Nikon D800 hands-on Review

I just switched from Sony (a850) to Nikon (the d800)! If you’re reading this, you probably already know the d800 specs – 36 megapixel sensor, incredible dynamic range, 51pt AF system, 1080p video recording etc. It sounds fantastic on paper, but what is the d800 like to use regularly?

In this review I’m going to talk about the upsides and downsides of 36.3mp of resolution, dynamic range, high ISO, build quality, viewfinder, autofocus, video, controls and some settings I’ve found useful.

There are a lot of things I like about the d800, so I’ll start with those, and get onto the downsides later.

Let’s deal with the most obvious thing first.

Nikon D800 Resolution

Detail

Obviously, the resolution is the main selling point of the d800 and probably one of the reasons you are reading this review. I’m coming from a 24.6mp camera, but the jump to 36.3mp is still impressive. If you’re coming from a 12mp d700, you’ll be blown away by how much extra information you have in your shots. It’s great for portraits or any time when you might need to do-retouch work. It means that you can be more precise when editing at 100%, and when viewing the files at normal sizes they look even better! Detail also means you can make larger prints at higher resolution than before, although I (like most I assume) don’t print as much as I probably should!

Here are some images showing the full shot, and then a 100% crop from a focused area. The Sigma 50mm f1.4 was used and the detail captured is simply excellent:

With the Sigma 50/1.4 HSM. Individual leaves rendered sharply.

 

With the Nikon 85/1.8D. Every single brick and leaf sharply rendered.

 

Again, an extreme amount of detail. Tiny twigs are clearly visible.

 

All of this extra detail isn’t just for pixel-peeping. D800 images have this huge depth to them, and they just look incredible at normal viewing sizes. There are also several other benefits:

Cropping

Detail is great because it means that you can crop more and still have great images. The d800 is great for cropping because of the high total resolution, but also because of the amazing image quality at the pixel level. This makes it especially handy for cropping out the edges of a frame, rotating your image without sacrificing much resolution, but also for drastically altering the composition of your image such as cropping a vertical shot from a horizontal shot. It can also give you some more magnification for macro or close-up images, or a bit more “reach” for telephoto lenses. Obviously you lose image size doing this and it’s better to actually use a macro lens or a longer telephoto to get more “pixels on target”, but in a pinch the d800 can be very handy for situations when you can’t get close enough.

I shot these at an airshow with the D800 and Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR I. 200mm is nowhere near long enough, but after cropping I can easily see the pilot sitting inside the plane. See this example of the (1) full shot, then (2) a cropped composition I created (which is still 3745×2499 = 9.35mp), then (3) a 100% crop and (4) a snap from Lightroom showing how TINY the area crop is.

Down-sizing

I guess that a lot of d800 users won’t always be exporting or viewing full-size 36.3mp files all of the time. And that’s fine. A lot of internet advice says “if you don’t print large, don’t bother with the d800″ but I disagree. Larger files give you more room to work in Lightroom or Photoshop. And exported down-sized files look great. A 36mp file down-sized to 12mp will look better than a file from 12mp camera at full size. Down-sizing also works great as both a sharpening and noise-reducing tool. And for all the times when you DO want extra resolution, you’ve got it available. Basically it’s better to have the resolution and not need it, than to need it and not have it.

 

D800 Dynamic Range

DxOMark showed that the d800 has the best dynamic range of any camera on the market right now. I’ve found that the d800 completely changes the way I shoot because the dynamic range contain in raw files is absolutely crazy! I’m amazed how much you can “boost” a shot with seemingly no noise penalty. You can take a shot that is 2-3 stops underexposed, and boost it up, no problem. Tones and colours still look good, and almost no noise, and no shadow banding EVER. I’m incredibly impressed. Obviously, the dynamic range is best at ISO100, but anything up to ISO1600 is still fantastic.

Highlight Dynamic Range

First the bad news. I estimate that you can recover around 0.75 to 1.00 stop of highlight detail from a .NEF file which isn’t very impressive actually. And if you take it too far recovering highlights, you cause nasty white blotchy artifacts in the area.

Shadows Dynamic Range

The good news. You can boost shadows by 3-4 stops and reveal plenty of detail without introducing much noise at all. So the old mantra of “expose to the right” really isn’t true any more for the d800. If you have bright skies and shadowed buildings or trees, you should expose to maintain highlights in the sky (or only only go “over” by less than a stop) and then use Lightroom shadow slider, brushes and the tone curve tool bring out the shadow detail. You’ll be totally amazed at what you can do and still have high quality, natural-looking results. If you previously relied on bracketed exposures for capturing contrasty scenes, you might not need to any more.

This series of images demonstrates the crazy shadow range of the d800. Take this typical, contrast-filled shot at ISO100 on a bright day. Here is the original shot, then a crop from the darkest area of the frame, underneath the bridge. I then boosted the shot in Lightroom by 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 stops and cropped the shadow areas. See how much invisible detail becomes visible, and there is only a slight grain introduced after 4 stops of boosting. Just to put things into perspective, the whole shot after +5 stops is shown which is completely overexposed.

 

Here is another example of dynamic range manipulation. This image is from one exposure with a bright sky and building in shadow. There is no problem bring up the shadow detail and bringing down the sky. No noise anywhere in the image.

The BBQ shot is ISO1000, but the d800 still has a lot of dynamic range and shadow detail.

Dynamic Range Conclusion

With the d800, I think the old mantra of “expose to the right” is dead. If you are shooting at low ISO, and want the most dynamic range from your d800, you’d be better off shooting raw and preserving highlight detail, then adjusting your shot later.

 

D800 High ISO

In terms of high ISO performance, I estimate the d800 to be around 2.5 stops better than my Sony a850. In other words, ISO6400 on the d800 looks like ISO1250 on the a850. Admittedly, the a850 wasn’t famed for its high ISO performance compared to the d700 or D3s, but it was still better than any APS-C/DX camera on the market. The d800 completely trounces it. The rated ISO range of the d800 is ISO100 to ISO6400, and I think Nikon were very truthful about this range. ISO6400 is entirely useable. Yes, there’s some noise and grain at 100% but it doesn’t interfere much with the image. My main gripe with high ISO isn’t usually noise, but rather the loss of colour, dynamic range, contrast and artifacts like banding or weird smudgy patches being introduced into the image. Thankfully, ISO6400 shots on the d800 still look colourful, accurately exposed, no colour casting, nice skin tones etc. And I am pleased to say that you won’t see banding on the d800 until ISO25,600, which is part of the “extended ISO” – i.e. emergency mode. Even ISO25,600 shots are usable with some noise reduction. You could make small prints or web-sized images from them and they look great.

D800 @ ISO1600

Not exactly “high ISO”, but these shots demonstrate how noise-less it is. Colours are totally natural, no loss of detail, no noise in shadows. From ISO100-1600 you can basically forget all about ISO.

100% crop from focus area at ISO1600. See the drops of water on the blades of grass.

 

 

D800 @ ISO4000

The AUTO AF point selection correctly selected the eye as the focus point, using the extreme left AF point too. As you can see, it focused properly and even at ISO4000, there is a TON of detail. Individual eyelashes are visible, no problem. Standard Lightroom NR applied (+20 colour NR, 0 luminance NR) and some basic sharpening.

Crop from focus area. 85mm f2.0, ISO4000. Extreme left side AF point.

 

D800 @ ISO12,800

Now we’re getting into serious “high ISO” territory. It was DARK in this room. The d800 focused, no problem at all at f2, 1/50 and ISO12,800. Again, the smaller image looks perfect, with great dynamic range, colour and tones. And at 100% there is grain but not bad at all for such low light, high ISO conditions. There is still detail and no crazy smudging or banding. The smaller shot looks perfect, and when exported at 4000px long side (i.e. d700 size), it looks fantastic and better than any d700 shot I’ve seen at the same settings.

The d800 focused in extreme low light (ISO12,800, 1/50, f2.0) no problem at all

Even dark shadow areas look pretty good at ISO12,800. Lots of detail, no banding.

ISO12,800 on the D800

You can see some slight purple tones creeping into the bottom of the frame, but it’s not too disasterous. The focus point was again the extreme left hand side point on the bar code. No problem achieving perfect focus in dark conditions (f2.8, 1/40, ISO12,800).

The 100% crop of the focused area shows some grain, but still a lot of detail. Each tiny stripe of the bar code is still clearly separated and not mushed together. I could easily do slightly more aggressive noise reduction and get smoother results, but I prefer the grainy, detailed look.

ISO12,800 shows a slight purple glow at the bottom of the frame

The 100% crop is noisy, but still finely detailed. I could easily noise reduce this to appear smoother.

 

I haven’t used ISO25,600 yet. But if I do, I’ll update the review with some photos and comments.

 

UPDATE: There are full size Nikon D800 ISO25,600 sample images in my new D800 review

 

Image Quality Summary

The Nikon D800 has incredible image quality. Outstanding resolution, and pixel-level ISO performance which meets or exceeds the d700 or d3s. Raw files are a bit dull by default, but they have amazing potential for editing. You can go crazy with the exposure, shadow and contrast sliders if you want and the image stays high quality. You’ll never see banding in d800 images.

 

D800 Build Quality

Fixtures and Fittings

The d800 build quality feels excellent. The body is very tough – no creaking or movement when you bench or squeeze any parts. The buttons are all nicely raised and tactile, so you can “feel” that you have properly pressed them. The d-pad is excellent, with clear “directionality” and clear feedback about which way you pushed it. The CF/SD card door is nice and you won’t open it accidentally. The rubber flap covering the HDMI and USB ports, headphone and mic sockets etc is also well assembled and fits very snugly. The popup flash is probably the weakest part but it is still well built enough, and when the flash lifts up, the underside is one piece of plastic, presumably to maintain the weather sealing. The flash lies flat onto the body, with a very thin seam, and only wiggles a tiny bit if you grab it and jiggle it side to side. Personally I would prefer the d800 without a popup flash, but I know some people do use it.

The shutter button has a good feel to it with a clear two-stop action for focus-shutter activation. My only complaint is the battery compartment door which compresses a bit (maybe 1mm) if you push it in. Not a major issue.

D800 Rear LCD 

The d800 rear LCD is large and has great colours. There have been reports of green-tinted LCD screens, but mine looks very close to my calibrated 27 inch IPS monitor. Nikon default while balance is a bit green/yellow in my opinion, which might explain some of the issues. I set custom white balance (menu item “shooting menu”, then “white balance”) to A3, M1 to warm up the default and get rid of the green tint. The AUTO screen brightness is rubbish. Too dim in low light and not really bright enough outdoors. Hopefully a firmware upgrade can fix it.

 

D800 Video

I’m not much a videographer, but generally I’m quite impressed with the video capabilities. I’ve shot a bit at 720p/60 and 1080/24 and 30fps. The video generally look good. Sound from the built-in mic is surprisingly good, with a lot of clarity and a surprising amount of bass. Any voice from the camera operator is considerably louder then your subjects in front of the camera. Of course any serious video-maker is going to use a proper microphone or clip-on mics for your subjects. Autofocus during video is rubbish. It jerks around a bit, and even with Sigma HSM or Nikon AF-S lenses, you can still hear the focus in operation. The built-in tracking is completely useless. Lenses with VR are much better than non-VR, but again they make a whirring which you can hear if there isn’t much ambient sound. Accurately manual focusing at f1.4 is a nightmare, and even 50mm without VR is a shaky mess. For serious work, or to produce anything as good as the official Nikon videos, you need a tripod, steadycam or very well-developed technique, not to mention proper sound recording equipment.  The best amateur video you will do is with a stabilised, wide-angle in good light where you can shoot f8-f11.0 for plenty of depth of field. The 16-35/4 VR would be ideal for this.

D800 Video Frame Grabs

This is a useful feature. You can grab still 1080px high images from a video in the d800 or in Lightroom. Here are some frame grabs from 1080p video under low artificial light (of me making espresso and chicken sandwiches for lunch). ISO1250. Click for the full size 1080px high frame.

 

D800 Autofocus

In general, the d800 autofocus is brilliant, with only one or two things to look out for.

Autofocus Coverage

The 51pt system covers quite a large area of the viewfinder basically corresponding to the central APS-C portion. With the d800 you have the equivalent of an APS-C sensor with full AF point coverage over the entire viewfinder. That’s quite impressive, especially if you’re coming from a 9pt system like my Sony a850 or a 5d2. Those systems cover a lot narrower area, and with less points. I compared the two side by side and I’d estimate the d800 focus points to be 30% wider in total than the 5d2 or a850. That’s quite significant and is a real-world advantage when it comes to composing your shot or tracking subjects.

Autofocus Speed

The AF on the d800 is very rapid. In continuous mode you can basically swing the camera around and it effortlessly adjusts focus. It’s almost impossible to have the viewfinder out of focus. Alternating between distant and near subjects is incredibly quick with every lens I’ve tried. The Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR I is blazing, and so is the screw-driven Nikon 85/1.8D. The Sigma 50 is also pretty fast, although not quite as fast as the others.

Autofocus Accuracy

Overall, my d800 has been excellent, once I micro-adjusted my lenses. I think with 36mp and with the temptation and ease we can view files at 100%, micro-adjusting is essential. With the d800, the 15 center cross points will focus lock just about anything. The outer points will also lock on quickly and accurately to most subjects in most circumstances.

Shooting with thin depth of field is no problem for the d800.

D800 Thin Depth of Field

Thin depth of field is no problem for the D800 autofocus.

 

The only “trouble” I’ve had is that the extreme outer points are not always 100% accurate or decisive about focus. This isn’t the “d800 left side AF issue” mentioned elsewhere. This is simply physics and it happens equally on both sides with extreme left and right AF points. Obviously shooting wide open with side AF points is a worst-case scenario, but it’s worth paying attention to. Basically, these points are also more fussy about the subject and they prefer horizontal detail to vertical detail. You won’t have much trouble under good or reasonable lighting. As you can see from the examples above, my d800 focused totally accurately in low light, wide open with the extreme left AF point. It’s just not always 100% repeatable like it would be with the center point.

The “left AF issue”

My camera doesn’t seem to have this problem. Any AF errors I’ve noticed are equally repeatable with the left AND right sides.

Autofocus Tracking

I haven’t done a great deal of sports/action with the d800, but the AF tracking seems very good. In my mind, the main benefit of 51 points is the fantastic coverage of any particular area. It means that as your subject moves across the viewfinder, there should be at least a few AF points on it at any time, meaning the camera doesn’t lose focus easily.

I was shooting planes at an airshow and I tried a variety of different AF modes. AF-C set to AUTO AF point selection was brilliant. The camera had no problems at all picking out the plane (or group of planes) against sky or cloud and then following them across the frame. There were often distractions too, such as birds (which might be closer and larger in the frame), smoke trails, clouds of different brightness etc, but the d800 did a great job of picking the correct targets and sticking to them. You can adjust the “stickiness” of the AF-C in the d800 menu and how long it will continue to look for a subject if it loses focus. While 4fps doesn’t lens itself to fast action sports, when paired with the excellent autofocus, it’s enough for bursts of action like kids running around etc. I don’t personally shoot sports or birds, but I’ve seen plenty of great d800 images. The focus system can definitely keep up with rapidly moving subjects.

D800 Continuous Autofocus Tracking

The d800 had no problem following this moving motorcycle. Click for a larger image.

3D Tracking mode

3D tracking is quite interesting and it seems fairly accurate. I haven’t used it much in real life, but in tests around the house it seems pretty good. I would shoot at a bit higher ISO and a smaller aperture just to give more depth of field and margin for error.

AF AUTO and Face Detection

The automatic focus point selection method isn’t something I thought I would use much. I thought I would want to always pick a single point, but the AUTO mode seems to be very intelligent and picks the object I was going to pick anyway the vast majority of the time. Plus it will select the object with multiple focus points, which I assume would be more accurate. The only downside is that you can’t quickly select different points if the camera gets it “wrong” (i.e. picks something else in the frame). With the addition of face detection, the d800 can find faces in the frame and choose AF points which overlap faces. This actually works quite well, and I would definitely find it useful for candids or group shots. The d800 has no problem locking onto people in a scene, or locking onto cars when you point it at a road, or focusing on objects sat on my desk. I don’t know exactly how it works, but it’s shockingly accurate most of the time. It doesn’t always pick faces if the angle isn’t right, but overall it does a good job, even if your subject isn’t facing the camera directly. A very useful feature.

As an example, here is a crowded scene I shot at f1.8. I used AUTO AF point selection and the d800 picked an upper left point over the closest musicians face. As you can see, it’s very accurately focused.

D800 Face detection autofocus

D800 Face detection autofocus

The d800 automatically picked the upper left AF point, right over this guys face. Focus is perfect.

 

D800 Autofocus Fine-tuning

Out of interest, the micro-adjust figures for my current lenses were:

35/1.8 = no adjustment
Sigma 50/1.4 HSM = -15 (but very consistent -15 for both infinity and 6ft)
Nikon 85/1.8D = +1 (barely noticeable)
Nikon 70-200/2.8 VR = -7

Autofocus Summary

The d800 autofocus is excellent. Fast, accurate and highly customisable. AUTO AF point selection is very intelligent and usually picks the correct subject, and can track it competently.

 

D800 Operational Speed

I was worried that the d800 might be a bit slow and clunky with those huge files to write to the card and preview on screen, but it is actually surprisingly fast. The shutter lag is extremely small. According to official stats, the d800 shutter lag (i.e. after focusing, the delay between depressing the shutter button and the picture being taken) is the same speed as the mighty D4. That’s 4x faster than the D3s or d700 and 5x faster than a 5D2. If you’re upgrading from a d7000, the d800 shutter lag is almost 6x faster, which is very noticeable.

Reviewing images and scrolling through them is nice and fast. If you press the – key to display many images at once on the screen, the reviewing slows down a bit. With 4 or 9 images on screen, there is no lag, but with one more click you display 72 images on screen at once which takes a while to display. However, once it’s loaded, the reviewing is fast enough.

Shooting is always fast and immediate, and I haven’t really run into any lags. Even if I fill up the buffer with raw files, the card write pretty quickly, and I haven’t run out of buffer during normal use. I’ve had no lockups, freezes or any other errors either.

 

Nikon D800 Viewfinder

While the d800 viewfinder is slightly smaller than the Sony a850 viewfinder, the coverage is expanded to 100% so it’s an acceptable trade-off. And even better, you can add a virtual horizon (I programmed that to the second front Fn button) in the viewfinder, along with grid lines. That means no more tilted shots. Or at least no excuse for tilted shots! And thanks to the Nikon d800 100% viewfinder, no more things intruding into the sides of the frame by accident any more either. All numbers, the metering bar and other settings inside the Nikon d800 viewfinder are nice and clear and bright. Crop modes are marked with solid lines, and AF points don’t get in the way of your composition. Overall, the d800 viewfinder is good. My only complaint would be that correct or incorrect focus doesn’t feel as “intuitive” as my a850 did. I don’t know if it’s the focusing screen or the slight reduction in size, but it’s harder to spot focus errors through the viewfinder with the d800. Manual focus shooters, it’s something to be aware of. For everyone else, the d800 autofocus is so good that this really isn’t a problem.

 

THE BAD

Ok, so there is a lot to like about the d800, but it can’t all be good news! I have some dislikes too – some minor but others more major.

Nikon D800 Handling

I find the d800 very uncomfortable to hold. It feels like the camera was designed for tiny hands and the whole body is too “brick” shaped. The recess for my fingers on the front of the camera isn’t deep enough and the little wedge for your right thumb on the rear of the camera isn’t raised enough. As a result, I find that I can’t really “hold” onto the d800 – rather, I’m “pinching” onto it, which is very tiring. The little bump underneath the red Nikon strip on the front of the camera isn’t well placed. I find that most of the weight of the camera lies on my middle finger at the front of the camera, and my index finger actually lies past the shutter button. As a result, my right hand feels like cramping after only a few minutes of holding the camera, and I’ve got a bit of a callus forming there! Spending a couple hours with the d800 and 70-200 is agony. Luckily, adding the Pixel Vertax D12 grip made the handling far better. Comfort is a big negative mark for the d800 here in my opinion.

On the other hand, my girlfriend says that’s it’s very comfortable, so I guess it depends on your hands.

ISO button placement

Why put the third most important setting (after aperture/shutter) on top of the left hand side of the camera? The correct way to hold the camera is to support the lens with the left hand but the stupid ISO button placement means that you have to completely move positions to switch ISO. And what’s more, there are lots of programmable buttons, but you can’t assign ISO to any other button. Such a pain if you are using a larger lens like a 70-200 which really needs supporting by the left hand. Hopefully a firmware fix can change this by allowing us to assign ISO to a different button which can be accessed by the right hand.

Metering dial

This dial around the AE-L/AF-L button is quite low profile and very hard to turn. It requires you to pinch it with a thumb and index finger. A switch that you could change with your thumb alone would have been better.

AF/MF Switch

The switch is quite small and fiddly. It’s also fairly stiff, so you won’t move it accidentally, but it would be hard to change with gloves on.

The metering area switch and AF/MF switch are both annoyingly small and hard to turn

D800 Liveview

Liveview on the d800 is fine, until you zoom in. When magnified, the frame rate displayed on the screen slows dramatically, and the image gets noisy too. I think this is due to the way which the d800 samples the image from the sensor during live view by using line-skipping. At higher magnifications, it’s very hard to accurately manual focus the d800 in liveview, even in well lit situations. In low light it’s practically useless and the image on the LCD is completely obliterated by noise. Thankfully live view contrast AF is quite good, so you might not need to manually focus often. But for you tilt shift users or folks using manual-only lenses, this might be a problem.

D800 Battery life

The LCD screen eats battery life.  With a lot of picture reviewing or menu diving, you might get as little as 300 shots from the d800. If you do nothing but shoot pictures, you’ll comfortably get over 1,000. I think my average is around 700-800 shots from a fully charged battery. Not very impressive. Video also uses a lot of battery, through constant use of the sensor and LCD screen.

No quick custom settings

There are a LOT of customisable settings available on the d800 and it would be nice to have some sort of quick access to them. Nikon do give us settings banks, but you still have to dive into menus to change them. A quick dial or a customisable button and scroll dial combo would be welcomed.

 

Oil on D800 Sensor

During the airshow I noticed a TON of blobs and splashes on the sensor. They weren’t normal dust, but oil from the shutter mechanism. This isn’t unique to the d800 – it happens with most professional cameras with high durability shutters. I contacted Nikon and I have sent my d800 off for a professional sensor cleaning (for free in the UK with Nikon service, non-NPS). The d800 manual says specifically NOT to try and clean the sensor yourself. The only methods they approve are a rocket blower and the built-in sensor clean option on the d800. Nikon also tell you many times that they won’t cover repairs under warranty if you cause damage by cleaning the sensor yourself.  I don’t see why I should have to clean oil from the sensor myself when I didn’t put it there. I don’t want to spend £50 on stuff from Amazon and take the risk with my expensive camera. All excess oil on the shutter should be removed after the first few thousand actuations, so once it’s cleaned the problem shouldn’t return. This is something to look out for if you buy a d800.

My d800 had lots of oil spots like this which required cleaning

Some Myths to Dispel

Myth 1: You need a supercomputer to process files. My computer is good (i7 920@4.0Ghz, 6Gb RAM, SSD etc) because I am a DIGITAL photographer. A computer and monitor are as essential as lenses and CF cards. However, d800 raw files process at exactly the same speed as any other files. They take longer to copy from CF/SD, but batch adjustments are as fast as the 4mb jpegs from my Fuji X100. I haven’t noticed any lag when using brushes, Lightroom graduated filter or adjusting exposure/contrast/etc. Even so, the d800 is Nikon’s best-selling pro camera for the next 3-4 years, whereas computer storage and processing is constantly improving and getting cheaper. Not buying a d800 because of file sizes is like not wanting to get rid of floppy disks.

Myth 2: You need a tripod or super fast shutter speed with the d800. This is such a terrible myth. The fact is that camera shake or motion blur is a constant caused by the operator and is not affected by how many megapixels your camera has. It is true that a blur that might not be visible on the d700, is now visible with the d800, but that isn’t the camera’s fault – it’s the fault of the user. I’ve taken almost all of my d800 shots hand-held and they are fantastically detailed. Some users might have a bit of a learning curve if they have sloppy technique, but saying you NEED a tripod to utilise the d800 is nonsense. For those who are seeking the absolute best corner-to-corner detail in every shot, they would use a tripod just as they did with all of their previous cameras. Not to mention that cameras like the Sony a77 or Nikon D3200 have 24mp APS-C sensors

Myth 3: You need the best, newest lenses to use the d800. Again, totally false. I’ve used the Nikon 85/1.8D, which is an older, cheap lens. It’s perfectly sharp at f2.0. By all accounts the 85/1.8G is even better, and it’s very affordable too. I’ve also used the cheap, plastic 35/1.8 DX which isn’t even a FX lens.

Here is the 35/1.8DX at f2.0 in FX mode producing more detail than the 35/1.4G could on a d700. And it’s even sharper at f5.6

35 1.8 DX on Nikon D80035 1.8 DX on Nikon D800

The cheap, plastic 35/1.8 DX still produces sharp results on the d800

 

 

 

SUMMARY

In summary, the Nikon d800 is an extremely flexible camera. Build quality is excellent, so you can take it anywhere. The resolution is amazing for landscapes, portraits, macro and detail work. It would also be appropriate for wildlife or any time when you want to crop. ISO performance is excellent and certainly good enough for wildlife, weddings, events or natural light portraits. The blazing fast and accurate autofocus would work for action, sports, running children and weddings. 4fps burst rate is fast enough for most things too.

Video is excellent, though you’ll need to invest in more gear than just the camera to get professional results. Don’t expect the d800 to make amazing video all by itself.

There are many other features such as interval shooting, timelapse with auto video creation etc which I haven’t reviewed. If I use these properly, I will update this review.

Addendum: “The Left Side Issue”

I haven’t really mentioned the “left AF issue” because I don’t believe it to be a factor in whether the d800 is a good camera or not. I think that some cameras do have a defect, but there is also a lot of internet-based hysteria and panicking. I really don’t want to contribute to the paranoia. I have shown several samples from my cameras left AF points which behave perfectly, and I will not speculate about others.

The way I see it, the d800 is an excellent camera and any place you buy it will have a return policy. If you receive a d800 with a fault of any sort, you can return it. Or, you can have it repaired for free under warranty. The d800 is a unique camera and I don’t think that a potential issue should cause anybody not to buy the camera if they want it. Buying a d700 or a 5d3 instead makes no sense at all since they are completely different cameras with different strengths and features.

 

Pros: Resolution, ISO, dynamic range, autofocus, operation speed, build quality. A very flexible camera.

Medium: Jpeg output, firmware glitches (auto screen brightness), oil splashing onto the sensor

Cons: Comfort/ergonomics, some button placements, battery life

 

D800 SAMPLE IMAGES

Coming soon. I’m trying to work out some issues with the huge file sizes (average jpeg of 25-30mb). WordPress won’t let me upload images that big and I don’t want to compress the files because that defeats the object of having full-size photos for you to inspect!

Flickr charges for a pro account to download original images but you can view the 2048px versions here.

If anybody has any suggestions of how/where to host the files, please let me know.

 

UPDATE: There are lots of pictures in my new D800 review after a year of ownership

 

I hope you enjoyed the review and found it useful.

David

 

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Ivan - July 28, 2012 - 11:15 pm

You can upload to mediafire for free (www.mediafire.com – you just need to register) if you want to share images, although it’s not an image sharing site per se.

I prefer smugmug to flickr for uploading original files… I don’t know what flickr does to the files, but thee D800 files I tried uploading to flickr have some kind of compression artifacts.

Thuan D Bui - August 17, 2012 - 9:19 pm

Thanks for the review. I like it.

How do you customize the settings the way the D7000 does? I miss the latter.

[...] dynamic range, great build quality and autofocus is crazy compared to my Sony cameras. Read my full review of the Nikon D800 [...]

Donald Lim - December 19, 2012 - 2:22 am

Thanks for a very informative and practical review ! One of the most useful (for me) reviews that I have seen….

Jacob A. - February 9, 2013 - 10:13 am

Regarding the lack of easy access ISO adjustments, you can use the thumb wheel – see menu D7.

Bill Kirschner - March 9, 2013 - 5:33 pm

Hello David…. I read your review, and I was very impressed. It was so simple and very easy to understand. I was glad to hear you say that the D800 was easy to hand-hold and take pictures with. I currently have a D300, which is built like a tank, like the D800, and have been very happy with it. However, I want to go full frame, so I have been reading reviews on the D600 and D800 daily. I so liked your review, and would appreciate your honest opinion between the D600 and D800, because I am a serious amateur photographer. Also, I would like to know, if I decide on the D800, what is a good card I should purchase for it, and how many pictures could I get on a 64mb card? Thanks very much for your time and I would appreciate a reply. Out of curiosity, are you a professional photographer? Your pictures are absolutely amazing. My email address is: chrisbill@telus.net Thanks again.

David (admin) - March 10, 2013 - 11:25 am

Hi Bill, thanks for your comment. I haven’t used the D600 before, so I can’t really compare the two directly. I’m still impressed with my D800 and it hasn’t let me down so far, so I don’t really think you can go wrong with it. The d600 looks great but my biggest worry would be the older AF system and the cheaper construction. Thanks for your compliments but I’m not a professional – just a keen amateur like you who does occasional paid work. In the UK, the price of d600 and d800 is relatively close. Close enough for me to just get the d800 without worrying too much about it. My best advice would be to go and try both cameras – see which feels more comfortable in your hands and more intuitive to use. That’s something you can’t tell from reading reviews.

On a 64Gb card you will expect to get somewhere around 800 raw files. Personally I don’t like cards that big because if you lose or break it, you lose everything. I use 8gb cards (100 photos) for anything important and 32Gb for casual shooting. Sandisk cards are always good, but I also have cheaper Transcend CF cards that work perfectly. The only card I’ve had not work (which is fine it other cameras) is a Duracell 16Gb CF card.

[…] The raw files can take a LOT of manipulation and still look great. As I showed in my original hands-on Nikon D800 review you can add five stops of exposure to a raw file without destroying everything. It’s pretty […]

Vin - October 19, 2013 - 12:28 pm

Hi

Great review!
I am considering a d800e for landscape work with some older ai primes Has the ability to use liveview for manual focus improved with updates? How accurate is the rangefinder focus function for non CPU lenses?

Thanks
-Vin

David (admin) - October 19, 2013 - 2:57 pm

Hi Vin,

Have a look at my new review of the D800 after 18 months of ownership. It has a bit more information about manual focusing and liveview:

http://www.frescoglobe.com/2013/10/10/d800-review-over-one-year-on/

The “rangefinder” (I assume you mean the green dot in the viewfinder) is not very good really. It would probably be fine for landscape, but it isn’t sensitive enough to use when shooting wide open.

Liveview didn’t really improve with the firmware update, apart from the ability to switch between “real” and “simulated” exposure (i.e. the screen shows an ideal exposure OR the actual exposure you will get with current settings). Again, check out my new review because it goes into detail about liveview on the D800.

Don’t get me wrong – for landscape work the D800e would be great, and liveview is perfectly capable of getting sharp focus. But the implementation COULD and SHOULD be a lot better than it is.

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