Nikon D800 Digital Camera Review$2,999.95
Nikon has provided D800 users with just the usual four PASM shooting modes, letting you go full-manual, shoot with an automatic program, or set aperture or shutter speed manually. The modes are adjusted by pressing the "MODE" key on the top plate and adjusting the rear control dial. There is no dedicated "bulb" shooting mode, meaning you'll have to place the camera into manual or shutter-priority mode and scroll past the 30-second mark to get to it.
If you want to take direct control of the camera's exposure yourself, that's also an option. The D800 can shoot at shutter speeds ranging from 30 seconds down to 1/8000th of a second, with a bulb and 1/250 X-sync mode also available. The camera also offers aperture control, but that is dependent upon the lens you're shooting with.
The camera also offers the user control over a multitude of other settings. A cluster of control is present on the left side of the viewfinder on the top plate of the camera. This cluster includes four buttons which can be used with the control dials to adjust settings for white balance, ISO, bracketing, and image quality/size.
We found the D800's 51-point autofocus system to generally be quite good, both in our testing and in our time using the camera in a variety of real-world conditions. The D800's main issue at large seems to be focus accuracy on the left side, though supposedly there is a fix available if your body is affected by it. You can see an example of this problem using a Lens Align Mk. II to analyze the D800's problem here.
We also use a Lens Align Mk. II for our focus test, but we utilize the center focus point to judge focus efficacy in low light. The D800 did quite well in our test, as the center point is much more sensitive than many of the surrounding points. Even in dim 10 lux light in the labs we found the D800 was able to lock on to subjects with that center point with a degree of accuracy. It won't give you much flexibility with moving subjects, but given the camera's lack of shot-to-shot speed we don't suggest using it for those purposes.
The Nikon D800's massive resolution is a real benefit for almost every kind of shooting you're going to do, but the image files it produces are very large as a result. You can reduce the resolution if you need, with options for large, medium, and small images. You can also select the file type, letting you shoot in RAW, JPEG, TIFF, or RAW+JPEG.
One thing worth noting is that all that resolution can also fill up memory cards very quickly. The large JPEG files came in between 10-17MB per shot, while the RAW shots could be as high as 50MB in a single shot. That will fill up even an 8GB card very quickly, so you may want to keep extra cards handy if shooting at a reduced resolution simply isn't an option.
The Nikon D800 also includes several advanced controls for taking some shots in-camera that would normally require extra processing with a computer. These usually allow you to go beyond the bounds of what the camera's normal modes are capable of. They're not difficult effects to pull off, but some of them are quite time consuming.
In-Camera High Dynamic Range
The D800 includes a built-in high dynamic range mode which will capture several shots in a row at different exposures and either save them as a series of photos or combine them into a single image. The shots can be captured at an exposure difference of up to 3 EV, with "smoothing" turned to one of three levels.
The effect is nice and quick if you're not looking to do much post-processing, but it should be noted that the D800 also includes extensive exposure bracketing functionality as well. The "BKT" button on the top plate of the camera can be used to quickly and easily set up a bracket of up to nine frames, with an exposure value difference as large as one whole stop, giving you nine shots that you can then edit into a singe HDR shot on a computer.
Interval and Timelapse Shooting
The Nikon D800 includes all sorts of wonderful features for users who are looking to take extended exposure shots, timelapses, and intervals over a long period of time. The D800 includes an interval timer built into the camera which will simply tell the camera to take a certain number of frames at a set interval for a set period of time. Intervals can be as long as 24 hours, with up to nine shots taken at a time. The interval can be repeated up to 999 times. This is a feature that requires an external intervalometer on most cameras, save for Pentax bodies.
The timelapse functionality is a little different, as it will capture a series of photos, but it will combine them all into a single 1080p video file of your timelapse. This is infinitely faster than loading hundreds of large JPEG files into a video editor and assembling a video. The timelapse mode will automatically assume all the video settings that are set in the "movie settings" menu, letting you set a specific interval and length for your video. The camera will capture a single shot per interval, with intervals as long as 10 minutes each. You can have the camera capture an automatic timelapse this way with a maximum length of 7 hours and 59 minutes. Once the timelapse is captured all the shots that were taken are discarded, however, so you won't be able to make your own timelapse later, unfortunately.
The D800 also allows you to capture multiple shots and even layer them into a single exposure. You can capture up to 10 shots in this way, either as a single photo or as series of shots. You can activate automatic gain for this as well, which will adjust to compensate for layering multiple photographs together. While you can use this to create some rather wild shots, its best use is for still life and studio photography, where having multiple exposures worth of RAW data can be used to more accurately interpolate the color for a scene, producing much more accurate colors.