Nikon D800 Hands-On Review

On March 22, Nikon finally released the long-awaited high dynamic range Nikon D800 DSLR camera featuring a revolutionary 36.3MP FX-format CMOS sensor. It immediately took the world by storm, and justifiably so – it is the best sensor analyzed by DxOMark, even outperforming medium format sensors such as the Phase One IQ180 digital back. Although very few have been able to get one from the first batch, I was one of the lucky ones. According to Nikon, the camera does not represent a replacement of the fantastic D700 as it aims to rival medium format quality, and is most suited for landscape and portrait photography. Upon receiving the camera, I was interested in seeing how in would perform in the street photography setting. Subsequently, the D800 was utilized extensively in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I apologize to the fans of the new HD movie mode as that has not been yet tested.

Selected specifications:

    • Effective Pixels
      36.3 million
    • Sensor Size
      35.9mm x 24mm
    • Image Sensor Format
    • Image Sensor Type
    • Total Pixels
      36.8 million
    • Dust-reduction system
      Image sensor cleaning
    • Image Area (pixels)
      (L) 7,360 x 4,912
      (M) 5,520 x 3,680
      (S) 3,680 x 2,456
      (L) 4,800 x 3,200
      (M) 3,600 x 2,400
      (S) 2,400 x 1,600
    • Storage Media
      CompactFlash© (CF) (Type I, compliant with UDMA)
    • Card Slot
      1 CompactFlash© (CF) card and 1 Secure Digital (SD) card
    • Viewfinder Frame Coverage
      FX (36×24): 100% Horizontal and 100% Vertical Approx.
      1.2x (30×20): 97% Horizontal and 97% Vertical Approx.
      DX (24×16): 97% Horizontal and 97% Vertical Approx.
      5:4 (30×24): 97% Horizontal and 97% Vertical Approx.
    • Shutter Speed
      1/8000 to 30 sec.
    • Fastest Shutter Speed
      1/8000 sec.
    • Slowest Shutter Speed
      30 sec.
    • Flash Sync Speed
      Up to 1/250 sec.
      Synchronizes with shutter at 1/320s or slower (flash range drops at speeds between 1/250 and 1/320s)
    • Shutter Release Modes
      Continuous low-speed [CL] mode; 1-4 frames per second
      Continuous high-speed [CH] mode; 4 frames per second
      Mirror-up [Mup] mode
      Quiet Shutter Release
      Self-timer mode
      Single-frame [S] mode
    • Continuous Shooting Options
      CH: Up to 4 frames per second
      CL: Up to 4 frames per second
      5:4 format
      CH: Up to 4 frames per second
      CL: Up to 4 frames per second
      CH: Up to 5 frames per second
      CL: Up to 5 frames per second
      1:2 format
      CH: Up to 5 frames per second
      CL: Up to 5 frames per second
    • Top Continuous Shooting Speed at full resolution
      4 frames per second
    • Metering Method
      Center-weighted: Weight of 75% given to 8mm circle in center of frame
      Matrix: 3D color matrix metering III (type G and D lenses); color matrix metering III (other CPU lenses)
      Spot: Meters 4mm circle (about 1.5% of frame) centered on selected focus point
    • Exposure Compensation
      ±5 EV in increments of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV
    • Exposure Bracketing
      2 to 9 frames in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 EV
    • ISO Sensitivity
      ISO 100 – 6400
      Lo-1 (ISO 50)
      Hi-1 (ISO 12,800)
      Hi-2 (ISO 25,600)
    • Lowest Standard ISO Sensitivity
    • Highest Standard ISO Sensitivity
    • Lowest Expanded ISO Sensitivity
      Lo-1 (ISO 50 equivalent)
    • Highest Expanded ISO Sensitivity
      HI-2 (ISO 25,600 equivalent)
    • Expanded ISO Sensitivity Options
      Lo-1 (ISO-50 equivalent), Hi-1 (ISO-12,800 equivalent), Hi-2 (ISO-25,600 equivalent)
    • D-Lighting Bracketing
      2 frames using selected value for one frame
      3–5 frames using preset values for all frames
    • Dynamic AF Mode
      Number of AF points: 9, 21, 51 and 51 (3D-tracking)
    • Detection Range
      -2 to 19 EV (ISO 100, 68°F/20°C)
    • AF-area mode
      9, 21 or 51 point Dynamic-area AF
      Auto-area AF
      Single-point AF
      3D-tracking (51 points)
    • Live View Shooting
      Photography Live View Mode
      Movie Live View Mode
    • Live View Lens servo
      Autofocus (AF): Single-servo AF (AF-S); full-time-servo AF (AF-F)
      Manual focus (MF)
    • Live View AF-area mode
      Face-priority AF
      Wide-area AF
      Normal-area AF
      Subject-tracking AF
    • Live View Autofocus
      Contrast-detect AF anywhere in frame (camera selects focus point automatically when face-priority AF or subject-tracking AF is selected)
    • Movie Frame size (pixels) and frame rate
      1280 x 720 (30p): 30 fps (29.97 fps)
      1280 x 720 (60p): 60 fps (59.94 fps)
      1920 x 1080 (24p): 24 fps (23.976 fps)
      1920 x 1080 (30p): 30 fps (29.97 fps)
    • Movie Maximum recording time
      20 minutes at highest quality
      29 minutes 59 seconds at normal quality
    • Movie File Format
    • Movie Video Compression
      H.264/MPEG-4 Advanced Video Coding
    • Movie Audio recording format
      Linear PCM
    • Movie Audio recording device
      Built-in monaural microphone
      External stereo microphone (optional)
    • Movie
      HD 1,920×1,080 / 30 fps
      HD 1,920×1,080 / 24 fps
      HD 1,280×720 / 30 fps
      HD 1,280×720 / 24 fps
      HD 1,280×720 / 60 fps
    • Monitor Size
      3.2 in. diagonal
    • Monitor Resolution
      921,000 Dots


Nikon D700 users should feel right at home with this camera. The shape of the D800 is slightly more ergonomic and feels comfortable in hand. The slope of the shutter release button has been adjusted to 35 degrees, just as in the D4. A big addition is the Live View mode, which lifts the mirror and is especially convenient in composing well-thought out captures. The viewfinder boasts 100% coverage (unlike 97% in the D700). I also found the redesigned virtual horizon with roll and pitch indicators activated with a push of a button very useful. The bracketing button has been added for quick access.
The new 3.2″, 921K dot TFT LCD is beautiful, with vivid true-to-life colors and automatic brightness adjustment. Although some users have reported a green tint to the display, I have not had any issues with my particular camera. I really love the addition of the second SD slot, which is of necessity as the RAW files the camera produces are very large and SD cards tend to be cheaper.  The shutter has also been improved, rated at 200,000 actuations (compared to the D700 which is rated at 150,000).


The quality of the incredibly high dynamic range images the D800 produces is immediately apparent. The sensor is a true marvel of modern technology and is able to resolve details that previously would be difficult to capture. Although it is the perfect DSLR for landscape and portrait photography, I found that the low light, high ISO performance is impressive with about a 1-1.5 stop advantage over the D700. Boasting a native ISO range of 100-6,400, it should be very useful to street and wedding photographers. Sports shooters may find it somewhat limiting at 4 fps. Another wonderful feature is the ability to switch to the DX crop mode, in which the camera will produce 15 megapixel images – incredibly advantageous when shooting wildlife and needing reach beyond what the FX mode is able to provide.


The high-resolution images produced by the camera do not come without a few caveats, however. When shooting without a tripod, one has to be meticulous about utilizing proper technique since even minute sloppiness will yield blurring. I suspect that whatever slight blurring exists in the images that follow is the result of imperfect technique and are not related to the intrinsic lack of sharpness.
In addition, one has to be cognizant of the fact that we finally have a sensor that may come close to out-resolving the optical power of the lenses being used. Therefore, I would not use anything except the top-of-the-line “gold-stripe” NIKKOR lenses.
All-in-all, the Nikon D800 is a game-changer. 


Purchase: kindly support my work by purchasing the Nikon D800(E) from B&H utilizing the links below:
Nikon D800
Nikon D800E


Samples: fully processed images in Lightroom 4 are followed by 100% crops without sharpening or noise reduction applied.


"Morning Frost," Nikon D800 on a RRS TVC-24L Tripod, NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8, 1/10 sec at f/11, ISO 100

"Morning Frost," 100% Crop of the lower right hand corner


"Late Night Treat," Times Square, Nikon D800 handheld, NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8, 1/50 sec at f/2.8, ISO 250

"Late-Night Treat," 100% Crop


"Hanging On," Great Smoky Mountains NP, Nikon D800 handheld, NIKKOR 70-200 f/2.8, 1/100 sec at f/5, ISO 800

"Hanging On," 100% Crop


All images are ©2012 Alexander Filatov Photography. All rights reserved.

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