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Analysis: Nikon D800 and D800e

Nikon Australia has announced the eagerly awaited high resolution, small bodied, FX DSLR, the D800. It’s not quite clear if this is the true successor to the D700 or if this is an additional product. There is also a variation of the D800 called the D800e. The D800e comes without an Anti-Alaising filter and will sell for US$300 more.

It differs in a single aspect: the filter has been removed to eliminate the blurring effect of the low-pass (anti-aliasing or moiré) filter, for even better resolution of fine detail. Intended for studio and landscape photographers, the extra crispness provided by the D800E will be ideal but there will be a trade-off: moiré patterns will appear in certain fabrics and in subjects with finely repeating patterns.

D800 Highlights

The D800, a new FX-format model, offers offers a noteworthy 36.3-million pixels as well as avariety of valuing-adding functions, available in a compact and lightweight body. At its core, Nikon claims is a superior image quality equal to that of medium-format digital cameras.

In addition to a new Nikon FX-format CMOS image sensor and the new EXPEED 3 image-processing engine – specifically optimised for Nikon digital SLR cameras – the D800 is equipped with a new 91K-pixel (approximately 91,000 pixels) RGB sensor that supports the Advanced Scene Recognition System; which offers noteworthy advances in scene recognition performance. The camera is also equipped with a number of new functions, including Multi-area mode Full HD D-Movie that lets users record movies using either the FX-based movie format or the DX-based movie format.

The MB-D12 supports the Rechargeable Li-ion Batteries EN-EL15 and EN-EL18, common AA batteries and the AC Adapter EH-5a/b (with Power Connector EP-5B). When the MB-D12 is mounted on the D800, it is possible to shoot at high-speeds continuously at approximately 6 fps5 using the DX-format image area. The MB-D12 also offers the added convenience of controls, including a shutter-release button, an AF-ON button and multi-selector for vertical shooting.  What’s more, the MB-D12 uses the same seals as the D800’s magnesium body, resulting in superior resistance to dust and water.

The D800/D800e sport the following features:

  • A 51-point AF system for improved subject acquisition and focus under dim lighting. An addition 11 focus points (five at the centre with an additional three to each side) are fully functional when lenses with a maximum aperture of f/8 are used
  • A 3.2-inch, approximately 921k-dot LCD monitor with reinforced glass, automatic monitor brightness control and wide viewing angle
  • A virtual horizon that shows the degree to which the camera is tilted sideways (roll), or forward, or backward (pitch), which is displayed on the monitor and in the viewfinder
  • A new shutter unit tested for approximately 200,000 cycles and supports a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000s and flash sync speed of 1/250s
  • Continuous shooting at approximately 4 (FX-format/5 : 4 image area) or 5 (DX-format/1.2x image area) fps6
  • CompactFlash and SD dual memory card slots
  • Support for SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.0)

The biggest news for the AF will likely be the ability to focus with lenses that are f8. Not an easy thing to do, so those with an f4 lens with a 2x converter will still be able to get their shots.

The other really big news is the video options.In addition to robust JPEG, RAW, and JPEG+RAW still capture, the D800 can also capture cinema-like Full HD 1080p video @ 30 or 24 frames per second in H.264/MPEG AVC format in both FX and DX imaging formats.

The D800 also affords you the option of simultaneous Live View output using external monitors while recording uncompressed video via HDMI terminal. You can also bypass the camera’s dual memory card slots (CF and SD) and record your video directly onto your computer or an external drive.

Compared to earlier video-enabled DSLRs, the D800 displays far fewer rolling shutter effects, which makes it easier to capture moving and rotating subjects, or when panning the camera while capturinga video sequence. The D800 also utilizes B-frame data compression, which allows for lighter files without loss of image quality. Lastly, the D800 features a Multi-Area Full HD D-Movie Video recording mode for recording video in FX or DX-formats at Full HD 1080p @ 30 /24p in a 16:9 aspect ratio.

Another broadcast-quality feature found on the D800 is a built-in external microphone input that accepts the optional 20-increment Nikon ME-1 stereo microphone. As icing on the cake, you can monitor the audio quality using headphones that you can plug into the camera’s audio port, just like the big boys.

D800/D800E Analysis

One of the concerns raised by industry observers relates to the size of the pixels and high ISO quality. They wonder whether cramming 36.3 million light-sensitive points on a 24x36mm surface is prudent. That is a logical concern because small pixels are not as efficient in light gathering and that can result in problems with digital noise as well as narrow dynamic range (highlight and shadow detail in an image). However, it’s important to note that the pixel pitch (size) is 4.88µm, the same as the highly-rated 16.2MP Nikon D7000, which employs a smaller 23.6 x 15.6mm sensor.

In my tests, the D7000 produced excellent image quality at ISO 1600, very good at ISO 3200 and decent quality even at ISO 6400. As well, dynamic range was quite wide. In comparison to that camera, the D800 and D800E benefit from an improved sensor and processor, so they should provide superior results in both aspects.

Some published previews have also commented about the relatively slow speed of continuous advance in full-frame FX mode. (By comparison the 12.1MP D700 was able to shoot at 5fps and at 8fps with the optional battery grip.) While greater speed would be ideal for some shooters, it’s important to remember that a 36.3MP camera generates massive image files. Aside from the time required for processing and buffer clearing, limitations are also produced by the write speeds of even the fastest memory cards.

Few photo enthusiasts need 36.3MP resolution, but the D800 will certainly attract serious shooters from this group. This model, or the D800E, would also be a suitable second camera for some pros, including wedding photographers who often make huge prints and want to shoot gorgeous videos with a DSLR.

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