Nikon D800 Digital Camera Review$2,999.95
As with other Nikon cameras, the D800 comes with a number of preset and custom color modes called picture controls. We've tested each and, as is typical, we found the neutral picture control to be the most accurate. Capturing a 24-patch Xrite ColorChecker, we found the D800 produced a color error of just 2.57, with a practically perfect level of saturation at 99.92% of the ideal. It isn't the most accurate color result we've ever seen, but it's well above the threshold of acceptable performance. More on how we test color.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
The Nikon D800 produced a color error quite similar to the NIkon D4, but somewhat behind the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 1D X. The Canon 1D X had some of the best color accuracy that we've tested to date, but its best delta-C was just 1.72 compared to the D800's 2.57. While the difference is noticeable when you're comparing test shots, a delta-C of 1 between cameras roughly corresponds to a "just noticeable difference" (JND) that you'd detect consistently. Either way you slice it, the full-frame options from Canon and Nikon all performed admirably, with very good to exceptional color accuracy.
The Nikon D800 has six color modes pre-programmed into the menu: standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, landscape, and a number of custom modes that can be set by the user. Each color mode can be adjusted in several ways, with options for increasing or decreasing sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. The color modes can be accessed through the main menu or by pressing the dedicated button on the back of the camera (otherwise doubling as the "protect" button).
The Nikon D800 offers a full measure of custom and auto white balance control, including several presets, direct kelvin temperature entry, and user-savable adjustments on a standard amber/blue and green/magenta scale.
Automatic White Balance ()
We found the automatic white balance to be fairly typical, with strong performance under daylight conditions, but significant issues under the warmth of tungsten lighting. The temperature error was roughly 2700 kelvin under tungsten conditions, and just 200 kelvin under daylight temperatures.
We also found curiously poor performance under compact white fluorescent lighting, which was off by more than 1800 kelvin. This error produced the "green tint" issue that has been a frequent complaint by some D800 users. While the green tint issue has been mostly discussed as a problem with the LCD, we found it was consistently reproducible under compact white fluorescent conditions, and wasn't an issue with custom white balance.
Custom White Balance ()
The custom white balance was much more successful with the Nikon D800, with tungsten, fluorescent, and daylight conditions all showing temperature errors of less than 150 kelvin. This was the easiest fix when the "green" tint issue showed up, and it's likely a problem that is isolated to the automatic white balance system in the camera. Taking the time to capture a custom white balance or simply shooting in RAW and adjusting it later should fix the problem.
The Nikon D800 produced mostly typical results with its custom white balance, while its automatic white balance mode struggled under compact white fluorescent conditions. It also struggled under tungsten lighting, but just about every camera we test has issues there, as the warm lights produced by tungsten bulbs generally go beyond what an automatic white balance range is designed to accommodate. The tungsten lighting preset usually works just fine in these conditions if you don't want to produce a warm final shot.
White Balance Options
Capturing a white balance on the D800 is the same as it is on the Nikon D4, though it's more complex than most other DSLRs (save for Canon DSLRs). The D800 can capture up to four custom white balances at a time, which can be saved for later use.
A custom white balance is captured by setting the camera to "preset manual" and choosing one of the four white balance settings. By holding down the white balance button on the top plate of the camera, you can then take a shot and the camera will use the information in the frame to produce a custom white balance reading. This is easy once you get used to it, but it doesn't provide a way to focus on a smaller portion of the frame—important if you're using a smaller white balance card that won't cover the entirety of your shot.