The main feature on the back of the camera is of course the huge 3.8in LCD monitor screen. With 235,000 pixels it is nice and sharp, and also quite bright, but it is also highly reflective, limiting its usefulness in bright sunlight. However the 815 also has a very good electronic viewfinder, which although less than half an inch across also has a resolution of 235,000 pixels, making it one of the sharpest I’ve ever seen.
Not content with that though, the 815 sports a third LCD screen on the top plate. This is normally used for shooting data, but it is also a full colour monitor and can be used as a small but useful waist-level viewfinder.
With space on the back panel at a premium, most of the camera’s various control buttons are located elsewhere on the body. Focusing controls are on the side of the lens barrel, while drive mode, ISO setting, self timer and metering mode are located on the top panel.
The main controls are similar to those on an SLR, with two input wheels, one on the front and the other on the back, in positions which will be familiar to any Nikon SLR owner. For the most part the control system is very good, however there are a few curious oddities. Exposure compensation for example is far from obvious. It is adjusted by pressing a button on the back, and then rotating a ring on the barrel of the lens. It took me a while to get used to that one.
The set of features on the 815 is enough to tempt any serious photographer. It offers a full range of manual exposure options, which thanks to the excellent controls are quick and easy to use. The aperture range of f2.2 to f8.0 is better than most high-end zooms, as is the shutter speed range of 15-1/4000th seconds.
For more general use it also offers a full Auto mode, as well as a range of eleven scene modes. Unfortunately these are not so easy to use, mainly because they are only identified by pictograms, some of which are incomprehensible and are also not adequately explained in the manual.
Menu options include second-curtain flash sync, colour space (sRGB or Adobe RGB), adjustable sharpness, saturation and contrast, and a couple of colour options including negative, B&W and sepia. The camera offers a choice of spot, matrix or centre-weighted metering, but has no multi-point focusing mode. The focus area can be moved around the frame though, so it is possible to work around this.
Overall performance is also very good. In continuous shooting mode at the highest resolution JPEG setting, it will shoot and about 1.5 seconds per frame, focusing for every shot, and can keep this up until the card is full. In high-speed continuous mode it will fire off a burst of shots at about 2.5 frames per second, but slows down after about 13 frames as the buffer fills up. It also has an ultra-high-speed mode that shoots 10 frames a second, although this is limited to 30 frames and 1,024 x 768 resolution. In both of these latter modes, the monitor and viewfinder are switched off during shooting, which is a little annoying.