Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Nikon D800 SLR Camera

The Nikon D800 is the long awaited followup to Nikon’s ultra successful D700. It’s a camera that many felt they would instantly buy… fantasizing that it would have the abilities of the D3s in the compact form of the D700. Well, Nikon took a totally different route and it’s up to you to determine whether it’s the camera for you.

All of my images have been processed. You can find all sorts of ISO, pixel-peeping, and comparison reviews other places on the internet. All that matters to me is the end result so that’s exactly what I show.

The Quick

I’ve found the image quality of the Nikon D800 to be unlike anything I’ve ever used before. It’s literally jaw dropping she first time you look at your images on your giant computer screen. The dynamic range and detailed captured is astonishing. The downside? 77MB RAW files. I only shoot in uncompressed 14bit RAW files at full resolution. Why buy a camera capable of such amazing image quality and shoot cropped or in a lossy format of some sort? Don’t. If you can’t handle the giant file sizes then don’t buy the camera. I’m planning to use the D800 in very specific circumstances… mainly studio lit portraits, landscapes, and scenes with high dynamic range. It’s simply not a camera meant to be used for day-to-day high volume shooting.

This is the first image that stopped me in my tracks. The tonal range, detail, and overall feel is just amazing to me.

Here is a link to the full res straight out of camera jpeg

Click on image to view larger

The Build

The build of the D800 is very similar to the D700. Rugged, weather sealed, and professional. It is, however, slimmed a bit. The D800 is definitely more compact and a little bit lighter. It’s corners are a bit more round and the contours make it very comfortable to hold for long periods of time.

The Use

Let me just say this up front… the image quality of the D800 is unlike anythign I’ve ever used before. It creates stunning images that even the newly released D4 can’t touch. No, it won’t be able to crank out incredible High ISO images with the same cleanliness as the D4, but it captures an astonishing amount of dynamic range, and at base ISO you can essentially pull up shadows or bring down highlights with no issues what. so. ever.

Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

With this image I’m (in lightroom) able to take down the exposure a tremendous amount and recover absolutely all of the highlight detail.

I can then boost the exposure fully (in lightroom) and see any and all shadow detail with little to no noise. The dynamic range that’s captured from this camera is shocking. Same image.

So, there’s no doubt the dynamic range just kills any other camera on the market today. At 36 mega pixels it’s pretty crazy to think that nikon was able to pull this off.

The other aspects of this camera are very similar to the D700. Controls have been modified a bit similarly to the DR (read my review of that here). The live view works well and I’m sure video people will appreciate it, but it is massively slow and not very usable for shooting burst images… it just takes too long to respond and though it’s better than the D700 live view… it’s nowhere near as awesome as the D4′s.

Click on image to view larger

The Tips

  • don’t be a afraid to underexpose a good bit to retain highlights in a high contrast scene… you’ll be able to recover plenty of shadow detail in post
  • get the fastest memory cards you’re able to find so you aren’t frustrated with loading times
  • live view is very slow to respond when shooting in fully uncompressed 14-bit raw – so i don’t recommend it
  • don’t be afraid to push the high ISO when needed, but 6400 is as far as I’d go

Here are some images at 6400 ISO. Yes, the one of the right is free lensed:

The Conclusion

The Nikon D800 puts camera buyers in a difficult situation. Any photographers that work in high volume environments (sports, weddings, photojournalism) I would actually recommend sticking with the D700 unless you can fork over for the D4. They’re really different cameras intended for different purposes. Yes, the image quality of the D800 is astounding, but the noise performance is about the same as D700, but at 77MB per image (14 bit uncompressed) it’s a bit of a ridiculous resource hog. You can shoot as 12-bit or compressed RAW formats to improve the speed performance, but I don’t.

For portrait, landscape, commercial work this camera is where it’s at. Look nowhere else. This is it.

For wedding photographers that can swallow the pain of culling and editing thousands of RAW 36 megapixel images… then I guess this camera is for you too.

I prefer a combination use…. engagement photo/landscape all in one (the second image is a crop from the first one):



Want the best image quality of any camera on the market today, and don’t mind the crazy large file sizes? Buy the D800.

  • Price
  • Uses
    Portrait, Landscape
  • In my bag?
    Replaced it with the D810

Blog Comments

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  1. wow. those dynamic range examples are incredible.. nikon always seems to make me a bit jealous in that regard.

  2. Great post man! 77mb is absolutely ridiculous to say the least. That dynamic range is also pretty decent I’d say, ha

  3. Another great review Sam! Thanks for taking the time to put it all together.

  4. Y NO SRAW?!?!?!?!?!

  5. Hmmmm. I’m not sure what I want to upgrade anymore. I still have the D3/D700 combo, and it seems to be working fine for me. I do like the idea of increased ISO performance in the D3s, but I’m not into video so I’m not sure what the advantage to going with a D4 would be over finding a used D3s at a good price. But I think I want a Fuji XPro1 more than any of these bodies. I wish Nikon had released a D700s. They didn’t make the decision easy.

  6. Many thanks for that Sam. It’s not so long ago that whole PCs ran on a 200MB hard drive. In a year or two’s time 75MG RAW files will be common place and we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about. Photography is as much about computers as cameras these days and no-one should blame Nikon for being ahead of the game.

  7. Solid review, solid camera. We’re aiming for D700s, but it’s good to read about the future.

  8. You >>>> all other reviews because it’s not pictures of brick walls, a room full of assorted color knick knacks, etc but real world stuff. The last image at the end is ridic.

  9. Good stuff as usual Sam. I’m still waiting for my D800 from Amazon. You know what would be cool? A close in crop of the couple in the Great Falls landscape/engagement shot. That photo seriously needs to be blown up 40×60 to really show off the detail this camera can produce.

  10. Thanks Sam for the review ! Was it a regular D800 or a D800E ? Thx

  11. Just the D800 right now… The d800E isn’t shipping for a few more weeks

  12. So you will review it too ??? How lucky you are !

  13. Awesome review, dude. Maybe i should hold onto the d700 a little longer, I’ve only go so much hard drive space at the moment. Cheers.

  14. Fantastic review… again! Love what you have to say!

  15. I was thinking of changing my D3′s for D4′s – but I’m really considering the D800 after reading your BLOG. Thanks for your comments.

  16. I shoot my D800 in RAW+JPEG(basic) with lossy 14-bit RAW compression to get files of about 35MB+5MB. I’ve written about my reasons for using the lossy compression method here:

    Even so… dumping 300 photos makes a notable dent in my free disk space. I’m probably going to have to update my (raid-1) 1TB drives to larger models soon.

    – Brian

  17. Thanks Sam for the review !

  18. Great review Sam and just what I thought it would be and I’m excited to get my hands on mine. But as you said, it’s not for high volume. My plan is to use the D4 for majority of the wedding and the D800 as the 2nd camera during the ceremony and for the formal portraits.

  19. Hi Sam! I just found your blog for the first time and have only read this one entry (thanks by the way!), but can’t wait to look over your other stuff. I wanted to get your opinon….. I am a “serious hobbiest” heading in the direction of professional but I have 3 small kids that are my priority right now. I shoot a limited amount of sessions for others that range from family photos to an occasional wedding. I have a D90 and it’s been a great camera, but I’ve been patiently waiting to upgrade to a new camera, leaning towards full frame. I considered the D7000 for crop or D700 for full frame, but once I knew a new release would be on the way, I decided to wait longer. I’m so anxious to get new gear…lol…. I have a D800 on pre-order but am curious if it’s a good fit for me? I also considered switching to Canon, but I’ve always used Nikon and feel like I’m cheating on a spouse. lol…. would love any advice or opinions you can offer. Thanks in advance! :)

  20. Sam, enjoy popping by your blog and saying hi! You’ve spent a time of time on your new site and it really shows! Well done! If you are ever in Minneapolis, lemme know and I’d be happy to roll out the red carpet for you!

  21. Hi there, Im big on the Dynamic range capabilities of any DSLR camera I consider for purchase. Given the D800 has incredible DR as you mentioned, the 36MPixel size files are a bit much for me so I am seriously considering the D600 with its 24Mpix size. Do you know if the DR performance of the D600 is on par with the D800??

    Thank you

  22. Glenn Edgar says:

    “Lossless Compress” of Raw files means you get bact exactly what you would get over just saving the raw file. Why waste space?

  23. First of all, thanks for your reviews!
    After two years, which of the two cameras is the best for you today?


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