We loved the Nikon D800 and D800E. Who didn’t? They were, and still are, terrific cameras that tempted a fair few photographers over to the Nikon camp, and many studio photographers today will still list the D800 as their workhorse camera.
So, one might ask, was an update really necessary? You could be forgiven for being cynical about the D810 even before seeing it – the D800 wasn’t broke, so why are they fixing it?
Well, it looks like the D810 has answered its own question. Nikon have gone down a clever route with this update, taking what worked about the D800 and expanding upon it in different directions, making a real stab at a genuine all-rounder.
The D810 feels like an attempt at a camera for every photographer in its price bracket. Whatever your subject, your genre, Nikon reckons it has you covered. Is it a success? It’s too early for us to tell definitively, but we think it looks like a pretty solid attempt.
We make the case for why the Nikon D810 might turn out to be the perfect all-round DSLR
1. That enormous resolution is ideal for all kinds of photography
One of the reasons we loved the Sony Alpha 7R – so much so that we honoured it with Camera of the Year at the AP Awards – was its huge 36MP resolution.
Studio and product shooters, landscape photographers, wildlife, street, videographers – everyone has potential use for that level of detail in their images.
The D810 joins the Alpha 7R in the ultra-high resolution game, and thanks to the removal of the complete low-pass filter (unlike the D800E, which had two, one negating the effects of the other), it’s capable of squeezing the maximum amount of detail out of its images.
What Nikon has cleverly done, as we shall see, is take that beefy resolution and strap it into a DSLR that’s capable in all other areas as well.
2. The Picture Control and metering modes are perfect for landscapes
Nikon’s Picture Control system provides the kind of control the contrast and tonality of images that landscape photographers require.
The new Flat setting is designed to complement post-production, lowering the contrast to retain as much detail in highlights and shadows as possible. The Clarity setting goes the other way, allowing for fine details to be precisely adjusted in-camera. It’s easier than ever before to see what you’re doing in-camera as well, thanks to the monitor’s adjustable colour balance and new Split Screen Live View.
There’s also Highlight Weighted metering. Like the invention of the wheeled suitcase, Highlight Weighted metering is one of those ‘how has no-one thought of this before?’ kind of concepts.
By taking its cue from the highlights of a scene, Highlight Weighted metering preserves all the brightest detail in an image and is perfect for those sun-scorched landscapes that tend to feature blown out clouds and strips of bleach-white.
It’s also perfect for theatre and concert photography, where the main subject of focus is typically lit by a strong spotlight.
3. The bolstered frame rate will keep wildlife photographers happy
While you can capture full 36-million-pixel images at 5fps, the D810 goes one better and also provides the option to shoot at 7fps in DX Crop mode.
Strap a telephoto lens on the front and you’ll be able to churn out seven 15.3-million-pixel images a second at 450mm equivalent. That is not too shabby.
The AF has also been upgrade to keep up with this freshened shooting pace, and it looks as though it’ll do a sterling job. But more on that later…
4. It’s got great sensitivity, and is particularly capable in low light
Another way the D810 roundly trumps its predecessor is in the improved sensitivity range.
Users now have a native ISO range of 64-12,800 to play with, which can be expanded to a seriously impressive ISO 32-51,200.
This kind of versatility is the mark of a true all-rounder. You’ve got room to play, whether the light is blindingly bright or squintingly low. It enables longer exposures to turn water in to blurred mist, or a large aperture to be used even in bright sunlight.
On the subject of low light, the improved 51-point AF system has been fine-tuned and is now sensitive down to -2EV, making it much easier to keep track of your subject even in dark, challenging conditions.
5. The AF and shutter are ideal for sports and action
Like wildlife photographers, those who shoot action will welcome not only the high frame-rate but also the Group Area AF mode that’s been borrowed from the D4s.
Group Area AF is not only able to acquire subjects at lightning speed but also isolate small subjects even against complicated backgrounds.
The 51 AF points cover almost the entirety of the frame, meaning a fast-moving subject is far less likely to dodge out of your area of coverage. It’s an ideal companion for that improved burst mode.
On that very subject, the new shutter/mirror box mechanism on the D810 not only reduces camera shake but also minimises blackout during high-speed shooting.
A new electronic front-curtain shutter further reduces internal vibrations that could cause blur in the tiny details – vital when you’re dealing with such rich, high-resolution images.
Even when you’re shooting hard and fast, the D810 should keep its cool.
6. New S Raw files and unlimited Jpeg shooting? Yes please
The phrase ‘exciting file format’ is not often uttered in polite society but, well, here we are. Nikon has listened well to customer feedback and given us a format we’ve seen on Canon DSLRs – S Raw files.
This format delivers tonally rich 12-bit uncompressed Nikon NEF files that allow the camera to pump out Raws much faster than if they were at full-resolution.
This gives it a huge number of additional uses that some photographers may not have even considered. Creating a rich, dynamic timelapse suddenly became a lot easier, and you could even use this function for animation. There’s a lot of possibility to be explored.
In the same vein, the D810 is also capable of effectively unlimited continuous Jpeg shooting. As long as there’s space on your card, it’ll shoot and shoot and shoot. Another boon for timelapse photographers, this will effectively allow you to set the camera up and simply leave it running until you achieve the effects you want. Long star trails spring to mind.
7. Broadcast-quality video comes straight out of the camera
You could grumble about the lack of 4K video on the D810, and you wouldn’t be alone. But the advancements made to the D810’s video capabilities are impressive in their own right, and the fact is that the camera is more than capable of producing broadcast-quality video.
Not only can you shoot full HD (1080p) movies at 50p/60p, there’s also access to the full ISO sensitivity range from ISO 64. The D810 allows for simultaneous capture of video both in-camera and on an external recorder, effectively allowing you to broadcast straight from camera.
There is a reason that the TV channel London Live uses Nikon DSLRs for its recordings, and the D810 looks set to continue in that tradition.
For the definitive verdict on the Nikon D810, you’ll have to wait for our full review. In the meantime, what do you think of this new offering? Could it be the all-round DSLR we think it might be? Let us know on Twitter: @AP_Magazine
See our First Look of the Nikon D810 here