Nikon D800 (finally) unveiled

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Here it finally is ! Let me introduce you to the Nikon D800, a DSLR I ordered yesterday to Thomas, product manager at Nikon France. A lot of rumors had been spinning around for months now as the D800 was to be announced last year… but that was before the floods in Thailand.

So now, here we are, the D800 is 100% official and will undoubtedly be a best-seller. Here is why :

  • 36-megapixel CMOS sensor, 24×36. Expect crip images even enlarged, till A2 prints. The crop freedom of this camera must be fantastic. But, be aware that you need superior lenses to get this detail level. If you use average zoom lens, just stick to the D700. (you’ve got to read this : Nikon D800 sensor review)
  • The Nikon D800 gets the 51-points autofocus of the D4 with 15 cross type sensors (11 sensitive up to f/8, ideal for use with a telezoom lens and a 2x teleconverter).  The Mult-Cam 3500FX can also focus under very dim light, up to 2EV, the equivalent of moonlight and focus on faces even when you use the D800 in the optical viewfinder.
  • 1920×1080/30p video. Full HD in 24p, 25p and 30p with stereo sound, microphone line in and out to plug earplugs in order to check the volume level in addition to the electronically displayed Vumeter. Expect Hollywood to use the D800 in some footages. You will have the choice between recording the video in AVCHD (H.264) on the memory card or get the uncompressed video signal on the HDMI output with a 4:2:2 sampling for loss less high quality Full HD video. Does it sound familiar ?
  • Speaking of memory card : the D800 has a dual slot with an SD and a CompactFlash slot. What a relief not to see the XQD format on the D800! It is much too early. Nobody has any, Sony is the only manufacturer. We’ll see if there is an interest in this memory card when the D900 will come out ! 😉
  • 91,000-pixel color scene recognition sensor. Yes ! like on the D4, we get this bigger sensor that will analyse the color temperature, the light source, the kind of scene, if there are any faces and so on. It will then adapt its parameters and help the autofocus focusing faster. This also means that we’ll get face detection on the D800, even in the optical viewfinder. This sensor means a better ratio of good images, period.
  • OPtical viewfinder : 100% coverage. This is a major progress compared to the poor coverage of the D700. With this feature alone, the D800 gets its professional grade.
  • Burst rate : ok, the D800 is not a race car. For this kind of use, you have the D4 which is designed for that. But, if you want to get a better frame rate than the basic 4 fps, you can, adding both the optional handgrip MB-D12 and the D4 battery (EN-EL18). You will then get a more decent 6 fps frame rate. Keep in mind that the D800 NEF files are 50 MB each ! If you add the MB-D12 handgrip without the D4  battery, the fps remains unchanged. You can get a 5 fps without any grip nor special battery by choosing the 1.5x DX crop ratio on the DSLR body.
  • The D800 lowest ISO setting gets one stop further down and ISO 100 is now available. I like his, as while you decrease ISO sensitivity, the dynamic range usually gets wider. (well, on the Canon G1 X, unfortunately, that is untrue… hum ! Canon sensors…)
  • Battery and handgrip : we know we would have to change the batteries… but, if you bought a D7000 while you were waiting for Nikon’s facilities in Thailand to dry up and resume production, you will already have a spare battery for your D800 as it will use EN-EL15 batteries. The new optional handgrip is the MB-D12 and gets a joystick. I have been told the battery life of the D800 with an EN-EL15 is 850 stills.
  • D800E : for special uses, you might want to get a D800 without the optical low-pass filter. Nikon will launch the D800E, an unfiltered sensored DSLR. Its signal will be processed by Nikon Capture NX2 which will be offered with the D800E, priced $300 more that the D800. According to Nikon, not only the D800E without OLPF has superior resolution, but it also deepens the shots adding more difference between subjects distances. But before going for the D800E, make sure what you want to take pictures of can be dealt with such a sensor. Watch out for moiré !
  • The D800 offers the same high-quality built with reinforced joints and sealing rings as the D700 but the extensive use of magnesium alloy saves weight : the D800 is 100gr. lighter than the D700. Weldone. The D800 weights 900gr.
  • Unlike the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the Nikon D800 has a built-in flash. Even though it is not very powerful, it can save a few shots and it can control other flashes (wireless Nikon CSL). Its guide number is 12.
  • UI : the D800 has a double LiveView switch (stills / video) and a video recording button.
  • Nikon D800 price and availability : an other pretty good surprise, the D800 will be available pretty soon in about one month to 6 weeks and its price is pretty fair : $2,999, body only. The D800E, without the OLPF will be available later, in April 2012, at a suggested retail price of $3,299. The D800E  will not be sold by all stores as you will certainly want to try it first.

I like Nikon, I like DSLRs and I like Full Frame sensors for many reasons. So, I’ll get a D800 for huge landscapes shots, high def portraits, etc. and might buy a used D700 for super high ISO images, an area were the D800 will not be at ease, a much cheaper solution than a D4… The D3x will remain in Nikon’s DLSR range but Nikon don’t expect a very large amount of sales because of the internal competition of the D800, less than half its price with a newer sensor and better video function… So, for many professional photographer that have a nice photobag, full of very good Nikkor lenses and a $3,000 budget, the D800 is a very attractive solution.

But…

  • Maximum highest ISO is ISO 6,400. Not much compared to the ISO 100,200 of the D3s. I know, don’t yell at me. The D800 is about resolution, not sensitivity and Nikon has the D4 for that. And if pixel count is not a criteria for you, within a few weeks, you will get a bunch of used D700 on the second hand market. Some very good deals could help you buy your first FF Nikon DSLR).
  • No WT-5 compatibility : I am a bit dissapoined by that. Nikon has obviously limited the pro workflow ability f the D800 by supressing the Ethernet connexion of the D4 (which I fully understand in order to save on the D800 form factor), but also by not letting D800 owners use the newly developed WT-5 Wi-Fi transmitter that would have enabled the Nikon D800 to be tethered with an iPhone or iPad… The D800 is compatible with the WT-4 though.
  • I wish it had the backlit buttons of the D4, that is such a useful feature… but it doesn’t.
Ok, there are very few cons to the D800, mainly limitations decided by Nikon’s marketing management to create a range effect depriving the D800 of a few asset that will remain the D4 exclusivity.
Nikon advised me the D800 will come to the market around March 22nd, one week after the D4 will ba available. I should have a copy of this very nice DSLR one to two weeks before it hits the shelves for a full review.
The Nikon D800 unveiled.. finally.

 

The Nikon D800 gets the same 3.3" / 921,000 dots LCD screen as the D4 with a resin layer in order to avoid glare.

 

The Nikon D800 gets a 36-megapixel sensor, 24x36, able to record Full HD movies. 24, 25 and 30p fps, but no 60p as the EXPEED 3 processor would not be able to process such a data rate.

 

The new MB-D12 optional handgrip for the Nikon D800. With a big EN-EL18 battery and this grip, the D800 can reach 6 fps.

 

 

Nop ! No XQD cards in the D800 that will accept both SD and CompactFlash cards. A relief.

 

USB 3.0, HDMI out, line in / out : the D800 is pretty gifted and opened but doesn't get nor Ethernet slot, nor the WT-5 copatibility. You will have to use the old WT-4 to shoot tethered with the D800 and Lightroom for example.

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