Why I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a D810

 Nikon D800 to D810 Logo

Why I Upgraded

In this section I list the main reasons I upgraded my Nikon D800 to a Nikon D810.  There wasn’t anything wrong with the D800, it was an amazing camera capable of fantastic results.  There were a few things that made the difference though.  In general, Nikon took an already great camera and made it better.

  1. No anti-alias filter.  Also known as Optical Low Pass Filter, Blur Filter, and probably a few other names.  When the D800 and D800E were released, it created a lot of speculation about the potential moire and false color problems that the D800E would face.  I had actually planned to get a D800E but my local shop had the D800 first and said I’m facing a 4+ month wait for an E model.  I decided to get the D800 and start shooting.  In the end, the fears around no AA filter in the D800E were unfounded, the vast majority of shooters have never had a problem.   Given the lack of issues, Nikon didn’t even bother with a filtered version of the D810.  In fact, it improved on the D800E even further.  Where the D800E had an AA filter that cancelled itself out, the D810 has no AA filter at all in the stack.  The sharpness benefits are not drastic, but there are there and I’m happy to have the best possible starting image.
  2. Frame rate.  5fps in full frame mode (36 megapixels) with full AF and metering.  Drop it down to 1.2X crop and you get 6fps and 24 megapixels.  Plenty of resolution, plenty of speed, and no battery grip needed.  I really don’t need more than 6fps, when I shoot bursts it’s often chasing my kids so the 1.2x crop suits me just fine.  The rest of the time I’m shooting landscapes or architecture. The D810 feels like both an action cam and a landscape cam in one body.  Perfect.
  3. Improved autofocus. I had plenty of problems with my D800 autofocus.  It was plagued with the ‘left focus problem’ and went to Nikon three times before it finally came back fixed.  The D810 seems to work great out of the box and now has group AF mode and better face detection.
  4. Improved bracketing.  The D800 was limited to +/- 1 EV between exposures, the D810 extends that to +/- 3 EV (it can also do 1 and 2 EV).   To get a standard -2/0/+2 exposure for HDR I had to take 5 shots with the D800 and then throw away two of them.  With the D810, I can take the 3 I need and call it a day.  More flexibility, more options, and solved something that always bugged me about the D800.  Worse still that this would have been a simple firmware fix for Nikon.
  5. Electronic front curtain shutter.  The D800 had mirror up (MUP) and exposure delay modes to reduce the vibration effects of the mirror.  The D810 takes it a step further by also eliminating the vibration effects of the shutter.  Well done Nikon.
  6. ISO 64.  Base ISO is now 64 (instead of 100 in the D800).  Gives me options for long exposures and bright light with fast lenses.
  7. ISO 12,800.  I’m unlikely to shoot at the upper end of the ISO range often, but noise performance has been improved at 3200 and 6400 as well, which is a bonus.
  8. Live View improved.  Nikon made great improvements in Live View over the D800.  Not only is the LCD a higher resolution screen, but the nasty artifacts that plagued the D800 are now gone.  I use LV frequently, especially at 100% zoom, for critical focus work so the D810 is a joy to use.
  9. Hand grip improved.  I have large hands, and the D800 never felt that comfortable in my hands.  The D810 brings some much welcome changes here, the grip is noticeably improved and the camera feels much more secure in my hand.

Nice To Have Extras

Here are some of the added benefits of the D810 that didn’t have a big impact on my decision but I’m happy to have them.

  1. Highlight weighted metering.  An extra metering mode useful in some tricky situations.
  2. Metering and bracketing selection improved.  I’m usually not a fan of buttons getting moved around, but the new layout is actually easier to use.  The ring around the AF-ON wasn’t the easiest way to select the metering mode, the button/wheel method is better.
  3. Quiet mirror/shutter.  Not Q (quiet) mode, but the operation of the mirror and shutter are much softer and better dampened than in the D800.  This likely improves sharpness but also makes the camera more pleasant to use.
  4. Split screen live view.  Limited usefulness, but I have used it a couple of times when leveling a horizon.  I think it would be more useful with tilt-shift lenses (which I don’t have), to ensure critical focus in multiple areas of the image.
  5. Improved battery life.  1200 shots in the D810, only 900 in the D800.  Battery life was never a big problem for me, but I’ll take more.
  6. Double the buffer size.  With the improved frame rates, this is an added bonus.   I don’t often hit the limit with the D810.
  7. Timer function improved.  Just set up the number of bracketed shots you want to take, switch the camera into timer mode, and hit the shutter release once.  The D810 will take the full bracket sequence for you.  Easy.

Added To D810, But I Don’t Care

Here are a few things added to the D810 that are of no use to me.  I’m not saying they are useless, some of you may put them in your own “this is why I upgraded” list.  For me, they are things I’m unlikely to use or gain any benefit from.

  1. Zebras in movie mode.  Shows you highlight clipping.  I almost never shoot movies with my DSLR so don’t care if it shows dancing hippos.
  2. Two info buttons.  “i” and “info”, why Nikon?  You had one button that you could click twice.  Now I have two buttons, and I usually press the wrong one.
  3. Flat picture control, clarity adjustment.  This only makes a difference for jpeg shooting, but I shoot 98% of my shots in RAW (NEF).  Which leads me to…
  4. sRAW.  Not real RAW, I don’t care.
  5. 1080p 60p (full HD).  Again, I don’t shoot video.  Even if it shot 8K… yawn.
  6. There are a few more, but I have forgotten about them already.

What Didn’t Make It Into The D810 But Should Have

Nikon had the opportunity to fix some things in the D810 but chose not to.  Here are a few things which I would have liked to see (some could even be implemented with a firmware upgrade I suspect).

  1. EFC in timer mode.  Why only in MUP?  Give me a firmware fix for this please.   I want a 2-second timer, 3 second exposure delay, and EFC.
  2. User preset modes (U1/U2).  The memory banks suck, I use them but I would much prefer the preset modes present on other cameras in Nikon’s lineup.
  3. WiFi.  It’s 2015 Nikon, get in the game.  Give me wifi and the ability to use my iPhone as a remote trigger.  Even better, give me an app for the Apple Watch!
  4. Exposures longer than 30 seconds.  Why is this still a limitation?  I need my remote trigger with me at all times, and it would need it at all if I could set my exposure to any value.  Another firmware fix please. UPDATE (June 1, 2015): The Nikon D810A camera (targeted at astrophotography) has a new M* mode (Long Exposure Manual Mode) that allows you to set the exposure time between 4 and 900 seconds.  Would be great if Nikon made this available via firmware on the D810.