Okay, this is going to be a short review. I received the D800 just yesterday and took it out for an engagement shoot in the evening. I wanted to get some hands-on, real-world testing done before I posted a review. I didn’t want to be shooting brick walls and focus charts because real-world usage is what matters.
First impressions: The camera looked big. Bigger than my D700 when I first took it out of the box. Upon taking a closer look, I soon realised why. The D800’s body is just a little bit deeper. The height and width is exactly the same but the distance from the front of the lens mount to the LCD screen at the back is slightly larger. Its not by much, but enough to create a perceptible difference. Especially for someone like me who has been holding the D700 nearly everyday for the last year and a half.
They’ve also made a slightly deeper handgrip and the shutter button has been angled down a little more. Small touches, but it’s made quite a difference in ergonomics.
The layout of buttons haven’t changed much, something which I’m pretty happy about. I would hate having to re-learn all the button functions every time I get a new camera. Some of the improvements are very much welcome, for instance the inclusion of the BKT button on the body. Nikon used to have it on their D200 bodies but they took it away for whatever reason on the D700. It was something that I sorely missed. I didn’t use bracketing much, but when I needed it I had to delve into menus which wasn’t the most efficient. Bringing back the BKT button was a welcome change. They’ve also made a dedicated Live View button, replacing the focus point selector just under the directional keypad. This was awesome because it meant I could switch to Live View whenever I needed it, instead of turning a dial everytime I wanted to use it. The downside however, was that Live View in Handheld mode had been redesigned. Instead of flipping up the mirror to focus and take the shot, Handheld mode now focuses while in Live View, something which has always taken aaages to lock on compared to focusing through the viewfinder. I’m not sure if I’m liking it yet. Time will tell.
Another change that was made, albeit less welcome, is the flipping of the zoom buttons. Zoom In used to be below the Zoom Out button, but they’ve changed it around. Why they did that is beyond me. Maybe the engineers thought zooming in is akin to going up? Its annoying the hell out of me at the moment. I keep pressing the zoom out button thinking I want to zoom in. I’ll probably get used to it in time but right now, it’s annoying. The other even more frustrating change was putting the BKT button where the ISO button used to be. I’ve always worked the camera by feel because I want to keep my eye on the scene so I don’t miss anything. Because of this I’ve learned where all the buttons are just by touch. I’ve always adjusted ISO while looking through the viewfinder but now when I reach for the button to change my ISO, I would turn on the BKT function instead. This was another ‘why the heck did they did they do that?’ moment.
Now, the image quality. This is why everyone is clamouring for the D800 in the first place. If I had to describe it in one word, it’d have to be amazing. 36 megapixels is truly mindblowing. I’ve yet to make full use of the high pixel count, as yesterday’s shoot was done mostly with wide-open apertures but already I can see a difference. The best part is knowing I’ll be able to crop in post without reducing print quality. The second best part is seeing all the detail pop out of the pictures, detail that would have been somewhat smudged over by the D700. The flipside however, is that every missed shot, even some that are just slightly out of focus became quite obvious on the D800. The D800 is definitely a more difficult camera to use, and my sloppy technique will have to improve
The other downer with the bucketloads of megapixels is the file size. According to Nikon’s website, uncompressed RAW files are 75MB in size. I shot yesterday’s session in Lossless Compressed RAW and each file was averaging 40-50MB. My 16GB CF card used to shoot up to 1000 RAW files on my D700. Now its down to about 370 shots per card. This is on a 16GB card. Holy cow. My card space has just been slashed by two-thirds. I’ve already placed an order for a few more 32GB CF and SD cards. Hopefully they’ll arrive soon. So this is something to bear in mind if you’re thinking of getting the D800. You’ll need more memory space, pronto. Make sure your budget allows for that.
As for post-processing, make sure your computer is up to the task. 16GB of RAM is the minimum. 32GB would be better. The latest i7 processor would be my recommendation. Anything less and your PC/Mac will choke. My rig seems to be doing okay, but I haven’t edited a wedding on the D800 yet so we’ll see what happens when the time comes.
On a more positive note, the new Exspeed 3 processor in the camera is a good improvement. Coupled with the generous buffer, I can take up to 15 RAW files at 4fps before the camera stops shooting. More than enough for my uses. With massive files like that, they needed to update the processor to keep up. I can’t wait to get the battery grip so I can get back to shooting 5fps. Four feels slow to me at the moment.
I’ve found a couple of bugs since I started using the camera, no doubt due to the first batch being rushed out the factory doors. Firstly is the green tint on the LCD screen. I don’t have pictures to show yet, but looking at the back of the screen there is a very noticeable green tint on everything, especially when the WB is set to flash. Once I switch to Auto WB everything fixes itself. Nikon claims the screen is more accurate on the D800 and that previous models introduced a bluish cast on the preview image. Maybe they’re right, but I kinda liked my blue cast. This screen makes everything look like Hulk world.
The other bug which should have been fixed before they started selling a $3600 camera to the public, is the misalignment of the left focus points in the viewfinder. I discovered this after downloading the shots from the engagement shoot yesterday and found some shots were unusable. They were all shot with the left focus points. Luckily it was only happening on my 50 and 85mm lenses. This was frustrating to say the least, especially when you’ve got a wedding this Saturday and another one in Santorini coming up. The middle and right focus points were fine, it was just the left ones. Good thing I bought mine in Australia, with full Australian warranty. Nikon will need to get this fixed. Already there’s an uproar on the net, with many users reporting the same issue. For the time being, I guess I’ll have to go back to the tested and proven ‘focus and recompose’ method of shooting.
Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be shooting a wedding this Saturday and taking it with me to Europe so I’ll really have a chance to stretch its abilities soon. I’ll be posting a more in-depth review once I return.