Nikon's D800 is competitively priced and tempts with an amazing spec.
The new Nikon D800 packing an astonishing 36.3 megapixels
We attended a press preview briefing of Nikon's new 36 megapixel DSLR, the D800 and here are some pictures and thoughts from that event.
It's no great surprise that Nikon has updated the D700 to the D800, after all the D700 is well on the way to being four years old. Nevertheless, the the new D800 will join the D700 in the Nikon pro DSLR line up, not replace it, at least not for some time. But what is a surprise is the three times increase in sensor resolution from 12.1 to 36.3 megapixels, which places the D800 firmly at the top of the pile for DSLRs with 135 format, or full frame, sensors or smaller. To put this in perspective, a D800 image saved as a lossless TIFF file is over 200MB. And at under £2400 the D800 is very competitively priced considering its specification. There is also a modified version aimed at studio and landscape photographers, called the D800E, that maximises detail resolution. We have more on this at the bottom of the page.
The D800 doesn't show any major changes in exterior design. All the fun is under the skin!
Nikon's recently launched D4 model may be aimed at a completely different type of photographer, but a lot of D4 technology has found its way into the D800. For a start you get the same extended ISO range from ISO 50 all the way up to ISO 25,600. ISO 100 is the optimal ISO setting but ISO 50 isn't provided at the cost of compromised image quality, according to Nikon it just doesn't get any better at ISO 50. Low ISO is, of course, a great option in some circumstances.
Like the D4, the D800 gets the super-sensitive Multi-cam 3500 FX autofocus sensor module. This means AF in moonlight is possible and AF will work normally even with effective maximum apertures as low as f/8, which makes the use of teleconverters much more attractive on some lenses.
The same 91K pixel exposure sensor as the D4 is used and this offers advanced DSLR functionality like scene and face detection functions normally exclusive to mirror-less operation.
Although the D800 crowds thee times as many pixels onto a sensor area that is the same as the older D700, we're told that the noise performance of the D800 is very similar to the excellent D700. Continuous shooting in FX (full frame) mode is 4 frames per second, but this can be accelerated to 6 frames per second when shooting in DX mode, which uses the central area of the sensor equivalent in size to an APS-C sensor. In DX mode you use just under half of the available pixels.
One difference to the D4 is that the D800 uses Compact Flash (UDMA7) and SD cards, including SDXC extra high capacity cards. The D4 uses CF and the new high-speed XQD card standard rather than SD.
Full HD 1080p video recording at frame rates of 24, 25 and 30 frames per second is supported by the D800. Clips can be up to just under 30 minutes long. Recordings can be made using almost the entire ISO range, from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600. Again, like the D4, several recording frame sizes are selectable, giving you some added flexibility with telephoto reach and depth of field. A stereo microphone input is supplemented with a headphone port and audio recording levels can be manually controlled if required.
The D800 is pro-spec and that means a dust and moisture-sealed body. There is also a new MB-D12 optional battery grip. This can take a variety of different Nikon DSLR batteries. Nikon says the D800 has significantly improved electrical power characteristics so battery life is longer even though the latest batteries are lower in capacity compared with older types.
Other under the skin improvements include a new shutter mechanism with a 200,000 operations duty cycle, and the upgrade to the D4's dual-axis artificial virtual horizon-style digital level. USB3 is now supported in a Nikon DSLR for the first time, too. This ultra high speed data interface is backwards compatible with standard USB and enables UDMA7 CF cards to run at full speed.
Note the USB3 port above the D-shaped HDMI port.
Pricing and availability. The D800 will be available towards the end of march and bod-only will cost around £2399.99. Although the ageing D700 is being heavily discounted at around £1600, £2399 for the D800 looks like excellent value for money. The MB-D12 grip is £379,99, while the D800E arrives in mid-April for a £290 premium over the standard D800.
Not forgetting the D800E
If D800 alone wasn't enough, there is a second version of the D800, the D800E, modified to extract as much resolution from the sensor as possible through the removal of anti-aliasing in the sensor's low pass filter. Anti-aliasing is the deliberate blurring of the image projected by the lens onto the sensor in order to avoid the possibility of moiré effects. This is where fine regular patterns, in things like metal grilles or fabric weaves, mosaics, etc., become obliterated by colourful artefacts and interference patterns where the frequency of the regular array of sensor pixels nears the frequency of a repeating pattern in the scene being recorded.
Here is an example of moiré in the fine metal grille of the Millennium Bridge over the river Thames in the form of a chevron interference patterns and a pink colouration where it should be grey.
By reducing or eliminating anti-aliasing you reduce or stop any extra blurring of the image at the sensor, which means your image will benefit from extra detail. It's possible that Nikon decided to do this because the extra resolution of the new 36 megapixel sensor was being wasted by the anti-aliasing. The infra red sensitivity and colour response of the D800E is unaffected. Naturally, without anti-aliasing there is a risk that D800E images will suffer from moiré. In many cases this can be corrected in post-processing, but that means extra work of course. In studio conditions and in nature and landscape photography there is less danger of moiré spoiling images.
Anti-aliasing, which by its very nature blunts the potential of exotic optics, is steadily going out of fashion. Several camera manufacturers have steadily reduced the strength of AA filters in their cameras and only recently Fujifilm explained how it had designed out the need for an AA filter in its new X-Pro1 mirror-less system camera. Amusingly, the consequence of a this functionality being removed from the D800, the D800E is actually £290 more expensive. Nikon UK estimate that the D800E may constitute around ten percent of D800 sales.
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NIkon D800 36 megapixel DSLR launch and preview
DPNow NIkon D800 36 megapixel DSLR launch and preview
With 50% more resolution than any of its competitors, the amazing new 36 megapixel Nikon D800 has ... (more)
Ian Re: NIkon D800 36 megapixel DSLR launch and preview
36 megapixels - 13 times more pixels than the original Nikon D1 back in 1999. And I'm impressed that... (more)
Ian Re: NIkon D800 36 megapixel DSLR launch and preview
I have been gauging public reaction to the news of the D800 and while most seem impressed there seem... (more)