The D800 is built around an all-new full-frame (39.5mm x 24mm) FX CMOS sensor. With an effective resolution of 36.3MP (from a total 36.8MP), maximum output at the default 3:2 aspect is a staggering 7360 x 4912 pixels, with resultant 12- or 14-bit Raw (.NEF) files measuring approximately 76.5MB in size (or 212MB for 16-bit processed TIFF files). In addition to 3:2, the D800 is also able to shoot in 5:4 (30.2MP), 1.2x (25.1MP) and DX (15.4MP). In all capture modes, the D800 can be set to record Large, Medium or Small quality JPEGs.
Alongside the new high-resolution sensor, the D800 uses Nikon’s latest generation of super-fast EXPEED 3 image processor. This enables the D800 to reach a claimed 4fps when used in Continuous shooting mode, which isn’t at all bad given the huge file sizes the 36.3MP sensor generates. Of course, this won’t stop some people from complaining that the D800 is too slow, even though they’ll most likely be exactly the same people complaining that the D800 packs too much resolution in the first place. In any case, by shooting in DX format and adding the optional MB-D12 battery pack the D800 is able to shoot at 6fps, so there is some flexibility.
Sensitivity stretches from ISO 100 to ISO 6400 in standard mode, bookended by an extended Low1 setting that’s the equivalent of ISO 50 and a Hi2 setting that’s equivalent to ISO 25,600. The D800 is claimed to be able to operate in up to -2EV, which equates to moonlight conditions, which certainly sounds impressive. Furthermore, Nikon also claims that the D800’s noise-reduction capabilities allow it to control noise to similar levels as the widely praised D700, despite the near threefold increase in resolution. Of course we’re not in a position to verify this as yet, but if it does turn out to be the case then it’s a fantastic achievement on the part of Nikon, and something that will go a long way to convincing a large number of pros (and well-off enthusiasts) to part with the best part of £2500.
This being a professional-grade DSLR, there are no frivolous shooting modes beyond the basic quartet of PASM. Similarly, there are no digital filters or suchlike, although the D800 does offer the standard range of Picture Control settings that can be used to customise the look of still images and videos by adjusting sharpness, contrast, saturation and hue values. As ever there are six presets: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, and Landscape, along with a couple of user defined Custom settings. In addition, the D800 offers. In a new twist, the Picture Controls can now be accessed directly from a dedicated button without having to access the in-camera menu.
While Nikon pioneered the inclusion of HD movie recording on DSLRs with the launch of the D90 in 2008, the company has long since seen its position usurped by rivals, with the Canon 5D MkII regularly touted as the go-to DSLR for video enthusiasts. With the 5D MkIII surely not too far away (the MkII is over three years old itself now), Nikon is clearly hoping to establish the D800 as the class-leading, pro-grade DSLR for video shooters. As such, we expect to see the movie recording abilities of the D800 feature highly on all marketing and promotional material c.
Thankfully for Nikon, the D800’s movie-making abilities do stand up quite well, extending to a maximum 1080p Full HD at 30/25/24fps, with a further option to shoot 720p HD at 60/50fps. The D800 also adds index marking to make the editing process easier, and it’s also possible to use the D800’s movie mode to record time-lapse images with. Sound is recorded in mono by default, however there are separate inputs for both an external microphone and a set of headphones, along with an HDMI output for live, uncompressed HDTV playback when the camera is being used in live view mode. The maximum length for individual movie clips is set at 29 minutes and 59 seconds, with movies stored as .MOV files and encoded in H.264/MPEG-4 format.
The back of the D800 is dominated by a large 3.2inch, 921k-dot LCD monitor. Nikon is keen to emphasise the “vastly improved” colour range of this screen, even going so far as to claim that you’ll be able to use it to judge the quality of your images, without the need to use a computer. We’ll have to see about that; certainly in the past we’ve been far more inclined to out our trust in the histogram than what's displayed on the screen. Also new for the D800 is a vertical/horizontal level-gauge, which will undoubtedly please landscape photographers.
Should you wish to hold the camera at eye-level then the D800’s optical viewfinder offers a 100% field-of-view magnified to 0.72x – a big step up from the 95%/0.72x offered by the D700. Last but not least, is the GN12 pop-up flash, which is compatible with Nikon’s Creative Lighting system, meaning it can act as a commander unit for wireless triggering of Nikon flashguns.