This will be a very short review, because for me the D800 is a very confusing camera. I realize that my review will be very polarizing and controversial. If I don’t heap praise on this camera the Nikon fanboys will revolt. But I call em’ like I see em’ so here goes nothing.
I’ve had a short time to shoot with and test the Nikon D800. Let me say right off the bat it’s a fine camera. So if you just want one regardless of what I say then buy one. But here’s the thing. That said…
The D800 is a camera that seems to be at odds with itself. On the one hand, there’s tons of detail – which you’d expect at 36mp. But the low-light performance at high ISO suffers – period. There is a bit more dynamic range in the D800 than the 5D MK III, but there’s not enough difference to really tell the difference.
If you’re shooting for detail in large prints, the D800 does offer a bit more detail in the high ISOs. If you’re one of the few hundred photographers in the world shooting for billboards – this is your camera. If you want a little cleaner image, the Canon 5D MK III wins in my opinion.
There’s really nothing wrong with the D800 – it is solid, well-built and feels good in the hand. I can’t be sure but it feels like the battery doesn’t last quite as long as the one on my D700. The camera produces a nice, sharp image that has good colors. But remember – this is a 36mp camera. If you plan on buying one, you better also plan on buying more and larger hard drives, a faster computer and more and larger memory cards. The files coming off the camera are at least 40 megabytes. Do the math! If you are used to shooting a D700, that means you’ll need three times the hard drive space and three times the camera memory. Add that to the cost of the camera and it’s not quite the bargain it appears to be compared with the 5D MK III. Also – get used to going for coffee while your images import.
The Nikon D800 also has a few small problems. Its autofocus doesn’t work as expected. It seems to do an initial grab and then fine tune. The AF on the D800 is in my opinion, inferior to the AF on the 5DMKIII. That said, if you’re shooting in very low light, you might want to look at the advantage the D800 offers which is a focus assist lamp. This isn’t available on the 5D MK III – although a flashlight will do the trick. The other problem I experienced relates to the camera simply locking up. The only way to fix it is to take the battery out. I don’t know if I have a bad copy or it’s a random problem, but I assume it’s something that can be fixed with a firmware update if it’s widespread.
Video on the D800 is a step up from the D700. As with the D4, Nikon has done a great job of bringing video to the camera. I think it’s safe to say that Nikon and Canon are almost at parity now when it comes to video. For some of you this won’t matter but for me and many others, it’s a big deal. If you’ve been buying Canon to shoot video but wish you could buy Nikon I think it’s safe to say you can get the job done with Nikon.
I am not going to write much about this camera because as I originally expected, it just doesn’t make sense to me. I have a sort of “meh” reaction to it. I am particularly disappointed in its autofocus system compared to that found on the 5D MK III – but it is $500 cheaper than the Canon so if you’re deciding between the two that’s a big factor – UNTIL you also consider the cost of more computer memory, a faster computer and bigger camera memory cards. Then it’s a wash.
I wish Nikon had stuck with the original sensor – fixed the AF and then done the rest of the upgrade. At that point I think they would have had a nearly perfect camera. In the end, they have a camera that will help those of you who make big prints find all the detail you will need. But how many of you REALLY make big, and I mean big prints that often? I don’t see it as a reason to switch to Nikon if you’re a Canon shooter.
I like the camera but I won’t use one in my day-to-day work. I prefer the 5D MK III for the faster frame rate and much better AF.
Nevertheless, at $3000 for a camera that offers very nice images full of detail, it is still recommended.