Nikon D800 - Coming from a Canon users perspective.
Nikon D800 With Lens
I’ve been ‘Canon’ for the past 10 years since buying a ‘film’ EOS 10.
After that I moved digital with the 10D, and since then I’ve owned a 300D, 20D, 40D, 1Ds, 1Dsmk2, 7D, and finally a 5D Mk2. Very rarely in all that time have I ever even picked up a Nikon... not for any specific reason, I suppose the main issue keeping photographers ‘brand loyal’ is the price and hassle of switching to a different system with regards to the price of lenses and accessories, and so, mainly because of that, I’ve just never really felt the need.
But when Nikon announced the D800 specs I just couldn’t resist. These were the type of specs and figures that I’d been waiting for Canon to put out for the last year or so, but unfortunately they were on a Nikon. I couldn’t resist!
So, in my limited time so far with the D800, here’s a few of my thoughts. Please note that this is not an ‘in depth’ full review, but more like a few initial impressions.
36 Million Pixels
There it is... I said it! 36 million pixels! Yep, pixel envy got the better of me I’m afraid, and I’m sorry to say I succumbed. Up until now Nikon have really been behind Canon in the ‘pixel race’ but here, finally, was a sudden leap that I just couldn’t ignore. So does having those extra pixels actually matter in the real world? Well, yes and no. For most jobs my 5D Mk2 is more than adequate, in fact a lot of my clients often moan about the images being too big especially if they are primarily aimed at website usage. However, I have done a few images that could have really done with being shot on a larger format, like one of the digital medium format systems, and this is where the Nikon could really have been useful.
So my aim isn’t to actually replace my Canon gear, but just to run a different system for those shoots that require that little extra resolution.
Obviously it’s going to take a while to get used to some of the controls. My biggest problem with them so far is where the zoom buttons are placed, I’m used to having them next to my right thumb on the 5D Mk2 and it’s very frustrating to have to keep reminding yourself that it isn’t there anymore. Also I’ve found that the zoom function itself that aids with focusing when using the live view mode is pretty awful compared to Canon's system. It seems to really push up the ISO when zooming and makes the image go really grainy and fuzzy, making it difficult so see anything, let alone focus properly.
Nikon D800 Rear Controls
However, what I do really like is that they’ve included a dedicated switch for the video and live view modes similar to the one on the Canon EOS 7D, which makes switching from picture to video mode an absolute breeze. General controls are always going to take a while to get used to with any new camera, especially with things like the zoom and focus rings on the lenses being the opposite way from the canon lenses, but this type of difference is really all about getting used to a new camera and I’m sure it won’t take long to become accustomed to it.
Focusing seems to be way better than my 5D Mk2, although that wouldn’t be difficult, as it was pretty poor at the best of times. However, my new 24-70 lens is way out with the camera body (or maybe it’s vice versa)... I’ve had to set my focus micro-adjustment to ‘-15’ just to get an accurate focus out of it, but now that’s done I can really get the benefit from the 51 point focus system. I know a lot of you will want to know about the ‘tracking focus’ abilities but unfortunately I don’t do a lot of shoots that require that type of focusing so I can’t really comment on that aspect of the camera, but certainly for shooting portraits or fashion the focus seems very good.
Now this is something that really interests me as I’ve shot several music videos and even a short sci-fi film using my 5D Mk2.
There are limitations with using any DSLR for video, for instance, using the auto focus is generally a no-no, and to get the best use out of that beautiful narrow depth of field that’s possible with these cameras, you really have to use them like a professional film crew would, which involves lots of preparation, and various skills such as ‘focus-pulling’, so if you just want to take some fun shots of your kids playing in the pool, then really you should be looking to shoot on one of the many handheld camcorders on the market... not a DSLR. However if you are into making low budget films or music videos then a DSLR can really give you some amazing images that just aren’t possible with your basic home camcorders.
When the Canon 5D Mk2 first came out it was considered a real ‘game changer’ because of its video capabilities. Indie filmmakers, small production houses and even big Hollywood blockbusters started using the 5D Mk2 to get shots with, and even with its many quirks and limitations, the Canon was widely adopted as a video tool simply because of the beautiful images that could be created with it's large sensor and huge range of lenses.
Ironically, it was actually Nikon who first came out with a video mode on their cameras, but unfortunately, due to various factors, the Nikon cameras didn’t seem to take off in the video department like the Canons did and have been lagging behind a little ever since. And so now, I was really hoping that the D800 may have leaped past these ‘teething problems’ and would give the 5D Mk2 and Mk3 a run for their money.
Well I’m happy to say that my initial experiments with the D800 video mode seem to be holding up well compared to my 5D Mk2. I recently shot a complete music video on the D800 which looks pretty good and even did some test footage at ISO640 with the D800 and the 5D Mk2 side by side, and both cameras seemed pretty evenly matched on both image quality and ISO noise levels.
The Nikon also has some very useful new features that include better audio monitoring with a built in headphone socket, and the ‘holy grail’ of video recording - a full HDMI uncompressed output, allowing very high bitrates to be recorded (when using an external recorder), something that people have been wanting Canon to include on their cameras ever since the 5D Mk2 was launched.
Up to now I’ve only spent a few days working with the camera, I’ve had one commercial shoot, a few portrait sessions and a lot of messing about doing test shots in the studio and the back garden, and so far the results have been pretty good.
I have been shooting handheld quite a lot which is something that even Nikon have a disclaimer about doing! I think they are worried that people who ‘pixel peep’ will start to notice things like camera shake on their images because of the high pixel count.
I have to say that I’ve not noticed any particular problems myself, or maybe I just have steady hands! The image size is lovely, when you overlay an image from the 5D Mk2 you can really see the difference in size that the Nikon gives you, so it’s going to be invaluable when doing jobs that require a very large print size or work that may need cropping etc.
7D | 0.6 sec | f/9.0 | 17.0 mm | ISO 1600
D800 | 0.6 sec | f/9.0 | 35.0 mm | ISO 1600
ISO seems pretty good too, I had expected (due to the large pixel count) that it was going to be very noisy at high ISO settings, but I’ve found it’s about on a par with my old 5D Mk2, which is pretty good itself. Yes, I know it’s not going to do the very high ISOs particularly well, but to be honest I’ve never really found the need to shoot anything much above ISO1600 anyway, so it’s probably not going to be huge problem for me in that respect.
Nikon D800 Other sample images
To me, this camera is essentially the one I’d been hoping Canon would release for over a year now! Good image size, decent ISO performance, nice video capabilities and at a very reasonable price for the specs, it just happens to be a different manufacturer.
What’s interesting is that now I own one, I’ve found that I’m not shooting with the Nikon all the time... I did a shoot for a web based fashion label yesterday and because they were going to use the images in a smaller format, and taking into account the longer processing times for the large Nikon files, I actually decided to use my old Canon for the job instead. I think in the future I’ll probably end up using the Nikon more like I would if I owned a medium format system, and only shoot when I’m doing a special project or when large files are particularly necessary, which means that, at least at the moment, I won’t be selling off all my Canon equipment just yet.
EN-EL15 rechargeable Li-ion battery with terminal cover, MH-25 battery charger (AC wall adapter supplied only in countries or regions where required), Strap (AN-DC6 for D800, AN-DC6E for D800E), UC-E14 USB cable, USB cable clip, BF-1B body cap, BS-1 Captu