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Review Nikon D810

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The Nikon D810 is successor of the D800 and the Nikon D800E. It's a full-frame top model, with a new 36-megapixel sensor in strong body. The Nikon D810, just like the 800E, has no optical low-pass filter and is thus fully focused on achieving the highest image quality. Will the Nikon D810 capture first place from the D800E on the basis of image quality in our list of reviews? The Sony A7 R didn't manage to do that. Do the differences in processor and sensor result in measurable differences that are visible in practice? We comprehensively review the three models next to each other, with a qualitatively very high-value lens (Nikon 85 mm f/1,4).

D810

Nikon D810 versus D800E

The Nikon D810 is on many points identical to the D800. In this review, we will focus on the differences. It is remarkable that the Nikon D810 weighs 880 grams and is therefore 10% lighter than the Nikon D800.

 

Nikon D810 review, Nikon camera review, Nkon D810

  • Screen with higher resolution (1.229k vs 921k)
  • Greater ISO range: expandable to 32 ISO and 51.200 ISO
  • "Silent" continuous mode
  • Lifetime of the battery is extended by 30% (now 1200 shots cf. CIPA)
  • Stereo microphone
  • RAW-S format added with about half the file size
  • New, faster processing and more images per second (was 4 bps, now 5 bps)

The 32 ISO setting (and 1/8000 as the fastest shutter speed) is a bonus for photographers and videographers who want to photograph/film in very little light at full aperture without using a grey filter. Often, a camera with an expansion of the ISO range delivers a higher signal-to-noise ratio in the L1 setting, but it appears from the measurements that this comes at the cost of the dynamic range. That is not the case for the Nikon D810, and that makes the Nikon D810 a beast of a camera for landscape photography with extremely little noise and extremely high resolution and dynamic range.

Nikon D810 versus the competition

Different from the Nikon D4 and D4S, which are primarily focused on speed, the Nikon D810 is built for the best possible image quality. It does not have a great deal of competition. In the SLR category, there is actually no comparable model, unless you include the expensive middle-format cameras in the comparison. The Sony A7R has essentially the same sensor as the D810, but it has an electronic viewfinder (and is thus not a "real" SLR). The Sony is much smaller and lighter than the Nikon and also significantly less expensive.

Design

Nikon D810 review

If you place a Nikon D810 next to a D800, then it appears that the bodies strongly resemble each other, but are not completely identical. On at least 20 points, we discovered minimal differences in styling and in the exact place and shape of the buttons. There is an i-button added (we know that from the less expensive consumer models), there is now a separate bracket-button on the front of the camera so that the operation of the exposure could move to the four-function press-button at the top left.

 chemicalien-voor-web-klein

For those who often change from multi-segment measuring to spot measuring, there is a remarkable improvement in ease of use. With the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D800E, you could actually only adjust the exposure mode when you held the camera away from your face. For the connections (USB, HDMI, etc.) there are now separate ports that each has its own rubber door. That is useful because then only the port needs to be open that you're actually using. The connection for the headphones is next to the microphone connection. There's logic behind that as well.
The body is made for professional use, feels strong and is outstandingly sealed. It lies exceptionally well in your hand, even though the weight is pretty high. The body including the battery and sealing cap only weighs one kilo (body only 880 grams).

Screen and viewfinder

Although the electronic viewfinders have gotten better, they are by our estimation in terms of image quality, clarity and detail still inferior to a good optical viewfinder such as those of Nikons. Because the D810 will be used a lot for landscape and studio photography, that is an important point. The screen is generous (3"), and has 1,229,000 dots. It is not hinged (like the Sony A7R).

 theepot-voor-web

For accurate focusing, you can use Live View and zoom in on the screen. That is a much-used technique in product shots in the studio, as shown here.
Because the camera has so many options (the manual has more than 400 pages), and because many functions are operated via the menu, the menus are terribly long. Differently than, for example, Canon, Nikon puts all functions on 1 menu page that you then have to scroll through vertically. We don't think that's handy. Those who are already accustomed to a Nikon DSLR will have less of a problem with it.

Nikon D810 color reproduction

The color reproduction of the D810 in our review was not always flawless under precisely established exposure circumstances, but also in practice shots. To the right, you see a detail from three practice shots, made at the same point and with the same lens on the D800, the D810 and the D800E. The D810 looks more pale than the other two.

vlnr 800-810-800E-voor-web

Below is the lab data, where the RAW files are transferred to Lightroom. In the squares, the top left half is the "real" color and the right bottom half is what the camera made from it. Especially in artificial light, the differences are pretty large. Most cameras have the greatest difficulty with the automatic white balance under these extreme circumstances, but in our review, the Nikon D800E did better on this part than the Nikon D810. A careful setting of the white balance (manually in advance or afterwards in RAW files) is advisable under those circumstances.
Because the color reproduction of modern cameras is very similar, the differences between a 7 for color reproduction and a 9 for color reproduction appears more extreme that it is in many cases. The effects of image styles are also much greater than the differences in color reproduction between different cameras.

 JOP0619 split diff
Color reproduction in daylight
 JOP0578 split diff
Color reproduction in artificial light

Resolution and image quality

In making test shots, we stumble (and not for the first time) on the phenomenon that with a sensor with so many pixels, in combination with a professional fixed-focal length lens, is extremely critical: The use of a tripod and preferable the advance flip of the mirror as well as the use of an electronic first curtain gives the best results. The D810 in combination with the 85 mm f/1.4 has no trouble with front focus/back focus. The AF works at least as accurately as the manual focusing with Live View, zoomed in on the LCD screen.

raak-voor-web

Most users will photograph with the Nikon D810 in RAW, whether or not in combination with JPEG. In RAW, you use the full 14 bits of information of the sensor; JPEG is 8 bits, and you have a greater dynamic range. For the conversion, we use Nikon's own converter, included as ViewNX2. It is remarkable (and unexplained) that the RAW (NEF) files of the Nikon 810 is greater than that of the 800E. In JPEG, that is still the case to a large degree, and that points to the finer details in the case of D810.

With the large number of pixels, the file size is enormous: 50 MB for a RAW file and 30 for a Large/Fine JPEG is nothing. Many professional photographers work in RAW+JPEG, even when there is no qualitative reason for doing so. (The ANP for example prefers not-too-large files; 2 MB is sufficient.) But the agencies want to have the RAW file available in order to establish for certain that the shot has not been faked. For those photographers, the Nikon D810 has an optional RAW-S format in which the files are about half as large as the normal RAW files (and still a bit larger than the best-quality JPEGs).

jachthaven-voor-web

Shot of the harbor in Alblasserdam, 1/250 sec f/8, with 85 mm f/1.4 lens. You can zoom in endlessly, examine details or take excerpts. The bricks of the buildings in the background can be counted. A possible disadvantage of omitting an anti-alias is the loss of prevention of Moiré interference patterns in fine, regular structures. None of that could be found in this shot. With help of the included Capture NX-D and in Lightroom, that is simple to correct locally, so that you continue to benefit in the rest of the image from the highest possible resolution.

huis-voor-web

Protecting the highlights

Belichtingsmodimini
Suppose that you want to take a photo of a dark subject, with part of it brightly lit. Think for example about concert photography or theater photography, where spotlights are focused on one person. If you then use the lighting meter in matrix or center-weighted mode, then the chance is good that the brightly lit part will be over-exposed. If you apply the spot measurement, where you aim the camera directly at the bright part, then the rest of the shot is very dark. That is not always desirable either. If you target the spot next to the brightly lit part, then that part is still over-exposed. Many concert photographers therefore photograph with manual exposure. But if the intensity of the lighting varies strongly, that isn't ideal either.
Nikon has added an exposure mode in the Nikon D810 that recognizes highlights in the shot, without having to focus on it, like with spot measurement. The final exposure is then between the matrix and the spot. The Highlight-weighted mode is more accurate than spot measurement if 1 color dominates, like the red lights at pop concerts. Where the spot measurement handles the clarity of red, green and blue together, the highlight-weighted mode prevents overexposure in the red channel. Real progress.

Dynamic range

buitendam-voor-web-klein

The sensor of the D800 and the D810 (it is not entirely clear whether this is the same as the Sony sensor) is known for its big dynamic range. Our lab tests showed the greatest dynamic range we have ever measured for the Nikon D810 at 32 ISO (12.6, see the graph below). At the higher ISO values, the Nikon D800E and the Nikon D810 aren't very different as far as dynamic range is concerned. Practice shots as shown above prove the quality, 1/200 at f/9. The shadows are a bit lightened with the computer.

 JOP0524 Step 2

"Silent" shutter

 

The maximum image speed of the D810 in full frame mode is 5 bps, with a maximum of 17 RAW images, or 36 JPEGs. What's new is that the "silent" shutter, the Q mode, now also works in the continuous recording mode at a maximum of 3 images per second.

The D810 has an available option (also hidden deep in the Personal Settings menu) in order with the use of the "mirror up" function to first open the electronic shutter curtain. The shutter is then already open with the raising of the mirror, but the sensor will not be activated; that happens only with the second press of the release button.

A15-voor-web
The shutter closes mechanically. The thought is that the shutter will not move before and during the shot, and there are also no vibrations given by the camera housing. This new feature appears to be adopted at the request of studio photographers who have established that, even on a tripod, at 1/80 of a second, some blur can arise, apparently introduced by the shutter. As we already described above, with a sensor of this quality, the slightest vibration will be seen. In our test shots, we could not establish any difference with or without this first electronic curtain shutter.

ISO

Nikon SLRs are known for their outstanding performance at high ISO settings. We wrote earlier about tests of the D800E. With the D810, the range on the top end is extendable to 51,200 and at the bottom to ISO 32; the latter at special request of landscape photographers who also want to use long shutter times in nice weather.

The shot shown here about the theme "wind" is made with 1/10 of a second. The moving branches illustrate the wind effect. Something like that is of course also possible with an ND filter, but who always has such a thing at hand?

wind
At the top end, the ISO range runs up to 51200 (setting Hi 2). With the good noise-reduction algorithms from Nikon, this setting is still usable.

Nikon D810 Auto focus

The Nikon D810 has a large number of setting options for auto focus. What's new is the group AF-field setting, where you cannot only indicate an AF field as the focus field, but also the four fields around it. It yields fruit primarily when you use the AF-C setting, so that the camera focuses continuously and as a photographer, you don't have to bother with focus. The effect of such group AF is difficult to establish, but based on the fact that the system also makes up part of the Nikon D4s, the journalism camera, it appears that it can be useful. campers-voor-web

Video

 
Because this is primarily a photography site and not a video site, we have not investigated the quality of the D810 as a film camera. Because there are nevertheless people who will use the D810 for that, we let it suffice to report that it can focus during filming and can record in various formats, including the 60 p format (60 images per second 1920x1080 pixels). On the Nikon D800, you could only film in full HD at 30 images per second. The control over the aperture, shutter speed and audio settings during filming increase the versatility of this camera with respect to its predecessor. The new image style, Flat, is probably added for filmers who do their own color grading. While the Nikon D800 and D800E had a built-in mono microphone, the Nikon D810 has a built-in stereo microphone. A real videographer will just use the connection for an external microphone.
You can photograph during filming, but then the film recording stops. 

Conclusion Nikon D810 review

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Look in our list of tested cameras for specifications and comparison of these performances with those of other cameras.

Pro
Year:2014
Overall score:8.5
Resolution:8.5
Dynamic Range:8
Noise:9
Color:8.3
Whitebalance:8
Megapixels:36
Sensor:FF
Sensor magn.:0.7
fps:5
Weight (gram):980
MSRP NL (Euro):3300

Pros

  • Unmatched image quality, both in terms of resolution and dynamic range
  • Expanded ISO range: 32-51,200, in particular 32 ISO is unique
  • Quieter than its predecessor
  • Extremely solid, well-built and suitable for professional use
  • Part of a popular camera system, ample selection of lenses and accessories

Cons

  • Quality has a price
  • No hinged screen
  • No WiFi

Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi?

The Nikon D810 sets new standards for image quality and surpasses the Nikon D800E, which has held the highest position in our camera list for years. For Nikon, there is a lot of attention paid to the polishing of the build quality and the ease of operation of an already peerless camera. A quieter shutter, that causes less vibration and a longer battery life—that sounds simple, but there are many technological developments needed to successfully implement it.
The omission of the anti-alias filter, the design of the new sensor and the new image processor leads to a clear improvement of the image quality. Although the report scores of the Nikon D800E and the Nikon D810 are the same, the resolution of the Nikon D810 is sometimes a bit higher than with the D800E, fitted with an anti-alias filter. The dynamic range (the difference between light and dark that the camera can bridge) is unprecedently high. At 32 ISO, it's astronomically high.
GS-award2014Should all owners of a Nikon D800/800E immediately trade in for a D810 model? We don't think so; these cameras are too expensive and the differences are too small. For many practice shots, you don't see any quality differences. It is under the most critical circumstances that the differences come to the fore, and even then, only if you directly compare the shots from the Nikon D800E with the shots from the Nikon D810.  

Jop Steenhof de Jong
Author: Jop Steenhof de Jong
Photography has been a hobby of mine for many years. For me, it's about the joy of creating. I like to find and share knowledge in depth topics again. After years of having fun with contributions made to the Dutch magazine "Camera Magazine", I test now with at least as much pleasure for CameraStuffReview.

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