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Nikon D800 review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £2500
inc VAT

Sublime ergonomics and a record-breaking resolution, but performance suffers


35.9x24mm 36.2-megapixel sensor, N/A zoom (N/A equivalent), 1.0kg

The main attraction of a full-frame SLR is its image quality, and the D800 makes no bones about this with its record-breaking resolution. Sure enough, we had to pick our jaws up off the floor as we zoomed in to inspect its photos. Whereas the Canon 5D Mark III applied fairly heavy digital sharpening in JPEGs to squeeze the last drops of detail from its 22-megapixel sensor, the D800’s gentler sharpening gave more natural results and still easily surpassed its rival for details. It wasn’t always easy to capitalise on this advantage, though. The tiniest amount of motion blur, camera shake or focusing inaccuracy would level the playing field. This camera deserves the highest quality lenses, and they don’t come cheap.

Nikon D800 sample shots
JPEGS use a relaxed approach to digital sharpening, but there’s still a huge amount of fine detail in photos – click to enlarge

The inevitable downside of the huge resolution is that noise levels aren’t as remarkable as from the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. The D800’s sensor has a similar pixel density to the Nikon D7000’s 16-megapixel APS-C sensor – it’s akin to taking the D7000’s sensor and adding more pixels around the edge as you make it bigger.

Nikon D800 sample shots
Arguably the most useful function of the huge resolution is the ability to crop photos and still have lots of pixels at your disposal – click to enlarge

As such, the D800’s noise levels were closer to those of the D7000 than the 5D Mark III. However, that’s not to say that the two Nikons were equal in low light. Because the D800 has so many more pixels, the noise was finer and less visible. The D800’s heavier noise reduction took its toll on details at fast ISO speeds, but it wasn’t until ISO 6400 that the 5D Mark III matched the D800 for detail. As such, you’d need to be shooting regularly at ISO 12800 and above to gain a practical benefit from the Canon’s lower noise.

Nikon D800 sample shots
Noise levels at high ISO speeds are reasonably low, but not up to the Canon 5D Mark III’s standards – click to enlarge

A bigger downside of the huge resolution is that continuous performance is relatively pedestrian. It set off at 4fps but slowed to 1.2fps after 18 frames for JPEGs, and to 0.7fps after 15 frames in raw mode. We got the same JPEG performance from SDHC cards rated at 30MB/s or 95MB/s, so it appears that the D800 doesn’t have the processing power to save JPEGs any faster than 1.2fps. The D800 can shoot at 6fps when set to DX crop mode (using the central 15.3-megapixel area of the frame) and with the optional MB-D12 battery grip attached, although we weren’t able to test this. In DX mode without the grip, it managed 5fps for 20 frames before slowing to 1.9fps.

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Basic Specifications

CCD effective megapixels36.2 megapixels
CCD size35.9x24mm
Viewfinderoptical TTL
Viewfinder magnification, coverage0.7x, 100%
LCD screen size3.2in
LCD screen resolution921,000 pixels
Articulated screenNo
Live viewYes
Optical zoomN/A
Zoom 35mm equivalentN/A
Image stabilisationAvailable in lenses
Maximum image resolution7,360×4,912
File formatsJPEG, RAW; QuickTime (AVC)


Memory slotSDXC, CompactFlash
Mermory suppliednone
Battery typeLi-ion
Battery Life (tested)850 shots
ConnectivityUSB3, mini HDMI, microphone in, headphone out, PC sync, wired remote
Body materialmagnesium alloy
Lens mountNikon F
Focal length multiplier1.0x
Kit lens model nameN/A
AccessoriesUSB cable, neck strap

Buying Information

Warrantytwo years RTB

Camera Controls

Exposure modesprogram, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
Shutter speed30 to 1/8,000 seconds
Aperture rangeN/A
ISO range (at full resolution)50 to 25600
Exposure compensation+/-5 EV
White balanceauto, 6 presets with fine tuning, 4 manual, Kelvin
Additional image controlscontrast, saturation, sharpness, brightness, hue, Active D-Lighting, colour space, vignette control, auto distortion control, noise reduction
Manual focusYes
Closest macro focusN/A
Auto-focus modes51-point
Metering modesmulti, centre-weighted, centre
Flashauto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction
Drive modessingle, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, HDR, multiple exposure, interval

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