Nikon D800: Revolutionary!

 
Nikon D800

Nikon D800

The Nikon D800 is not just creating history, it is also challenging older notions about digital photography. K Madhavan Pillai describes the many highs and the few lows of this 36.3 megapixel wonder.

Rarely have I seen the kind of furore as that caused by the Nikon D800. Even before the launch, rumour mills were abuzz with speculation regarding its specifications. In the wake of the excellent CX sensor of the Nikon 1 system cameras, expectations were sky high. As the successor to the aging, but still brilliant, Nikon D700, the D800 would be compared with only the very best professional cameras in the market. It was not a comfortable situation for Nikon to be in, because it meant that the D800 needed to offer a lot to impress audiences.
For the first time in Nikon’s history, two variants of the same camera have been launched—the D800 and the D800E. The D800, meant for general, all-purpose photography, has a regular anti-aliasing filter in front of the camera sensor, designed to eliminate moiré by blurring fine detail. The D800E has a modified version of this filter, with much weaker anti-aliasing. Thus, it retains a lot of detail, making it more suitable for landscape and macro photography. The D800E will be reviewed in a future issue. In this issue, we find out exactly what makes the Nikon D800 a worthy successor to the Nikon D700.

36.3 million pixels translates to superb, detailed quality that was previously unseen in any DSLR before the D800. Exposure: 1/160sec at f/16 (ISO on Auto, 1250). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

36.3 million pixels translates to superb, detailed quality that was previously unseen in any DSLR before the D800. Exposure: 1/160sec at f/16 (ISO on Auto, 1250). Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Features
The Nikon D800 sports the world’s highest resolution DSLR sensor, packed with 36.3 million pixels. In other words, the 1.2x crop offered by the D800 (similar to using a 1.2x teleconverter, but without the disadvantages of it) will give you a 25MP image. Alternatively, a DX lens (about 1.5X crop) will provide a perfectly respectable 15.4MP image.
A 36.3MP sensor means giant file sizes. During the tests, I have had my Fine JPEG shots go all the way to 28MB! Along with its 74.4MB 14-bit uncompressed RAWs, the D800 has to process, store and write about 100MB per shot, while enabling the camera to record continuous frames at 4fps.
To allow this, the D800 not only has a large buffer for 17 RAW or 56 JPEGS, it also inherits some of the high-end features of the recently launched Nikon flagship, the D4 (you can read the review here). These features include the EXPEED 3 processor, 91,000-pixel RGB ambient/flash metering sensor, Advanced Multi-CAM3500FX AF sensor (51-point, 15 cross-type, with 11 points sensitive at maximum apertures as small as f/8), AF sensitivity at -2EV, a start-up time of 0.12sec and a shutter lag time of 0.042 sec.
The D800 has an ISO range of 100-6400 (50 – 25600 with boost) and an advanced Auto ISO setting that sets the minimum available shutterspeeds based on the focal length of the lens being used.
The D800 can shoot 1080p 30fps video with full exposure control, 3.5mm jacks for stereo microphones and headphones, uncompressed video output via the HDMI port, and time lapse video functions.

Dual High Speed Media Cards Slots
The D800 records huge image files which necessitates large buffer capacities, high speed data pipelines, and the use of high speed UDMA-7 CF cards or UHS-1 standard Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC) cards to extend the buffer capacity during continuous shooting.

Handling
The Nikon D800 has a full magnesium-alloy frame and it is weather-sealed. The newly developed shutter has been tested for up to 200,000 cycles (150,000 in the D700). The D800 is built to last.
The D800 inherits the legendary handling finesse of its predecessors. There are several changes in the control layout though, which users of older Nikons may not enjoy. For instance, the Area AF Mode and other AF options are now enabled by pressing a button on the AF/MF switch near the lens mount, making it a two handed operation. This design works well for the lighter, smaller Nikon D7000. However, using it on a chunky camera like the D800, with a heavy lens attached, would be cumbersome. Some of the other significant changes are listed in the ergonomics column below.
The biggest handling change with the Nikon D800 is that you need to go back to the basics of using a camera right. With the coming of digital cameras and features like image stabilisation, we have become indisciplined in the way we handle cameras. 36.3 million pixels means that the slightest of mistakes are magnified. So, be it poor lenses or aberrations, camera shake or even a slight shift of focus… each of these errors or flaws will be visibly apparent in the much larger image size of the D800.

Performance
The question in the minds of almost every photographer is… can the smaller pixel pitch of the D800 sensor deliver quality results? While some said that they would be happy if the sensor produced the same noise performance of the 12.3 megapixel D700, others wanted a little bit more.
At high ISOs, not only does the D800 improve on the noise levels of the D700 by almost a stop, there is also an overall improvement in colour accuracy. The D800 simply excels in its dynamic range, which covers an incredible 14-stops.
The D800 performed admirably in every area of our tests. AF modes were quick to repond, metering was spot on, the camera worked without a flaw, and the image quality was exemplary.

At default settings, the superbly wide dynamic range of the D800 ensures that you get a lot of detail in highlights and shadows, even when you dont want it! If you intend to use JPEGs of TIFFs straight out of the camera, you need to personalise image settings. Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

At default settings, the superbly wide dynamic range of the D800 ensures that you get a lot of detail in highlights and shadows, even when you dont want it! If you intend to use JPEGs of TIFFs straight out of the camera, you need to personalise image settings. Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Conclusion
However, there is a price to be paid for this kind of quality. Unfortunately, this price goes beyond the actual cost of the Nikon D800 body, which is actually very well worth the Rs. 1,49,950 you will need to fork out to buy it.
To get the best out of the D800, you will need high quality lenses which can be quite expensive. Besides, unlesss you can contend with a much slower camera performance, you will need to spend a good Rs. 15,000 to 20,000 on just buying high speed and high capacity media cards (a 16GB card can store just 200 uncompressed RAW and JPEG Fine images). If you intend to edit the RAWs, you need a PC with a fast processor and lots of RAM.
Amongst the very latest launches announced by all camera manufacturers put together, the D800 stands out for its great features, overall quality, performance, its record-breaking sensor and its value proposition at this price. In that sense, the Nikon D800 truly is revolutionary.

I have always considered the presence of the built-in flash to be quite important. It can make a big difference in getting your shot, especially in situations where you do not have the convenience of attaching an external flashgun. Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

I have always considered the presence of the built-in flash to be quite important. It can make a big difference in getting your shot, especially in situations where you do not have the convenience of attaching an external flashgun. Photograph/K Madhavan Pillai

Final Ratings
Features
36.3MP sensor, AF system, colour metering
16/20

Performance
Excellent dynamic range, Good high ISO performance, AF at f/8 and at -2EV
41/45

Build Quality
Magnesium alloy construction, weather sealing, tested for 200,000 shutter cycles
15/15

Ergonomics
Easy to access controls, handlings quirks
15/20

Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, wide service network
4/5

OVERALL: 91%
Value For Money: 4/5 stars

Who Should Buy It?
Professionals or serious enthusiasts who need to shoot for large, high-quality prints.

Why?
This is an all-purpose camera with an exemplary level of detail, class-leading dynamic range and resolution, available at an excellent price.

 

 

Tags: 36.3MP, Camera review, d700, flagship, K Madhavan Pillai, large prints, medium format, megapixels, million pixels, nikon, Nikon D800