This a very expensive digital camera—here is the current price. Seeing as how the value of two of the four digital cameras I've owned went down all the way to zero, I had to think long and hard about placing this on such a lofty perch at the very pinnacle of this list. I also run a slight risk of bias due to recency, the tendency we humans have to assign too much weight to stuff we just found out about and events we experienced lately: I used a D700 on loan from Nikon a few months ago and managed to do some quite good work with it, and thus it looms large, at the moment, in my mental concept. Overly so? Possibly.
...And possibly not. It’s hard to ignore so much indisputable goodness, I think. When the Nikon D3 came out, I wrote a whimsical piece about it called "Me and my D3" that essentially called for something very much like what the D700 turned out to be. But the D700 isn’t just a "D3 lite." It’s a different species of camera because it's got 97% of the image quality of the D3 and much of that camera's functionality in a more nearly camera-sized and half-as-expensive package. The more reasonable size and more favorable value equation actually make the D700 far more appropriate for, and (dare I say it) more useful to a much larger group of potential purchasers. And although it's expensive for most people, that really is a relative term. You could just as easily make the argument that it's very high-value, and I think you'd be right.
In terms of image quality, the two FX Nikons below the recently-introduced D3X take a strong and well-defined approach: low pixel count and great high-ISO performance. To people such as photojournalists, this will be the preferred approach. The Sony A900 (see #5 below) takes a fundamentally different approach. However, Nikon’s approach is very sensible and very appealing to lots of people.
There is, paradoxically, a certain lack of excitement to products that are superbly competent. I first encountered this in an early-’80s-vintage Honda Accord: the thing simply did everything you wanted it to. It worked properly, without fuss, and kept on working that way. That was a car? That hadn’t been my experience with automobiles up till then. (In fact, not long ago I was talking to my brother about the ways technology has changed since we were kids. The internet is #1 on both of our lists, but the greatly improved reliability of automobiles ranks pretty high on mine.) The LPL 4x5 enlarger was the same way: gone were all the intricacies and guild secrets of eking good performance out of inherently recalcitrant devices: the LPL just worked smoothly and beautifully without challenges. It set up in alignment and it stayed that way. Prior to experiencing it, I’d never had an enlarger behave like that before—even the awesome Leitz Focomat IIc I had for a while was finicky by comparison. The D700 has something of that quality. It's a somewhat hefty but otherwise perfectly ordinary camera body that is very similar to a number of other cameras, especially other Nikons. It's definitely got that plastic-lump, plastic-knob thing goin' on, unapologetically. It's very unromantic, almost to the point of being a repudiation of camera fetishism. Nothing about it really stands out as being particularly pleasurable to use or gratifying from a "cool gear" standpoint: it's just highly capable, very ergonomic, no-nonsense, built like a brick, responsive, all business. It does everything you want it to do, without drama. If that means it’s a bit on the functional side, a bit utilitarian, that seems a small price to pay.
After all, the pictures are the thing. Whatever best helps you get the shot is what's most important about a camera in the end.
And what it does well, it does very well indeed. The high-ISO performance is superb (yes, even a bit better than our Camera of the Year last year, and don't bother pixel-peeping: look at pictures, and you'll see); it has useful amounts of dynamic headroom, meaning that you can recover highlight detail to a satisfying degree (fewer "burned out" highlights); it creates great conversions to B&W; and the potential print quality is marvelous. The only real limitation is in image size, but 12 MP is plenty for most professional photojournalists, never mind most amateurs. Importantly, it needs no apologies as a camera, either: it has a large, easy-to-see viewfinder, and the "full-frame" (~24x36mm) sensor restores the angle of view and traditional function of lenses that older 35mm photographers (like yours truly) are still used to. Your ultra-wide-angles become ultra-wide-angle again. Altogether, the D700 is a very well thought-through product.
Of course it has close competitors, which don't cede much to it; but then, the second-best team in any championship game is also very good. There can still be only one winner. The D700 is the best all-around, all-purpose camera money can buy right now, we think, and it earns TOP's top recommendation.
Here is a lens you might be tempted to buy but that I wouldn’t recommend; here is the lens that is technically the best you can buy for this camera; and here is the first lens I'd choose for my D700, if I owned one.
This concludes our little list for now, with the conspicuous hole to be filled in sometime in May. If you're tempted to get your nose out of joint about any of our choices, please don't—I'm pretty sure I could put together a perfectly defensible list just using cameras left off of this one.
Besides, from what I hear, you are allowed to disagree with things you read on the internet. Cheers!