Nikon D800 Digital Camera Review$2,999.95
The Nikon D800 is a beast of a camera, an extraordinarily high-resolution anachronism dropped into a supposedly post-megapixel world. The 36.3-megapixel sensor of the D800 defines it; it is the camera's greatest asset, making it one of the most flexible, enjoyable cameras we've ever shot with.
If you follow the rumor mill, the D800 was supposed to be a successor to the D700, a camera that would excel in low light, offer exceptional speed, focus quickly, and still be light and compact by the standards of bulky full-frame bodies. When the D800 was actually released, it was derided as an exercise in excess, a body that would necessarily suffer in low light because so many pixels can't fit on a sensor without sacrificing somewhere.
Nikon has made some sacrifices by using this high-resolution, Sony-made sensor, but they have nothing to do with low-light performance. In addition to our usual round of lab testing we took the D800 to Photokina in Cologne, Germany for a week. Shooting on dim trade show floors and sparsely lit old-city streets, the D800's pixel count turned out to be its greatest advantage.
With so much resolution, we were able to edit very effectively throughout the week; softer images could be sharpened up, noise could be reduced, and even cropped images were still huge. Resolution was the biggest advantage in our lab tests, too: The sensor simply provided more data for the processor to work with. This led to some very sharp images, expansive dynamic range at low ISO speeds, and a very low signal-to-noise ratio, on par with even the Nikon D4 and Canon 1D X. Of course, with all that resolution comes the D800's real limitation: file sizes.
The amount of data coming off the sensor causes the camera to quickly lock up, even when shooting at its relatively pedestrian speed of 4 frames per second. Once you've exhausted the buffer of 12-15 RAW shots, burst shooting is practically impossible for almost a full minute while the internal buffer clears.
Even if you're a single-shot photographer, it's not long before those large files will eat up even large memory cards, not to mention your hard drives. Storage space is relatively cheap now, but it's the main issue that crept up throughout our time with the camera. This is still a far faster (and cheaper) camera than most medium-format bodies, but sports and action shooters need not apply.
Otherwise, the D800 is a fantastic camera with exceptional handling and solid design. If you're a Nikon shooter you'll know exactly what to expect here, but anyone can learn his or her way around the camera quickly. Some things are more difficult than they need to be—white balance and menu navigation chief among them—but just about every major setting you'd want to adjust can be done without ever needing to head into the menu.
We'd still caution sports shooters to look elsewhere, but from the street to the studio, the D800 put its best foot forward and performed as well as we could've hoped for. Megapixels have earned a bad reputation in the past few years, but they're a boon to this camera. There are some hitches—the spotty left-side autofocus and green tint under fluorescent light are very real problems—but the D800 is otherwise one of the best cameras we've tested and a real competitor for our 2012 camera of the year.