Nikon D800 Digital Camera Review$2,999.95
Speed and Timing
The Nikon D800 is not designed to capture fast-moving action the way that many high-end DSLRs are, but it presents an interesting middle ground for those looking for a camera with very high-resolution and some serviceable continuous shooting chops. The D800 is rated to fire shots at up to 4 frames per second, which puts it well behind even most entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, but well ahead of medium-format bodies. While the D800 doesn't have the flexibility of a medium-format camera such as those from Phase One, Hasselblad, or Pentax, it also doesn't cost nearly as much for the whole package.
Drive modes on the D800 are controlled with a locking ring on the top plate of the camera beneath the WB/ISO/BKT/Quality cluster. This is the same location as we've seen on many past Nikon DSLRs, so it's hardly a surprise. It allows the user to quickly change drive settings, with options for single shot, quiet shutter, continuous low, continuous high, and the self-timer.
The self-timer can be set in the menu, with both standard and custom options allowing for multiple exposures after a short delay. The continuous low speed can be fixed in the menu as well, pushing as high as 5fps or as low as 2fps, depending on your need.
The Nikon D800 is listed as shooting at up to four frames per second by Nikon. We found this to be right on the money, as the camera captured a five-shot burst at exactly 4.14 frames per second. Again, this puts it among the slower cameras in Nikon's line of DSLRs (and the market at large), right in line with last year's Nikon D5100. Still, the impressive aspect of this performance is that it's capturing that information across a full-frame 35mm wide image sensor, with each shot capturing 36.8 megapixels of information.
We found that the camera was able to capture up to 13 RAW frames in a row before running out of room on the internal buffer, after which it was forced to stop shooting until space freed up, even when using a CompactFlash card with an SD card for overflow. When shooting full-size JPEGs we found that the burst capacity increased to around 25 shots, but that again the camera had to stop shooting until buffer space freed up.
The D800 offers a number of self-timer and interval options that will allow you to set up a variety of shots. The drive mode dial on the camera only has a single setting for self-timer, but you can go into the custom "Timers/AE lock" menu to define just what the timer is going to be. From this menu you can set the self-timer to have a delay of two, five, 10, or 20 seconds, at which point it will capture from 1-9 shots, with a delay of up to three seconds between each shot.
The camera also features an interval timer (as well as a multi-exposure and timelapse function), all of which we've detailed on our controls page.
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.