Nikon’s D700 is a classic pocket-battleship DSLR. It bristles with the heavy weight features of the top of line D3, sharing the same 12 MP FX sensor, image processing engine with 14-bit AD converter and Multi-Cam 3500FX auto-focus system, but in a smaller, cheaper and lighter body. Those last three points are sure to make it more attractive than its big brother to the underwater photographer.
This camera looks set to become very popular with Nikonians keen to get into full frame digital underwater. And having tried it I am certain that nobody who buys this camera will regret choosing it for an instant. But that does not necessarily mean it is the best choice for underwater photography in the Nikon range.
Arguably the biggest challenge to the D700’s potential for undersea dominance is it’s little brother, the D300 armed with its own 12 MP sensor, this time in the DX format. The D300 is cheaper still, has better auto-focus frame coverage, 100% viewfinder and offers a more suitable range of lenses for underwater use.
Given the strengths of the D300, deciding between it and the D700 comes down to the relative merits of DX versus FX, which I covered in my lengthy D3 review so I will try not to repeat myself too much here.
At the time of writing, Nikon’s SLR camera range is capped at 12MP, meaning that the DX versus FX comparisons currently do not consider one potential advantage of a larger sensor - that of increased resolution without noise or diffraction limitations. That could all change in the next few weeks. While these hypothetical new Nikon cameras are still be a few months away from the high street, all indications are that these future FX models will fit in existing housings and could be ready for underwater photography even before housings are available for the Canon 5D Mk2. Obviously for the sake of this review I plan to only consider the D700 in relation to existing Nikon DSLRs, but if you are considering a new Nikon purchase you should bear in mind future compatibility options your housing may allow.
The housing I used for this test was the Subal ND700. This was the actual show-housing that Subal took to DEMA, and I am pleased to reveal that it worked faultlessly in the ocean a few days later. The housing now belongs to UWP Magazine Editor, Peter Rowlands. I am extremely grateful to him for entrusting me with both his brand new camera and housing, allowing me to take it to the Egypt for this review, even before he had the chance to try it.
Unlike the D3 review, which I conducted in three different countries, I completed this review during my annual Red Sea Photo Workshop. This year it took place on MV Blue Horizon, exploring the Southern Egyptian waters between Elphinstone and St Johns. The trip provided a variety of diving environments ranging from pretty shallow reefs, atmospheric caverns, wrecks and, with a bit of luck, encounters with oceanic whitetip sharks. For comparison there were lots of D300s on board (that camera is so hot right now!) in Subal, Sea & Sea, Sealux, Aquatica, Ikelite and Hugyfot housings, plus a wide variety of other DSLRs.