Nikon D800/D800E Camera Review

Nikon_D800_14 image The biggest attraction photographers have to the Nikon D800 is thehuge 36.3 megapixel CMOS sensor. The resolution provided by the camera is just one of many important updates to this D700 successor. The D800 is a much more advanced and full-featured professional camera. After the sensor, the largest improvement is definitely in video shooting ability—a point where Nikon looks to take on one of its rivals, the Canon 5D Mark III. Overall, the D800 appears to be one of the best offerings seen for landscape photographers who aren’t ready to move to medium format style digital photography.

There were 8 real customer reviews of the Nikon D800/D800E all giving it 4-5 star rating if you would like to read these reviews you can do so here

A Step-Up for Landscape Shooters and Art Photographers

It is important to note that the D800 shares many features with the Nikon D4—aside from the larger image sensor and a slower frame rate the two cameras are almost identical. They share the same image processor, the same autofocus system (51-points) and a very similar video shooting mode. This does not mean they are the same camera. While some professionals and even advanced amateur photographers will look to the D4 for supreme speed and action shooting, others are going to prefer the less-expensive D800. Price does not always mean everything in the photography world.

The Nikon D800 targets a different market that the D4 is not intended to capitalize on. Whereas the D4 was built from the ground up as a professional tool for news and action photography, the D800 comes with a feature list intended for landscape and art photography. Most photographers that shoot art photos are not going to miss the features of the D4 that are left off the D800. Very high ISO performance, insane speed, support for new QXD card technology and built-in-Ethernet are not on every photographer’s wish-list.

Nikon D800 36.3 MP CMOS FX-Format Digital SLR Camera (Body Only) image

The point is this: Don’t count the D800 out just because it lacks a few features the D4 has. Nikon is good at making cameras for all market groups—if you are not a sports or action shooter chances are you don’t need all of the features of the D4. If you are a professional and you already have one D4—the D800 makes an excellent second body. If you are a landscape professional and you don’t need the speed for the D4, the Nikon D800 is a perfect choice.

It is a camera made for the art of photography. To make the most of the large image sensor you need to take your time. Holding down the trigger and blazing through shots is not what this camera is for. It is made for photographers who pay attention to every little detail.

Basic Technical Specifications:

-36.3 megapixel CMOS Sensor

-51-point Autofocus System with 15-Cross Type sensors

-ISO 100-6400 (extendable to ISO 25600)

-1080p HD Video (30fps, 25fps)

-Uncompressed HDMI video output

-3.2” LCD (921,000 dots) with anti-fog

-Maximum 4fps continuous shooting

-91,000 pixel metering sensor with advanced scene recognition

-EXPEED 3 image processor

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Ergonomics, Appearance and Technology Updates

The D800 is about the same size as the older D700, but the styling of the camera is borrowed from the new D4. Nikon’s goal with both D4 and D800 design was to make video features more accessible while allowing for continued ease of use during still photography.

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The 36.3 megapixel CMOS sensor is currently the highest resolution sensor offered in 35mm format digital SLRs. It will shoot from ISO 100-6400 and it is extendable to ISO 25600.

There are twin memory card slots that support SD and CF cars.

Weather-sealing and shock-proofing are important features continued from the D700. Users will not find the D800 as resilient as the much more expensive D4, but as implemented, these features provide a fair amount of protection while working in challenging conditions.

USB 3.0 is a nice addition. The latest in USB technology is becoming increasingly popular in computers and with the D800 moves to digital cameras for the first time. USB 3.0 works similar to FireWire, allowing duel communication and faster data transfer speeds. It is backwards compatible with older USB technology so you don’t need to worry about the camera working with USB 2.0 ports.

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The D800’s new LCD Monitor is the same as the type used in the D4. It automatically detects light levels to adjust contrast, gamma, saturation and brightness—a useful feature for photographers who often find themselves searching to see an image in bright viewing conditions frequently. The 921000 dot monitor has improved color and viewing quality over the older D700 monitor. Additionally, Nikon has coated the monitor with a gel-resin to reduce fogging during rapid temperature change.

The MD-D12 Battery Grip is an optional recommended addition to the D800. The camera lacks a vertical shutter release—something that the battery grip adds along with increased battery life. As with most accessories, the battery grip works seamlessly with the D800.

Image Quality:

Pixel count aside, the real test of a DSLR is image quality. Some cameras might have larger sensors that put out poor images. This is not the case with the D800. It is truly an excellent piece of photographic equipment capable of producing flawless high-resolution images that rival the performance of medium-format beasts.

One of the problems is that user ability and equipment can limit the D800. To get the best images you are going to need the best equipment. With a full-frame sensor at such high resolutions, you are going to notice a poorly made lens or a weak tripod. Your technique—especially when it comes to focusing and adjustment—needs to be perfect.

You don’t need to necessarily put in all the effort to get the best images out of the D800. Photographers who skip the time it takes to fine tune every shoot and learn the intricacies of the D800 as a photographic tool will still be able to get good shots. The images that come from minimal effort with this camera will be just as good as cameras with lower resolution sensors. To reap the benefits of a large sensor you need to take the time to understand your camera and refine your technique. You are also going to need quality lenses.

If you put the effort in, the images produced by the D800 will blow you away. Quite simply, with good lenses and in skilled hands no DSLR can take better pictures than the D800—you have to go to the highest reaches of the expensive medium format world to even get close.

The D800 has good ISO performance—results in the upper ISO reaches are quite similar to identical ISO values on the D4. That said, this isn’t going to be a camera you can use for handheld shooting in the dark.

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Video Shooting:

Digital SLRs are more frequently shipping with HD video features. Lacking video shooting ability is almost a deal breaker in the digital photography world. Photographers are finding video ability more and more appealing. Versatility is of course always welcomed.

The D800 is a big step up from the D700 which lacked a video mode—and got a lot of criticism for not having one. It doesn’t just shoot skimpy 720p resolution video either (even though it can at 60 or 50 fps). The Nikon D800 will produce HD 1080p video at 30 and 25 fps.

HD video on a full-frame Nikon camera is an interesting addition that gives photographers a huge increase in creative options. Before the release of the D4 and D800 photographers could only shoot a Canon 5D if they wanted HD video on a full-frame camera.

It is difficult to compare video performance between the Nikon D800 and its direct video-capable competitor, the Canon 5D Mark III. While different lenses on each of the camera plays a large role in determining video quality, some reviewers give a very slight edge to the D800 when it comes to shadow detail and sharpness. Real-life tests of the D800 usually give the Nikon a wide victory for image performance when compared to the 5D mark II and a marginal victory in image sharpness when compared to the 5D Mark III. Most agree that the Canon is clearly a better low-light performer.

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Nikon D800E—For even higher image quality

The D800E is an alternate version of the D800. Only one element is added to the D800 to make is an “E” version. All components are the same, except the anti-aliasing filter. On the D800E, Nikon replaced the anti-aliasing filter with—Nothing!

Almost every digital camera has an anti-aliasing filter or “low-pass” filter. These filters reduce or eliminate something called “moire” and color aliasing—something that happens when patterns in a subject match the patterns on an image sensor. The result is an image with weird colors and stripes in it. The filters were developed because unlike film—which is made of random particles of silver grain—digital image sensors have a uniform pattern of photo-sensitive cells.

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Why did Nikon remove something that cameras need? It is true that just about every digital SLR has an anti-aliasing filter. There are a few that don’t and just about every medium format digital camera lacks one. Photographers use these all the time with no problem.

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To replace the low-pass filter, Nikon made an optical path that the light can pass directly through without any filter. The result is increased resolution. Images produced by the D800E are sharper—essentially better images.

If you want to get the absolute best out of the camera, the D800E is a good bet. If you are worried about shooting textures and objects with fine patterns then the D800 should be your tool of choice. Moire is difficult to produce even when you want to sometimes, but lacking an anti-aliasing filter might ruin a few images now and then.

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Image sample comparing the D800 and D800E


The Nikon D800 is the camera for shooting flawless art photos and landscapes. It manages to stretch the image quality of much more expensive digital medium format cameras into a package that is incredibly more affordable and universally more functional. When compared to the D4 it is about the same. If you are a sports photographer this is not your camera—go get the D4. If you can do without the speed and you are not too worried about shooting in the pitch black at ultra-high ISO speeds, the D800 will do just fine. It is going to get you higher quality images.

The one problem that many users are going to find is the cost of high quality Nikon compatible lenses that are needed to take advantage of the 36 megapixel image sensor. You are going to need a serious professional piece of glass on the front of the D800 to get high quality images. In many respects, your images will only be as good as the lens you are using.

Photographers will also discover that using the D800 effectively will take considerable skill, especially when it comes to setting up a shot and focusing. Fine tuning all the details will be the only way to make this camera work its best.

With the cost of transitioning to a new format—including lenses and accessories, Nikon won’t steal away too many die hard Canon photographers. For the most part, people at this level of the photography world are true to a single brand. It is an excellent upgrade, however, to give people dedicated to Nikon and invested in expensive Nikon lenses the ability to shoot video that rivals and even betters the Canon 5D mark II and mark III. This will open up new creative possibilities beyond what the D700 was capable of.

The Nikon D800 might be the art photographer’s camera of the year—or perhaps the best shooting camera of the digital era. You are going to have to use film or get a very expensive medium format digital back for an expensive medium format film body to even get close to this one.

All photos © 2012 Nikon Corporation