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

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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!)

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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.

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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!

=Matt=

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