Nikon D800 review: Nikon D800

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CNET Editors' Rating

5 stars Spectacular

Average User Rating

4.5 stars 11 user reviews
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good Great image quality; Well-considered construction; High resolution; Great price.

The Bad None.

The Bottom Line It's easy to fall in love with the Nikon D800 on account of its build alone. It's a very 'human' construction that manages to pack all of the key shooting tools into a compact space without leaving you overwhelmed. The pictures themselves are bright and packed with detail. It's a great package all round, at a very competitive price.

CNET Editors' Choice May '12

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The D800 sits smack in the middle of Nikon's professional line-up of cameras, where it combines a compact chassis with the company's highest resolution to date.

It's heavy and chunky but very balanced, with well-spaced controls and the kind of features that make a pro camera both easy and fun to use. Better yet, it's keenly priced for a top spec snapper. It will surely tempt the full-time photo brigade, but it may also encourage the über-ambitious hobbyist to take a step up.

The Nikon D800 is available to buy for £2,600 for the body only.

Spec

Let's start with the biggest stat of them all -- the resolution. The D800 is a monster, with 36.3 megapixels to call on, arranged on an FX-format sensor. That's 24x36mm, which is the same size as a frame of 35mm film, and it's the size of the sensor used in the 18-megapixel, £8,500 Leica M9 .

Such a high resolution obviously means it can record more information, allowing for tighter crops in post-production.

Nikon D800 test photo
The D800's enormous resolution means you can zero in on fine detail in your shots. The reflected keyboard in this cat's eye is an extreme example (click image to enlarge).

Full-frame sensor

Of perhaps greater interest though is the flexibility delivered by the full-frame sensor.

It offers two major benefits. Most obviously it allows manufacturers to deliver higher resolutions without compromising performance. This is because they needn't ruthlessly shrink the photoreceptors -- the actual cells on the sensor that detect the incoming light. This makes them sensitive to a wide range of illumination for more subtle, detailed images, with a particularly better response in areas of highlight and shadow.

The results are obvious right from the off, with the D800 consistently producing balanced shots when faced with stark contrasts.

In the snap below, the underside of a railway viaduct is cast in shadow, yet the sky around it is very bright. When exposed at ISO 400, the whole frame remains balanced, with the four points I've picked out for comparison accurately and evenly exposed. It would be easy to draw out further detail within the brickwork in post-production by manipulating the RAW file.

Nikon D800 test photo
As these 100 per cent crops show, there's plenty of detail across this frame despite the wide variations in the levels of light (click image to enlarge).

Furthermore, from a usability point of view, full-frame sensors make a lot more sense when you're choosing and buying lenses, as you no longer need to do a quick spot of multiplication to know how each lens will behave.

Smaller sensors, such as Nikon's DX sensor, have a crop factor which requires that you multiply the lens' focal length by a number -- usually around 1.5x -- to see how it will work in practice with a regular lens. As a result, long zooms often over-perform, with a 210mm lens acting as though it were a 315mm attachment since only the central portion of its view can be accommodated by the sensor.

On the one hand, this is a good thing as it means you can often buy a cheaper telephoto lens to reap the benefits of a longer equivalent lens. However, it also means that very wide angle lenses don't live up to their full potential with, say, a 28mm lens on a smaller-chipped camera acting like a 42mm lens on an FX camera. Any savings you make on the zoom lens might therefore be lost when shopping around for a wide-angle lens, which will inevitably cost more to achieve the same effect.

With a full-frame sensor, you can take your lenses as face value.

Features

In every respect then, this is a serious camera, with serious specs to boot. The 36.3 megapixels equates to a staggering 7,360x4,912 pixels. To display one single frame at full resolution without any cropping, you'd need to lace together a dozen regular 27-inch monitors -- four across and three deep, each running at a native 2,560x1,440-pixel resolution.

Sensitivity runs from ISO 100 to ISO 6,400, but you can push it in either direction to ISO 50 and ISO 25,600, and exposure compensation gives you adjustments of +/-5EV in 1/3EV steps. It's an HDR photographer's dream, with three bracketing options covering exposure, flash and white balance, taking between two and nine shots for each.

I performed my tests with the D800 set to aperture priority, adjusting sensitivity as the situation required and saving all results as RAW NEF files, which averaged around 40MB apiece. The dynamic range of the results was impressive, with plenty of detail in both shadow and highlight areas

Nikon D800 test photo
There's significant variation in the illumination in this shot, yet the dark foreground has lost none of its detail (click image to enlarge).

At higher sensitivities, the results were very clean, and in most cases there was no evidence of dappling caused by the introduction of digital noise. The image below was shot at ISO 500 in overcast conditions, with the subject of the shot shaded still further by the overhanging first floor of a building.

Examining it at 100 per cent magnification, the grain of the wooden structure and carving remains sharp and clear right across the frame.

Nikon D800 test photo
Despite being shot at ISO 500, there's no obvious noise in this shaded image (click image to enlarge).

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Where to Buy

Nikon D800 (Body Only)

Part Number: CNET25480
Pricing is currently unavailable.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Digital camera type SLR
  • Optical Sensor Type CMOS
  • Sensor Resolution 36.3 Megapixel
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