Nikon D800 Digital Camera Review$2,999.95
The Nikon D800 is a well-built camera that feels solid, even when shooting at tough angles. The camera's grip isn't particularly plush, but it has a very tacky rubber coating that makes the camera easy to hold on to with just a single hand. The grip is curved in the front, with an indentation offering a ridge for your middle finger to press up against. On the back of the camera, a large swath of rubber is reserved for the thumb, extending down so that your palm can wrap around the entire grip, securing the camera.
The D800 isn't the lightest camera in the block, especially with the lighter, smaller D600 soon to be released to the public. Still, it's roughly 4oz lighter than the D700 while improving control and accommodating the additional controls for live view and video. The camera features dual control dials, with one placed just in front of the shutter release and another right where the thumb rests. This gives you almost complete control of exposure in manual shooting mode without having to change the positioning of your grip hand.
The control placement of the D800 doesn't afford the user complete one-handed control, but the metering switch and autofocus activation buttons are all present right by the rear control dial. The autofocus mode switch and selector are placed on the front of the camera, right where your supporting hand would normally sit. This lets you adjust metering an focus while in a normal shooting position. It means that white balance, bracketing, image quality, ISO, and drive mode are all out of reach, but it does at least provide some measure of control while shooting.
One area where we'd like to see some improvement in these full-frame bodies is in video control. The camera's layout is still very much geared toward still photographers, and Canon and Nikon don't seem to be willing to make great strides toward designing cameras with strict video usage in mind. Those looking for a full-frame DSLR for video production may want to check out the Sony A99, which includes video-centric features like an electronic viewfinder, silent jog dial, and articulating rear LCD. On the D800, video control seems an afterthought.
Buttons & Dials
The controls on the D800 are all quite easy to use, with most offering a fair amount of resistance so you know when you've activated a feature or hit a button. The D800 is mostly designed around the idea of making your settings adjustments and then shooting uninhibited, rather than constantly fiddling with settings while you're framing your shot. As such, most of the settings on the camera require a second hand to adjust, including white balance, ISO, picture quality/size, and drive mode.
This isn't at all a bad thing, and anyone who has been using Nikon cameras will feel right at home with the D800. The camera features dual control dials, with one on the front of the grip and a second on the back near the thumb rest. The camera also includes a four-way directional pad for making finer adjustments in the menu. This is occasionally useful, though we found it was much easier to use the control dials themselves to navigate the menu, a feature found in the camera's custom menu.
The D800 uses a 3.2-inch, 921k-dot rear display, protected by a plastic scratch guard. The display is large and fairly high contrast, though we found that it had some issues in bright sunlight (as we've seen on most camera displays). The D800 can use the rear monitor for an informational readout letting you make quick adjustments to settings, or as a live view monitor. The live view functionality has plenty of utility, as the screen has a listed viewing angle of up to 170 degrees. We found it worked very well from extreme angles both horizontally and vertically. It isn't as easy as an articulated LCD for tough shot angles, but it's still quite good and will be helpful for videographers and photographers without an external monitor handy.
The viewfinder on the D800 is excellent, with 100% frame coverage of image. The viewfinder is bright and clear, with a focus screen that lights up red when a focus point is being used. The focus screen on the D800 uses boxes around each focus point, rather than tiny individual points. This lets you see what you're actually focusing on, confirming that the phase detection autofocus was accurate.