Photographers everywhere loved the Nikon D800 and D800E, and now comes the Nikon D810 as the firm's latest high-resolution workhorse camera. Is it a worthy successor? Callum McInerney-Riley finds out in our Nikon D810 review
Hands-On First Look
Richard Sibley’s Nikon D810 Hands-On First Look
Heralded by Nikon as providing the ‘Highest image quality in Nikon history’ the new Nikon D810 is a refinement of the excellent D800 and D800E DSLRs it replaces.
Like its predecessors the D810 is made from magnesium alloy and is fully weather sealed, with the memory card door now made of rubber, rather than the plastic used on the D800 and D800E. Although the body remains largely the same there have been some tweaks. A slightly larger handgrip has been added, and new locations found for the bracketing and metering buttons to make them easier to access.
The screen sees an improvement. It remains 3.2-inches in size, but the change from an RGB array, to and RGBW array has increased the resolution from 921k dots to 1,229k dots. The addition of the white pixel should increase brightness, contrast and colour rendition. Those who wish to adjust the colour of the screen can now tweak the colour balance and white balance to their preferred tone.
To make it easier to frame and focus images, a new split image view is available. This mode shows a full view of the scene on one side and a magnified pull-up on the other.
New Features of the Nikon D810
Although the 36.3 million-pixel sensor of the Nikon D800 and D800E remains, the core sensor is in fact new. Unlike the D800E, the D810 has no anti-aliasing filter. Although the D800E was said to have no AA filter, it actually had two, with the second worked to negate the effect of the first. The new D810, has no such filter at all.
Also new is the Expeed 4 image processing system that has previously been featured in the recent Nikon D4S. The combination of the new processor and sensor gives the D810 an impressive extended sensitivity range of ISO 32-51,200. Such a low minimum sensitivity will no doubt appear to those wanting to shoot in bright light using wide aperture settings, and for landscape photographers wanting to take long exposure images.
With better processing the Nikon D810 offers improved noise levels compared to its predecessors. Auto white balance is also said to be improved, as well as a 1fps faster shooting rate of 5fps, or 7fps if shooting in the 1.5x crop DX mode. Importantly for those who use the camera heavily, the new sensor is also more efficient, which should help to improve battery life. Nikon claim that under CIPA testing conditions the 1900 mAh EL-15a battery can capture up to 1,200 still images. However, we will have to put the camera through our real world tests to see if there is much noticeable difference.
What will be noticeable is the the improvements to the shutter and sequencer mechanisms. These have been completely redeveloped, not only to help the camera’s shooting rate, but also to make quieter and with less vibrations. With a 36.3-million-pixel sensor, any slight movement, be it camera shake or shutter vibration can be noticeable. Anything that can be done to help reduce shutter slap is a real benefit to photographers, particularly those who shoot macro or long exposure images. With this in mind there is also a new electronic front curtain shutter mode, which those wanting to squeeze every last ounce of detail will benefit from.
The new Kevlar and carbon fibre-composite shutter unit has a 52 ms shutter lag time, and retains the 200k shutter actuation life of the Nikon D800.
Besides the improved noise reduction, there are other new additions to images themselves. The two main ones are the addition of a new Clarity control setting with the Picture Style controls. The works by adjusting the micro-contrast in an image, in much the same was as it does in Adobe Photoshop products. This should allow photographers to create smoother images or to increase local contrast to create a more HDR style effect, particularly when combined with Nikon’s Active D Lighting.
Obviously the 36.3 million-pixel sensor creates very large files, and those who want the flexibility of raw images, but without the need for the resolution, will be pleased with the introduction of the new raw Size S files. These 12-bit uncompressed Nikon NEF files that are a quarter of the resolution and half the file size of a standard raw file. Nikon claims that this was requested by animators and those who shoot time-lapse video footage.
The next image addition is the new Flat image style. Those who want a very neutral, low contrast image as the initial starting point for editing will be pleased with this mode. With a lower contrast it should leave more detail in highlight and shadow areas for post processing, and Nikon were particularly keen to push its use for video grading purposes.
Speaking of video there have been more improvements here, though not the 4K video capture that some were hoping for. The camera now shoots at 50/60p at full 1920×1080 resolution, with full control over the ISO sensitivity. Another benefit is the fact that video can be both recorded to a memory card and externally, at the same time. This also makes it possible to broadcast live footage from the camera, which Nikon boasts the new London Live Tv Channel is currently doing.
Experienced videographers will be pleased to learn that a Zebra pattern highlight warning feature has been added to the video capture mode. The audio recorded by the internal microphone has also be improved with a new noise and wind filters to offer clear soundtracks to recorded footage.
The AF system hasn’t been forgotten the 51 point AF system has also been improved, with the new system sensitive down to -2EV. When in the DX crop mode, the 51 AF points actually cover almost the entire frame, which makes the camera a interesting option for wildlife photographers, particularly as the cropped files are still 15.3-million pixels in size. Also for wildlife and sports photographers, the Group AF point feature that was introduced with the Nikon D4S, also makes an appearance in the D810.
Landscape photographers will be pleased to hear about the new metering mode in the Nikon D810. Highlight Weighted metering is now on hand to make sure that all highlight details in a scene are preserved, removing some of the need for spot metering and EV adjustment in many situations. It is an interesting metering mode and it makes you wonder why no one has done it before, though Nikon came close many, many, years ago when it introduced highlight and shadow spot metering.
We are big fans of the Nikon D800 and D800E and it is hard not to be excited about the new D810.
Whilst it was the high resolution that was the real talking point of the original cameras, with the Sony A7R now also offering the same resolution full frame sensor in a compact system camera, the resolution alone is no longer enough. What Nikon seems to have done is make the D810 much more of an all-rounder. Where-as the D800 is popular amongst studio and landscape photographers, the improved AF and shooting rate will make it more appealing to sports and wildlife photographers, and videographers too are well catered for.
On paper, at least, it looks like the D810 ticks all of the right boxes, and the price seems reasonable for its target market. It is a camera that we are looking forward to putting through its paces when we test it in one of our August issues.
The Nikon D810 goes on sale on 17th July, priced at £2699.99 body only.