Nikon D810

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

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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)

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.

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