Shooting in low light is tough, and it requires the right equipment. The Nikon D700 is no doubt, the best tool for the job. Capable of a mind blowing 25,600 ISO, it outperforms all of its competitors in low light, while packing in all the Full Frame features of the D3 without the bulk and price.
My Best In Class Pick
Nikon D700 (Body Only)
I know the feeling. You carried your camera around all day and right when you need it the most, it just doesn’t deliver. Life doesn’t wait for perfect lighting, and some of the most dynamic and beautiful moments happen under dim lighting conditions. I have had to grope with these conditions mostly while doing concert photography, and I know the incredible frustration of rushing home from an amazing show, bursting to see the shots you got only to find murky and muddled images appear on your computer screen. I also know that as far as most security is concerned, a big flash tags you as a professional, which requires all sorts of special permissions and passes. And forget about plays and recitals where a flash elicits all kinds of raised eyebrows and judgmental throat clearing. So that leaves us with available light, and what can feel like literally taking shots in the dark.
Why are concerts and shows so hard to capture sharply? The culprit is NOISE. Not the noise from the twenty-minute drum solo that’s been blowing your mind, but digital, visual noise. Bad noise. Noise is the result of your digital camera’s sensor being turned up too high for its own good. As available light drops, the camera’s sensor needs to increase its sensitivity, or ISO in order to capture the scene, and as sensitivity increases, so does distortion. This is called “gain”, and although musicians may use this same principle to create that familiar guitar distortion, grittiness is generally avoided in image making. The trick is having a camera that can shoot at an ISO high enough to capture a dimly lit scene with minimal noise. Nikon’s newly released D700 is a shrunken version of their flagship Full Frame D3 released this August, and for a full $2000 cheaper and a smaller but just as sturdy build, it is head and shoulders above its competitors, especially in low-light performance.
What’s in a Full Frame? The D700 sports the same 12.1 MP Full Frame sensor as Nikon’s Professional level D3, meaning that the image sensor is the same size as a frame in a 35 mm film camera. Other digital SLR’s use a smaller sensor that actually crops the image gathered by the lens by 1.5 times. That means that when shooting with a 50 mm lens for example, much of the image is missing the sensor, and the lens is acting more like an 85 mm. This also means that mega pixel for mega pixel, Full Frame sensors allow more room and don’t cram the pixels together into a smaller space. The same amount of pixels crammed into a smaller space results in you guessed it, more noise.
When we compare the small format Nikon D300 vs, the Full Frame Nikon D700, we see that although the D300 actually has 12.3 megapixels versus 12.1 in the D700, the extra breathing room of the bigger sensor lets the pixels in the D700 gather higher quality information, resulting in less distortion. Amongst Full Frame models like the 5D, the lower megapixels in the D700, (12.8 vs. 12.1), plus a more sensible use of noise reduction software in the camera results in a noticeable difference, especially at high ISOs.
Comparison with Canon EOS 5D (Body Only)
When you compare the 5D’S top ISO of 32,00 to Nikon D700’s ridiculous 25,600 ISO, it is just blown out of the water. Though the twenty five hundred ISO rating should be preserved for emergency use only, it is basically night vision. On top of this, the D700 is packed with all sorts of new features like a truly useable “live view” LCD, a self cleaning image sensor, and a “virtual horizon” that lets you know when your composition is perfectly aligned. As we await real tests of the 2nd generation 5D Mark II, we do know that it will sport the same 25,600 ISO along with HD video capability, along with a heftier price tag. I think however that it is safe to say that the bulked-up features and mega pixels of the Mark II combined with what I feel is Canon’s over use of noise reduction software will follow original 5D’s trends of higher noise at high ISO’s when compared to the Nikon D700.
- +Tank like magnesium alloy build with weather proofing
- +Full Frame CMOS sensor
- +25,600 ISO
- -No video capability
- -More expensive than the 5D
Where to buy
Nikon D700 (Body Only)
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Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices
|Product||Nikon D700 (Body Only)||Canon EOS 5D (Body Only)|
|Rating from Digital Photography Review||Highly Recommended||Highly Recommended|
|Rating from The Imaging Resource||Dave's Pick|
|Size (W x H x D)||5.8 x 4.8 x 3.0 in.||6.0 x 4.4 x 3.0 in.|
|Body Material||Magnesium Alloy||Magnesium alloy|
Close Sensor Type The image sensor converts the captured light into electrical signals. There are two main types of image sensors, CCD (charge-coupled device) and CMOS (complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor). Neither technology has a clear advantage in image quality. CMOS can potentially be implemented with fewer components, use less power and provide data faster than CCDs. CCD is a more mature technology and is in most respects the equal of CMOS.
Close Sensor Size Most digital cameras, even most digital SLRs, have sensors that are smaller than a standard frame of 35 mm film (36 x 24 mm). These smaller sensors have a number of effects on the captured image and the use of the camera, including an increased depth of field, decreased light sensitivity, increased pixel noise, and increased degree of enlargement.
|36.0 x 23.9 mm||35.8 x 23.9 mm|
Close Effective Sensor Resolution The Effective Sensor Resolution tells you the total number of pixels that are recorded when you take a picture. The units are MP, which stands for megapixels or millions of pixels. For outstanding fine compression prints, 3MP is required for 5x7's, 7.1MP for 8x10's, and 10.9MP for 11x14's. The effective sensor resolution is only one of many important factors that will determine the quality of the photograph when displayed or printed at different sizes.
|12.1 megapixels||12.8 megapixels|
|Max Image Resolution||4256 x 2832 pixels||4368 x 2912 pixels|
Close Shutter Lag Time (including auto-focus time) This is the time from fully pressing the shutter button until the image is captured. Longer shutter lag times make it more difficult to capture the desired moment.
|0.2 sec||0.1 sec|
|Power to First Shot Time||0.4 sec||0.1 sec|
|Max Shooting Speed (continuous)||5.1 frames/sec||3.0 frames/sec|
Close Image Stabilization Available Image stabilization features are designed to reduce the blur that results from normal, minute shaking of a lens due to hand-held shooting. However, image stabilization does not prevent motion blur caused by the movement of the subject or by extreme movements of the camera.
|Interchangeable Lenses Available||Yes||Yes|
|Min ISO Setting||100||50|
|Max ISO Setting||25600||3200|
|Aperture Priority Mode Available||Yes||Yes|
|Shutter Priority Mode Available||Yes||Yes|
|Full Manual Exposure Mode Available||Yes||Yes|
Close Face Detection Available Face detection technology will try to set the focus, exposure, and color balance so that faces appear sharp, well-exposed, and with the proper color.
Close LCD Screen Size The LCD Screen Size is the length of the miniature LCD monitor measured diagonally.
|3.0 in.||2.5 in.|
|Storage Media||CompactFlash Card||CompactFlash Card, MicroDrive|
|Sensor Raw Format Available||Yes||Yes|
Canon EOS 5D (Body Only)
Don’t get me wrong, the 5D is an incredible camera, and Canon’s lens systems are world renown for their clarity and quality. In fact, many professionals I know use the 5D as their backup body to their 1Ds, which no doubt sits atop the Digital SLR throne. And, for most practical purposes, the 5D’s 1600 un-extended ISO is high enough, and it can shoot in uncompressed RAW files so noise can be cleaned up in post. Many of the 5Ds short comings when compared to the D700, like the lower ISO, less substantial build and weather proofing, are remedied in the 5D Mark II which will be a truly great camera, even if it will ring in at about $2700 for the body. Where Canon faltered I think is that new 5D is almost packing in too many features and is trying to go up-market from the original 5D. Rumors have abounded about the release of a “3D”, which would be a smaller, full frame “prosumer” platform. This is essentially what the D700 is, and it is a niche I think that is ripe with hungry photographers looking for something sturdy and a bit smaller that still packs Full Frame image quality. So if your are looking for something a bit cheaper than the D700 and are willing to sacrifice some sensitivity, the 5D is a great pick. If budget is not an issue, the 5D Mark II is going to be a powerhouse and a standard setter for this class of SLR. Either way you have Canon’s incredible quiver of lenses to choose from which is nothing but good.
- +Uses Canon EF and L series lenses
- +Full Frame
- +Smaller than 1Ds
- +Cheaper that Nikon D700
- -No video
- -No weather proofing
- -Distortion at high ISO´s
Where to buy
Canon EOS 5D (Body Only)
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