Nikon D800 First Impressions
My primary camera body is a Nikon D4 and I LOVE it. The D4 has it all from framerate, auto-focus speed through to fantastic tonal range. What it doesn’t have in abundance is pixels.
Anyone that knows photography knows that the mega-pixel count is normally a null subject when compared to optical quality. However! If you could combine optical quality WITH oodles of pixels then you’d have something special. The D4 will always be my primary body, but for weddings and events that require a second body having something medium-format’esque alongside the D4 would make for a killer combination. This is where the D800 steps in.
I won’t bore you with countless specs that are available elsewhere on the web, but needless to say the D800 specifications can be considered impressive; combining the same Expeed 3 image processor and control set as the D4. The new AF selection system that was first introduced on the D7000 has now found it’s way onto the majority of the Nikon professional range including the D800. This ensures continuity for the user and minimises the thinking time required when swapping bodies at a wedding or event. This alone can be the difference between a missed shot and a moment captured. Other similarities include the same 100% view-finder coverage and same upper and lower shutter-speed limits. The headline differences are 36mp (D800) vs 16mp (D4) and frames-per-second 10fps (D4) vs 4fpd (D800). Those differences are key for people that like to categorise things. The D4 is ‘categorised’ as the sports/action camera and the the D800 is ‘categorised’ as the studio monster.
Enough with the techie stuff. So why did I get the D800? My second body up until now was the Nikon D7100 which for all intents and purposes is an excellent camera. The downside of the D7100 (and any crop-sensor body on the market currently) is the performance at High-ISO. Don’t get me wrong, the D7100 is a solid performer on the High-ISO front, however I think it’s at least 2 stops shy of the D4 performance. This is to be expected given the tiny size of the pixels on a small sensor when compared to the full-frame D4, however for an event photographer who deals with ambient lit inside spaces a lot, every stop counts. This combined with the lure of 36 quality mega-pixels made the jump an inevitable one.
Having owned the D800 for at least 4 hours (of which 3.9 of those was spent charging the battery) I decided to let the camera have it’s first outing. Kids parties are normally the reserve of the fast-paced shooter and the natural realm of the D4 given the high FPS. However, in the spirit of wanting to play with the new toy I decided the D800 twined with the new Sigma 35mm f1.4 prime was a good package. For anyone that just turned their nose up because I mentioned Sigma, you should definitely check out the new 35mm. It has a reputation for out-resolving the Nikon equivalent at a price point that is hard to ignore.
So a few hours and a couple of hundred shots later I collapsed back into my chair a decided to check out what I’d captured during the onslaught that was a friends 4th birthday party. At this stage I was keen to see what 36mp in real-life actually resembles. I was suitably impressed. Let’s talk about those pixels. The image above is a snap of my daughter pre-crop shot at ISO200 35mm f/2.8 1/1600. It is sharp with good colour depth and a nice level of base contrast. The image below is a 100% crop and shows the amount of detail still present in the in-focus areas.
Now for all the purist out there, I know and agree that it is better to nail your composition ‘in camera’ and to avoid crops in post. However…with this many pixels you can easily make significant crops to develop previously unseen elements or to place unplanned emphasis on an individual without the equivalent significant quality trade-off.
So what about the noise? Is it better than the D7100? The D800 is better but it’s still not perfect; even at ISO800 at 100% the noise is starting to creep in. I can’t give a full opinion on this until I’ve put it through it’s paces in ‘bad’ light, but I’m quietly confident that with good noise reduction software and down-sampling to 16mp that it will challenge the D4, or at least get close.
First impression: Impressive