The Nikon D800 was supposed to be released in the summer of 2011, but due to several natural disasters that heavily impacted Nikon’s capability to produce cameras both in Japan and in its Thailand factories, its launch was delayed until February of 2012. There has been a lot of hype about the D800 and while our team has been posting several articles about this camera, there are still many questions pouring in on a regular basis from our readers about its features, capabilities, limitations, and performance, especially when compared to the older cameras like Nikon D700, D3, D3s, and the new Nikon D4.
Check Out: Best Lenses for Nikon D800
Was it worth the wait? There’s been a whole lot of buzz about the D800 before and after the camera was announced. One of the main reasons is the popularity of the existing Nikon D700 camera and the sheer number of people, especially part-time and full-time pros, who were dying to upgrade their aging cameras. In addition, the production delay further fueled the heat and spiked up the interest from the photography community that was getting rather impatient, wondering what Nikon would bring to the table for the next several years in the full-frame arena.
But wait, what about all those photographers that anticipated a camera with the same sensor as on the Nikon D4, the ones that do not particularly care for high resolution? Did Nikon leave them all out with the D800, forcing them to jump to the expensive D4? Before I answer this question, let me first give a brief history of the D800, along with my analysis of why Nikon decided to take a different route with its full-frame line this time.
Camera Construction and Handling
Similar to the D700 and various other higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the Nikon D800 has a full magnesium-alloy frame. The camera is built tough and will last a long time if it is properly taken care of. So far I have taken it up to mountains and have shot some images at below-freezing temperatures and the camera worked just fine. I also used it in very dusty conditions and in light rain and none of the dust or moisture made its way into the camera.
Without a doubt, the most important feature of a digital camera today is definitely its image sensor. You could put the most advanced autofocus and metering systems with a boatload of great features into a camera, but at the end of the day, they are all more or less secondary – the sensor performance is still looked at first. Things like resolution, dynamic range, diffraction, color depth, and ISO performance are all tightly related to the sensor and its physical size. When I talked about the D800 being “revolutionary”, I mostly referred to the phenomenal sensor technology Nikon incorporated into the camera.
Before the Nikon D4 was announced, I wondered what Nikon would do using its autofocus system. The legendary Multi-CAM 3500FX system used on all professional Nikon cameras provides been extremely reliable, so what else could have got Nikon done to improve it? I was hoping to see more focus points and also have them spread out on a larger area of the viewfinder. Unfortunately, Nikon did not give us an all-new AF system with more focus points on the D4 and D800, but we did get an updated version of the AF system called “Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX” that does something no other DSLR AF system can do, which is the ability to focus all the way to f/8. While autofocus is limited to only 11 cross-type focus points at f/8, it is still very impressive that it actually works. I tried mounting the TC-20E III on both the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 and the Nikon 300mm f/4 AF-S and I was able to acquire focus at the maximum aperture of f/8. AF is not ultra-fast at such a small aperture, but it does work, which is excellent news for wildlife photographers.
As you can see from this review, the Nikon D800 is a very appealing camera. With its impressive 36.3 MP sensor, which is currently the highest resolution full-frame sensor out there (as of May 2012), the D800 delivers stunning images with regards to dynamic range, colors, and details. While it is definitely slower than its predecessor, the Nikon D700 in fps (frames per second), one has to keep in mind that the camera has to process a lot more pixels. Furthermore, it produces massive JPEG and RAW files that take up a lot of space in the camera buffer, so it also takes a long time to transfer files from the buffer to a memory card).