Nikon D810


Nikon has won award after award lately for its D800 line of cameras.  They're sensor powerhouses, pushing out images that rival some medium formats, they offer relatively high frames per second, and their focus, speed, and options are leaving most of their competitors completely in the dust (Yes, even Canon).  But nothing can be perfect, right?  Let's see where this body shines and where it leaves me wanting.


Single Sentence Summary

It convinced me that the jump from Canon was the best idea I've ever had.

Why I Bought It

Before I became a Nikon shooter I was shooting Canon (See Here).  I've always done really well in trading up in value thanks to being patient and hunting crazy deals on Kijiji with people desperately looking to offload high-end gear with low prices in a rush, so I was primarily shooting a 5D Mk III and 5D Mk II before making the leap;  I was accustomed to the 5D's I knew that if I were to jump I'd need something on par or better from the Nikon line.  Keeping in mind I'd already been shooting with D4's for years with my work as a military photographer, I wouldn't honestly have settled for anything lesser than D800 series cameras. So, when I traded over I bought a D800 and a D810.

What I Like

I'd love to just write the single word "everything," here for dramatic effect, but that wouldn't be too helpful to you now would it?

First, I love the resolution in the RAW images.  Talk about opening up options, you've got so many pixels in an image from this that you can crop a ridiculous amount out and still have a great photo if you needed to.  So much so that I've even noticed that I've had to adjust my take on the Reciprocal Rule because the resolution is so high that when you zoom in it still picks up some motion blur if you're not steady enough.  I know, you're probably thinking this is a negative thing, but realistically if you're shooting this high-end of a camera there's a good chance you've practiced breathing and stabilization techniques to the point where this is almost a moot consideration. 

Besides which, the camera puts out 7 frames per second (With the MB-D12) though that's only in DX mode (which I never use) so realistically I get 5.  With 5 frames per second even if you're a little unstable in your position you have the option to put it into Continuous High (CH) mode and one of the shots will be sharp.

The dynamic range is insane.  I can recover ridiculous detail from the RAW imagery!  So many shades I sometimes shoot WAY into underexposing an image just to be positive I retain the highlights and I've never lost too much.  It's so absolutely mind-blowing that I suggest if you ever get your hands on one that you put it to the test.

It's an absolute BEAST build-wise.  This thing is a tank!  In the field with the Canadian Forces I've had to toss this loosely into a rucksack and jog for over 2 kilometers with it, and it had zero problems.  I've shot it in Arctic situations, covered in over a centimeter of ice from freezing rain, and the only problem I had with it was that the screen was slow refreshing and batteries didn't have the life they would if they were in warm conditions.  I'm talking in -60 degrees Celsius with whipping winds and snow for a full day, not some gentle snow in Central Park beside a Starbucks.  I shot video for hours in the Gobi desert on this thing in the middle of the summer heat with sand storms, and have never seen it overheat.

ISO 64?  YES PLEASE!  Anything to keep that pesky noise as far away as possible right?  Well that's honestly even the reason I was excited about it.  I was pumped to be able to stop down my camera that extra little bit for super bright conditions.  I shoot F/1.4 pretty often, and even with the 1/8000 of a second that the D4s and the D800 were offering me, I would still routinely struggle to keep the exposure from blowing out. Like I said in the last section, I'm sometimes really rough with my cameras, and don't have the time to pack, protect, and care for ND filters, so anything that brings me closer to killing that brutal sunlight is definitely appreciated.  Oh, and also that noise thing, that helps too, lol.

The focus, oh the focus!  51 focus points!  It's insane!  Remember that one of the cameras I had before I jumped to Nikon was a 5D mk II, which only has 9 slow focus points (Ugh, I hated that).  This point alone won me over on the Nikon team.  The focus points are fast, easy to manage, and great at finding contrast even in low-light conditions.   They introduce a group mode too which (though I've never really connected with) does open up options for some shooters.

Shutter sound is another area that this thing wins hands-down.  There's barely any.  Honestly, the side-by-side of my D800 and my D810 is so ridiculously different I can barely believe it.  When you're shooting a wedding it's hard enough to move around and do your job without drawing attention to yourself, but this shutter is a WORLD of difference.  It's so quiet that I'm predicting that my D800 will hugely outlive my D810 just because of how often I choose it over the clunky D800 shutter.

The record button.  I can't say enough how much I love this.  You can program the record button to control your ISO in stills mode.  I love having my ISO right there on the right side with the two other control rings for shutter and aperture! Now I can free my left hand up entirely for focus manipulation, stabilization, and zoom (for those less common times when I use zoom lenses). 

Oh, dual card RAW, you had me at, "Hello."  I love how I can record to both an SD and a CF simultaneously in RAW, this ends the need for a dozen 8GB cards during weddings to back up my images.  Now I load my SD slot with a single 128GB card and the CF card with 32GB cards and I don't worry about card failure.  I never take my 128GB out of the camera, not even to unload the images.  It's there entirely as a backup, and I've never needed it once thanks to the reliability of the SanDisk Extreme Pro cards I use.  At my work however they keep wasting money on those Acumem garbage cards that fail ALL THE TIME, so I've been super thankful for the SD backup options.

I also love how the camera is smaller than the D4, D4s, and D5.  Don't get me wrong, I love the vertical battery grip and battery power that comes with those cameras, but tucking away the camera body in a smaller bag like the Everyday Messenger is difficult with a camera that large.  Having the option of buying the vertical grip and removing it is actually a good thing to me.  I like being able to make it smaller for little day trips here and there.  The battery life is generally absolutely fine without the MB-D12 (for my purposes) and it's SO much lighter.

What I Don't

There's barely anything here not to like to be honest.  Frame rate is my biggest complaint with this camera body.  I'd become accustomed to the D4s before buying the D810, so going from 11 frames per second to 5 (in FX mode) was a huge thing for me.  Not so much in my wedding photography, but definitely in my military photojournalism.  Keep in mind that I routinely shoot photos of tanks, artillery guns, and missile launchers, I want to be able to grab a frame of the round leaving the weapon, or the explosion at its peak.  I need high frames per second to grab such shots, and the D810 just doesn't offer what the D4 or D5 do in that regard.

The sound when shooting video.  I was SUPER happy about the silent shutter for stills, but when this bad boy is in video mode it does get a bit noisy in a silent environment.  It's admittedly relative, but when I want a shot to be absolutely silent, or want to record something with VERY low sound output I want the camera to be dead silent.  While at first it is absolutely silent, after it starts to warm up the internal fan is a bit annoying.  For instance, this past Christmas I was shooting some b-roll of a fire alone in a silent room.  I wanted to capture the subtle sounds of the wood crackling in the background, but the camera was adding a bit of a sound that I found distracting.  I can compensate with my Zoom H6, but I don't always want to use external audio, and for some people after investing in such an expensive camera they don't have the cash for another high-end purchase like a Zoom.

sRAW.  I don't even want to bring this one up because I think it's ridiculous, but it's an all-around bad system that poorly mimics something I was getting out of my Canons before I jumped.  I tried it in the first week of getting my D810 and I was so disappointed by the lack of dynamic range after its compression that I've never used it again.  They may well have implemented a patch by now, but I don't really understand why people would want it so much.  When you're buying a D810 or D800 series camera you're likely buying it with the massive image resolutions as one of your main desires, why then would you want to limit the quality?  I barely ever fill the buffer with this thing, and I'm on Continuous High all the time.  You may have different perspectives based on your personal needs, but as I shoot in weddings and with the military I don't really see much value in sRAW.

The camera menus are a bit to get used to.  Remember that I never owned another Nikon before the D810, and the Canon systems in this respect seemed more intuitive to me.  Granted, I had been shooting for 7 years with Canon before shifting to Nikon, so it could be that I just wasn't used to the menus, but I'll admit there are still times when I get lost in the menus trying to track things down.  I'm not sure if the firmware has been patched or not yet either, but I don't like how I couldn't add the format command to my custom menu.  Format is honestly the most common thing I do through the menus, I feel like it defeats the purpose of having a custom menu if I can't customize it for my own optimization.

Accessories!  This is one of the biggest problems I have with Apple products, that they're quick to introduce proprietary equipment with their accessories, and they don't allow long-time customers to use older equipment on newer models.  I get it for some major elements such as the battery grip, but for the shutter release too?  Come on now.  Jerk move.  Stop making me buy more and more every time I upgrade.  Universal options may cost you your profits, but will gain you in retention.  If Canon had offered such options I may just have stayed.

Finally, the cost.  This one isn't a legitimate "con" though, to be entirely honest.  It's not that this camera is overpriced, It's actually an INSANE deal for everything you get, particularly if you're buying during the right time of year (Black Friday, Boxing Week, etc.)  I'm admittedly just cheap, and wish that I could get this camera for less than the price of a cheap used car.  That being said, again, it's totally worth every penny.

Bottom Line

Aside from the price consideration I don't understand why anyone in a position such as mine wouldn't buy this.  It's a phenomenal camera that inspires me to shoot off of its strengths alone, and never disappoints me.  If you do have any issue with this it's totally a PICNIC problem 99% of the time - Problem in Chair Not in Camera.  If you're questioning whether to make this jump or not you should totally buy one.  If you're not questioning it, you should totally buy two.  Then buy one more and send it to me as a "thank you," gift for writing this. ;)



I'd marry this camera if I wasn't married already.

As always, I'm not sponsored by anyone, nor do I get any form of kick-backs in recommending or deterring my readers from buying anything.  I present my own opinions based on my own personal needs and experiences.  This post, as with all posts, is completely biased and largely non-technically minded, and are not intended to push you in any direction.  Now get out and buy one!  :P