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Nikon D800 Review
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Starting at $2,800 for the camera body.
The Nikon D800 Camera Living Review
This is a “living” review. I’ve now been using one for quite a while, and I will continue to add to this review with new notes and observations.
I review a lot of stuff that I actually use – see the Reviews area for more camera, lens, and software reviews. I know you’re time is as precious as mine… so I don’t waste time and get right to the best.
Compared to the Nikon D3X
I bought a new Nikon D800 right when it came out, and I used it for well over a year. It’s a great camera!
I used to have a Nikon D3X and many people wonder why I would rather have the D800. One reason is the megapixels and cost. Both are better! I know people often groan at the megapixel bit, but I do like having very large images. Given the choice of a medium or high-res photo, I will always take high-res. It’s not for prints, although that helps — it’s also for monitors and wall-displays of the future. Another significant reason is that it is better in low-light. It will shoot at 6,400 ISO instead of 1,600 ISO. Some minor points that make it better for me are: It is cheaper, it is smaller and lighter, and it has a bigger screen (3.2″). There are many more advantages, although very minor. These include a self-cleaning sensor (hope it works!), a quicker shutter lag (119 ms faster!), video (which I won’t use too much, but happy it is there), and it is over twice as fast to start up.
I took this photo in San Francisco while using the Nikon 28-300mm lens.
The files are huge and glorious. It’s almost medium-format in this glory! I’ve had to crop in many times on my 36 megapixel shots to recompose in post, and the resulting image still has more than ample resolution. Each RAW is between 40 and 50 megs when in 14-bit mode… and it seems to vary wildly.
So then you have a file-management issue of sorts, yes? This is sort of the “Red Queen” problem. The Red Queen describes a hypothesis where species that exist together are constantly co-evolving to keep up with one another. In this case, bigger files means you need a faster computer with more memory so that you have the same experience as before. Personally, I made a switch to an SSD (Solid State Drive) over a year ago, and it has saved me countless hours of waiting-on-the-hard-drive!
A rock moves across the desert floor in Death Valley.
A Pro Camera?
I was a bit worried that this would not be a full-on “Pro” body in terms of toughness, water resistance, and the like. But, it certainly is! I find it to be quite tough and weather resistant. As you can see above, we had a good time in Death Valley together with no problems. The only “toughness” problem was a bit of an extreme situation when the whole tripod blew over in Sydney Harbor. That did require some repair, but I think the same thing would have happened with my D3X.
The Grid Overlay
The new Grid overlay system when looking through the viewfinder is GREAT. It has really helped me to line up photos better. I didn’t realize that was a minor feature of this camera before I got it, but I really love it.
Auto-Bracketing and Self-Timer for auto-HDR
First, the auto-bracketing has all the features of the entire line if Nikon Pro cameras. It has 9 stops, so you can easily go from -4 EV to +4 EV, stepping by 1. Unfortunately, you can only step by 1, and I wish they would open up more possibilities with a firmware update like Sony did.
Also, whenever I fire off an HDR, I simply put the camera into Timer mode, which is on the dial atop. Inside the settings, I did a one time setup of a 2 second delay and 9 exposures. Most of my HDR shots are just 5 exposures from -2 to +2, but this still works. I just:
1) put it in timer mode
2) set my BKT to 5F (5 exposures from -2 to +2)
3) press the shutter button
4) wait for the 2 second delay and it automatically takes all 5 exposures.
This method is great because you don’t need an external trigger or anything!
The only disadvantage is that there is a 0.5 interval between each of the bracketed shots. If that is too long for you, then using the Interval Timer Shooting can help. But, that is a cumulative time-waster because you’ll have to go through the menu system each time, which takes more time than just waiting 0.5 seconds between each exposure.
Why not the D800E?
Like many people, I had to choose between the D800 and the more-expensive D800E. I’ll tell you basically with the “E” is without getting overly technical. If you really want to know the tech-speak, you can go look that up elsewhere. The “E” means that a thin layer is removed on top of the sensor that decreases something called “moire”; this supposedly makes your photos sharper. Moire is that strange effect you see sometimes when you zoom into 100% and in the parallel lines you see those pixellated stairs. The filter in the camera removes those, and some people want those in there for absolute sharpness in those very very rare situations.
Some of my friends got the D800E, and I can’t really tell a difference.
Last, one of my final steps in post-processing (see my HDR Tutorial) is sharpening. This tends to get everything I need more than sharp enough.
This is a shot from the nosebleed seats at the SF Giants game. Here’s a good example of when 36 megapixels comes in handy.
This is a common topic of discussion, and my story is a strange one that will not sway you either way on this issue!
I used the camera for about 5 months with no problems at all. Maybe the focus was a bit off, but I never noticed. Even at 100%, things seemed “sharp enough” for me. Of course, I’m always looking at these images in a vacuum, without another D800 right beside me. All focus-sharpness is relative, of course. You can’t tell how sharp something really is until you compare it side by side. Once something is “sharp enough”, you tend just be satisfied.
But then here is the confusing part of the story that wil not give you any indication as to the answer to this question. In a HUGE wind on Sydney harbor, my D800 blew over on my tripod along with the 28-300mm lens. Now this DID knock the focus out of whack. Strangely, though, the focus is only out of whack at low F-Stops, like f/3.5 for example. Everything looks good around F/8. Anyway, I sent in everything to Nikon Professional Services for a proper fix-up.
What are my favorite Lenses for the Nikon D800?
These are the three lenses I use the most for my D800. Of course, keep in mind that I love to do landscape and architecture photos…
- Nikon 14-24 Review – A great wide-angle lens for landscapes and architecture
- Nikon 28-300 Review – Perfect walk-around lens mid-range stuff like landscapes, birthdays, sports, etc.
- Nikon 50mm Review – Ideal for cute children, family and close-up objects where you like a blurry background
I only write reviews for lenses that I use and recommend. Here is a complete list of camera lens reviews.
Since this is a “living review”, I add to it from time to time based on questions that I receive here and on social networks. The nature of all my photos are kind of this landscape situation where I used a tripod. Some people are wondering if it’s okay for just handheld snapshots.
The answer is yes, it is great with snapsots! This is a very high-end DSLR with a huge sensor. Having a tripod around is really kind of a luxury, but you definitely do not need one to get quality shots of people, architecture, buildings, flowers, landscapes, or whatever you happen to enjoy shooting.
Why I Bought the Nikon D800
This is a video below where you can find out more…. and it is also in response to a controversial article about DSLRs being a dying breed … something that I still believe … In the article I said that DSLRs are on their way out and Mirrorless cameras will take over in the next few years. I didn’t see myself spending more money on DSLR equipment, but that is before the D800 came out, which is half the price and better for my situation than the D3X! So…. this is my loophole… hehe… and well… you can see more in the video.
I’ll continue to experiment and put more beneath.
This one is literally the FIRST photo I took with the D800. It is HDR, like many of my photos, created with 5 exposures from -2 to +2.
This is the Skyline bar, where the walls are actually ever-changing video screens. The D800 got a nice clean shot here.
This shoots as well at night as my D3X. Of course, to get something like this, it helps to have a tripod.
This is a non-HDR photo. This all came out of a single D800 RAW!
I now use the D800 for all my landscape shots, including this shot of my new homeland in New Zealand.
Another photo from the Disney Cruise.
Here’s a shot from New York City that reminds me of Inception…
And last, a portrait shot of the Sydney Opera House…