Nikon D800 (Body Only) review: Nikon D800 (Body Only)

The D800's performance only disappoints in one respect: battery life. The battery seems to drain faster than that of almost any high-end dSLR I've used in recent memory, dropping a few bars on the indicator every short shooting session. If you plan to shoot a lot of Live View or video, I'd spring for an extra battery or upgrade to the EN-EL18. Also, like many of the high-resolution cameras, it has some annoying lagginess when reviewing photos. And while the LCD is larger, it doesn't seem up to the high-resolution images for judging sharpness, and it's difficult to use in direct sunlight.

Design and features
The body design remains quite similar to the D700's and uses the now-standard Nikon conventions. It's really sturdy and comfortable to shoot with, despite being a bit heavy, built of magnesium alloy with slightly improved dust-and-weather sealing. The grip has an inset for your fingers for extra stability. The viewfinder now covers 100 percent of the scene -- yay! -- and remains big, bright, and extremely comfortable. You can turn on a virtual level that now registers tilt as well as roll.

Almost all settings are adjusted via combinations of buttons and the front or rear dials. On the top left you've got the quality, white-balance, bracketing, and ISO buttons, plus a lockable wheel that selects among drive modes (single shot, continuous low, continuous high, quiet shutter, timer, and mirror lockup). On the top right, the power switch surrounds the shutter release, plus there are buttons for exposure compensation and exposure mode selection (PASM). Unlike Canon, Nikon eschews a full-auto mode, and it folds Bulb mode into shutter speed as the longest-release option. The too-small recording button sits on the right shoulder between the shutter and mode buttons, where I found it awkward to reach; I prefer it on the back for thumb-triggering. There's also a traditional status LCD.

On the front left side of the body sits a switch for focus mode (auto and manual), with a button that pops up the gazillion focus and focus-area mode options (single-point, dynamic area in 9-, 21-, or 51-point options, auto area, normal area, and subject tracking, plus face-priority or wide area in Live View mode), which you cycle through using both the command and subcommand dials. You then use the thumb-operated, lockable eight-way multiselector on the back to pick your focus point in the viewfinder. I've always found the switch a little too inconsistent when I'm speeding through, but over time I've gotten used to it. Also on the left are the flash pop-up and compensation buttons, and ports for a wired remote and flash sync cable. There are now two programmable function buttons between the grip and the lens that you press with your middle right fingers; you can assign them a variety of options, each storable with one of the four memory banks, including the new capability of silent aperture operation for shooting video.

Other controls on the back include separate AF activation and AF/AE lock buttons, as well as the usual playback, delete, info, menu, and so on. As is typical of Nikon's dSLRs, the D800 has a two-button format (delete plus mode) and reset (quality plus exposure compensation). I really like Nikon's use of switches for directly selecting metering mode (1.5 percent spot, centerweighted, evaluative) instead of electronically. On the bottom left you'll find the Live View button with a switch that toggles between still and video modes, and an info button that pulls up an interactive display for setting less frequently used options like settings banks, noise reduction, and button assignments. I really like being able to set button assignments on the fly here.

My one complaint -- and I'll make it in my 5D Mark III review as well -- is that for more than $3,000 I want a tilting or articulated LCD. It's a very useful tool that shouldn't be considered consumer-only.

  Canon EOS 5D Mark III Nikon D700 Nikon D800/ D800E Nikon D3X Nikon D4
Sensor (effective resolution) 22.3-megapixel CMOS
8-channel readout
14-bit
12.1-megapixel CMOS
n/a
14-bit
36.3-megapixel CMOS
12-channel readout
14-bit
24.5-megapixel CMOS
12-channel readout
14-bit
16.2-megapixel CMOS
16-bit
36mm x 24mm 36mm x 23.9mm 35.9mm x 24mm 35.9mm 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 25600/ 102400 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/ 25600 (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
(full resolution)
6fps
18 raw/unlimited JPEG
5fps
17 raw/100 JPEG
4fps
n/a
(5fps with battery grip)
5fps
n/a
10fps
n/a
(11fps with fixed focus and exposure)
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 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
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 -2 - 20 EV -1 - 19 EV -2 - 19 EV -1 - 19 EV -2 - 19 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 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 63-area iFCL 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 0 - 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 @ 24, 12, 8Mbps
None H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/ 30p/25p/24p; 720/60p/50p/ 25p/24p
Rated estimated max HD video length at best quality 29m 59s n/a 4GB/20 minutes n/a 20 minutes
Audio mono; mic input; headphone jack n/a mono; mic input; headphone jack n/a mono; mic input; headphone jack
LCD size 3.2 inches fixed
1.04 megadot
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 SDXC 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 No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 950 shots
(1,800mAh)
1,000 shots
(1,500 mAh)
900 shots
(1,800 mAh)
4,400 shots
(1,900 mAh)
2,600
(2,000mAh)
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 6 x 4.6 x 3 5.8 x 4.8 x 3 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) 33.5 (est) 38.7 35 43 (est) 47.3 (est.)
Mfr. price $3,499 (body only) $2,199.95 (body only) $2,999.95/ $3,299.95 (body only) $7,999.95 (body only) $5,999.95 (body only)
$4,299 (with 24-105mm lens) n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ship date March 2012 July 2008 March 2012/ April 2012 December 2008 February 2012

Without question, my favorite new feature is the dual card slots, and tethered shooters should appreciate the speed pickup conferred by USB 3.0 support. The D800 also retains useful features like the intervalometer and multiple exposure, and adds in-camera HDR. One change that might affect your time-lapsing is the switch from a 999-shot limit to a time limit of 7 hours 59 seconds. It now includes other small but significant features, including TIFF shooting, 1.2x crop and 5:4 aspect ratio options, uncompressed 4:2:2 HDMI video out, mic and headphone jacks, and an expanded set of supported video frame rates. From a video features standpoint, though, it lags behind the 5D Mark III, which supports a less compressed output stream and time code.

Like its long line of predecessors, the D800 provides lots of customization capabilities, including two banks of savable settings with four slots each and a user-definable menu page. (There are way too many options to cover here; download the PDF manual for the details.)

Conclusion
Really, the question here isn't, "Is the D800 a great camera?" Nikon would really have had to botch something to get a "no" on that. The questions are whether it's a significantly better camera than the D700, whether it's good enough to merit switching from another system (say, a Canon), and, for some, whether it's worth the price premium of jumping from an APS-C system to full-frame. The answers are yes, it depends, and maybe.

There's no question that the D800 is significantly better than the D700, with the single exception of burst-shooting performance. The image quality is better -- it can't not be, given the advances in sensor and noise-reduction technology that have happened over the last few years -- and the additions and refinements in the design and features have something for everyone to appreciate. But if you're looking for a first full-frame Nikon camera and the now-$800 price differential between the D700 and D800 makes a difference to your budget, and you don't care about video, the D700 remains a great choice, especially if you can sink that $800 into a good lens.

I haven't yet tested the 5D Mark III, so I can't tell you whether or not it's worth dumping your Canon lenses and moving to Nikon; I can say the D800 is better than the 5D Mark II at midrange and high ISO sensitivities, once again simply because of the advancements over time. The 5D Mark II's video stands up surprisingly well, though.

And finally, is it worth shelling out $3,000 for this full-frame camera over an APS-C model? Until Nikon releases a replacement for the D300s, that's a hard question to answer. You're not just paying for the body; you have to upgrade to expensive full-frame lenses to take advantage of the extra sensor area. While I love shooting with full-frame cameras, it's mostly because of the accoutrements, like the bigger, more magnified viewfinders, and the ability to get even shallower depth of field with a given lens. But I'd bet that a lot of people couldn't tell the difference between the images from a really good APS-C model and a really good full-frame.

All that said, If you're a pro Nikon shooter who doesn't need the extra power of the D4 but needs the best photo quality possible at all ISO sensitivities, the D800 just became a must-have.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Mar 22, 2012
  • Digital camera type SLR
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 36.3 Megapixel
  • Optical Sensor Size 24 x 35.9mm