Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nikon D700 Vs Canon 5D mark II (MK 2)

I have been using the canon DSLRs for several years. I was using a canon 40D until recently which broke (due to my mistake) and is not functioning any more. So I was in the market for a new camera. I got a great deal on Nikon D700 with 24-85 f/2.8-4 and 70-300mm VR lenses as well as MB-D10 grip and I could not pass it so I bought it. I had not preordered the canon 5D mark II since I did not need it at that time and I was not sure I could get one any time soon.

I was at my local dealer to pick up an extra footplate for my tripod during thanksgiving weekend and I saw the new canon 5D mark II. I bought it on a whim considering even in a worse case scenario i could sell it for a profit if i did not like it. Now I had the option of returning either one since I was within the 2 week period. My plan was to keep one and return the other after identifying which one suited me better for my purposes. I dabble a bit in nature, birds, portrait, kids and events.

I was a bit hesitant about this blog considering how sensitive this comparison might be. There are a lot of people who consider that their buying decisions are challenged, if any deficiencies about their favorite brand is mentioned. They are going to find fault with the testing methods and attack the person behind the comparison. So I decided not to show any comparison images but to give my impressions with regard to my specific needs. (I intend to share some random images not comparison later). If your needs are exactly the same it is good, if not, there is nothing wrong with your choice of camera. With that out of the way I am going to give my impressions, the decision I made (Though I can easily afford both I will never use both cameras so I had to return one) and reasons behind my decision.

I am not a professional photographer by which i mean i do not derive my income from photography. I am however in imaging industry and have educational (postgraduate) background in digital imaging. I am used to seeing images as a part of my daily job and can easily identify technical aspects. For evaluating these 2 cameras I compared Raw and processed images (using my usual processing routine) in my monitor. I also made 4 sets of prints at 18x24 which was the maximum size prints I ever made and is available to me.


This totally depends on personal preferences. As I mentioned I am used to canon and I liked the ergonomics in canon 5D2. This is similar to my 40D and very intuitive if you are used to canon. The basic difference I noted was that Nikon had numerous knobs/buttons for controls of various parameters of the camera whereas in canon the scroll wheel was more used. I never found that either camera had serious limitation as far as ergonomics are concerned.

Camera settings

Both cameras offer extensive customization options.

The D700 is more flexible with more options considering 4 different settings of your choice and my menu option. You can also name your settings ( example Raw with auto ISO with flash compensation versus Jpeg with low ISO) and this becomes handy for changing parameters easily. My menu options can be used for settings that you change frequently for your style of photography.
You can also customise the Fn and Dof Preview button, if needed, for any function. (If the function you need is not in the list of options, example autoiso, set the autoiso as the first setting in my menu and assign the first "my menu" setting to FN button, very neat).

The 5D2 also has custom settings that you can register to Mode dial C1,2 or 3. My menu is similar. Both have Info button for quick review of current camera parameters.

Both cameras have auto ISO. The D700 is better (implemented) since you can set the minimum ISO, maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed. In 5D2 you can set ISO 100-3200 but not shutter speed. In my use I set auto ISO between 100/200-1600. But the additional shutter speed option in D700 was very useful for me.

I rarely use mirror lock up and if I use it I prefer it to be available with self timer. This option (MLU with self timer) is not available in either camera. But it is available as a custom function in canon and as one of the shooting modes in command dial in D700.


I prefer a pop-up flash for informal photos at my home. The D700 flash can be used as remote flash trigger. I never used it in this fashion.

1080P Video
Well this is the biggie. The 5D2 has it and D700 does not. I will deal with this later but if this is important to you then you already know that 5D2 is the choice for you.

Autofocus of Nikon D700 vs canon 5D Mark II (5D2)

This another important differentiator between these 2 cameras. But this is also the most complex differentiators. I will explain. Autofocus of these cameras differ in various modes and it differs also based on the available light.

The D700 has numerous options for AF and numerous customization. These can be accessed using dedicated knobs/buttons or in the custom functions. The customization in 5d2 is rudimentary at best.

Let me go through the major AF modes and discuss the handling of these 2 cameras in each mode.

Single shot AF with center point.
If you are a landscape, architecture or portrait/studio photographer who uses center point alone, then this is the most important function for you. In this regard 5D2 is blazing fast. I do not know about the 5D classic but the 5D2 is very fast and very accurate, better than my 40D. The D700 is also extremely fast but 5d2 is very slightly better at this. (yes I tried 9 points, 21 points, 51 points and also 3d options and also AFS lenses but 5D2 is still a tad, just a tad faster).

Single shot AF with center point in extreme (key word extreme, -1 EV or lower) low light.
Here the situation changes a bit, now 5D2 is a tad slower. The 5D2 hunted a bit and rarely did not focus while the D700 managed to achieve focus.

Single Shot AF with off-center focusing point.
Well this mode is severely limited in 5d2 since it has fewer points, poorly placed and not cross type. D700 is way better and if this (off-center focus or focus/recompose) most important for you, D700 is the better option for you.

AI servo single shot.
Here the 5d2 was better than I expected. It was way better at holding focus and in its accuracy compared to 40D. But D700 is better at this and noticeably so.

AI servo Multiple shots.
This is important in sports, action or event photography. Well D700 is totally in a different league compared to 5d2. The D700 is extremely accurate and well beyond the 5D2 in this regard. Yes you can shoot sports with 5D2 using wide angle or stand lens where the center focus is easy to maintain but otherwise this is the soft spot of 5d2 functionality.

D700 is obviously better especially since I had my battery grip the comparison was easily noticed, 3.9 vs 8 fps.


I set both cameras to shoot raw and used NR reduction in Raw and post processing before comparing because this is what I do in real world use. First off the 5d2 that I used had a discrepancy with D700 in that 5D2 was always 1/3 to 1/4 of stop lower than the D700 based on shutter speeds set by the camera. What I mean is ISO 3200 in 5D2 is actually 2000 or so. So when I take this into account there is a 2/3rd to 1 stop advantage to D700 but compared directly with just looking at the in camera ISO D700 has a 1/2 stop advantage. I did not downsize the images in the monitor. But actual prints also showed this advantage especially at high ISO. Moreover the D700 noise is mostly luminous noise that I found easy to remove but the 5D2 had a lot of chroma noise that was more difficult to remove.

Sraw showed them to be more or less equal. So if you just compared 5D2 sraw versus D700 raw then mostly they the same. For some reason the sraw images had a blue/greenish tinge and I had to correct the temp in raw correction for all images.

Other Features

D700 has features like multiple exposure, intervelometer. If any of these are important to you then D700 has them but you have to buy accessories to have them in 5D2.

I did not use live view in either except for AF microadjustment.

Image quality

This is the most parameter for any camera. First off both of these are very good cameras with excellent IQ and differences are miniscule at best.

Well I am going to be very abstract with this. I have already mentioned that in the last few years I shot Canon. I have seen a lot of images from cameras by other manufacturers. One thing I have noticed is that certain Canon Raw images (It is not apparent in all images but the occasional ones where the light, angle or something is optimal) have a magical look, sort of dimensional. That look is there with the 5D2. If you know what I mean and if you have experienced this, you will understand. I could never duplicate that look with the D700.
That aside, comparing prints (at 18x24), I could not see a significant difference between the two cameras. I showed them to some friends and neither could they say which print was from which camera. I did notice a slight increased resolution in one image, which showed some intricate woodwork , when I viewed it very closely. But I was looking too close and trying to see a difference. This was a bit of surprise considering a significant difference in mega pixels between the 2 cameras. I also printed some 8x10s, no difference. May be larger sizes (larger than 18x24) may show some difference but I am not concerned and so i did not try it.

Black Dot
Sorry in my use and the kind of pictures I took, I did not experience this. I did not take the kind of pictures which shows this peculiarity.

Weather Sealing
I did not include this in my original blog so I have added a new update as a separate blog ""

My Choice

I made my choice based on the current price and my needs. It should not affect your decision or a decision at some point in time in future. No camera is perfect. Every camera is a compromise and you choose the best that suit your needs.

I chose to keep the D700 and return the 5D2. (Check out on my best walk around lens for Nikon D700). (Check my impression on the Nikon 70-300mm VR AF-S here)
My first consideration was price. I was getting the D700 with 2 lenses and battery grip ( with MS live cash back) for the same price as 5D2 body only.
I love the AF features of D700 and got shots of kids that I would have definitely missed with the 5D2. (For in depth explanation of various Auto focus settings and custom modes in auto focus for users of Nikon D700 D3 and D300 please see
I rarely print larger than the size mentioned above so image quality was not different for me. I miss the canon look which I mentioned but as I said you have to make some compromise.
Video is something I looked forward to but was not impressed. With the mirror black out and having to adjust focus on live view and having to use a tripod for most part, I was not impressed. The advantage of 5D2 over a HD camcorder is the shallow depth of field and low light images. I am going to pass this feature right now.
I felt that D700 was more like an all round camera while the 5D2 focused on wedding and studio/still life photographers.

Your choice/mileage may vary, I very well understand.


  1. Nice write-up. Could you post some samples of canon images that have this "magical" quality you describe?

  2. What lenses did you use for the image quality test? I'm facing the exact same decision, and I'm wondering if maybe the 5D2 doesn't come into its own unless used with top of the line f2.8 zooms or primes. Thanks for the rational comparison.

  3. I used the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L lens and the 135mm f/2 lens. These are excellent lenses and I have been using them for quite some time and I know that I have real good copies of these lenses.

    I will definetely post some photos. I will do it in my next blog just show some great photos from canon.


  4. Thanks a lot for your post. I have put a deposit on a MkII which I am getting soon but the D700 is cheaper by $200 so I am on the same boat as you are.

    My main difference is that my main use is portrait/glamour/fashion type of photogrpahy so the fast and better AF of the Nikon is not a big concern for me.

    What puzzles me is that at 18x24 prints look the same with both cameras. Unbelievable! In paper the D700 can only produce a maximum of 157 dpi for a 18x24 print (cropped from 18x27).On the other hand the 5D MkII can deliver 208 dpi for that same size print. Of course increasing the size in Genuine Fractals and Sharpening before printing could help but is not going to bring you back detail. I know to get a professional quality print you need 300 dpi but to the human eye even at 240 dpi you can get a similar quality print; but now bring that down to 208dpi or even worst 157 dpi and there must be a difference.

    I am not a blind follower of Canon but I will not switch to Nikon unless I find a camera/glass combo that beats my Canon L lenses. Right now I use a lot my 24-105mmL f4 and my 70-200 f4 L IS, if there are Nikon lenses that can replace these 2 with better IQ and the D700 gives better or equal images than the 5DMkII I would do the switch.

    What Nikkor lens did you use to make your comparison? The only ones that I have read might be competition to the 24-105 L are the Nikkor AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 G IF-ED DX or the Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 G IF-ED; and I read that on the 70-200mm field, the Canon kicks ass.

  5. If you feel you are going to save only $200 then it is not worth the switch since it is not going to be cost effective in the long run. Moreover if you do not need the autofocus of D700 then you should not switch.

    I primarily used the Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4 and 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR. These are not generally regarded as the best lenses in the Nikon line up. But moving from canon I feel Nikon consumer lenses are very well made compared to canon consumer grade (non L) lenses. There is less difference (but there is one) between consumer and pro lenses in Nikon. I did not find any significant problems with sharpness in either of these lenses. I also tried the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 just to see the AF.

    As far as dpi goes you do not need 300 dpi for any digital image for a good print. This 300 dpi myth originated from the days of film when you scan and converted the image into a digital file. With DSLR you would never need 300 dpi. Moreover numbers are just that. They do not tell the whole story. Look at Popphoto numbers for resolution for example. According to their numbers the 5d2 has more resolution at ISO 25600 than D700 at ISO 200. In reality the 5d2 at 25600 ISO is unusable for the most part. Popphoto made a similar comment with regard to D700/D3 vs Canon 5D classic where they wrote that D700/D3 at ISO 25600 had similar resolution to 5D at ISO 100. But in reality you never see this because the more important parameter is signal to noise ratio. This is the most important parameter for any image and that's the reason you see different real world results. I was surprised too when I saw the prints. Please make them yourself or try to get some prints from a local dealer to see them.

    I had some experience with nikon as an FE user but that lens line up has now changed significantly. The canon USM is more advanced and they have a larger lens line with more options compared to Nikon. Anyone switching should make sure that they have the lenses they like in Nikon before switching. But Nikon will catch up with Canon in the near future.

    Thanks for your comments.


  6. Thanks for the reassurance Prakash. I know that both cameras are great and are the second step after the D3 and 1D, the only reason why I was a bit doubtful was because my photography teacher and a friend both have used Canon and Nikon systems and they swear by Nikon now. I have never used Nikon so I cannot compare. I love Canon in the sense that they have a pro line of lenses at f4 and Nikon doesn't. I do not need the extra weight or price of the f2.8 series; my work is done at f8 or higher and at that level both f4 or f2.8 look the same (in my opinion the f4 a bit sharper; cause I tried both).

    Fast AF could be useful to me when the model is moving or switching poses and I want to get a shot right during the motion; but to be honest I found the Canon AF sufficient to me this far (and I have only used a 40D and a 50D). The 51 points is a waste to me, since 80% of the time I use center point focus and recompose.

    So all in all I am happy I am going the MkII way. Thanks a lot for your unbiased review, it made me make my mind easier even though you chose the D700 :)


  7. ..again in the battle of lenses...Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 Nano is way better than Canon's 24-70 (of course, more expensive) and Nikkor 70-200 VR is on par with EF 70-200 IS ...

    ...and giving the fact that Nikon D700 can shoot 8fps and just 2/3 the price of 5D Mk II...I will obvious choose Nikon...

  8. Claire,

    Before I answer your question let me remind you that switching systems should not put you at a financial loss. So I hope you make a decision after considering everything and not just a few factor.

    Well to directly give an answer, I did find something dimensional and lifelike in a few images(please note not all) in canon. There is actually a gracefulness in the image in relation to transition between different planes of focus and also at transition of highlights. No I never saw this look in Nikon after more than 5000 images.

    But that aside I never had any sharpness issues in D700. I also found that with Nikon I do very little post processing compared to Canon for getting the look that I like.

    Canon always laid emphasis on and used color contrast for sharpness. The EF lenses very well show this characteristic feature. I feel the Canon look in certain images is the gestalt of Canon image rendering. Anyway for my needs I feel I did not feel that this was limiting and the images from D700 are more than adequate. Only you can decide how important this is for you.

    Hope this helps.


  9. One thing that made me choose the Nikon over the Canon is the fact I can use almost any old Nikon lens I can get my hands on. I've run into absolutely beautiful old glass in pawnshops for $25. I can get a huge selection of speeds and styles for the price of 1 decent Canon lens. Sure, I don't get the auto focus or other high tech multi-point color balance features but any photog who shot the old ways before decent digital knows how to set up their shots, plus you can get that old "magical" quality on the cheap that way. I love the Canon, but I love the old lenses even more.

  10. I made the same choice. I however had the Canon 5D since it came out and just recently sold it along with all of my Canon gear and went strickly Nikon. I don't feel like I've made a mistake and that it's the right camera for me.

    I do feel one thing negative about Canon however and that's is with the problems with their cameras lately. The original 5D with LCD issues that devalued my camera at resale, the 5D MK2 with problems with lines and spots and whatever else that will devalue those cameras, and other cameras with equallly disturbing problems to be escaping the labs. Either their quality control is off or they don't care and are rushing to market.

  11. I am not a professional photographer. I use this camera strictly for pleasure. I bought the Nikon D100 when it first came out and took thousands of great pictures. Then, after time, noticed a deteriorating quality. Maybe I was messing too much with the settings, but my pictures kept coming out dark.

    I sold it and bought a D40 which unfortunately, did not come with a great lens (EF 28-135)... and have not been overly impressed with the quality.

    Again, let me emphasize I am a POINT AND SHOOT person who wants the best digital SLR I can afford. I do print these pictures on some 42" wide HP printers and the original D100 shots looked awesome.

    I am tempted to buy another camera (D700 or 5D MkII) but am concerned about two differences:

    1. Nikon does not have a AUTO setting - is this true?

    2. Canon does not have a pop-up flash (which means I always have to carry an external)

    The lack of video does not mean that much to me as I will buy an HD Camcorder. Also, I have no other investment in any Canon glass so if I change ships, I am not affected.

    Can you offer some advice?

  12. Well for use as a Point and shoot you will not notice much difference between the two. The Nikon D700 does have program Mode which is almost Auto mode.

    I would suggest the Canon 5D2 for your needs since the 21 MPs will help with the 42 inch prints that you make. You must be prepared with not having a built-in flash though. Use high ISO & fast lens like f/1.4 or f/2 then you can get by without flash for the most part. But only you can decide on this.


  13. where can i get a nikon d700 for 2/3rds the price of a 5d mkii?

  14. alan_sim,

    I got my D700 with a lens (sorry, i'm too lazy to check which one) from for $2999. You have to buy a membership to Costco if you don't have one already, but in the long run it's worth the $50 membership, since is beginning to carry a lot of Nikon gear, including the SB900 flash for $499.

  15. interesting review, but as already being said it would be nice to see some pictures

  16. Hi there, it is really wonderful article for both cameras comparison and very useful discussion.
    Actually, I am new to the DSLR box and open to C camera or N camera. But I would like to step into full frame system in one shot. I am trying to make a decision between 5D mark ii and D700. Based on my background, which system you guys suggest me to join?


  17. VERY interesting that Mr Bubbles commented that his 42" prints looked AWESOME from the D100, which was what, 4MP? Then prakash responds with the old thing about higher megapixels, saying his prints would be helped better by the higher megapixels in the Canon vs the D700. ???? We were already told they looked awesome on the D100, so why would the megapixels matter between the 2 cameras when both are much higher than the D100???? Because marketers have programmed us to think that is the main thing when it isn't. Nikon has done well, concentrating on areas that really matter now, the quality of the pixels, ISO, etc. If the D100 looked awesome on those large prints, the D700 will damn sure look awesome. Forget the megapixels.

  18. This comment has been removed by the author.

  19. I still can't make my mind on which camera to pick. I can see that both r great picks but I really the Nikon picture quality and colors but don't want to invest this much then find out that Nikon is planning on releasing a new D700 with a video option like how they did the d300/s. Does anyone here have an update on this or was there something announced by Nikon recently? Thanks.

  20. Round the time when I had to buy my first dslr- i spent months reading hordes of reviews and at the time, it was obvious that nikon trumped canon. With their superior auto focus and excellent sharpness and low light capabilities - i cant see how one would buy a canon. I have made awesome 30" wide prints from my D50 6.1mp back then. All round nikons are a MUCH better investment:
    BETTER auto focus,
    BETTER sharpness
    BETTER lens compatibility
    BETTER user insterface/intuition
    = BETTER pictures!!
    - why on earth would u one day like to find out that while you were speed shooting some of the pics were blurred because you sacrificed the most important feature of a camera for some idiotic spec like MP, or this or that?

    On the Canon "magic" effect - do u realise that most canons came out with their saturation all the way up and nikons were sometimes on zero? that might explain some peoples arguments. Yes, ive heard canons have slightly superior image quality (coloring that is) - so just crank the saturation up in photoshop or something. it takes 5 seconds.
    Secondly: can you actually hear yourself thinking "seeing as canon are said to take better pics ill sacrifice sharpness and focus for that"... are u kidding me? one can always touch up image colouring, but how on earth do u move focus from a models shoulders to her eyes? you cant simple as that.

    ** Did u know that if u had to pan a nikon across a room full of people (correct metering) and randomly took a pic, nikon will focus on the nearest eye and focus on that.. How on earth cold u beat that? In the same instance it is WIDELY known that canons guess more at focusing, often getting it wrong - or miss the shot entirely because of delays. ANYONE who says they can afford this are not serious about their investment and should flip a coin then.

    I hope his will settle the score and make all of you buy nikons - PLEASE.

    oh, btw - nikons own around 60% of the space optics share, so there's the nail in the coffin if u were still wondering. Canon have none.

  21. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)