As I mentioned earlier, if you want a high speed (as in frames per second) DSLR, you’ll need to look at the Nikon D4 or the Canon 1DX. At best, the D800 can continuously shoot full resolution images at 4 frames per second (6fps with the optional battery grip). But that’s more than respectable for a camera that’s pushing data from a 36 megapixel sensor. The D800’s speed is fairly consistent whether you’re shooting high resolution JPEG or even JPEG + RAW. The only difference is the number of frames captured in a single burst. We counted close to 40 high resolution JPEGs and about 15 RAW shots before the buffer was full. We’d love to see the option to have different sized RAW files in the next iteration of the D800, not only for improved continuous shooting speed, but also for those times when we don’t need such large files and don’t want to use one of the crop modes.
Otherwise, the D800 is pretty much on par with higher end DSLRs. Fast start-up and a responsive autofocus system make using this camera a real pleasure. Users have a choice of several AF modes including 9, 21 or 51-points, single point, 3D-tracking utilizing 51 points or auto area AF, where the camera selects what it considers the most appropriate points for focusing. The best AF mode, naturally, depends on what you’re shooting.
The D800’s autofocus works well in just about all lighting conditions and while it may be a little slower in low light, under good light, the camera locks in focus quickly and accurately. Continuous AF works well, too, although most of my test shots were static and I used the single AF mode.
A built-in flash is available but, unless it’s an emergency or the on-board flash is set to Commander mode, it’s likely that most D800 shooters will not make use of this feature. Instead, available light, off-camera flash or an attached Speedlight will probably be the lighting of choice.
Battery life was excellent during our testing. I was able to shoot 900 images over a two day period without changing or recharging the battery.
As they did with the D4, Nikon has stepped up the D800’s video capabilities. A headphone jack is available to monitor audio recording levels and the HDMI port can be used to output uncompressed video to an external hard drive. Simultaneous streaming of video to the camera’s LCD and an external monitor can be accomplished via the HDMI port as well. An optional stereo microphone can also be plugged into the camera for capturing high end sound. The camera’s on-board microphone is monaural but is actually quite good.
Video can be recorded in full HD (1920 x 1080) at 30fps or 24fps, as well as 720p at 30fps or 60fps in H.264/MPEG-4 (so it’s much easier to edit than other formats). Crop modes can be utilized for video and manual exposure (with some limitations) is available.
Keep in mind that although the D800 offers autofocus in video mode, this is still the one of the shortcomings in most DSLRs due to the use of contrast detect AF. Autofocus in movie mode isn’t as responsive as it is when shooting stills and, if your video experience comes from using a camcorder, don’t expect the same kind of autofocus capabilities. But that’s true of most DSLRs and experienced DSLR videographers can handle the issues presented by this type of AF.
However, the D800 produces some really nice video with crisp focus (when pre-focused or once the lens finished hunting) and accurate, but natural, color reproduction. Exposures were accurate and the metering system generally was able to keep up with small-to-moderate changes in lighting in a scene.
*Editor’s Note: The video footage above was taken in a 12×15 room. The camera was set to auto mode. The lens was a Nikkor 24-120mm f/1.4. The only lighting in the room was directly behind the shooter from a window.
Still image quality was stellar. Our test shots showed excellent dynamic range with and without D-Lighting, which can be set at different levels to help retain shadow and highlight detail. Exposure was pretty much spot on and colors were naturally rendered but well-saturated. I tested the camera with the Nikon 18-36mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and 24-120mm lenses. While the latter was my least favorite (but still quite good), detail capture was excellent across the other three lenses. The camera’s ISO range hasn’t changed from the D700, with a native ISO span of 100-6400 and an expanded low of 50 and high of 12,800 and 25,600.
Nikon has always been ahead of the curve with low light/high ISO performance and the D800 is no exception. Even with its 36 megapixel sensor, the D800 keeps noise levels well under control even with the camera’s noise reduction feature turned off. For snapshot-size prints and posted on the Web, I’d feel comfortable shooting up to the maximum expanded ISO if there was no other way to get the shot. Image noise during long exposures was equally as impressive, even for 15-second exposures (see image below).
ISO 640, 15 second exposure
Of course, you’ll get the best results shooting RAW and keeping the ISO lower. The D800 doesn’t offer the high ISO quality of the D4 or even the D3s, but it’s quite good considering its 36 megapixel sensor. Obviously, the best results are captured under good lighting conditions, whether outdoors or with studio/flash lighting.
As shot Cropped from image on left