The D800 and that ever increasing kit bag!

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Ok so I have had a good few weeks now to have a play around with the Nikon D800 36Megapixel Full Frame D-SLR.

It’s brother (or sister!) in my kit bag is the Nikon 12Megapixel D3 and although the D3 is now getting on a bit in years it’s still a damn good piece of equipment and a reliable, fast digital camera.

Comparisions between the two are not really where I’m going to head too in this write up as I see them as two very different beasts indeed. However one comparision I can make is ergonomically how do they compare? I like the feel of the D3 personally, my partner however finds it too bulky and finds that the D800 fits much better into her smaller hands and is lighter and thus feels “easier” to handle. I find switching between the D3 and the D800 easy handling wise and I think being used to the extra weight and bulk of the D3 aids in the transition to the D800. I like the feel of the D800 and if you are used to and liked handling either the D300 or D700 then the D800 will feel great also in my opinion.

The much talked about megapixel count of the D800 puts this prosumer D-SLR right at the top of the tree as far as megapixels go with a whopping 36.3MP. That’s three times (theortically) the resolution of my D3!

I think a sweeping generalistion here is that more pixels = better photos and to a certain extent that can be true. However with that amount of resolution on offer you have to be careful; any kind of shake or mis-focus or lack of control over depth of field can result in a soft photo, a slightly blurred image at 100% viewing and your focus points and depth of field have to be carefully planned to ensure you are getting into focus what you think you are. It’s very easy to look at the lovely LCD display on the rear of the D800 and think you’ve nailed it – it’s only when you look into your images during post processing you start to notice some of these points. Get it right however and the D800 delivers some stunning images with detail and clarity that’s generally the realm of medium format cameras.

I personally have found that the old equation of focal length = shutter speed doesn’t ring quite true when I have the D800 in my hands and often I am going at least 1 to 2 stops higher shutter speed wise to ensure I get a “sharp” image. For example with my 50mm F1.8 lens attached I will try and shoot around 1/100th of a second, whereas on the D3 I can get away with 1/60th of a second with the same lens. And with regards to lenses – you need decent lenses to pair up your D800 with. Think about it…………..are you really going to buy a £2k camera with that resolution and then chuck a kit lens on the front and hope for the best? I hope not. That’s not to say you won’t get good images out of it, but with decent glass you can get outstanding images out of it and surely that’s why you’ve got one?

I like the autofocus system on the D800 – rather than flicking a switch like the D3, D300, D700 etc to toggle between single, continuous or manual focus, the D800 has a switch for Auto Focus or Manual Focus only. To switch between the different autofocus systems you press a small button on the switch itself and turn the command dial to switch between AF-S and AF-C, the sub command dial then changes the number of auto-focus points between 11, 21, 51, 3d tracking etc. It’s a good system once you are used to it and means you don’t have to take your eye from the view finder whilst toggling between auto-focus options. I don’t have a problem with the D3’s switched method, but the D800 system works equally well.

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I was very pleasantly surprised by the D800 low light / high ISO performance also. Certainly on a par with my D3 which was surprising in a way but if you re-size images from there native 36.3 dimensions down to a 12.3 (D3 size) image you can clean up any noise very nicely indeed. And that’s one of the major benefits of starting with so many pixels in the first place, the cropping ability in your images is fantastic. I personally would still argue to get the composition right in the first place to minimise any cropping but again with a file size of 7360 x 4912 pixels then the cropping potential with minimal loss of quality in your final image is fantastic.

I would summarise by saying the D800 is a photographers camera, I don’t think it will be for everyone and I think some may be dissapointed with the results unless they tune their technique in taking photos and add some decent glass to your kit bag. And that’s my only negative really – the potential ongoing costs of owning a D800!! You’ll need a decent computer to process your files, you’ll need large CF and SD cards if you want a lot of images (I’ve got a 32GB Sandisk in mine with lossless compressed NEF files giving me just over 500 images to shoot), you’ll need some very good lenses attached to resolve all of that detail to the 36.3MP sensor and you’ll need to work at your technique. Do that and you’ll have a immense tool at your disposal, respect it and use it correctly and you’ll also get some immense photos out of it.

I love it.

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