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Sharp Shooting: The Nikon D800

Simon Stafford takes a first ‘hands-on’ look at the D800 (All pictures courtesy of the Nikon Corporation)

Following last month’s announcement of the D4, Nikon has today revealed its latest D-SLR, the D800, together with a specialised variant, the D800E, which is identical to the D800, except it lacks an anti-aliasing filter.

Almost four years after the introduction of the Nikon D700, the second FX-format (24 x 36 mm) Nikon D-SLR camera to be launched, and one that has formed the cornerstone of many photographer’s equipment, with its highly regarded 12.1-million pixel sensor, the same as used in the original D3 camera, the Nikon Corporation has today announced its latest ‘compact’ FX D-SLR, the Nikon D800.

Far from being a baby brother to the D4, as the D700 was often considered to the D3, the D800 is aimed squarely at the professional and dedicated enthusiast photographer seeking extremely high-resolution images, both stills and video. Consequently, the D800 has a wholly new sensor specification that sets it apart quite clearly from the D4, as an entirely different tool intended for distinctly different roles.

The D800 features a 36.3-million (effective) pixel Nikon FX-format (39.5 x 24 mm) CMOS sensor, providing a maximum resolution of 7,360 x 4,912 pixels in the FX format, or put another way at a file resolution of 300 ppi (pixel per inch) the camera can produce a 24.5 x 16.3 inch (62 x 41 cm) print, essentially A2 size, without any interpolation.

The camera has inherited a number of features and functions directly from the D4, including the following: the same 91,000-pixel RGB ambient/flash metering sensor, the same revised 51-point AF system with increased sensitivity to support auto focus when using a lens, or lens/teleconverter combination that has a maximum aperture of f/8, the same EXPEED 3 image processing, the same start-up time (approx. 0.12 seconds) and shutter lag time (0.042 seconds), the same 1080p video capture and audio monitoring, uncompressed video output via the HDMI port, plus enhanced in-camera processing, including an HDR function and creation of time lapse video.

Specifications specific to the D800 include a standard ISO range of 100-6,400 (extendable to 50 – 26,600), new shutter unit that has been tested to 200,00-cycles and capable of 4 fps (frames per second) in the FX format, or 5:4 crop mode, and up to a maximum of 5 fps in the DX in the DX format, or 1.2x crop mode. The camera has two memory card slots, with the CompactFlash (CF) slot compatible with the latest UDMA-7 standard CF cards, while the Secure Digital (SD) slot is compatible with Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC) and UHS-1 standards. Unlike the D4 there is no new battery for the D800, as it uses the existing Nikon EN-EL15, the same as the D7000 camera; however, there is a new optional battery pack, the MB-D12. As you would expect the D800 is fully compatible with the Nikon Creative Lighting System and Nikon Speedlight flash units, including the latest SB-910.

In the D800, which is manufactured exclusively at Nikon (Sendai), Japan, Nikon has sought to address the demands of their existing customer base of professional and dedicated enthusiast photographers for a significant update to the D700, while at the same time seeking to increase their market share by enticing photographers working in a variety of high-end sectors of professional photography by offering a very high resolution camera that provides a viable alternative to medium format digital cameras.

Prior to today’s official announcement I had the opportunity to spend a morning taking a close look at the camera and discussing its finer points with Nikon (UK) staff. The following is a summary of the key features and functions of the D800, together with my first “hands on” impressions of the camera; the full technical specifications are available from the Nikon Corporation here.

The official press announcement, which can be viewed here.

The Nikon Corporation has posted fourteen full-resolution images take with the D800 and D800E by photographers, Benjamin Monn, Jim Brandenburg, Muga Miyahara, Rob Van Petten, Cliff Mautner, Toshiya Hagihara, and Shinichi Sato. All the pictures were shot as NEF Raw (14-bit) and converted to JEPG in Capture NX2.

The seven D800 sample images can be viewed here.

The seven D800E sample images can be viewed here.

Sensor

The D800 features a new FX-format (24.0 x 35.9 mm) CMOS sensor developed by Nikon, with 36.3 million effective pixels (three times the number on the sensor of the D700), and has a pixel pitch of 4.7-microns. It provides image dimensions of 7,360 x 4,912 pixels at full resolution, with options for 5,520 x 3,680 pixels at the medium setting, and 3,680 x 2,456 pixels at the small setting. In the DX crop mode the camera has a resolution of 15.3 million pixels (4,800 x 3,200 pixels), compared with the 16.2 million pixel (4,928 x 3,264) full resolution of the DX-format Nikon D7000. At its maximum resolution of 7,360 x 4,912 pixels the D800 produces a file size of 74.4MB (NEF Raw 14-bit, uncompressed), 41.3MB (NEF Raw 14-bit, lossless compressed), or 32.4MB (NEF Raw 12-bit, lossless compressed).

The camera offers a normal ISO range of 100 to 6,400, adjustable in 1/3EV, 1/2EV, or 1.0EV steps, plus an extended range of Lo 1 (ISO 50 equivalent) in 1/3EV steps, up to Hi-1 (ISO 12,800) in 1/3EV steps, and up to Hi-2 (ISO 25,600) in 1EV step.

Supporting the new sensor is Nikon’s third-generation image processing regime, EXPEED 3 that handles 14-bit analogue-to-digital conversion, followed by 16-bit image processing. Data processing is claimed to be significantly faster (it is specified at 30% quicker) than the EXPEED 2 processing of current Nikon D-SLR cameras, with enhanced noise reduction algorithms that produce cleaner stills and video files, even at high ISO settings. Image files can be saved in the proprietary Nikon NEF (Raw) in 12, or 14-bit, as lossless compressed, compressed, or uncompressed, as well as in the TIFF (RGB), and JPEG formats.

Shutter

The D800 features a newly designed shutter mechanism, with Kevlar/carbon fibre composite blades, which has been tested to 200,000 cycles (up from 150,000 cycles for the D700). The unit has a shutter speed range of 1/8000 to 30-seconds, with flash sync at 1/250-second; shutter release lag is 42-milliseconds. It has a reduced power drain during Live View and video recording, plus a faster cycling operation to allow a more rapid return to Live View after taking a stills picture, due principally to a new motor that drives the unit. When shooting stills pictures from Live View, with the camera set to its Tripod mode, the D800 keeps the reflex mirror in its raised position, so when the shutter release is pressed the only movement is the operation of the shutter, which is an improvement over previous iterations of Live View operation where the mirror would drop after the shutter release was pressed, to enable metering and focusing, and be raised again before the shutter opened.

The shutter can cycle at up to 4 fps (frames per second) in the FX format, or 5:4 crop mode, and up to a maximum of 5 fps in the DX in the DX format, or 1.2x crop mode, with full AF and auto-exposure operation. Addition of the optional MB-D12 Battery Pack raises the maximum frame rate to 6 fps in the DX format when fitted with batteries other than the EN-EL-15.

In respect of shutter control a couple of the Custom Settings menu items have been modified: the Exposure Delay item can be set to 1s, 2s or 3s, rather than being fixed at approximately 1s, as it is in the D700, while the self-timer can be configured to take up to nine pictures in a sequence, at intervals of 0.5s, 1s, 2s, or 3s.

Card slots & Buffer Capacity

The D800 has two memory card slots, with the CompactFlash (CF) slot compatible with the latest UDMA-7 standard CF cards, while the Secure Digital (SD) slot is compatible with Secure Digital Extended Capacity (SDXC) and UHS-1 standards. Apparently the decision to use two slots with different card formats was based on the lack of available space inside the camera, with the smaller SD card slot taking up far less room than a second CF card slot.

Shooting stills pictures in the FX format, recording NEF Raw files, at 14-bit and uncompressed, the camera generates a 74.4MB file, and the camera’s buffer memory has the capacity for 16 frames. Recording NEF Raw files, at 12-bit and lossless compressed the file size is reduced to approximately 32.4MB and the buffer capacity is increased to 21 frames. In the smaller DX format, when recording NEF Raw files, at 14-bit and uncompressed, the camera generates a 32.5MB file, and the camera’s buffer memory has the capacity for 25 frames. Recording NEF Raw files, at 12-bit and lossless compressed the file size is reduced to approximately 14.9MB and the buffer capacity is increased to 38 frames. While a JPEG file at the greatest resolution in the FX format produces a file of approximately 16.3MB, and 8.0MB in the DX format, with a buffer capacity of 56 and 100 frames, respectively.

In respect of shutter control the Custom Settings menu item for ‘Exposure Delay’ has a fixed duration of approximately 1s, as it is in the D700, and does not offer the variable delay duration options of either 1s, 2s, or 3s, as available on the D4; however, the self-timer function of the D800 is a straight lift from the D4, enabling it be configured to take up to nine pictures in a sequence, at intervals of 0.5s, 1s, 2s, or 3s

Metering

The D800 incorporates the same all-new 91,000-pixel RGB sensor for its 3D Color Matrix metering III system as the recently announced D4. It is far cry from the 1,005-pixel sensor used by all other professional Nikon SLR and D-SLR cameras from the F5 to the D3-series! The metering system is fully integrated with the AF and auto-exposure systems, in what Nikon called their Advanced Scene Recognition System. Unlike metering sensors used by other manufacturers that group pixels into segments, the metering sensor of the D800 uses each pixel as an individual sampling point, which not only improves scene analysis for increased exposure accuracy but also improves the abilities of the AF system, in particular it subject tracking capabilities, even with subjects that are small within the frame area. This increased sampling of the scene also enables the D800 to recognise human faces within the frame and report their location to the AF system, when it is set to Auto-area AF, plus optimise exposure accordingly, even in difficult lighting conditions.

Unfortunately, unlike the D4, the D800 lacks the option of having exposure compensation being applied to only the ambient exposure when shooting with a Speedlight connected to the camera; as with all previous Nikon D-SLR cameras, setting exposure compensation on the D800 causes the ambient exposure and flash output for any Speedlight connected to it to be modified in equal amounts, according to the level of exposure compensation set.

Autofocus System

The Multi-CAM 3500 FX AF module used in the D3-series cameras has been enhanced to provide better low-light AF performance down to -2EV (effectively moonlight), which Nikon claim makes the D800 approximately 20% more light-sensitive than the D3s and, in conjunction with the enhanced Scene Recognition System, improves AF response speed and subject tracking capabilities. The AF system has a total of 51 AF points, with the central cluster of 15 being cross-type sensors sensitive to detail in horizontal and vertical orientations (same as the D4). The user can select a single AF point or configure 9-, 21-, or all 51 AF points, with full AF operation possible with any AF Nikkor lens that has a maximum aperture of f/5.6, or wider. The enhanced sensitivity of the AF system, enables it to support AF operation down to a maximum lens aperture of f/8; however, the number of useable AF points is reduced, for example, an AF-Nikkor 600mm f/4 lens combined with a TC-20E III teleconverter, which has a maximum effective aperture of f/8, restricts AF to eleven AF points, of which only the central AF point acts as a cross-type sensor. If the maximum aperture is between f/5.6 and f/8, for example, an AF-Nikkor 500mm f/4 lens combined with the TC-17E II teleconverter (maximum effective aperture f/6.7) only fifteen AF points support AF operation, with nine of those AF points acting as cross-type sensors. Other AF points can be selected but there is no guarantee that auto focus will function properly.

AF mode and AF-area mode selection has been simplified by re-designing the AF switch on the front of the camera, so it operates in a similar way to the AF switch of the D7000. At default settings pressing the central button of the AF switch and rotating the rear command dial will select the AF mode, which is displayed in the viewfinder, while turning the front command dial will select the AF-area mode. Just like the D4, the D800 uses patterns of illuminated AF points to display the selected AF-area mode on the camera’s focusing screen, while the AF mode is displayed along the bottom of the viewfinder display, which enables the user to keep their eye to the viewfinder and change AF configuration at will.

Video

Video is now an accepted feature of any D-SLR and the convergence of technologies in the capture of stills and moving images has become increasingly important in professional D-SLR cameras. In the D800 Nikon has mirrored its implementation of video in the D4, with just one exception; the D800 offers only two crop options in video, FX and DX, both at an aspect ratio of 16:9, while the D4 has three crop options. Even so, the two models offer probably the best video/audio capabilities of any D-SLR camera to date, with the advantage of seamless continuity in operation.

The D800 offers full HD (1920 x 1080p) resolution with selectable frame rates of 30/25/24, plus HD (1280 x 720p) at 30 and 25 fps, and slow motion at 60, or 50 fps at 720p. The D4 employs H.264 compression with B-frame compression, which can use both previous and forward frames for data reference to get the highest amount of data compression. It supports full manual exposure control with the ISO setting selectable anywhere between 100 and 25,800. The maximum duration of a video clip is almost 30-minutes (approx 29.59 mins).

Other improvements include the ability to index mark specific frames in the timeline during a recording to assist in subsequent editing, remote control of video start/stop via the 10-pin remote accessory terminal (it is possible to use any of the appropriate Nikon remote release accessories, such as the MC-30, or third party options such as the Pocket Wizard radio control releases), or via a computer connection, and a live frame grab of a still image without interrupting a recording. As mentioned video recording can be performed in two frame sizes; full HD (1080p) in both FX and DX based formats. The video capabilities of the D800 offer further flexibility, since it is possible to output an uncompressed video feed to an external recorder, or monitor via the HDMI port. Dual output is possible when recording video, so it is possible to check video on an external monitor screen using the camera’s HDMI interface, in addition to using the rear monitor screen of the D800, although in this configuration the output mage through the HDMI interface will be smaller than 1,280 x 720. Finally, in addition to the intervalometer feature of the D800 for recording time-lapse photography, it will also encode the individual images to produce a time-lapse video direct from the camera. The user sets the interval between exposures, duration of the recording period, the output resolution, plus the frame rate of the video to be created, which can set from 24 times to 36,000 times faster than normal. Once the shooting sequence has begun the D800 assembles the time-lapse video as each frame is recorded to reduce processing time. The only downside to this in-camera process comes from the camera not retaining the original still pictures, so it is not possible to use them as a source to create another time-lapse video subsequently. To produce a time-lapse video in post-processing you can use the camera’s intervalometer feature.

Audio has not been over looked, as there is an external microphone port, with the camera providing 20 distinct recording levels, plus an auto option. The D800 provides a visual monitoring of the audio recording level, which is supplemented by a headphone out port with 30 selectable volume levels, which makes it only the second camera from any D-SLR manufacturer to feature this, the first being the D4!

Camera handling

A professional D-SLR camera can expect to be used frequently, often for protracted periods, so its reliability and ergonomic design are crucially important. The D800 is constructed around a rugged, lightweight magnesium alloy body shell, which is sealed against the ingress of moisture and dust to the same level as its predecessor, yet the D800 is approximately 10% lighter than the D700. In the hand the camera feels robust, with a very high build quality. All the controls fall comfortably to hand when holding the camera for a horizontal picture, and almost so when shooting vertically with out the additional MB-D12 battery pack/grip.

The camera has undergone some subtle changes to its exterior control layout compared with the D700, as well as improvements to its rear monitor screen. The overall size of the D800 at 146 x 123 x 81.5 mm / 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 inch, is almost exactly the same as the D700 at 147 x 123 x 77 mm / 5.8 x 4.8 x 3.0 inch (W X H X D), while profile of the two models is also broadly similar, as is their weight, at 900 g (1 lb 15.7 oz) and 995 g (2 lb 3 oz) respectively, body only without battery, or memory cards.

A significant improvement is the 100% frame coverage provided by the optical viewfinder, up from just 95% horizontal and vertical of the D700, to provide an unobstructed view in stills shooting when using the FX format. While on the rear of the camera the 921,000-dot LCD monitor screen has increased in size to 8 cm (3.2 inch) across its diagonal. To the right side of the screen is an ambient light sensor that is used to adjust the brightness of the screen automatically, if required, to improve the use of Live View in both bright and low-light conditions. The screen has a wide viewing angle and its clarity has been enhanced by bonding the screen panel to the inside surface of its protective glass cover to reduce surface reflections and light loss.

The front edge of the top plate has been reshaped around the shutter release button, which together with its surrounding On/Off switch collar has a flatter profile, so it slopes down at a steeper angle compared with the D700, making it more comfortable to rest the index finger on the release button for protracted periods. Set just behind the shutter release is a dedicated record button for video; this location was chosen to make the button accessible in an instant and also minimise disturbance to camera handling when switching between shooting stills and video. The new video record button also handles the lock function for shutter speed and aperture in stills shooting.

By incorporating the AF-area mode selection in the AF mode button on the front of the D800 the AF-area selector switch on the rear panel of the D700 is no longer required, which makes room for the new style Live View selector switch, for selecting Live View for shooting stills, or video. In Live View, when the D800 is set for stills shooting in either A (aperture-priority), or M (manual) exposure modes, it is possible to assign powered control of the lens aperture to the Function (Fn) and Preview (Pv) buttons located on the front of the camera for smooth, step-less adjustment of the aperture (Note this feature only works in Live View, it does not work when the camera is recording video, unless the video signal is output direct from the camera via the HDMI port). While on the subject of the Fn and PV buttons, they have a lower profile but noticeably larger surface area, which makes then easy to operate, even when wearing gloves.

Other features of the D800 that can help to enhance operational efficiency of the camera include, four image area options for stills pictures, the traditional 3:2 (36 x 24 mm) aspect ratio, plus a 5:4 (30 x 24 mm), 1.2x (30 x 20 mm) and DX-format 23.4 x 15.5 mm) options. A broad range of in-camera editing tools, a High Dynamic Range (HDR) feature that records one overexposed and one underexposed frame in a single shutter release, with a difference in exposure level of up to 3EV, and refined white balance control offering colour temperature adjustment in steps of 10-Kelvin. The shutter release mode dial on the right side of the viewfinder head of the D800 has been redesigned to incorporate a fourth button for exposure bracketing (the other three control WB, ISO and image quality/size respectively), and its dedicated lock button is far more prominent compared with the same button on the D700, which again aids the general handling characteristics of the D800.

The Auto ISO control of the D800 has a couple of new refinements; first, it has automated control of the minimum shutter speed, to maintain a balance between the shutter speed and ISO sensitivity setting based on the focal length of the lens being used, to help reduce the risk of camera shake. Second, the Auto ISO feature can be switched on/off directly by pressing the ISO button and rotating the front command dial, obviating the need to navigate the menu system to achieve this as is necessary with the D700. There is also direct access to the Nikon Picture Control System from the image protect button, located to the left of the monitor screen; you just press the button and rotate the rear command dial to select and set the required Picture Control, without having to enter the menu system.

The D800 also has the same twin-axis virtual horizon feature of the D4 that operates in both Live View and in the viewfinder, to provide an indication of whether the camera is tilted up or down (pitch), in addition to whether it is tilted either to the left, or right; in Live View a horizon line is superimposed over the image shown on the monitor screen, while in the viewfinder display the analogue exposure scale indicates tilting up, or down, while a line of highlighted AF points indicates tilt to the left or right.

As far as connectivity is concerned the D800 has four ports located under a single, large rubber door on the left side of the body: a 3.5mm jack for an external stereo microphone, a USB 3 interface, a 3.5mm jack for connecting headphones, and an HDMI interface. The camera is also compatible with the Nikon WT-4 Wireless Transmitter, although it does not support the new WT-5 introduced with the D4. The camera has the standard Nikon 10-pin terminal for connecting remote control accessories, such as the MC-30 cable release, and is also fully compatible with the Nikon GP-1 GPS unit, including the ability to set the internal camera clock from the UTC time code in the GPS signal. There is a normal PC flash sync terminal on the front of the camera as well.

Battery & Power Options

The D800 body can accommodate a single Nikon EN-EL15 (7.0V 1900 mAh) rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, the same battery used by the D7000. Based on CIPA Standards testing it will power the camera for 900 stills pictures on a full charge, which compares quite favourably to the D700 with its EN-EL3e (7.4V 1500 mAh) battery that can support the camera for 1000 exposures under the same test conditions.

To increase shooting capacity, and increase the maximum frame rate in the DX format, there is the optional MB-D12 Battery Pack that accepts a variety of power sources: either a single EN-EL-15, or single EN-EL18 rechargeable Lithium-ion battery (this is the new battery for the D4) with the dedicated BL-5 battery chamber cover, or alternatively eight AA / LR-6 sized alkaline, NiMH, or lithium batteries. The MB-D12 provides a duplicate pair of command dials, a vertical shutter release button, together with an AF-ON button and AF-point selector switch. It is constructed around a magnesium alloy shell and is sealed to the same standards as the D800 body.

Sharper Shooter – The Nikon D800E

In addition to the D800, the Nikon Corporation has announced a special version of the camera that has a modified optical filter array in front of its imaging sensor. The anti-aliasing properties of the filter array have been removed, while it retains its infrared (IR) blocking and anti-reflective properties; all other features and functions of the camera are identical to the D800.

So why has Nikon decided to offer a variant of the D800 with no anti-aliasing (AA) filtration? The answer is quite straightforward – to squeeze every last drop of resolution out of the camera to provide the sharpest possible images.

The pixels on the sensor of a digital camera are arranged in a grid of rows and columns, consequently when the spatial frequency of any regular pattern being photographed (the signal frequency) approaches the pixel spacing on the sensor (the sampling resolution), the camera is sometimes incapable of recording that pattern correctly. If this occurs the image will often exhibit a digital artifact known as a moiré, which appears as repeating light and dark bands in the area(s) of the pattern. The effects of Moiré can often be removed during post-processing using software tools, although there is no guarantee this approach will always provide a solution; hence, many digital cameras contain a specialized filter, known as an Anti-Aliasing (AA), or Optical Low-pass (OLP), or Blur filter, which is positioned immediately in front of the camera’s sensor, to prevent Moiré patterns. It works by blurring the high signal frequency information, while allowing the transmission of lower signal frequency information; however, this comes at the cost of slightly reduced resolution.

Moiré patterns only occur when the subject, or scene contains a very fine, repetitive pattern, such as the weave pattern in a piece of silk material, the bricks in a wall, or the posts and rails of a fence. Yet in many shooting situations, the subject or scene will consist of elements with random high spatial frequency patterns, for example, the leaves on a distant tree, or blades of grass, which will not generate Moiré patterns, so the inclusion of an AA filter compromises the potential resolution of the camera.

A camera without an AA filter (or with very “weak” AA filter) can produce sharper images that reveal more details with a higher resolution, and there are a number of models available, such as the Leica M9, Fuji X100, Sony NEX-7, while many medium format digital cameras offer the option of a removable AA filter.

The D800E will not be for everyone, but for those photographers who have sufficient control over their shooting conditions, including the lighting, camera-to-subject distance, and nature of the subject, to enable them to mitigate the occurrence of moiré, it has the potential of offering an image quality normally associated with medium format camera systems in a significantly smaller, lighter, and far more affordable package, with the promise of being a considerably more flexible and adaptable tool, given the diversity of the Nikkor lenses and Nikon accessories available for the camera.

(Note: According to Mr Jeremy Gilbert, Group Marketing Manager (Imaging Division), Nikon UK Limited, the Nikon Corporation currently expects that approximately 1 in 10 of D800 cameras sold to be the 800E variant).

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The Nikon D800

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The profile of the D800 is very similar to the D700

 

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A dedicated record button has been positioned just behind the shutter release button

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The rear panel of the D800 shows few changes from the D700

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The D800 with AF-S VR 24-120 f/4G

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The overall size and weight of the D800 is similar to the D700

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The D800 features an entirely new sensor with a 36.3MP resolution, which will require the very finest Nikkor lenses, such as the PC-E 24mm f/3.5, to make full use of its potential

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The new camera has a built-in Speedlight

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The D800 is fully compatible with the Nikon CLS Speedlight system

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The MB-D12 Battery Pack provides both an extended shooting capacity, as well as controls for vertical shooting

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The D800 can use the EN-EL18 battery from the D4, but requires the BL-5 battery chamber cover for the MB-D12

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The D800E has all anti-aliasing properties removed from the filter array of the sensor to maximise the resolution

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The D800 is constructed around a magnesium alloy shell

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The sensor of the D800 / D800e has 36.3-million effective pixels

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The sensor has a self-cleaning function

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The RGB metering sensor has 91,000-pixels, providing a significant increase in the ability of the D800 to assess a scene, as well as improve aspects of AF performance

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The shutter unit of the D800 / D800E is tested to 200,000 cycles

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AF-area mode selection is displayed using illuminated AF points, so you do not have to take your eye from the viewfinder when changing modes; the AF mode is also shown in the viewfinder information display

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The full 51-point AF array, with the 15 cross type sensors shown in yellow

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The 15-point array used for AF with lens that have a maximum aperture between f5.6 and f/8 (cross type sensors shown in yellow)

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The 9-point array used for AF with lens that have a maximum aperture of f/8 (cross type sensor shown in yellow)

 

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A test image showing the sampling area (red box) used to compare the resolution of the D800 and D800E

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The D800E exhibits an appreciably higher resolution compared with the D800, yet is more prone to Moiré patterns and colour artifacts

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The in-camera processing is handled by a new EXPEED 3 processing regime, which is significantly faster than is Expeed 2 predecessor

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The D800 has an input for an external stereo microphone, as well as headphones

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The D800 and D800E are sealed extensively against the ingress of dust and moisture

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Sealing of the camera body extends to all regions

Missing in the D800 / D800E

While many aspects of the specification of the D800 / D800E can be found in the professional ‘flagship’ D4 camera, including the same enhanced TTL metering and AF systems, the same Expeed 3 processing and, virtually identical video capabilities, plus other features, such as the in-camera creation of time-lapse video, there are some things that remain exclusive to the D4:

  • The ‘Exposure Delay’ item in the Custom Settings menu is limited to a fixed delay duration of 1s in the D800; in the D4 there are options for three different delay periods (1s, 2s, or 3s).
  • In the D4 there is an option to decouple the application of exposure compensation, so it is only applied to the ambient light exposure and does not affect the flash output level; the D800 lacks this option, so just as with all other Nikon D-SLR cameras, exposure compensation is applied to both the ambient exposure and the flash output level when shooting with a compatible Nikon Speedlight.
  • Unlike the D4, the D800 does not offer the option of embedding IPTC metadata into image files as they are recorded.
  • In Live View the D4 has an option for completely silent stills shooting; in this mode the camera can be configured to record JPEG files (up to 1920 x 1080 pixels), at a frame rate of either 12fps or 24fps, and since the reflex mirror remains in its raised position and the exposure time is controlled electronically (the mechanical shutter is not used), the camera does not make a sound. This feature is not available on the D800.

Summary

We will not know for certain how the extraordinarily high resolution of the D800 / D800E will convert into overall image quality until there has been the opportunity to use the cameras real world conditions. However, if the large A2 sized prints produced from pictures taken by fashion photographer John Wright, who was commissioned by Nikon UK to shoot stills and video with the D800, as part of the official launch presentation, are any indication, the camera has enormous potential, and the adoption of the slogan “The Big Picture”, as part of the Nikon “I am” advertising campaign for the D800 certainly seems very apt! On paper, at least, it looks as though the D800 / D800E will sell by the boat-load, and Nikon is probably going to need some very big boats to keep up with demand.

As with the development of the D4, Nikon has obviously listened closely to feedback from photographers, which has steered their endeavours in enhancing existing features, such as the metering and Scene Recognition System, and influenced the innovation of others, for example, the video/audio functions and the modified filter array of the D800E.

The D800 may bear a remarkable resemblance in terms of size, weight, and external appearance to the D700, but that is where any similarity ends. In terms of its resolution, feature set, functionality, and handling characteristics it’s an altogether very different camera. How different? Well here is an extract from a commentary on the D800, published in the sales brochure to the camera, from Jim Brandenburg, the American wildlife and natural history photographer, who spent time working with Nikon during its development: “It was not love at first sight. The sharpness and detail were initially intimidating, exposing my flaws like never before. Subtle camera movements showed and differences of acuity between aperture choices on various lenses were apparent. But now I am enthralled with this technology. Why? Because the images almost feel as though they were made with 4 x 5 view camera!”

On that note I am really looking forward to testing a full production sample of the D800, as soon as they become available, which should be very soon.

Price & Availability:

D800 body only:

RRP: £2,399.99

Note: At the time of its introduction, during July 2008, the D700 went on sale at an RRP body only price of: £1999.99 so the D800 would seem to represent extraordinary value!

D800E body only:

RRP: £2,689.99

Note: Apparently, the higher price of the D800E is due to its greater cost of production, and anticipated lower production volume.

MB-D12 Battery Pack:

RRP: £379.99

Sales start date: 22nd March 2012

© Simon Stafford

February 2012

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2 Responses to Sharp Shooting: The Nikon D800

  1. Homepage says:

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    [...] Read More here: blog.nikonownermagazine.com/sharp-shooting-the-nikon-d800/981/ [...]…

  2. bud says:

    Simon…very solid review of the new Nikon D800. Thanks for the effort put into it. I ordered mine on Feb 7.