ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 200-800)
Here is the full image, showing which area of the image I cropped below:
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon D700 performs at low ISOs. Here are some crops at ISO 200, 400 and 800:
As I have pointed out before, the Nikon D700 produces noise-free images at low ISOs. If you compare the above crops, you will barely notice any difference, even between ISO 200 and ISO 800.
High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-6400)
High ISO performance is a very important measure of DSLR sensor quality for low-light photography. Here is how the Nikon D700 performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 6400:
ISO 1600 adds a slight amount of grain when compared to ISO 800. I would not hesitate to use ISO 1600 on the D700 as well and if noise bugs me, Lightroom’s built-in noise reduction would get rid of it. At ISO 3200 we are seeing a noticeable amount of grain, especially in the shadows, but the image is still quite usable with plenty of details. ISO 6400 looks even more grainy and details are clearly getting lost. Getting rid of noise at these ISO levels would require a more selective noise reduction algorithm, so software like Noise Ninja or Nik Software Dfine would have to be used for best results. See my “Photo Noise Reduction Tutorial” for examples of selective noise reduction.
High ISO Performance “Boost” (ISO 12800-25600)
Nikon D700 has two extra ISO “boost” levels – ISO 12800 and ISO 25600 for extreme situations. Take a look at these:
As expected, there is too much noise all over the image at ISO 12,800 and ISO 25,600 is even worse with too much chroma/color noise. I personally never shoot at these ISO levels, because the amount of noise and discoloration would make it necessary to convert images to black and white. If you are looking for a grainy black and white look that resembles film, it is better to shoot at lower ISOs, then use software to add the grain.
ISO Performance Summary
The Nikon D700 yields very impressive, practically noise-free results between ISO 200 and 1600. There is a noticeable amount of grain at ISO 3200, but the image retains plenty of details, so it is perfectly workable for most situations. When I photograph wildlife and I need the highest quality, I set my Auto ISO maximum to ISO 1600 and I get plenty of details of birds, their features and feathers. ISO 3200 adds more visible grain, but I still use it in very low light situations. I would rather have a sharp, but noisy image, rather than a blurry noise-free image. Noise can be cleaned up in post-production, while blur and lack of details destroy photographs. As for other ISO levels higher than 3200 – I try to avoid them as much as possible. Overall, the low and high ISO performance of the D700 sensor is very impressive.
It is hard to judge the performance of the Nikon D700 without direct comparison against other professional cameras, which is why you should definitely check out the next pages of this review. Let’s see what kind of a difference there is between the Nikon D300s (DX), the new Nikon D7000 (DX) and the higher-end Nikon D3s (FX). Click the next page below to see the comparison.
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