Nikon D800 Digital SLR Camera review in China

Nikon D800 Review

Three and a half years after introducing the D700, Nikon revealed the long-awaited D800. While it’s still full frame, the new SLR is endowed with three times the pixels of its predecessor with its 36.3-megapixel sensor. That’s more than any other 35mm-size SLR currently on the market, as of this writing, and sets the D800 apart from the company’s recently announced professional SLR, the Nikon D4. The D3 shared the same resolution as the D700, but the two lines have taken new directions starting in 2012.

Native ISO ranges from 100 to 6,400, but is expandable from 50 to 25,600. Whereas the D700 had no movie features at all, the D800 has the most current, offering Full HD 1080p at 30/24p and 720p at 60/30p. It even allows uncompressed 1080p signal via the HDMI port (8 bit, 4:2:2).

At this moment, now in China, the Nikon D800 started with a suggested retail price of US$387.

Nikon also offers the D800E, a camera designed to remove the effects of the optical low-pass filter (OLPF) for sharper images than normal. This camera, Nikon warns, will also be more susceptible to producing moiré patterns in images with repeating patterns. Made available in mid-April 2012, the Nikon D800E costs an additional $300, or US$413.

Like its predecessor, the Nikon D800 is a hefty, full-size camera, weighing almost two pounds body-only (1 pound 15.7 ounces; 900g) with dimensions of 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 inches (146 x 123 x 81.5mm). The Nikon D800 weighs 3.4 ounces (95g) less than the D700.

As they did with the D4, Nikon moved the grip’s upper lip down somewhat, allowing for greater separation between the shutter button, the front Sub-command dial, and the middle finger. The shutter button cants more toward the index finger, and the Sub-command dial tilts a little more on two axes for better actuation. The Depth-of-field preview button and accompanying Function button are D-shaped, with a nice clean break when pressed. When shooting movies, they can serve to adjust the aperture up and down while filming. Front tapers are reminiscent of the Nikon D4. Rather than a painted dot just outside the bayonet mount to serve as an alignment mark, the D800’s dot is out on the side of the surrounding bezel, right beneath the Flash activation button.

Instead of three buttons on the top left shoulder, the Nikon D800 has four in a four-leaf-clover pattern. The new button is for Bracketing, and the other three handle white balance, image quality (resolution and compression) and ISO. The Drive Mode dial surrounds the button array (see below), and moves between settings with a soft detent to separate them.

There’s also a new button on the right, displacing the traditional position of the Mode button. It’s the Movie Record button, whose purpose can also be reprogrammed to serve as a function button. A diopter correction dial juts out from the right side of the ~100% optical viewfinder. Pull it out to adjust, and push it back to lock. The dial is a little thicker than the D700’s, making it easier to turn.

Most of the Nikon D800’s controls are pretty similar to the D700, with a few exceptions. The same five buttons are there on the left, but zoom in and zoom out buttons are swapped to more logical positions, with zoom in (plus) at the top and zoom out (minus) at the bottom. That will of course require some re-learning for upgrading D700 owners; indeed, for most all Nikon DSLR owners. I’ve long thought these were backwards, so at least I’ll like the change. The AF selection tool is replaced with the Movie/Still switch with the Live view button in the middle. Note the optical viewfinder still includes a shutter to keep stray light from affecting the meter.

Sitting down and playing with the Nikon D800 brought back memories of the D700. The Viewfinder is gorgeous, thanks to its near 100% coverage and Brite View Mark VIII focusing screen. Putting the Nikon into 3D Tracking mode, it was really something to put the center point on my subject as I’d normally do, then I recomposed and watched as the AF points stayed right on my subject. Nikon doesn’t publish mirror blackout times, apparently, but the D800’s was among the fastest I’ve seen, getting out of the way quickly so I could continue interacting with my subject.


Brief Field Test and Intro

As I did with the Canon 5D Mark III, as soon as the lab was finished for the day, I raced home with the Nikon D800 and grabbed some shots of my kids in my basement studio. I used the new 85mm f/1.8 Nikkor, a lens that produced tack-sharp images.

I struggled a bit more with the Nikon D800 than I did with the Canon 5D Mark III. All my images seemed green on the LCD, even after I set a custom white balance. Anyone watching the early reports for the Nikon D800 will know that I wasn’t alone. Numerous other buyers of the Nikon D800 were mystified when their custom white balance and Kelvin settings still produced a green cast in known lighting. At first people thought it was the LCD that had a green cast, but upon looking at our files, it seemed clear that the LCD was reporting what the camera was recording with reasonable accuracy. Mariea Rummel, our pro reviewer, also noticed the difference from her D700’s usual behavior, as you’ll see in her report below.

Somehow in my frustration with the LCD, I also managed to underexpose the images by about 1 stop. Thankfully, because I was shooting RAW, I was able to adjust the files in Lightroom and post them quickly. I have since re-processed and re-posted them, and I think the results look better. I also adjusted the tint more toward magenta to compensate for the green cast in the images.

Pretending to catch the ball. f/7.1, 1/160, ISO 100

Ready to block. f/7.1 1/250, ISO 100

f/7.1, 1/20, ISO 100 f/7.1, 1/250, ISO 100 f/7.1, 1/160, ISO 100
f/7.1, 1/160, ISO 100 f/7.1, 1/160, ISO 100 f/7.1, 1/160, ISO 100

Except for the very young, unless you’re going for the detail for effect, the Nikon D800’s 36.3-megapixel images capture too much detail for flattering portraits. But it’s hard to ignore the incredible detail it captured, plainly visible in this 100% crop from the last image above.

HDR. Taking a different approach to HDR, the Nikon D800 only flips its mirror once, while the shutter trips twice to make the two exposures. That change likely reduces camera vibration when compared to cameras that flip the mirror and shutter for each exposure. The result is an exposure that sounds more like one long shot rather than two.

Nikon D800 Auto ISO menu

The first thing I did before heading out was assign HDR to the BKT or Bracketing button. With that arrangement you press the BKT button and rotate the rear dial to select between Off, On (single photo), and On (series). Single photo obviously takes just one shot and then turns HDR off. Rotating the front dial adjusts the Exposure differential, selecting among Auto, 1, 2, and 3 EV. Smoothing options can only be set via the menu. Thankfully, the Nikon D800 automatically returns you to the last menu item adjusted, so switching between all of these options on the fly isn’t terribly complicated.

After the exposure, the Nikon D800 gets to work merging the images into one. Depending on your card speed, this can take about five seconds. The results are pretty good. You can see a range of sample images below. Note the halos around the roofline in the images with low smoothing, which increase as the exposure differential increases. Also, images with high smoothing show less of the HDR effect.

Auto, Low smoothing Auto, Normal smoothing Auto, High smoothing
1EV, Low smoothing 1EV, Normal smoothing 1EV, High smoothing
2EV, Low smoothing 2EV, Normal smoothing 2EV, High smoothing
3EV, Low smoothing 3EV, Normal smoothing 3EV, High smoothing

Note: The above shots were made with the Nikon D800E.

As usual, I enjoyed shooting with the Nikon D800, and could easily see it as an excellent workhorse camera (I would just have to invest in a few more big hard drives and a new computer to make it my daily shooter). We also wanted to see what a pro photographer thought of the D800, so we placed it into the hands of a wedding and portrait photographer who routinely shoots D700 cameras in her professional work. Take it away Mariea:

Pro Review: Portrait Shooting with the Nikon D800

As a wedding and portrait photographer I could never foresee myself using a 36.3-megapixel digital camera. Let’s face it, at a little over twelve megapixels, my Nikon D700’s output is spectacular. Anything larger seemed like overkill and possibly just something to size up another photographer in a passing conversation. Most photographers’ cameras are like the security blanket we had when we were kids; we know it well, like the back of our hand, and it is comfortable — like an extension of our body. Then I tried the Nikon D800 on for size.

Nikon had big shoes to fill when upgrading the amazing D700, and few questions ran through my head as I opened the box: What in the world am I going to do with 36.3 megapixels? Will I like it enough to want to replace my D700 body? Will it work consistently during a 12-hour wedding? After a week and a half analyzing the Nikon D800’s performance, I was pleasantly surprised. What a beauty!

First and foremost, I am extremely happy that the body size between the D700 and the Nikon D800 remains unchanged. As one with smaller hands, this allows me to comfortably make adjustments and operate the camera on the fly while photographing 8-10 hours straight. Nikon found a happy medium for button layout, as even one of my colleagues with larger hands found it comfortable and easy to control. While shooting and holding the camera with one hand, I found it well balanced, and afterward didn’t feel like I’d made a trip to the gym for an upper body workout. A very minor change that would most likely go unnoticed is that the lip of the grip above the middle finger is slightly deeper, which improved handling for me.

Now while the size of the Nikon D800 body is similar to that of the D700 and slightly lighter, I recommend purchasing a battery grip for the D800, or at the very least, extra batteries. Processing the larger pictures requires heavy battery usage. After shooting for just an hour and a half without a grip, my battery life reduced to 50%. I was disheartened. As I expressed above, I have smaller hands and adding a battery grip creates strain in my hands. But the last thing I would want while shooting a wedding is to go through numerous battery changes, so a battery grip would be a must.

The Nikon D800’s ISO range is amazing, just like the D700. New to the D800 is the ability to drop down to ISO 100 over the D700 minimum of ISO 200 without using higher contrast “Lo” extensions. I found that being able to drop down to ISO 100 provided that extra clean shot, useful when the subject was in bright daylight situations.

f/5.6, 1/800, ISO 6,400 Cropped from image at left

Perhaps the most noticeable difference I saw between the two bodies was the dramatic noise reduction at higher ISOs on the D800; I was thrilled with its minimal grain even at ISO 6,400.

The megapixel size — now this is something I questioned most, but found that I loved, due to the ability to crop and enlarge prints. Along with 36.3 megapixels per file comes the need of larger memory cards, a great deal of RAM, and storage for these mammoth files. In essence, this translates to a higher operating cost, so include this as part of your decision making process. Part of me wishes that Nikon had created a medium RAW and small RAW option to overcome the need for additional media. If this were a feature I would have probably said goodbye to my D700 bodies. My reasoning is that as a wedding and portrait photographer I do not need to use the 36.3 megapixel force, full time. During a wedding I am content using my D700’s 12 megapixels for pre-ceremony, ceremony, reception, reserving the D800 for formals. Bottom line, anything that I know my clients will want to blow up larger than a 16 x 24 inches I would call on the D800.

The first time I photographed with the D800 I also brought along my D700 to compare. I noticed right away that the Nikon D800’s viewfinder was ~100% coverage instead of the ~95% coverage in the D700. I was thrilled! What you see is what you get.

Something else I realized quickly was the D800’s LCD monitor had a greenish tint when I shot in Kelvin. My photography is very warm and I normally photograph in the shade around 5560K. I remembered as I shot that it was a little odd and decided to photograph a photo with the same setting, one with each camera so that when I came back to the office to load the photos into Lightroom, I could see if there was a difference in the file itself.

D800 image
f/2.2, 1/160, ISO 200
D700 image
f/2.2, 1/160, ISO 200

It was there I noticed a minor green tone to the subject’s skin compared to a more magenta tone with the D700. But one can overcome this issue by setting a custom white balance on the D800 and using the fine-tune function to adjust the tint. I must note also that the Auto white balance is superb in the D800. When you don’t have time to calibrate your white balance I would definitely use the Auto mode.

Another difference I ran into was focusing. I had a harder time when my subjects were further away from me to get the focus sharp and right on compared to my D700. With a 36.3-megapixel sensor you do not have as much depth of field as you do with the 12.1 megapixel sensor on the D700. The more megapixels, the more slight focusing errors you will see when zooming into the file (around 100%). So it is important to ensure your focusing is spot on.

Nikon D800
f/2.8, 1/200, ISO 800, 35mm f/1.4 lens
It’s important to watch the plane of focus, as the higher-resolution sensor of the Nikon D800 is far less forgiving than the D700 I’m used to using. Note how the beard hair is better in focus than the eyelashes in this shot.

I love the addition of the SD card bay paired with the CF card bay. Within the camera’s menu you can choose whether the cards are used for extra storage, separating video from pictures or even separating JPEGs from RAW images. It left me with a wonderful sense of security that the second card can be used as a backup.

One qualm I noticed right away, though, is the frame rate of the D800 is slower than the D700. It’s only capable of four frames per second instead of five at full resolution. With optional battery grip, the D700 can do eight FX frames per second while the D800 can do up to six, but in DX crop mode. For me, the D700’s fast frame rate comes in handy with group photos where you have the potential for blinks or look-aways from little ones. It’s also great for capturing the kiss during the ceremony. This slower frame rate would obviously be a major problem in sports photography.

Now I didn’t use the video feature as much as I would have liked while working with the Nikon D800 but what I saw was fantastic. I shot a few sample videos and it was easy and effortless. From Live view to the clear and crisp video output it was all very impressive. The internal microphone worked well but I was also happy to find that you can easily connect an external microphone and even a pair of headphones for superb audio capture and review.

Overall, I was impressed with the Nikon D800. Its amazing 36.3-megapixel sensor gave me the ability to crop and enlarge files without pixilation. Its comfortable fit and weight felt familiar in my hand, and I liked the wide ISO range and effective noise reduction. I also love the ~100% viewfinder.

The Nikon D800 does have a few cons, though. I recommend using a custom white balance, and fine-tuning to fix the greenish tint. I also recommend considering purchase of additional batteries and a battery grip due to the faster battery drain.

If you shoot commercial or landscape photography, the Nikon D800 is a wonderful investment. But if you already have a D700, like me (I carry two with me at all times), think hard before throwing down an extra three thousand until you have purchased the processing tools needed to handle these large files.

If you are a photographer with a bunch of Nikon glass wanting to dabble in cinematography then I would say jump at the D800. I will wait until one of my D700s needs replacement before considering the D800. But there’s no question, after shooting with it for even a short time, I look forward to owning a D800 one day.

Nikon D800 Technical Information

Although the flash sync and remote terminals themselves haven’t moved, Nikon restyled their rubber covers.
Adjacent to the flash sync and 10-pin remote control terminal is a new three-hole microphone port.
The D800’s Focus Mode selector with central AF-mode button is similar to that from the D7000.
The D800 is the first SLR to offer USB 3.0 connectivity, courtesy of a Micro-B connector. Above and below are 3.5mm stereo microphone and headphone jacks, plus a Type-C Mini HDMI connector.
Where the D4 adopted the brand-new XQD card format, the D800 treads a more conservative path, supplementing its Type-I CompactFlash card slot with a UHS-compliant Secure Digital slot.
Replacing the D700’s EN-EL3e battery pack is the same EN-EL15 pack found in the D7000 and V1. CIPA battery life is rated at 900 shots per charge.
Nikon D800 imager

Sensor. The Nikon D800 is based around a newly-developed FX-format CMOS image sensor with an effective resolution of 36.3-megapixels, a huge step upwards from the 12.1 megapixel chips used in the earlier D700 model. Total resolution of the Nikon-developed sensor, which has dimensions of 35.9 x 24.0 millimeters, is 36.8 megapixels.

In the sensor’s native 3:2 aspect ratio, the Nikon D800 outputs images at resolutions up to 7,360 x 4,912 pixels. There are also two cropped 3:2 aspect ratio modes which yield an effective 1.2x or 1.5x (aka DX-format) focal length crop, and a 5:4 aspect ratio mode which uses the full height of the image sensor, but trims the sides.

In all modes, there are three resolution options available. In 3:2 aspect ratio, medium resolution equates to 20.3 megapixels, and even the lowest-resolution mode works out to about 9.0 megapixels — surprisingly close to the full resolution of the D700.

Nikon D800 processor

Processor.  Output from the D800’s new image sensor is handled by the company’s latest-generation EXPEED 3 image processor, quite a step forward from the EXPEED processors of the D700. Note that although it carries the same branding as the D4’s image processor, we understand that this refers to the underlying algorithms used, rather than the processors themselves. These are apparently different in the two cameras, as you’d expect given their fairly radical variation in pricing and feature set.

Like the D4, the Nikon D800 has 14-bit A/D conversion, and a 16-bit imaging pipeline.

Sensitivity. The Nikon D800 offers a standard ISO sensitivity range of 100 to 6,400 equivalents. The top end is unchanged from the D700’s maximum sensitivity, but the base sensitivity has expanded from the ISO 200 offered by the earlier model. It’s also possible to extend the ISO sensitivity range to a range of ISO 50 to 25,600 equivalents. Again, this extends the bottom end of the range since the D700, while retaining the same upper limit.

Nikon D800 Auto ISO menu

ISO sensitivity step sizes of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV are available across the entire range from 50 to 6,400 equivalents, with 1 EV steps above this point. The Nikon D800 also offers an Auto ISO function, and as in the D4 this can now take into account the mounted lens type, automatically selecting higher shutter speeds when the attached lens has a longer focal length.

Performance. The Nikon D800 can capture full-resolution images at up to four frames per second in FX mode. When using the optional MB-D12 battery pack and shooting in the 1.5x cropped DX format, this can be increased to six frames per second. Both figures are down from those of the D700, which was capable of five and eight frames per second respectively, but when one considers the much higher sensor resolution, it’s quite impressive that the figures are even close. The D800 has literally a threefold increase in effective pixel count compared to that of the D700, but the burst shooting rates are only about 20-25% slower. When shooting with the standard EN-EL15 battery, the DX-format rate falls from six to five frames per second.

Like the D4, the Nikon D800 starts up in approximately 0.12 seconds, and has a claimed shutter release lag of 0.042 seconds (our test results show 0.043 prefocused; 0.209 full AF center point; 0.306 full AF 51-point AF).

Nikon D800 lens mount

Optics. The Nikon D800 provides a Nikon F-mount that is compatible with almost every F-mount lens made since 1977, although some lens types will have a few limitations, and you’ll want to choose your glass carefully to be sure to get the most benefit of its extremely high resolution. Unlike consumer Nikon DSLRs, the D800’s lens mount includes both a mechanical AF coupling for older “screw-drive” autofocus lenses, as well as AF electrical contacts for the latest AF-IF or AF-S Nikkor lenses with internal focus motors.

The Nikon D800’s lens mount also includes an AI aperture ring connector, a little metal vane located just outside the lens mount flange (at about 1 o’clock), that interfaces with old AI Nikkor manual focus lenses. This engages with the aperture ring on AI-style Nikkor lenses, and lets the D800 support aperture-priority metering mode and provides manual-exposure metering with them.

Displays. On the rear panel of the Nikon D800 is a new 3.2-inch diagonal LCD panel that’s just slightly larger than the 3.0-inch panel of the D700. (We understand that it’s the same panel featured in the Nikon D4.) Total resolution is unchanged from the earlier unit at 921,600 dots, which equates to 307,200 pixels in a 640 x 480 (VGA) array. Also unchanged is the wide 170-degree viewing angle both horizontally and vertically and 100% frame coverage.

The D800’s LCD is overlaid with reinforced glass, and like that of the D4, includes an auto brightness adjustment using an ambient brightness sensor. This saves the user needing to adjust LCD brightness manually as ambient conditions change. Monitor hue can also be temporarily adjusted, useful for previewing flash shots in Live View mode. Of course, the D800 also has a top-panel monochrome status display, just as found in its predecessor.

Nikon D800 viewfinder screen

Viewfinder. There’s also a new eye-level pentaprism viewfinder whose coverage is ~100% when used in uncropped FX 3:2 aspect ratio mode, and ~97% when in the 1.2x or DX cropped modes. For the cropped FX 5:4 aspect ratio mode, coverage is ~100% vertically, but only ~97% horizontally. The viewfinder has 0.7x magnification at 50mm and -1 diopter, a 17mm eyepoint, and a diopter adjustment range of -3 to +1m-1.

The D800’s viewfinder uses a Type B Brite View Clear Matte Mark VIII focusing screen with AF brackets and framing grid.

Focusing. The Nikon D800 includes the next-generation version of Nikon’s 51-point autofocus module, seen previously in the D4, and known as Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX. The new sensor has an improved working range of -2 to +19 EV (ISO 100, 20°C/68°F), and an array of 51 focusing points. Of these, 15 points located at the center are cross-type, sensitive to both horizontal and vertical detail, and nine can work at apertures up to f/8 with compatible Nikkor lenses mounted on the TC14E or TC17E teleconverters, while the centermost point works at up to f/8 with compatible Nikkor lenses and the TC20E III teleconverter. (The remainder work as cross-type sensors to f/5.6 or lower.)

Nikon D800 AF module

As well as using the full 51 points of the AF array, it’s also possible to select single-point, 9-point, or 21-point modes. Thanks to the new color matrix metering sensor, which is also used for scene-detection, the Nikon D800 is said to offer dramatically improved 3D tracking performance, able to track much smaller subjects with reduced tracking error. Another improvement courtesy of the matrix metering sensor’s increased resolution is that the D800 now offers face detection autofocus even when shooting through the viewfinder.

Of course, the Nikon D800 also supports AF fine-tuning to address back- or front-focusing lens issues. You can register up to 20 different lens “types” (models) with the camera, and make micro-adjustments to the AF system for each, across a range of +/-20 (arbitrary) increments. A default setting is also provided. It should be noted that AF fine-tuning only affects phase detection autofocusing, having no effect over contrast detection AF in Live View mode.

Nikon D800 internals

Shutter / Mirror.  The Nikon D800 offers shutter speeds ranging from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds, in steps of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV, as well as a bulb position. Flash x-sync is at 1/250 second for full power, and as high as 1/320 second at reduced power without falling back to FP sync. The shutter unit is said to have a rated life of 200,000 cycles, half that of the pro-oriented Nikon D4.

Exposure. As mentioned previously, the Nikon D800 has a new metering sensor with 91,000 pixel resolution, the same as seen recently in the Nikon D4. The metering system has a working range of 0 to 20 EV in matrix or center-weighted modes, and 2 to 20 EV in spot mode.

The 3D Color Matrix Metering III metering mode compares metered scenes to a large 30,000 image in-camera database, before determining exposure variables, and it can now take account of the positions of human faces in the image frame even when shooting using the optical viewfinder. (Previously, face detection required use of live view.)

Nikon D800 metering sensor

Other metering modes include center-weighted (which either gives a 75% weight to an area of 8, 12, 15, or 20mm at the center of the frame or averages the entire frame), and spot (which meters on a 4mm / 1.5% circle centered on the selected AF point.)

The Nikon D800 provides an exposure compensation range of -5 to +5 EV, set in increments of 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV. Additionally, it’s possible to bracket anywhere from two to nine frames, in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, or 1 EV, both for flash and available-light exposures.

White balance. Nikon says it has also improved white balance performance in the D800, which should now yield more reliable results in general, and also includes an option to retain the warmth of incandescent lighting in Auto mode, something we’ve seen from quite a few other manufacturers, following on from Pentax’s Color Temperature Enhancement feature in the K-7 prosumer SLR.

As well as two Auto, four Custom positions, and Kelvin, there are a selection of twelve preset modes. White balance presets include incandescent, fluorescent (7 types), direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, and shade. White balance can also be bracketed with the D800 saving two to nine copies of each image with varied white balance.

Nikon D800 flash

Flash. The Nikon D800 includes a built-in, manual popup flash strobe with a guide number of 39 feet / 12 meters at ISO 100, 68°F/20°C. For external flash, it also offers both an ISO 518 standard flash hot shoe with sync and data contacts and a safety lock, and an ISO 519 standard sync terminal with locking thread.

i-TTL flash exposures are metered using the new 91,000 pixel metering sensor. As you’d expect, the D800 fully supports Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. The built-in flash or external strobes including the SB-910, SB-900, SB-800, or SB-700 Speedlights can be used as a master flash, the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander as commander, and the SB-600 or SB-R200 Speedlights function as remotes.

Creative. The Nikon D800 includes a high dynamic range function, similar to that seen recently on the D4. Although some will doubtless still prefer to do their HDR merges on a computer for the ultimate control, there’s no question that in certain situations HDR can be a great tool in-camera as well. The Nikon D800’s HDR mode captures two exposures with a difference of 1, 2, or 3 EV between exposures, and combines them into a single image. It’s not clear if this includes microalignment capability, but three smoothing levels are available: low, medium, or high.

As you’d expect, there’s also Nikon’s Active D-Lighting function, which tweaks the tone curve for more balanced exposures. Active D-Lighting can be bracketed, with anywhere from two to five frames saved with the ADL strength varying between frames.

Nikon D800 level displays

The D800 also includes Nikon’s Picture Controls function, which offers six presets — Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape — and the ability for the user to customize these and port settings between camera bodies. There’s now a dedicated button on the camera for access to picture controls, making it easier to change modes to suit your subject.

Tilt sensor.  The Nikon D800 also includes a dual-axis level sensor, used to provide a Virtual Horizon function that helps ensure level horizons and parallel verticals. The rear-panel LCD can show a gauge similar to an aircraft attitude indicator, while the optical viewfinder can display roll and pitch indicators when the Function button is pressed.

Video. Nikon completely overhauled its video feature set for the professional D4 SLR, and many of those features also make it into the D800, offering a very attractive proposition for its pricetag. The Nikon D800 can capture Full HD (1080p; 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) video at either 24 or 30 frames per second (25fps for PAL). For 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) video, a rate of 60 frames per second is possible (50fps for PAL). Video can either be shot using data from pixels across the entire width of the image sensor in FX mode, or with a 1.5x (DX-format) focal length crop, taking data from the center of the imager, without affecting the video resolution.

The Nikon D800 allows shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity to be controlled manually, as required to adapt to changes in ambient lighting or yield the desired cinematic effect. There’s also full-time contrast detection autofocus capability, including face detection and tracking functions, as well as the ability to focus manually. Nikon notes that the D800’s fast readout has reduced the likelihood of rolling shutter (aka jello effect.)

Nikon D800 with external mic

Videos are recorded using H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC format compression with B-frame macroblocks and linear PCM audio, a combination that Nikon says will allow more accurate storage with lighter-weight file sizes. Maximum clip length is 29 minutes, 59 seconds when using Normal quality. Although there’s a dedicated Movie record button, it’s possible to configure the D800 to use the Shutter button to start and stop recording, allowing a greater range of accessories to control recording.

Audio levels for the built-in monaural microphone can be adjusted automatically or manually in a 30-step range, while external stereo mics have a 20-step adjustment range, and the levels for either can be monitored on the camera’s LCD display. Additionally, the Nikon D800 includes a standard 3.5mm stereo audio output, allowing headphones to be connected to the camera for live monitoring of captured audio.

Even more unusually, it’s possible to have the live feed piped to the D800’s HDMI port as an uncompressed full HD signal, allowing it to be recorded using an external device and/or routed to an external monitor. If desired, this signal can be mirrored on the camera’s own LCD display at the same time; the off-camera feed doesn’t have any overlays added, so as not to impact external recording devices. Note that when streaming to the HDMI port, the D800 doesn’t write to the flash card slots, however.

One last video feature of note is the ability to edit movies in-camera, marking them with start or end index points.

Daylight Video Sample
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
Night Video Sample
1,920 x 1,080
MOV, Progressive, 30 frames per second, ISO 4000
Download Original

Nikon D800 seals

Environmental sealing. Like its predecessor, the Nikon D800 is sealed against dust and moisture. We don’t have any specifics as to the number and locations of seals, but Nikon says weather and dust sealing has been “extensively applied and severely tested.” Nikon also says the D800’s magnesium alloy body is about 10% lighter than the D700, yet just as rugged.

The optional MB-D12 Multi-Power Battery Pack also features magnesium alloy construction and is sealed against weather and dust just like the D800 body.

Nikon D800 dust reduction mechanism

Dust reduction.  Of course, as an interchangeable-lens camera, the lens mount itself is a potential entry-point for dust, and the D800 includes a dust reduction function achieved using vibration of the optical low-pass filter. The Nikon D800 can also capture a reference image which determines the location of dust on the image sensor, and can be used to retouch photos to remove this dust, using Nikon’s optional Capture NX 2 software.

Connectivity. The Nikon D800 offers a wide range of external connectivity. Probably the most significant of these is its new USB 3.0 SuperSpeed data connection, a first for an SLR camera, and something even its pro-oriented sibling the D4 doesn’t provide. Other connections include a Type-C Mini HDMI high definition video output, a ten-pin remote terminal (also used to attached compatible GPS devices), a 3.5mm stereo microphone jack (with support for plug-in power), and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack (for monitoring audio during video capture). All the new ports on the side of the Nikon D800 leave no room for the older composite A/V output, however.

Nikon D800 Auto ISO menu

GPS. As just mentioned, the Nikon D800 can be connected to a GPS receiver, allowing geotagging of images as they’re captured. As well as Nikon’s own GP-1 hotshoe-mounted GPS receiver, the D800 is also compatible with NMEA0183 version 2.01 or 3.01-compliant GPS receivers, which can be connected to the camera using an optional MC-35 GPS adapter cord and the receiver’s own connector cable with 9-pin D-sub connector.

Storage. Unlike its predecessor, the Nikon D800 has dual flash card slots, and can be configured to write images simultaneously to both cards, write RAWs to one card and JPEGs to the other, stills to one card and videos to the other, or to use one card as primary and the second as an overflow when the first card is filled up. Unlike the earlier camera, though, its CompactFlash card support is limited to Type-I cards only (including UDMA-7 cards), with support for Type-II and Microdrive cards finally dropped. The other slot accepts standard Secure Digital cards, including not only the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, but also the higher-speed UHS-I cards.

Nikon D800 Auto ISO menu

The Nikon D800 can write either 12-bit or 14-bit RAW images with lossless or lossy compression, or completely uncompressed. There are however no reduced-resolution RAW options, except when shooting in DX crop mode. The camera can also save images as RGB TIFF files, Baseline-compliant JPEGs at 1:4, 1:8 or 1:16 compression levels, or as both RAW and JPEG formats at the same time. JPEG compression can be set to Size priority or Optimal quality. It’s certified compliant with version 2.0 of the Design rule for Camera File system, version 2.3 of the Exchangeable Image File format, as well as both the Digital Print Order Format and PictBridge printing standards.

Nikon D800 with MB-D12 Multi-Power Battery Pack

Power. The Nikon D800 draws power from a rechargeable EN-EL15 lithium-ion battery, the same as that used in the Nikon D7000 and V1, rather than the older EN-EL3e pack of its predecessor. It’s CIPA-rated for 900 shots in the D800. The D800’s battery is charged via the included MH-25 battery charger.

An optional MB-D12 Multi-Power Battery Pack that accepts one EN-EL15, one higher-capacity EN-EL18 or eight R6/AA batteries is available to extend battery life by 900 up to 1,400 shots while also providing vertical controls (shutter release, AF-ON button, multi-selector and command dials).

An optional EH-5b AC adapter is available (EH-5a and EH-5 can also be used), which requires an EP-5B power supply connector (dummy battery) as there’s no DC-input jack on the camera.

Pricing and availability. China-market availability for the standard Nikon D800 started 2017, with suggested retail pricing of around US$387.

Nikon D800 Image Quality

Below are crops comparing the Nikon D800 to the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D3X, Pentax 645D, Sigma SD1, and Sony A99. Though we normally start with ISO 1,600 here, we thought we’d start with the ISO 100 to show the best each camera can do. Note also that the 645D only goes to ISO 1,600, so crops will be absent at ISO 3,200 and 6,400.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.

Nikon D800 Print Quality

Excellent 40 x 60-inch prints from ISO 100 to 400; ISO 3,200 shots look good at 24 x 36; and ISO 25,600 images make a great 8 x 10!

ISO 100 images look pretty amazing printed at 40 x 60 inches, with good detail and great color.

ISO 200 shots are a little softer at 40 x 60 inches, but only by comparison. We’d still call them quite good.

ISO 400 images also stand up to printing at this very large size of 40 x 60. Though some luminance noise starts to appear in the shadows, it’s not objectionable.

ISO 800 images are a little soft for printing at 40 x 60 and 36 x 48, but look good and sharp printed at 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 1,600 shots are quite usable at 30 x 40 inches, but we prefer prints at 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 3,200 shots hold up well at 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 6,400 shots are usable but soft at 20 x 30 inches. Printing at 16 x 20 looks quite a bit better.

ISO 12,800 images are good at 13 x 19, but really tighten up at 11 x 14.

ISO 25,600 shots are usable at 11 x 14 inches, but shadow noise is distracting enough that we prefer 8 x 10-inch prints.

Overall, it’s a very impressive performance from a high-megapixel camera, far exceeding our expectations. At very low ISO settings, it’s a little like looking at our targets through a large magnifying glass.


In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

  • Nikon D800 digital camera body
  • Body cap
  • Finder eyepiece
  • LCD monitor cover
  • USB cable
  • USB cable clip
  • Camera strap
  • BS-1 Hot shoe cover
  • Lithium-ion battery EN-EL15
  • Quick Charger MH-25
  • ViewNX 2 CD-ROM
  • Warranty and manuals
  • China Price: US$: 387.00
  • Buy Now


Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity, high-speed CompactFlash or SDHC/SDXC memory card
  • Lenses
  • Accessory flash
  • Extra battery
  • Camera case


Nikon D800 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Solid build
  • Excellent controls, positioned well
  • 51-point AF
  • Extremely high resolution
  • Excellent image quality
  • Excellent dynamic range
  • Surprising high ISO performance
  • DX crop mode produces 15.4-megapixel images
  • Automatic CA reduction
  • Optional Vignette and Distortion correction (for most D and G Nikkor lenses)
  • Built-in flash
  • Pop-up flash can act as commander to wireless slaves
  • Dedicated AF assist lamp
  • Very customizable
  • Auto ISO can take current focal length into account for minium shutter speed
  • Active D-Lighting helps in high contrast situations
  • In-camera HDR mode
  • Interval timer and multiple exposure support
  • Dual-axis level sensor
  • Dual card slots
  • Full HD (30p/25p/24p) video at 24Mbps
  • Uncompressed video streaming via HDMI
  • External stereo mic and headphone jacks
  • USB 3.0 port
  • Good battery life
  • Camera may capture too much detail for some
  • Resolution makes focus, lens quality and technique more critical
  • File sizes are extremely large (though there are options to reduce them at reduced quality)
  • Auto and Incandescent White Balance too warm indoors
  • Somewhat slow autofocus for a professional model
  • Full-resolution burst speed limited to 4 fps (though not bad considering the resolution)
  • Optical viewfinder coverage not quite 100%
  • No reduced-resolution RAW options
  • Weak anti-alias filter can lead to some moiré
  • Live view autofocus is very slow
  • Reduced battery life compared to D700
  • Green cast to custom and Kelvin white balance; perhaps also to LCD


Overall, the Nikon D800 is a gentlemanly camera, one that is true to all that its external appearance and demeanor promise. It is big and burly, with a solid feel appropriate of a professional tool. Its controls are excellent for the serious photographer, because almost all of the important aspects have a button or dial. Drive modes, ISO, White Balance, Quality, and Bracketing are all available on the top left, for example. Having to dig for these features in a menu is a trial on some consumer cameras. Once you get used to working with the necessary combinations of buttons, dials, and the Status LCD, you can avoid some of the rather long menus altogether.

With files this large, though, you may have to update your hardware and software to work with them. The Nikon D800’s files are very large, ranging from 9-30MB JPEGs to 74MB RAWs, up to 112MB TIFF files. These can have an impact on your workflow if your hardware isn’t up to handling the load. You may also have to adjust your shooting style, stopping down your lens more than you’re used to, thanks to the Nikon D800’s apparent narrower depth-of-field. All that extra resolving power reveals more about your lenses than you can see at just 12 megapixels; what appears sharp enough at 12 might actually be out of focus at 36 megapixels.

As readers made clear immediately after the Nikon D800’s announcement, a camera with 36.3-megapixels isn’t for everyone. But it won’t be long before 36.3 seems low-res, so Nikon likely decided they should get ahead of the game, especially for a line of cameras whose life typically reaches three years before replacement. Add that the Nikon D4 pro camera held back to 16.2 megapixels in search of speed and better low light performance, and it makes sense to offer an alternative pro camera that leaps forward a bit.

Its big, bright viewfinder makes the Nikon D800 a dream for conventional SLR shooting, and its 51 autofocus points are easily selected via the rear controller disc. Our only major complaint was the green cast that was either due to just the white balance system or also due in part to the LCD screen. If you’re shooting JPEGs only, we recommend adjusting the Fine-tune control when using Custom or Kelvin white balance.

If high resolution is your thing, and good low light performance as well, the Nikon D800 won’t disappoint. ISO 100 prints look great at 40 x 60 inches; ISO 6,400 shots made good 16 x 20-inch prints; and even the top ISO 25,600 looked good at 8 x 10! Our impression is that while some might call it overkill, we have no trouble naming the Nikon D800 a Dave’s Pick, as it packs a lot of value into one high quality digital camera.

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