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Nikon D800/D800E Review

Nikon D800/D800E Review
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Review / 07/24/2014
Author: Photoleet avatarPhotoleet
recommendations 1, rating 4


 

BODY

 

Nikon retained its recognizable design even on its newest camera. At first glance, the D800(E) is very similar to the D700:

 

 

Expected for the class to which it belongs, the body of 146 x 123 x 82mm and 900 g is made of a magnesium alloy. As one can see from the figures, the body is somewhat smaller than that of the D700 and in spite of that it is hardly noticeable with an unaided eye, the difference is really obvious when you hold the camera, especially if you are used to the D700. The thing that we think could have been better is the depth of the handgrip that is slightly smaller than it is desirable, and holding the camera for a long time, especially with a bulkier lens, can be tiring.

More than one fourth of the body structure is made of magnesium:

 

Magnesium Body of the Nikon D800(E)*

 

In practice, magnesium construction is directly responsible for the robustness that is a trait of the body like the D800(E), and it is credited for the extreme sealing up of the camera, which ensures functionality of the camera even in bad atmospheric conditions, be it precipitation or a high dust level. Sealing points can be seen in the chart below:

 

Schematic Representation of Sealing Points and Joints in the D800(E)*

 

Bear in mind that sealed up does not mean “water proof”, but only limited protection from unfavorable weather conditions! To complete the story about stamina, Nikon provided a curtain rated for incredible 200.000 shots, which is above standard for this class. Commendable!

Nikon’s persistence on compatibility with all lenses in F-bayonet design often serves as something that makes the company proud. However, sometimes this persistence creates a kind of confusion concerning certain combinations, so, for concrete body-lens combination one should consult the original user manual (English/Serbian). Simple listing would not be appropriate here, and a detailed plunging into the matter is far beyond the scope of this test. It is important to mention that only gama PC-E (tilt/shift) lens is not completely supported and that is exactly in the tilt/shift correction segment, just like with previous models adorned with a 35mm (full-frame) sensor. The reason for that is collision of the rear lens element with a mirror mechanism, and one should be careful in any experiments with this kind of lens!

 

SENSOR, PROCESSOR, AND FEW MORE THINGS

 

Not once would we begin this part of the test with “the greatest impression leaves the sensor...” And in order to preserve the tradition, Nikon presented a device with convincingly highest resolution on the market of small-format DSLRs, and the exclusive one is a part of the D800(E) model! We are already used to a higher resolution of every subsequent model. That is some kind of an unwritten rule. However, this resolution jump is much more of a usual evolutionary step and it totals 36 MP! It sounds pretty unbelievable, considering the fact that the first next candidate (Nikon D3x, i.e. Sony A850) has a “sensor of mere” 24 MP!

The new sensor of 36 MP (to be precise – 7360 x 4921 pixels) is an additional product of Nikon’s development, though it was undoubtedly manufactured in Sony’s manufacturing plants, like many times before. It is a full 35mm format sensor (so-called full-frame; hereinafter: FF), whose exact dimensions are 35.9 x 24mm, and FOV (Field-of-view) factor of 1.0x, which means that the lens attached to this camera has exactly the range and projection, as it was envisaged, or listed in their specifications.

 

Record Holder – the New 36.3 MP CMOS

 

Relatively reserved basic ISO range is announcing only average low-light performance, and it starts at 100 and reaches a maximum of ISO 6400. Software-expanded values include unusually low sensitivity for Nikon – ISO 50 (L1.0), ISO 64 (L.0.7) and ISO 80 (L0.3), just like the values of high sensitivity: 8000 (H0.3), 10000 (H0.7), 12800 (H1.0) and 25600 (H2.0). Now a standard 14-bit A/D converter provides a wide dynamic range and vivid colors, which is especially important to keep body of this class that is intended for high-end use.

It is widely known that the majority of classic DSLRs have sensors with Low-pass filter, i.e. a filter responsible for Anti-aliasing, a special way of softening the projection of light onto the sensor itself, which eliminates some negative traits of the so-called “Bayer” sensors, which form a final image by combining information from separate color (R-G-B) cells. This leads us to the one and only difference between a regular D800 and a D800E version. Although before of the premier of the D800 model, and even after it, there were rumors about the two versions of the camera, one that employs a standard AA (Low-Pass/Anti-aliasing) filter and the other that does not have one, the thing is, in fact, about one rather unconventional solution. Namely, a standard D800 incorporates a classic “sandwich” of filters, which includes a dual Low-pass filter, polarizing and IR absorbing glass.

 

Structure of the D800 Filter System*

 

D800E filter system is technically slightly different. Low-pass filters are still present, though there is no dual separating effect but annulling of the initial function. As the LP filter is necessary, because of the protection of the sensor, and because of the filtering of a part of the unwanted light specter and mild reduction of “jagged” transitions, the first phase of separating is still present, and it is performed in vertical direction. The two beams are then transmitted through the optical glass (basically, that is a “regular” glass of high homogeneity and light permeability) and get filtered from IR specter and then the next time they go through the LP filter, instead of a repeated separating, a combining of previously separated beams is conducted, so that the final effect is one beam that is transmitted to the sensor. This system provides greater sharpness that sensor draws from the lens, but with a few by-products. In the first place, with an increased moiré effect that can be seen on homogenous textures of great density (fabric, different types of hatching, etc.) and then even (at least theoretically) partial problems with reproduction of some color tones might occur. In some cases, due to the presence of the optical filter in a “sandwich”, mildly intensified reflection effects might occur, if there are such motifs in the frame. How effective this system is, time will tell. However, this solution places customers in a completely unexpected dilemma – a choice between two versions of a top-notch camera, both of them with its small virtues and drawbacks, when there is no time for weighing. “Sweet torments”, one would say, and for many, that will be no less than pure damnation – whichever you choose, you will find something, even for a bit, more interesting on the other version. In any case, this will be a real discussion topic in the next few months.

Signal processing has been entrusted to Nikon’s newest Expeed3 processor, successor of recently presented version 2 that first appeared on the models D3100 and D7000. Obvious craving for speed and competence to cope with the growing appetite of the new model, and all subsequent, too, forced Nikon to revise CPU question in record time. And that is not strange, considering the fact that it must be capable of accepting and sending ~145 megapixels through memory controller, on its own. Of course, speed is not the only reason for the development of the new processor. Under pressure by aggressive actions of competitive companies, Nikon is trying to get back on track, so that the D800(E) will probably be the most serious attempt of conquering this segment of the market. In favor of that are the specifications supported by the very new Expeed processor.

 

Very Quick – Nikon Expeed3*

 

For years, Nikon cameras have a vibrating dust reduction system, embodied in the technology named “Integrated Dust Reduction System”. The system works similarly to the solutions applied in cameras of other manufacturers, and it relies on vibrations of differently charged surfaces and the “low-pass” filter, and dust is shaken away with piezoelectric vibrations. Nikon’s solution vibrates at four different frequencies, with which it effectively affects dust particles of various sizes. Unless customized otherwise, cleaning activates every time the camera is turned on/off. Additionally, it can be activated while you use the camera. The long-term presence of self-cleaning systems in more or less all modern DSLRs shows that this system helps cleaning up the sensor, and not only the sensor, it can be combined with “Image Dust-off” option of software dust removal which, with the help of the Nikon Capture NX2 application, maps the remaining dust particles and removes them from photos.

 

Proven Effective – Nikon Integrated Dust Reduction System*

 

Light metering has been upgraded with a new sensor, in charge of metering the exposure, and the power of the flash in i-TTL mode. Light meter sensor has as much as 91.000 pixels capable of interpreting information through all three color channels and in that way measure, apart from the level of illumination, color balance and tonality, too. Withal, priority will be given to skin tones, which guarantees much more precise metering in critical conditions. Mutual communication between the light metering system and autofocus system is crucial for already famous capacity of tracking target in the frame by giving priority based on the identification of the coloring.

There are still three metering modes, and a special accent is put on “3D Color Matrix metering II”. This mode performs metering using all three color channels, sampling incident light from the whole sensor, after which it draws an average, taking into account tonality, presence of colors, and, in combination with D and G lenses, the distance on which light is measured, with which the desired part of the frame gets the “mass center” in determining the correct exposure. The novelty is giving priority to faces in the frame, which is the first time that face-detection, though somewhat altered in relation to the focus mode in live-view mode, is implemented in phase focus system. In combination with the so-called “non-CPU” lenses (lenses without the accompanying electronics), this metering is available only in its basic version (without a prefix “3D”) and if you enter the relevant information about the lens connected. Center-weighted metering also measures the whole scene, but with the accent on the middle part of the frame, which is why it is favorite in shooting portraits. For complete functionality, it also demands usage of modern lenses, when the diameter of the metering zone can be adjusted according to your needs (ø8, ø12, ø15 and ø20mm; or an average value of the whole frame), and if you use an old lens without electronics, the default metering zone is 12mm in diameter. The last metering mode is Spot. This mode places an accent to a very narrow circle of 4mm in diameter (1.5% of the frame area) with a center at the currently chosen focal point, which is why it is used in situations where one has to determine the correct exposure of the focused subject, regardless of the exposure of the rest of the frame. When used with “non-CPU” lenses, it works only on the focal point.

In case that a photographer prefers certain corrections in light metering, there is a Fine tune optimal exposure option in Custom functions, which can perform additional “calibration” of the light meter according to photographers preferences and for every metering mode respectively, in steps of 1/6 stops. After such a correction, with which you constantly correct the obtained measures for a certain value, and which should not be changed for a custom exposure compensation, metering becomes permanently “changed” for a preferred value, so that it is not recorded in EXIF structure, nor annulled with system reset. Of course, it can be restored to the default value at any time, if there is a need for that. Very convenient option, especially if you do not fancy the way Nikon understands the correct metering.

 

The New TTL 91K-pixel RGB Light Measurement Sensor*

 

Already standard function in this class of Nikon’s cameras is the “virtual horizon”, intended for easier leveling of the camera in relation to the horizon, and that helps photographers avoid the centuries old problem – “photo leakage”. Advantage in relation to the “stick/rope” methods, with various spirit levels and other systems for leveling, lies in permanent presence before photographer’s eyes, both through the viewfinder and the main display. Virtual horizon function is implemented in two axes, regardless of the orientation of the camera, meaning that it will assist in leveling the unwanted inclination both on horizontal and vertical axis, irrespective of camera’s position. The following illustrations present the virtual horizon as seen in the viewfinder and on the main display in live view mode:

 

Virtual Horizon, Camera Leveling Function at Work – Inside the Viewfinder (left) and on the Main Display (right)

 

AUTO-FOCUS

 

Multi-CAM3500X autofocus system, which dates since the first Nikon 35mm DSLR model D3, remained more-or-less intact. Honestly speaking, there are no real reasons for anything more than what is offered, because we are talking about a top-notch autofocus system. It has 51 AF points, 15 of which are cross-type (sensitive horizontally and vertically) to the aperture of minimum f/5.6. With lenses of light power lower than 5.6 (more precisely from f/5.6 to f/8) 9 cross points will be available and three horizontal points on both lateral sides, while the focal point on f/8 is a cross-type, and a total of 10 peripheral points (one up/down and 4 laterally) are active only on horizontal axis. No matter how confusing all of this sounds, in practice, it allows pretty flexible teleconverter/lens combinations that can save a lot of money for too expensive lenses with great light power. It has upgraded light conditions in which it can work (like D4 with which the D800(E) shares the new revision of the AF system) and it covers from -2 to +19EV (earlier was from -1). Like all Nikon’s bodies from middle and high class, the D800(E) features an internal engine which can be used, via a special “screwdriver” on the bayonet, to push the autofocus on old AF lenses which do not have their own engine like newer AF-S models. There is still support for manual lenses with electronics that will, after the entry of appropriate parameters in the fields specified for that, have a rangefinder function for a more precise manual focusing.

 

Revamped Multi-CAM3500FX TTL AF Module with 51 Points, 15 of which are Cross-type*

 

51 AF points cover the most important part of the frame, and their number for manual selection can be restricted to only 11. Position of all points in both configurations, and the position of cross-type points in relation to the maximal aperture, can be seen on the illustration below:

 

A representation of the Position of 51 or 11 Points, and 15 Cross-type Points

 

There are three modes of focusing and they are standard for Nikon cameras: AF-S (Single-Servo AF) is the most frequently used mode which is used for one-time focusing, with a previously set point or set of points, while AF-C (Continuous-Servo AF) mode which is used for permanent correction in relation to the subject, i.e. its distance and position opposed to the selected AF point or group of points, and as such – serves for tracking a subject in motion. Apart from these autofocus modes, there is also manual focusing, supported by an integrated rangefinder whose services help a more precise manual focusing, and it is active on apertures of f/5.6 and bigger, of course – on any out of 51 AF points that can be selected.

There are four autofocus modes that are used in combination with the mentioned AF modes. They refer to the number, and type of selection, of AF points. Single-point AF is the most basic form of the focus, but traditionally the least reliable, because the photographer maintains a complete control of the moment of focusing and of the selected point. It is available in both focusing modes:

 

Single-point AF, Focusing with One Point Selected

 

The second mode, Dynamic-area AF, represents a way of focusing mainly intended for tracking of a subject in motion, when the accent stays on a previously selected point, and other points help in recognition and keeping the focus on the selected object. Using is intended for servo mode of continuous focusing (AF-C), while it is unavailable in Single-servo (AF-S) mode. Depending on the conditions, i.e. the complexity of the motion of the subject, you can opt for one of the three sub-options. They represent the possibility of selecting automated focusing by using all 51 points, by reduction to only 21 or as much as only 9 points. A group of 9 points is intended for use when it is difficult to maintain one focus point (in Single-point mode) usually on a small subject that is moving relatively quickly, but still predictable:

 

Dynamic-area AF, Focus Area with 9 AF Points

 

21 points will be more convenient for tracking a less predictable motion of the subject, but with the drawback of reduced accuracy, because the AF system will not always make a good estimate of the necessary distance:

 

Dynamic-area AF, Focus Area with 21 AF Points

 

A variant with 51 points is intended for situations in which there is a need for tracking extremely quick objects that cannot be maintained in the same part of the frame:

 

Dynamic-area AF, Focus Area with 51 AF Points

 

In practice, only the last variant of the Dynamic-area mode shows visible oscillations and that is even natural to expect, because the three-dimensionalism of the followed subjects prevents the AF to determine the necessary distance more precisely. On narrow apertures (f/5.6-f/8 and less) inaccuracy will be less obvious, due to the deeper field of depth sharpness (DOF), while wider apertures will more frequently be troubled by inadequate maintaining of the initial AF point on the subject. 

3D-Tracking is the most complex autofocus mode, because it involves a maximum “concentration” of the two key systems in the camera – autofocus and light metering. It is about a focus mode with which, after an initial selecting the subject, the subject (in all three axes) is followed in the frame with an automatic change of the active AF point, as long as the object is reflected inside the marked focus area. Coordination is permanently performed between AF sensor and light measurement sensor, which analyses tonality, color and illumination of the selected subject, and based on the data received, it informs the AF system of the position of the subject and predicts the motion. Unless the object, due to the photographer’s late action, temporarily “leaves” the focus area, all that should be done is to repeat the selection of the subject. As expected, 3D-Tracking is available only in continuous tracking mode (AF-C):

 

3D-Tracking, auto tracking of a target in space, by dynamic change of points

 

Although it appears that this is too big a bite for today’s cameras, 3D-Tracking in some situations manages to keep the focus quite well on the selected subject, which in some cases may produce much better compositional freedom, otherwise far restricted when we talk about action photography. Especially because of the way of focusing demands a minimal need for tracking the subject by moving the camera, all the way until it is in the “eyes” of the focus area. 

The last mode of focusing is in fact the first one offered, if we consider the fact that all manufacturers, without exception, make it the default mode – Auto-area AF is a true example of what happens when a camera tries to “think“, in order to select a subject on his own. That usually involves the closest object in the frame, i.e. the subject, if the light meter detects the skin tone. It is available in all focus modes. In Auto-servo mode, it places the focus according to the target selected on its own, and after a possible change of the distance, it switches to a kind of 3D-tracking, but the followed target is usually far from the photographer’s preferences:

 

Auto-area AF, completely automatic selection with all AF points

 

A group of options in relation to the autofocus offers a couple of usual items. AF Fine Tune, an option used for fine calibration of the focus for 12 lenses, in ±20 steps. Understandable, calibration is allowed only for lenses with a corresponding electronics support (because of the recognition by the camera), individually for every single lens or globally for the whole camera. A convenient possibility that is rarely used, but can be very important in cases of minor problems with the focus, that will free the owner from visiting a service.

One option for additional adjustment of the AF to the needs of the photographer is Focus Tracking with Lock-On. With it, you can set the reaction speed of the autofocus to the change of distance of the selected object in five steps, when AF-C focus mode is selected. The highest level (5) makes the longest pause between two corrections of the focus (for example, in case you are following a target in whose direction there are frequently unwanted objects which should be ignored by the AF), while the lowest level (1) often makes corrections of the distance. This option can be completely turned off, when the corrections are done instantaneously, without a pause, which will be used most in shooting very dynamic scenes, when quick corrections are key to a good result. 

A usual companion of the AF system of Nikon cameras is a solid AF-Assist lamp whose illumination helps sharpening in low-light conditions. Its intensity and effect cannot be compared to the AF-assist lamp of an external flash, but it will get the job done in most situations with which a camera can deal with without additional lighting. At least as long as you hold on to the central AF point, because that is the only point covered by the AF-Assist illuminator, due to a very narrow beam it emits.

As with other cameras with complex auto-focus system, it is recommended to read through the way it works, and especially every mode respectively, even if you do not need some of them. This does not guarantee a complete success, but it frees you from searching through the menus trying to find the cause of missed focus on your photos, and it can drastically shorten the adjustment period to the new body.

 

VIEWFINDER

 

The viewfinder is upgraded in relation to the D700 and now it covers 100% of the frame. It is based on a pentaprism, it has a very bright projection, and the sense of greatness is in range of other full-frame (35mm; hereinafter „FF“) DSLR cameras. It magnification rate of 0.70x, and the pentaprism, a standard solution for this class, gives a pretty bright projection. Eyepoint, i.e. the greatest distance of the eye from the viewfinder that allows you to see a complete scene, is only 17 mm, which could be a problem for those with spectacles because of the too shallow rubber ring on Nikon cameras of this class. Speaking of spectacles, it is important to mention that the dioptric adjustment of the viewfinder can be set in range from -3 to +1, with a scroll on its right side. 

As for the display, Nikon for years offers a transparent LCD film in the viewfinder that projects the AF points to the viewfinder depending on the focus operation and focus points selection. There is also the additional frame grid, and the border lines of the frame, for every of the predefined formats (except for the standard 36x24 3:2 aspect ratio, there is also 30x24, 4:4 aspect ratio, and 1.2x and 1.5 crop (DX), both in 3:2 aspect ratio). It is too bad the formats smaller than FX do not blur the area outside the frame, which could increase visibility and ease the composing, but it is commendable that there is a possibility of working in smaller formats at all. In the viewfinder itself, accurate markers of electronic leveling for both axes are also projected. Of course, a necessary part of the display is also all shooting parameters, placed in a usual position, below the projection of the frame. The look of all that is presented in the following illustration:

 

Viewfinder of the Nikon D800(E)

 

Available parameters include a wide range of information, which will be toggled in some cases, due to the inability to have all of them displayed at the same time. From left to right, they are: focus confirmation indicator with rangefinder markers; indicator of currently selected metering mode; indicator of exposure lock AE-Lock; indicator of locked flash value metering FV-Loc; indicator of locked exposure; indicator of flash synchronization; exposure time; indicator of locked aperture; aperture and indicator of a Non-CPU lens; shooting mode; light meter scale of ±2EV range; indicator of flash power compensation; indicator of exposure compensation; empty battery indicator; bracketing indicator; ISO value and Auto-ISO indicator and the number of shots left. Along with these, the viewfinder will display information on buffer availability, current shooting mode, autofocus mode, etc.

 

CONTROLS AND OTHER DETAILS

 

Button layout of the D800(E) for the most part fits to what we are used to when it comes to Nikon, whether in terms of their performance, or their position on the body. Of course, some of the changes are welcome, while others could have been designed better. Generally, it is noticeable that the contours of the D800 are more rounded than those of the D700, and the inconsistency of the redesign can be seen on the handgrip itself, which has noticeably sharper lines and thus – it is a bit more uncomfortable in hand.

 

 

On the front, differences in relation to the D700 are minimal. Far on the left, just above the handgrip, there is a front control dial, which controls the basic parameters such as exposure and aperture, but also has many other functions, when used in combination with other buttons on the body. The space between the handgrip and the bayonet is geared with an AF-assist illuminator, which helps with focusing in low-light conditions, signals the delayed shutter release, and reduces the unwanted red-eye effect on photos taken with the use of flash. Next to the bayonet are two function keys, which can be assigned a function from a list of predefined options. 

The right hand side is also very similar to previous cameras. All the way up, on the side of the viewfinder’s prism, is a flash pop-up button, and just below it is the button for setting the flash mode, and its power compensation. Close by is the built-in microphone, and two connectors, hidden under a double rubber cover. The upper one is a PC-Sync connector for attaching external lightning; while the lower one is a ten-pin connector for the remote shutter release or GPS module for geotagging. Next to the bayonet is a familiar lens release button used for detaching the lens from the body, and slightly below is the autofocus mode selector, and there is a complaint on it, given by long-time users of high-end Nikon DSLRs. It is about the implementation of autofocus mode selection, modeled on the solution seen on the D7000, where instead of a separate, multi-positional mode selector and just the same mode selector, there is only one lever (near the bayonet) and the associated key which, in combination with the front/back control dial, switches the focus operation and focus points selection. Time will tell how wise this decision of the designers was, but as the D800(E) stands as a device used relatively slowly and without any rush, we think that this step back will not be crucial for usability in real conditions.

 

 

Situation on the upper side is relatively the same. Dominant position on the middle of the body is taken by the flash shoe and built-in flash in front of it, while on the left hand side there is a shutter release mode dial with the following positions: S (Single frame), two burst modes (the slower one, Continuous Low-Speed, CL, which allows adjustment of the number of frames; and the faster one, Continuous High-speed, CH, which releases at a maximum speed). There is also a Quiet Shutter Release (Q), which generates much quieter release because the mirror returns to its original position only after the shutter is released. Self-timer is a mode known to everyone, used for delayed shutter release, and it can be set by the appropriate menu option. The last mode is Mirror-Up (Mup), and it refers to a special shutter release mode intended for minimal shaking of the camera, in situations when that is crucial (very long (Bulb) exposure). A bit ahead of the release mode dial there is its associated key used for disabling unintentional changes of mode – in order to change the mode you need to press this key and turn the dial simultaneously. There are four commands in the centre of the dial: White Balance (WB), for setting the white balance; Quality (Qual), for selection of format and image quality; Bracketing (Bkt), which enables the function of successive release with different settings in a specific time span, and ISO key, whose label speaks for itself. Now, you can have a direct access to Auto-ISO function, using the control dial, without entering the system menu, except when you need to redefine its parameters.

The right hand side is dominated by a status display (Nikon named it Control Panel). It is a monochromatic, segmented, green-lit LCD display, which shows a set of the most important and some less important parameters, as long as the camera is turned on. The set of information is changing, and some change dynamically, with the activation of certain functions, so that you can change a great portion of options, without rummaging through the camera’s system menu. The parameters are: photo mode; synchronization indicator; exposure time; exposure or flash power compensation; ±3EV light meter scale; locked exposure indicator; locked aperture indicator; aperture; format and image quality; intervalometer indicator; presence of a GPS module; bracketing indicator; memory card status and currently active slot; flash mode; autofocus mode; HDR indicator; ISO values and Auto-ISO indicator; battery status; white balance and many other parameters which appear with the activation of some of the functions:

 

Status Display of the D800(E)

 

There are several buttons in front of the status display. The most important one, a two-step shutter button, is on the most protruded part of the handgrip, and, usual for Nikon, it shares its position with a rotary on/off switch, and the activation of backlight on the status display. There are three more keys between the status display and the shutter button: Mode, which, combined with the back control dial, selects one of the all-together four basic shooting modes: Manual (M), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter priority (S) and Programmed Auto (P). Maybe some would disagree, but we welcome the decision to free advanced users, to whom this camera is intended, from unnecessary scene modes, which only cause confusion, and are rarely used. Next to the Mode button, there is a (unfortunately) unprogramed key to start/stop video recording. Why did people in Nikon decide to enable different mapping, is less relevant. Nevertheless, it is a pity that users uninterested in this aspect cannot use the button for something more important to them. The last button on this part of the camera is the exposure compensation button, regardless of the shooting mode. A combined, prolonged press of the keys marked with a green dot (Qual and exposure compensation keys), initiates a reset to factory settings, so if a need arises, this shortcut will save you from rummaging through the system menu.

 

 

The back side of the camera has not changed much. The central position is still reserved for the main display, while control buttons occupy the space around it. On the left hand side, next to the viewfinder, there are Play and. Erase buttons, used for displaying and erasing photos, respectively. The red “format” tag next to the Erase button indicates that it can be used, with the help of the identically labeled key on the top of the camera (Mode), as a shortcut for quick formatting of the memory card. Next to the rubber ring of the viewfinder, there is a small lever, used to close the eyepiece mechanically, which prevents the influence of environment factors on the efficiency of the light meter sensor, which is a very useful thing for all situations when you shoot with the use of a tripod. On the left of the main display is a set of five buttons: Menu, for accessing the system menu; Lock, for protecting images from unintentional shooting and activation of the implemented help; the next two buttons are used to zoom in/out images in the live-view mode, i.e. in preview mode, and the last one, OK button, is used for confirming the selection. The situation on the right hand side is visually similar to the D700 model, with a few exceptions.

 

 

On the right of the viewfinder is an AE-L/AF-L button used to lock exposure time or flash power on the currently measured value, and its base boasts a three-stage light metering dial, which we reproach for a lumpish design. On its right is an AF-ON button for focusing without the use of the main shutter, and its function can be changed at will. On the top right is a back control dial, whose function was described earlier. On the right of the display is an eight-directional button for moving through the system menu and selection of the active AF point, or AF area, while its center boasts an unmarked button used to confirm the selection or select the central AF point. A two-stage lever tagged with the letter “L”, placed at the base of the eight-directional cursor button, can be used to lock the currently selected AF point in order to prevent unwanted changes. A bit beneath is a replacement of the former lever used for autofocus mode selection, which this time serves for switching between the photo and video mode. A button in the middle of it is used to activate the live-view mode. Below this button is an Info button for activating Information Display feature that turns the main display into a status display.

 

MEMORY

 

A trend of implementing two memory slots has not bypassed the D800(E). As opposed to the D4 model announced a month earlier, the D800(E) does not support the newest XQD card standard, and instead of that, Nikon has chosen to provide support for the two most popular standards, in the form of Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) memory slots. CF slots support Compact Flash Type I cards, regardless of the speed, while Type II and Microdrive are not supported. Secure Digital support encompasses all versions and subversions, from the oldest SD, to SDHC and SDXC cards. Support is provided for the more and more popular Eye-Fi cards, which provide a wireless transfer of images on compatible (Wi-Fi) devices.

Slots are equal in status, and the management of their space can be set so that the other slot starts being used only after the first one is completely full, next, designate one card to store RAW files and the other JPEGs, or to use both of them simultaneously and save the same images (regardless of format and quality) on both cards, which provides you with instant backup. In addition, video recordings can be directed to slot 2, and the recorded material copied from one to the other card at will.

Physically, the slot is, as usual, placed on the side of the handgrip, and the cover is solid, supported by a spring that tightens it and provides reliability even after a longer period of active use.

 

Compartment of CF and SD Memory Slots

 

This brings us to a potentially great problem that follows such a high-resolution sensor. The demand concerning the space of the memory cards is almost monstrous. If we say that a RAW file on the D800 averagely requires more space than a file from a great majority of medium-format cameras, we will definitely not make a mistake! The average size of a RAW file (NEF; 14-bit) ranges from 25 MB for a compressed 12-bit, to as much as 75 MB for an uncompressed 14-bit NEF (!), while JPEG ranges from 12 and up to 20 MB, depending on the shooting conditions and scene content. This means that a typical backpack with photo equipment with the D800 camera will need much more gigabytes than it was usual. For example, shooting with maximum resolution and maximum quality (14-bit uncompressed NEF, i.e. Fine JPEG), you will be able to use a 16 GB card and, on average, pack it with ~220 RAW, ~650 JPEG, ~140 TIFF or~180 RAW+JPEG combined. Opting for more economical formats, like Lossless NEFs (compression without affecting quality), can provide somewhat more space, and that will enable the card to receive around 400RAW, or 300 RAW+JPEG combined. If you shoot in DX (1.5x crop) mode, files are, on average, twice smaller.

Regardless of the relatively low cost of the storage capacity for archiving (if we disregard the unfavorable conditions in the last few months due to floods in Thailand, where the largest capacities of magnet media lie), and the accessibility in the form of memory cards, we must admit that after this calculation, mathematics to a carefree work does not seem quite simple. Especially because Nikon itself announced the incompatibility with a number of inexpensive Compact Flash memory cards, which often cause CardError warning. This is why it is recommended to stick to the certified cards list, found on page 435 of the official user manual in English. For example, when combined with very popular and usually very reliable Kingstone Elite cards, the camera often reports this warning, without any particular rule. Sometimes the whole card can be packed without a single error; other times you would need to turn the camera off and on several times. Luckily, photographs taken until the report of the error (except for the one taken at the moment the error was reported) will remain unharmed. At the same time, the incidence of problems in the SD slot is minimal, and we would say that even the cheapest possible card (virtually unknown brands) work just fine. What it is really about, we cannot tell, and until the close of this test, the D800(E) has not been upgraded with any firmware that would improve the compatibility of the memory controller with more CF cards, so this question requires additional attention.

As for the video, recommended CF cards are those with speed of 40x and more, i.e. a minimum SDHC class 6 (maximum transfer in range of ~6MB/s), due to the speed necessary to maintain the sufficient frame rate at maximum quality. In practice, you should not go for any with the speed less than 66x, i.e. SDHC class 10. A 16 GB card can be packed with approximately 90mm of maximum quality video material (full HD; 1080p – 1920x1080 @30fps); and the limit on an individual recording is 4 GB, due to the limit imposed by FAT32 file system. The “weight” of video material depends on the conditions, so that the video recorded in low-light conditions and with more details will require up to 30% more storage space.

 

BATTERY

 

The battery is, for a change, familiar from earlier. It is named EN-EL15, and we saw it for the first time when the D7000 was presented. Is it about solidarity with the customers, or just a result of a more strict environmental policies imposed by the respectable EU market, is less important. Anyway, these batteries are easily found, which is very important when you need a spare battery or a new battery grip. It is a 1900 mAh Li-Ion battery, and smart characteristics marks that there is an associated electronics that identifies the battery in camera and monitors its “life span”. Monitoring the battery’s status from charge to charge includes information on the current charge level of the battery expressed in percents, and the information in six levels on the camera’s status display.

 

MH-25 Charger with EN-EL15 Li-Ion “Smart” Battery

 

According to CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) standards, autonomy ensures a solid 900 shots, with a usual use of display and a sporadic use of pop-up flash. In real use, which includes different temperature and light conditions, a combined use of Live View and a lot of navigating through the menus, as well as lenses with and without stabilization, with and without its own AF engine, battery provided the declared number of shots. In controlled conditions (restricted use of display and LV mode, as well as the built-in flash), you can boost the autonomy up to, and beyond, 1000 shots. The situation in video mode is a bit more complex, in the first place due to the intensive use of the main display, and the sensor that is constantly active. If you turn on optic stabilization, the situation gets even worse. In practice, with intensive use, the battery will go through roughly 90 minutes of shooting, which is pretty good and even matches the capacity provided by a 16 GB of memory. 

 

CONNECTORS

 

The left hand side of the body is reserved for connectors. As usual, they are hidden under a rubber cover. From top to bottom, the photograph below shows: a 3.5mm connector for external, passive stereo microphone; a USB 3.0 compatible connector for connection with PC for transferring images or remote control; a 3.5mm stereo headphone connector, headphones are used to monitor the input; and a type C HDMI connector which can be used to transfer video signal to a compatible external display. When the camera is connected with a TV device with HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronic Control) standard support, you can control the camera in the preview mode with the TV’s remote control. Another specialty offered by the D800(E) is sending uncompressed video signal, which will be explained later.

 

Connectors: Microphone, USB-A/V out combined, headphones and HDMI

 

 

DISPLAY

 

Nikon D4 and D800(E) share the same improved display. A 3.2-inch TFT LCD screen features a relatively standard resolution of 921.000, and that which disappointed us a bit is the 4:3 aspect ratio instead of the 3:2 that would cover the whole screen, in accordance with the format of the sensor. Ambient light sensor will take care of the dynamic adjustment to the working conditions, and if there is no need for that, you can adjust the screen brightness manually, in seven steps. Sharpness and viewing angle of 170° are averagely high, and we did not notice any false colors in our tests, despite the rumors that the display of this camera has certain problems with color reproduction.

 

 

For years now, DSLR cameras, even those with a status display on top, can use the main display as a surrogate for status display, though with more information in relation to the original, and what’s more – it allows the interactive control of some parameters. Nikon D800(E) is not an exception. After you activate Information Display, as Nikon calls the tool, you can see all the important information and parameters about the currently used mode, and another touch of the Info button enables the cursor that can be used for moving among the options and their interactive adjustment. This way is much quicker than “diving into” menu options, and especially when using a tripod at the level of your eyes, when you physically cannot see the status display. The display alone can be adjusted to day and night conditions, and it can be set to do it automatically, thanks to the built-in ambient light sensor. In practice, that usually looks like this:

 

Basic Parameters on Information Display, in Day and Night Conditions

 

 

LIVE VIEW

 

With the advent of video on DSLR cameras, the live-view mode (hereinafter, LV) suddenly gained in importance and was soon considered an essential need, rather than a rarely used option for beginners accustomed to compact cameras. For nonprofessionals, this function allows framing with the use of the main display, instead of the viewfinder, and formerly was a favorite usually to lovers of landscape and studio photography.

Unlike Nikon cameras from lower classes, Nikon D800(E) offers LV without limitations. This means that you do not need to deactivate and then reactivate LV in order to change aperture or exposure, everything is done in real time. The changes are instantly seen on the display, including the effects of the chosen exposure time, aperture, ISO values, or White Balance, and only the focusing system is still different in relation to the conventional usage, due to the limit imposed by this function. Instead of a classic Phase Detection Autofocus that uses the dedicated AF sensor, LV sharpening is done by using the software algorithm that measures the contrast between differently colored areas on the image from the main sensor. This system is believed to be accurate but not really quick. Competition from Olympus and Panasonic proved that CDAF can be significantly quicker if the algorithm is done carefully, but the contrast focus is still pretty unusable when we talk about low-light conditions or tracking a subject in motion. Unfortunately, unlike the earlier practice where all cameras from this class boasted a possibility to temporarily use the phase focus in LV mode by pressing the AF-ON button, the situation is different now. This, the so-called handheld mode, placed the mirror into a lower position, initiated the focus plane shift with the AF sensor, and after focus confirmation placed the mirror back to its original position, and with that, the projection from the main sensor to the display. It was probably characterized as a “rarely used option” and that is why it is not the list of options. We are not sure how difficult was to keep this feature, but we reckon some will definitely miss it.

When we are talking about contrast focus, there are two modes available: Single-servo AF (AF-S) for static targets, when focusing, just like with the phase focus, is done at a one time basis; and Full-time Servo (AF-F) which corrects the focus permanently, reacting to any change of the distance of the subject which is under the selected focal area. All our previous tests taught us that one should not expect much from this focus mode, and we have to state that even today the situation is still the same. Archaic hopping of the focus plane whenever it occurs to it that something has moved (though it often has not) is absolutely inacceptable for anything other than occasional entertainment. However, in some cases users will be able to use some of the contrast focus modes offered by D800: Normal-area AF is a classic CDAF mode, with a very narrow focal field which can be moved around the frame using the eight-directional joystick button (a “teeter-totter”); Wide-area AF which is similar to the previous one, but the focal area is significantly wider and it is adapted to frames which do not abound with objects in close vicinity; Face-priority AF is a fad long ago incorporated by many manufacturers and it is an imitation of the focus system of the same name found on compact cameras which “looks for” the faces in the frame based on form and coloring and tries to maintain the focus on them; the last mode is Subject-tracking AF which is a LV version of continuous focus and it constantly tracks a selected subject in the frame, similarly to 3D-tracking focus in the phase mode.

A special treat of LV mode is an extremely precise manual focus system, which allows magnification up to 23 times.

 

Magnification in LV Mode

 

LV mode is packed with a great amount of information and parameters linked to shooting photos and videos, and there is also the live histogram – a graph of light measured in real time, as a kind of aid in determining the correct exposure:

 

Parameters in LV Mode

 

There is also an auxiliary grid pattern that helps with frame composition or leveling according to preferred geometric references, and a graphic display of a virtual horizon:

 

Grid Pattern and Virtual Horizon in LV Mode

 

It is still possible to connect the camera to an external display, be it a big screen TV or an appropriate monitor, and this enables you to send the image from the main display to an external one. This makes the work much more comfortable, especially while using the camera’s dedicated software, like Nikon Camera Control Pro 2. Unfortunately, Nikon does not provide free software for this purpose but you need to buy it which could be a nuisance. 

 

VIDEO

 

After the efforts demonstrated with the D3100 and D7000, Nikon has decided to raise the video segment to an even higher level. Recording is possible at two resolutions of 16:9 and at several frame rates. 1920x1080 (1080p, fullHD) can be recorded at 24, 25 or 30 fps, and the lower 1280x720 (720p) can be used at speeds of 25, 30, 50 or 60 fps, with which Nikon has finally reached its main competitor – Canon. Every recording format is offered in two quality levels – high and normal.

Video encoding is done in MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) format and stored in a MOV container. The length of the recording is for now limited to a rather lengthy 30 minutes per recording, and an average bit rate is around 24 Mbps and it is reached by using B-frames, like the previous Nikon cameras. In this way, a high quality level is maintained without using much storage space and, more importantly, with less gluttony concerning the streaming on the memory controller. Of course, the storage space also depends on the conditions in which the video was recorded, so the videos recorded in low-light conditions will be proportionally larger, when high ISO values reduce the possibility of big compression.

 

 

Audio is recorded at 16 bit and a 44 KHz sample rate, and it is filed uncompressed in Linear-PCM format. Audio recording can be turned off or recorded with the built-in mono microphone whose input signal (sensitivity) can be calibrated continuously (depending on the recording conditions) or set manually in three steps. The use of the built-in microphone, which involves a great number of mechanical processes, provides many “parasitic” sounds undesirable in the recording. Therefore, when there is a need for an audio recording of a greater quality, the external microphone will, with the help of the connector on the camera's side, provide much better recording. To make things even better, Nikon also provided a connector for external sound monitoring, so, with a corresponding stereo headphones, you can control the quality and the level of input signal during recording.

Unlike the intentionally limited controls of previous cameras, the D800 (E) is treated with significantly different realization of LV mode, and as such, it completely removed the barriers with the control of parameters in video mode. This frees you from hardships with deactivating and then re-activating the LV mode just to keep the selected aperture active, and all settings can be done in real time and as such – instantly seen on the main display. Finally!

 

 

Autofocus during recording is not a novelty on Nikon cameras, but, unfortunately – regardless of the months that have passed since the promotion of the function (soon the whole year will pass), its usage value is still on the same, poor level. Just a reminder, the continuous focus mode is named Full-time-servo (AF-F), and it works like this: after you select the initial target, the camera will be trying to maintain the focal plane constantly on it. We say, “will be trying” because after the first few minutes everyone will see that it is still not up to the challenge. Focal plane will be “nervously” corrected every few seconds, and a shift to the wrong side will sometimes unacceptably great, which will render the resulting recording hardly usable. At the time of the promotion of the D3100 and D7000 models we said “well done” for trying, when D5100 was presented we were not thrilled with the lack of any improvement, and today – today we can say that there is an obvious lack of will to make any real progress in this direction. It is a fact that CDAF has some technical limitations that hinder it to achieve something important to hobby-videographers (or professionals in report videography). However, we can then ask what is the point of these futile attempts that neither have usage value nor can be removed from the specifications list? That is why we recommend the prospective owners to depend on their own perception and talent in video mode, and to use the classic manual focus. An adjustment period is inevitable but the results that can ensue are priceless. In some cases, an alternative can be the use of the automatic focus, but before you start recording.

The recorded material allows basic operations such as trimming or cutting individual frames to create a kind of photography. After editing, the new recording can be saved separately on the memory card.

 

FLASH

 

Like the most Nikon DSLRs, the D800(E) has a built-in (pop-up) flash even next to the bigger pentaprism. Its guide number is 12 at ISO 100, and maximum synchronization speed is 1/250. Exceptionally, the camera with the reduced power can synchronize at the speed of even 1/320. The available settings include the moment of shutter release, i.e. the first or the second curtain (flash at the beginning or at the end of exposure, in order for the exposure process to gain as much ambient light as possible). Red-eye reduction is default, just like the so-called  “slow-sync” which involves longer exposure in order to gain more ambient light. 

There are four modes of the built-in flash: i-TTL that, with the help of the light meter, meters the light “through the lens” and allows the most precise flash power metering. i-TTL is the most often used flash mode because it renders great results with relatively little effort. The power can be compensated from -3EV to +1EV, if there is need for that. Manual mode is, as the name implies, completely manual where the power can be set from maximum 1/1 to minimum 1/128 of the total power. Due to the fact that the flash uses a pre-defined power, there is no metering, and no, the so called, pre-flash which is used by the TTL algorithm to calculate the flash power, and that allows you to capture even the external lighting induced by the photocell (Nikon's external flashes with SU-4 mode, older flashes with photocells or studio lighting). Repeating flash is an option often seen in flash control options of contemporary DSLR cameras, although it is used rarely. It fires the flash as a strobe light on a pre-programmed scenario, the power, number and frequency of the flash can be adjusted, and it can be used when, for example, you need to record the trajectory of some object. The last mode is something that distinguishes Nikon for years, the famous Commander mode which is used, with the help of the built-in flash, to control the individual remote flashes or groups of flashes, in one of the three modes.

 

 

Commander mode can control up to two groups of flashes (A and B), with the addition of the built-in flash, and every of them can be set to TTL, Manual or Auto-aperture (AA) control, if it is supported, and it enables the flash to calculate the power on its own while exchanging the information about the aperture with the camera. Each of the groups, and the built-in flash, too, can be turned off, and the pop-up will then send only pre-flash which activates the wireless release, without a significant emission of light. Of course, the most frequently used will be TTL and manual modes, as far the most useful, and unless in terms of groups, Nikon does not state any limitations on account of the total number of controlled flashes, except that the optimal number – that will not cause any problems of mutual interfering – is three. Flash recognition is performed with the same setting up of the commander (built-in flash) and the external flash units, in channels from 1 to 4 (3 is the default value).

Support for external flashes is not i-TTL limited, but it is obvious that, if the maximum usage flexibility without too much effort is wanted, using Nikon’s modern or third party i-TTL compatible flashes is indeed desirable. Also, one should pay attention to the possible support for wireless control through the commander mode, because it would be a shame not to use it.  

As the D800(E) features a PC-Sync connector, common to cameras of this class, external lighting control can be done without the dedicated shutter buttons.

 

GRIP

 

Long work, and especially if you are frequently shooting in vertical position and with massive lenses, can be much more comfortable if you buy a vertical grip. The Nikon D800(E) features a completely new grip, fully named MB-D12 Multi-Power Battery Pack, and its design is in accord with the new body. It is also made of a magnesium alloy that results in its weight, sturdiness and sealment that is the same as on the body.

The new battery grip is a part of the Multi-power variants that means that it is possible to “feed” it with two different combinations. The usual one consists of an EN-EL15 battery, while the MS-D12 cartridge provides space for 8 AA batteries of any standard (alkaline, rechargeable Ni-MH, rechargeable Li-Ion, etc). If we leave out the almost abnormal price compared to similar grips of previous models, the new grip differs from the old ones in the fact that it is not possible to pair it with batteries of high-end cameras (like the D3(x/s) or D4), and gain more autonomy and faster burst mode. Nevertheless, a meager improvement of the speed (though only in DX mode) will this time be provided by any additional power supply, and we can regret only for the significantly cheaper retail price of the old MB-D10 grip.

A much bigger problem is the incomprehensible fact that Nikon insists on the cartridge that can receive only one EN-EL15 battery, although a modification of the design would enable quite comfortable placement of two batteries. To make things even more absurd, the manufacturer imagined that, like in the MBD10 and D11 grips (for the D300/D700 and the D7000), one battery goes into the compartment on the body the other one in the grip so that the charging of the battery requires you to remove the grip, recharge the battery and then replace the grip on the body. A lack of logic that is beyond comment.

 

Nikon MB-D12 Multi-Power Battery Pack, vertical grip*

 

A classic toothed wheel performs tightening of the grip, by twisting into the tripod mount and leveling with the pin on the left hand side. A replacement for the thread on the body is, of course, on the bottom of the grip. As for the buttons, there are two control wheels, a two-stage shutter release button with a switch for turning off the commands on the grip, AF-ON command and an eight-directional joystick for navigation through the menu, manipulation with parameters and selection of the active AF point.

 

SOFTWARE

 

A characteristic system menu is organized similarly to other modern Nikon cameras. Disregarding the user interface (which shows recently used options or My Menu that features options customized by the user), the main menu is divided into five parts:

 

  

 

Basic Menu Pages: Groups Playback, Shooting, Custom Settings, Setup and Retouch

 

SHOOTING RESOLUTION

 

Images can be saved as JPEG, RAW or TIFF files, and in RAW+JPEG combined format. Defining the quality of the images is possible independently from RAW and JPEG file formats. Quality of RAW images (by the way, Nikon NEF version) is possible in two directions. One defines the “depth” of the colored area, and it can be 12-bit or 14-bit, while the other determines the compression ratio. Nikon D800(E) allows RAW recording in the so-called uncompressed quality, which renders the heaviest files and a maximum quality possible, with better performances while editing. Lossless compressed, though compressed, renders recordings without any loss of quality, because it uses a reversible compression algorithm. The resulting file is in that way reduced for roughly 30% (compared to the material from the sensor), and the quality is preserved. The third option of compression does not include the reversible algorithm, so that a bit of the quality is lost beyond retrieving, but it renders a 40-55% smaller file. Unfortunately, as Nikon apparently does not hear the users’ outcries, NEF format still offers only the maximum resolution for every selected format of RAW recording. Until the maximum resolution was in range between 12-16 MP, that was not a problem. However, with 36.3 MP a lower resolution could mean the world in situations that do not require so many details. Nevertheless, it is not all so gloom and doom, at least the smaller projection formats are still available in their adequate resolutions, and FX format with a 5:4 aspect ratio produces the NEF resolution of 30.1 MP (6144 x 4912), 1.2x crop – 25 MP (6144 x 4080), and at 1.5x DX crop it renders 15.3 MP (4800 x 3200)! Almost as the native resolution of the Nikon D7000, which, with the support for DX lenses, gives an answer to the question should the DX body be maintained for some specific purposes.

On the other hand, JPEG is available with a much wider specter of quality options. The largest, FX format at 3:2 aspect ratio, except for the maximal resolution of 36.3 MP (Large; 7360 x 4912), offers also two lower resolutions: Medium at 20.3 MP (5520 x 3680) and Small at 9 MP (3680 x 2456). A bit smaller FX version with 5:4 aspect ratio, except for the maximum resolution of 30.1 MP (6144 x 4912), also offers Medium at 16.9 MP (4608 x 3680) and Small at 7.5 MP (3072 x 2456). 1.2x crop is offered in Large at 25 MP (6144 x 4080), Medium at 14 MP (4608 x 3056), and Small at 6.2 MP (3072 x 2040). The smallest, DX format (1.5x FOV), equivalent to APS-C cameras, is offered in Large at 15.3 MP (4800 x 3200), Medium at 8.6 MP (3600 x 2400) and Small at 3.8 MP (2400 x 1600). Second level of JPEG quality control is in compression priority that can be Optimal Quality, when the accent is put on the better quality, regardless of the size of the resulting file; or Size priority when the accent is on the size of the file, regardless of the quality. There are three defined levels of compression: Fine, Normal, and Basic.

The third and the last format, the uncompressed TIFF, has the same limitations as the RAW format, that is to say – the maximum resolution for the selected format, thus the greatest use of memory, with easier manipulation in post-processing, but limited White Balance correction.

 

CORRECTION OF OPTICAL ANOMALIES

 

The best result, when talking about correction of optical anomalies, is obtained with editing RAW files in special applications. However, as processors have improved and can deal with greater amounts of information in real time, it is very convenient when the camera can help in at least one segment, the correction of optical and/or geometric imperfections. Nikon is famous for quality correction algorithms, and corrections of “barrel” geometric distortions (recommended for G and D class lenses) and chromatic aberrations, too. Correction of chromatic aberrations performs rather well and even the lenses with significant chromatic aberrations are well corrected. It is possible to remove them in post-processing more precisely and with less loss of sharpness, but as such editing is recommended exclusively for RAW format (which is immune to corrections) automatic correction is welcome.

 

ACTIVE D-LIGHTING

 

Active D-Lighting algorithm is one of the first attempts to compensate the lower dynamic range of digital sensor with real-time software correction in camera, during recording, with no need for user intervention, except in defining the level of intervention. Unlike the prescription applied by Canon, with its Auto Lighting Optimizer correction system which intervenes based on areas in shadow, trying to maintain good exposure of contrast scenes, the Active D-Lighting (hereinafter, ADL) is very similar to Shadows/Highlights option in graphics applications, where narrow dynamic range is compensated with enlightening of the shadows, or by darkening of the more exposed parts of the recording, and in that way – bringing into balance. Too high contrast is reduced, but without negative consequences that would be caused by classic reduction of contrast into a negative value. As recommended by Nikon, the ADL is most effective when used in combination with the Matrix mode of light metering. There are four correction levels, and except for them, there is also Auto which is used to automatically determine the needed level, just before the release (except in manual shooting mode when Auto mode acts as Normal). The next example shows the four levels compared to a recording without the ADL turned on:

 

Demonstration of Active D-Lighting Option (from left to right): Off, Low, Normal, High and Extra-high intensity

 

The image above clearly shows the effect of this algorithm on the complete tonality and balance of shadows and the illuminated parties. Its influence will not be equally visible in all situations, and it is conspicuous with high contrasts. There are situations when the ADL is not recommended because the great intensity of illumination the shadows can have negative effects, in terms of color noise and color deformation in darker parts of the image. The same problem appears with the images taken at higher ISO values, and the use of the ADL is disabled at values higher than ISO 6400 (all software Hx.x values). Also, we noticed that in certain situations, just like with the ALO algorithm on Canon cameras, the ADL can be counterproductive and produce, mildly speaking, weird color reproduction, and its application is recommended in cases when RAW+JPEG format is used, because it allows the easiest correction of colors. If needed, one could use bracketing which is offered in combination with the ADL. In that way, the ADL Bracketing will enable shooting a series of photographs, and each will have a different level of the ADL.

In addition to the Active D-Lighting which is being applied in the camera, there is also the D-Lighting which is available in a dedicated software for developing NEF files – (Nikon’s version of RAW files) – Nikon CaptureNX2 (which is, unfortunately, not free), just like in the camera itself, within the options listed on the Retouch page of the system menu…

 

HDR MODE

 

Somewhat different option in relation to the previous one, and it stands for a next level based on the complexity of simultaneous processing, is the HDR (High Dynamic Range). As a term, HDR is familiar for quite some time, because it is the favorite operation in a bit more extreme processing of photographs. According to its definition, the basic purpose of HDR is not a “pumped up” processing which brings tears to your eyes, but dealing with, i.e. control of one of the biggest imperfections of all man-made light receptors in relation to the human eye – the dynamic range. In theory, using the HDR can enable the dynamic range very close to the one in the human eye, so that the extremes (too bright or parties in complete shadow) are brought into balance with the other tones in the scene. This is, in post-processing, done by using at least two images (3-5 are desirable) taken at different exposure lengths, when their best parts merge into one whole, and in that way reach the purpose of the HDR as such. In practice, the HDR is, as we previously mentioned, often used inappropriately, when its effects are emphasized to the extent that the content of the photo is put aside, and the algorithm implemented in the D800(E) seeks the golden mean, when it is possible to achieve moderate or a bit less moderate results with a dosed use. Interestingly, the camera will allow combining the HDR with the Active D-Lighting option and the only limitation is combining the final shot of only two photographs, which is a pity. A comparison of a classic image in relation to a HDR one can be seen below:

 

An Image Taken without the HDR (left) and the Result of the HDR at Maximum (3EV) Exposure Difference (right)

 

As you can see from the picture above, the HDR managed to balance the image so that the parts in shadow look better exposed, and brighter parts are not overexposed. The effect is reached with continuous shooting of two photographs, at different exposure lengths. The difference in exposure length can be set in range from one to three, and an additional parameter – Smoothing (Low, Normal, and High) affects the softening of the edges between the parts taken from different shots and thus makes the resulting photo more convincing. That is why it is recommended to use this function when shooting from a tripod, to ensure better fitting of the frames and avoid the “halo” effect. By the way, using the HDR is conditioned with a very peculiar rule that looks more like a bug than an intention. Namely, using the HDR is limited to JPEG shots, but not in the sense that it is applied only to JPEG (which is logical), but in the sense that it is impossible to use RAW+JPEG, so that the camera also saves the RAW, together with the finished HDR. To make things even more weird, the camera will, if the quality is set to RAW+JPEG combination, warn you that “This option is not available at the current setting or in the camera's current state”, instead to correct the selected recording format on its own, with a due warning. The HDR is also not available when using the flash, in other (bulb) exposures, nor with the active bracketing or multiple exposure function.

 

RETOUCH MENU

 

A special page of the main menu is left for basic retouch operations of the existing shots. It can be accessed by pressing the OK button (lower left angle on the back of the camera), and as much as 19 different options are available, 16 of which are for different types of processing. Except for geometric/optical corrections, like Straighten, Distortion Control, Fisheye and Perspective Control, basic processing provides some color, but also graphically more complex filters. There are Red-eye Correction, Trim, Monochrome, Filter Effects, Color Balance, Image Overlay, Resize, D-Lighting (which we already mentioned in the section about ADL function), Color Outline, Color Sketch, Quick Retouch and Miniature Effect. Aside from those, there is also the NEF (RAW) Processing that is used to convert RAW into JPEG, by parameters given by the user, and the parameters are the same as those applied by the camera during shooting. If there is a need to compare the resulting shot with the existing one, there is the Side-by-side Comparison option, and one of the options, Edit Movie, is designed for basic processing (“cropping”) of the recorded video. Maybe it is not an Adobe Photoshop™, but it is a fine collection of various tools for basic processing which can achieve impressive effects without the shot having to leave the camera.

 

CUSTOM SETTING

 

An integral part of the menus of all high-end Nikon DSLRs is a special Custom Setting section that combines the options specific to a certain part of the operations. This time the section has seven of them (otherwise there is one less), and they are ordered by letters and colors. Autofocus (a), Metering/Exposure (b), Timers/AE-Lock (c), Shooting/Display (d), Bracketing/Flash (e), Controls (f) and Movie (g). That is practically everything you could ever need, and just like everything else, pressing the Lock/Help (while in the menu), prompts a short description of every single option, which is commendable. Our only remark goes to a bit confusing organization, because of which you will constantly look for some options on the wrong location, and that is contributed by insufficiently clear division of individual sections. Thus, it is possible to open Movie (g) section and finish in Autofocus (a) options, because the scroll is endless and cyclically lists the options of all sections in the package. A quick overview of the available options is presented on the following shots:

 

   

  

Seven sections of Custom Setting segment

 

NON-CPU LENSES SUPPORT

 

The use of lenses that do not have their own electronics and for that reason do not send feedback information about the current aperture and focal length to the camera (because of which the camera is not able to perform the metering), is much easier thanks to this option. It is allowed to memorize parameters for nine lenses, and the entry of focal length and maximum aperture is anticipated. By entering the information about the lens, the external flash will be able to adjust zoom to the current focal length and thus optimize the angle it covers. Apart from that, the information on focal length will be entered in EXIF, and thus available in the preview mode. If maximum aperture is entered as information, it will be available in the presentation of parameters in the viewfinder, and the power of the flash will be adapted, too. In case the both parameters are available, the metering will also be usable, but it is recommended to use Center-weighted or Spot metering. If zoom lenses are used, the change of the focal length will render the entry invalid, and it is necessary to correct it or enter it under a new number.

 

SPEED

 

High resolution of the D800(E) sensor implies the use that does not require too much speed in work, but still – anyone of us can sometimes feel the need for speed, and this camera will not disappoint you when that happens.

Speaking of the burst speed, with a reminder that we are not talking about a reporter-oriented camera, we must say that we are more than satisfied. Apparently frugal 4fps will in most situations be more than enough to shoot some action shots, especially because the buffer capacity will not violate the ease of the use. If you do not use optical corrections, noise reduction and the Active D-Lighting functions, you can expect the camera to maintain the maximum 4fps at the maximum resolution of 36.3 MP for 14-16 RAW, around 15 TIFF or 40-50 JPEG shots in a row. If you use RAW+JPEG, the speed is very similar to the speed of shooting RAW, and the number of shots that will be taken at maximum speed is 12-13. When the buffer has been filled, the camera will continue shooting at a lower speed: ~1fps for RAW, 3fps for JPEG, ~1fps for RAW+JPEG and much slower (below ~1fps) for TIFF files.

The use of 5:4 format, and 1.2x crop does not render significantly better results, but the acceleration is quite noticeable in the DX format. Lower resolution (15.3 MP) allows faster burst. With the whole 5fps (it looks like a negligible gain, but it is not so) the camera will be capable for continuous shooting of 25-28 RAW, 100 JPEG, 20 RAW+JPEG or 18 TIFF shots in a row. After the buffer has been filled, the camera will continue shooting at 3fps in RAW, 2 fps RAW+JPEG, 1fps TIFF, while JPEG will not be able to fill the buffer, and shooting will continue at the maximum speed of 5fps. The manufacturer states that the declared speed for the DX mode, in case of using the grip, increases to as much as 6fps, and if someone finds that relevant – they will know what to buy.

We have not noticed that the speed of writing to the CF slot is different from that to the SD slot, so you should not worry about that while working, as long as the memory cards have satisfactory specifications. As for the use itself, we stated our remark on the redesigned lever and button for autofocus mode and mode selection, which is definitely slower than the system used on the D700, but – we cannot change that. The thing that we did not like at all is the speed in the LV mode. Namely, for no know reason, the camera has a very long lag (order of magnitude of several seconds) after shooting in the LV, which can be tiresome. Why is this so, we did not manage to find out, so if someone plans to use this mode frequently, that could be a problem.