Nikon D800


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    Nikon D800

      In summary

      Nikon's 36-megapixel FX format DSLR provides benefits for many stills photographers plus very impressive video recording capabilities.

      Buy this camera if:
      - You really need all those pixels.
      - You want images with a wide dynamic range.
      - You want relatively noise-free high ISO settings.
      - You’re prepared to shoot and edit both JPEG and NEF.RAW images.
      - You need a DSLR that can produce broadcast quality video.
      - You have a suite of high-quality Nikkor lenses.

      Don’t buy this camera if:
      - You need high continuous shooting speeds.
      - You're looking for a second body to run with an older Nikon pro DSLR. (Key controls in different positions mitigate against a smooth switch.) 
      - You're upgrading from a consumer level DSLR.

      Full review

      When Nikon's 36-megapixel D800 DSLR was announced in early February its massive pixel count created a frisson of excitement across the globe. Unfortunately, natural disasters disrupted production and delayed the camera's release (the D800 is made in Sendai, which was severely affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami) and we've only just managed to secure a review unit.

      The Nikon D800  shown with the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G EDlens used for our Imatest tests. (Source:Nikon.)

      Replacing the D700 at the entry level for Nikon's FX sensor line-up, the D800 is designed to appeal to landscape, industrial, architectural and fashion photographers who need high resolution for large prints. While retaining most of its predecessor's best features, it ups the ante with new metering and AF improvements, sophisticated video capabilities and some internal tweaks to make it easier to obtain first-rate images. The table below compares key features from the two cameras.

       

      Nikon D700

      Nikon D800

      Image sensor

      36.0 x 23.9 mm CMOS

      35.9 x 24 mm CMOS

      Effective resolution

      12.1 megapixels

      36.3 megapixels

      Pixel pitch

      approx. 8.46 microns

      approx. 4.88 microns

      Image Processor

      EXPEED (14-bit A/D conversion)

      EXPEED 3 (16-bit A/D conversion)

      FOV crops

      FX, DX

      FX, 1.2x,  DX, 5:4

      Image formats

      JPEG, TIFF, NEF.RAW, RAW+JPEG

      Stills: JPEG, TIFF, NEF.RAW, RAW+JPEG; Video: MPEG-4/H.264

      Max. image size

      FX format: 4256 x 2832;DX format, 2784 x 1848

      FX format: 7360 x 4912, DX format: 3968 x 2640

      Video

      No

      1920 x 1080 (30, 25, 24 fps), 1280 x 720 (60, 50, 30, 25 fps), 640 x 424 (30, 25 fps)

      Video crops

      n.a.

      FX and DX (1.5x)

      Shutter speed range

      30 to 1/8000 sec. plus Bulb

      Shutter rating

      150,000 cycles

      200,000 cycles

      Flash synch speed

      1/250 sec

      Exposure Compensation

      ±5 EV in increments of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV

      AE bracketing

      2 to 9 frames in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 EV steps

      Self-timer

      Electronically controlled timer with duration of 2, 5, 10 or 20 seconds

      Focus system

      Nikon Multi-CAM 3500FX; TTL phase-detection AF

      Focus points

      51 focus points (15 cross-sensors)

      51 focus points (15 cross-sensors in centre of frame; f/8 supported by 11 sensors)

      Focus modes

      AF-S, AF-C, Focus tracking, Face Detection, Single Point selection, AF support in Live View; Manual focus (M) with electronic rangefinder

      Face detection

      No

      Yes

      Metering sensor

      1005-pixel RGB sensor

      91,000-pixel RGB sensor

      Metering modes

      3D Colour Matrix Metering, Centre-weighted and Spot metering (approx. 1.5%)

      D-Lighting

      Active D-Lighting

      Advanced Active D-Lighting

      Shooting modes

      Program AE, Shutter-priority AE, Aperture-priority AE, Manual

      Time Lapse

      No

      Yes, with movie creator

      Picture Style/Control settings

      Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome; each option can be adjusted

      HDR

      No

      Yes

      ISO range

      ISO 200 to 6400 plus extensions to Lo 1 (ISO 100 equivalent) and HI 2 (ISO 25,600 equivalent)

      ISO 100 to 6400 plus extensions to Lo 1 (ISO 50 equivalent) and Hi 2 (ISO 25,600 equivalent)

      White balance

      TTL white balance with main image sensor and 1,005-pixel RGB sensor; Auto plus seven manual settings with fine-tuning; colour temperature setting; bracketing of 2 to 9 exposures in increments of 1, 2 or 3

      Flash

      Manual pop-up type; GN 17 (ISO 200, m); TTL flash control with 1005-pixel RGB sensor

      Manual pop-up type; GN 12 (ISO 100, m); iTTL flash control; 24mm FOV coverage

      Flash adjustment

      -3 to +1 EV in increments of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV

      Frame advance rate

      Max. 5 fps (CL/CH)

      Max. 4 fps (CH), 6 fps in DX mode

      Storage Media

      CF(Type I)

      Dual slots for CF  and SD

      Viewfinder coverage, eyepoint

      95%, 18 mm

      100%, 17 mm

      Focusing screen

      Type B BriteView Clear Matte VI screen

      LCD monitor

      3-inch TFT LCD with approx. 920,000 dots, 170-degree viewing angle

      3.2-inch TFT LCD with approx. 921,000 dots, wide viewing angle

      Live View

      Handheld and tripod modes

      Still and video modes

      Virtual horizon

      Monitor only

      Viewfinder and monitor

      Interface terminals

      USB 2.0 Hi-speed, Video Out (PAL/NTSC); HDMI Type C mini; 10-pin remote control terminal

      USB 3.0 Hi-speed, Video Out (PAL/NTSC); HDMI Type C mini; 10-pin remote control terminal; stereo microphone jack, headphone jack  

      Power supply

      EN-EL3e Li-ion battery, CIPA rated for approx. 1000 shots/charge

      EN-EL15, CIPA rated for approx. 900 shots/charge

      Dimensions (wxhxd)

      147 x 123 x 77 mm (body only)

      Weight

      995 grams (body only)

      approx. 900 grams (body only)

      The D800 is being offered intwo versions with a more expensive D800E model created to produce maximum image sharpness. This is achieved by disabling the aliasing and moiré pattern reduction operation performed by the optical low-pass filter in the D800. (It doesn't mean the camera has no filter in the optical path; just that it's a different one, without anti-aliasing.)

      Anti-aliasing filters suppress unwanted patterns and 'jaggies' by slightly reducing per-pixel sharpness. In photographs of subjects containing fine detail and, in particular, linear or angular lines these can produce noticeable moiré patterns.

      The type and arrangement of the elements in D800E's filter are less likely to produce blurring but moiré can still present problems.  Consequently,Nikon has recommended the D800E for 'photographers who can control light,distance and their subjects to the degree where they can mitigate the occurrence of moiré'. 

      We believe the processor in the camera contains firmware that detects and removes moiré before raw processing.Artefacts that get past this processing will also be removable via a colour moiré correction tool in Nikon's Capture NX2 software. Whether image sharpness is affected by this processing is something we're unable to test.

      Like the D700, the two D800 models are positioned between the recently-released professional D4 model and the D300S. Many of the features of the D4 have been included in the new camera, along with some of the more useful functions developed for Nikon's consumer-level models.

      Build and Ergonomics
      The D800's body is based upon the D700, being made from  magnesium alloy and having much the same environmental sealing. However, the new camera is a bit more rounded in places and its grip has been redesigned. The control layout has also undergone some significant revisions, outlined below.

      The location of the dust- and weather-proof seals in the D800's body.(Source: Nikon.)

      Front view of the D800 with no lens attached. (Source: Nikon.)

      On the front panel, the focus mode selector has been changed and now includes a button within the AF/MF toggle. This enables users to change AF mode and adjust the number of active Dynamic AFpoints without resorting to the menu. (These adjustments are still available via Custom settings.)

      To select the AF and AF-area modes you simply hold this button down and turn the front sub-command dial. Autofocusing options include face priority, wide area, normal area and subject tracking modes. The rear command dial is used for selecting between single-servo (AF-S) and continuous AF (AF-F).

      Unfortunately, the D800 is the only high-end DSLR that doesn't lock the shutter when the image isn't focused,making it possible to take out-of-focus pictures. This forces you to chimp to check focusing after pretty much every shot, which is inconvenient and interrupts smooth shooting.

      The front Fn and depth of field preview buttons are closer together than on the D700 and their shape is refined to make them more comfortable to use. The covers protecting the flash synch and remote terminals have been similarly refined.

      Rear view of the D800. (Source: Nikon.)

      The rear panel has undergone more dramatic changes, the most visible being the larger 3.2-inch (diagonal) LCD monitor. Its resolution is the same 921,000 dots as the D700 but it provides both manual and automatic brightness adjustment. In auto mode, a sensor embedded on the right of the screen sets its brightness according to ambient light levels.

      A dedicated still/video lever switch and Live View on/off button replaces the D700's AF mode selector below this sensor, just right of the monitor. The Live View mode now displays the image as the sensor 'sees' it, which means you see the effect of changes to the aperture and white balance settings.

      However, despite Nikon's new 'dual white balance' claims, the D800 we reviewed didn't cope well with flash, particularly when there were large differences between the ambient lighting (which is used to control the display brightness) and the flash output. Nikon's solution to this in the White Balance section of the user manual is: Use preset white balance or set white balance to Flash and use fine-tuning to adjust white balance. (Not much help.)

      In the Live View Photography section you're informed that: Monitor hue can be adjusted to reduce the effects of ambient lighting on the display in the monitor during live view, for example when using a flash. It's not easy; you press the Thumbnail button, use the horizontal arrow pad buttons to highlight the monitor hue indicator on the left side of the display and adjust the hue by turning the main control dial.

      This process is unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming. Fortunately, the monitor resets to normal when the camera is turned off (you can store the adjusted value by holding the WB button while pressing the LV button).

      The other change that will upset photographers who use other Nikon DSLRs is the swapping of the positions of the zoom in and zoom out buttons left of the monitor screen. Pro photographers thinking of buying a D800 as an additional body should take this change into account as it is likely to be quite frustrating.

      The dioptre-adjustable viewfinder on the D800  provides 100% frame coverage when the camera is used in FX mode, compared with 95% on the D700. It has a 17mm eyepoint (compared with 18 mm on the D700), non-interchangeable focusing screen, optional grid display and provides 0.7x magnification.

      Top view of the D800 without a lens attached. (Source: Nikon.)

      On the top panel, a Bracketing button has been added to the mode dial left of the viewfinder housing. The Release Mode dial below these buttons has been redesigned to make the drive mode settings easier to see and select.

      To the right of the viewfinder housing a new Movie start/stop  button displaces the Mode button (which is shifted backwards). It's quite easy to press the Movie button inadvertently when you want to change modes although, fortunately, recording won't start unless the live view lever is set for Video.

      The built-in flash can be used with CPU lenses with focal lengths between 24mm and 300mm. It has a minimum range of 60 cm and Guide number of 12 (metres at ISO 100). The camera is compatible with Nikon's Creative Lighting System and can accept most SB-series flashguns as well as the SU-800 wireless Speedlight commander. 

      The new dual-card media slot on the D800. (Source: Nikon.)

      Unlike the D700, the D800 has two card slots, one for  CompactFlash Type I and the other for SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. The CF slot supports UDMA Mode 7 cards, while the SD slot is compatible with UHS-1, both promising faster write speeds to support the camera's video capabilities. Eye-Fi wireless SDHC cards are officially supported, which is handy as the D800 can't use Nikon's WT-5 transceiver (although it's compatible with the WT-4 wireless transmitter).

      The interface terminals on the D800. (Source:Nikon.)

      The D800 is the first (and, sofar, only) Nikon DSLR to be fitted with a USB 3.0 port, which is located below a flap on the left hand side of the camera. This will be welcome to anyone whose computer has a USB 3 interface as it will provide faster uploading of pictures both directly to storage and for display on-screen when the camera is used in tethered set-ups. A USB 3 enabled cable (UC-14) is supplied with the camera.

      A headphone jack and connectorfor an external microphone are also located in the same interface bay. Interestingly, there's no AV-out port.

      The D800 uses the new EN-EL15 battery, which is also used in the D7000 and V1 cameras. It's slightly smaller than the EN-EL3e and the shooting capacity is also slightly less.

      Nikon offers a new MB-D12 battery grip to complement the D800. It accommodates eight AA cells, an EN-EL15 or an EN-EL18 pack, roughly doubling the number of shots you can take.

      Nikon had an opportunity to include features like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, radio triggering – or even a GPS sensor– when designing this new grip. Instead, they removed the AE-L/AF-L button and roughly doubled its price. Not smart.

      New Features
      Where the D700 only offered two image area settings (sensor crops), the D800 provides four: FX format (35.9 x 24.0 mm), 5:4 (30.0 x 24.0 mm), 1.2x (30.0 x 19.9 mm), and DX format (23.4 x 15.6 mm). The pixel dimensions for each area are shown in the table below. All cropped image areas are visually masked in the viewfinder. 

      Image area

      Image size

      Pixels

      FX (36 x 24mm)
       1.0x crop

      L

      7360 x 4912

      M

      5520 x 3680

      S

      3680 x 2456

      1.2x (30 x 20 mm)
       1.2x crop

      L

      6144 x 4080

      M

      4608 x 3056

      S

      3072 x 2040

      DX (24 x 16 mm)

      1.5x crop

      L

      4800 x 3200

      M

      3600 x 2400

      S

      2400 x 1600

      5:4 (30 x 24 mm)

      L

      6144 x 4912

      M

      4608 x 3680

      S

      3072 x 2456

      A new shutter mechanism increases the durability rating to 200,000 cycles. In addition, the shutter, aperture diaphragm and mirror mechanisms are controlled independently. This enables the shutter release to be operated with the mirror up during live view for quiet still image shooting.  Shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 1/8000 second with Bulb exposures added and flash synch configurable  between 1/250 and 1/320 second.

      The self-timer can be configured to take up to nine pictures consecutively at intervals of 0.5, one, two or three seconds and you can set the delay to two, five, 10 or 20 seconds. There's also a time-lapse function with adjustments for shot intervals and total recording time and the camera can create a time lapse movie (silent) using any of the options in the Movie settings page in the shooting menu.

      The shutter release can also be set to start and stop video recording. This allows triggering devices  compatible with the camera's 10-pin socket to be used for remotely starting and ending video recordings.

      The AF system is an upgrade to the Multi-CAM 3500FX system used in the D700 (and most recent Nikon DSLRs). With 51 sensor points, it uses cross-type sensors for 15 points in the three centre rows. These sensors can detect contrast in both vertical and horizontal lines, improving overall performance and they perform at full capacity with any AF Nikkor lens with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster.

      In the D800, the minimum light level for AF detection has been reduced by a full f-stop to -2EV (compared with the D700's -1EV). This promises faster, more accurate focusing in low light levels.

      With the D700, attaching a long tele lens with teleconverter would often reduce the incoming light to a level at which autofocusing was difficult (or impossible). In the DS800, the five cross-type sensors in the centre of the field will maintain their performance as long as the combined open aperture value is below f/8, largely overcoming this problem.

      As in the D700, users can select a single AF point for spot focusing or use all 51 AF points working together to capture moving subjects. In the Dynamic-area AF mode, there's a choice between 11, 9 or 21 AF points.

      Metering has also been improved with a 91,000-pixel sensor, which enables the camera to add face detection in both phase detect and contrast AF modes. This sensor works with the camera's Advanced Scene Recognition System and assists with the face detection AF/AE capability.

      The diagram above shows how the D800's Advanced Scene Recognition System integrates data from the metering sensor and imagesensor. (Source: Nikon.)

      The matrix pattern provided good colour reproduction with portraits and seems to be biased for this type of shot. However, test shots taken in a shopping centre under variable lighting conditions showed its colour reproduction wasn't exactly consistent and auto white balance corrections appeared to be over-ridden. Sometimes colours were very close to natural but at others the ambient lighting produced strong shifts, as shown in the sample images at the end of this review. Spot metering overcomes most problems.

      The front Fn and Depth of Field Preview buttons can be set to control the camera's power aperture in movie mode.This function adjusts the aperture with the stepping motor, reducing the sound of mechanical adjustment for quieter and smoother control. Both these features are ported across from the D4. 

      The HDR mode has been 'borrowed' from the D5100 and, consequently, is JPEG only. It combines only two exposures to form a single image with an extended dynamic range. Users can set the difference between the exposures between 1EV and 3EV in full-stop increments and select the degree to which the boundaries between the top images are smoothed (high, normal or low).

      Sensor and Image Processing
      Of course, the main feature of the D800 is its 36.3 megapixel sensor, which rumours claim is based upon Sony's EXMOR chip. It includes built-in analog/digital conversion circuitry to ensure low read-out noise and decent linearity.

      Do you need all those pixels? They may be more of a liability than an asset in some situations. The largest TIFFs the camera can produce are 108.2MB in size (uncompressed NEF.RAW files are 74.4MB by comparison). This means you'll need higher-capacity memory cards (or a decent supply of spares), more hard drive space for storing image files and a faster computer with more CPU cores and usable RAM to handle all the data.

      Don't expect ultra-fast continuous shooting speeds from the D800. The maximum frame rate for FX or 5:4 images is four frames/second, rising to five frames/second with the 1.2x crop or six frames/second with the 1.2x crop and the MB-D12 battery pack with EN-EL18 battery or AA cells. Frame rates will drop at slow shutter speeds, when VR or auto ISO controls are used and when battery power is low.

      The table below shows typical image sizes, compression ratios and buffer capacities for images recorded in FX (36 x 24 mm) format.

      Image quality

      Image size

      Compression ratio

      File size

      Buffer capacity

      NEF.RAW uncompressed 14-bit

      Large

      none

      74.4MB

      16

      NEF.RAW uncompressed 12-bit

      57.0MB

      18

      NEF.RAW Lossless compressed 14-bit

      20-40% reduction

      41.3MB

      17

      NEF.RAW Lossless compressed 12-bit

      32.4MB

      21

      NEF.RAW compressed 14-bit

      35-55% reduction

      35.9MB

      20

      NEF.RAW compressed 12-bit

      29.0MB

      18

      TIFF (RGB)

      L

      none

      108.2MB

      16

      M

      61.5MB

      18

      S

      28.0MB

      26

      JPEG Fine

      L

      1:4

      16.3MB

      100

      M

      10.4MB

      S

      5.2MB

      JPEG Normal

      L

      1:8

      9.1MB

      M

      5.3MB

      S

      2.6MB

      JPEG Basic

      L

      1:16

      4.0MB

      M

      2.7MB

      S

      1.4MB

      Sensor cleaning has been expanded with the addition of an auto-cleaning function that can be set to trigger when the camera is turned on and/or off. Manual cleaning is also available, using either the low-pass filter vibration system or a blower device.

      ISO sensitivity settings have been expanded only a little. The base sensitivity drops from ISO 200 in the D700 to ISO 100 in the D800, with the Lo 0.3 to Lo 1 settings corresponding to ISO 80 to 50, compared with ISO 100 on the D700. The HI 0.3 to Hi 2 settings are the same as the D700's and correspond to ISO 8000 to ISO 25600.

      The EXPEED 3 processor in the D800 is the same as in the D4 (and also the Nikon 1 V1). It's a pretty powerful chip and optimised to support these cameras' video capabilities. At the highest video quality setting, data is output at around 120 MBps on the HDMI port, which the sensor and processor are required to match (and usually do).

      Video
      The D800's video capabilities are almost the same as the D4's but it only supports FX and DX (1.5x crop) image areas; not the D4's 2.7x crop option.The D800 also lacks a VGA resolution setting. Most of the features required by professional shooters are provided, including support for Full HD (1080p) recording and HD (720p), the latter available at 60 and 50 frames/second to enable slow-motion recording in NTSC/PAL formats.

      Two quality options areprovided for each frame size/rate setting: high quality and normal. The table below outlines the movie settings available with their maximum bit rates.

      Movie setting

      Actual frame rate

      Max. bit rate

      High quality

      Normal

      1920 x 1080 @ 30 fps

      29.97 fps

      24 Mbps

      12 Mbps

      1920 x 1080 @ 25 fps

      25 fps

      1920 x 1080 @ 24 fps

      23.976 fps

      1280 x 720 @ 60 fps

      59.94 fps

      1280 x 720 @ 50 fps

      50 fps

      1280 x 720 @ 30 fps

      29.97 fps

      12 Mbps

      8 Mbps

      1280 x 720 @ 25 fps

      25 fps

      The maximum clip length for movies shot in High quality mode is 20 minutes. For the normal quality mode, clips can be recorded for up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds. A flicker reduction setting is available for shooting movies under fluorescent or mercury vapour lighting.

      Movies can only be recorded in live view mode and recording is initiated (and stopped) by pressing the movie-record button on the top panel. Clips are recorded with an aspect ratio of 16:9 regardless of the format selected. A recording (REC) indicator and the time remaining are displayed on the LCD monitor.

      Exposure is based on matrix metering and can be locked by pressing the AE-L/AF-L button. Up to +/- 3EV of exposure compensation is available. The D800 supports full manual control of shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings. Contrast detect AF is used and in AF mode, the camera can be re-focused by pressing the AF-ON button.

      Power aperture control is only available when the A and M shooting modes are selected and can't be used while recording is in progress or with photo shooting. Users can assign control of the power aperture to the function (Fn) and depth-of-field preview buttons via Custom settings g1 and g2.

      The camera records soundtracks via the built-in microphone on the front of the camera. 

      An external microphone socket is also available, along with a headphone connector that supports stereo headphones. A new sound level indicator allows microphone sensitivity to be monitored during recording, using a visual indicator of soundlevels. Unfortunately, you can't adjust audio levels while recording a clip.
      Photographers can capture still shots while recording video clips by pressing the shutter release button. Shots are recorded with an aspect ratio of 16:9 at the image area selected for the movie. A brief break will be appear in the movie footage at the point when the shot is captured.

      Like the D4, the D800 can deliver 'broadcast quality' uncompressed  (8-bit,4:2:2 colour sampling) video recordings – but only via its HDMI port and it can't be recorded on the standard memory cards; only on an external recorder. (The HDMI output is reset to 720p when there's a card in the camera.)

      You must remove the memory cards from the camera and connect an appropriate external recording device to the HDMI port, which means you have an extra gadget to carry. Nikon provided an Atomos Ninja (ASP AU$880, US$800 without storage disk) for us to use for our tests but supplied no user manual explaining how to operate it. (You can download it from  http://www.atomos.com/ninja/manual/ninja-user_manual.pdf.)

      The Ninja encodes the video using the Apple ProRES codec, which is Mac-only. Windows users can download a decoder from http://support.apple.com/downloads/Apple_ProRes_QuickTime_Decoder_1_0_for_Windows. From the external recorder the video stream can pass straight to a non-linear editing suite with negligible loss of quality.

      HDMI  interface cables are required for connecting the camera to the Ninja and the Ninja to the editing suite. Photographers must also supply their own 2.5-inch disk drives to fit in the Ninja's storage 'caddies'.

      The Ninja is battery powered and comes with a double battery charger and dual battery slots. When one battery is running low, the Ninja will automatically swap to the fresh battery. It also has LANC remote sockets for connecting remote controllers and stereo line-in and line-out sockets for recording and monitoring audio recording.

      Once the Ninja is connected to the camera's HDMI port, the D800 will automatically transmit an uncompressed 1080p signal to the recorder. The record start/stop controls on the Ninja set the start and end points for the recording and putting high capacity drives in the Ninja will overcome the D800's clip length limit.

      A touchscreen interface provides controls for record, play, monitor and menu selection as well as status indicators for various inputs and power levels. A firm push is required to adjust these controls. You can playback recordings on this screen.

      The control interface on the Atomos Ninja. (Source: Atomos.)

      A number of adjustments must be made to the camera settings before you can produce the HDMI video stream. These aren't listed in the D800 user manual but Nikon guru, Thom Hogan, has outlined them in an article at  http://www.bythom.com/hdmivideo.htm. We advise readers who want to use the D800 for professional video recording to read it.

      Performance
      Our Imatest tests on the D800 were carried out with the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 G ED lens, which we reviewed in February 2009 (INSERT LINK).  We also received the AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G prime lens, which is reviewed separately (INSERT LINK).

      The AF system on the review camera was as fast and accurate as you would expect on the basis of past Nikon cameras when the viewfinder was used for shot composition. Using Live View mode slowed autofocusing noticeably and also increased inherent capture lag.

      Test files from the review camera showed high levels of colour accuracy in our Imatest analysis of both JPEG and NEF.RAW images. Saturation was very modest and the dynamic range in images was noticeably wider than average at ISO settings up to about ISO 3200.

      Beyond that point, available light shots appeared 'flatter' and image noise became visible, particularly in long exposures. At ISO 6400, noise was noticeable, although images were still usable and printable to A4 size. At the extended ISO settings, shots were normally usable, although only at smaller output sizes. Note: JPEGs shot at ISO settings above 1600 are automatically processed to suppress noise, even when noise reduction is set to Off.

      Flash shots fared a bit better at high ISO settings, although by Hi1, even they had become slightly soft and blotchy and their dynamic range was reduced.At the Hi2 (ISO  25600 equivalent) setting, shots were even softer,  blotchier and flatter. Applying noise reduction processing produced colour shifts and reduced edge definition.
      Imatest confirmed our subjective assessments and showed a drop in resolution at ISO 6400  and beyond. NEF.RAW files fared slightly better than JPEGs, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results below.

       

      Resolution was up to expectations for the camera's 32MP sensor with both the lenses we tested, although (not unexpectedly) the 85mm f/1.4G prime lens produced superior results to the 24-70mm zoom. The high resolution of the sensor will show up any (and all) defects in lenses. According to a Technical Guide, which can be downloaded free from the Nikon USA website (http://www.nikonusa.com/en_US/o/Y6wrkA9OU_z04IreazIXl_22UII/PDF/D800_TechnicalGuide_En.pdf) the lenses best matched to the D800 include the latest short-range, f/2.8 to f/4 zooms, recent fast primes, Micro-Nikkor close-up lenses, PC-E lenses and fast telephotos with focal lengths of 200mm and more.

      Auto white balance performance was similar to other high-end Nikon cameras. Shots taken under incandescent lighting retained a warm colour cast, while fluorescent lighting was effectively corrected. With plenty of in-camera adjustments plus post-capture colour balance adjustments, colour control is not an issue for this camera.

      Our assessments of video performance are based on clips shot recorded on memory cards, where the camera has a lot of sub-sampling to do to compress the 32MP sensor output to deliver 1920 x 1080-pixel frames. The quality of these clips was on a par with the results we obtained from the EOS 5D Mark III we reviewed recently. Recordings made in mixed lighting and poorly-lit environments appeared quite impressive.

      We observed some softening in clips of moving subjects when the AFsystem couldn't quite keep track and/or shutter speeds were too slow to freeze motion. Otherwise, colours were usually accurate, regardless of the movie mode selected.

      The quality of the soundtracks recorded by the internal microphone wasn't a match for the video images, although some photographers could find it acceptable. Using the supplied ME-1 external microphone provided a noticeable improvement, making soundtracks clearer and more lively.

      Without access to a professional editing desk, we can't comment definitively on the quality of the 'uncompressed' video delivered through the  HDMI port. But it looked at least as good as (if not better than) our HDTV screen could display.

      Our timing tests were carried out with an 8GB Lexar Professional UDMA-1300x  CF card, which is the fastest CF card we own and also with a 32GB SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC U1 card. Regardless of which card was used, the review camera powered-up ready for shooting almost immediately. Live View shooting became accessible within roughly 0.51 seconds. 

      Capture lag was negligible when the viewfinder was used for shot composition but extended to anaverage of 1.5 seconds in Live View mode. A large percentage of this delay was due to autofocusing lag as the camera tended to hunt for focus in moderately low light levels.

      Shot-to-shot times with both cards averaged 0.25 seconds without flash. With flash, the intervals extended to an average of 2.4 seconds.

      Regardless of which card was used, it took an average of 1.9 seconds to process a single JPEG file, 2.1 seconds for a raw file and 2.6 seconds for a RAW+JPEG pair. Processing a TIFF file, which is significantly larger, took 3.8 seconds on average.
      In the high-speed continuous shooting mode with the CF card, the test camera recorded 12 Large/Fine JPEGs in 2.2 seconds, which is slightly faster than specified. It took 7.9 seconds to process this burst. For bursts of RAW+JPEG pairs, the camera recorded 10 shots in 2.2 seconds, which was close to four frames/second.It took 17.8 seconds to process this burst.

      Swapping to the SDHC card, we recorded 10 Large/Fine JPEGs in 2.2 seconds. It took 8.5 seconds to process this burst. For bursts of RAW+JPEG pairs, the capture rate was the same but it took 19.5 seconds to process the burst.

      Although our testing has been limited by available resources, Nikon guru, Thom Hogan, has conducted more extensive tests and recommends the use of UDMA-7 (CF) or UHS-1 (SD)cards, particularly when shooting raw files. He also recommends using cards of 8GB capacity (no more than 16GB) to minimise the delays between when the shot was taken and the preview image is displayed. Smaller cards also diminish the risk of losing large quantities of files if a card is lost or damaged.

      Summing Up
      The question of whether the D800 should be your next camera is difficult to answer. Basically it depends on the level of your photographic expertise, the subjects you mainly shoot, how big you print your shots and the depth of your pockets.

      First up, the D800 is not for well-heeled amateurs who will leave it set on P mode and never explore its capabilities. To get the best from this camera, you need a fairly high level of imaging expertise.

      You will also  require top quality lenses and a tightly-controlled shooting regimen that takes in all aspects of focusing and exposure. You will probably need more storage and a high-performance computer to handle the image and video files (particularly the latter).

      If you're a serious landscape photographer, upgrading to the D800 will provide you with higher resolution (and therefore, the ability to record finer details) plus a wider dynamic range at the sensitivity settings you're likely to use. Consider the D800E if you're looking for maximum image sharpness.

      The same applies to wildlife and nature photographers, particularly where detailed images are required. The D800's support for fast, high-magnification tele lenses is a real benefit here. But you'll need to work from hides or find some way to transport the heavy camera+lens configurations.

      Wedding photographers will benefit from the camera's excellent colour reproduction, wide dynamic range and low light performance. However, some adjustments to workflow will be required to manage the large files the camera produces.

      High resolution is less necessary for portrait photographers and, despite its excellent rendition of skin tones, the D800 might provide more resolution than you really want. Every blemish in the subject's complexion will be revealed, along with details like fine hairs and delicate tonings. Post-capture correction of blemishes could be time-consuming when the images won't be printed at poster size.

      The relatively slow continuous shooting rates mean D800 isn't designed for sports photography. That doesn't mean the camera is unsuitable; just that you can't expect high-speed frame capture. In addition, the camera's buffer memory will fill quickly if you don't use the fastest memory cards. Otherwise, the camera's high ISO performance,excellent colour reproduction and your capacity to crop images could be advantageous.

      For video shooters, the ability to output high-quality clips via the HDMI port to an external storage device could overcome the limitations of  recording movies to memory cards. But you'll need access to a professional editing suite if you want to explore the camera's capabilities in post production. You may also require a separate audio recording system if you want top-quality soundtracks.

      Architectural and product photographers should be cautious about investing in a D800E because it's not immune to moiré when you shoot subjects with fine detail in repeating patterns. The problem is reduced with the D800 but doesn't disappear entirely.

      Buy this camera if:
      - You really need all those pixels.
      - You want images with a wide dynamic range.
      - You want relatively noise-free high ISO settings.
      - You’re prepared to shoot and edit both JPEG and NEF.RAW images.
      - You need a DSLR that can produce broadcast quality video.
      - You have a suite of high-quality Nikkor lenses.

      Don’t buy this camera if:
      - You need high continuous shooting speeds.
      - You're looking for a second body to run with an older Nikon pro DSLR. (Key controls in different positions mitigate against a smooth switch.)
      - You're upgrading from a consumer level DSLR.

      SPECS

      Image sensor: 35.9 x 24.0 mm CMOS sensor with 36.8 million photosites (36.3 megapixels effective)
      Image processor: EXPEED 3
      A/D processing: 12 or 14bit
      Lens mount: Nikon F mount (with AF contacts)
      Focal length crop factor:1x
      Image formats: Stills – NEF.RAW, TIFF, JPEG (Exif 2.3), RAW+JPEG; Movies – H.264/MPEG-4Advanced Video Coding
      Image Sizes: Stills – FX format(36 x 24): 7360 x 4912 (L), 5520 x 3680 (M), 3680 x 2456 (S); 1.2x (30 x 20):6144 x 4080 (L), 4608 x 3056 (M), 3072 x 2040 (S); DX format (24 x 16): 4800 x3200 (L), 3600 x 2400 (M), 2400 x 1600 (S); 5:4 (30 x 24): 6144 x 4912 (L),4608 x 3680 (M), 3072 x 2456 (S); Movies: 1920 x 1080 at 30p, 25p, 24p; 1280 x 720 at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p
      Image Stabilisation:Lens-based
      Dust removal: Image sensor cleaning, Image Dust Off reference data (requires optional Capture NX 2 software)
      Shutter speed range: 1/8,000 to 30 seconds in steps of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV, bulb, X-synch at 1/250 second
      Shutter release modes: S (single frame), CL (continuous low speed), CH (continuous high speed), Q (quiet),self-timer, mirror up
      Exposure Compensation: -5to +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
      Self-timer: 2, 5, 19, 20 seconds delay; 1 to 9 exposures at intervals of 0.5, 1, 2 or 3 s
      Focus system: Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection, fine-tuning, 51 focus points (including 15 cross-type sensors; f/8 supported by 11 central sensors), and AF-assist illuminator
      Focus modes: Single-servo AF (AF-S); continuous-servo AF(AF-C); predictive focus tracking automatically activated according to subjectstatus; Manual focus (M) with electronic rangefinder; Single-point AF, 9-, 21-or 51-point dynamic-area AF, 3D-tracking, auto-area AF area modes
      Exposure metering: TTL exposure metering using 91K-pixel RGB sensor; 3D colour matrix metering III, centre-weighted average and spot metering (about 1.5% of frame) 
      Shooting modes: Programmed auto with flexible program (P); shutter-priority auto (S); aperture priority auto (A);manual (M)
      Picture Control settings: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape; each setting can be modified and storage is available for Custom Picture Controls
      Filter effects: Skylight, Warm, Red intensifier, Green intensifier, Blue intensifier, Cross screen (starburst), Soft
      Colour space options: sRGB, AdobeRGB
      Active D-Lighting: Can be selected from auto, extra high, high, normal, low or off; ADL bracketing of 2 frames using selected value for one frame or 3 to 5 frames using preset values for all frames
      ISO range: ISO 100 to 6400 in steps of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV; canalso be set to approx. 0.3, 0.5, 0.7 or 1 EV (ISO 50 equivalent) below ISO 100or to approx. 0.3, 0.5, 0.7, 1 or 2 EV (ISO 25600 equivalent) above ISO 6400;auto ISO sensitivity control available
      White balance: Auto (2 types), incandescent, fluorescent (7 types), direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset manual (up to 4 values can be stored) and colour temperature setting (2,500 K to 10,000 K); fine-tuning available for all options
      Flash: Manual pop-up (GN 12/ISO 100);  i-TTL flash control using91K-pixel RGB sensor is available with built-in flash and SB-910, SB-900,SB-800, SB-700, SB-600 or SB-400
      Flash exposure adjustment: -3 to +1EV in increments of 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV
      Sequence shooting: With EN-EL15 battery (FX/5:4) CL: approx. 1 to 4 fps,CH: approx. 4 fps, (DX/1.2x) CL: approx. 1 to 5 fps, CH: approx. 5 fps
      Storage Media: Dual slots for SD and UHS-I compliant SDHC and SDXCmemory cards; Type I CompactFlash memory cards (UDMA compliant)
      Viewfinder:  Eye-level pentaprism with 100% FOV coverage (FX); approx. 0.7x magnification, 17 mm eyepoint, dioptre adjustment -3 to +1 dpt; Type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VIII screen with AF area brackets and framing grid
      LCD monitor: 3.2-inch TFT LCD with approx. 921k-dots and 170 degree viewing angle; auto brightness adjustment
      Live View modes: Live view photography (still images), movie live view (movies)
      Data LCD: Yes
      Playback functions: Full-frame and thumbnail (4, 9 or 72 images), playback zoom, movie playback, photo and/ormovie slide shows, auto image rotation, resize, retouch (saturation, contrast, D-Lighting adjustments), straighten, distortion control, perspective control, highlights, histogram display, image overlay (NEF.RAW only), NEF.RAW processing (to JPEG), image comment (up to 36 characters), effects (fisheye, colour outline, colour sketch, miniature, selective colour), side-by-side comparison
      Interface terminals: USO 3.0, HDMI(Type C Mini); stereo mini-pin jacks for audio in/out; 10-pin remote terminal
      Power supply: EN-EL15 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx 900 shots 
      Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 146 x 123 x 81.5 mm (body only)
      Weight: Approx. 900 grams (body only)

      TESTS

      JPEG images

      NEF.RAW images converted with Adobe Camera Raw.

      SAMPLES

      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

       
      30-second exposure at ISO 100, 28mm focal length, f/3.2.

      10-second exposure at ISO 3200, 28mm focal length, f/5.6.

      10-second exposure at ISO 6400, 28mm focal length, f/8.

      5-second exposure at ISO Hi2 (25600 equivalent), 28mm focal length, f/16.

      Flash exposure at ISO 100, 70mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/2.8.

      Flash exposure at ISO 3200, 70mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/7.1.

      Flash exposure at ISO 6400, 70mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/8.

       

      Flash exposure at ISO Hi2, 70mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/11.

      24mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/640 second at f/8.

      70mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/400 second at f/8.

      Low-light portrait; 85mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 6400, 1/200 second at f/1.8.

      Close-up; 70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/2.8.

      Backlighting; 70mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/30 second at f/5.6.

      ISO 200, 66mm focal length, ISO 200, 0.62 second at f/11; spot metering.

      ISO 1250, 70mm focal length, 1/10 second at f/11; spot metering.

      ISO 25600, 70mm focal length, 1/500 second at f/11; spot metering.

      ISO 12800, 70mm focal length, 1/400 second at f/7.1; spot metering.

      24mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/50 second at f/3.5; matrix metering.

      85mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/25 second at f/7.1; matrix metering.

      70mm focal length, ISO 1250, 1/60 second at f/7.1; matrix metering.

      70mm focal length, ISO 5000, 1/200 second at f/7.1; matrix metering.

      50mm focal length, ISO 6400, 1/200 second at f/8; matrix metering.

      70mm focal length, ISO 640, 1/80 second at f/5.6; spot metering.

      Still frame from Full HD (1080p) video clip recorded at 30 fps with the High quality setting.

      Still frame from Full HD video clip recorded at 30 fps with the Normal quality setting.

      Still frame from HD (720p) video clip recorded at 25 fps with the High quality setting.

      Still frame from HD (720p) video clip recorded at 30 fps with the High quality setting.

      Still frame from HD (720p) video clip recorded at 60 fps with the High quality setting.

      Rating

      RRP: not available. ASP: AU$3,465, US$3,000 (body only)

      • Build: 9.3
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 9.0
      • Still image quality: JPEG 9.3; RAW 9.5
      • Video quality: 9.5

      BUY