Looking at the Nikon D800

On February 7th 2012, Nikon gave us something unexpected, grabbing the headlines with a monstrosity of a sensor and giving Canon the proverbial finger. As you may have been able to tell from my Canon EOS 5D Mark III review recently, I’m not a big fan of pixel counting but I can understand why people might have written off the D700 with its measly 12MP, but in real world terms its certainly enough for any enthusiast. I can understand why a professional would need more but I never thought it was too much of an issue with the 1Ds range and for those needing more there’s always medium format cameras.

That’s certainly the market Nikon are aiming for; I think the D800 name is a little misleading, as although it has replaced the D700 it’s so much more. Personally it’s more like one of Nikons X range (not that manufactures need encouraging to put an X on their models; every camera that comes out seems to be an X this or X that). It’s probably why Hasselblad keep reducing the price of their H3, at £10k it seems rather expensive for a camera, which aside from image quality, it is nowhere near as user friendly and lacks the AF performance and versatility of the D800. It’s going to be a hard sell for existing medium format users, as comparing the “relatively small” full frame sensor it can’t capture the same amount of dynamic range of overall detail, but for potential customers I would ask why you would even consider it! For those that need the very best IQ, check out the D800E (more on that soon!)

Any previous Nikon owners will find the controls and menu setting very similar as Nikon tend to keep the button and menu layouts fairly consistent throughout the generations. Where changes have been made, it is all for the best, like with the D4 the D800 uses its predecessor as the base, adds a video and Liveview button (as found on the D7000) and gives the internals a thorough update.

One advantage of the D800 for wildlife or sports photographers is that the increased pixel count actually makes high speed crop useful. Although it drops the resolution down to 15MP, it increases the FPS and burst rate giving you effectively two cameras in one.

Generally you should think of the D800 like a mini D4 (like the D700 was to the D3) but slower still due to the high pixel count and super processing power of the D4. The AF is a little slower (still faster than the D700) but as this is primarily aimed at portrait/landscape/studio shooters where speed isn’t quite as key. Sharing a similar design (as mentioned earlier) but without the inbuilt vertical grip, it still isn’t quite as rugged (as you would expect), its goes down to a choice between speed or resolution.

Low light performance is the only place that the D800 doesn’t make a big step forward compared to the kings of low light; the D700 & D3s, primarily due to pixel count it still offers excellent performance but you can expect Canon to steal the crown with the 1D X when that finally arrives.

It seems to be to be pretty much the perfect camera; I’m a massive fan of dual card slots (even if one is an SD card), its USB 3.0 port and it’s not hugely pricey (hello Mastercard). The only relative flaws are the frame rate, lowlight performance and the high demand on lenses to get the best from the sensor. The main problem as I see it is there’s almost no where to go from here! Perhaps in built Photoshop? Or iPhone connectivity?

One last thing… make sure you get a big memory card and external storage as you’re going to going to capture gigabytes of detail very very quickly with this camera.

I recently posted about the D800 topping the DXO’s sensor performance charts even topping that of the medium formats! See twitter.com/parktweets

Nick Brooks
Park Cameras Ltd.

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