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Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

By Neilbowler @neilbowlerphoto

NOTE: the images in this feed have been downsized or removed for copyright reasons. To see them in their unmodified state, please view the original post by clicking here.

I’m primarily a wedding photographer, I shoot some portraits, a little commercial and sometimes delve into pet photography.  Let’s mention something else too, I dont review cameras for a living either.

When I first heard about the Nikon D800 with it’s whooping 36.3 megapixel sensor my first thoughts, not for me.  Imagine the size of those files,  800+ shots on average I take at weddings so 36MP is just crazy.  Why would wedding photographers actually need a camera of this caliber and surely the high ISO is going to suffer? perhaps Nikon were/are aiming this at the commercial photography market.  After all, how many wedding shots do you see on billboards?

Why an earth would Nikon produce an upgrade to the D700 like this I wondered. I think that’s the earlier mistake Nikon made, the D700 was just a smaller D3 and must have hit Nikon’s sales so this time around things are much different.

I’m by no means a megapixel junky, I’ve always been very happy with my 12 megapixel D700, it’s been the perfect camera in every sense.   The images have been brilliant, the ISO performance outstanding and anytime you need to print above 30 inches, just use interpolation software which works wonders.

There are plenty of in depth reviews regarding the Nikon D800 so I’m not going to list all the specifications copied from other sites, this is just a first impressions and initial testing review.

In Your Hands & Niggles!

It’s not much different to the D700 in truth, a few tweaks here and there but still a good solid and pro feel. I do prefer the overall ergonomics once the additional MB-D12 battery grip is attached.  However, here are my annoying little changes.

 1. Where’s my focus Selector gone!!!!

I use this feature all the time and now its gone.  This was a fairly big issue for me as many times throughout a wedding I swap from single to Auto to 3D, it’s just such a handy feature to have.  It’s now moved to a combination of pressing the button on the side of the AF/M selector and turning the command dials.  The sub dial controls the AF-C to AF-S and the main dial switches from Single, 9 Points, 21 Points, 51 Points, 3d Tracking to AUTO.

Ok, so it’s not a huge issue once you get used to it but does get confusing at times when moving on the fly.  I think the difficult part is having x2 bodies with different selectors.

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1
Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

2. Mode selector

As you can see from the above pictures there’s now the inclusion of the record button for video. With the slight change in design and extra button added the “Mode” button is now much further back.  Most of the time I shoot manual however, there are times I change to Aperture Priority whilst glued to the viewfinder which results in me hitting the record button instead. I have hands like a JCB digger so for those out there with petite fingers I’m sure you’ll find it even more annoying.   Again, not a huge deal but something you notice is there.

3. LCD Screen

Hmmmm, this is a mixed bag.  The LCD is beautifully sharp so no complaints at all.  There’s conflicting information over the internet about the color casts that some owners are noticing, I for one have terrible green casts in almost all of my shots viewed in camera.  Apparently, Nikon claims the LCD is far superior to earlier models with better color reproduction.  You can read more about it here. I called Nikon myself and was advised they’d calibrate it to that of the earlier models at a charge of £30.00.

WHAT! Are they having a laugh? A £2,600 DSLR.

I’m not sure what the deal is to be honest, some people dont see any casts, some just deal with it while others are sending theirs back for calibration.  Good old Ken Rockwell says it’s a back-light problem.  Not sure what to believe and will carry on.

Enough Moaning Now, what about the good stuff.

It’s not really moaning, more niggles and so far the only possible issue I see is the LCD and these green casts I keep getting.  There’s plenty to be excited about with the Nikon D800.  Lets talk about that amazing 36.3 megapixel sensor and how much resolution is 7360 x 4912. After all, this has to be the main topic of conversion.

Most people have probably seen Apples 27 inch iMacs with those beautiful screens which have resolution of 2560 x 1440.  Below is a simple example of the difference between the two….

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

The detail captured in this camera is just amazing and the cropping ability is like nothing I have ever experienced.  Here’s a shot of Pepper one of my faithful friends.

I shot this RAW at a full 7360 x 4912 pixels, copied and cropped at 100%, exported the two images from LR at 12 megapixel and then re-sized to 900px width.

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

And a 100% crop of the same image.  The detail is out of this world.

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

Image was shot at f4, 100 ISO and 1/500th using the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8.

One thing I’m noticing alot more is focus issues though movement.  I do feel your technique has to be on the money with the Nikon D800.  When shooting a ceremony in low light at low shutter speeds (1/40th for instance) I tend to adopt Joe McNally’s “Da Grip” which I find works really well for me, if you haven’t heard of this or seen the video it’s well worth checking out.  Normally,  the rest the time it’s fine.  The Nikon D800 is very different though and even at shutter speeds of 1/200th on a 24-70mm you can still get soft images.  This is the biggest downside to the 36MP sensor, it shows EVERY flaw.  So yeah, be warned and improve your grip or don’t go out drinking the night before.


Yaaaay!! Finally dual slots.  LOVE this feature. Up until now I have always used 4GB cards as I don’t like all my eggs in one basket,  I normally attend each wedding armed with x15 of them.  When the D800 arrived a 4GB card was showing a mere 51 RAW shots….. EEEEK!  I decided to go on the recommendations from a few fellow Canon 5D MK 3 users and invest in 64GB cards.   I can now shoot x2 sets of RAW files with about 1200 images before the need to change. This of course all depends on the RAW Recording,  more info on that below.

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

RAW Recording & File Sizes

So here’s the big one.  I have always shot my D700 on 14bit “uncompressed” which results in roughly 18MB files.  The Nikon D800 has the same settings, only now we have…..

14bit uncompressed = 75MB
14bit Lossless compressed = 50MB
14it compressed = I’d never shoot compressed RAW so why bother going there.
12bit uncompressed = 50MB
12bit lossless compressed = 30mb
12bit compressed = lets not go there.

So how many shots will I get shooting 75MB files on a 64GB card?  Well the camera is telling me 800 so depending how much information is in the frame this could be more or less.  Not much though is it?  Do you really need to shoot 14bit uncompressed is my question? I’m not a total camera geek that needs to understand everything about why the camera does this and that, 12bit vs 14bit to me is about detail/recovery recorded in the highlights & shadows.  It’s all a bit confusing and many fail to see the difference so for now, I’ll role with 12bit.  Give me 10 more weddings and I may revisit this debate.  12bit lossless compressed is giving me 30MB files, and I’m still shooting 36MP RAW files so all is good for now.


Hello baby!  This is one of the first things I noticed when shooting outside.  It’s just so clear and crisp and much better than the D700.  Perhaps it’s the 100% VF coverage that adds all the difference? Whatever it is I don’t care……It’s sublime.  You get to see your DOF right there without the need to hit the DOF preview button.  In fact I never actually used that button on the D700 so lets not talk about it.  Some posts on the internet have talked about the  NikonD800/D4 having issues with the viewfinder and focus, I certainly have none. The below pictures is the same view I have through the viewfinder, it’s rather special.  I just never noticed that in the D700.

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1
Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1
Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

The all important ISO Performance

So I guess as a wedding photographer this is probably one of the most important factors when purchasing a new camera.  How will it perform in low light?.  All wedding photographers are faced with a mass of crazy lighting conditions and ISO is the one feature on cameras that we need to perform, The Nikon D700, D3 & D3s are exceptional so what of the Nikon D800?.  Surely a 36MP camera is going to have awful ISO performance?

Well I have to say that so far I’m simply amazed with the results considering it’s a 36MP sensor .  As yet I’m undecided whether it performs as well as the D700, some say yes, some say no.  It’s all in the re-sampling apparently.  Images at full resolution may look worst than it’s predecessor but once re-sampled actually becomes better, truth is unless you zoom in to 100% it’s hardly noticeable.  Let’s see some examples….

2000 ISO


Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

  3200 ISO with no cropping

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1


Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

6400 ISO

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1


Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

DX Crop Mode

The D700 doesn’t have this feature so I’ve never used it until the Nikon D800.  What benefit will it serve me? Well I dont any DX lenses so no use there.  I can turn a my 50mm into a 75mm or my 70mm into a 105mm, handy I guess if you need a tad more reach.  Oh wait, on the Nikon D800 I don’t have to shoot a wedding at 36MP as I can enable DX mode and shoot at 16MP while saving on storage….. hmmmmmmm.  Let’s look at that more.  While DX mode is enabled your viewfinder now becomes this…..

Nikon D800 Review & First Thoughts | Part 1

It doesn’t zoom in, it doesn’t place a black frame/border around the unused area nor does it make the unused area blurred.  All shots now have to be framed within that rectangle.  For me this is pants and only handy for the odd shot where you may need a little more reach.  There is no small RAW format other than this to the Nikon D800, only the RAW recording will lower your file sizes.

So that’s it for my first thoughts and initial tests. Once I have spent more time with the Nikon D800 I’ll do another review to see how it handles in more challenging situations. Personally, I think it’s a great camera and looking forward to the weddings ahead.

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