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Nikon D810: Full-frame DSLR you will want to buy

Published on Aug 21, 2014 4:22 PM
 
Nikon D810

The Nikon D810 is the successor to Nikon's two mid-range full-frame DSLR cameras, the D800 and D800E.

The major difference between the D800 and the D800E is that the D800E's image sensor lacks an optical low-pass filter, or OLPF. This filter reduces moire or wavy patterns, but at the expense of image sharpness.

Shutterbugs who do mostly nature, landscape or architectural photography, where moire is less of a concern, would pick the D800E.

But Nikon fans will have no such dilemma now. The D810's new image sensor does not use such a filter.

The sensor is not the only improvement.

With the latest Expeed 4 image- processing engine, the D810 now has the ability to group five autofocusing (AF) points together, collectively known as Group Area AF mode.

It also has a new and quieter electronic first-curtain shutter and a re-designed mirror balancer that is supposed to reduce vibration.

Other notable upgrades:

  • Faster shooting rate - 5 frames per second (fps), compared to 4fps;
  • Higher resolution LCD screen (1,229,000 dots versus 921,000 dots);
  • Full high-definition video recording at 60fps with built-in stereo microphone (compared with 30fps with monaural audio); and
  • A smaller RAW file format for event and wedding photographers who need to transmit or edit photos quickly.

In looks, there is little change from its predecessors. But the rubberised contoured grip feels deeper, giving those with bigger hands a better grasp of the camera.

With a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body that is resistant to dust and moisture, D810 is built like a tank. It feels solid and robust.

On the right side of the camera, a compartment hides dual memory card slots for a CF card and an SD card. You can save one image in RAW and a copy in JPEG, or use the second as extra storage.

The button layout of its predecessors was impeccable and stays practically unchanged. It will be immediately familiar to ardent fans of high-end Nikon DSLR cameras.

Its Mode dial is not the kind that you can turn. This requires you to hold down the Mode button on top with your index finger and adjust the rear dial with your thumb to change shooting modes. This might sound complicated, but the upside is you will never change shooting modes unintentionally.

A front command dial sits on the grip under the shutter release and a rear command dial, above the rear thumb rest. The rear directional pad is sited just beside the thumb rest, making it really easy to change settings. A dedicated video recording button sits on top near the shutter release.

Overall, handling of this camera is top-notch.

Start-up is instantaneous, while shutting down takes just half a second. You can switch the camera off between shots to preserve battery life. Not that you really need to.

The D810's battery life is outstanding. It managed about 1,200 stills on a full charge. Most DSLR cameras get by with 600 to 800. But even the D810 pales in comparison with the Nikon D4S' staggering 3,000 stills.

Shutter lag is almost non-existent. In normal operation, the shutter release works even more quietly than its predecessors did in Quiet mode. So when you switch on Quiet mode, it is so quiet you can take shots all through a meeting without attracting attention.

Using a Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f2.8 lens, the AF is almost instantaneous in securing a sharp focus in good lighting. Even in dim lighting, it takes at most a second to lock onto a focus point with the aid of AF assist light. AF operation is equally quiet.

Using an SDXC card with a writing speed rated at 45MB per second, I shot 18 RAW images in 3.4 seconds before the buffer filled up.

Image quality is quite simply stunning, with sharp rendition of pixels and crisp details. Sharpness is constant from edge to edge. You will be amazed by the details this camera can capture. When you shoot a portrait, you can easily pick out every single blemish on a person's skin.

Auto white balance is accurate in most lighting conditions, with the vivid colours we have come to expect from Nikon. But it does veer a little too much towards yellow under tungsten light.

The images shot looked spotless and without noise artefacts all the way to ISO 3,200. Even at ISO 6,400, I could hardly see any image noise. Only at ISO 12,800 did some chromatic noise artefacts appear, with slight detail loss.

The full high-definition videos are really sharp, perhaps the sharpest I have seen from a DSLR camera.

On the downside, the camera will not automatically search for a focus when you pan to a new scene. Instead, you must press the rear AF-On button to get a focus. In addition, videos tend to pick up too much ambient audio.

  • Nikon’s D810 may seem expensive at $4,888 (body only), but its performance is close to that of Nikon’s flagship DSLR model, the D4S, for around half the price. This camera is a tempting upgrade even for users of the D800 or D800E, let alone full-frame wannabes.

trevtan@sph.com.sg

This article was first published in The Straits Times Digital Life on Aug 20, 2014.

Background story

TECH SPECS

Price: $4,888 (body only)

Image sensor: 36.3-megapixel full-frame CMOS

Display: 3.2-inch LCD with 1,229,000 dots

Sensitivity: ISO 32 to 51,200

Shooting speed: Up to 5 frames per second

Weight: 980g (body with battery and memory card)


RATING

Features 4/5

Design 5/5

Performance 5/5

Value for money 4/5

Battery life 5/5

Overall 4/5