Nikon has hit a rich vein of form at the higher end of its SLR range recently. The awesome D3 has been converting many Canon-using pros, and the D300 has been offering much of the same incredible performance at a third of the price.

Jostling for its position between those two imaging goliaths is the D700, featuring the smaller body size of the D300 but the larger, full-frame sensor of the D3.

Bigger can be better

While the majority of cameras use an APS-C sensor size, full-frame is larger – the same size as a 35mm film frame.

The advantages are that each photo sensor (or pixel) on the chip is larger and can gather more light, but also, if you’re a long-time snapper, that lenses come out with the same lengths as in old money. A 50mm lens on the D700 is really 50mm, not around 75mm.

Familiar body

As the Nikon D700 shares most of its body with the D300 – aside from the larger lump on top for the bigger prism a full-frame sensor demands – the controls are tried and tested. Nikon’s twin jog-dials are a joy, and the control layout is reasonably intuitive, save for an annoying lock on the shooting-speed dial.

The image quality from the D700 is truly stunning, with that full-frame FX sensor capturing incredible colours and astounding detail, yet very little noise right up to ISO 1800.

Compared to the output from the 25MP full-frame Sony A900, things are very even at lower ISO, but the D700 is a clear winner above ISO 200.

Who’s the daddy?

But how does it measure up to the D3? The obvious differences are the shooting speed – the D700 manages ‘just’ 5fps to the D3’s 9fps – and the lack of a vertical grip on the D700. A vertical grip is essential for studio-based portraiture, but most people can do without it, or just buy the optional grip to stick on the bottom.

When it comes to the photos, there’s very little in it – more that the accuracy and speed of the autofocus are slightly better on the D3, rather than the picture quality.

The Nikon D700 is – if you class a £2000 camera as such – the finest consumer SLR you can currently buy. Only time will tell if the similarly priced Canon 5D MkII – also full-frame but 21MP – will steal the D700’s thunder almost as soon as its lightning’s struck.