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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I did not include this in my original blog so I have added a new update as a separate blog "http://prakashphotography.blogspot.com/2009/02/nikon-d700-vs-canon-5d-mk-ii-weather.html"
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 http://prakashphotography.blogspot.com/2008/12/nikon-d700d3d300-autofocus-settings.html)
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.