I´ll let you know from the start. This is not a “technical oriented review” of the D800. Of course, I’ll mention some specifications later on to help you to consider if this camera from 2012 is still a valid candidate by the date you read this lines. But if you want to memorize by heart the D800 specifications, you can find a far more comprehensive review in someone else’s web site.
Thanks for your consideration.
The Nikon D800 was announced on February of 2012 and hit the market on March of 2012. It was the start of “the Nikon’s D800 breed line-up”. The Nikon D800E followed it a few weeks later. Today, you can choose to buy the D800/D800E, D810 or the newly released D850.
My personal reasons to buy the D800 over other cameras:
*Full frame sensor (yeah, my first “digital full frame”) Nikon calls it FX.
*100% viewfinder coverage. A 96/98% viewfinder is not a deal-breaker, but having a 100% coverage is even better.
*Image quality. The superb dynamic range that you can get out of the NEF raw files from Nikon is stunning! Of course, a 36.3 megapixels file helps to store lots of data.
*Great low light performance at high ISO values. A welcome feature if you shoot at night with only available light (like often I do). The D800 can hold up the noise very well, even when it has a high megapixel count.
* Minus 2EV focusing: Talking about low light. The Nikon D800 can achieve to lock focus on subjects in -2EV. Another useful feature if you shoot with available light.
*A tough magnesium covered body with weather sealing. It doesn’t mean that you can take the camera and submerged under water. But it should be able to withstand light rain for an “intellect/logical short period of time”. Your camera, even if is one “cheap one” is an investment and a precision instrument, so you should always take care of it properly. The “weather sealing” feature is there, it’s a plus. But give yourself and your camera a favor and don’t rely a 100% on it. Always use common sense, so you can enjoy your gear for years to come. If you’re a sponsored professional by any major brand, ignore this.
*Nikkor lenses: I already had a Nikon D7000 (DX) and few Nikon film cameras. Because of that, I have a few lenses stored here and there. If you’re a Nikon user already, you can take advantage of using your glass, even if you’re upgrading from DX (crop sensor) to FX (full frame), the Nikon D800 can use the DX lenses (giving you 15 megapixels files). Although, in that case, you should consider AI/AI-s lenses (manual only) or the D series lenses from Nikon (with autofocus) so you can use and take the benefits of the full frame goodness! Vintage lenses from Nikon can be purchased at reasonable prices on Ebay and they’ll give you back great image quality.
Lacking features in the D800 (but I don’t need anyway)
*51 autofocus points: Ok, wait…. This feature is actually a great one!! But I always use the main center point to lock focus and then I recompose the frame as I need it. Using film cameras conditioning me that way, I guess. But if you rely in the modern Nikon’s cameras autofocus, then you should be fine with the D800.
* Only 4 frames per second! That is not the end of the world as we know it. Personally, I don’t shoot sports or fast phase subjects/objects. But even if I need it to. I’m sure that I could “capture the moment” in short burst of 3 to 4 seconds. And yes, with only 4 frames per second. It may be difficult, but not impossible. In other scenario, if you shoot sports or some sort of action photography (especially if photography is your income), then you should consider any other model of camera, no matter which brand you choose. It must be a perfect camera for you out there.
If you ever used a film Nikon F100 or the digital D700, you’ll be at home with the D800 buttons and control layout. If you’re upgrading from Nikon’s DX cameras, you may get confused from time to time searching for the ISO button, etc, but soon you’ll get used to it. As expected, if you are coming from a different camera system (let’s say “Pentax”), you’ll find a learning curve for a period of time, but nothing difficult to master.
It may be just my point of view, but I prefer the movie record button on the back of the camera next to screen (like the D7000). I think it’s more an intuitive placement for that setting than the upper camera button located next to shutter button of the D800. But again, you’ll get used to it.
Today, 4K video and fast frame per second video capabilities are the standard. If you’re looking for 4K video, the D800 is not the camera to go. Nevertheless, it can shoot at 1080p video and 720p. If you choose the 720p, you can shoot at 60 frames per second, the basic setting for slow motion video (at least for walking persons – not for fast moving objects). Of course, 4K is great. But you can always get away with stunning results using 1080p or 720p. It’s all on your vision and creativity, anyway.
Well, there is not too much to say here. It’s a full frame sensor with 36.3 megapixels and a decent high ISO performance (regardless the high megapixels density). Besides, you can count on Nikon’s great dynamic range image quality (if you use NEF raw files). The auto white balance gives you accurate tonalities under most shooting scenarios. I have found that my D800 exposes correctly at least 98% of the photos. But it will overexposed 1/3 of a stop if you use old manual AI/AI-s lenses. Matrix metering can’t be achieved if you use vintage lenses. Take notes of that if you’re using manual lenses with your D800 or any other modern D-slr.
36 megapixels was a lot of data in the year 2012 and still is in 2018. In a couple of years, it will be the standard of pixel density (at least for a while). Every year, even the “entry level dslrs” increase the megapixels count (12 mp, 16 mp, 20 mp, 24 mp…. Can you see the pattern?) Most of us never print our photos “as big as our hearts would like”. But having those kick ass files “just in case” it’s a welcome feature. If you don’t need 36 megapixels, you can always look for a D600/D610. Those cameras have 24 megapixels sensors in a more compact size than the D800.
The D800 uses the EN-EL-15 battery, the same used in the D7000, D600, D610, etc. If you already own a few spare batteries, keep them! If you only have the one that it came with the camera, you’ll have to buy 2 or more batteries (a “must buy” if you’re going out for the weekend) The D800 it’s going to eat up the battery fast. Especially if you record video. Let’s say the D800 would drain the battery 30% faster than the Nikon D7000, approximately.
Who’s the Nikon D800 designed for??
The D800 was designed for studio photographers (portraits, food, products) and for landscape photographers. But it’s suitable for travel (if you don’t mind it’s size) and I dare to say that you can use it for photojournalism, if you don’t care about it´s slow rate of 4 frames per second. Though, if you want to travel light, you may be interested in the Fuji X series cameras. A personal project that I hope to achieve in this year. I promise to you, I’m going to write about my experiences with the Fuji X series in a near future.
Even when the D800’s autofocus capabilities are suitable for fast tracking, the slow 4 frame per second rate won’t make this camera a top choice for sports or fast moving subjects in photography. Don’t get me wrong. You can still take great sports photos with it, but the D800 is not the perfect tool designed for that purpose in the photography realm. If you’re a sport photographer, you already know that.
Should I get one D800 in 2018/2019??
Back then in 2012, the D800 cost $2999 (body only). Today, after the release of the Nikon D810 and D850 later on, the D800 can be found on Ebay at $1200 or less. And guess what?? As the time goes by, the price is going to get cheaper. The D810 is out there as a valid option as well. It features a newer processor and slightly improved high ISO image quality, but it’s going to cost you a few hundred dollars more. You can use that extra money to buy lenses or accessories for the D800. Featuring the same sensor, the image quality between both models won’t be perceptible for the naked eye, anyway. The D800 was a revolutionary d-slr when it first came out to the market. Newer camera models are a natural and expected evolution in technology, but they won’t take away the D800’s merits. The Nikon D800 was in 2012, and still is a superb camera. It’s able to capture stunning images and video for a fraction of the cost of the D850. If you’re considering a full frame camera packed with a lot features and for a low cost, the D800 is the way to go.
More sample photos:
Those were my personal considerations to buy a D800 as my primary camera (in the year 2017). But I don’t make my living from photography. I’m just a hobbyist who likes to write is this blog to kill boredom. Your opinions or actual needs in the photography field, may differ from mine. In any case, I hope this information may help you to make a valid choice.
Thanks for reading!