Nikon D700, D300, D3, D2Xs, D80, D60, D40 – confused?

July 5, 2008 | By

I’ve been too busy in my “day job” during the past couple of months to keep up with the Nikon rumor mill so when Nikon announced the D700, I was surprised AND a bit confused as to where this new camera fit into the D-series lineup.

I own a Nikon D70, D200 and D300. As expected, the the higher the model number, the more capable the camera. This makes sense! However, if you look at the entire collection of D-series model numbers, it gets very confusing. For example, the D40 is newer and more capable than the D50 or the D70. The recently announced D60 is even newer and more capable. Now, Nikon skips from the D300 to the D700? I feel like I need a decoder ring!

I decided to capture several of web pages for offline reading (using Adobe Acrobat 9 of course!) from dpreview.com, kenrockwell.com, and wikipedia and study them on my recent flight from London to home. I had some time to kill and was ready for a break from the job after a long week of meetings. After studying each of the 19 Nikon D-series cameras, I now understand the entire lineup much better than before. From looking at some of the popular photography message boards, I noticed that many others share my confusion so I felt that my research was blog worthy.

I created a simple grid showing every Nikon D-series camera sorted by release date of the camera. I’ve selected a handful of attributes to put in the columns of my grid. I don’t propose that these are the only attributes worth considering when evaluating a digital camera so don’t base any purchase decisions solely on my grid! The attributes selected are used to illustrate the high-level differences between each camera model.

* The D300 and D700 will do 8 FPS if used with the battery grip
** Higher ISO speeds are available via “boost” but quality suffers dramatically

Here are my conclusions on the basic numbering scheme of the Nikon D-series (feel free to correct me):

  • Dx = Pro-level camera. The priority is in features and ruggedness, not size and weight. Check out the frames per second (FPS) on the D3 compared to the Dxxx and Dxx models. It’s obvious that this camera is for hard-core photographers. Take a look at the photographers on the sidelines of an NFL game. You’ll see a lot of D3’s. These photographers need very fast frame rates, huge storage capacity and a camera that can survive an occasional 300lb collision! Nikon focuses on giving professional photographers what they want and spare no expense to deliver. Take a look at the price of the D3 and you’ll see what I mean! It ain’t cheap! I want one but I can’t justify the cost. I do just fine with my D300.
  • Dxx = Entry-level camera. Although these cameras are categorized as “entry-level”, they are extremely capable and solid cameras. Entry-level describes pricing more than capabilities. Many of these cameras are used by pros, sometimes as a backup camera. I know a professional photographer that carries a D70 as a backup to his D2Xs. He knows that if the D2Xs fails, he can keep doing his job and deliver good images using the D70.
  • Dxxx = High-end amateur and pro. These cameras fill the gap between the previous two categories. Their specs are very good and many pros find them more than adequate (including myself).

Below is a illustration from wikipedia that further breaks down the categories:

DX vs. FX

The Nikon D-series cameras followed a long line of 35mm film SLR cameras. The size of a 35mm film frame is about 36mm x 23.9mm. When the D-series was launched, Nikon and others wanted to use a similar size digital sensor because it would allow all of the lenses to have the same angle of view as they did with the 35mm SLRs. Unfortunately, a sensor this size was not practical at the time so Nikon went with the smaller 23.7mm x 15.7mm sensor (now known as the DX format). Photographers using lenses from the their 35mm cameras had to re-calibrate their brains when thinking about focal length to adjust for the difference! The DX sensor is smaller so the image projected by the lens is cropped. As a result, photographers using their existing lenses had to multiple focal lengths by 1.5 to estimate the new results. For example, with a 35mm film frame, a 200mm lens provides 4X magnification, but with the smaller DX sensor, the resulting image is equivalent to a 300mm lens (200×1.5) resulting in a zoom of 6X. Although this sounds like a nice bonus, it made wide angle lenses not so wide when used on a DX camera.

In 2003, Nikon introduced DX lenses. These lenses projected an image that matched the size of the DX format sensor. A list of Nikon DX lenses can be found here.

The Nikon D3 is the first Nikon digital SLR to use a sensor that is the same size as the original 35mm film frame. This new format is called “FX”. There are several advantages of a larger sensor, one of which is that the non-DX lenses work as expected. However, if you use a DX lens on the Nikon D3, it only projects the image on the middle 5.1 megapixels of the 12.2 megapixel sensor.

The new Nikon D700 is the first Dxxx series Nikon SLR to provide a FX format sensor. Now it starts to make sense! The Nikon D700 is basically a lower-end version of the Nikon D3 providing a more affordable alternative to the Nikon D3 for photographers that desire the FX format. The Nikon D300 is basically a DX format equivalent of the D700.

My assumption is that there will be more DX format DSLRs and will most likely be named the D400, D500, etc. I suspect that D700 was chosen as the FX model number to some room for future DX additions.

FYI – I’ll personally skip the D700. I’m still very happy with my D300 and my Nikon 18-200mm DX lens. I do own a few non-DX lenses, including one of my favorites, the Nikkor 50mm f1.4, but I don’t have a real need to switch to a FX format camera, especially considering the cost of the upgrade.

If you are a photographer looking to purchase your first Nikon DSLR, don’t let the whole DX vs FX debate frustrate or confuse you. You’ll be happy with either format. My recommendation is to go with one of the Dxx models and later get yourself a higher end Dxxx. I often recommend the D60 or D40 to friends as a first DSLR. If you are on a very tight budget, a used D50 or D70 is a fine choice. All of these take fantastic pictures. Most are sold as a kit that include a decent starter lens.

If you want to read more about DX vs FX, I’d suggest the following:

By the way, although I am obviously a “Nikon guy”, there are equivalent cameras in the Canon lineup that are fantastic choices as well. I’d like to see a similar breakdown of the Canon DSLR models to the one I provide above. I did find a timeline of Canon DSLR articles on Wikipedia.

To learn more about any of the cameras mentioned above, visit one of these great sites:

Other good comparisons:

NEW – Nikon D700 brochure (10.5MB PDF) – http://nikonusa.com/Assets/Digital-SLR/25444-Nikon-D700/PDF/25444_D700_brochure.pdf

NEW – dpreview.com has a great side-by-side comparison tool.  Below are 3 sets of comparisons:

NEW – http://www.nikond700.com – tons of information about the new Nikon D700 including the following D300 vs. D700 size comparison:

Below are a few pics I’ve shot with multiple Nikon cameras (and one Fuji – sunset out plane window). To see high-res versions and the EXIF data to see which camera shot what, go to http://gregorywilson.smugmug.com. Dpreview.com also has sample images for all of the cameras mentioned above.




Share

Filed in: Photography | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author (Author Profile)

Greg is a developer advocate for the Google Cloud Platform based in San Francisco, California
  • adam

    Thanks for the great analysis. One comment about the focal length of DX lenses and the x1.5 adjustment factor – While it’s true a DX lens projects an image that just covers the smaller sensor, I believe the focal length is still expressed in terms of 35mm. For example in the DPReview post for the 18-200, the extremes of the focal range are also described as ’27-300mm equivalent’.

  • adam

    Sorry, meant to say “…the focal length still require adjustment for 35mm equivalent.”

  • Adam is correct. “DX” means “You don’t have to pay for glass and complexity to project an FX circle for a DX sensor, so why bother?”. The magnification of the image projected is exactly the same, but merely cropped tighter than would be appropriate for a full-sized sensor. The 17-55/2.8DX, for example, actually does project a full-frame image from a zoom of about 25mm on up, although one wouldn’t expect much quality in the extremes. Hence, it’s a DX lens.

    Also, I think your first chart has some mixed-up columns with respect to the D1H and D2X.

    Your sample pics are wonderful… amazing.

  • Thanks Adam! You are correct. I corrected the article.

    Greg

  • Jeffrey – I just reviewed the grid for the D1H and D2X. I can’t find anything wrong.

    Which columns are you referring to? Maybe my online sources are wrong?

    Thanks for the compliment on the pics!

    Greg

  • Pingback: Top Posts « WordPress.com()

  • admin

    I’m looking into getting a DSLR–thanks for the info!

  • Grid fixed 🙂

  • Simon Rehm

    Of course it’s your decision, but linking to Ken Rockwell – plus praising his site for “reviews and discussions of just about every digital camera” – clearly is a disservice to yourself: the guy with the grossly over-inflated ego is known for knowing nothing, giving bad advice and lying; experienced users realize that, but newbies can’t.
    So erase these links, and instead add some really useful ones, e.g
    Dave Etchell’s Imaging Resource at http://www.imaging-resource.com
    or MIR at http://www.mir.com.my/rb/photography/companies/nikon/htmls/models/digitalSLRs/index.htm or Michael Weber’s Imagepower at http://www.imagepower.de/equipm.htm

    Of course there are other sites, too…

    And “Nikon’s site” should be “Nikon USA site”

  • tom

    thank .

  • Tony

    Need some clarification from you highly regarded experts:
    I have 5 different dx lens ranging from a 12-24 mm wide angle to 50-500 telephoto the question I have is if I upgrade to a D700 rather than a D300 will my current lens (a) work as well or will they produce the D700 format?

    Thanks from a dummy

  • alain

    Hello
    endeed very confusing all these new nikon cameras and now D700.
    My question is simple,most of time (80% of time)l do landcasp photo.l believe that the D300 is good.l have 16mmf2.8, 17mm35mm f 2.8 and 35mm70mmf 2.8.The D700 is good as it has FF sensor all my lenses match the format. What you will do?

    Regards

  • Hi Greg,
    First of all thanks a lot for your great analysis and review. Now here is my dilemma:
    I am a good amateur photographer and actually making bucks out of my photos in Africa. After having used the old 4004 and 8008 Nikon traditional cameras 4 years ago I bought a D70 and it has served me really well until now…It is time for me to upgrade.
    I have read a lot about the subject and the only significant downside of the D700 as compared to the D300 is its lower resolution if using DX lenses. The difference in price is not really a big obstacle at this point in time for me.
    D300 or D700? Please consider that I still have an 18 mm Sigma lens, a 28-85 Nikkor lens, a 70-210 nikkor lens and a 500 Tamron I used them with the old cameras. So maybe the extra cost for FX lenses is not really an issue, Is it? If it isn’t and I do not need to change these lenses that are still in great conditions, should I go for the D700 or still follow your indication and get a D300? Looking forward to receive your well regarded opinion I send you my best regards,

    Giulio D’Ercole

  • Giulio,

    I would go with the D700 so you can take full advantage of your existing investment in lenses. You will LOVE it compared to the D70.

    Thanks!

    Greg

  • Hi Greg,

    Thanks a lot for your advice 🙂 . If you will ever have time there are quite a number of photos I took in East and Central Africa where I work. They are under the link exhibitions…..

    Giulio

  • Molly

    Hi Greg, I am so glad I stumbled upon your website. I love photography but only as a hobby and I would love to buy an SLR Nikon. My dilemma is that I found a good Nikon D60 and D40 at Sam’s Club for a reasonable price (both below $700) and although I have the exact details of what the cameras are capable for, I am having trouble understanding on what each means. Is there a book/website/resource manual you could recommend where I could actually understand what each means and then make a decision based on what types of pictures I plan on taking, etc.? I would really appreciate it. Could you please send me an email. Thank you!

  • Hi Greg…I’m wanting to upgrade from a D50. I mainly do portrait work, typically kids (I design kids wear and need to photograph the creations, plus the usual memory shots etc).
    Main reason to upgrade is husband is now interested in photography also, so need a second camera. D300 or D700?
    We have the kit lenses but mainly use 50mm 1.8. Will get another lens down the track once we decide what to get (advice welcome!)
    Kathryn

  • George

    I can’t afford the D700 so will have to “suffer” with the D300…but which lens? I’m leaning to the 17mm-55mm DX to start off….any other ideas?

  • Pete

    Ideally, the D700 should not be used with the DX lenses. This said, it is possible to use the DX lenses with the D700. But the resulting image does not do justice to the D700. It has been explained the resolution of the resulting image will be halved when a DX lens is used with the D700. In addition to the lower resolution, the extreme ends of a zoom lens is not usable. A DX lens should not be used with the D700 except in extremis.

    The D700/FX (1.0x factor) and the D300/DX (1.5x factor) effectively doubles my lens option. For those planning to own both the D300 and the D700, it would be wise to choose a glass that would be usable with both bodies.

    In closing, I consider the D700 a good complement to my D300. Except for my Nikon 18-200mm DX lens (which I bought for my Nikon D200) Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR DX Zoom-Nikkor Lens, all my glasses and accessories for the D300 can be used with the D700. I will use the D700 in those times when I need the best results shooting wide angle and/or at high ISO speed. In those times when I need the extra reach, the D300’s 1.5x crop factor makes the best use of my telephoto lenses.

    nikon d700 body only

  • I’ve been told that my superb 12-14 Nikkor DX will be useless for use with the D700 – is this correct? Also what about my 24-85 AFS ED and 80 to 400 VR re use with D700? Thanks….BC

  • David Pexton

    Hi Greg…and well, whoever else can give me advice.

    At the moment, I have Nikon D50 which, since purchasing in 2005, I have loved and has given me some great shots and basically taught me most of what I know today. With it I have a 18 – 70mm DX lens, a Nikon Nikkor 24mm 2.8 D, a (cheap but really good) Sigma 70 – 300mm 5.6 APO and an old school Nikon Nikor AF Micro 55mm lens which is also great. (all belong to my late grandfather, so would like to keep). Recently I have found that I have grown out of my D50 and have been dreaming about something that shoots well in low light, plus I am planning on getting another wide angle lens as I love wide shots. My question is again, a D300 or D700? I want the low light capability because I hate taking tripods out all the time and to be able to shoot extra wide. My DX lens is obviously not going to be fully utilized with a D700, so should I sell it and how much is an equivalent for the FX range? I am concerned that If I get the D300 the FX range will become obsolete over time and the D400 or whatever, will be replaced with the FX sensor. Will this become the standard? The Sigma, and the two old school lenses I want to keep, especially the 24mm and have it at 24mm, but then the D700 is soooo much more $. Oh and obviously if do go the D300 route, I can afford new lenses which will be ace….

    I am confused. I suppose I’m asking the question…what would you do?

  • If you consider the huge number of DX cameras that Nikon has sold, it is hard to imagine the lenses becoming obsolete. There are literally millions of DX bodies out there. Also, notice that Nikon just release the D90, yet another DX camera. From looking at the specs, I expect it to be a huge hit. We will see both formats for years to come.

    Either way, you’ll be happy. If you go FX, get FX lenses since the DX lenses really get cropped. If you don’t already have a big investment in FX lenses, then DX will be fine.

    My two cents…

    Greg

  • David Pexton

    Yes I read about the D90 yesterday and it’s an awesome camera. The whole HD recording is a bonus, but for the camera alone, it’s worth having.

  • Great analysis Greg. I’m a long time film guy — Nikon FM and F3 are my choices and i use both to this day to make a living shooting scenics and landscapes. Thinking about the D700 as my first leap into digital but i’m stumped about lenses. I have Nikkor 24mm, 35-105, 105 fixed and 180 fixed. how well with they work with the D700? and if i were to buy just one “digital” workhorse lens to go with the D700, what would you recommend? Thanks again!

  • Great analysis Greg, it’s been realy revealing to me. I’m just about to buy a second camera. My first is a d70 and I’m between the new d90 and a d300. I’m not a pro I’m an a very pasionate amateur. Which one so you think would be better for me.

  • Greg W

    Great article Greg. Thanks for the comparisons. I am an amateur photographer who has just taken the jump from SLR to DSLR in the form of the D700. When buying lenses, how do I tell if a lens is DX or FX?

  • DX lenses are clearly labeled. If they are not, you can assume that they are full-frame lenses…but you will need to confirm that it works on a D700.

    Greg

  • the thing is even if you use a DX lens or even an FX lens on a DX body it will get cropped! we all know that but you still will get the distortion, so to get the same angle on a DX body as say an FX 50mm lens (that gives you a normal perspective of view to the human eye) you would have to use a 30mm lens, so you still get thet slight distortion of the 30mm when really you want 50mm, if you use a 50mm lens on the DX body they you have an equivelent of 75mm, that doesnt give you the intimacy of the subjects you are photographing or in the confined area the space. Really with a DX camera format you will NEVER be able to get wide enough.

  • Pingback: Nikon D-SLR Buying Questions - Manhattan Reefs()

  • Thanks sincerely for the article. Excellent! I have been trying to decide between the D300 or the D700. Just like yourself my two main lenses, that I love, are the nikon 18-200mm and the nikon 24mm. I have used the 18-200 with so much priority that I do feel that I will go with the D300. I also rarely use over 1600iso and I feel I will be more than pleased with the D300.

  • martin

    can i use my sigma 50-500 on d700?

  • stefan

    I am just in the process to change from Pentax DSLR to Nikon because I cannot shoot action pictures very well with my Kxx models. I had the opportunity to test several Nikons (except the D3). The Nikon D700 with the 70-200, 2.8, VR lens produced clearly visible vignetting on every image. Is this a behavior I would have to live with or could it be a problem of that specific camera lens combination? If the D3 would have dust removal I would immediately take it. At the moment it seems to me that the D700 together with the battery grip might be the better choice for my needs. Any comment on that?

  • HI! I am a VERY amateur photog., and just got a Nikon D60……is this a good start to enter this business? I am so new to this. It came with two lenses; a 18-55mm and a 55-200mm…..I also purchased the 50mm f/1.8…….give me the lowdown! Thanks Tiffany

  • Ann M

    I’m trying to start my own photography freelancing business and I need to know which would be a better camera to get that will last me many years without having to buy more add ons. The pkgs I’m looking at is the Nikon D700 with 28-200 & 200-500 lenses, or the D300 with the same lenses? I know their is a $880.oo cost difference between the two, but I’m willing to pay it now. I plan to take portraits, action, wedding, birtdays and etc. Please help, I’m reacy to get my camera and now I’m confused with all the different features about the two cameras.

  • Frank H

    I think you will get excellant results with either the D300 or D700, so save your bucks and get the D300. As far as lenses you should complement your package with a fixed 50mm f/1.8 or the like for those low light situations. Good Luck.

  • Thanks for unraveling this all for me.

  • I am Big fan of Nikon Digital cameras too I have a site about all types reviews and price comparison you guys can check it out here.

  • DerekW

    With considerable regret I think the time has come to move on from my favourite cameras of all time. I use F2AS…one for the history books but one of the toughest and most versatile cameras ever made. I shall miss the option of changing screens and viewers. None of the new DSLRs seem to offer this. I am also loathe to give up a decent collection of Nikon lenses; looks like I have to consider the D700 to make use of them and lose some of the automation the DSLRs offer. This is no sacrifice to one used to a full manual system! But, what to do? Buy a D700 or go mad with my savings and try a D3 or even D3x? Clearly longevity is a plus for me but the rate of change in the digital world precludes the sort of life my F2AS has given. Am I wrong, I did a few simple sums against film data and resolution; it looks to me that 50ASA film at best exposure translated to digital requires in excess of 20Mpixel to compete? Favourite print size is 20×16… Of course, it would be great if Nikon produced a digital back for my F2AS…not a chance in my lifetime!!! So, what do you think, will a D700 and my ‘old’ lenses keep me happy for years to come or even the hugely more expensive D3? Or, an alternative?

  • Gene

    When I switched to digital, I picked the D700 (body only) with the plan to use my 3 old lenses from my F2 camera. After using it for a couple of months with my old lenses, I decided to buy the new AF Nikkor 85mm F/1.4D lens. I will keep my old lenses since I still take (and prefer) to take pictures with analog. I will buy more (very costly) auto focus telephoto Nikon lenses in the future; taking pictures with digital camera is a slow learning process …for me. I am not sure if I like it.

  • Amelia

    Hi, does anyone know if you can use the same memory cards in the d40 and d700? I currently have a d40 with an SD memory card. Later this year I am upgrading to a d700 and they seem to take Compact Flash memory card? I wanted to buy another memory card for my d40 in the meantime and was hopinh whatever I buy will then be compatible with the d700. Anyn ideas? Thanks

  • mark

    Is there a fake nikon d70?

  • Hi and thanks for the great article. I currently have the D60. When I shoot subjects that have a lot of vibrant colors or a lot of contrast they have a ton of digital noise in them. I shoot in manual mode and don’t shoot with active d-lighting on. Does the D300 handle vibrant colors and contrast better than the D60?

  • Nikon D300S – I’m totally happy with this camera. You can make as much and simply gorgeous pictures. Relatively easy to use, very good instruction manual, and you can take snapshots of any kind with it. The Live View function is awesome. Very satisfied and highly recommend.

  • kathy

    question?
    i had the d70 and it was stolen, replaced it with d40. have 3 lenses that go with it but want to upgrade for better portrait work and to possibly go professional. should i get the d300 for lens compatitbility instead of the d700? also, what is a good wide angle lens at a decent price?

  • Robert Riley

    It is interesting to read the messages from amateur and pro alike asking for opinions about the differanc between the D300S & D700! If you like to shoot without needing a flash in not to well lit situations the D700 is the choice! For one thing the pixels on the D700 are much larger which brings more light and better sensitivity and also the item which may not be known is the fact that behind each pixel I am told is a transistor that amplifies the light which makes the camera FAR MORE SENSITIVE than the D300S! You can take the D300S into that darker situation of the not to well lit room and you will need a flash and you will find that you are not able to get the pictures you would like without having pose for the shot so you can use the flash, hence alot of missed opportunities for the shot! Some lin depth study of th two cameras is in order! Read everything you can about the two cameras! They are both great and there are some unknown facts about each! 73’s Bob Riley

    • Scoti

      Hello Greg ..this may be a bit late (I have been looking into the Nikon D800 and FX and DX stuff and found this Webb site )

      Why isn’t the nice and handy D90 included in this Nikon time line ?

      I still have my D80 ,D90 and the D700, and no I’m not getting the D800 , don’t see a need for that many mega pixels .

      Interesting read and comments

      Regards
      Scoti

  • Vilas Pradhan

    Can the opteka lenses specified for nikon d3 d4 d300 be used with nikon d50 camera ? Please guide me.