapixel front, coming in with a whopping 36.3, compared to the D700’s 12.1.This is ideal for the studio photographer who wants lots of image data to play with, but for someone on the go, the more pixels on a sensor, the more low-light issues. Nikon says the D800 has the same level of noise control as its predecessor, but why not rein in the number of megapixels so it can improve upon it? Until we have a proper play we just can’t be sure. This one goes to the D800 for sheer megapixel punching power.

Body

1st: D800
Magnesium alloy, improved ergonomics, lighter

2nd: D700
Magnesium alloy

The D700 and D800 are both professional-grade pieces of kit. They are put together to be battered and bruised over years of photographic work. This means weather sealing and dust proofing which, when combined with the rubber gasket-clad G-type Nikon lenses - make the camera pretty impervious to the elements.

Nikon’s D700 was a tough camera. We know, as we have had one since launch, and it's still snapping away nicely. The size and feel of the camera however isn’t perfect and Nikon has done quite a bit to improve it with the D800. One of the most significant changes is the button layout, which does things such as move the AF and Manual focus switch so you don’t need to take your eye from the finder to change it. There is also a dedicated movie shooting button.

Coming in at 900g the D800 is 10 per cent lighter than the D700, which weighs 995g (no battery, card or caps). More than enough changes here then to know the new Nikon is the winner.

Display

1st: D800
3.2-inch, 921k dot, LCD with auto brightness control

2nd: D700
3-inch, 921k dot, LCD

Not a huge difference here between the two screens on the D700 and D800. Nikon’s display tech was already pretty good in 2008 but has undergone a major update for the new camera.

The D700 suffered from problematic viewing in bright light. This has been fixed with an automatic brightness setting in the D800, which has a much wider colour reproduction range. It means that when shooting video on the new camera you will be able to rely on the screen on the body for accuracy. This is hugely useful to people who intend to use the D800 for video professionally, as it does away with the need to connect and peek at a calibrated monitor all the time.

Viewfinder

1st: D800
0.7x magnification glass prism finder, 100 per cent frame coverage

2nd: D700
0.72× magnification glass prism finder, 95 per cent frame coverage

The D800’s finder comes with a much needed update over the previous full-frame Nikon, namely 100 per cent frame coverage.

This means whatever you see when looking through the viewfinder will be exactly the image taken. Normally some of the picture is cropped out simply because the finder doesn’t cover the whole sensor. Nikon has fixed this with the D800. The new finder is also extremely bright, allowing you to see clearly under moonlight and even darker situations.

Processor

1st: D800
Expeed 3

2nd: D700
Expeed

As the D700 drew on a lot of the hardware found in Nikon’s flagship bodies at the time, the D800 has done the same. Bits of hardware, namely the Expeed 3 that comes from the D4, have been built into the new snapper.

The Expeed 3 is a beast of a camera processor. It allows for the D800’s low-light performance with such a high number of megapixels. You get 16-bit image processing in both cameras but a significantly improved scene recognition setup in the D800. Advanced facial recognition, loads of detail and smooth colour graduation, these all come with the Expeed 3.

Another benefit of the Expeed 3 of course is what it can bring to video, which we will talk about later.

Focusing system

1st: D800
Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX AF, 51-point sensor

2nd: D700
Multi-CAM 3500FX AF, 51-point sensor

Despite having the same name, the D800 has a brand new AF sensor, which is capable of all sorts of clever tricks. Redesigned for the D4, you get things like 3D colour tracking and improved low light focusing.

Ultimately though, there isn’t a huge difference between the 51 point, 15 cross type focus system. The D700 performed brilliantly in nearly every focus situation, apart from when it was dark. If Nikon has really improved this, then it's on to a winner.

Shutter

1st: D700
200,000 actuations, 4fps in FX, 6fps in DX crop

2nd: D800
200,000 actuations, 4fps in FX, 5fps in DX crop

What’s this? The D700 has managed to claim a win over the D800. Caused in part by the large number of megapixels in the new Nikon, it just can’t burn images to a card as quick. Neither cameras is really designed for high-speed shooting. For this you want something like the D300s or the Nikon D4.

The D700 and D800 both have immensely hardy sensors, in particular the 200,000 actuations test on the new Nikon is reassuring. We are giving this one to the D700 purely on numbers, but ultimately both are very tough. You also have years of the D700 being used in the field with little to no problems reported. And hey, you have to give the old man something, right?

Video

1st: D800
Full HD 1080p video at 30, 25 and 24fps, 720p 60fps slow mo

2nd: D700
No video

We would have been pretty worried if the D800 hadn’t won this one. Nikon has fallen behind in the video stakes to Canon and its 5D MK II, which shoots an unbelievably high-quality video.

The D800 needs to impress on this front and on paper it does. Hardware choices like a dedicated microphone in and headphone out are extremely useful, as is linear PCM support for other audio recording sources. You also get DX and FX recording formats, which means you can take advantage of the extra focal length gained from the smaller sensor size.

Broadcast quality 1080p output from the camera’s HDMI is useful for those shooting straight to an external display. You also get a "power aperture" which lets you adjust exposure using designated buttons on the front of the camera rather than the command dial.

All signs point to great video functionality in the D800. It grabs the win here obviously but will it manage to take the crown from Canon’s shooter? We will know more once we have had time to play with the and fully review it.

Price

1st: D700
Around £1800

2nd: D800
£2399.99

Interestingly Nikon isn’t going to quit selling the D700, planning to push both cameras alongside each other. Sure the D800 is going to cost well over £2000 but for that you get a huge number of improvements, as you can see from the above. Most will be willing to pay the extra for the video alone.

Some, however, will plan on using the camera just for stills and low-light use, in which case perhaps the cheaper D700 would be money well saved. Ultimately both are expensive cameras and the D700 has already proven itself in the field of photographic battle. Having the latest and greatest is definitely a nice feeling though and no one is going to argue the D800 isn’t that.

Verdict

As we said at the start of this article, we aren’t trying to find a winner here, more just pick out the differences. The D800 has done a lot to improve on Nikon’s top-end prosumer formula. All the best parts of the D700 have been retained and some rather large functionality holes filled. The video capabilities are a massive improvement and long overdue, as is the megapixel jump for those who need it. The rest of the camera however isn’t hugely different to the D700, presumably why Nikon is still keeping it on market. Hopefully a price drop will come the D700’s way and a cheap full-frame alternative will appear to Nikon’s new camera. We know one thing for sure, however: we want the D800.

To help you make up your mind, why not check-out all our Nikon D800 pictures?

What do you think to the new Nikon? Let us know in the comments below...