Nikon D810 Hands-On Preview
We have spent some quality time with the brand new, 36-megapixel Nikon D810 full-frame digital SLR camera to deliver you a hands-on preview. You can read our initial impressions below.
Appearance and Handling
At first sight, there appear to be no major differences between the Nikon D810 and D800/E – which is very good news for anyone wishing to upgrade from any of these models, as the transition promises to be very smooth. Upon closer inspection, one can find a handful of minor design modifications and changes in the camera's handling. For starters, the right-hand grip has been redesigned – it is now slightly narrower and deeper at the same time. This may not be readily apparent by taking a cursory look, but in hand, the two cameras do feel different. It's a small change but one that D800/E users trading up will definitely notice.
The rear plates of the Nikon D810 and D800E
On the rear plate we find a new button denoted with the letter 'i'. This button provides quick access to some of the camera's functions such as the new 'live view split screen zoom,' which we will cover in a minute. While this button is new to the Nikon D8xx series, D7100 owners will find it familiar – although on the D810, it is located closer to the Live View button.
The Bracketing button has found a new home on the front plate, below the flash housing
Another – possibly more consequential – change is the relocation of the Bracketing (BKT) button to the front of the camera. This is one of the few interface changes that may require some getting used to if you are coming from a D800/E. The reason for this modification is that the D800/E's three-position metering mode switch has given way to a metering mode button located on the top left shoulder – i. e. exactly where the BKT button was on the D800 and D800E.
The button cluster on the camera's top left shoulder now has a metering button
One of the reasons why the D800/E's three-position metering mode switch is no longer found on the D810 is that the new camera has an extra 'highlight-weighted' metering mode. Whilst Olympus have offered a so-called highlight-based spot metering option on its more advanced cameras for years, Nikon's highlight-based metering is different in that it's basically a kind of matrix metering mode that favours the preservation of highlights over an overall balanced exposure. This should be easier to use than spot metering in some circumstances, such as when photographing a solo dancer on a dark stage, for example.
New Sensor sans OLPF
Nikon claims that the D810 has an 'all-new' sensor, despite having a similar pixel count as the D800 and D800E (as well as the Sony A7R). Apparently the main difference is the total lack of an optical low-pass filter (OLPF). The Nikon D800 and D800E both had low-pass filters in front of their sensors, although the D800E had one with 'the anti-aliasing effects removed', as explained by Nikon in this document. The Nikon D810 does away with the OLPF entirely, which should result in improved detail, sharpness and microcontrast (as well as some colour moiré in a few rare cases). The Nikon D810 unit we got to try out at a press conference was a preproduction model so we could not take any test shots with it, but Nikon themselves have posted 35 high-resolution sample images that you can check out if you'd like to get a taste of what the camera is capable of.
Quieter Shutter / Mirror Slap
Nikon's Gergely Kaszás demonstrating the difference in the 'mirror slap' of the Nikon D810 and D800E
One thing we noticed when trying out the D810 is that its shutter sound / mirror return is much quieter than that of its predecessors, or indeed any other 35mm full-frame digital SLR camera that we have tested so far. This is very good news for anyone intending to use the camera in a quiet setting such as a theatre, church or classical concert venue. The company says it has developed a new mirror sequencer / balancer as well as a new shutter unit designed for 200,000 actuations, decreased vibration and quieter operation.
Electronic First Curtain Shutter Function
This new feature is aimed at reducing vibration-induced camera shake, and should come in espectially handy for astro- and macro-photographers as well as landscapists.
Faster Continuous Shooting and Image Processing
The Nikon D810 inherits the EXPEED 4 processing engine from the company's flagship professional camera, the Nikon D4S, contributing to a 25% increase in continuous shooting speed (to 5fps, up from 4fps in the D800 and D800E) as well as 30% faster data processing. In DX crop mode, the Nikon D810 can shoot 15.3-megapixel photos at up to 7fps when the optional MB-D12 battery grip is attached.
Improved Auto-focus System
The Nikon D810 offers a 51-point AF system just like its predecessors but Nikon have tweaked it to enable more accurate focusing, and added the so-called Group Area AF mode first seen in the D4S. This, combined with the faster continuous shooting, should make the D810 better at capturing fast-moving subjects. The venue where the press conference was held was not exactly the right place for testing this so we cannot comment on the D810's Group Area AF performance yet, but it's something we would definitely like to explore in our upcoming in-depth review.
Wider Sensitivity Range
The camera has a base sensitivity of ISO 64/19°, expandable to ISO 32/16°, which means there's less of a need for an ND filter in certain circumstances (such as shooting with a fast lens wide open in broad daylight). At the other end of the scale, the Nikon D810 has a maximum sensitivity of ISO 12,800/42°, expandable to ISO 51,200/48°.
New 'Raw S' Option
Canon has been offering sRaw and mRaw image quality options in its advanced digital cameras for years but Nikon only introduced a Raw S[mall] feature when the D4S was launched. The D810 thus becomes the second Nikon camera to offer this option. In this case, it means a 9-megapixel image in 12-bit raw file format, which takes up less space on the memory card and requires less time to transfer to a computer. With the Nikon D810's full-resolution raw files being absolutely huge, this is a great option to have for whenever you don't need the full 36 megapixels the sensor can capture.
New 'Flat' Picture Control
Nikon have added a new Picture Control to its in-camera image enhancement system. The 'Flat' option, also available for 'D-movies,' will likely be a favourite with videographers as it provides a 'film-like' - low-contrast, high-dynamic-range - look that many cinematographers prefer over the harsher appearance typical of footage captured with most digital (and analogue) video cameras. Stills photographers will also appreciate this option for at least two reasons. JPEG shooters can preserve both highlight and shadow detail when shooting contrasty scenes, while raw shooters will have a more accurate in-camera histogram (which is based on an embedded JPEG even when shooting raw) to judge exposure. On a related note, there's now a Clarity slider available for fine-tuning any of the six Picture Controls, which offers the kind of superior microcontrast adjustment that has, until now, only been available in post-processing applications.
Live View Split Screen Zoom
A slide from Nikon's presentation
In Live View, you can use a unique 'split screen zoom' feature, which shows you magnified areas from the left and right sides of the live image feed to help you accurately level the camera. This function, which is more accurate than an electronic level gauge, is likely to be extremely helpful for architectural and product photographers in particular. It also helps you with checking sharpness uniformity across the frame.
Enhanced Movie Recording
While Nikon haven't embraced 4K video yet, they are now offering a very good 'D-movie' mode on the D810. You can now shoot movies at up to 1080/50p/60p in the full ISO range, with built-in stereo microphones, in both FX and DX crop modes. Seasoned videographers will welcome the 'zebras' feature, which denotes blown highlights with zebra stripes in Movie Live View; as well as the option to record movies to a memory card and an external recorder at the same time.
Improved LCD Screen
The Nikon D810's LCD screen is the same size (3.2”) as that of the D800/E but it now boasts 1.23 million dots in an RGBW layout. As with the D4S, you can fine-tune the monitor's white balance along the red-blue and green-magenta axes. While this is still a far cry from proper monitor calibration, this feature does help you in matching the colours of your camera's screen to those of your computer display.
OLED Viewfinder Display
The in-finder status LCD of the Nikon D800/E has given way to an OLED panel, a la Nikon D7100, which is considerably easier to see. This will be particularly useful to those using manual-focus lenses in combination with the camera's 'electronic rangefinder' function (as any MF lens user who has traded up from a D7000 to a D7100 can attest). The viewfinder itself is essentially unchanged, but the optical elements feature new coatings for improved clarity.
Extended Battery Life
The Nikon D810 uses the same battery as its immediate forebears, but it manages to shoot more frames (1200 according to CIPA standards, more if you don't use the built-in flash) on one charge.
The Nikon D810 alongside the Nikon D800E
These are the main modifications, enhancements and changes that we have noticed during our first encounter with the Nikon D810. In most other respects, the new model is identical to the Nikon D800 and D800E. It has a similarly weather sealed body, identical viewfinder specifications (100% frame coverage, 0.7x magnification with a 50mm lens focused at infinity), a similar pixel count, an identically sized (FX) sensor, the same two memory card slots (Compact Flash and SD), the same connection ports (now with separate rubber flaps for audio in&out, USB and HDMI), and a very similar menu system (with the afore-mentioned new functions added, of course). That's all we have for today but stay tuned for our upcoming in-depth review!