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Nikon D800 - First Impressions

User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
24 Mar 2012 8:44PM
Sod's Law - my first day with the D800 and there has been a sea haar engulfing the landscape all day. So, with battery charged, cards inserted, a plain neoprene strap fitted (in place of the Nikon advertisement) and a discrete wee bit of black insulating tape covering the D800 logo (so that the guys at the camera club don't think I am showing off), I set about getting to know the new toy.

Despite the foggy conditions, some initial "first impressions" of the camera, having sold my D3s a month ago and spent most of the proceeds on the new Nikon.

The first thing is, of course, one of the huge benefits (for me) of the D800 over the D3s - it is much more compact and much lighter. I had got so cheesed off with the size and weight of the "big beast" that I was using my Olympus PEN PL-3 more and more, even for fairly serious photography. Although I haven't checked the figures, I think the D800 is even lighter than my D300 was. What the figures do show is it being lighter than the D700.

Weight apart, the D800 does seem to "fit my hands" better than any of my previous Nikon dSLR cameras. That will. of course, vary from person to person but one of the fairly common complaints about Nikons was that, ergonomically, they were a bit less well designed than Canons. Maybe Nikon have paid attention.

One thing that I am not sure about is the dual card slots being of different types - I think that I would have preferred two CF slots, as on the D3s or, even, two SD slots if that was necessary to save weight and bulk. However, managing the two different slots is not particularly difficult.

I have never shot Jpegs on a Nikon dSLR, always having had them set to Raw capture exclusively. But, just out of interest, I currently have the D800 set to capture Raw+Fine Jpeg, using the two cards set one for each. The frame counter shows how many exposures are estimated to be available on the "least space" card (obviously, with that setting and a 16 Gb CF card in the primary slot and a 16 Gb SD card in the secondary slot, it is showing the space on the primary card and it shows space for 200 exposures. That seems very satisfactory given the size of the Raw files.

One of the reservations expressed by some commentators prior to the release of the D800 was the performance at high ISO, compared to that projected for the D4. Obviously the D800 does not have the enormous high-ISO range of the D4 (or, indeed, the D3s) but I had taken the view that the range it had was sufficient for my needs. What I was interested to check was the image quality towards the top of its range.

When I got the D3s, I reckoned that its image quality at ISO 6400 was as good as I got at ISO 1600 on the D300. Moving from the D3s to the D800 seems to have given me a similar order of improvement - i.e. the D800 at ISO 6400 seems roughly equivalent to the D3s at ISO 1600 or the D300 at ISO 400. However, I do stress that these are purely subjective observational assessments and not based on intrinsic measurements.

What I do like (for no rational reason) is having ISO 100 again as the base ISO, rather than the ISO 200 of the D300 and D3s.

Next one up, having taken a few misty exposures, was to see how the large Raw files behaved on my PC. I use Lightroom 4 to copy the files from a card reader (only USB2 I am afraid) to an external HDD on the PC and, simultaneously, import the images to the Lightroom Catalogue. This process was slightly slower than it took with D3s Raw files but not grindingly slow. Rendering of previews, etc, did not seem to take any longer at all, nor did basic processing within the Develop module of LR. I have not yet tried them in Photoshop CS5 or any of my Nik Efex plug-ins. Despite the apparent ease with which my PC (i7 processor and 16 Gb RAM) seems to handle the files, storage could be a problem farther down the line, so I have tonight ordered three 2Tb external HDDs for both Raw file storage and back-up. Also a couple of 32 Gb cards.

The big test will, of course, be image quality, especially in relation to all that additional Megapixelage. A misty landscape is not the best test for image resolution but, to try and get some initial indications I did play around with some of the shots. Of course, viewing a full frame on a PC monitor tells us absolutely nothing about image quality so what I have been doing is comparing a full frame view with a 5% crop (i.e. a crop to 1/20th of the frame area). Still with the caveat about the misty conditions, I am pretty impressed. Here is an example. The first photo is the full frame, the second is a crop to 1/20th of the full area. With the D3s I would have expected a much greater diminution of quality with such a severe crop.



Once I get better weather conditions, I'll try to produce some more testing examples.

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User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
24 Mar 2012 8:58PM
...should have said, the above photo was taken hand-held at 1/100th and f/11
scottishphototours 14 2.6k 2
24 Mar 2012 9:59PM
...on the road between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid?
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
24 Mar 2012 11:22PM
No. Up on Sheriffmuir. I went to see if I could get above the haar - but couldn't.
scottishphototours 14 2.6k 2
25 Mar 2012 12:15AM
Ah well...wrong again!

Thanks for the intetesting write-up.
nickthompson 10 158 England
25 Mar 2012 12:38AM
Thanks for the write up. It will be interesting to see how it is with high ISOs. I was thinking of going for a d700 as I can't afford the d3s. If the d800 is better than the d700 and d3s regarding noise, maybe that's the one to go for?!
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
25 Mar 2012 5:25PM
As I mentioned above, I am shooting (for the first time) in both Raw and Fine Jpeg.

As I never used Jpeg on the D300 or D3s I can't really compare but, having now examined some of the Jpeg images from the D800 I have to say that I am surprised. Straight from the camera they are totally indistinguishable from the corresponding Raw files with 25% sharpening. (When I say "indistinguishable" I mean at 100% on a decent quality PC monitor. Haven't compared large prints yet.)

Admittedly, at 16Mb per Jpeg, they should be good.

I will probably revert to Raw only once the novelty has worn off, simply because there is obviously more scope for processing the Raw files. But for anyone who needs "straight from the camera" images, these do look good. I haven't tried fiddling with any of the in-camera settings yet, which would obviously allow for enhancement of the Jpegs but I am tempted to try, just out of interest.
TimMunsey 7 86 United Kingdom
26 Mar 2012 8:34AM
Lucky person did you only pay original price? Not the knew super dupa price?
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
27 Mar 2012 3:12PM
Here is a better example of the detail retained in a viscious crop.

The first image is the full frame (1/160th at f/11, ISO 100) of a Raw file processed in LR4 at my import defaults.

The second image is a tight crop from the same file to roughly 1/20th of the image area.

The third image is a similar crop from the equivalent Jpeg (fine) captured simultaneously and processed in-camera at the standard settings.




What I am pleased about is the amount of detail retained in the very tight crops, even in the Jpeg version (although the in-camera processing of the Jpeg is slightly different to my LR4 import defaults in terms of colour balance and sharpening). This bodes well for those occasions when I can't get as close as I would like to that rare bird and my longest lens isn't quite long enough.

I am going out tonight to do some light painting and may get some images that will better demonstrate the low light and/or high ISO performance of the camera.

One thing I am going to have to watch is battery usage. With the D3s I could virtually ignore it and simply swap in a recharged battery every 3 months or so. I think the D800 batteries might only last for about a quarter as long on a charge.
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
27 Mar 2012 3:24PM
....and here is one that shows the improved dynamic range of the sensor.

This is a single exposure (not the 2-exposure HDR mode of the camera which I haven't tried yet).

The image had the left side very brightly lit by direct sunshine (21 degrees in March in Scotland!! ) and the right side in deep shadow. It is the sort of subject that, with either the D300 or the D3s I would probably have had to merge three exposures in HDR to get as much detail at both ends of the range.


(1/80th at f/11 ISO 100 hand-held)
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
27 Mar 2012 3:29PM
....and the same image with the highlights and shadows processed in LR4 to make better use of the sensor Raw data.


Would probably have been better just adjusting the shadows and leaving the highlights as they were.

....and, just for fun, here is what I would have expected it to look like from the D3s:


mikehit 8 8.0k 13 United Kingdom
27 Mar 2012 9:24PM
That is very impressive. If the Canon 5D3 and 1DX prove even close to this it looks like the two lines are merging in standards again and the photographer is one very spoilt puppy!
Coleslaw 12 13.4k 28 Wales
27 Mar 2012 9:42PM
amazing details indeed.
please try more high ISO stuff...Smile
User_Removed 8 4.6k 1 Scotland
28 Mar 2012 11:31AM
An update on the processing time issue.

As mentioned above, normal processing in Lightroom seems pretty well unaffected by the humumgous Raw file size.

However, some other processes are noticeably slower.

As an example, the image below was shot at night with the tree and bridge "painted" by torchlight. The image was then converted to mono with a simple LR4 preset. No problems so far.

I then used the "Edit in Photoshop CS5" option in LR4 to create a TIFF file* that was opened in PS. Then I added a Color Efex layer and used the solarisation filter to produce the image shown. That was then flattened in PS, saved as a TIFF* and re-imported to LR4*.

At each of the asterisked* stages the processing time was 2 - 3 seconds, as opposed to the virtually instantaneous processing of smaller Raw files. Not a problem for an amateur doing a few dozen images at a sitting, but it could be significant for a professional doing thousands in a day.


Carabosse 15 41.1k 270 England
28 Mar 2012 11:55AM
The last full-time pro I met when he was on the job, so to speak, told me he always shot 5Mp JPEGs with his Canon 5D Mk I, because the picture desks of the papers he worked for couldn't cope with larger JPEGs........ let alone RAW ! Wink

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