Replacing two of Nikon’s most desirable SLRs isn’t easy. Angela Nicholson tests the D810 to see if it is up to the task
It’s fast, it’s sensitive, and its resolution is as high as the D800’s. Is there anything not to love in Nikon’s latest D-SLR?
One of the most noticeable differences when using the D810 after the D800/E is the change in the sound and feel of the mirror and shutter movements… the camera is much quieter to use
Camera Nikon D810 £2700, $3300 (body only) www.nikon.co.uk
When the D800 and D800e were unveiled back in February 2012, even dedicated non-Nikon users gave them envious glances, and they set the standard by which many other cameras are measured. One of the reasons for their wide-ranging popularity was their class-leading pixel count of 36.3 million, which enables them to record fantastic levels of detail. Even today, the only full-frame SLR that matches that count is their replacement, the D810.
Of course, the fact that is replacing two such popular cameras means that the D810 has a heck of a lot to live up to. In issue 36 we previewed the new camera after getting our hands on a pre-production sample, but now we’ve had a full production model in for testing, given it a thorough work out and we’re ready to give our full verdict.
Sensor and sensitivity
One of the surprises brought by the D810’s announcement was the revelation that the filter over the D800e’s sensor does actually have some anti-aliasing properties, it’s just weaker than the filter over the D800’s sensor. The D810’s sensor filter, however, has no anti-aliasing filtration at all and this enables it to resolve a little more sharp detail even though the new chip has the same pixel count as the cameras it replaces. In addition, the processing engine has been upgraded to EXPEED 4, the maximum continuous shooting rate at full resolution has been boosted to five frames per second and the autofocus system is the same as the D4s’s, which means it has the new Group-area AF mode. The screen has also been improved with the addition of a brightness channel and an increase in resolution to 1,229,000 dots. Plus, to satisfy animators, it’s possible to shoot small RAW files.
The D810’s buffer capacity has also improved and it can shoot more RAW files than the D800 in a single burst. For example it can shoot 47 lossless compressed 12-bit RAW files rather than 21, and 23 uncompressed 14-bit RAW files instead of 16. This is a significant step forward in making the D810 more of an all-rounder, but you have to be prepared for your memory cards to fill up quickly.
Get a grip
While the D810 will seem very familiar to D800 users, there are a few differences. The front and rear grips have changed slightly, for example, and this makes the new camera feel a little more comfortable and secure in your hand. It’s not all good news, though, because if you like to change metering mode with
the camera held to your eye you’ll find it trickier now that the metering switch has been replaced by a button on top of the drive mode dial – where the bracketing button was. The bracketing button is now on the side of the flash housing.
There’s also a new ‘i’ button that is especially useful in Live View or Video mode as it provides the means of accessing features such as the Split-screen display zoom (see page 88), Active D-Lighting and the new front curtain shutter control (useful with Exposure Delay mode for reducing vibration further). However, it would be better for the options to change the functions of the preview and Fn buttons (for example) to be kept to the main menu to free up space on this screen for other features that may needed on a shotby-shot basis, such as Exposure Delay.
We’d also like to be able to make adjustments via the Information display that pops up when the Info button is pressed. As it stands, this displays all the key camera settings, but they can’t be selected or adjusted. It feels like a waste and a bit of an overlap in buttons.
One of the most noticeable differences when using the D810 after the D800/ e is the change in the sound and feel of the mirror and shutter movements. This is a result of the new shutter/mirror box mechanism and it makes the camera much quieter to use. It also gives it a higher quality feel.
Another operational difference becomes apparent when shooting in Live View mode: the D810 displays the images much more quickly than the D800 after a shot has been taken. The contrast detection autofocus system, however, operates at a
similar speed. It’s usable provided the camera is held on a tripod.
As with other Nikon SLRs, the Picture Control options can be accessed via the menu or by pressing the shortcut button, which doubles as the image-lock button in review mode. The new Clarity option can be adjusted across 11 levels (+/-5). If you shoot RAW images, however, you can adjust this over a much wider scale in Adobe Camera Raw (Photoshop CC 2014 and Lightroom 5), which is now compatible with the D810’s files.
Although they have a little more detail if you really look for it, images direct from the D810 don’t look dramatically different from those from the D800 at normal printing and viewing sizes. As a rule they have pleasant, vibrant colours and exposure is good in most conditions when the Matrix metering system is used. Noise is controlled very well, and while coloured and luminance speckling is visible at 100% onscreen in images taken at the higher sensitivity settings, they still look very good at normal viewing sizes.
As you would expect, images have lots of detail. Our lab testing indicates that even though using the front shutter instead of the standard unit makes a visible improvement, it’s too small to be measured. It’s possible that the degree of impact depends upon your tripod and how carefully you tighten the controls. Using the exposure delay mode, which fires the shutter after the mirror has lifted, however, has a dramatic impact. You won’t necessarily see obvious movement if you don’t use it, but the image lacks the detail resolution that you get when it is employed.
Getting every last scrap of detail often demands that the camera is used on a tripod, the optimum aperture is set and exposure delay is employed along with the front shutter, plus the subject is motionless. When you zoom in on handheld images there often seems to be something that means they aren’t absolutely sharp at 100%. That’s just a downside of having such small photosites when tiny, tiny movements have a significant impact.
At ISO100, 1/250 sec and f/8 when using the 24-70mm f/2.8, you can expect yourself to be scrutinising the weave of the shirt in a head and shoulders portrait and nodding contentedly that the pixel count is worthwhile. Even a shot taken in low light at ISO3200 can withstand being viewed at A2 size. Shots taken at ISO6400 contain very fine details and chroma noise is restrained well, with just a hint of coloured speckling in darker, non-black areas. At high magnification images from the D810 look more natural and less ‘digital’ than those from the D810.
Given its pixel count and the huge files it produces, it’s unlikely that the D810 would be the choice of many pro sports photographers. However, its AF system is more than capable of getting moving subjects sharp and tracking them across the frame. It can also operate in very low light.
Fair shot Shooting at f/2.8 at 150mm has restricted depth of field nicely, but there’s plenty of detail in this ISO100 shot.
Zooming in to 100% reveals logos on caps and hair details in this shot, which was taken using a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens at 200mm with a 2x converter to give 400mm.