Nikon woos the pros with long-awaited D800

With a 36-megapixel sensor, new autofocus and metering systems, better viewfinder, and some attractive video features, the D800 might just have been worth the seemingly endless wait.

Nikon USA

Because of its lack of video capabilities and its relatively low resolution, the Nikon D700 never attained the level of buzz the Canon EOS 5D Mark II did, despite being an excellent camera. With the D800, Nikon looks poised to catch up to, if not overtake, Canon in the hearts and minds of full-frame devotees.

With all the information about the D800 having leaked in advance, it's easy to tell what's been most attention-grabbing: the high-resolution sensor and the D800E sibling model, which incorporates a modified low-pass filter system that results in little to no antialiasing. There's no doubt that the combination should appeal to professionals like studio and wedding photographers.

However it's notable that the sensor's pixel size is 4.88 x 4.88 microns (compared to 6.4 x 6.4 for the 5DM2) and hits a comparatively low maximum sensitivity of ISO 25,600. That said, cameras for this target market don't need the really high, gain-pushing ISO sensitivities of more action-oriented models; they need the highest clean setting. And Nikon has a history of clean high ISO images for its pro models. But even if the D800 manages impressive video, I suspect that the D800E will be less video friendly--aliasing can be a real problem in video and it's much harder to correct in post-production, so you need that low-pass filter. Medium-format cameras and AA-filter-free models like the Fujifilm X100 usually don't support video or don't produce professional-quality results.

Here's how the current full-frame landscape looks for Nikon's product line and the competitive Canon:

  Canon EOS 5D Mark II Nikon D700 Nikon D800/ D800E Nikon D3X Nikon D4
Sensor (effective resolution) 21.1-megapixel CMOS
4-channel readout
14 bit
12.1-megapixel CMOS
n/a
14 bit
36.3-megapixel CMOS
n/a
14 bit
24.5-megapixel CMOS
12-channel readout
14 bit
16.2-megapixel CMOS
16-bit pipeline
36 mm x 24mm 36 mm x 23.9mm 35.9 mm x 24mm 35.9 mm x 24mm 36mm x 23.9mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
Sensitivity range ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/25,600 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/ 25,600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 6400/ 25,600 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/ 100 - ISO 1600/6400 (exp) ISO 50 (exp)/100 - ISO 12,800/204,800 (exp)
Continuous shooting 3.9fps
14 raw/310 JPEG
5fps
17 raw/100 JPEG
4fps
n/a
(5fps with battery grip)
5fps
n/a
10fps
n/a
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
100% coverage
0.71x/0.71x
95% coverage
0.72x/0.72x
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
100% coverage
0.70x/ 0.70x
Autofocus 9-pt AF
1 cross type
51-pt
15 cross type
51-pt
15 cross type; 11 cross type to f8
51-pt
15 cross type
51-pt
15 cross type; 9 cross type to f8
AF exposure range -0.5 - 18
EV
-1 - 19 EV -2 - 19 EV n/a -2 - 19 EV
Shutter speed 1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/200 sec x-syn 1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8000 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 150,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 300,000 cycles 400,00 cycles
Metering 35-zone TTL 1,005-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering II 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III 1,005-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering II 91,000-pixel RGB 3D Color Matrix Metering III
Metering exposure range 1 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -1 - 20 EV
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p None H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p/ 25p/24p
None H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/ 30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p/ 25p/24p
Rated estimated max HD video length at best quality 4GB
(approx 12 minutes)
n/a 20 minutes n/a 20 minutes
Audio mono; mic input n/a mono; mic input; headphone jack n/a mono; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3.2 inches
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,000 dots
3.2 inches
921,000 dots
Memory slots 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7) 1 x CF (UDMA mode 6) 1 x CF (UDMA mode 7), 1 x SDXC 2 x CF (UDMA mode 6) 1 x CF, 1 x XQD
Wireless flash No Yes Yes No n/a (probably no)
Battery life (CIPA rating) 850 shots
(1800 mAh)
1000 shots
(1500 mAh)
850 shots
(1800 mAh)
4400 shots
(1900 mAh)
n/a
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 6.0 x 4.5 x 3.0 5.8 x 4.8 x 3.0 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 32.9 38.7 31.7 (est) 43 (est) 47.3 (est.)
Mfr. Price $2,499.00 (body only) $2,699.95 (body only) $2,999.95/ $3,299.95 (body only) $7,999.95 (body only) $5,999.95 (body only)
n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ship date November 2008 July 2008 March 2012/ April 2012 December 2008 February 2012

With the exception of the sensor, the D800 uses a lot of the same core components as the D4, including the viewfinder, autofocus and metering systems; capabilities enabled by the Expeed 3 image processor like improved white balance, face detection boost for exposure and dynamic range optimization and in-camera HDR; and the same set of enhanced expanded (for Nikon) set of video capabilities, including uncompressed 4:2:2 HDMI out, mic and headphone jacks, live aperture adjustment while shooting, and expanded set of supported frame rates. Nikon also claims the fast sensor readout significantly reduces rolling shutter artifacts. As you'd expect, it also has a magnesium alloy dust-and-weather sealed body. To me, a couple of the subtle standout features are support for USB 3.0--essential if you shoot tethered with those large files, for example--and two card slots.

While it sounds good on paper, Nikon still has a lot to prove when it comes to video. I haven't been awestruck by the samples I've seen from the D4 compared to various Canon models and the (admittedly expensive) interchangeable-lens camcorders. (Speaking of which, Nikon plans to post a D800 video sample tomorrow.) But the rest of the package sounds quite nice. Plus, Nikon may keep the D700 around for a while, and if the price drops a few hundred it would be an attractive option for the video-indifferent folks.

The real wild card at this point for buyers thinking about jumping to or from Nikon is the update to the 5DM2, which is likely to be announced within a few weeks, in time for WPPI, a big show for wedding photographers at the end of February. Current rumors spec it at 22 megapixels with the same autofocus system as the 1D X , among other things.

This is shaping up to be one heck of an interesting year for pro cameras. No complaints here.

 

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