The Nikon D800 has arrived.
The 36-megapixel full-frame Nikon D800 has been announced, sending relief to Nikon users envious of the Canon 5D Mark II and consternation to photographers wishing for a natural successor to the D700- basically, a D4 Lite.
Reviews on this camera have not been conducted yet, but this post will include specifications, a summary of analysis from around the web, pre-order information for anyone set to buy the camera, sample videos, and a brief summary of my own thoughts, with the caveat that I and many people writing about this camera haven't used it yet, so throw in ample grains of salt.
The Nikon D800 was hotly anticipated for a long time but its announcement was delayed until this month due to the Japanese earthquake and flooding in Thailand last year. It is hear now and for the time being holds the only bracket between the $1,200 D7000 and the $6,000 D4 in the Nikon lineup. The new FX camera is also being released in a D800E edition for $300 more, intended to mitigate the effects of anti-aliasing filters. This alternate edition may have better sharpness in some situations, but at the expense of possible moiré. More on that later.
First the pre-order information, since we do have to pay bills around here.
If you decide to spend a few grand on the D800 or any camera, please do it through this website. We also have links to photo retailers on the column at right. Now onto business...
Nikon D800/D800E Details
Key specifications for the Nikon D800: full-frame, magnesium alloy body, 36.3 effective megapixels, choice of 3:2 or 5: 4 aspect ratio, Expeed 3 processor, ISO 100-6400 (or 50-25600 with boost), 51 autofocus points, 4 frames per second full-frame (6 in DX), 100% viewfinder coverage, built-in flash included, 1080p video (24fps or 30fps), and CF or SD storage.
A few features jump out right away. The number of megapixels have tripled from the 12-megapixel D700. The shooting speed has gone down, with 4fps at full-frame only half of what the D700 was capaible of (with the battery grip attached). Finally, the D800 also offers video, which has emerged as a very hot purchase driver in this price category.
Imaging Resource has published its online preview. Some of the details they note:
- The D800 allows uncompressed 1080p signal via the HDMI port.
- "The Viewfinder is gorgeous, thanks to its 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."
- Uses the same EN-EL15 battery pack found in the D7000 and V1.
- "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."
- "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."
- "The Nikon D800 allows shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity to be controlled manually [in video mode], as required to adapt to changes in ambient lighting or yield the desired cinematic effect."
- Headphone jack included.
Digital Photography Review offers this assessment of the D800: "Whereas the D4 is intended as a specialist tool for capturing images quickly in all weathers and light conditions, the D800 has been designed to have a much broader potential appeal. The features that it lacks compared to the D4, such as ultra-high ISO shooting, very fast framerates, QXD card compatibility, 2000+ image battery life and built-in Ethernet, might matter to some professionals but are unlikely to be deal-breakers for most of us.
Like the D700, the D800 can be used in DX mode, this time with a much more powerful 15 megapixels.
Some critics (myself included) are skeptical about the D800's ability to offer strong image quality at such a high resolution. Isn't it curious that Nikon has installed 36 megapixels into the D800 but only 16 megapixels in the D4?
Thom Hogan, a leading Nikon analyst (and one hell of a photographer/blogger) has been defensive of the D800. He writes:
- "This is a tricky subject, but the net is the same as the D3/D3x debate once was: using all the pixels, I'd pick the D3x over the D3 up to about ISO 800, the D3 above that. Using only 12mp sizes, the crossover gets pushed higher (for me, ISO 1600, but for others they'll take ISO 3200 from a downsized D3x image)."
- "... But if you're worried, here's a little experiment to try at home. Borrow a D700 and D7000. Set the D700 to shoot in DX mode. Shoot the same exact composition with the same lens on both cameras. Now downsize the D7000 image to 5.4mp. Compare away. Extra credit: use the same zoom lens with 1.5x focal length differences to shoot the same scene with the D700 set to FX crop, but downsize the D7000 to 12mp."
- "Will there be a D4s, a D4x, a D800 with the D4 sensor? Well, yes, probably yes to all of those. But not any time soon."
For a more sardonic assessment, read "Fake Chuck Westfall," the faux Canon (non)spokesman who previously had devoted most of his wit and profanities on Canon pitfalls such as lousy focus on the 5D and softness on the 7D. He has some sharp words to say about very early image samples from the D800.
The D800/D800E is definitely a camera that will spur divided opinions. Rob Galbraith writes that this is due to different uses that may be intended from photographers:
- "The D700 was effectively a junior version of the pricier D3, offering the same autofocus, same metering, same resolution, same high ISO image quality and, with Multi Power Battery Pack MB-D10 attached, nearly the same frame rate (8fps for the D700 vs 9fps for the D3). Sports or other photographers that bought the D700 and MB-D10 soon discovered they'd gotten the best of the D3 for a lot less money."
- "Reducing the pixel pitch from 8.45µm in the D700 to 4.88µm in the D800 probably means the D700 will be the somewhat better high-ISO performer of the two, despite the fact the D800 has been given the same ISO upper limit. Conversely, if you're assuming that the D800's many small pixels will lead to lousy-looking photos at higher sensitivity settings, another Nikon camera with about the same pixel pitch might put your mind at ease. That camera is the DX Format D7000, and based on the fairly clean and completely usable ISO 3200 and 6400 pictures we've taken with it and its 4.78µm pixel pitch sensor, there's reason to think the D800's low light shooting abilities might actually be alright."
- "The minimum light level for AF detection, at EV-2, is one stop better than the D700's EV-1."
- "The D800 can autofocus properly to f/8, as long as your composition keeps the subject within a subset of the AF array's 51 points."
- "The D800 has both an internal mono mic and a powered 3.5mm stereo mic input jack."
D800 or D800E?
For users planning to get the D800, the next question is whether to get the standard version or the slightly more expensive D800E option. I will leave out most of engineering details about this distinction (incredibly technical discussions can be found elsewhere on the web), but offer a few pithy remarks commenters have made that could help photographers decide whether the D800E is the right route for them.
Digital Photography review writes about the appeal of the D800E, "Almost all digital cameras employ an optical low-pass filter over their sensors to slightly blur the image at a pixel level in order to avoid moiré patterning. This gives more usable images for general photography (moiré is annoying and can be time-consuming to correct) but comes at the expense of a slight decrease in critical sharpness. Removing the effect of this filter, as Nikon has done in the D800E, should result in higher resolution. Although the difference might not be critical to the average enthusiast, it could be of major importance to studio and landscape professionals (many of whom will be used to working with medium format cameras, which likewise don't use OLPFs)."
On that other hand, that added sharpness does not come without cost. Hogan writes, "[U]nless you're primarily shooting something you know shouldn't be a big issue--basically landscapes--you shouldn't go this route. Shooting in and around cities and shooting people that aren't nude makes you susceptible to moiré. Moreover, you're not likely to see it at capture time: you'd need to be constantly zooming the playback on the LCD to see it, and 36mp is a pretty big mess of pixels to try to examine closely on the 3.2" LCD. Simply put: removing moiré is way harder than adding perceived acuity through sharpening."
Galbraith writes, "The pixel count of its sensor is encroaching on medium format digital territory, where blurring low-pass filters are all but nonexistent and crispy-sharp picture detail is the order of the day. The D800E is meant for the photographer seeking all the resolution its 36.15 million image pixels can deliver, and is prepared to tolerate - and incorporate workflow corrections for - moiré and other colour artifacts that will pop up more often in D800E photos."
Nikon D800 Video Review and Video Samples
Here are a few Nikon D800 related videos.
My take on the Nikon D800/D800E
For a certain kind of user, the Nikon D800 could have a lot of appeal. While it is not a medium format camera, it will appeal to many of the kinds of photographers drawn to larger formats, fashion and landscape photographers especially (and some wedding photographers). It will offer the most resolution of any full-frame camera on the market, 51 autofocus points, strong low-light autofocus (according to Nikon's data), 1080p video, and come in at a price point less than half of what the D3x and Canon 1Ds Mark III cameras cost.
It is not a camera that I am planning to buy. I'm a sports and action photographer and 4fps is a non-starter. I also have some concerns about what the added resolution will do to the D800's image quality, particular above 800 ISO (I often shoot at 3200ISO and would prefer to be able to shoot at 6400). Reviews will take more information about the camera. This is just a summary preview.