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Nikon D810 – The Repeat Champion Of DSLRs?

By Matthew Saville on June 26th 2014

Pre-Order the D810 here on B&H for $3296


It never fails.  A few days after you buy a camera, they announce its replacement!  Sure enough, just moments after I clicked “buy” on a D800E, The D810 arrived.

Actually I don’t really mind, in fact most of the time I’m used to buying older model cameras, and often in used condition.  After the D800 was first announced, I wound up buying two D700 bodies used over the last few years.  (I actually paid less for each of those, than I paid for a D300 when it was “hot” back in 2007!)

But I digress. The D810 is here, and it is “merely” an updated version of the D800E / D800.  It comes on one version, which has no AA filter, so it is basically a consolidation of the previous two cameras.

I say “merely” in quotes because, despite the internet chatter about how this camera is “evolutionary, not revolutionary”, …the D810 is still the reigning champion of DSLRs, at least in most ways.  Not in every single way, but most.  The image quality of the original D800 was nothing short of breathtaking, and is definitely the main reason why anyone would consider buying this camera.

The bottom line is that Nikon has had a long history of releasing “s” type models of cameras with minimal updates from their previous models.  This is normal.  The next “revolutionary” camera will come, in another year or two, and it will be awesome.  Today, we simply have an improved version of a camera that has already been a champion for the past ~2.5 years.

The price?  In the US at least, it’s $3300, the same as the D800E was originally.  In the UK it’s allegedly going to be £2700 unfortunately, which is a tad unfair considering the conversion rate.

No More AA / OLP / High-Pass Filter, Period!

Nikon’s lineup now includes the D7100, D5300, and now the D3300, all which lack an AA filter.  Clearly Nikon has decided that when you want to cram lots of megapixels onto a sensor, (FX or DX) …the AA filter just gets in the way.  The D4s and Df have relatively large pixels, and both produce extremely sharp images even with an AA filter.  (The D610, well, I don’t know what’s up with it still having an AA filter!)


Nikon D810 Specifications, With Commentary

36 megapixel “redesigned” sensor

The term “redesigned” is always open for discussion when an announcement like this happens.  How redesigned is it?  Physically re-engineered?  Or just a little bit better processing algorithms, on the software side?  Either way, we’ll have to wait and find out. However the track record of Nikon’s 36 megapixel sensor is, well, it’s the reigning champion of dynamic range, and it’s a top-dog for both ISO performance and overall resolution / detail.

ISO 64-12800 Natively, ISO 32 and 51200 in “LO” and “HI” mode

The fact that they’ve managed to lower the native ISO of this sensor does indeed lead me to believe that Nikon has done more than just upgrade the sensor’s processing software.  Having ISO 64 natively may not seem very exciting to some, but it is something we have rarely (if ever) seen natively since, well, Kodachrome slide film!  Landscape photographers (who like to blur water, among other things) are going to rejoice over this, to be sure. Having ISO 12800 is also a 1-stop boost over the Nikon D800‘s previous native ceiling of 6400, so hopefully there is in fact ~1 stop better actual noise performance! Again, time will tell.

New Kevlar / Carbon Fiber Shutter, with reduced shutter lag and quieter operation

Sounds awesome, and it’s high time Nikon offered a “quiet” mode that even came close to the fantastic quiet shooting mode of the Canon 5Dm k3 and similar cameras.  (Wedding and golf photographers, rejoice!)  It would have been nice to see an improvement in the lifespan though.  I’m also kinda wary of any new technology in this respect, by default, because the camera shutter is such a basic thing in general that attempts to improve on its design sometimes lead to (ahem, ahem) serious defects.

Electronic 1st-Curtain Shutter

This will probably sound silly to Canon shooters who have (for years now) been able to shoot photos in Live View without having the shutter and mirror go flopping up and down like most Nikon DSLRs have had to do, but for Nikon shooters this is going to be pretty big.  What “Electronic 1st Curtain Shutter” and all this means is, simply put, significantly quieter photo taking with far less wear and tear on your mirror box.

3.2″ LCD Screen with higher resolution and “split-screen” mode

I’m sure this LCD will probably look gorgeous, but most people on the internet will undoubtedly complain that it isn’t a touchscreen. Personally?  I’m thrilled that it is NOT a touchscreen! I don’t need that, as a professional, and it would only serve to make the camera more expensive to buy, and the screen more expensive to replace if damaged.  Thank you Nikon, for NOT including this bell/whistle.

I will say, however, that this split-screen idea sounds pretty darn cool, once you realize what it can do.  It can display two images side by side for focus confirmation.  The pixel-peepers all just did a backflip, I bet.

No More Metering Mode Dial

This one, I’m actually quite bummed about.  They moved the BKT button for bracketing to a horrible spot, and put the metering mode in its place on the top-left.  I really liked where it was on my D200, D300, D700, and D800E, so this is going to take some getting used to!

Highlight-Based Metering Mode

Here’s something that Nikon seems to have been toying with for a while.  (That was meant as a subtle nod to all the people who have complained about this or that Nikon camera having “overly protective” metering mode.  Considering how amazing Nikon shadow detail recovery is, I’m actually pretty happy to have a “highlight preservation” metering mode!

“RAW size S” 9 Megapixel Raw Size

Another thing that is probably going to go un-noticed by some, and criticized by some who do notice it, is the addition of a small RAW filesize.  Unfortunately at this point we don’t know too much about it, however so far Nikon’s track record isn’t pretty good.  The D4s, which debuted Nikon’s attempt at an “sRAW” mode, doesn’t seem to offer the same NEF quality that a full-res NEF image.  All in all, with a D810 I would probably just keep shooting full-resolution NEF files, but when I need to save storage space I’ll just use 12-bit lossy compression.

5 FPS Full-Frame, (FX) 7 FPS DX (crop sensor, with battery grip and certain batteries)

5 FPS with 36 megapixel images is a pretty impressive amount of throughput, any way you slice it.  I’m not going to complain about the D810 lacking 6-7 FPS in full-frame mode, that’s for sure!

Memory Cards: CF + SDXC

I know a lot of people hate SD, but in my opinion this configuration is fine, and par for the course.  Even the Canon 1-series has been doing SD+CF for generations!

EXPEED 4 Image Processing Engine

Another ambiguous specification, until this camera hits the streets.  What is to be expected?  Better image quality, and faster image processing.

Improved, D4s-like autofocus system

From what we can tell, this means that the camera is using the same physical parts for autofocus as all / most of the previous cameras with Nikno’s 51 pt AF system, however the processing power behind it is improved and the features available are improved.  What most people seem to be excited about is “group area AF”, which is for tracking moving subjects.

50/60 FPS video Recording At 1080p, But No 4K Video

This is to be expected, in my opinion, even though other cameras are starting to offer 4K video.  It comes as no surprise that Canon will probably beat Nikon to 4K, with common DSLRs.  If you’re obsessed with having the latest in video technology, Nikon is (sometimes) just not going to be the best system for you.  Personally, I’ve never needed more than 1080p for my work and personal use.

“Zebra Stripes” For Focus Confirmation In Video

Here’s one thing that Nikon users (and DSLR users in general) have been asking for!  Zebra Stripes, or Marching Ants, or whatever you want to call them, are a very welcome addition to the user experience.


Who Is The D810 For?

What seems to be the main point of contention among internet buzz is, what is the point of this camera?  It’s not another quantum leap, it’s not a D900 so to speak. So I guess some people are wishing that Nikon would come up with something totally revolutionary in just 2.5 years.  Historically speaking, this just hasn’t happened.  There are always rather large gaps between revolutionary camera models.  How many years fell between the Canon 5D Mk2 and the original 5D?  The mk2 and the Canon 5D Mk3?  How about the D700-D800?  Usually, far more than 2.5 years.

So if you ask me, this is par for the course.  This is essentially a D800s, with the same exact level of improvements seen in the D70s, D2Xs, D3s, D300s, D4s, …did I miss any?  Oh the D2Hs!

Anyways, who should buy the D810?  Most D800 or D800E owners are probably thinking that they’re going to continue to be perfectly happy with the camera they already own.  And rightly so.  In other words, you can’t really “upgrade” from a D800 to a D810, you’re just replacing one camera with another.  So if your D800 is getting really old and has seen better days, or if you haven’t bought a D800 / D800E at all yet, then now is your chance to get an even better camera.

Landscape, architecture, portrait and other photographers who care about resolution are going to love this camera.  If you print enormous prints, you’ll be in heaven.  Or if you simply need a lot of cropping power? Either way, if you can come up with the $3300, then go for it.

What if you’re on a much tighter budget, though?  A used D800 can be had for about $2100 if you’re a hawk, and a used D800E can be had for about $2400, if you’re a hawk.  Probably a much better choice for you, if you’re in a place in life where every penny counts.  (Or if there’s a $~1000 lens you really need)

What Could Come Next From Nikon, Canon, OR….?

As I mentioned before, it’s pretty easy to assume that Canon will put 4K video in their 5D mk4. It might not arrive for another 1-2 years, or be called the 5D mk4, but you get the idea. Either way, between Canon and Nikon the whole situation is a bit less of a “what will come next?” and more of a “who won’t screw up as much as the other?”

At least, that’s how pessimistic the rest of the internet seems to be sometimes.  In reality, the Nikon D810 is an incredible camera with a whole lot to offer.

Take care, and happy clicking!


Pre-Order the D810 here on B&H for $3296

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. bob smith

    This article should be called, “Sour Grapes: Why I Don’t Need a D810 Anyway”

    What a waste of time.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Bob, considering the rest of the comments on this post as well as those on my final review of the D810, I’d say that 90% of the people who read either will NOT consider it a waste of time, but a very helpful insight into whether or not certain types of photographers should buy this camera, or look elsewhere. But, sorry I wasted YOUR time, since you’re already all-knowing WRT which camera is right for YOU! ;-)


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  2. Rafael Steffen

    Thanks for the detailed review. It makes it much easier to unrevel the new details.

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  3. Ralph Hightower

    I agree with Matthew with the opening statement. It’s an “arms race” for DSLR manufacturers with Canon and Nikon trying to out megapixel and out-feature the other.

    It’s like Detroit’s past practice of “Planned Obsolescence”. When film was the only game, Canon and Nikon had a 10 year cycle for their pro level cameras.

    When I was looking for a DSLR to buy, I ran into “Analysis Paralysis”; the biggest problem was when to pull out the credit card. I had settled on the camera model that fit in the household budget, Canon 7D; but reading the website, Canon Rumors, there were and still are rumors of a 7D Mk II. But I finally pulled the trigger for a 5D Mk III after my wife and I found a great deal in December 2013.

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    • Dave Lyons

      I don’t agree with that at all statement at all.
      What race is there? Canon isn’t doing anything and what little they’re doing are little nick knacks here and there but nothing of true value that improves image quality. Nikon on the other hand is pushing fairly hard to improve image quality so they’re going two different ways and personally I’ll take Image Quality over a new flippy screen any and every day.

      It seems like canon users don’t care about IQ at all which is nuts IMO. Canons sensors are so far behind right now that they’re going to have a really hard time catching the sony sensors at this point.

      The 5dm3 rules the roost for weddings and etc.. and Nikon really doesn’t have the “wedding” camera that competes directly with the 5d so i’d assume they went BIG with the D800 for landscapes and such that it would catch canon flat footed and not have an answer for it as it’s obvious that they don’t have a sensor that can do what the d800/d810 can do and not just mp size but keeping the noise down as well, hell they can’t even get the 7dm2 sensor right yet. On average canons test out at around 30% less image quality, have on average over 2 stops less dynamic range and also less color depth… I don’t think god could deliver them a sensor right now that would even get them close to sony’s sensors and they don’t seem like they even care anymore about stills… just video this, video that.

      The IQ of the d800 and im sure even more so the d810 makes the canons look like iphone pix… quality wise and what’s coming to to help out???? maybe a 7dm2 someday lol ZZZzzzzzzzzz

      Look at the bottom of the line camera of each..
      Canon: t5 old parts in a new body that actually might be worse than its predecessor 7-8 years ago, abysmal IQ

      Nikon: D3300… has better IQ, dynamic range and color depth than ANY canon.. ANYYYY canon lol (ok 1DX gets same IQ score for only $6200 more). That’s just embarrassing

      So back to the original statement of “the arms race”… there is no race right now… more like 1 company is building and releasing new technology fairly quickly and the other one is just sitting there doing nothing.

      Hell if I would have kept my 30D i’d still have a current canon sensor ;)~

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    • Matthew Saville

      Ralph, I do agree that it seems to be a sort of “planned obsolescence” arms race, and every company is releasing new cameras left and right to feed the consumerist mentality these days. The ~80’s mentality of “built tough, buy it once and it will last you a lifetime) is gone, plain and simple, because of digital technology.

      For better or for worse, I’m certainly glad that Nikon has pushed to develop cameras like the D800, and Canon the 5D mk3.

      Then again, IMO Canon should have been able to deliver the 5D mk3 at the time they delivered the 5D mk2. (Even if they did it with the 5D mk2 sensor lol, since the IQ difference is almost negligible.)

      I also however agree very strongly with Dave Lyons: As far as the term “race” is concerned, literally speaking, it’s really just a race to see what Nikon and Sony will do next, and whether or not Canon can “salvage things” and not finish dead-last.

      Oh the THIRD hand, (just bear with me) …I also gotta say, the whole “race” thing in general is still being blown way out of proportion. Guys like Dave make it sound as if Canon is, well, an abysmal lost cause and hopelessly inferior. In reality, the fact is that for many years now, their cameras have produced amazing results that 90% of photographers will find to be more than adequate for all their needs. Sony (and Nikon) sensors might be a little bit ahead, but that doesn’t automatically render all other cameras useless.

      So what I guess I’m trying to say is, if today’s photographers had the mindset regarding equipment “investments” that photographers had 30 years ago, none of this would be an issue at all, or at least not nearly as much. I’m sure there were fanboys back then, but I doubt they were at each other’s throats this much.

      Therefore, I vote we get off our computers and go take some photos. :-D

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    • Dave Lyons

      Matthew… sorry man but I can’t go take pix as my shutter finally went out a few days ago lol

      First off lets get something straight… I’m NOT a Nikon fanboy, i know it sounds like it but it’s really not the case but what I am is a realist and I base things off of what the situation is(thank you medical training).

      Not long ago all my gear took a swim in tampa bay and I had to start over and I could pick any way to go and when I buy something I want the most for my money. In this case I wanted a new camera from a company that was moving forward and not just sitting still. Will Canons take good pix… well sure they will, no doubt there. Then again will a d40 take a good picture still? of course it will, I still see amazing stuff off of them but would you consider it on par with a D7100? Of course not… would you pay more for the d40 over the d7100? of course not.

      See now that’s where my issue with Canons comes into play, sure they’re fine for most people and most people have no idea how limited canon sensors are and for a lot of people it doesn’t matter but for me it does. Lets say I get that once in a lifetime glorious shot do I want it on the limited 5d sensor or the d810 sensor? That’s a no brainer and yet the 5d costs more!! it’s like buying a toyota at the lexus price… to me that just makes no sense and is stupid.

      I understand supporting your brand but there comes a time when you gotta just swallow the truth. Honestly, if fuji was still building it’s gear in nikon bodies I’d probably be using those. I’m not trying to nudge people to Nikon just bring up the issues and facts and the facts are that Canon hasn’t done squat in a longgggggggg time. I started shooting right when the 30D came out and I got that and since then (2007 i think) Canons come out with really what, 1 new sensor but they’ll happily sell you an old sensor for a lot more than a current sony one… sorry but no thanks… that’s completely the microsoft way. All these people buying canons thinking they’re getting current tech and they aren’t and I can tell you the ones I’ve talked with get pissed when they find out lol. Of course those camera’s aren’t useless but in your work would you want to give paying customers images with 30% less IQ? Whether they notice or not in my book that’s not ok.

      You remember when the Nikkor 18-200mm vr came out? That was when I switched to Nikon paired with a D200 and since that time I can’t really think of anything special that Canons brought out (besides video updates and flippy screens), that’s a long time and if you stop and logically think about it… there has to be more to this than we know and I think canons having a hard time with sensors. The sony sensors aren’t just
      ” a little bit ahead”… come on dude be realistic…. they’re frog stomping the canons. They’re going to have to come out with a new sensor which in realist canon track record terms might take 2-3 cycles to get right and by then the other sensors will be that much further ahead. Sony obviously has their foot on the gas with sensors and sensors are probably the single most important part of a camera so no I don’t think “i’m blowing this outta proportion” by any means, Canon’s in a deep hole and this new microsoft partnership pretty much signals that there’s something gone very wrong.

      Maybe for me part of this is being a developer and I saw the same kinda thing happening to windows years ago and everyone thought I was nuts and yet it played out just like I said it would, so don’t think canons immune to it. The only thing we’ve gotten from canon is rumors.

      If you were to put brand loyalties aside and write out facts sheets and people really saw what’s going on canon would be hosed.. facts are facts… but yes they will still take a fine picture… I never said they wouldn’t but when i fork out my $3300 I sure as hell don’t want 5-6 year old tech.

      “I also however agree very strongly with Dave Lyons: As far as the term “race” is concerned, literally speaking, it’s really just a race to see what Nikon and Sony will do next, and whether or not Canon can “salvage things” and not finish dead-last.

      Oh the THIRD hand, (just bear with me) …I also gotta say, the whole “race” thing in general is still being blown way out of proportion. Guys like Dave make it sound as if Canon is, well, an abysmal lost cause and hopelessly inferior.”

      The first paragraph you’re saying or wondering if canon can “salvage things” and the next slightly condemning “guys like me” for making it seem like canon is moving into dire straits which you basically just did too the sentence before, you can’t play both sides of the coin. Would you agree that everybody is trucking along except canon who is just standing there picking their behind…

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  4. Michael Chapman

    Thanks for the run-down. Great article – straight and to the point. I’ve decided I’m going to get one. ;)

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    • Matthew Saville

      Awesome, Michael! I’ll be getting one for review, of course, and I’ll be comparing it directly against the D800E. Hopefully we’ll have a solid review up within a few days of its ship date, so stay tuned!


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  5. Christopher Rankin

    I agree that this will drive the prices down on the D800 and since the D810 seems like such a slight incremental upgrade I think picking up a used D800E would be the way to go if you’re looking for value.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Yep Christopher, this is the route I’m taking indeed. Sure, I’ll probably “upgrade” to the D810 some day, I mean its sounds like the improvements are pretty worthwhile, but I’m just not in the group of people who have $3300 to spend on this exact model camera.

      I’ll give it a year or two with the D800E, and see how D810’s hit the used market then. The D800e is barely what, two years old? And I already found mine for just $2300. :-D :-D

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  6. Olivier Bulle

    Do you think that with this new camera we will see the price of the D800 go down a little or this will not affect the retail rice for older model? I I’ve been wondering if I should change my D7000 since the D800 is out.

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    • Matthew Saville

      It really depends what you shoot, Olivier. If you spend a lot of your time at your base ISO and stopped down, such as for editorial stuff or landscapes or whatever, then the D7000 actually has one of the best sensors on the market! If I recall correctly, it’s actually the ONLY crop sensor to surpass 14 stops of dynamic range? Not sure about that, but it’s very close! (13.9 maybe?)

      Either way, no I’m not expecting a fire-sale of D800’s right now. Most folks with the D800 / D800e are just not going to feel desperate to upgrade to this new camera. If anything, the used price of a D800e may fluctuate UP for a little while, and then come back down!

      I just recently bought a D800e for $2300 a few days / weeks before the D810 became official, and I think honestly that was the best time to buy because the D810 was still an unknown at that point.

      However, if you wait a few months after the D810 hits shelves, I bet you’ll see a considerable drop in D800 prices eventually, simply because of market pressure overall.

      Good luck!

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  7. Kim Farrelly

    “who won’t screw up as much as the other?” Priceless.

    Every time I shoot with the D800 the quality of the pictures amazes me, especially the fine detail when I crop in post. Nice if they get the AF better and lower the noise a bit in the D810 as with any camera but it’s that 36mp chip that is the star and the reason to see the show, the others are like the supporting cast, if they give a better performance the star shines greater.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I definitely tend to agree, Kim. The whole reason to buy the D800 is the sensor. It’s a fantastic camera otherwise, but the image quality for NEF stills is the selling point. Otherwise the D700 isn’t that much different of a camera, and faster. If you don’t care about video and want a full-frame street / candid photography camera, the D700 is still a champion because Nikon was smart and put the flagship AF in it from day one, unlike the Canon 5D mk2.

      Having said that, Nikon does have a “gap” in their lineup that could combine everything that is good about the D810, D610, and the Df, into one super-camera that is 16-24 megapixels, and fully flagship oriented (form factor) for ~$3K. That camera would kill. But considering that Nikon gave us the D700 (a D3 lite) BEFORE they gave us the D3s, …now that we have the D4s and no D700s or D710 or whatever, I’m likely to believe that such a camera simply won’t be coming. Especially not if they can perfect their RAW-S mode on the D810, which IMO is unfortunately still not perfect. (People are willing to take a step back to 12-16 MP in order to save file size, but NOT 9 MP probably, let alone the silly 4 MP sRAW of the D4s…


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  8. Servando Miramontes

    Powerhouse of a camera… That price tag, though!

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    • Greg Faulkner

      Even worse price for us in the UK

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    • Dave Lyons

      I don’t see an issue with the price… still way cheaper than a 5dm3. Almost medium format quality for $3200, if anything I’d say it’s under priced.

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    • Matthew Saville

      @ Dave Lyons, you might not see an issue with the price if you live in the US. The D810 costs the exact same as the D800e cost when it was first released, $3300. However for the UK, it costs the equivalent of $4500+ OUCH…

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    • Dave Lyons

      @MATTHEW SAVILLE still, think about it…. i mean i guess they could spend 40-80k on a med format body to get barely any better quality.

      how about this… ppl in the uk get a few of you together (enough to discount the camera but enough ppl to cover my costs and to get me a d810 as well) and I’ll buy and send them to you.. there you go problem solved ;)

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    • Greg Faulkner

      I’ve got an even better idea, I’ll fly to NYC and pick them up from B & H lol

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