NIKON D800 - Review and user experience - First Impressions

NIKON D800 Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5 lens

The reason I bought this camera can be expressed very simply.
36MP - 35mm frame - £2500.
For a professional (non-sports) photographer who uses Nikon, thinking of a reason NOT to buy this camera is the difficult thing!

The MP count is into the lower end of Medium Format. It has all the virtues of a Nikon DSLR i.e. speed, handling, build quality, versatility. It wipes the floor with MF at high ISO's. For what it is its relatively cheap. Whats not to like?

NIKON D800

NIKON D800

NIKON D800

NIKON D800

NIKON D800

I've only had it a day, and spent that time getting used to the handling, since its been a while since I used a DSLR, but its easy to see that this is a pretty remarkable camera. The specifications are mouth-watering, the handling and performance live up to that anticipation, and its one of the best (if not the best) picture-creating machines ever.

This gives an idea of just how big 36MP is.

Big enough?

For most picture-taking requirements its overkill, but think of what a photographer can do with this. A wedding photographer spots a great picture, they have the wrong lens on, its too wide. No problem, take the shot, crop it later, there are pixels to spare. A landscape / stock photographer sees a wonderful picture and thinks what lens shall I use? No problem, let the client decide how to crop it later. 

And pixels to spare is certainly what this camera has.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Its a Nikon. For me that means it should feel good in the hand, its should be well laid out and it should perform well. Well the D800 does all that. Having spent such a long time using CSC's it did feel very big when I first picked it up. However, it wasn't quite as heavy as I was expecting. I did though spend most of the day using a 50mm f/1.8 on it. AF seems fast and accurate, even with my ancient D lenses. The manual focus confirmation worked very well with my Voigtlander 20mm incidentally. This has not always been the case with Nikons I have used.

The menus are typically Nikon. I've set the camera up how I want it and haven't even unpacked the manual. However if you are not used to the way they do things, that may not be so easy.

One thing that was certainly different was the depth of field at my most commonly used apertures. Its been a while since I used a 35mm sized sensor. Incidentally I must insert here how much I hate the term "full-frame". Its innacurate, meaningless and I have no idea how its become so universally accepted. Full frame indicates that this is the biggest, the largest, the ultimate sized frame. However its obviously not since there are larger sensors available.

So, the thing I noticed most was that I was getting far less DOF than I'm used to. Now this is something I don't get all hot and bothered about, and usually I'm aiming for the opposite. However there is doubt that images like the one below have their charms.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens


So first impressions are positive. However it was difficult since when I arrived at the place I was going to photograph, the sun disappeared and I spent the afternoon shooting in mostly flat dull light. So I wasn't able to assess what things like dynamic range, colour depth and overall "punch" are going to be like for my particular uses.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens
The above is at ISO 25600 - Amazing!

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens


I'm convinced that this is a market changing camera. Certainly for the professional and quality concious enthusiast sector. This kind of quality and image size has previously been reserved for ridiculously priced MF cameras and backs. The D800 opens up large-format digital photography for many more people, with none of the constraints of Hassleblad, Phase One , Leaf etc. systems. No restrictions on high ISO shooting, no need to carry lots of artificial light with you and no need to fiddle around bolting things onto cameras. With the D800 you just pick it up, turn it on and start shooting. You also have access to one of the best and most comprehensive lens ranges around.

It is going to be followed apparently by a Sony version as well. At this moment in time Nikon have the lead in this and it seems they want it too. They could have easily charged a lot more for this camera, but the price is very competitive. It certainly drew me out of my Mirrorless / E.V.I.L / CSC comfort zone, and I'm certainly looking forward to seeing just exactly what its capable of.

Stay tuned.


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