Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Nikon D810 - First Impression

© Karen Herman

The bottom line:  The Nikon D810 camera is probably the best pro quality DSLR that I've ever used.  It's not quite the solid build of the Nikon D4s or the Canon 1D series, but the overall performance is very refined and sets a new standard for resolution, dynamic range, and functionality.  Previously, I was using a Nikon D800 and D800E.  When the D810 was announced I intended to replace my D800 and keep the D800E as the second body for backup and client shoots.  I was so impressed with the new D810 after a few days of shooting that I decided to replace the D800E with a D810 also.  Admittedly, I had not anticipated such enthusiasm for this new camera.  The D810 was described on many websites as a "minor" upgrade, but I would call it a "substantial" upgrade (depending on your intended use of course).  There are many improvements, but two in particular apply to my work and they are "major" improvements for me.  The first is the AF system from the D4s (very fast and accurate) with the Group Area Autofocus.  The second is the much quieter low vibration shutter mechanism.  The D810 is not the frames per second speed demon or high ISO king that the D4s is (although it does a commendable job in these areas), but it has many other qualities (including the superb 36 MP sensor) that combine to make it an impressive tool for almost any application or assignment.  The only criticism I have is the lack of user interchangeable focusing screens.  I'm old school and I miss that feature.  Regarding video; Supposedly the video performance is significantly improved, but I'm not a video shooter, so I haven't any experience with the video function. The high resolution 36 MP sensor does demand the best glass.  Do not skimp on your lenses.  Would I recommend this cameras to my colleagues, serious enthusiasts, and pros ?  Absolutely.

 Some of the changes/improvements compared to D800/D800E:

- 36 MP sensor with the highest rating and dynamic range ever tested by DXO Labs.  It is very similar to the D800E sensor as far as image quality in my preliminary tests.
- Addition of Nikon D4s AF system with Group Area AF is a HUGE improvement.
- Electronic front curtain shutter option during mirror up mode and live view offers a visible improvement for landscape photographers due to very low vibration.
- Very quiet shutter mechanism compared to 800/800E.
- Very low vibration shutter mechanism.
- Improved viewfinder and viewfinder display.
- Improved LCD screen.
- Base ISO 64.
- 5 frames per second high speed mode (6 in DX mode and 7 with optional grip/battery).
- Faster overall operation with Expeed 4 processor.
- Longer battery life (1200 vs 900 frames).  Same battery as D800/D800E.
- Somewhat improved ergonomics (handgrip, AF control button, etc.).  Slightly less weight.
- Larger and faster buffer for continuous shooting.
- Provision for a "small" RAW file.
- Option for in camera TIFF file in addition to the normal RAW, JPEG, etc.
- Improved Live View Mode.
- Improved Video.

There are a number of other minor changes and refinements.  I can't over-emphasize how significant the new autofocus and shutter mechanisms are though.  Those two items alone have transformed the shooting experience dramatically compared to the previous models.

Hummingbird photo taken with D810 using Group Area Autofocus and Nikon 300mm f/4 lens.  Click on photo to see detail.