Nikon’s latest FX-format DSLR has a 36.3-million-pixel output, Expeed 3 image-processing engine and multi-area full HD video capture. Tim Coleman takes a first look at the D800
36.3-million- pixel, FX-format 135.9x24mm), CMOS sensor IS0100-6400 (expandable to 50-25,600) Full HD 1920×1080 video capture at 30p. 25p or 24p 3.2in. 921.600- dot LCD screen Prices (body only) D800 £2.399.99; D800E £2,689.99
NIKON’S D800 is the company’s second FX-format DSLR camera to be launched this year, joining the D4 that was released last month By virtue of its size, name and price, the D800 may seem a natural successor to the company’s D700. However, as its high pixel count surpasses that of even the company’s flagship D3X, Nikon has stated that the camera will sit alongside the D700 and D3X in the range – for now. I can see the lower price point of the D700 is still appealing, but the days of the D3X may be limited.
Launched alongside the D800 is the Nikon D800E. The only difference between the two cameras is that the anti-aliasing filter has been neutralized in the D800E in order to get the ratio between the D800 and D800E to be around 90:10, with the lower volume production of the D800E being the prime reason for its higher price point.
During a presentation at the launch of the camera, James Banfield, Nikon UK’s group support and training manager, said that the D800 is suitable for both ‘reportage and studio photographers’. Priced around £2,399.99 for the D800 and £2,689.99 for the D800E, these cameras are mouth-watering prospects for enthusiasts and professionals alike.
The D800 has a specification that makes impressive reading. The biggest talking point is the new 36.3-million-pixel imaging sensor, which has the highest pixel count most detail out of the imaging sensor. Nikon expects the sales to date in this format. In real terms, the 7360×4912-pixel output equates to 16 4×24.6in (A2-sized) prints at 300ppi, without upscaling. Full-resolution NEF raw files are 76.5MB.
Like in the D700 and D7000, the sensor in the D800 uses gapless technology to ensure that as much light as possible reaches the sensor. On-chip noise reduction in the sensor’s background architecture has been improved, meaning that despite having more pixels, the noise characteristics of images produced in the D800 are similar to those from the D700 and better than images from the D7000.
Much of the core of the camera is the same as that found in the professional- level Nikon D4. This includes the Expeed 3 processor, 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor and refined Multi-CAM 3500FX AF system with 51 AF points.
The Advanced Scene Recognition system works in line with the 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor to offer intelligent metering. For example, if face recognition detects a subject in the scene, the camera meter for it, which is ideal when the subject is backlit.
The D800’s sensitivity range of ISO 100-6400 can be extended to ISO 50- 25,600. As an extended setting, ISO 50 is no better in quality than IS0100 When asked if the ISO range could go any lower, Banfield said, ‘We listen to the feedback on our products, and it is not something we have been asked for yet. Right now, ISO 50 is the magic number.’
Nikon is clearly aiming to capture a new audience by improving the videorecording capabilities of its cameras. Most of the video features in the D800 are the same as those found in the D4, which means the D800 joins the D4 as being the best Nikon cameras yet for video capture. These features include full FID 1920x1080p capture, with a selectable frame rate of 30p, 25p or 24p, plus 720p slow-motion capture at a frame rate of 60p or 50p, headphone out and sound level monitoring.
BUILD AND HANDLING
With dimensions of 146x123x81.5mm and a body-only weight of 1 ,OOOg (including battery and card), the D800 is virtually identical in size to the D700 and approximately 10% lighter. The camera rests comfortably in the hand, and once the new MB-D12 battery grip (£379.99) is attached to the camera the size of the body matches the professional-level models, such as the D3 and D4. The D800′s grip also gives a symmetrical shutter-release button layout in landscape and portrait formats.
As one would expect from a camera at this level, the D800 is built to a high standard. It has a magnesium-alloy body that is weather sealed to repel dust and moisture. The shutter box has been redesigned and is tested to 200,000 cycles, while the shutter has a release time lag of O 042sec.
A few tweaks have been made to the style of the body and the controls over previous-generation Nikon models. The drive-mode dial has been redesigned and is easy to use, while the shutter-release button sits at a greater angle than previous- generation models for a more comfortable press. The AF switch next to the lens can simply be depressed to bring up the AF modes in the display of the viewfinder, so the user need not remove his or her eye to change modes.
Images are composed and viewed using either the optical viewfinder with 100% coverage (the D700 has 95% coverage) or via live view on the 3.2in, 921,600- dot LCD screen. Next to the screen is an ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the monitor to ensure accurate brightness, contrast and gamut, no matter what the lighting. While using the D800, at no point did I notice a difference in the brightness of the screen’s display, so this function works well. The viewfinder is bright and offers displays that include a dual-axis digital level gauge that is indicated through the AF points. First Impressions of the screen and viewfinder are very good indeed.
The three crop modes available from the FX format are 5:4,1,2x and DX format, with 5:4 clearly aimed at large-format users, while the DX crop provides a 1 5x magnification and a 15.4-million-pixel output. This resolution is close to Nikon’s D7000, which suggests that the D800 has similar pixel dimensions. In DX crop mode lenses have a greater reach, and the maximum 4fps high-speed shooting is increased to 6fps (with the battery grip attached).
The D800 is powered by an EN-EL15 battery, which is the same as that used in the D7000, and is claimed to give 900 shots from a full charge. Interestingly, the dual-card memory slot does not include the new XQD card type. Nikon says XQD is reserved for its flagship models, so the D800 has SD and CompactFlash slots. The SD slot is compatible with the latest SDXC and UHS-1 types for fast file processing. Connectivity is via USB 3.0 and the HDMI-out port offers 1080p live view feed without compression.
From the pre-production sample I used, luminance noise looks to be well controlled in low-light images taken using a 35mm f/14G lens. Fine detail, such as the fabric of a shirt, is reproduced with impressive clarity and the high
D800 VS D800E
The only difference between the D800 and the D800E is that the D800E effectively has no anti-aliasing filter over its imaging sensor.
An anti-aliasing filter is placed in front of an imaging sensor to reduce moire and false colour Moire patterning is most obvious in image details such as the weave and pattern of a fabric. Most DSLRs have an anti-aliasing filter, but it is less common in digital medium-format cameras.
The downside to an anti-aliasing filter is that it compromises the image clarity and detail, but only by minute amounts. Removing the filter ensures that as much detail as possible is extracted from the lens, but with this comes the higher risk of moire patterning in the image. Editing software such as Adobe Lightroom and Nikon’s own Capture NX2 can remove this effect, but it does mean more time is spent at the computer.
Although the new AF system uses 51 points, as in the D700, it has been refined with 15 central cross-type points and improved subject tracking. Nikon claims the AF operates in -2EV low light (under moonlight) When I tested the camera in the low light of a presentation room, the AF appeared to be very fast indeed.
Only in images that are reproduced very large is one likely to notice any difference in the detail and clarity between the two cameras. If you view a blow-up of a tiny portion of the frame in an image taken with both cameras, the differences will be subtle
The D800E should suit landscape photographers, as this camera is able to resolve more detail, while those interested in portrait photography or wanting to photograph the weave and pattern of a fabric should opt for the D800 as this model’s anti-aliasing filter helps reduce moire and thus save time retouching later on the computer.
Nikon states that the IR and anti- reflective properties are the same in both the D800 and D800E.
The Nikon D800 and MB-D12 grip are expected to be available from the end of March, while the D800E will be on sale from the middle of April.