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Camera Reviews

D800 - A Hands-On Review

Darrell Young (DigitalDarrell)

Keywords: d800, nikon, camera, bodies

Nikon D800 Review – Affordable "Medium Format" Returns

In the olden days of pre-2002 I loved medium format cameras. You would often find me in Great Smoky Mountains National Park lugging around a heavy Mamiya RB-67 medium format camera that gave me a large 6x7 cm Provia F transparency. As film started fading away and digital photography rose supreme in most people’s eyes, true medium format went away for the everyday photographer. Sure, one could buy a nice Hasselblad digital medium format for US$20K, but few could afford that level of camera.


Figure 1 – Nikon D800 with AF-S Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5–5.6G Lens

Now, with the release of the exciting Nikon D800 and D800E cameras, Nikon has returned medium-format resolution to the everyday photographer who wants it. No more will we have to find a lab to process our 120 film, be forced to lug around huge MF film bodies, and have to settle for standard-size digital images.

I don’t know about you but I’m very excited about these two cameras! With your being a Nikonian, like me, and having Nikon Acquisition Syndrome (NAS), I’m sure you are fully aware of my feelings. Have you ordered your D800 or D800E yet? From this point forward in the article, I will refer to both cameras by the name D800, except where specifically discussing the D800E.

For those who are not sure yet, let’s examine a few of the features found in this amazing new camera.


Medium Format Resolution Sensor

At 36.3 megapixel resolution the D800 moves soundly into medium-format territory. What’s the difference between the D800 and a much more expensive true medium-format camera? Although the D800 provides similar resolution, the imaging sensor on some medium format cameras can be twice the size of the D800’s at 36.7 x 46.1 mm, compared to the D800’s 24.0 x 35.9 mm CMOS (FX) sensor (figure 2).


Figure 2 – Nikon D800’s 36-Megapixel Imaging Sensor (FX) 35.9 x 24.0 mm

Obviously, the larger medium-format cameras will have larger pixels, providing better light gathering capability and less noise. However, the cost entry point for most true medium-format digital cameras is around US$10K and goes up very quickly. For only about US$3K for the D800, I’m inclined to tolerate a little more noise in higher ISO shots.

With the new D800, you can make an image with 36 megapixels (7360 x 4912 pixels). Do you realize the camera creates a 16 x 24 inch (40 x 60 cm) native print at 300 dpi? At 200 dpi that explodes to a 24 x 36 inch (60 x 91 cm) That’s poster sized!


Figure 2A – Tremont in the Great Smoky Mountains (Nikon D800 and AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens)

Imagine the expansive landscape shots with the massive detail that comes with the pixel density of the D800. Imagine being able to make huge native-size portraits to hang on your wall (Figure 2A). Think of how your clients will enjoy the various crops you’ll be able to make from the huge image file. Consider the extra income from stock photography you’ll gain from the larger image files. Medium format resolution has distinct advantages, with the disadvantage of having to store much larger images. Of course, you could use the DX mode in the D800 for smaller image size and still have images of comparable size to the 16 MP Nikon D7000. Such flexibility!


Multiple Cropping Formats

One of the most exciting things about the Nikon D800 is that it restores our ability to crop images. Wouldn’t you like to be able to shoot those nice wildlife or sports shots and crop the subject into a more interesting composition. With so many pixels, you could crop two-thirds of them away and still have a 12-megapixel image. Imagine that!


Figure 2B – The Nikon D800 provides four standard cropping modes, plus an additional 16:9 mode (not shown)

The camera comes with settings that automatically crop the image into various known formats (figure 2B), or you can simply take the massive 7360-pixel wide image and crop it however you would like.

I am completely blown away by the amazing resolution I find in the images taken by this medium-format camera. One day I was out shooting and saw a lovely storm cloud. I jumped out of my Jeep and took a handheld snapshot of the excellent anvil-shaped cloud (Figure 2C, D800 and Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 at f/8, ISO 100).


Figure 2C – Simply massive medium-format resolution in a 35mm-size body!

Later, when I was postprocessing the image at home, I noticed a couple of spots in the woods. I couldn’t see what the spots were so I zoomed in to 100 percent to find out. I was simply blown away to find that the spots were a couple of flop-eared mules. To help you see the absolutely massive resolution of this camera, I did a simple 200-pixel cutout at 100 percent in figure 2C—with no enlargement—so that you can see what I saw. Do you see why I really enjoy shooting with this camera? Have you ever seen such resolution in a sub-US$20K camera? To say I am well pleased is a serious understatement!



Figure 2D – Super Moon crop from a picture taken with a 400mm lens

As another resolution test, I shot a picture of the moon with my AF Nikkor 80-400mm at 400mm. Figure 2D shows a crop of the moon. I have waited for this level of resolution since digital came to power in the early 2000’s.

While the D800 is certainly not a speed-demon frames-per-second wise, with only 4 fps. Those who buy a D800 are not generally sports photographers. Of all the features this camera offers, the massive resolution is its best feature. For landscapes, nature, portraits, and events—were enlargement or cropping is needed—few cameras can even approach the Nikon D800.


Large ISO Sensitivity Range

Basically, the D800 has an ISO sensitivity range of 50 to 25600 ISO. Although the camera lists 100 to 6400 ISO as the “standard” range, it has Lo 0.3–1.0 (80 to 50 ISO) and Hi 0.3–2.0 (8000–25600 ISO) settings that expand the camera past the standard range in both directions. You can set the ISO sensitivity in 1/3, 1/2, and 1 EV steps per Custom Setting B1 > ISO sensitivity step value.


Figure 2E – Little Pigeon River in Great Smoky Mountains (Nikon D800 and AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 50)

I enjoy having a 50 ISO (Lo 1.0) for when I am shooting landscapes on a tripod, macro shots, or anything that needs superior resolution. My older Nikon D300S has 200 ISO as its standard lowest range, but I usually shoot at the 100 ISO (Lo 1.0) setting with it and never had any issues with any of my images, except a lack of noise. The D800 responds in a similar manner. I often shoot at 50 ISO for maximum quality and 100–400 ISO for events. As an example, the Smoky Mountains cascading water shot in figure 2B was taken at ISO 50. The D800 performs somewhat like the D7000 in noise response, which is excellent, therefore, most of us will be pleased.


51 Autofocus Points

The Nikon D800 has a total of 51 autofocus points with 15 of those being cross type, which means they detect focus in both a horizontal and vertical direction (Figure 3, red AF points). The other points (not red) work only in a horizontal direction.


Figure 3A – Nikon D800 Viewfinder with 51 AF points, 15 of which are cross type (red)

Previous semi-pro and pro-level Nikons have also used this same 51 AF-point arrangement very successfully. The large number of available points allows you to move a single AF point, or group of points, selectively with the Multi selector thumb control. You can move patterns of 9 or 21 AF points around the viewfinder, or use all 51 AF points at the same time for full 3D (subject color sensitive) subject tracking.

In addition to the center 15 cross type AF points, there are two other patterns of AF points that have special capabilities.


Figure 3B – Nikon D800 Viewfinder showing 15 AF points compatible with a maximum aperture slower than f/5.6 and faster than f/8

Figure 3B shows a pattern of 15 AF points with only the center 6 being cross type (red). This particular pattern of AF points works with lenses whose maximum apertures are slower than f/5.6 and faster than f/8.


Figure 3C – Nikon D800 Viewfinder showing 11 AF points compatible with a maximum aperture of f/8

Additionally, there is another 11 point pattern, as shown in figure 3C, that is compatible with a lens having a maximum aperture of f/8.

Normally, lesser cameras cannot provide autofocus reliably with lenses having a maximum aperture of smaller than f/5.6. Not the D800, though! When would you see lenses with a maximum aperture as small as f/8. Well, do you use teleconverters (e.g., TC-17E or TC-20E) to make those long Nikkors even longer? With the extra sensitive AF points represented by the orange AF points you can now use your teleconverters that communicate AF signals without autofocus worries.


Figure 3D – Nikon D800 Viewfinder with Custom Setting a7 set to AF11

If you would like to move a single AF point around the viewfinder more quickly than scrolling through 51 points allows, you can simply set Custom Setting a7 > Number of focus points to a pattern of 11 AF points in the same locations you grew used to in older semi-pro and pro-level Nikons, such as the Nikon D2X (Figure 4). Setting it to the 11 point mode (called AF11) does not turn off the other 40 AF points, it just lets the Multi selector thumb control move the current AF point around 11 points within the total instead of individually around all 51 AF points. This is merely a time saver for those who like to use a single focus point but hate to scroll through 51 points.


Figure 3E – Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus sensor module

The Nikon Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus sensor module (figure 3E) is designed to work down to -2 EV, which is the approximate physical limit of what a human can see though a viewfinder. The camera can autofocus in the equivalent of moonlight. If you’ve ever shot a wedding reception by candlelight you’ll rejoice in that fact.

Nikon’s AF sensor module is designed to be very flexible for those needing to shoot selectively or track moving subjects. It is a proven and very powerful autofocus system!


100 Percent Frame Coverage in Viewfinder and Live View

Many people were unhappy with the 95 percent viewfinder coverage in the Nikon D700. That lesser coverage could allow unseen objects to intrude into a picture because fully five percent of the subject area is hidden. That’s not a problem with the D800. With 100 percent coverage of the entire frame in both Viewfinder (glass pentaprism) and Live View (TFT monitor) shooting, you can always see the entire field of view your lens provides. Goodbye framing errors!


91K-Pixel RGB Metering Sensor

How can you improve on the amazingly accurate D700 and D3 metering system? One way is by increasing the resolution of the metering sensor by nearly 10 fold. You know how accurate the metering system is in a D3, for example. Well, the D3 only as 1005 pixels in its metering sensor. The D800 has approximately 91000 pixels instead (figure 4).


Figure 4 – Nikon D800’s 91K-Pixel Metering Sensor

The Nikon D800 is the recipient of an even more powerful Advanced Scene Recognition System. Remember when you were photographing a person against a dark wall, how sometimes the dark wall would tend to overcome the small area of a person’s face and cause the camera to expose for the wall, overexposing the face? Well, with the D800 that problem is basically solved.


Figure 4A – A wedding group shot taken in very difficult conditions (black background), with excellent D800 exposure

Imagine a 3D Color Matrix Metering III system so sensitive that it can detect a human face and base the exposure on the brightness of that face so that it is correctly exposed. Look at the amazing dynamic range and accurate exposure on the direct flash wedding group picture I took with my D800 and SB-900 flash (figure 4A). Skin tones are excellent and there is detail in the darkest and lightest areas. See how the bride’s dress still has detail, as well as the black curtain behind the group. Skin tones are accurate and well exposed. This camera has seriously advanced human face recognition, which is made possible by the high-density 91K metering sensor.

With such superior resolution sensor resolution, the Advanced Scene Recognition System can study the scene, comparing it with thousands of similar scenes in the camera’s database using very precise analysis for accurate exposure.

What all does the new 91K-pixel RGB sensor affect? Here is a short list:

  • Autofocus
  • Auto exposure
  • I-TTL flash control
  • Auto white balance

The Nikon D800 has three light meters that use the superior 91K-pixel metering sensor: 3D Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot; therefore, you can imagine how much more accurate they will each be with almost ten times the resolving power in the metering sensor. Thank you, Nikon!


3.2 Inch TFT Monitor

How can you improve on a 3 inch 921K-dot monitor, such as the one found in the Nikon D700 and D3? By making it a 3.2 inch 921K-dot monitor instead, and then giving it automatic brightness control and the ability to adjust color saturation so that the monitor remains usable from the darkest of conditions to full sunlight (figure 5).


Figure 5 – Nikon D800’s 921K-Dot TFT Monitor

Gone is the necessity to use the menu system to adjust monitor brightness when light conditions change. Like your iPhone or Droid, the Nikon D800’s monitor is self-adjusting to current light conditions.

In some of my Mastering the Nikon DSLR books, I tell a story about the time I set my camera on a napkin box in a restaurant in the Smoky Mountains so I could watch a nice slide show of the day’s nature shoot, while I relaxed with a meal. People walking by stopped to watch a few slides. In the books I discuss how I ought to do it again and charge admission. Well, with the 3.2 inch high-res, vivid-color monitor on my D800 I may take a donation box with me, next time!


Long-Life Shutter

The shutter that helps control exposure time in the D800 has an especially long tested life of 200K shutter releases (figure 6). Less expensive Nikon DSLRs are only tested out to 100K or 150K. A minimum of an extra 50K shutter releases shows the pro-level origins of this fine camera. That doesn’t mean the camera will simply stop working at 200K shutter releases. It simply means Nikon tested it out that far. It may do 300K shutter releases in reality, or less than 200K.


Figure 6 – Nikon D800’s 200K-tested Shutter Assembly

In the 30+ years I’ve been using Nikons I’ve only had one shutter actually wear out and stop working. That was back in 1990 on a film Nikon FE I had used for many years. I had the shutter replaced and it is still working fine today.

Of course, many of us won’t keep using the same digital camera for as long as we used our older films cameras. Or will we? With a camera like the D800, having a 36 MP sensor and every control available in the history of photography built into the camera, will it be one of the first 10 year digital Nikons for you? Time will tell. It’s a good thing that Nikon tests the shutter out to 200K shots. That’s a lot of pictures!

Additionally, Nikon created a powerful “sequential control mechanism” that lets the shutter, reflex mirror, and aperture work independently of each other. This allows the shutter release to work with the mirror up during Live view shooting. Since there is no mirror movement when making images in Live view, the camera can work very quietly in that mode.

The sequential control mechanism also features a quieter stepping motor so you’ll have less noise and smoother operation when shooting movies with the internal built-in microphone enabled.


Viewfinder Shutter

One of my favorite, built-in, exposure-enhancement features on a pro-level camera is the viewfinder shutter. I shoot a lot of nature images and when strong light can fall directly on the viewfinder eyepiece, it may influence the exposure. On less expensive DSLRs, Nikon provides a plastic slide-in piece called something like “DK-5” so the viewfinder can be covered when your eye is away from it.


Figure 7 – Viewfinder Shutter Lever

On the D800, instead of a plastic DK-5 insert, a small lever is available that allows you to close a shutter over the viewfinder eyepiece. This is very convenient, compared to having to carry a small plastic detachable cover (which is often lost), or having to cover the eyepiece with a hat or hand. When you see niceties like the viewfinder shutter, you know you are using a truly professional camera.


Integrated Dust Reduction

None of us want nasty dust spots on our images, yet we, as enthusiastic photographers, often change lenses. To reduce the occurrence of dust spots the Nikon D800 has a self-cleaning sensor unit.


Figure 8 – Integrated Dust Reduction with four shake frequencies

To help remove dust from the sensor, the D800 has a Clean image sensor setting in the Setup Menu. This setting, as in previous Nikon’s allows you to configure whether the camera shakes its sensor on canera startup and shutdown, or immediately (clean now). Being a pro camera, the D800 vibrates the low-pass filter, where dust could accumulate, at four different resonant frequencies. This can really help keep your pictures spot free.

EXPEED 3 Image-Processing Engine

The newest generation of EXPEED processors is very powerful (figure 9). The EXPEED 3 CPU is now dual-core, which means it has more than one processing brain, allowing the camera to multi-task (do several things at the same time).


Figure 9 – D800’s EXPEED 3 Dual-Core Processor (CPU)

To process the massive amount of image data captured by the new 36.3 MP imaging sensor requires serious power and memory. Nikon’s engineers created the new CPU to allow it to move and manipulate all that data, at a rate even faster than previous Nikon cameras. Think about what that means. The camera is processing 36 megapixels worth of data at a faster rate than previous Nikons processed 12 to 16 MP of data. With this realization you begin to see the amazing power of the camera’s brains (remember, it has two). Everything the camera does that affects image data is significantly faster with the new EXPEED 3 CPU!


Intelligent Face Detection and 3D Subject Tracking

We briefly touched on this earlier but I wanted to expound a little more on the new face detection and 3D tracking features provided by Nikon’s latest Scene Recognition System. The D800, unlike its competitors, has Auto-area autofocus with 3D tracking. This allows the camera to, not only track subjects like birds and race cars, based on their colors, but it also makes the camera uncanny in its ability to track human faces when using the optical viewfinder.


Figure 10 – Nikon D800 Top View

For subject tracking, the increased resolution of the 91K-pixel RGB sensor has an added benefit over previous 1005 pixel Nikon RGB sensors. The D800 can now track smaller subjects moving rapidly across the viewfinder by not only contrast (brightness), but also subject color.

When using Auto-area AF mode, the D800 can detect human faces and automatically focus on them with amazing accuracy. If you are shooting events with faces, such as a wedding or graduation, the camera can assist you in keeping the important faces in focus. This can keep you from having many out-of-focus images while allowing you to shoot even faster. You’ll find this extremely useful when faces are the real priority and there is no time to choose individual AF points.

As we use our Nikon D800s over the next few years, I am sure each of us will be happy with the added resolution in the RGB sensor. Our images will look better and our shooting of them will be easier!


3D Color Matrix Metering III

Not only do we have the normal three meters in the D800: Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot; but we also have a new technology built into the metering system called 3D Matrix Metering III. Thanks to the 91K-pixel RGB sensor’s increased resolution, there is a lot more scene information available for the advanced Scene Recognition System and new EXPEED 3 CPU to process. Increased exposure and color accuracy will result!


Figure 11 – Matrix metering selected on the Nikon D800

Additionally, when there are human faces present, the camera will pay special attention to keeping focus and exposure correct for the faces. This includes difficult lighting situations such as when using flash or when shooting a backlit subject. The face rules! The camera is going to work hard to prevent blowing out facial details.

This means iTTL balanced fill flash and Active D-Lighting will be even more accurate than with previous Nikons. Since the D800 is more acutely aware of human faces, it will be able to more precisely balance surrounding light with fill flash. Nikon states this on one of their webpages discussing the new 3D Matrix Metering III:

“For weddings and fashion shoots, or any photography that relies on the highest-quality still images, this new standard redefines what a flash system should be. Face detection also makes a difference when Active D-Lighting is used to retain highlights and shadows in high-contrast lighting situations. Faces will be optimally exposed both in the sun and in the shade.”

For situations with tricky white balance, such as in rooms with multiple types of lighting, the 91K-pixel RGB sensor and the main imaging sensor can work together to identify various light sources (color temperatures) and use a “unique Nikon technology” to effectively identify the Kelvin temperatures involved. This allows the camera to more effectively keep whites white, or let you deliberately introduce interesting color casts in your images.

Quick Picture Control Access

On previous Nikons one had to choose a Picture Control by using the Set Picture Control setting in the Shooting Menu. That can still be done, of course, but now you have an even quicker way of choosing a specific Picture Control.


Figure 12A – Protect/Help buttons doubles as a Picture Control button

Now you can simply press the Picture Control button (Protect/Help) and the Set Picture Control setting in the Shooting Menu will immediately appear on the rear Monitor. You can choose one of the following six Picture Controls:

  • Standard – Standard processing for balanced results. Recommended for most situations.
  • Neutral – Minimal processing for natural results. Choose for photographs that will later be extensively processed or retouched.
  • Vivid – Pictures are enhanced for a vivid, saturated effect. Choose for photographs that emphasize primary colors.
  • Monochrome – Monochrome or black and white pictures
  • Portrait – Process portraits for skin with natural texture and a rounded feel.
  • Landscape – Produces vibrant landscapes and cityscapes.

What’s extra nice about the new quick-access Picture Control button is that when you use it in Live view mode, not only does it give you the selection of Picture Controls but it also applies the selected control to the scene you are currently seeing in Live view. This will help you determine which Picture Control will help your image look its best.


Figure 12B – Picture Control indicator on the Information display

Additionally, there is a Picture Control indicator shown on the Information display (Monitor) and the top Control Panel LCD on the camera. You’ll be able to tell, at a glance, which Picture Control is currently in use.


Figure 12C – Picture Controls allow you to control the “look” of a JPEG image or a RAW image using camera settings and processed in Nikon’s software

Picture Controls manage sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue; and with the Monochrome Picture Control, filter effects and toning. When you shoot in JPEG mode the Picture Control setting directly applies itself to the image and gives you the ability to create various “looks.” When you are shooting in RAW and using Nikon software to postprocess your images, you can choose to process the picture with your shot-with Picture Control and maintain the look you desired, or you can change it after the fact (figure 12C).

You can customize these settings and create your own Custom Picture Controls (with separate names) and save them to camera memory - or memory card for sharing - using the Manage Picture Control setting under the Shooting Menu.

With Nikon’s continued use of Picture Controls, we have the ability to fine tune the appearance of our images until they exactly match what we see in our mind’s eye.

Dual Card Slots

The Nikon D800 has dual card slots similar to the Nikon D300S (figure 12D). You can use both an SD card and a CF card and select from various functions, such as Overflow , Backup, or RAW Primary, JPEG secondary.


Figure 12D – Dual card slots, SD and CF

You can also select which card receives movies by configuring Movie settings > Destination in the Shooting Menu.

By having a choice of card sizes in the camera you will have more flexibility in buying and using memory cards for your camera. This is great if you have a secondary camera for backup and it uses only SD cards, such as the Nikon D600, D7100, or D7000.


USB 3.0

Since the file sizes are so much larger from the D800 it is very important to have the fastest image transfer speeds between camera and computer. For that reason, Nikon has included compatibility with USB 2.0 and 3.0. USB 3.0 is up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0 so it will be a good time to upgrade your computer to the new standard. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait 10 times longer to transfer those huge 36.3 MP images.

The USB port on the D800 is also backwards compatible with USB 2.0. You simply have to plug a USB 2.0 mini connector into the largest half of the USB 3.0 port.


Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS)

The D800 directly supports Nikon CLS with its built-in Speedlight flash acting as a commander to control the following Speedlights: SB-910, SB-900, SB-800, SB-700, SB-600, and SB-R200. It can also use the normal SU-800 wireless commander to control the same flash units.


High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography

To assist those who would like to try HDR photography but do not like manual image bracketing, the D800 adds an HDR feature similar to the one found on the Nikon D5200. Nikon recommends that matrix metering be used during a camera-controlled HDR image session. The D800 will take two images, one to the dark side and one to the bright side of normal exposure, with either 1, 2 or 3 stops difference in the exposure, and combine them for a single JPEG image output. The mirror is raised for both exposures that are later combined into one. Again, this is only for JPEG output not RAW so it is a limited function for most photographers. It will be useful to slam out some quick HDRs in difficult lighting, though.


Nikon D800E Disabled Low Pass Filter

For landscape and studio shooters, along with extreme sharpness fanatics, the Nikon D800E camera is the camera of choice! While many shooters are concerned about potential moiré and false colors being present in their images and therefore select the D800 instead, some advanced photographers are willing to deal with the extra work required to insure moiré effects do not damage their images.


Nikon D800E Disabled Low Pass Filter

For landscape and studio shooters, along with extreme sharpness fanatics, the Nikon D800E camera is the camera of choice! While many shooters are concerned about potential moiré and false colors being present in their images and therefore select the D800 instead, some advanced photographers are willing to deal with the extra work required to insure moiré effects do not damage their images.


Figure 13 – The Nikon D800E HD-SLR camera

The Nikon D800E has the anti-aliasing feature of the low-pass filter disabled. This allows careful photographers to achieve maximum sharpness compared to other cameras, including the standard D800. Of course, it also means the D800E has an increased possibility for moiré and false colors in the image. A photographer who chooses the D800E over the D800 should work hard to understand ways to control the damaging effects of moiré since it is nearly impossible to remove from images. While the false color effect can be removed using Nikon Capture NX2, the banding effect caused by the spacing frequency being similar on the sensor and subject cannot easily be removed. Why?

The low-pass filter in the D800 removes the moiré effect before it reaches the sensor and becomes a part of the recorded image, the D800E does not remove moiré and it subsequently becomes a part of the image. Once moiré is in the image it is much more difficult to remove, if not impossible in some instances.

That said, after many months of use in the field, reports are in that the D800E has very little problem with moiré. With those facts in mind, and a willingness to train oneself in how to prevent even infrequent moiré effects from occurring, the D800E is a fine choice for extra image quality!


Advanced High-Definition (HD) Movie Mode

Not only can your new Nikon D800 give you wonderful still images, it also provides “broadcast quality” HD video. For the highest resolutions in HD video (1080p) the camera can record up to a 4 GB file and 20 minutes in segment length. For the lower broadcast quality HD of 720p, the camera can record up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds in video segment length (1280x720 at 30p and 25p only, see list of specs below for other recording rates). This segment-length limitation keeps the extra import taxation from devices that can record 30+ minutes from raising the price of the D800.

If you need to record longer video segments than just under 30 minutes, the D800 will comply. You can get an unlimited length stream of clean video (no icons showing in video) from the HDMI out port on the camera. You’ll need an external device to actually record the clean, uncompressed, unlimited video stream since the camera is not allowed to record unlimited streams to its internal memory cards, due to the import tax regulations.


Figure 14A – FX and DX movie format framing

The camera offers multiple image formats for movies—FX (91% of still frame) and DX formats—as shown in figure 14A. No matter which option you select for Image area in the Shooting Menu all movies recorded while in “Movie Live View” are in the 16:9 HD aspect ratio. The DX video mode should be considered a cropped view of 1.5x, which will allow lenses to have a little more “reach” for recording things like more distant wildlife.

Nikon seems to call the movie capability by two distinct names: “Full HD” for the unlimited HDMI output stream and “HD Recording” for the time-segment limited video stream recorded directly to the camera’s internal memory cards.

With the D800 Nikon has now also provided the ability to see the video stream on an external monitor and the camera’s 3.2 inch TFT monitor at the same time.


Figure 14B – The Nikon D800 and ME-1 Stereo Microphone

According to Nikon, when using the FX-based movie format the camera, “renders exquisitely shallow depth of field with beautiful bokeh effects.” When using the DX-based format the camera, “uses an image area similar to 35mm movie film, allowing cinematographers to shoot with picture angles that they are accustomed to.”

When you think of all the possibilities for excellent video from the combination of Nikkor lenses you can use, can you see how flexible the movie-making aspect of the D800 can be?

The sound level in video mode can be control much more effectively in the D800. The monitor offers audio level indicators showing a visual confirmation of the current audio level in 20 steps.

Here is a list of video movie specs:

  • 1920 x 1080 at 30p
  • 1920 x 1080 at 25p
  • 1920 x 1080 at 24p
  • 1280 x 720 at 60p
  • 1280 x 720 at 50p
  • 1280 x 720 at 30p
  • 1280 x 720 at 25p

The Custom Setting Menu now contains not only the normal A–F range we are used to but now adds a new G setting range containing four settings, as follows in the list. Make special note of Custom Setting g4, which lets you assign the Shutter-release button to movie making instead of picture taking:

g1: Assign Fn button – allows you to assign Power aperture, Index marking, or View photo shooting info functions to the Fn button
g2: Assign Preview button – allows you to assign Power aperture, Index marking, or View photo shooting info functions to the Preview button
g3: Assign AE-L/AF-L button – you could assign the Index marking, or View photo shooting info functions to the AE-L/AF-L button (g3) or choose from AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AE lock (hold), or AF lock only
g4: Assign Shutter button – Assign either Take photos or Record movies to the shutter-release button

Added to this is the full manual control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity during movies and the D800 is a powerful broadcast-quality movie machine.



The Nikon D800 is indeed a standard setting camera that other manufacturers will have to scramble to approach. Nikon can at times seem slow about bringing out new technology, but when they do, whoooeee mama! Nothing else on the market comes close.


Figure 15 – The Nikon D800—to infinity and beyond

The Nikon D800 and D800E cameras are very mature imaging devices designed to provide years of usage. This is a camera body that you can keep for a long time and put your money into better lenses instead. I’ve used my Nikon D2X for about 8 years now and this is the first camera I’ve owned that unseats the D2X. When you see Digital Darrell running around Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you find him clutching his Nikon D800, for years to come.

Did you buy your D800 or D800E yet? As they say in Tennessee USA, “Time’s a wastin’!” See you in the woods.

Keep on capturing time…
Darrell Young, aka Digital Darrell

Editors note:
The Nikon D800E and Nikon D800 DSLRs have a sensor with a very high dynamic range and a remarkable performance at high ISO while allowing for the capture of subtleties in color, tone and luminosity as no other sensor before, of any brand on any camera of any format. DXO Marks gave these cameras an overall sensor score rating of 96 and 95 respectively, the highest today, making it the sensor of reference.




(27 Votes )

Originally written on March 4, 2013

Last updated on December 30, 2020


robert Beeson (rbeeson) on April 10, 2013

Great Review Again!!! I still shoot a lot of portraits, however I am moving toward landscape & birding? Which model do you think would be best? Thanks, Bob

User on April 8, 2013

I so wish I could afford this beast...!

Jeffrey R Klug (kpw1255) on March 12, 2013

I love mine, now I can make 24 x 36 prints with out any troubles. Works great at the races. Thanks for a great in depth article on the camera.

Ernesto Santos (esantos) on March 12, 2013

Nikonians Resources Writer. Recognized for his outstanding reviews on printers and printing articles. Awarded for his high level of expertise in various areas, including Landscape Photography Awarded for his extraordinary accomplishments in Landscape Photography. His work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian. Winner of the Best of Nikonians Images 2018 Annual Photo Contest

Hi Darrell, I really enjoyed your review of the D800(E). You did a great job of pointing out the many wonderful benefits of this ground breaking camera in such a short space. Having had this camera for a good six months now I have to agree with all your points. The D800 is a real game changer and since I like to print big I am loving the image resolution. One thing that I have discovered, and which you mention, that should not be understated is the unbelievable dynamic range of this camera. I am seeing at least a full stop of increase based on my testing using ND Grad filters. Where I used to need three stops of filtration with my old D300 and D700 I now only need 2 stops with the D800. With good shooting technique and the right raw processing skills this is big!

User on March 12, 2013

Hello Darrell, Sorry I missed you this winter. We were in Knoxville (Wife born and raised in Fountain City and a brother in Halls and sister in West Knoxville) in January and then again the end of February. Visiting and shooting (pistols AND D300) plus visiting friends and family was extremely busy. We even went to Ohio and Kentucky to visit the Neices and their kids. Will make better effort to contact you next winter or if we do go to Knox sooner. Would love to meet up with you. We do manage to go to the Smokies every time we do go to Knoxville, and stay in a hotel in Gatlinburg for a night or two. Fantastic work on your books, as usual, and a really nice review of the 800, which is beyond my scope of investment right now. But, there's always the lottery...

William Madden (Dazzle) on March 12, 2013

Thanks Darrell. A great article which I'd like to have on my iPad - Is there a PDF version?

Carlos Niño (carlosnino) on March 11, 2013

I have mine since last december and I simply LOVE IT!!!

User on March 10, 2013

I've got my D800 last Sept. WOW! I had a D300 which I thought was a great camera. NO COMPARISON. And talk about the bug. Just traded in my older lenses for a sweet of prime lenses. Nikkor 24-70mm and 70-200mm to go with my 28-300mm and Sigma 150-500mm. I'm just an excited amateur but the pictures are fabulous. Just went to Disney Worlds Flower and Garden show. Can't wait for more chances to snap some more. I am a sponge for anything about the D800. Can't wait to read more.

User on March 10, 2013

Thanks for the review Darrell and for writing the book. As an owner of the camera I am continuously amazed at the images this camera produces. Mark

Gary Pate (MongoG) on March 9, 2013

Darrell, Thanks so much for these great review. It really helps to understand the advantages of the D800. My NAS has kicked in and I was looking for a replacement for my D300 (another great body), but was second guessing the move to FX. I'll be ordering the D800 soon. Gary

Ray Valdovinos (rayvaldovinos) on March 9, 2013

Wonderful review Darrell. Very thorough as always.

Robert O. Swanson (roswanson) on March 9, 2013

Excellent article, I love my D800, thanks for all the info you give us Nikon users.

Dennis Owens (DennisOwens) on March 8, 2013

Donor Ribbon awarded for his most generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Donor Ribbon awarded for his extraordinary generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level skills in various areas, especially Sports and Time-lapse Photography

Excellent article Darrell! I have enjoyed my D800 from Hawaii to Afghanistan. I will be taking it back to the USA for a California to Florida and back tour this summer. I own the D2x, D3, D3s and this D800, but the D800 is my primary "Go To" camera. All the best and Good Light, Dennis

KENNETH JACKSON (f5titan) on March 8, 2013

Very well written! My D700 is my digital F5 and my D800 is my digital Bronica SQa.


Thanks Darrel. Now I am seriously thinking to change over from D-300 to D-800/E because its price and your Very Good review.

Jon Kirshner (jbk224) on March 7, 2013

Great report and easy to read. Forwarded to a bunch of friends interested in the camera. Thanks.

Richard Luse (DaddySS) on March 6, 2013

Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for  his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous contribution to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

Thoroughly enjoyed and appreciate the write up - thanks Darrel!

User on March 6, 2013

Nice one Darrell, a thoroughly thoughtful review which sums up everything about this great camera. Yes, low fps, but still a superb wildlife camera too. Richard

Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on March 5, 2013

Thanks. Very good article.

Tom Ferguson (tekneektom) on March 5, 2013

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Winner in the Annual Nikonians Best Images Contest 2015

Darrell, Thanks! My D800 arrived today and while the battery is charging I've read your D800 Hands-On Review and it has reconfirmed my decision to go to FX and to go to the D800. Tom