Last month we gave you guys a quick tour of the Nikon D810 and a brief rundown of some of the improvements that Nikon implemented on their new full-frame camera. Now it’s time to see what this camera has to offer and see if it has what it takes to convince current D800/E users to take the jump.
Here’s the link brief first impression of the Nikon D810 which should get your feet wet for this full review.
Design and Construction
By and large, Nikon has not made any significant changes on the D810’s design compared to the D800e and its direct predecessor, the D800. To the camera maker’s credit though, they didn’t really have to alter a lot since they pretty much have the ergonomics and design squared away since the release of the D800.
While the D810 does look like an exact replica of the two FX cameras that came before it, Nikon has made some subtle improvements on a few areas to bridge the gap that the D800/D800E has on the design standpoint. We’re not sure though what to make of these “subtle improvements”, especially if we put ourselves in the shoes of current D800/D800E users, but any improvements should be good, right?
The first change that we noticed is the camera grip; it’s slightly narrower and a tad deeper compared to the ones on the D800/D800E. Next is the use of round buttons for the keys on the front instead of half-circle buttons found on its predecessors.
Instead of a single rubber flap that hides the ports from plain sight, the D810 has three plastic doors for each of the ports on the left side which namely the Microphone, USB 3.0 and HDMI ports.
Apart from the addition of the “i” button near the Live View key, the D810 has pretty much inherited all the controls, not to mention the button layout, of the D800/E which should be good news to those who are looking to upgrade from the previous models.
The only other thing that’s worth noting in this area is that the D810’s 3.2-inch display has more pixels (1.2M-dot) compared to both the D800 and the D800E which only has 921K-dot resolution.
Controls and Ergonomics
After week of using the D810, we are happy to report that the D810 was a joy to use. All of the buttons are where they’re supposed to be and most of them, excluding the four keys at the top for White Balance, Image Quality, ISO and Metering Mode, provide a satisfying tactile feedback when pressed.
All of the three dials for the Aperture, Shutter Speed, as well as the lockable Mode dial on the left are ideally placed and have a nice click to it when turned.
Meanwhile, the shutter release button requires minimal pressure to activate the autofocus (if enabled in the menu) from its normal state. The same can be said when going from AF to actually releasing the shutter, it’s neither too soft nor too rigid which lessens the strain from our index finger and minimizes the shake usually caused by pressing the shutter button when shooting.
Viewfinder and Live View
We don’t normally delve too much on the viewfinder of the cameras that we review, but we feel that we have to in the case of the D810. Apart from offering 100% viewfinder coverage and 0.7 times magnification, features we’ve come to expect from a top-notch dSLR camera, the D810 has an overlay which allows it to display other information that some users may find helpful.
Like the optical viewfinder, the live view also got a minor bump thanks to a more pixel-packed display. Pictures appear on the sharper and more realistic on the D810’s 1.2M-dot LCD screen, not to mention it offers very good legibility even under direct sunlight.
Both the D800 and D800E were praised by photography enthusiasts for its ability to swiftly zero in on a subject, even under low light condition. This is, in large measure, credited to the same 51-point autofocus system found inside Nikon’s then flagship FX camera, the D4, which is backed by an EXPEED 4 image processor.
Although the D810, and the D4s for that matter, has inherited most of what was found on the D4 in terms of autofocus, Nikon added a little extra something to boost the AF performance of the camera a notch higher.
The result was nothing short of spectacular to say the least. The D810 was able to quickly focus on a given subject, whether perfectly still or moving, with great accuracy thanks to the new 51-point Multi-CAM 3500FX Autofocus System. And even when the light in the scene drops down, the camera was still able to do a respectable job of focusing on the subject which comes in handy during low-light photography.
Live View AF also felt slightly faster, albeit still significantly slower than when automatically focusing using the D810’s optical viewfinder.
Noise and ISO Performance
One of the subtle improvements that the D810 has over its predecessor is the wider ISO range. The D810 can go as low as ISO 64 (ISO 31 in Lo1), and can ramp up to 12800 if needed (25600 and 51200 with Hi1 and Hi2 ISO Boost respectively).
3 seconds, ISO 200 @ F/8 (Cropped)
The wide ISO range should be a welcome addition to the D810’s arsenal as it would not only allow users to take handheld shots in lowlight conditions (up to ISO 51200), but also dip the ISO a stop or two below (ISO 32) the usual ISO 100/200 for long exposure shots.
If the situation arose that you need to bump the ISO up, we’re glad to report that the D810’s sensor did a great job of handling noise. So much so that it was only at ISO 6400 that noise only started to become a little bit cumbersome, but even at ISO 12800 the pictures are still usable.
Apart from having a swift AF system, the D800 and the D800E were lauded by camera geeks for its ability to capture images with wide dynamic range, as well as a solid overall performance in dealing with color and tonality.
Luckily, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as the D810 not only inherits these traits, but upped the ante a little bit for good measures. It impressed us with its ability to retain more details in the highlights and shadows, particularly when we were shooting with highlight-weighted metering. It does, however, result in to slightly underexposed shots in JPEG format which is a byproduct of its effort to retain as much detail as possible in the RAW file.
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Speaking of RAW files, you owe it to yourself to invest on a large capacity and high-performance CF/SD card if you’re planning to shoot in NEF format with the D810. The reason for this is that a single RAW file can go as big as 70MB in size. Good thing Nikon has added a new format called S-RAW (Small) which allows user to shoot at a lower resolution (9-megapixel) and still get as much detail as possible without taking too much room on the storage device.
Now if there’s one thing that D810 doesn’t have that both its predecessors possess, it’s an optical low-pass (OLP) filter or more commonly known as anti-aliasing filter (AA filter). The decision to entirely remove the AA filter on the D810’s sensor, rather than just simulating the effect of not having one (as is the case with the D800e) is driven by the sheer amount of pixels that the sensor has which, in theory, is high enough that it’s unlikely to produce moiré.
Another benefit of leaving the OLP filter off is allowing the sensor to get a little more detail, thus resulting in to a slightly sharper picture compared to the shots taken with the D800 which has a sensor with the same resolution but has an AA filter.
In the hopes of making the D810 a more well-rounded camera, Nikon has added a few new video-centric improvements in to the camera’s feature set, on top of the things that the camera has inherited from its predecessor.
Some of these new tweaks include Flat Picture Control for broader dynamic range, Zebra Strips and Split Screen Zoom for improved composition in Live View, as well as the ability to shoot Full-HD clips at 60 frames-per-second. It’s also good to note that the perks of not having an AA filter also improved the overall quality of the clips that we recorded using the D810.
Although the D810 still lags behind other popular dSLR cameras used by most videographers, Nikon deserves a pat in the back for the commendable efforts that they’ve made to narrow the gap even more with every new camera model.
Despite of having the exact same battery model (EN-EL15) found on its predecessor, the D810 offers better mileage-per-charge. The CIPA rated the EN-EL15 on the D810 for 1200 shots, a 30% over the D800 with the same battery pack.
In the two short weeks that we had the D810, we only have to charge the battery once, and it’s not even fully drained at that time. All in all we managed to squeeze in around 800 shots on a single full charge, as well as a handful of video recordings which ranges from a minute to five minutes in length.
There’s not a lot you can do to improve something that’s already great to begin with. It’s a double-edged sword for Nikon; on one hand they’re already off to great start and would only have to make minor refinements for the D810, on the other hand, they can only do so much with the next iteration that some D800/D800E users may not find the need to upgrade to the latest model.
Nikon D810 specs:
36.3MP CMOS Full-frame (35.9 x 24 mm)
EXPEED 4 image processor
Hybrid AF System
51-point AF points (15 cross-type)
ISO 64 – 12800
30 secs. – 1/8000 shutter speed
5fps continuous drive
Optical Viewfinder, 100% coverage
GN: 12.0m at ISO 100
Optional External Flash via Hot shoe
3.2” Fixed LCD panel
1.2M-dot resolution, WRGB
1080p video recording @60fps
SD / SDHC / SDXC
RAW + JPEG file format
EN-EL15 Li-Ion battery (1200 shot CIPA)
Dimension: 146 x 123 x 82 mm
To conclude, the Nikon D810 is a solid full-frame DSLR camera that offers all the bells and whistles that one would typically for on a professional-grade workhorse. The improvements that Nikon has done on this new brainchild is more of an incremental upgrade, rather than monumental one which, to us, is all that’s needed to take a great camera and turn it into an even better one.
What we liked about it:
What we didn’t like about it: