Nikon D800 Digital Camera Review$2,999.95
Kit Lens & Mount
The lens we tested the Nikon D800 with was the Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f/4 lens. This lens provides a solid zoom range and relatively large aperture throughout the focal range. It also matches up closely with the 24-105mm f/4 Canon lens we used in testing the Canon 5D Mark III, allowing us as close a comparison as possible throughout the testing process.
The lens itself is somewhat heavy, but compact enough to fit into a small bag without sacrificing ergonomics. It has a AF/MF and vibration reduction switches on the lens, large zoom ring, and a smaller focal ring next to the body for manual focus. When autofocusing the front element does not rotate, allowing you to set up filters prior to focusing on your subject. The lens barrel extends outward when at the extreme telephoto focal end, remaining fully compact at the wide angle.
The Nikon D800 uses Nikon's standard F-mount, which they've used practically continuously since 1959. The D800 can function almost perfectly with lenses back to 1977, including manual focus lenses. The camera also includes an autofocus drive motor, allowing it full autofocus compatibility with all current AF Nikkor lenses. One of the biggest advantages of the camera's high-resolution image sensor is using DX crop with either DX or FX lenses to narrow your field of view while still producing a 15-megapixel shot. This gives you greater flexibility, while still producing shots with enough resolution for editing, cropping, and printing.
Megapixels are always a bit of a sore subject when it comes to digital cameras these days, but that's generally overlooking the utility of having an extensive amount of resolution per shot. While it's true that all a photographer needs to make a very large print is between six and eight megapixels of information, having much more is a great advantage in tough circumstances.
For the Nikon D800 and its ridiculous 36.3-megapixel sensor, that resolution has two great benefits. First, it allows users to shoot in DX crop mode and still produce a 15.36-megapixel (4800x3200) image. Second, all that extra resolution allows you significant editing leeway, especially with sharpening and noise reduction, while still downsampling to an image that will look great on the web or in medium-sized prints. This allows you to shoot in less than ideal conditions and still produce an image that you can work with, even as high as ISO 6400.
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.
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 Nikon D800's built-in flash pops up from above the pentaprism housing. It has just a small plastic mechanical release that allows the flash to pop up. It seems like a durability concern, however, as the flash popped open accidentally on more than one occasion while transporting the D800 around in a standard shoulder photo bag.
The flash itself has a guide number rating of 39 feet at ISO 100, with the ability to fire flash bracketing of two to nine frames in 1/3-, 1/2-, 2/3-, and whole-stop increments. The flash isn't terribly harsh, but it also isn't terribly powerful. If you're doing professional work we'd recommend going with an external flashgun, but the built-in one is at least there if you need it in a pinch.
The Nikon D800 includes only some of the advanced connectivity features of the Nikon D4, which we tested earlier this year. The D800 also gets the SuperSpeed USB cable, but it lacks the Ethernet connectivity of the higher-end full-frame models. The camera also has built-in microphone and headphone jacks in addition to a standard mini-HDMI port.
The D800 uses the Lithium-ion Nikon EN-EL15 battery pack, which is removable and rechargeable. It has a capacity of 1900mAh, good for 900 shots by CIPA standards. Unless you use the built-in flash very frequently you can expect far greater battery life out of the camera, as CIPA standards call for utilizing the flash more often than most people typically would. We used the D800 to photograph cameras all through Photokina in Germany and only had to charge the battery once for a few hours. All told it captured somewhere in the realm of 1500 shots through the week before we had to plug it in, though your mileage will vary, of course.
The D800 uses dual card slots, which can be found on the right side of the body. The compartments are revealed by sliding back a plastic door built into the grip, where you'll find a single SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot and a single CompactFlash slot.
The dual card slots are put to work on the D800, with several options controlling what types of files go to which card. The menu allows you to designate the primary slot (either CF or SD) and then designate the secondary slot's function. The secondary slot can be used as overflow if you fill your primary card, as a backup (mirroring what the primary captures), or as a JPEG repository, saving the uncompressed RAW files to the primary card.