Canon 5D Mark II vs Nikon D700 Compared

First published on: Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Last update (Sep 24, 2009): AF (Autofocus) on the D700 vs Canon DSLR cameras.

Here’s a comparison of pros and cons of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Nikon D700 digital SLR cameras.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II Nikon D700

First off, you might like to read this post for a chart comparing both cameras.

For those of you wondering if the 5D Mk II is a capable high ISO wedding / portrait camera, I’d like to point to the tests conducted with a prototype model by Lovegrove Consulting and Vincent Laforet, the details of which are at Canon 5D Mark II Samples and Canon 5D Mark II Reviews respectively.

Admittedly, the game of camera comparisons have recently become extremely difficult as manufacturers seek to differentiate their sub-$3000, full-frame digital SLR cameras with slightly different feature sets. You’ll have to assess, more critically than ever, the type of photography you intend to do, and make sure you get not only the suitable camera, but the entire system of lenses, flash and accessories to support your pursuit.

If you already own either or both these cameras, don’t forget to contribute your opinion or review for the Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D700.

Canon 5D Mark II Advantages

1080p Video

This is huge. The ability to record movies on the Canon 5D Mark II makes it a better solution if you need to take the occasional movie. Some might even see huge opportunities beyond casual video shooting, say, if you’re covering an event, or reviewing products — in fact, any situation that calls for a multimedia presentation.

Doc Tonic is looking forward to this feature:

When I shoot weddings, I sometimes lug around my Canon XLH1 and shoot video HD video just of certain portions of the wedding and the blend it in with other shots. I often carry with me a 1DsMII with 24-70 2.8L and a 5D with a 70-200 2.8L AND a huge canon XLH1 on a tripod. I lug all three around and die during weddings. Now, I will sell my 5D and my XLH1 and shoot 1080p video using the 70-200 2.8L lens along with close up shots. So much better for the clients to have some video especially when they do not hire a videographer.

AmbientMick says:

I currently have a Nikon D700 and D3 and seriously thinking of switching. I shoot weddings so I’m waiting to see what the high ISO and IQ are like on the 5DII before buying 2 of them. The extra pixels would be nice and I can see that video clips of exchanging rings, first kiss etc. would be useful.

The Canon 5D Mk II video page has more information.


The 5DMk2’s 21MP resolution represents a 75% advantage over the 12MP resolution of the Nikon D700. If you shoot a lot of photos which you then intend to print very large, or crop a lot, get the 5D Mk 2. Landscape photographers come to mind. For an extra bonus, try editing and printing this official 5D Mark II landscape image to see if it meets your standards (details of that image is here).

What about a pro’s opinion on the 5D’s resolution? Paul Grupp says:

I think it’s difficult for people not in the business to understand, but high resolution for its own sake is not really appreciated in large segments of the pro market. Storage is cheap, but upload, editing, and transmittal time aren’t, and if your market doesn’t need 21MP images, that 5D file size becomes an anchor around your neck.

Be aware though, the 5D Mark II offers two sRAW options that lets you capture RAW files with smaller resolution if needed, and this can work in your favor when you shoot assignments that don’t require 20+ MP. In sRAW1 setting, resolution is 10.0-megapixels with a file size that is approximately 25 percent smaller than a standard 21.1-megapixel RAW image. With the sRAW2 setting, resolution is 5.2 megapixels at less than half the file size of a standard RAW image, retaining all of the flexibility and creative possibilities associated with full-size, conventional RAW images.

Price and value

This is a difficult one to argue as what everyone perceives as good value is different, but it is hard to argue against the 5D2’s case: you get 21MP with a cheaper camera than the D700. At the time of writing, the 5D Mark II is expected to retail for USD2,699, that’s $200 lower than the $2,899 Nikon D700. If Megapixels matter to your photography, don’t ignore this price difference.

Price update (May 04, 2009): The D700 is now cheaper (sold and shipped by Amazon) than the 5D2, at $2,352.74 for the D700, vs $2,699.99 for the 5D2..

Nikon D700 Advantages


Michael Reichmann reports the following from his Antartica 2009 trip:

No Nikon bodies (mostly D700s) failed in any way

.. compared to …

The largest group of failures through were among the Canon 5D MKIIs. Of the 26 samples of this camera onboard, one quarter (six) failed at one time or another, and while three recovered, the other three never did.


The Nikon D700 has 51 AF (autofocus) points, with 15 cross-type sensors. This layout makes it more flexible for event photography, or any kind of photo-taking where you don’t wish to focus and re-compose. In contrast, the Canon 5D Mark II has nine selectable AF points, clustered near the center in a diamond layout, with only the center AF point being a cross type.

You’ll have to decide if the AF layout on the 5D2 is for you. pcunite says:

Paul you are right on the money. I WILL NOT pay $8,000 for a camera to do weddings. I just won’t do it. For one thing my wife can’t hold the 1DsMKIII. I want a 5DII with at least the 50D focus system. I can’t believe what they did to the 5DII AF… crazy…

And David_C says that he wants …:

21 cross type, on the rules of thirds, in a rectangle, not in a diamond shape. I use the rule of thirds all the time. Only a small % of my photos do I use the center AF point. Of course, it just may not be possible, I just don’t know, but I would like it if they could just get it as close as possible. Also for sports, the center AF point ends up in the stomach, how about 3 AF points that would be at the chest area. I am just tired of the focus-recompose method.

AF (Autofocus) on the D700 vs Canon DSLR cameras — Jacobsen1 asks:

Also, how do you find your D700 outer points? Especially the left/right ones that are not cross types either? I would have though they’d be lacking in low light as well?

Lloyd of Night and Day Photography (which provides wedding photography services) replies:

Surprisingly, the D700 corner non-cross points work really well. I know all the crosses are clustered in the center, but the outer ones work so well that I could care less. But one thing I noticed is that it has an easier time locking onto different contrasts than my Canons. For example, in crappy light, the D700 seems to love locking onto facial features like hair / skin transitions and faces, which is great. When it’s really dark, on my canons I purposely place the AF point onto a hard contrast like someone’s white shirt collar, and it does a fantastic job. But the D700 doesn’t respond as well to that, which I find really strange as it’s still a phase-detect system, just like Canon’s.

No black dot issue in images

Early owners of the 5D Mark II reported about occurrences of black dots that appear around highlights and high ISO astrophotographs. A preliminary solution to work around the problem requires you to turn off HTP (Highlight Tone Priority), Auto Lighting Optimizer and Noise Reduction features. It was later reported that this solution doesn’t eliminate the problem entirely.

The D700 has no such issues, and allows you to enjoy unencumbered the in-camera Active D-Lighting and Noise Reduction functionality.

Better Automatic ISO implementation

The Nikon D700 allows Auto ISO to be flexibly set up the way you want it, in any shooting mode. For instance, you can specify what the lowest shutter speed should be before the ISO starts being increased, and at the same time, cap the ISO to an upper limit.

The implementation on the 5D2 is less configurable, for instance, in M (Manual) mode, Automatic ISO is fixed at 400, with no automatic adjustments being calculated by the camera (you could of course, still manually select the desired ISO).

It’s not possible to setup the 5D Mk II in such a way as to allow for a fixed shutter speed and aperture (say for fast shutter speed to reduce motion blur, and a large aperture for subject isolation), and have the camera automatically set the optimum ISO for changing light conditions. Also, in AV (Aperture Priority) mode, the range of automatically-calculated ISO values is fixed to comply with a 1/focal length shutter speed formula -> read a related discussion and Henrik Herranen’s clear explanation of the benefit of Auto ISO in Manual Mode (or TAv mode, as Henry dubs it).

Jarek Leo adds:

Well, for years I thought AUTO ISO was useless but than I discovered its merits, particularly in M mode. Imagine that you are taking pictures of a racing car and decide that a certain combination of shutter speed and aperture value works best best but available light is changing constantly. In Nikon’s implementation of Auto ISO, you just set both values in M mode and Auto ISO takes care of te rest. It’s neat and does not limit creativity. On the contrary. It is not a deal breaker, but Auto ISO is useful.

One example from Sam I Am:

Auto ISO in M mode is exactly what I want. I shoot Ballet performances, which is like shooting basketball in the dark. My preferred settings: f/2.8, 1/640, exposure comp. -0.5. ISO: It would be great if it was on “Auto” rather than change it every time the lighting/Background/costumes change (toget the cleanest shots possible).

Nikon CLS

The pop-up flash on the Nikon D700 gives you the automatic, built-in ability to control one or more Nikon flashguns (SB-600, SB-800 and SB-900) wirelessly with full TTL capabilities.

On the Canon 5D2, you’d have to purchase, at a minimum, any of the following for wireless TTL control and mount it on the flash hotshoe to act as the commander:
Canon 580EX series flash
ST-E2 wireless controller / STE2 Speedlite Transmitter
Canon MR-14EX Macro Ring Lite
Canon MT-24EX Macro Twin Lite Flash

More consistent flash metering

If you shoot a lot of events, say weddings, which require a lot of balanced flash or full-flash metering, the D700 has the better set of algorithms. All Nikon digital SLR cameras since the D70 have been known to give near faultless metering with Nikon speedlights. As “Horshack” puts it:

Canon’s wildly-inconsistent flash metering drove me into the arms of the D700. You can shoot weddings with the 5D/5DM2 (I do) but it takes lots of practice to learn the flash metering idiosynchrisies. For future weddings/flash events I plan to use my D700 for the 24-70mm range and my 5D/5DM2 for everything beyond 70mm (coincides with my Canon lens collection).

High-Speed, High-Range Bracketing for High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography

If you regularly make HDR photos, you might prefer the more robust features on the D700. The D700 allows you to shoot at 5 fps (8 fps if you cheat a bit — see Nikon D700 tips) or 8 fps with the MB-D10 battery grip, plus offers you the ability to define a bracketed exposure range of -5 to +5 EV. You can also specify whether to take between 2 to 9 (inclusive) bracketed exposures. Use a Phottix Cleon N8 remote, and you can easily shoot 9 bracketed exposures at 8 fps all day (the following video of the Nikon D300 firing bracketed exposures at 6 fps, starting at approximately 1:14):

EV steps offered by the D700 for exposure bracketing are 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 and 1 EV.

In contrast, the 5D Mk II maxes out at 3 bracketed exposures, within a -2 / +2 EV range, in 0.3 or 0.5 EV steps.

Miscellaneous user comments

Jadis says:

I recently switched from the 5D to the D700. The things that the D700 offers that the even the 5D Mk2 still doesn’t have are:
-Better AF, by far: 15 cross type sensors among the 51 points, 3D tracking is amazing, highly customizable dynamic AF modes.
-Better Exposure modes: the spot metering is 1.5% (as opposed to 3.5%) and is linked to the active focus point. The 5Ds’ always spot meter at the center. This doesn’t exist on any Canon except the 1-series.
-Pop-up flash: as a commander flash, this just saved me around $300. I don’t have to buy a remote transmitter, or another flash. I can just buy 1 flash and now have the ability to creatively light a subject. And it also doubles as a fill flash in an emergency. It’s better than nothing. I really don’t get people who say things like “ew” to an inbuilt flash. Obviously I wouldn’t use it for straight-on flash, duh.
-5fps and the ability to go to 8fps. Self-explanatory. I bet anybody who is considering buying the 5DMk2 would have been happier with 16 megapixels and 5fps.
-Better build quality, particularly for the Nikon lenses. Compare the Nikkor 24-70 to the Canon 24-70. Real lens caps too, yay!

Glittertind says:

I choose Nikon for:
AF system (the 5D II is pretty much like 5D — so we know what its like)
14-24 — Canon can’t mach this one
24-70 — slightly better than Canons
200 f2.0 VR — haven’t bought this yet, but canons version costs alomost twice as much

High ISO preformance — I don’t know how good it is on the 5D II, but I know the Nikon is good. I don’t think the 5D II will match it, if it does, great for 5D II users!

AE — easy to swich AE mode, visible in viewfinder, better spotmetering etc etc.
5fps for sports, possible 8fps (It’s fast!!) with batterygrip

It was a difficult choise, pro Canon was:
35L 1.4 love this lens — Nikon can’t match it
50L 1.2
21mp — If it’s not giving more ISO noise it’s definetly better than 12.

I was looking for the best total package, and in the end I belive that AF-AE and speed of the D700 will serve me better than more mp.


Just a few days after the 5DM2 announcement, seven 100% crops appeared on the internet comparing the ISO 6400 output from the D700 vs the Canon 5D Mark II. Those crops were part of a series of casual portraits shot by Erik Five Gunnerud, which I’ve detailed in the Canon 5D MArk II Samples post, and it’s safe to say that the high ISO output of the 5D2 is stunning enough to place it on equal terms with that from the D700.

Canon 5D Mark II vs Nikon D700 -- ISO 6400, 100% crops, by Erik Five Gunnerud

The tests were not performed under controlled conditions, notably, the D700 photos were shot in RAW mode while the 5D MKII photos were JPEGs, and we’re left in the dark as to what post-edits were done, so take these for what it’s worth:

  1. Crop 1

  2. Crop 2

  3. Crop 3

  4. Crop 4

  5. Crop 5

  6. Crop 6

  7. Crop 7

Put in another way, high ISO advantage of either camera, if any, shouldn’t be a deal breaker.


Buy the Canon 5D Mark II if you need 21 MP and full HD video capture capabilities.

Get the Nikon D700 is you need professional-grade autofocus, fast operational speed, shorter shutter lag and viewfinder blackout, 8 fps (with the optional MB-D10 battery grip), Nikon CLS, excellent build and weather sealing.

Photography Bay has also posted an excellent review of the D700, and within that article, you’ll find many points of comparison to the 5D Mark II, the camera that Eric (the reviewer) uses. Eric very objectively points out the good and bad in both cameras:

Where the Nikon D700 wins with commanding difference is autofocus and metering performance. I think the difference in these two features should make the choice easier for those who are evaluating both cameras as a potential purchase. The Nikon D700’s autofocus is much better in low light. And, in my experience thus far, the D700 is much more accurate with its in-camera metering.

As I said earlier, I am primarily a Canon shooter. I bought a Canon 5D Mark II because my kit is committed to Canon. I also think the 5D Mark II is a fantastic camera. In my opinion, the 5D Mark II edges the D700 out in both noise performance and overall image quality. However, it is a very thin edge and is, for most purposes, negligible.

All the best with your decision!

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