Review: Nikon D810 Hits a Benchmark?

Nikon D810 Image

The Nikon D810 nicely rounds off the brand’s 800-series and is not just a standard upgrade, but features functional upgrades that definitely make it worth buying into. The D800E had bags of raw dynamic range, with the Nikon D810 building on this aspect. Features like ISO 64 mode, electronic front curtain shutter, a new mirror mechanism, and the Continuous AF have been upgraded, but most importantly the camera builds on the functionality of the D800 or D800E with better image quality.

Design

On the surface, the Nikon D810 tries to consolidate aspects from both the D800 and D800E. Some of the standouts included on the D810 above the other models include a 36.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor with no AA filter, ISO 64, body redesigned for better grip, 7 fps maximum shooting rate in DX, Group Area AF mode, electronic first-curtain shutter, 1080/60p video with built-in stereo mic and unlimited continuous shooting, to name but a few.

There has been a slight redesign of the grip from the D800 and D800E, making it a little more deep and narrow. Holding the Nikon D810 in your hand all day with a heavyweight lens will now feel more comfortable. The viewfinder has 0.7x magnification with newer coatings on the glass for better clarity. Size wise, it sits between the Canon 6D and the Sony Alpha 7.

The 36.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor is slightly different than that in the D800. Sensitivity has been increased but lacks the optical low-pass filter. The ISO 64 is a true base and not an expansion which means tons of dynamic range. A new highlight-weighted metering mode with ADL gives you the ability to capture a wide tonal range, verging on HDR in the right circumstances. To tweak this to your liking you can dive into the Fine-tune optimal exposure custom settings and change the EV. You also get a split-screen view of your subject, which is great for leveling horizons.

Electronic first curtain is a feature that you can engage via option D5 in the custom settings and is designed to eliminate shutter shake. The effect works and is there, but it’s only usable on ultra close-up images.

The body layout will be very familiar to most high-end Nikon owners. The metering mode selection control is moved to above the drive mode dial. Also, users will notice the addition of an new ‘i’ button for accessing the Info display. The AF-ON button cannot be customized, but that depends on how much you use back focusing. The buttons don’t illuminate either, a feature seemingly left to Nikon’s flagship models.

One thing to note is the lack of a tilting screen. This is a pet peeve of mine and it should be a feature on all cameras no matter the price, end of story.

Image Quality and Settings

Auto ISO settings are expected to be quite sophisticated these days, and the Nikon D810 definitely delivers. Maximum and minimum shutter speeds can be set in 1 EV increments, the exposure compensation being used with auto ISO in manual mode. That ISO 64 is a great way to allow wider apertures in bright conditions and is brilliant for dynamic range. For this, it definitely beats out competitors like the Pentax 645Z and the Canon 5D Mark III.

You get loads of options here, with autofocus using 51-points, 15 central cross-type sensors, and Nikon’s Multi-CAM 3500FX phase-detect AF module. AF selection ranges from single point AF to Auto Area mode where the points are selected for you. New AF selection settings include Group Area AF, AF-C mode, Dynamic Area AF modes, and and 3D Tracking for moving subjects. Phase-detect AF Switching with 3D tracking makes tracking moving objects far simpler than ever before, which is, practically by itself, a feature worth upgrading for. Live View gives you a more simple set of features with only contrast-detection with only 4 AF point modes.

With time to compose and its great dynamic range, the Nikon D810 produces fantastic image quality and large enough file sizes to print out to any size you require. High dynamic range Raw images are fantastic, with Jpegs better than the D800, but still possibly not as good as Canon or Sony’s JPEG engine. You do get some moiré banding of colors where they are not needed in clothing, but this is countered against using maximum resolution as a trade-off. Basically, the dynamic range, ISO 64 and 3-D tracking are the main selling points of its quality.

How Does the Nikon D810 Compare?

Video may not be up to 4K as yet with the D810, but it has been increased to 60p along with built-in stereo audio and zebra stripes option to keep the highlights in check. There is also a flat picture control which allows for a greater dynamic range. Automatic ISO is available in movie live view, allowing you to set a fixed brightness level. 1.1x crop factor is applied to FX video. The video quality is good, but it may not be the unit you grab first, especially if you need 4k.

Nikon D810Nikon D800
Pixels36 megapixels36 megapixels
ISO64-12800100-6400
Video1920 x 1080/60p1920 x 1080/30p
Price$2,796.95$1496

Conclusion

The immediate wow factor of the Nikon D810 as compared to when the D800 and D800E were released may not be apparent at first, but the dynamic range and image quality more than makes up for the others. The 3-D tracking will allow you in the real world to get far more images than you could before and ISO 64 makes it possible to capture as much light as a medium format camera. This is one winning feature possibly worth the upgrade.

It’s also faster than the D800 and D800E in frame rate and operation, despite huge file sizes. Accessing all of its functions is very straightforward, like switching between auto and manual. the only real downside is the inability to assign the AF-ON button to something else, especially now with the fantastic 3D tracking AF system in place. This is going to be a feature that you will use a lot on this camera, no matter the subject, definitely making the difference between some shots you just couldn’t get in the past.

Amazingly it doesn’t work as well in very low light as the D800 with the cross-type AF sensors, but adding the featured 3-D tracking on your hit rate will still be more than the competitors. The ISO 64 and the 3D tracking make this an absolutely fine full-frame sensor camera, which may have some caveats compared to its competitors, but just like a medium format camera, image quality wins out overall and this is where the D810 excels.

The Review

Nikon D810

9
The Nikon D810 is a very capable full-frame sensor camera which builds on the D800 and D800E. With ISO 64 and 3D tracking, the D810 produces very high quality images.

Pros

  • ISO 64
  • 36MP sensor
  • Excellent Auto ISO

Cons

  • Autofocus in low light
  • JPEG is not as good as competitors
  • Video not as good as competitors

Review Breakdown

Design

Image quality

AF system

Price

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