Nikon D800 review

Sublime ergonomics and a record-breaking resolution, but performance suffers

16 Aug 2012
Our Rating 
4/5
Price when reviewed 
2,500
inc VAT

Page 3 of 4Nikon D800 review

Specifications

35.9x24mm 36.2-megapixel sensor, N/A zoom (N/A equivalent), 1.0kg

Some potential buyers will be considering the D800 as a video camera first and foremost. Video picture quality was stunning, with rich, warm colours and dramatic depth-of-field effects just as valuable here as they are for photos. Details were notably crisper than from the 5D Mark III's videos, too. It records at 1080p at a choice of 24, 25 and 30fps, with AVC compression keeping file sizes at a manageable 22Mbit/s. There's also an option to send uncompressed video out of the HDMI port to a stand-alone recorder such as the Atomos Ninja. This also gets around the 20-minute clip limit. It's a shame there's nothing approaching a raw video output without any colour processing, though. We'd love for there to be a Picture Control preset that really is neutral, to give as much flexibility as possible for colour grading in video-editing software.

Videos exhibited various other quirks and foibles we've come to expect from SLRs. Autofocus was clumsy while recording, and not smooth or fast enough for serious use. Moiré interference meant swirling patterns and discoloration on textures such as bricks and rippling water (see video below). Automatic, aperture-priority and manual exposure modes are available for video, but it's not possible to fix the shutter speed to control motion blur and let the camera adjust the exposure via the ISO speed. Despite all this, the D800 is arguably the best SLR to date for video, but we'd rather use a compact system camera such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2.

Video picture quality is excellent but not without its problems – the ripples that mysteriously change direction just below the reflection of the trees is moiré interference, and so too is the yellow discoloration just above - select 1080p and full screen mode to get the best view of these issues

If photos matter more than videos, our advice to anyone who's toying with the idea of upgrading to a full-frame SLR is to go for it. The D800 is in a different league to cheaper APS-C cameras, not just for image quality but also for ergonomics and features.

For those choosing between the Nikon D800 and the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, the decision is trickier. Each one is an absolute pleasure to use and produces beautiful photos, but their image quality excels in different directions. It's tempting to conclude that landscape and studio photographers who shoot in bright light with a tripod are better off with the Nikon, while those who mostly shoot handheld or in low light should go for the Canon. However, that's a cop out for the majority of photographers who can't be pigeonholed so easily.

Nikon D800

For us, picking a favourite is less technical and more emotive. It requires discipline to make the most of the Nikon's vast resolution, whereas the Canon's lower noise supports a less disciplined approach. You can shoot in low light using fast shutter speeds or small apertures and take comfort in the knowledge that the resulting fast ISO speeds won't spoil the shot. That's a liberating feeling. It also helps that the Canon is significantly faster in burst mode.

Ultimately, though, choosing between them is largely academic. The D800 is a fantastic camera and its consistency with other Nikon cameras – and compatibility with lenses – mean there's no need for existing Nikon users to switch allegiance. It's time to start saving up.

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