Review: Nikon D800

Nikons newest contender in its pro market is one that’s shaking up the scene. Making fanboys rethink their loyalty, we can all say that we don’t need more pixels but that doesn’t mean more isn’t better. Coming from the Nikon D700 there wasn’t much to learn as far as features but there was when it comes to tightening up my skill set.

Tech Specs

Camera Type Digital SLR with Interchangeable lenses
Lens Mount Nikon F
Resolution Effective Pixels: 36.3 Megapixels
Max Resolution: 36.3 MP
Sensor Type / Size CMOS, 35.9 x 24.0 mm
File Formats Still Images: JPEG, RAW, TIFF
Movies: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, MOV
Audio: Linear PCM
Bit Depth 14-bit
Noise Reduction Yes
Memory Card Type SD
AV Recording
Video Recording Yes
Audio Recording With Video
Focus Control
Focus Type Auto & Manual
Focus Mode Single-servo AF (S), Continuous-servo AF (C), Manual Focus (M) , Focus Lock AF Area Mode
Autofocus Points 51
Viewfinder Type Pentaprism
Viewfinder Coverage 100%
Viewfinder Magnification Approx. 0.7x
Diopter Adjustment – 3 to +1 m
Display Screen 3.2″ Rear Screen   LCD (921000)
Screen Coverage 100%
Live View Yes
Exposure Control
ISO Sensitivity Auto, 100-6400 (High Sensitivity Mode: 50-25600)
Shutter Type: Electronic
Speed: 1/8000 – 30 seconds
Remote Control ML-3 (Optional)
Mirror Lock-Up Yes
Metering Method Spot metering, Center-weighted average metering, 3D Color Matrix Metering
Exposure Modes Modes: Aperture Priority, Manual, Program, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -5 EV to +5 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)
White Balance Modes Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Flash, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Kelvin, Shade, Preset Manual
Built-in Flash Yes: 1st Curtain Sync, Auto, Red-eye Reduction, Second-curtain Sync, Slow Sync, Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction 5
Max Sync Speed 1 / 250 sec
Continuous Shooting Up to 6 fps
Dedicated Flash System iTTL Remote Firing
External Flash Connection PC Terminal
Self Timer 2 sec, 5 sec, 10 sec, 20 sec
Interval Recording Yes
Connectivity 10-pin Terminal, Audio Out, HDMI C (Mini), USB 3.0
Wi-Fi Capable (With Optional Transmitter) Yes
Battery 1x EN-EL15  Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack
AC Power Adapter EH-5b (Included)
Operating/Storage Temperature 32 to 104 °F (0 to 40 °C)
Humidity: 0 – 85%
Dimensions (WxHxD) 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2″ / 144.78 x 121.92 x 81.28 mm
Weight 2.20 lb / 1000 g

The Nikon D800 is available at B&H Photo or Amazon.

36MP Sensor

100% Crops of the D700 (left) and D800 (right)

D700 (left) Zoomed to Match The D800 (right)

I refer to the amount of megapixels in the camera as mega pickles because it’s just ridiculous. You don’t have to read any further if you want to know if I’m impressed, I am. The detail is incredible and it’s a camera that will make you want revisit places you have been. Having 12mp for many years and for business use I’ve been very content. For personal use I’ve always wanted more detail which led me to dabble in medium and large format the last six months. This is the kind of detail that made me wow like seeing my first 12mp images after coming from 6mp, this is a leap hop jump forward.

In Use

Why do I mention skill set? I mention it because the D800 will accentuate your flaws. By that I mean that if you have poor form when you are taking images like for example not using the proper shutter speed when using your zoom lens will show more blur at 100%.

I believe this is due to the amount of pixels and with the ability to see more detail you can also see more flaws. This is all from my short period with the camera but I feel myself focusing more on exposure than before. I’m not going to get down to the science of it but this has been my experience.

On the topic a word that has been used a lot since the D800 has been announced is diffraction. If you have never heard of it or have but don’t understand the following video by Fstoppers explains it very well.

I’d like to compare the camera to its older brother the D700 since I have owned the camera since the first week it was released. I will also make a few mentions to other cameras but once again mainly comparing to my history with the D700.


Feel and Buttons

Nikon D800 AF Switch

If you have held a professional SLR the camera will feel right at home. Its very solid and could alternately be used as a weapon. Honestly, I can’t tell a difference in the weight and the feel of the camera is different but in a way I have gotten used to already. The dedicated Bracket button is a very welcomed addition as well as the quiet shutter mode. I do have complaints about a few changes when it comes to button layout but over the last couple of weeks the changes are feeling more familiar. If I were to have jumped into a fast paced assignment right after getting the camera I would have regretted it.

The AF dial for switching between single and multiple points has changed to the front of the camera and this has been the hardest thing for me to get familiar with.

This along with the setting for single and continuous focus modes were moved because of the live view switch. In my opinion I would have rather had the live view be moved to an odd new location since it is in fact a new addition. When moving from the vertical grip on my D700 to the horizontal one I would hit the switch to change focus modes.

This is why I’m considering selling my D700 in exchange for a D7000 to have a consistent system.

Okay, enough complaining about the switch!


Nikon D800 Display

I was bummed when I read that the display would have the same pixel count as its three plus year old brother. If this is you as well please read ahead.

I thought that when I zoomed into the 12mp image at 100% it looked less sharp as it did on the computer. So from this experience I sighed and thought with more pixels the display wouldn’t be able to keep up with the detail of 36mp. Please let me wash your worries away! The screen is incredibly sharp, at 100% the display shows incredibly sharp detail and lines. Whew when I first saw this I was very happy, let’s face it after being spoiled for years you get picky and that’s the truth. Other mentions about the screen including ”better in sunlight” is something I have yet to notice, honestly I’d say it’s the same. I also have not noticed any odd color casts with my models and I think the color is very accurate although I have not compared it to others.


Nikon D800 Memory Slots

Dual storage has been extremely handy and I am still thinking of the most efficient way to use it. I have been shooting images to CF and videos to SD. I think this will change when I photograph weddings where I think I will shoot RAW to the CF and small basic JPEGs to the SD. This would make for quick viewing on an iPad, perhaps through an eye-fi card.


Autofocus along with other things have said to be improved but I have yet to see the difference. I can tell you that it isn’t worse than the D700 but you’re not here to read that. It just isn’t significant enough to notice.

For the record I am mainly a landscape shooter and everything for the most part so far has been slow paced. I have noticed it is a little better in low light but once again not enough to write home about. A big deal that you will notice immediately will be the 100% viewfinder. Although, I have become a professional at mentally adding the 5% to the frame I am very happy that those days are gone. The one good thing I can saw about the 95% viewfinders is that when it comes to having subjects close to the edge or cut short you had that unsaid buffer zone. If this is you or sounds like something you wish to retain you could shoot at one of the three crop modes. The crop modes include a 1.2x, 1.5x and a 5:4 ratio. These modes still leave many pixels left to show off and are clearly marked in the viewfinder with black bars.


The camera did borrow the Nikon D4’s metering and again I have yet to notice a difference. Like every camera you learn its quirks and the same will go for this one. I recently photographed a concert at the Casbah and I compared the D800 with the D700. I did a quick sunny 16 test and the exposure is spot on with only slight overexposed highlights in the clouds at f/11 and slightly underexposed at f/16. Overall the meter is very accurate.

Nikon D700 (left) compared to the Nikon D800 (right)

Nikon D700 (left) compared to the Nikon D800 (right)

I have photographed over 100 bands with the D700 and at the show I immediately noticed different exposures. There could have been something enabled that I was not aware of but the settings were set the same. I am not disappointed but ironically most of the keepers I had were from the D700. I’d like to say that the D700 is just more experienced and I will soon teach the young pup how to better itself.

High ISO Performance

ISO quality believe it or not is better than the D700 by quite a bit in real world use.

When the D700 came out it was amongst the best high iso cameras available. Even with this not a big draw to this camera it is still being compared to the Nikon D3s and D4, even more after it gained number 1 status on DXO Mark. When compressing for web I will gladly shoot at 12,800 (or even higher) and my viewer base wouldn’t notice the difference. I rarely ever shot above 6400 on the D700 but on the D800 I can see myself doing it more often.

Video Performance

Nikon users may not have spoke out a lot about not having good video in their cameras but trust me the complaints have been pent up for awhile. I for one attempted shooting two cameras instead because Nikon didn’t offer the features I wanted in one. I tried my hand at a Panasonic GH2 for awhile and although I loved the camera it just wasn’t worth the hassle of owning / carrying two kits.

So there I was contemplating switching to Sony, a company who has made great strides within recent years.

All the cards were on the table for Nikon to recognize the need to a true competitor to the 5D and its here. Regardless if your intent is to produce a feature or just capture memories the Nikon D800 has incredible intuitive video. I am going to share two shorts I have done, although nothing spectacular they are a sign that If I put in the time the D800 will happily deliver. Monitoring audio and being able to independently change microphone / headphone volumes has been a pleasant gift and it works as you would hope.

Nikon D800 Internal Mic

I am currently using the Rode VideoMic Pro and am able to pickup incredible audio from a distance with it. There already some Flat picture profiles being developed for the camera and I assume as the masses get the camera the community will grow. In “Shadow Deals” a friend of mine and I set out to shoot with the camera and test the high end of the ISO range of the camera. We shot the video from 4000-6400 but mostly in the 6400 area. We were impressed with the camera although its nosier than the 5D MKIII its much sharper than the 5D would be out of camera. The videos shared all have ungraded and unaltered video, the black and white was shot in camera.


Unedited HDR Sample With Zero Blown Highlights

The camera now has a HDR function and it’s capable of combining 2 exposures. The exposures can be up to 3EV stops apart and provide a an image with detail in all areas like our eyes see it. It’s important to note that the file created has high dynamic range but is not tone mapped. To create the HDR image the mirror remains up and the curtain fires off two images so keeping still is key. I have had good results in all light but I do have a black belt in standing still.

Battery Life

The battery is as advertised or better. I can easily run a single battery all day shooting while using GPS. Where the battery will catch you off guard is when you are shooting video. 10-15 second clips will add up and even if you are not actively recording the live view will drain the battery. Nikon advertises that you can get about an hour or so of straight shooting video, This is quite accurate.

Hidden Gems

There are a few hidden gems with the camera that people will appreciate coming from older bodies or making their first purchase:

– The self timer mode will allow you to set how many images it takes when the counter counts down. It will also allow you to change how much time between the shots. This in my opinion has helped a lot with bracketing images.

– Another is before in aperture priority you would just adjust the aperture with the front wheel and the back wheel would have no function. Now the camera will allow you you to change the ISO with the rear wheel. This minor detail is a step in the right direction because any setting that allows less button presses deserves an honest thumbs up. Of course this also works vice versa with shutter priority.

– A shining light for Nikon has been its auto ISO for quite some time and for a reason, its quite good. Nikon has added a couple new settings to it. You can now let the camera base its ISO not only on the exposure that you currently have but also the focal length of the lens. This comes back around to nailing better exposures for gaining better images with the camera. For example with a 50mm lens you can get away with 1/60th no problem but for a zoom lens the proper shutter changes. When you are going through a range of 70-200mm f2.8 to nail the sharpest exposure the camera will set the required shutter speed to 1/200th when at 200mm to ensure sharp results at 100%. If you are shooting for web having proper exposure matters the least but its crucial for high end jobs. When pixel to pixel sharpness matters the camera is by your side helping along the way. You can now also enable auto ISO from the ISO button + front / rear wheels instead of going through the menus.

– Nikon mentions on their site that they recommend certain high end lenses for use on the D800. In my experience thus far this isn’t nearly as necessary as it may seem. I have been purposely shooting with some old AIS lenses as well as a 70-300VR zoom lens to see if there was any reason I shouldn’t. I have reviewed the images at 100% and I see no reason why you should rush out to add some new primes to your bag.

Working with the iPad is something that I and other photographers are doing more often. It’s a good thing to know when considering a new camera if the photos (RAW and JPG) as well as video work natively. Interestingly enough all the video and photo options play back on the iPad all all of the apps I have tested accept the files without a fuss.

Sample Images

Nikon D800 Sample

Nikon D800 Sample

Nikon D800 Sample

Nikon D800 Sample

Long Exposure From the Nikon D800


In conclusion I don’t need to do a conclusion. It should be quite obvious that I am beyond satisfied with the camera. I don’t see another in my future at the moment and consider this an upgrade worth its cost. In many areas there are significant improvements in each aspect of the camera that make the choice simple. Yes there are a few things about the camera that make me frustrated but I have years to become accustomed.

I do fear a couple of things from Nikon though. I am not the biggest fan of Canon but I will give a single man standing ovation to them for providing firmware updates with requested features to the 5D MKII. Nikon on the other hand did make a bold change with the new D800 but I’d love to see them open all ears and give the people tweaks that they request. In my opinion giving the user a tweaked setting isn’t giving them enough to not upgrade to the next greatest camera. This is something that is now expected in an “App Store” lifestyle that we now have. We don’t expect to buy something and have it unchanged for years, we expect periodic tweaks. Fuji has been fantastic at this with the X100 and giving the users the changes that they request. It’s great new innovative hardware that makes people want to upgrade and not tweaks or changes to settings. Nikon needs to understand that and stand behind their product for its lifecycle. This is a topic for another day but it’s something that I as Nikon user feels strongly about.

I believe they are now listening but only time will tell. If you would like to step in line to purchase the camera you can find it here.

Now excuse me why I go play with all my mega pickles.

The Nikon D800 is available at B&H Photo or Amazon.


An issue has been reported with the camera after I wrote the review. The issue is freezing, lock ups and a few other problems. Just to make it clear I have shot with the camera a lot and I have not seen or had any of the issues myself. I will report back and update the post if the issues do occur. Please contact me via twitter or comment if you have any questions.

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