Nikon D810: $3,300 full-frame camera ships in July with updates for all

d810-11.jpg
Lori Grunin/CNET

Well, we've just hit the two-year mark for single-height, full-frame pro dSLRs -- in other words, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 series -- so it's about time to see their updates and replacements. Nikon is first, updating both the D800 and the D800E with a single model, the D810. Nikon had split the D800 into two models, one with an antialiasing filter (OLPF) and the other, the D800E, with an algorithm that neutralizes the effect of the OLPF for sharper photos. Now, in the D810, Nikon merges them into a single model without an OLPF, among a host of other upgrades.

What's new

  • Design: The D810 has a D4S-like deeper grip modification, along with some control tweaks. These include moving the bracketing button to the front/side of the camera above the flash button, and moving the metering button to BKT's former position above the release-mode dial. It picks up some tricks from the lower-end models, including the i button for pulling up quick-access settings. While the LCD is the same size as before, it now uses an RGBW display, which adds an extra set of white dots for brightness, and you'll be able to adjust color balance as with the D4S. There's a nice split-screen zoom in Live View to check both focus and level. And the viewfinder has been improved with a new coating on the prism and an OLED overlay for settings, like the D7100. It's got the same weather sealing as the D800 and D800E.
  • Sensor and image processing: Though the D810 has the same resolution as its predecessors, it uses a new sensor and upgrades to the Expeed 4 image processor that debuted in the D5300 and is used by the D4S as well. The processor enables several capabilities, such as a new 12-bit small raw format and highlight-weighted metering for high-contrast scenes.
  • Performance: Nikon claims the D810 is 30 percent faster than its predecessors, with a longer battery life. Its frames-per-second speed has gone up by 1 to 5fps, and it has deeper burst capability -- it can handle more than 100 JPEGs and at speeds slower than 4 secs it can shoot up to the capacity of the card. Although it uses the same autofocus system, the processor now enables group-area AF, allowing it to clump five AF points together. Nikon also says Live View AF now provides faster full-time (AF-F) autofocus. The sequencer and mirror balancer have been reworked to provide decreased vibration during continuous shooting for sharper images.
  • Still photography: The D810 will offer exposure smoothing for time-lapse and interval shooting, and increases duration of those to 9,999 shots and up to a week. Power aperture, in which you can assign one button to widen the aperture and one to narrow it, also makes an appearance. (Note that this only works with certain lenses.) A new flat Picture Control opens up midtones, and you now adjust Picture Control parameters down to one-quarter of a step in-camera. Adjustments now include a Clarity setting. The camera also can use the electronic front curtain to act as an electronic front shutter for less lag and vibration (as many Sony cameras do).
  • Video: There's a lot new in the D810's video capabilities, including a bump to 1080/60p and the capability to simultaneously record video in-camera and to an external drive. It now supports Zebra stripes, and you can set them to not record when recording through HDMI. Like the D4S, it has auto ISO support for smooth exposure transitions. On the audio side, it now offers wind-noise reduction and presets for wide or voice frequencies.

Nikon will also be offering a new wireless remote system (the WR-1) that operates via RF rather than IR.

In two other interesting moves, Nikon plans to make a software developers kit (SDK) for the D810 available, and will be issuing a new version of its raw-processing software. Capture NX-D will replace Capture NX2 -- an inevitable move since Nik, the company that developed its Capture NX software, was bought by Google. On one hand, it will now be free, and it's about time. On the other, it's using "a mishmash" of development resources, which never bodes well.

Pricing

The camera body will ship for $3,300 in the US at the end of July, the same price the D800E goes for currently. (We don't yet know UK and Australian pricing and availability, but a direct conversion would be approximately £1,940 or AU$3,500.)

Nikon is also offering two specialty kits. The D810 Filmmaker's Kit consists of the body, three lenses -- 35mm f1.8G, 50mmm f1.8G, and 85mm f1.8G -- two additional EN-EL15 batteries, the ME-1 Stereo Microphone, an Atomos Ninja-2 External Recorder, and Tiffen 67mm and 58mm Variable Neutral Density Filters.

The D810 Animator's Kit comes with the body, a 105mm f2.8G macro (Micro-Nikkor) lens, an EH-5b Power Adapter, an EP5B power supply connector, and Dragonframe Stop Motion Software plus a Dragonframe USB Keypad Controller. Pricing to come.

Specification comparison

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Nikon D800/D800E Nikon D810 Sony Alpha SLT-A99
Sensor effective resolution 22.3MP CMOS
8-channel readout
14-bit
36.3MP CMOS
12-channel readout
14-bit
36.3MP CMOS
12-channel readout
14-bit
24.3MP Exmor CMOS
n/a
14-bit
Sensor size 36mm x 24mm 35.9mm x 24mm 35.9mm x 24mm 35.8mm x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
OLPF Yes Yes/Yes
(has OLPF neutralizer)
No Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 50 (exp)/
100 - ISO 25600/
102400 (exp)
ISO 50 (exp)/
100 - ISO 6400/
25600 (exp)
ISO 32 (exp)/
64 - ISO 12800/
51200 (exp)
ISO 50 (exp)/ISO 100 - ISO 51200/ISO 102400 (exp,
via multishot NR)
Burst shooting 6fps
18 raw/
unlimited JPEG
4fps
n/a
(5fps with battery grip)
5fps
n/a
(6fps in DX mode, 7fps with battery grip)
6fps
13 raw/14 JPEG
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
100% coverage
0.71x/0.71x
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
0.71x/0.71x
Autofocus 61-pt High Density Reticular AF
21 center diagonal to f5.6
5 center to f2.8
20 outer to f4
51-pt
15 cross type; 11 cross type to f8
51-pt
15 cross type; 11 cross type to f8
dual phase-detection system
19-pt
11 cross type;
102pt focal plane
AF sensitivity -2 - 20 EV -2 - 19 EV -2 - 19 EV -1 - 18 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 200,000 cycles
Metering 63-area iFCL 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 1,200 zones
Metering sensitivity 1 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -2 - 17 EV
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p/
25p/24p; 720/60p/50p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p/
25p/24p @ 24Mbps
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p/
50p/ 30p/
25p/24p
bit rate n/a
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24MBps
Audio mono; mic input; headphone jack mono; mic input; headphone jack stereo; mic input; headphone jack stereo; mic input; headphone jack
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 29m 59s 4GB/20 minutes 20 minutes internal
40 minutes (with external pack)
n/a
Clean HDMI out Yes Yes Yes Yes
IS Optical Optical Optical Sensor shift
LCD size 3.2 in/8.1 cm
Fixed
1.04 megadot
3.2 in/8 cm
Fixed
921,000 dots
3.2 in/8 cm
Fixed
921,000 dots plus extra set of white dots
3 in/7.5 cm
Articulated
921,000 dots plus extra set of white dots
Memory slots 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7)
1 x SDXC
1 x CF (UDMA mode 7)
1 x SDXC
1 x CF (UDMA mode 7)
1 x SDXC
2 x SDXC
Wireless connection Optional
(WFT-E7A)
Optional
(WT-4A or UT-1 with WT-5A)
Optional
(WT-4A or UT-1 with WT-5A)
None
Flash No Yes Yes No
Wireless flash No Yes Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 950 shots
(1,800mAh)
900 shots
(1,800 mAh)
1,200 shots
(1,800 mAh)
410 shots
(1,650mAh)
Size (WHD) 6 x 4.6 x 3 in
152 x 116.4 x 76.4 mm
5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 in
248 x 194 x 152 mm
5.8 x 4.9 x 3.3 in
146 x 123 x 81.5 mm mm
5.9 x 4.5 x 3.1 in
147 x 111.2 x 78.4 mm
Body operating weight 33.5 oz
28.3 g
35 oz
992.2 g
35 oz (est)
992.2 g (est)
29.2 oz
827.8 g
Mfr. price (body only) $3,400
£2,260 (est)
AU$3,550
$3,000/$3,300
£1,940/£2,000 (est)
AU$3,250/AU$3,550
$3,300
£n/a
AU$n/a
$2,300
£2,000
AU$2,800
Primary kit $4,000 (with 24-105mm lens)
£2,830 (est)
AU$4,480
n/a n/a n/a
Alternate kit n/a n/a n/a n/a
Release date March 2012 March 2012/
April 2012
July 2014 October 2012

My take

From what I've seen, it doesn't look like Nikon made any missteps with this upgrade, and the company added a lot that makes the camera more powerful -- especially for shooting video. I've liked the results from Nikon's OLPF-free sensors thus far, so there's no reason to expect any backsliding from the image quality of the D800/D800E and every reason to expect better.

My biggest problems with the D800 are the battery life and speed, both of which should be better in the D810. The only thing we didn't get: an articulated display. So for all the improvements in video shooting, a lot of folks will still have to equip an external display.

And then there's the price. It would have been nice to come in at the same price as the D800 rather than the D800E, especially given how (relatively) inexpensive the Sony A99 is now. Then again, it's a Photokina year and we don't know what we'll see from Canon and Sony -- if anything -- in this space.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Regional specs shown for US. AU specs are unavailable.

  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 36.3 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 24 x 35.9mm