Nikon D800 Digital Camera Review$2,999.95
- Low Light Performance
- Noise Reduction
- ISO Options
- Focus Performance
- Video: Low Light Sensitivity
Low Light Performance
The D800's high resolution sensor provides it a great deal of advantage in most of our bright light testing. However the camera can only offer a maximum ISO of 25600. For most photographers this is not a problem, but the competing full-frame options from Canon as well as Nikon's own D4 do provide a little more flexibility in low light when a faster shutter speed is more important. Still, we found that we were perfectly satisfied with shots up to ISO 3200 for printed work, while even shots as high as ISO 6400 were usable for web or small prints.
The other advantage for the D800 is the characteristics of its noise. As it is such a high resolution camera, the relatively large spatial frequency results in noise that is typically less apparent than it might otherwise be on a camera with a lower megapixel count. We found that while noise was beginning to be apparent as ISO 6400, chroma noise was kept to a minimum. While the increased noise significantly decreased each shot's latitude for editing (especially levels adjustment), the more "filmic" luminance noise wasn't as ugly as we've seen on other cameras.
The Nikon D800's high ISO performance was quite good, with perfectly usable photos up to ISO 3200 for large prints and ISO 6400 for the web. Shooting at Photokina 2012 we shot some of the darker booths handheld with the D800 and even when the auto ISO kicked up to ISO 6400, the shots came back perfectly usable without noise reduction applied.
The camera's built-in noise reduction system also does well here, as each setting of reduction (low, normal, and high) allows you to use an extra ISO step if need be. We found that noise was kept under 2% (our rough threshhold for acceptable quality) all the way to ISO 3200 with no noise reduction, ISO 6400 on low, ISO 12800 on normal, and ISO 25600 on high. There's a level of detail loss associated with each step up, however, so it's still a trade-off. More on how we test noise.
The D800 places ISO control right at your fingertips, with a dedicated ISO button beside the optical viewfinder. If you press this button and rotate the control dial, you can move up and down the ISO scale quickly and easily without going into the menu. If you do pay a visit to the menu, you can turn on the automatic ISO and set the upper limit for sensitivity or the lower limit for shutter speed, ensuring you get a sufficiently fast exposure.
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.
Video: Low Light Sensitivity
The D800 was able to produce a video image with a brightness of 50 IRE using a target illuminated by just 4 lux of light. This puts it among the most sensitive cameras we've tested, though the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D4, and Canon 1D X all beat it by a fairly wide margin due to their superior ISO ranges. We should note that this was using the D800 with auto ISO engaged, so it didn't take advantage of the two higher ISO speeds equivalent to 12800 and 25600. Those speeds produce a large amount of gain, but if you need to capture video in less than 4 lux of light, they're available.