I’ve been using Nikon D800 for more than three months now and it has been in use extensively. When I checked EXIF info there have been over 20.000 shutter actuations already. You can see I’ve been quite busy and while working with D800 I really got to know the camera intimately.
There are many reviews and comparisons (especially against Canon 5Diii) online so I will focus on my thoughts, likes/dislikes about this camera. This is not a review for technical geeks and people who spend most of the time looking at camera specs and discuss cameras at online forums, but rather for photographers who are considering buying this camera and want to know how this camera behaves in hands and what results it gives. So if you are looking for this kind of info please read on.
I’ve been Nikon photographer all my career, but I do not worship the brand (although I enjoy teasing Canon folks a lot:)). For me a camera is just a tool that gets the job done. Previously I used Nikon D300 and D700 cameras which both proved very reliable and gave me excellent image quality. Let’s get to the review now.
1) 36MP – Do I need all extra pixels?
When I first heard the rumours about 36MP camera that is going to replace D700 I had mixed feelings. Was expecting a camera with HD video and about 20-24MP sensor for an affordable price. When Nikon announced the camera and the estimated retail price I was surprised cause I was especting it will be more expensive (somewhere in Nikon D3X area) – so kudos to Nikon here!
And the more I was thinking about 36MP, more keen I was becoming about this idea. Okay, it is a big jump from 12MP of D300 & D700 I admit. And will I need all those extra pixels? I will! First there is much more room for cropping (I always try to get the image right with camera without correcting composition) but it happens often when 70-200 is just too short… But the best thing about high pixel count is that I can have two cameras in one body – a DX crop camera and the 35mm FX. DX mode will still give me 15MP file which is more than my D300. That was not possible with D700.
2) File size – how fat the images are?
- 14-bit, uncompressed NEF (RAW) file is usually between 70-80Mb. This is four times larger than with D700! (My usual setting.)
- The highest quality JPEG (converted in Capture NX software) has around 20Mb.
- 12-bit lossless-compressed NEF file has around 30-35Mb which is quite tolerable in my opinion and I use this image quality settings for my timelapse shooting.
The bottom line is – get USB 3.0 card reader, fastest (and biggest) memory cards and plenty hard drive storage!
3) High ISO image quality
Well – much better than expected! After announcement of the camera everyone was smart that with this pixel density it cannot perform well at high ISO. I think Nikon proved them wrong! It certainly is not D4 performance, but I can say that it is no worse than my D700.This image above was shot at ISO 800. Download the original file – non edited RAW converted to JPEG in CaptureNX. View file.
Also ISO 1600 is usable for most of the things, but higher values are quickly starting to show quality deterioration.Black grouse, 1600 ISO. Details are still very sharp and visible but the colour saturation is not as good as with lower ISO settings. Also noise is starting to show. All this is easily corrected in post production.
The bottom line – ISO performance of D800 will do the job for me in 99,99% of the time.
4) Speed – frames per second
After being spoiled with performance of D700 and D300, this was quite disappointing. 4 fps! Well I guess this is a trade off for the high mega-pixel count. For my bird photography (hobby of mine, not a living) I use battery grip and a crop mode of 1.2. This combination gives me 5 fps (a big difference!) and the image size of 6000×4000 (24MP). Luckily autofocus is superb – way better than with my two older cameras and this is the most obvious in low light.Black grouse males fighting. Focus tracking worked reliably even if the light was low.
5) Speed – while handling the camera
This is where the camera disappoints me! Mostly because of big file sizes the camera is slow to operate in some scenarios. What do I mean?
- Even with my fastest memory cards (SanDisk 16gb Extreme Pro 90Mb/s) it takes ages to write photos to the card and clear the buffer (which fills up very quickly).
- While buffer is full it is not possible to review the photos on LCD. Still haven’t figured this out completely.
- Reviewing the photos takes ages. The camera is very slow for browsing the photos. (Canon 5dmk3 is much faster!). The smallest thumbnail zoom is useless cause it takes forever to load all the small thumbnails.
- Nice touch however is that there is a face recognition when reviewing photos. It is much easier to check if faces are okay with just rotating the front wheel. Cool! Plus it’s funny to see what all camera considers as human face
6) Live view
Live view works much better than with my older two cameras which is great and all that I need. But I need to mention that when photographing at night with the new Canon 5dmk3, the latter has way better live view in low light. Brighter, less noisy, well better. Not a big issue, but clearly there is a room for improvement. One thing that is a bit more annoying is that when shooting in this mode the live view turns off and it doesn’t come on again until images are written to the memory card.
7) Dynamic range
This is where the D800 shines! I was really impressed with the cameras ability to capture all details at very contrasty scenes. Below you can see two examples where I was able to recover details from the areas that seemed totally blown out.Black grouse in bright sunny day. A difficult subject to photograph with its black/white contrasts. With highlight recovery slider in Capture NX2 I was able to get back details in the white feathers. Left image is straight out of the camera. Ana Desetnica festival in Ljubljana. You can see the recovered details from the sparks in the upper part of the image.
The camera also has the HDR feature where it will capture two exposures and will combine them in one HDR image. It works only in JPEG or TIFF and it does pretty good job even when handheld. It might come handy sometimes, but I still prefer to do HDRs in post processing.
8 ) Camera body
As it is already a tradition Nikon’s pro cameras fit in a hand like a charm. D800 is no exception. It feels even better with a battery grip. All the buttons are placed as I am already used to so I was able to handle the camera in no time! The video recording button could really be placed better, but is not a big issue. What I really like is the new AF/M focus switch. It is much faster to control and since you need to press it to move, it doesn’t move accidentally like with older models. Nice touch.
9) Battery life
Excellent. I can easily make 1000 shots before changing a battery and with doing timelapses where AF is turned off it even got to more than 1500 shots before the battery died. I am very interested how it performs in low temperatures – will have to wait for winter.
10) Timelapse in-camera
Lately I am doing a lot of timelapse movies and it was a nice surprise to see Nikon has implemented timelapse shooting into the camera. It is very easy to use – you just set the interval and the length of shooting and the camera will do the rest. Literally! When it’s done you can play the timelapse movie in camera – no post production needed! Personally I will do timelapses in the “old” way – making a movie from individual images in LRtimelapse. This way I can have all the advantages of the high image quality of D800 and of the huge image size – there is a lot of room for panning and zooming effects. But still a cool feature!Making a timelapse in a stormy weather at lake Bohinj. Love the new camera so much I gave it my raincoat
These are just some thoughts I wanted to share about the new camera. Overall I am very satisfied with Nikon D800 and it is by far the best camera I’ve ever owned. Together with rumoured D400 or D7000 replacement it will be a great team which will cover all of my photographic needs. Yes, since I got the new camera I am reluctant to use the old D300 and D700 – the difference in image quality is just too big!
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