Nikon D800 & D800E: The Good and the Bad

The D800 and D800E are now official and all the rumor and speculation about specs can end. There seems to be new debate about whether 36MP is too many, if the E model (without the optical low-pass, anti-alias filter) makes any sense, and if the D4 is worth the money now that this camera is out. In short: no, yes, and yes. I may elaborate later but for now that is sufficient. If anyone cares, I think the D800 is going to be an excellent camera and I have already put a deposit on mine.

I wouldn’t be buying something I don’ t think is a good buy.  The D800 isn’t perfect, but it certainly is an upgrade over my current D90 and should serve me well for years to come.  I know that I enjoy this hobby, and I believe I can take advantage of the new features.  So below, some things I like about the new body and some things I don’t.

The Good

Autofocus

“Nikon Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection, fine-tuning, 51 focus points (including 15 cross-type sensors; f/8 supported by 11 central sensors).”  This is the same system the D4 uses, which means it’s going to be amazing.  Nikon did us all a favor and gave us it’s best focusing system to date.  If you are into shooting wildlife at a distance, you can now use the long f/4 lenses with a 2x teleconverter and still have autofocus at an effective f/8.  Further, you can use the DX mode of the D800 to get an extra 50% reach and still have 15.4MP images to work with.  Not bad.  Add face detection and 3D-tracking and this will be a lot of fun to shoot with.

Metering

Like the autofocus system, Nikon gives us the new 91,000-pixel RGB sensor for metering straight from the D4.  Includes scene detection and prioritization of exposure for faces.  A big jump from previous models, the D700/D3x had a 1,005 pixel sensor.

Video

The D700 had no video features, and my D90 (the first DSLR to get video) was pathetic.  Nikon had no answer to Canon’s stellar offering, the 5D Mark II.  I don’t think they expected so many people to start using DSLR cameras for shooting video.  Even Hollywood jumped on the bandwagon for feature films.  Nikon is late to the game, but has thrown down big contenders in the D4 and D800.  The video capabilities are now the best in the game for DSLR cameras, but I suspect Canon may have something to say about that with the release of the 5D Mark III (if and when it happens).  I haven’t shot much video, but with the capability at my disposal I may give it a shot.

100% Viewfinder Coverage

A full-frame camera with 100% viewfinder coverage paired with a fast lens (f/2.8 or better) is a joy to use.  I haven’t owned such a camera, but have peered through the viewfinder of several.  Once you see it, hard to go back.

Pixels, Pixels, and more Pixels

36.8 million of them to be exact (36.3 effective).  Nikon’s strategy is really to follow Canon’s lead, and that is to provide a clear separation between the compact full-frame bodies and the large, fast, and expensive flagship models.  The D700 ate up sales of the D3 and likely the D3s as they were all 12MP and produced similar results.  The D3s is king of high iso shooting, but cost a pretty penny compared to the also capable D700.  Canon went a different route, and provided an high resolution (21MP) 5D Mark II with great video and it seems to have worked out well for them.  Now, Nikon has the D4 which is a high speed, high ISO, pro body and the D800 which will be the high resolution, slower and more affordable body.  I think the 36MP resolution surprised many, including me.  The resolution certainly opens up a lot of possibilities.

Dedicated Bracket Button

I like to shoot HDR often, so this is a handy addition.

Upgraded LCD

Same LCD as the D4, with ambient light control.  Nothing earth shattering here, but several incremental improvements throughout the body make for a better overall user experience.

DX Mode

Not new, but now useful.  Shooting in DX mode on a D700 resulted in 5.1MP files.  Not what I would call stellar.  It may work in a pinch, but I doubt it was used much.  On the D800, resolution in DX mode is 15.3MP which is very close to the resolution of the fantastic D7000.   If needed, you could use DX lenses.  If you need more reach, use DX mode and get the 1.5x equivalent boost in focal length.  Not something I will use all the time, but nice to have and very useful when used.

 

The Bad

Four Frames Per Second

I realize you are shooting 36MP images and that is a lot of data, but it just *feels* slow for a brand new DSLR these days.  The D800 and D4 share the same Expeed3 processor, and if the D4 can churn out 11fps at 16mp the D800 should be able to do 5.  That is assuming there is no headroom in the process.  5fps would be good, especially if we had a 7 or 8fps DX mode.  We are stuck with 4, oh well.

No illuminated buttons

I guess we can’t have all the goodies of the D4, and keeping this out helps Nikon keep the costs down.  Would have been nice, but I can live without it.

Insanely Priced Grip

The grip is optional, so you don’t need to buy this.  However, Nikon priced this so high it is a hard pill to swallow. If you want faster frame rates, pony up. Note: the FX column is also for shooting in the 5:4 crop mode. Costs based on pricing from B&H in February 2012 and shown in USD.

Cost

FX fps

1.2X fps

1.5X (DX) fps

EN-EL15 battery$0455
MB-D12 grip & EN-EL15 battery$449.95455
MB-D12 grip & EN-EL18 (D4) battery$999.80456
MB-D12 grip with AA batteries$449.95 +456
AC adapter$129.24456

MB-D12 D800/D800E grip: $449.95
MS-D12 AA holder: $47.95
EP-5B Power Supply Connector: $49.95
EH-5B AC Adapter: $79.29
EN-EL18 (D4) battery: $169.95
MH-26 Dual Battery Charger: $349.95
BL-5 Battery chamber cover: $29.95

So let me get this straight Nikon, if I want to get the 6 frames per second and not use an AC adapter (duh) or AA batteries I need to use the battery from the D4 in the grip. In order to do that, I need to buy the grip, en-el18 battery, battery cover, and battery charger. Grand total $1000 USD. Are you kidding me? This is just a cash grab, you can count me out.

Video

Yes, this is also listed in the good section.  I’m not sure I’ll use it, but I’m paying for it regardless.  Does video belong in a DSLR? I don’t know, but it looks like it’s here to stay.  I don’t know anything about video, shooting it, editing it, etc.  Might be a big waste of time for me.  TBD.

Pixels, lots of them

Definitely a plus, I’m not really complaining but it’s worth mentioning that you will certainly need to buy some big storage cards, probably 64GB or better.  You will also need a ton of storage and backup space on your computer and a fast system to deal with the giant files this body will produce.  75MB uncompressed RAW files will eat up memory and put a strain on any older CPU.  The upgrade cost of the D800 goes well beyond the cost of the body.

Nikon D800 Skeleton