The Nikon D810 does not differ fundamentally from its predecessor as far as its appearance is concerned. The majority of the controls are located where they used to be before, and the external design did not witness any radical improvements. We would be particularly happy if Nikon had devoted some time to redesigning the grip (more precisely, its depth), which would be more than welcome for lighter fieldwork, bearing in mind that the weight of the body is almost 1 kg, yet that is out of the question for now.
With the identical dimensions as before – 146 x 123 x 82 mm – it is very comfortable in one’s hands, yet it is still slightly bulky with its weight of almost 1 kg (more precisely, 920 g with a battery). The body is still made of magnesium alloy, which indicates that a high level of robustness was preserved. At the same time, the D810 is completely sealed, and this property guarantees functionality in all weather conditions. Of course, dipping in water is still out of the question, so for such specific needs, it is necessary to have a dedicated underwater housing.
The arrangement of the controls is, with some exceptions, more or less the same as with the D800(E). Some sundries did not really excite us, but the logic behind them is probably such that the designing team had to change something at all costs so that feeling of freshness would be seen at a single glance. How much this logic is correct, only time will tell, yet we would not agree with it. We will discuss details some time later.
Nikon D810, partial section*
The schematic representation of the sealing points illustrates perfectly how much work was done in order to provide resistance to harsh working condition, no matter whether it is humid atmosphere, rain or dust:
Schematic representation of the sealing points on the D810*
The curtain is estimated at 200,000 actuations on average, which surpasses most of the cameras of this price level. Of course, this does not mean that the curtain will survive this much, but it gives a feeling of reliability. In practice, it can happen that it achieves considerably less, but infrequently a lot more than the stated number of actuations.
Nikon’s persistence concerning compatibility with all F-mount lenses is quite frequently put forward as great pride of this company. However, insisting on that sometimes results in certain confusion over some combinations, so for some concrete body-lens combinations it is necessary to consult the original user manual (available at the penultimate page of the review). Simple enumeration here would not be purposeful, while grappling with that matter in more detail greatly exceeds the boundaries of this review. Unfortunately, the D810 did not apply the innovation that Nikon had introduced with the Df, so expanded compatibility with very old non-AI lenses from the period prior to 1977 is not an option. The reason for that is inability of the tab to overlap, the tab being a building block of the mount of the D810. Nonetheless, it is an open question how much such compatibility would be purposeful on a modern camera, so this piece of information, too, is useful to those who derive pleasure from using old (perhaps, ancient) optics.
As all Nikon cameras of the higher class, the D810 features internal electro-mechanical support for automatic focus on older lenses that do not feature a motor of their own. This means that the camera sports a micro-motor and the so-called screwdriver, by which this function, favorite among many, is fulfilled and, as a result, a possibility of using very old lenses arises.
SENSOR, PROCESSOR, AND A FEW MORE THINGS
The sensor of the D810 is, just as in the case of its predecessor, the trump card of this camera; not only because of the record resolution, which none other 35mm DSLR managed to get close to, but also because of all the additional characteristics, which placed it among the top wonders of technology. Since the D800(E), too, had no rivals concerning this, it was expected that the D810 kept the sensor of the same resolution. It is still a little more than 36 MP (more precisely, 7360 x 4912 pixels), and it is situated on the 35mm format CMOS sensor (the so-called full-frame), with the dimensions 35.9 x 24 mm, out of which the 1.0x FOV (Field-of-View) factor arises, which means that lenses mounted on this camera have exactly that focal length and aperture value that is listed in their characteristics. Since the sensor of the predecessor is also a product by Nikon’s professional team, assembled in Sony’s factories, it should be expected that the situation is the same this time as well. Of course, there is a slight possibility that it this domain some kind of modification was made since it is evident that in the last two years Nikon has made a certain modification when the main cooperators are taken into account.
Contrary to apparent similarities, the official data specified by the manufacturer state that the sensor is not the same as the one that we are familiar with from the D800(E). Allegations that the sensor was taken from the mirrorless Sony A7, or the A7R, is unfounded since the effective resolution is identical, yet the number of photocells on the sensor is somewhat greater than before. The specificity of the Nikon D800(E) was the fact that it was offered in two versions: the ‘regular’ D800 used to feature a sensor with a conventional AA/LP (Anti-Aliasing/Low-Pass) filter, while the D800E used to demonstrate a property that had not been seen until that time – instead of a classic AA filter, the sensor of this camera exhibited a layer of a ‘neutralizing’ AA filter, whose purpose was to increase the amount of details and sharpness, since, in this way, the blur effect that AA filters bring with themselves was eliminated to the greatest extent.
The access to the camera is now much simpler, so instead of a complicated procedure of filtering and canceling filtering, we have only got a sensor that does not feature any optical barriers! The solution that had been bravely offered with the Nikon D7100 turned out to be good enough so that side effects such as too jagged contours or the moiré effect do not represent such a big problem (this can be further debated on), so, as such, it is also offered in this, high, class. Such an epilogue is, we must admit, slightly unexpected since neither the Nikon D600 nor its successor, the D610, offered such a solution.
Improved recorder in its class concerning resolution – new 36.3 MP CMOS*
The native ISO range is something that represents an impressive achievement that has not been seen so far! Contrary to most small format cameras, the Nikon D810 is the first to lower the base sensitivity to below ISO 100! Thus, its ISO range starts from ISO 64 and finishes at ISO 12800. An advantage of 2/3 of a stop at the lower end and a whole stop at the upper end indicate serious changes in light calibration, which will considerably facilitate work of target users when there is too much light or when one needs to maintain image surfaces maximally clear and uniform. Besides, with this ISO range, it is also possible to avoid using degrading ND filters with the aim of achieving longer expositions or using higher stops in strong daylight. For even better results, the Nikon D810 also features extended, obtained by means of software, ISO values, once again at both ends of the scale. The minimum ISO value is ISO 32 (L1.0), and before reaching the base value, ISO 64, there are two more – ISO 40 (L0.7) and ISO 50 (L0.3). The upper part (boosted by means of software) is characterized by L0.3 (ISO 16000), L0.7 (ISO 20000), L1.0 (ISO 25600) and L2.0 (ISO 51200).
The Nikon D810 is treated to the latest offshoot of the central processor – Expeed 4. This processor brings significant improvements in the field of energy economization, which is more than efficiently converted into a superb ratio of economization and better performances. In this way, the D810 corrected those few imperfections that the D800(E) had been criticized for. Enhanced video, some functional innovations and increased operating speed in all segments is something that everyone who has had experience with the predecessor will notice.
Brains of the system - Nikon Expeed4*
The dust reduction system, which has been present for years in Nikon DSLRs, has taken form of the technology labeled Integrated Dust Reduction System. It functions in a similar way as configurations implemented into cameras of other manufacturers, and it includes a combination of oppositely charged surfaces and low-pass filter, from which dust is shaken off by means of piezoelectric vibrations. Nikon’s performance vibrates at four different frequencies, by which it effectively influences dust particles of different shapes and sizes. Unless set differently, cleaning is activated whenever the camera is turned on/off. Moreover, it can be activated additionally at will while the camera is being used. The long-time presence of the self-cleaning system, in more or less all contemporary DSLRs, indicates that this system helps in keeping the sensor clean, and not only the sensor, while it can also be combined with the option of removing dust by means of software, labeled Image Dust-off, which, with the help of the Nikon Capture NX2 application, maps the remaining dust particles and removes them from photographs.
Proven to be effective – Nikon Integrated Dust Reduction System*
Although this is the same light metering sensor as before, the form of metering has been updated to a certain extent. Let's remind that the light metering sensor totals as many as 91,000 pixels, capable of interpreting information through all the three RGB color channels, thus metering, aside from the degree of illumination, color balance and tonality as well. At the same time, the priority will be given to skin tones, which guarantees significantly more accurate metering in critical conditions. The internal communication of the light metering system with the autofocus system is key for the already noted capability of tracking the subject within the frame, by giving priority based on the color identification. The same sensor is also in charge of metering the needed flash power in the i-TTL operating mode.
For the first time, there are four modes of metering, and the most used one (undoubtedly) is still the 3D Color Matrix metering II. This mode performs metering via all the three color channels, by sampling input light from the entire sensor, after which it works out the average, taking into account tonality and presence of colors, while in combination with D and G lenses, the distance at which the light is metered as well, by which the desired part of the frame is placed in charge of determining correct exposure. Giving priority to faces inside the frame is still present (outside the LV mode!), and it seems that now it functions even better. The main effect of this algorithm lies in the ability of the light meter to balance exposure in such a way that it takes into consideration the faces inside the frame, despite the fact that the metering mode is such that it performs metering of the average value of the entire scene. In this way, we easily avoid a situation in which a more strongly lit background takes priority when taking photo of individual or group portraits. Nevertheless, if this way of work causes a disturbance, the dedicated Face-Detection option (paragraph B5 in the Custom section) enables that the 3D Color Matrix metering functions in the classical way. In combination with the so-called non-CPU lenses (lenses without accompanying electronics), this metering is possible to use only in its basic version (without the prefix 3D) and provided that you input relevant information about the mounted lens.
The Center-weighted metering also meters the entire scene, but dedicates 75% of its attention to the central part of the frame, because of which it is favorite when it comes to capturing portraits. For complete functionality, it also demands using more modern lenses, when the metering zone diameter can be adjusted to one’s needs (ø8, ø12, ø15 and ø20mm; or the average value of the entire frame), and if old lenses without electronics are used, the default metering zone diameter is 12mm.
The Spot metering lays stress on a very small circle, the diameter of which is only 4mm (1.5% of the frame surface), with the center in a currently selected focus point, which is why it is used in situations when it is necessary to determine a specific exposure length of the focused subject, regardless of the exposure of the rest of the frame. When it is used with non-CPU lenses, it functions only in the central point.
A completely new metering mode is labeled Highlight-weighted and it is available only with G, D and E lenses. With other lenses, it functions like the classic Center-weighted mode. When compatible lenses are on one’s disposal, this metering mode gives priority to preserving the lightest parts of images, at the expense of the rest of the scene. In combination with an exceptionally wide dynamic range which characterizes the sensor of the D810, in processing it is possible to achieve more than a positive result. The point is that the dynamic range is not symmetrical on the scale of illumination, yet underexposed images ‘suit’ it better. As more strongly lit parts are prone to be overexposed, the idea is that the details inside them should be preserved by shorter exposures, and afterwards, the rest of the image be lighted additionally in post-processing. No matter how trivial it may look, such metering can be more than useful, although it is pointless unless the RAW format is used.
As many times so far, when more serious Nikon cameras are taken into account, the Nikon D810 offers the Fine tune optimal exposure option in the Custom functions, by which additional calibration of the light meter can be performed, in accordance with one’s needs - what is more, for each metering mode separately, in steps of 1/6. After such a correction, by which the obtained meterings are constantly corrected for a certain value, and which should not be mistaken for regular exposure compensation, metering is permanently ‘moved’ for a desired value so that it is neither recorded in the EXIF structure, nor canceled with a systemic restart. Of course, one can return to the default value at any moment, should there be a need for that. This is a very convenient option, especially if Nikon’s view of correct metering does not suit you.
Known from previous models - TTL 91k-pixel RGB light metering sensor*
We are already used to the function of Virtual Horizon in this Nikon’s class, and it is intended to realign the camera more easily to the horizon, and thus avoid a centuries-old problem of a huge number of photographers – ‘photo leakage’. The advantage of this function in relation to ‘by-hook-or-by-crook’ methods, in the form of various levels and other systems of leveling, lies in permanent presence in front of a photographer’s eyes, both when watching through the viewfinder and through the main display. The function of the Virtual Horizon is implemented into two axes, regardless of the camera orientation, which means that it will assist in leveling the unwanted leaning along the horizontal axis, but the azimuth as well – an angle that the horizontal axis of the camera forms in relation to the ground, regardless of the camera position. The view of the Virtual Horizon in the viewfinder or the main display, in the Live View mode, can be seen in the following illustrations:
Virtual Horizon, a function of realigning the camera, in action - inside the viewfinder (left) and on the main screen (right)
The autofocus system was taken over from the predecessor and in spite of the fact that, even then, it had not been considered modern and brand new, the Multi-CAM3500FX still defies time and remains competitive. This is a TTL phase sensor with a total number of 51 points, 15 of which are cross-type, and they are concentrated in the center of the focus area. The AF system is capable of operating in lighting conditions from -2 to 19EV, which is for most users more sensitivity than needed.
Multi-CAM3500FX TTL, a new AF module with 51 points, 15 of which are cross-type*
The 51 points cover a large part of the frame, while the focus area can be limited to only 11 points. The arrangement of the autofocus points, the arrangement of those among them that are cross-type, as well as their availability in relation to the maximum aperture, can be seen in the following illustration:
Arrangement of the AF points, as well as sensitivity in relation to the aperture
There are two modes of focus and they are standard for Nikon cameras: the AF-S (Single-Servo AF) is the most used mode, by which focusing is conducted in a one-shot manner, with one point or a set of points assigned in advance, whereas the AF-C (Continuous-Servo AF) is used for tracking a moving subject, with continuous adjustments of the focal distance in relation to the chosen subject. The focus on the central 11 points is active at f/8 and higher stops, which is more than usable in almost all combinations that involve using a teleconverter.
The choice of focus methods has not changed for quite some time with Nikon cameras, so we are a little surprised with a new method, which will be described in more detail some time later. First, let's deal with those methods we are already familiar with. The Single-point AF is probably the most frequently used method, and it is characteristic because focus is limited to one point, selected in advance, but with the maximum accuracy control. On this account, this method is a good choice when we are not sure in what conditions the action will take place. It is suitable both for single-shot and continuous focusing:
Single-point AF, focusing with one selected point
The second mode, Dynamic-area AF, is a form of focusing that is primarily aimed at tracking a moving subject, when the center of focus is maintained on the previously selected point, and the surrounding ones help in recognizing and maintaining the focus on the chosen subject. It should be used in the Continuous-Servo focus mode (AF-C), while in the Single-Servo mode (AF-S) it is not available. Depending on the conditions, that is to say on the complexity of the subject’s movement, three subvariants are at one's disposal. They include the option of selecting automatic focus by using all the points (51), by reducing their number to 21 points, or to only 9, respectively. The group of 9 points should be used when it is harder to maintain one focus point (with the Single-point method) on, usually, a small subject, which moves relatively fast, yet whose movement can be predicted:
Dynamic-area AF, focus area with 9 AF points
The 21 points will be more convenient for tracking the movement of a subject that is less predictable, yet with poorer accuracy, since the AF system will not always be able to estimate accurately the needed distance:
Dynamic-area AF, focus area with 21 AF points
The 51-point variant is intended for situations in which it is necessary to track remarkably fast subjects, which are difficult to keep in the same part of the frame:
Dynamic-area AF, focus area with 51 AF points
The new method is named Group-area AF; it was taken over from the D4s, a top model from Nikon’s collection, and it represents a zone consisting of 5 points that, in contrast to dynamic methods, where the central one is primary, share the same priority and complement one another in order to maintain the maximum accuracy and reliability, even when the subject inside the frame prevents accurate tracking. When more points of the selected zone cover different distances, the priority is given to the one to which the subject is closest. In the viewfinder, this method is seen as four AF points, although there are five of them in fact (including the central one):
Group-area AF, focus area with 5 AF points
The 3D-Tracking is systemically the most complex of all forms of autofocus since it includes the maximum ‘concentration’ of two key systems in the camera - the autofocus system and the metering system. This is a focus mode by which, after initially determining the subject, that subject is tracked dynamically (along all the three axes) within the frame, with an automatic change of the active AF point, as long as the subject is kept within the marked focus area. The coordination is permanently conducted between the AF sensor and the light metering sensor, which analyzes the tonality, color and illumination of the selected subject, so based on the obtained data, it informs the AF system about the subject position and predicts its movement. If the subject, owing to an untimely reaction on the photographer’s part, temporarily ‘leaves’ the focus area, all that needs to be done is to choose a subject once again. As expected, the 3D-Tracking is available only in the Continuous-Servo mode (AF-C):
3D-Tracking, automatic tracking of the subject in space by dinamically changing the points
As many times so far, it has turned out that the 3D-Tracking very often manages to maintain focus on the chosen subject, which in certain cases can mean significantly greater compositional freedom, which is usually rather limited when it comes to action photography. The main difference between this method and the one with a 51-point dynamic zone mentioned earlier is that the 3D-Tracking mode does not have the ‘primary’ point. The subject is chosen at the beginning, and after that, all the AF points are completely equal and they give priority to each other, in accordance with the movement of the subject inside the frame. In other words, classical point-selection methods mean that the selection of points is performed by the photographer, while the 3D-Tracking features automatic point selection in reference to the position of the chosen subject. That is why the 3D-Tracking enables tracking with tremendously less effort, since it is enough to maintain the subject inside the focus area. Anyway, the 3D-Tracking mode is not omnipotent and should be avoided in almost all situations where the subject does not clearly stand out from the background, i.e. when the background is either too close, or too confusing, so the light meter may have some problems recognizing the subject that is being tracked.
The Auto-area AF method gives primacy to beginners, and manufacturers emphasize it as the default one, without any apparent reason. It is true that it requires least experience, yet at the same time it provides very little control over the final result. Since this is a method that determines focus priority on its own, it is very probable that its choice will not match the photographer’s since it carries out an evaluation primarily in relation to the distance of the subject, whereby priority is given only to the subjects closest to the camera, providing that they are covered with the focus area. If the light meter registers the skin tone, it will give priority to it. It is available in all the focus modes. In the Auto-Servo mode, it firstly sets focus in relation to the subject selected on its own, and after a potential change of the distance, it transforms into a form of the 3D-Tracking; however, the tracked subject usually does not have anything to do with the photographer’s wishes:
Auto-area AF, completely automatic selection by using all the AF points
A group of options that have to do with the autofocus offers a set of regular options, among which is the AF Fine Tune, a function by which fine focus calibration is conducted. Calibration can now be conducted for 20 lenses in total, in ±20 steps, with each lens separately, or globally, at the level of the camera. It is a convenient possibility, which is relatively rarely used, but which can be worth its weight in gold in case there are some minor problems with the focus – if that happens, it will free the owner from visiting a service. The only condition is that the ‘misfiring’ of the focus is constant, regardless of the focal length, since there are no separate settings for different parts of the length.
Another option for additional adjusting of the AF to the needs of the photographer is the Focus Tracking with Lock-On. In five steps, it adjusts the AF system reaction speed to the distance changes of the chosen subject, when the AF-C focus mode has been selected. The highest level (5) makes the longest delay between two adjustments of the focus (e.g. in case you are tracking the subject in whose direction unwanted objects frequently appear, and which the AF should ignore), while the lowest (1) carries out very frequent distance adjustments. This option can be completely shut down, when adjustments are conducted instantaneously, without delay, which will be used most frequently while capturing very dynamic scenes, when updated adjustments are key to good results. This also brings with itself certain negative consequences, such as, for instance, an unwanted and exaggerated reaction of the AF system to obstructive elements within the frame, like, for example, lamp posts while capturing a car in motion. It is precisely for those situations that this option is the most useful, since sudden changes of the distance in front of the selected AF point will be simply ignored.
The usual companion of the AF system on Nikon cameras is a solid AF-Assist lamp, whose additional lighting improves sharpening in low-light conditions. Its intensity and output cannot be compared to the AF-Assist lamp of a flashgun, yet it will be enough for the majority of situations that the camera can cover without additional lighting – at least until you stick to the AF-S focus mode of the central AF point, since the AF-Assist lamp covers only the said point, owing to a very narrow beam of light that it sends.
As with all cameras with a more complex autofocus system, it is advisable to carefully study its way of work, in particular each mode separately, even if you do not need some of them. Such an approach does not guarantee complete success, but at least it frees you from aimlessly roaming through the menus while trying to find the cause of a poorly focused image, and it can drastically shorten the period of getting acquainted with the new body.
At least when the basic characteristics and the scope of information are taken into account, the viewfinder has remained the same. Objectively speaking, this is not a deficiency since it is unreal to expect that the viewfinder can be better than it was on the D800(E). It covers 100% of the frame, the magnification rate is 0.70x, and this class displays the standard solution in the form of pentaprism, which provides considerably light projection. The eyepoint, i.e. the greatest distance of the eye from the viewfinder from which it is possible to encompass the entire view, is not particularly great and it is 17mm, which, in some situations, could be a problem for those who wear glasses. Since we are mentioning glasses, we should also mention that the viewfinder diopter can be set in the range of -3 to +1, via a small control dial on its right side. The small lever intended for closing the viewfinder is still here and it is used for suppressing inadequate metering while working with a tripod, since the input of light through the viewfinder can affect the accuracy of the light meter.
When we talk about the view, for years Nikon has offered a transparent LCD film in the viewfinder, by which AF points are projected onto the visor with reference to the selected number or the focus mode. There is also a framing grid, as well as boundary lines of the frame, for each of the predefined formats (aside from the standard 36x24 with the aspect ratio 3:2, there is also a 30x24 with the aspect ratio 5:4, as well as 1.2x and 1.5x crop (DX), both with the 3:2 aspect ratio). It is a pity that formats smaller than the FX do not darken the area outside the frame, which would greatly help the visibility and easiness of composing, but it is commendable that the ability to work in smaller formats even exists. Even accurate markers of electronic alignment for both axes are projected in the visor as well. Of course, an indispensable part of the view are also all the needed parameters of recording, which are located in their usual position, below the very frame projection. They are also characterized by one novelty. They used to be shown by means of the usual LED segmented display, and now that role has been entrusted to the more modern OLED (Organic LED) technology. The fundamental differences are only ‘under the hood,’ while in practice the view differs for now only because of a somewhat different color shade in contrast to the green that we are already familiar with. What it all looks like you can see in the following illustration:
Nikon D810's viewfinder
The available parameters comprise a wide array of information, which will take turns in some cases since they cannot be shown simultaneously. From left to right, there are: a focus confirmation indicator with rangefinder markers; a currently selected metering mode indicator; a locked metering indicator AE-Lock; an indicator of locked metering of the flashgun FV-Lock; a locked exposure indicator; a flash synchronization indicator; exposure duration; a locked aperture indicator; aperture and an indicator of the presence of Non-CPU lenses; a drive mode; a light meter scale with the range of ±2EV; a flash compensation indicator; an exposure compensation indicator; a low battery indicator; a bracketing indicator; an ISO value and Auto-ISO indicator and the number of remaining shots. Apart from these, the information that will take turns inside the viewfinder are the buffer availability, the current format of photographing, focus mode, etc.
CONTROLS AND OTHER DETAILS
The arrangement of the controls on the D810 has not changed much in comparison to the previous generation, and it mostly fits what we are used to when Nikon is taken into consideration. Of course, there are some changes. Some are positive, some are not really, yet that mostly depends on personale affinities.
If we look at the camera body from the front, on the very left side, right above the grip, there is a front control dial, which is used to manipulate the basic parameters, such as the exposure and the aperture, but many other functions as well, when it is used combined with the other controls on the body. Its dimensions are a little larger than before, which makes it handier to use. The space between the grip and the mount is equipped with an AF-Assist lamp, which is used to help with focusing in low light conditions, with signaling postponed releasing, as well as for removing the undesired red-eye effect on images captured with the flash. Next to the lamp is a stereo microphone (more precisely, its right channel), and immediately next to the mount are two function buttons, which can be assigned with a role at will by selecting one of the listed predefined options. They are very useful as they can drastically facilitate access to the frequently used options, even though the list is not unlimited.
The right side is also very similar to the previous cameras. On the very top of the camera, on the side of the viewfinder, is a mechanical (?!) switch for raising the built-in flash, and a little below it are controls for successive releasing with different parameters (bracketing) and setting the release mode and the flash compensation. Close by is the left component of the built-in stereo microphone, as well as two connectors, hidden under a double rubber lid. The upper is the PC-Sync (ISO-519 standard) connector for connecting external lighting, while the lower one, a 10-pin connector, is aimed at the remote control or the GPS module for geotagging photographs. Right next to the mount is a well-known button for detaching the lens so that it can be removed from the body, and a little below it is a lever for selecting the autofocus mode. The lever can be placed in two positions and is used to select between the automatic and manual focus (the same effect is achieved by using a switch on lenses), while in the center of it is a button for changing the focus method.
The upper side of the camera unambiguously points to target group of users. The center is reserved for the ISO-518 hot-shoe and the built-in flash, whereas the controls are situated on both of their sides. The left is dominated by a circular selector of the release mode, in whose center are four more buttons. The release mode offers everything that one may need: the Single Frame Release (S), two burst modes (the slower, Continuous Low-Speed (CL), which the number of frames can adjust to; and the faster, Continuous High-Speed (CH), which shoots at the maximum speed). There is also the Quiet Shutter Release (Q), by which considerably quieter releasing is achieved, since the mirror returns to the initial position only when the shutter has been triggered, as well as its continuous version (Qc); the Self-Timer is a well-known mode aimed at postponed releasing, and that aspect of releasing can be set via a corresponding option in the menu. The last mode is the Mirror-Up (Mup), and it is a special release mode, used in special occasions, when it is necessary to maximally suppress the camera shake (e.g. for very long (Bulb) exposures). A little in front of the release mode selection dial is its accompanying button, whose purpose is to disable involuntary changes of the release mode – in order to change the mode, it is necessary to press this button simultaneously and then turn the dial. The four buttons in the center of the dial mentioned earlier encompass several frequently used functions: White Balance (WB), for setting the white balance; Quality (Qual), for choosing a format and quality of an image; a control for selecting a light metering mode and an ISO button whose label reveals everything. The Auto-ISO function can be also accessed directly, via the control dial, without the need to enter the menu system, except when it is necessary to redefine its parameters. The Auto-ISO parameters offer immaculate control and, aside from directly setting the minimum exposure, it is possible to adjust that the exposure is automatically determined, by taking into consideration the currently selected focal length. In order to make everything work even better, the rule 1/focal length can be adjusted to one’s needs, by accelerating or decelerating in relation to the referential value. Above all, there is a standard option of defining the highest ISO value that the automatic operating will engage.
The right side is dominated by the status display (Nikon calls it Control Panel). This is a monochromatic, segmented LCD screen, emitting green light, which displays a set of the most important and those somewhat less important parameters, as long as the camera is switched on. The scope of information is changeable, so some part of it will change dynamically, by activating some functions; thus, one group of options can be changed, without any need to tumble through the menu system inside the camera. The parameters include: the shooting mode, the synchronization indicator, the exposure duration, the exposure compensation or the flash power, the light meter scale ranging ±3EV, the locked exposure indicator, the locked aperture indicator, the aperture, the image format and quality, the intervalometer indicator, the GPS module presence, the bracketing function indicator, the memory card status and the currently active slot, the flash operating mode, the autofocus mode, the HDR function indicator, the ISO value and the Auto-ISO indicator, the battery status, the white balance and many other parameters that are obtained by activating some of the functions:
Status display of the D810
In front of the status display are several controls. The most significant one, a two-level shutter button, is located on the most prominent part of the grip and - usual for Nikon - it shares its position with the rotary switch for toggling the camera on and off, as well as for activating background light on the status display. Between the status display and the shutter button are three buttons: Mode, which is used, in combination with the rear control dial, to select among four basic shooting modes: Manual (M), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Priority (S) and Programmed Auto (P). As with other more advanced Nikon DSLRs, the D810 does not feature a regular mode selector, so there are no bunch of useless operating modes either. Next to the Mode control is (this time) a programmable Record button for starting/stopping video recording. One of the major criticisms was the inability to change the function of this control, so now that has been put in order. Therefore, now the function of the Record control can be changed and it can be used to activate some of the frequently used functions, such as the white balance or the ISO control (the latter was particularly convenient, since the position of the main ISO button was incredibly uncomfortable), and two quite unimportant controls have been offered as well: locking the exposure/aperture in the M/S modes and the crop factor selection. By a combined and prolonged press of the buttons that are marked with a green spot (Qual and a control of exposure compensation), the camera initiates the built-in settings restart, so if there is need for that, this shortcut will forestall tumbling through the menu system.
The rear side of the camera has been changed minimally; however, some of the changes definitely will not be approved of by experienced users. The central position is still reserved for the main display, while the controls are positioned around it. On the left, next to the viewfinder, there are the Play and Erase controls, which are used to view and erase images. The red (format) label next to the Erase button indicates that it, along with the identically marked button on the upper side of the camera (Mode), can be used as a shortcut for quick formatting of a memory card. Next to the very rubber cover of the viewfinder is a small lever, which is used to mechanically close the ‘curtain’ of the viewfinder with the help of tiny lamellas hidden inside the ocular; the said ‘curtain’ prevents the influence of the surroundings on the light metering sensor efficiency, which is very useful in situations in which a tripod is used. To the left from the main display is a sequence of five buttons: Menu, for entering the menu system; Lock, for protecting images from involuntary capturing and for activating the implemented help system, as well as for changing the color style; the next two buttons are used for magnifying/compressing the view in the live-view mode, or the preview mode, and the last one, the OK button, is used for confirming one’s action. As it was the case before, in the preview mode, the OK button can instantaneously switch the view to 100% magnification.
On the right side, the situation is visually the same to the one on the D700, with a couple of exceptions. All the way up is the AE-L/AF-L control for locking the exposure duration, as well as the flash power with reference to the currently measured one. In its base, there is no three-position, rotary light metering mode selector, which will probably disappoint many. To the right is the AF-ON button for focusing without using the main shutter, and its function can be changed at will. In the upper right corner is a rear control dial, whose function is similar to the one fulfilled by the front, and in addition to controlling the basic parameters, it is used for viewing images. To the right of the display is an eight-way button for moving through the menu system and for selecting the AF point, while in its center is an unmarked button, which is used to confirm the choice of an action in the menu or to select the central AF point while shooting. The two-position lever marked with the letter L, which is located at the base of the eight-way cursor control, is used to lock the currently selected AF point, so that an unwelcome change is prevented. A little lower is the so-called i button, whose function is multiple, and depending on the current operating mode, it enables quick access to frequently used options. Next to it is a miniature mono speaker, through which all sound effects and audio recordings are emitted. The two-position switch, which is located right under the speaker, is used for choosing between the photo or video mode, while the button in its center (labeled with Lv) is used for switching from the standard to the live-view mode (hereafter, LV) and vice versa. All the way down is the Info button for activating the Information Display function, via which the main display takes over the role of the status one.
The memory slot is located in its usual place, on the right side of the camera, hidden under a small door. The door hides two memory slots, the primary of which is Compact Flash (CF), while the secondary belongs to the Secure Digital (SD) standard. The Compact Flash standard has survived this time as well, despite some predictions that it could give place to the XQD or the even more modern CFast standard. The Compact Flash still hangs on and it is ranked high in professional circles, primarily due to its reliability and effective protection of memory chips. This camera supports the Type I CF cards of all speeds and subvariants (such as UDMA compatible ones), whereas this is not the case with the Type II and Microdrive cards (as expected).
The SD slot encompasses practically everything that comprises this standard, which includes the oldest SD, newer SDHC and SDXC cards, as well as their fastest subvariants – UHS-I cards. The support was not left out for increasingly popular Eye-Fi cards, via which the recorded material can be transferred wirelessly to compatible Wi-Fi devices.
The memory slots are completely equal. They can be used sequentially – after one has been filled up, the camera automatically switches to the other card; they can be used as backup – files are automatically copied onto the other card, which creates redundancy; and finally they can be divided according to the type of files – for instance, the first can store only the RAW format, while the second can be used only for the JPEG, or the second can write only video recordings. Moreover, copying the material from one card to the other is also an option. The possibilities are many, and the modality of use is limited only to the user’s needs.
CF and SD memory slots
The memory requirements of the new camera are one of its rare sore points. In spite of the fact that the price of memory cards (especially SD ones) is much lower than it used to be, the Nikon D810’s gluttony will make any planning of the needed space almost impossible. The only prescription boils down to ‘the more, the merrier’. A leap in resolution brought by the D800 at the time made images significantly more demanding concerning space, regardless of the used format. Therefore, the speed requirements grew as well, although this aspect does not belong to the critical characteristics, unless you insist on the frequent use of the burst mode. The card with the capacity of 8GB can store on average ~100 RAW, 340 JPEG or barely 80 RAW+JPEG images, in the maximum quality (14-bit uncompressed RAW + JPEG L/Fine). Of course, variations are possible depending on noise reduction (the less the noise, the smaller the files), on the amount of images at higher ISO values (they take up more space on average), as well as on the content (images with mostly uniform areas take up less space). It is possible to save some space by means of compressed NEF and JPEG files, yet at the expense of quality. Of course, the majority of spectators will not be able to spot that difference, but it can have an impact in processing. As far as the minimum speed is concerned, the rated minimum read/write speed for CF cards is around 30MB/s, which puts them in the speed class 200x, whereas for SD cards it is recommended that the class 6 at least be used. The rated minimums are critical only for the video recording, since in case of not satisfying the speed characteristics, the video recording can come to a halt. In case of photography, the speed limit of the card can only affect the speed of emptying the memory buffer.
The improved quality of the video recording, as well as the characteristics accompanying it, causes a larger flow, and as a result, it demands more space. An 8GB card can store between 12 and 15 minutes of material in the Full HD quality (1920 x 1080p), at a speed of 25/60 fps. The faster video recording is, of course, even more demanding, so for the same amount of time at 50/60 fps, twice as much space will be needed. It is clear that the requirements of the D810 in the video mode are very serious, so photographs in the RAW format (not to mention the combined RAW+JPEG recording) simply devour memory cards. Cards of standard capacities, which until yesterday were enough to satisfy the needs of even the entire day shooting, all of a sudden are becoming very similar to the capacity of the standard 35mm film.
The Nikon D810 is yet another camera to inherit the old, but at the same time quite competitive, battery labeled EN-EL15. We saw it for the first time when the D7000 was introduced four years ago. This fact means that the market is well equipped with replacement batteries, but that their price is low, too. This is an Li-Ion battery characterized by the 1900 mAh capacity, 7V voltage and the weight of considerable 88g. It belongs to the so-called smart batteries, which means that the accompanying electronics follows its lifespan – the state from one charging to another encompasses the current battery level expressed in percentage terms, in six levels on the status display and the overall state, i.e. its age. The charger that comes with the D810 is visually identical to the old MH-25, but the label features the suffix a (MH-25a). We did not manage to pinpoint what exactly the difference was as the technical characteristics (amperage, voltage output and charging time) are the same, but we will assume that it has been optimized.
MH-25a charger with the EN-EL15 Li-Ion smart battery
The battery autonomy according to the CIPA (Camera & Imaging Products Association) standards provides absolutely incredible 1200 shots (!), with the usual use of the display and sporadic use of the pop-up flash. This autonomy is as much as 35% higher in comparison to the D800(E), even though this is one and the same battery! Impressive! In real use, which includes using the camera at most diverse temperatures and light conditions, combined use of the LV, a lot of navigation though the menus, as well as lenses with and without stabilization, the battery managed to reach the rated number of shots quite easy. In controlled conditions (reserved use of the display and the LV mode, as well as of the built-in flash), the battery autonomy can reach the number higher than 1400 shots! In the video mode, the situation is a little more complex, primarily because of the intensive usage of the main display, but also the sensor, which is permanently active. If optical stabilization of the lens is active, the situation gets even worse. In practice, with intensive use, the battery will manage to achieve only 40 minutes of recording, which is the result on the brink of being unusable, so for this function, it is necessary to provide enough additional recharging.
As always, connectors are located on the left side of the camera, below the three separate rubber lids. The rubber lids are carefully tailored and firm enough to open and close easily, without excessive twisting. In the first slot (from top to bottom) there is a pair of 3.5mm connectors. One is a stereo input for the external microphone, and the other is a stereo jack intended for the headphones for monitoring audio recording in the video mode. Below the middle lid is a USB 3.0 connector, and the lowest one hides a mini-HDMI connector (Type-C). Using the USB connector, the camera can connect to a computer with the aim of remote controlling or transferring images, and it can also connect to a compatible printer in order for the images to be printed directly. Via the HDMI connector, the camera can connect to a TV or a similar device, which enables the LV or viewing the recorded images, and even recording uncompressed videos on external devices. We have mentioned at the beginning of the review one curiosity having to with this camera; in particular, regarding its package – Nikon provided dedicated cable ‘carriers’ for the USB and HDMI connectors so that they would remain in the same position while recording videos, when the camera is equipped with external information carriers and monitors. This is highly praiseworthy and far-sighted. Although it may seem trivial, these two plastic additions clearly indicate the importance of the video segment - an area in which Nikon was the first to break the ice, but also, for a long time, almost completely ignored general trends in the industry.
The second set of connectors is located at the front, on the right side, and we have already mentioned them when describing the body: the upper is a PC-Sync connector for external illumination according to the ISO-519 standard, while the lower is a dedicated 10-pin multifunctional connector. It is used most frequently for remote controls and external GPS receivers.
There is yet another connector on the bottom side of the camera, yet it is not visible in the enclosed photographs – it is a dedicated connector for communicating with the optional MB-D12 battery vertical grip, which is in charge of the communication with the controls and batteries between the camera and the said grip.
Connectors at the front: PC-Sync i 10-pin remote;
Connectors on the side: stereo microphone input and headphone jack, USB 3.0 and HDMI output
When Nikon announced the D5300 a few months ago, and along with it, a rotary display with the 3:2 aspect ratio, many expected that that marked a significant milestone, as well as that this manufacturer would offer this more handier format with all future models. We say ‘handier’ since it is identical to the aspect ratio of the sensor – this brings along several distinct advantages. First, the usability of the view is maximum, and at the same time the magnification level is greater. However, this idea was somehow abandoned by Nikon the moment it had been presented for the first time, so the Nikon D5300 is the only Nikon camera till this very day that boasts this aspect ratio of the screen.
Anyway, this does not mean that the Nikon D810’s display is not bad, absolutely not – this is a TFT screen with the 4:3 aspect ratio and the resolution of 1,228,800 dots, which, translated into the regular form, is 640 x 480. So – it is a VGA. It seems quite plain, but in practice it is more than enough to spot the tiniest detail in any image or in the LV mode. Especially when the view is magnified. The diagonal of the screen is 3.2” (81mm), and the angle of view is approximately 170̊, regardless of the axis. The faults that we find have to do with the absence of the ambient light sensor, which we had on the D800(E). While its use value is questionable, to say the least (regardless of the model), it is a fact that this way of automatic control suited a number of users, since, in case of any problems, it could be deactivated without any effort. What level of economization this degradation has brought we are not really sure. Nonetheless, the D810 is neither the first nor the last camera that has to endure these inexplicable surgical actions.
The display on the D800(E) and the D4 used to be a subject of controversy at the time – a certain percentage of the public stated that there was something wrong with the color reproduction of these displays and that the color showed a tendency towards yellow-green hues. Some had a problem with that, some did not, so Nikon decided that any future troubles of this kind are nonchalantly cast aside by introducing the option Monitor Color Balance. As its name says, its only purpose is the view calibration, so that the display is completely adjusted to the user’s needs. As there’s no accounting for taste, we are wondering if this option was added only with the aim of dismissing the arguments of those ‘hairsplitters’ or it is a confession (?) that there was something wrong with the previous displays. In either case, if we observe this move rationally, we can conclude that this action primarily suits videographers, who can thus adjust the view to a specific purpose. Nevertheless, the original manual claims that the increased illumination of the screen can lead to highlighted green-yellow tones.
The Information Display, a more detailed version of the status display, unites almost all the relevant parameters and functions that you may need while working, and they are available not only through directly managing the controls on the camera, but also via interactively managing the cursors. The view itself can be adjusted to day and night conditions, manually or automatically. How all this looks like you can see in the following illustration:
View of the basic parameters on the Information Display, in day and night conditions
Contrary to the implementation in lower classes of Nikon DSLRs, which is accompanied by intentional limitations of the Live View mode functionality (hereafter, LV), the Nikon D810 features a version that, unconstrained with various artificially imposed limitations, is particularly useful, without too many faults that could spoil the atmosphere.
Let's remind that the LV represents a direct projection of the view from the sensor to the main display of the camera, live. That is where the name comes from. Just as we are used to with compact cameras. Aside from the obvious ability to frame images without bringing the camera close to one’s face (which is usually a little problematic with DSLRs because of their considerable weight), the LV makes working with a tripod much more convenient, as well as working in all situations where framing by looking through the viewfinder is physically not manageable. As for the video, the LV has been an unavoidable element there for quite a long time, and since the D810 intends to spoil the plans of the rivals in this field, it is expected that this function, too, has been brought to a high level.
Since there is a mirror on the path of the light from the lens to the sensor, the LV on DSLRs works in a slightly different manner in comparison to compact cameras. In order for the preview on the screen to be possible, the mirror mechanism needs to be raised from its usual position so that it would make room on the path to the sensor; as a result, framing through the viewfinder is out of the question, and more importantly, the phase AF sensor cannot be used any more since, in order for it to operate, the mirror has to be in its lower position. As Nikon has not yet developed its own solution concerning the phase focus by means of the main sensor, the LV mode entirely relies on the independent focusing system, known as the contrast autofocus, i.e. CDAF (Contrast Detection AutoFocus). Its way of work is technically different from the phase focus and it demonstrates some positive, but also some negative features. The positive is, without doubt, accuracy, while the negative one stems exactly from that accuracy, and that is slowness or, to be politically correct – low focusing speed. Focusing is conducted by means of a special algorithm that measures contrast between differently colored surfaces of the view from the main sensor, and that stops the focus area only when it finds the position that gives the highest micro-contrast between differently colored surfaces. As with the previous models, accuracy of the D810 has also not been questioned for one moment, yet the CDAF speed is still insufficient, so, in the future, Nikon will have to deal with some other techniques of sharpening in the LV mode.
There are two focus modes at one’s disposal: the Single-Servo AF (AF-S), for stationary subjects, when focusing takes place on a single basis, as with the phase focus, and the Full-time-Servo AF (AF-F), which makes focus adjustments permanently, reacting to any change in the distance of the subject that is under the selected focus area. Unfortunately, although several years have already passed since the initial implementation of this focus mode, the situation has not changed at all; thus, apart from minimum improvement resulting from the work of the CDAF algorithm, there are simply no other improvements concerning the speed. The focusing methods are already familiar: the Normal-Area AF is a classic CDAF mode, whose focus area has very narrow dimensions, and it can move along the frame by using the eight-way joystick (‘teeter-totter’); the Wide-Area AF is similar to the previous mode regarding its way of operating, yet the dimensions of its focus area are considerably wider, so, as such, it is suitable for the frames that do not abound in subjects at a short distance; the Face-Priority AF is a fad that was incorporated by a number of manufacturers a long time ago, and it is an imitation of the focusing system with the same name, found on compact cameras, which, based on the form and color, ‘looks for’ faces within the frame and does its best to keep the focus on them; the last mode is the Subject-Tracking AF, which is an LV version of the 3D-Tracking method, and it operates in such a way that a subject that has once been initiated is tracked continuously along the frame.
The LV view has not evolved much in comparison to the previous models, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, since this function was realized quite properly on the D800. The view of the parameters, of various ancillary functions, and (most importantly) the exposure simulation, make working in the LV superbly comfortable. Accurate manual focusing is one of the obvious advantages of such work, and the view can be magnified by as much as 23 times:
Magnification in the LV mode
The LV mode is also equipped with the view of the standard parameters in the photo and video mode, which can be toggled off if needed:
View of the parameters in the LV mode
There is also a framing grid, as well as the Virtual Horizon, for accurate leveling of the camera in relation to the horizon:
Framing grid and view of the Virtual Horizon in the LV mode
One innovation is an option labeled Split-screen Display Zoom. This is an option that we have not had a chance to see so far, and whose purpose can be described in short as – insufficiently specified. One of its purposes can be controlling the camera leveling in relation to the horizon in the LV mode. Leaving aside the fact that the Nikon D810 is already equipped with special accelerometer sensors, which successfully fight the problem of unlevel photographs, and whose operating we have already described earlier in the review, the idea is not necessarily bad. When activating this option, the screen will be visually divided into two equal parts, whereby both sides will project different parts of the view, but magnified to 100% and horizontally level in relation to one another. By means of the cursors, it is possible to manually select parts that will be shown, and all this results in a visual assist that will indicate quite simply if the camera leans sideways, even for one tiny part of a millimeter. The other benefit has to do with achieving more accurate symmetry. Namely, if you frequently work with architectural photography, this option can drastically facilitate framing and achieving perfect symmetry, since on both lateral edges of the frame, markers can be placed and then be mutually compared in the magnified view. The third purpose is a little specific, but it is not to be underestimated at any cost – with this visual help, tilt/shift lenses can be used much more easily in combination with perspective corrections that they have at their disposal, so this could become a favorite option of architecture aficionados. The idea is great, the realization perhaps not as much (at least, not yet), but a deep bow to such ingenuity!
The exposure simulation, a sore point of most of Nikon DSLRs, functions on the D810 just as it should – the effect of the majority of the parameters is visible right away, all the controls can be used practically without any limitations, and even those things that cannot be constantly simulated owing to technical reasons are available by pressing the OK control. The only criticism that remains has to do with the magnified view – even though this is still much better than with cheaper Nikon models, an obvious fall in the view fluidity can be noticed, so this can be a little frustrating at certain times. One thing is for sure – since the Nikon D810 and D4s offer a myriad of advanced solutions, perhaps the leading people in Nikon could at last devote some attention to a higher quality LV in the lower classes as well.
For quite some time, Nikon has been diligently working on improving video segments of its cameras since, despite the fact that it used to be a pioneer in this field with the model D90, somehow too nonchalantly it missed the opportunity to score in this situation with an early lead. Since after some time its management carefully analyzed market opportunities and evidently experienced catharsis, we have a chance to see a number of very serious pretenders to the ‘video-best-of’ title from Nikon’s cuisine, and the youngest offshoot of these changes is precisely the D810.
The video recording is available in two resolutions with the aspect ratio 16:9 and several frame rates. The 1920 x 1080 (1080p, Full HD) can be recorded along the entire range of frame rates, from 24, through 25, 30, all the way to 50 and 60 fps, depending on the selected standard (PAL/NTSC) and needs. The lower one 1280 x 720 (720p) operates at the frame rates of 50 or 60 fps. All versions are recorded solely in the progressive mode, and the quality is offered in two levels – high and normal. Many will notice that the ever popular support for the 4K resolution has been left out, which is true, yet, in a way, it has been expected as Nikon is very reserved when it comes to the video mode on its cameras, as if (in contrast to its rivals) it was worried not to irritate the photographic public with the implementation of that resolution, since, as a rule, the photographic public is not really welcoming towards usurping photographic devices by videographers.
The video encoding takes place in the MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) format and is placed in the MOV container. The video recording is now limited with the FAT32 standard, which requires a memory controller, so in the maximum quality (1080p/60fps) the video recording will be limited to 10 minutes, while at lower resolution or sampling rate, the length of the recording will reach around 20 minutes. If the compression is increased (Normal quality), the video recording will manage to achieve a considerable length of 30 minutes. The bit rate at the maximum resolution and speed is about 42 Mbps, whereas a lower speed or resolution reduce the flow rate to around 24 Mbps. A lower compression quality secures a drastically lower flow rate - around 12 Mbps. In comparison to the D800, great improvement on the new camera results from sending the view to an external device. Namely, the D810 offers a clear, uncompressed HDMI output, so the material can be directly sent to 8-bit external recorders that operate in the 4:2:2 format at 60 fps, whereby simultaneous writing on a memory card is enabled as well!
The audio recording is 16-bit, at 44 KHz, and it is written uncompressed in the Linear PCM format. The audio recording can be switched off or entrusted to the built-in stereo microphone, whose input signal (sensitivity) and frequent range can be adjusted. Using the microphone situated in the camera housing, in which and around which a whole series of mechanical processes takes place, results in plenty ‘parasitic’ sounds, which are undesirable in the video recording. On this account, when there is a need for higher quality audio recording, the external microphone, with the aid of the connector that is located at the side of the camera, will provide much higher quality recording, and the present connector for the external sound monitoring will also enable control over the audio segment in real time!
While talking about the LV mode, we have already mentioned the unrestrictedness of the parameters control (which also includes the video mode), and in order to bring the camera closer to the serious video production, Nikon included a couple of more things. Firstly, there is the so-called ‘zebra’ option, which is used in the LV to highlight parts whose value of color information is close to the undesirable 255, 255, 255 on RGB channels. This means that when determining the needed duration of the exposure and other parameters, such as the aperture or the ISO values, all overexposed areas will be highlighted by means of special black-and-white diagonal lines, which will prevent the raw video recording from ruining. No matter how trivial this option may sound, it belongs to the group of the basic ones when the video mode is taken into account, so this innovation should be saluted! The new color style (Flat) has also been introduced for the needs of videographers, yet the entire section of the color settings offers plenty for photographers, too, which will be discussed in more detail later.
We are already used to the sloppy autofocus in the video mode (and in the LV, in general), and frankly, we did not expect any particular improvement in this field. That is why we approached this segment of the video mode in a mood of pessimism and – we were not mistaken. Declaratively, the autofocus is present in the video mode on the D810. In practice, that is the very same, barely usable, form that we have already seen dozens of times, so (in order to preserve one’s nervous system) it is far better to ignore its presence, than try to work with it in any important situation. It is almost certain that users without deep knowledge of this subject will have to wait a little longer, or turn to some rival’s offer, if autofocus is one of the first items for them on the scale of importance. For now, Nikon obviously does not plan to deal with it. On the other hand, the level of improvement of the video mode on the D810 is such that those who can profit from any situation will not even notice that there is no usable autofocus offered. In any case, a huge amount of carefully staged material is achieved by means of the manual focus.
Except with the D4s (and its predecessors), Nikon insists on the presence of the built-in flash even on the D810. Even though many people are confused with the thought of one such ‘novice’ element being present on the camera of this class, the reasons for its presence are much simpler, and they have to do with remote control over flashguns, although this is not the only modality of its use. The guide number of the built-in flash is 12 at ISO 100, and the maximum synchronization speed is 1/250s. On some occasions, with reduced power, the camera can carry out the synchronization with the exposure speed of 1/250s as well. For the moment of releasing the shutter, either the first or the second curtain can be selected (i.e. the flash at the beginning or at the end of the exposure, so that the exposure process would gather as much ambient light as possible). The reduction of red eyes is, of course, an inseparable part of this flash mode, as well as the so-called ‘slow-sync’, when more ambient light is gathered by longer exposure. Combining these two options is also enabled.
Four operating modes of the built-in flash are offered. The primary is the i-TTL, which, with the help of the light meter, meters the light ‘through the lens’ and thus enables the most accurate metering of the flash power. The i-TTL is the most frequently used mode of flash control since it achieves excellent results with relatively little effort. Its power can be compensated from -3EV to +1EV, if there is need for that. The manual mode, as its name says, is entirely controlled by the user, and the flash power is adjusted from the maximum 1/1 to the minimum 1/128 of the entire power. Since the flash is triggered with predefined power, there is no metering, so there is no so-called pre-flash, by which the TTL algorithm measures the needed flash power; therefore, in this mode it is possible to trigger external lighting, which is activated by the photo-cell (Nikon flashguns with the SU-4 mode, older flashes with photo-cells or studio lighting). The Repeating flash is an option that can often be seen among the options for controlling flashes of today’s DSLRs, although it is rarely used. It enables shooting of the flash in accordance with the previously programmed scenario, in a series that can be adjusted with the power, number and frequency of flashes, and it can be used when, for instance, a trajectory of a subject needs to be marked. The final mode is what Nikon has been famous for for a long time, and that is the well-known Commander mode – a mode with which, by means of the built-in flash, single flashguns or groups of flashguns are controlled, in one of the three modes.
The Commander mode can control two groups of flashes (A and B), along with the built-in flash, and each of them can be set to work in the TTL, Manual or Auto-aperture (AA) control mode, if there is support for it; in addition, it enables the flash to determine on its own the needed power, at the same time exchanging information with the camera concerning the aperture. Each of the groups, as well as the built-in flash, can be switched off, whereby the pop-up will send only the pre-flash, by which it activates wireless triggering, without any particular emission of light. Of course, the TTL and manual modes will be used mostly, as they are by far the most usable ones. On the other hand, except regarding the groups, Nikon does not state the limitations regarding the overall number of controlled flashes, except that the optimal number is three, without fear of any problems that may come up with mutual interference. The recognition of flashes is carried out with the identical setting of the Commander (built-in flash) and flashguns, with the channels from 1 to 4 (3 is default).
The support for flashguns is not limited to the i-TTL, but it is clear that, if one aims to achieve the maximum flexibility of use, without excessive effort, using Nikon’s modern or 3rd-party i-TTL compatible flashes is more than desirable. Furthermore, when shopping, one should also pay attention to support for wireless control by using the Commander mode, since it would be a pity not to use it. The attention with which Nikon designed the i-TTL algorithm perhaps can be best seen in the way flashguns behave when operating in the bounce position of the flash head (the position in which the head is turned towards a reflective surface, instead of the subjects within the frame), when it is capable of automatically determining the needed flash compensation, so that the exposure would be appropriate. What is more, in situations that usually confuse the majority of TTL algorithms, such as shooting when there are multitudinous reflective surfaces (e.g. mirrors or glass), Nikon’s algorithm will deal with it superbly and prevent underexposure quite efficiently.
The Nikon D810 also features the PC-Sync (standard ISO-519) terminal for synchronizing with external lighting, so by means of it, with the same limitations regarding the sync speed, studio lighting, radio shutter releases and similar equipment can be controlled.
Since the D810 shares many construction elements with the D800(E), it is not surprising that the D810 completely takes over the battery grip from the predecessor. The MB-D12 Multi-power Battery Pack, as is its full name, present on the market for a couple of years, will provide easier work if you frequently photograph in the vertical position or with massive objects. With its shape and design, it is harmonious with the new body, and just as the camera, most of it is made of magnesium alloy, which has effect on not only its weight, but firmness and sealing as well, which are at the same level as the body.
The label Multi-power in the name of the grip means that it is possible to ‘feed’ it with several different combinations of batteries. More precisely – three. The most frequent is an EN-EL15 battery, while the enclosed MS-D12 holder provides space for 8 AA batteries of any standard (alkaline, rechargeable Ni-Mh, rechargeable Li-Ion, etc.). As before, the MB-D12 grip can use a battery from high-end class cameras, labeled EN-EL18a (or EN-EL-18, the older version), and we are familiar with it thanks to the D4 and the D4s. The condition is to acquire a special BL-5 lid, which makes a whole with the EN-EL18a battery. In this way, much greater autonomy is achieved – almost twice as great – and higher burst rate.
Since the grip has not been changed, it is understandable that the old criticisms have remained where we had them last time – Nikon’s incomprehensible insisting on the holder that provides room for only one EN-EL15 battery, even though a modification of the design could enable placing two batteries quite comfortably, is the only serious flaw of the entire combination. In order for the situation to be even more pointless, the manufacturer had a plan that, as with many other Nikon grips, one battery is placed in the compartment on the body, and the other inside the grip, so in order to recharge the battery that is located inside the body, it is necessary to unmount the grip, remove the battery, recharge it, and only then mount the grip once again on the body. The absence of logic that is difficult to comment on. Again.
Nikon MB-D12 Multi-Power Battery Pack, vertical grip*
Tightening the grip is carried out with a classic toothed wheel, by screwing it into a thread for a tripod and leveling it by means of a pin on the left side. The substitute for the thread on the body is, of course, provided on the bottom side of the grip and is located on the same spot, on the axis of the lens. As for the controls, it includes both control dials, the two-level shutter button with a switch for turning off the controls on the grip, an AF-ON control and the eight-way joystick for navigating through the menus, for manipulating the parameters and for selecting the active AF point. In order for the grip to be placed in its position, it is necessary to remove the rubber lid from the connector on the bottom side of the camera, whose role is to enable a connection of the grip with the camera.