Nikon hit hard in 2012 with its D800. Two years later, the yellow brand decided to put the cover back on with a new model tailored for the most demanding photographers. The D810 is not a reflex like the others. Far from the same because if it inherits a good part of the technical specifications of its predecessors, it also brings a lot of improvements designed for photographers, and for videographers.
If you expect to find complicated measurements and wonderful test lines, then you might be disappointed. This test will not fall into pure technique. Others do it better than me, anyway. Yes, and if the subject interests you, nothing prevents you from going for a little tour at DxOMark .
Before going any further, and as usual, I will take the time to look at the technical characteristics of the case.
This part may be quite synthetic, so do not hesitate to go to the manufacturer's site for more information on this subject.
The Nikon D810 has a full-frame 36 million pixel sensor that places it close to medium-format cameras. It is a sensor without a low-pass filter, like what the D800-E offers.
The speed of its shutter is between 1/8000 and 30 seconds . The sensitivity goes up to ISO 12,800 in normal mode, or up to ISO 51,200 in extended mode. At a minimum, it will be possible to go down to ISO 64 in the first case, and ISO 32 in the second. Added to this is a burst mode reaching an average of five frames per second.
Exposure metering is based on a TTL system with an RGB sensor of 91,000 photosites. If you want to know more about the subject, and if you want to educate yourself, the best is still to take a look at this Wikipedia article .
The autofocus part is provided by a Nikon Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX module and it works with phase detection. The whole with 51 collimators, including 15 cross. The case also incorporates a lamp and it can focus in the dark.
For aiming, we can count on the pentaprism viewfinder (100%), or on the 3.2-inch non-touch screen. As on all high-end cases of the brand, the latter is protected by a plastic plate.
The D810 also incorporates a double slot for sliding SD or Compact Flash cards. The user can store each image on the two cards (in copy), or go into overflow. If necessary, he can also choose to record the videos on one of the cards, and the photos on the second.
The connection of the device is particularly complete. Apart from the Flash shoe, we will find a microphone input, a headphone output, a Micro USB 3.0 port and an HDMI output. In addition, there are various sockets for accessories, and compatibility with MB-D12 grips.
The D810 is not as big as you might think (146 x 123 x 81.5 mm) and it weighs 880 grams on the scale without the battery, and without the memory card. On the price side, it takes around 3000 € bare box.
Design & Ergonomics
The D810 obviously looks a lot like the D800. Like him, it is equipped with many seals and it will be able to withstand dust and bad weather without difficulty. This is obviously not a reason to take him swimming in the tub. Or elsewhere.
Fun fact, Nikon chose to dig deeper into the grip to improve grip. The two buttons located to the left of the lens when the camera is held from the front (Pv and Fn) are also a little further apart.
When unpacking the beast, I was very surprised by its dimensions. I expected a real juggernaut, but it isn't. Sure, it's – a lot – bigger than my 100D, but that's still reasonable.
The same goes for the weight, which didn't really bother me during these few weeks of testing. However, he accompanied me on a walk, and also on Parisian events.
Now let's move on to the ergonomics of the case.
Quite frankly, I was really, really scared that I would feel completely lost, and not find my feet. Against all expectations, it only took a few minutes for me to feel right at home. Be careful, this does not mean that my first photos were successful. Far from it, actually, but let's say I had no trouble accessing the basic settings. Like speed, aperture, sensitivity, exposure mode or even white balance.
To believe that my test of the Nikon DF was very profitable for me.
Either way, the D810 has no shortage of buttons. On the front of the case, in addition to the two buttons mentioned a little above, we will also be able to take control of the flash and the focus. Fast and effective.
The upper edge of the case is well loaded. On the left, we will find a dial allowing to modify the release mode, with a trefoil referring to various settings such as white balance , sensitivity or exposure measurement . If you want to modify these settings, you will have to play with the knobs placed on the right of the box. It is also in this area that we will find the LCD screen and three buttons giving access to the shooting mode, the exposure compensation and the recording of videos.
Interestingly, this button is slightly hollowed out, unlike the other two. It will therefore act as a benchmark and we will be able to work blindly, without having to take our eye out of the viewfinder. This is obviously only a detail, but it shows the care taken by Nikon to the ergonomics of its case.
The shutter release button is placed a little forward and is surrounded by the power button. The latter can take two positions, the last allowing by default to activate the backlighting of the LCD screen located on the shoulder. It will obviously be possible to customize it to your liking.
Like everything else for that matter.
Lots of buttons on the back too. Upwards, we will find the commands referring to the reading of the images stored on the memory cards and to the deletion tool. On the other side of the viewfinder, we can get our hands on the buttons devoted to memorizing the exposure.
Then there is the screen. He is truly magnificent. So it's true, it's not tactile but it's not really a problem and we could very well do without it. Its only flaw is that it is difficult to read in direct sunlight, but this is not really a big surprise since all screens of this type are housed in the same boat.
To its left, Nikon has integrated no less than five buttons, one on top of the other. They refer to the box menu , the image protection function , the zoom controls and other similar things. On the other side, there will be the selection wheel, the focus function lock latch, the Liveview selector and two buttons to display additional information on the screen.
The ports of the case are concealed under three hatches located on the left side. The microphone input and the headphone jack are grouped together, like two old maids. Next is the Micro USB 3.0 port and, finally, the HDMI output. Needless to say, it will be better to keep these hatches closed in the rain.
For memory cards, you will have to jump to the other side of the box. The battery hatch is for its part placed under the device and it is also here that we will find the screw thread of the case and the port dedicated to the power handle.
So much for the owner's turn. As you can see, the D810 is frankly not in the lace and that's quite a good thing since we will rarely go digging through its menus to find the options we need.
The Nikon D810 is extremely responsive. It only takes a few tenths of a second to be ready to shoot. The delay is also extremely short between each photo and it is all the more impressive that an NEF (the RAW format from Nikon) weighs on average around fifty megabytes. It will be better to plan large capacity cards, therefore.
The box offers several different configurations. You can shoot in NEF + JPEG Fine, NEF + JPEG Normal, NEF + JPEG Basic, NEF, TIFF, JPEG Fine, JPEG Normal or JPEG Basic. Well, afterwards, when you spend 3000 € on a camera, it is not necessarily to make JPEG either, eh, but there is something for everyone.
This feeling of responsiveness is found with autofocus. He is very nervous and the focus is also instantaneous, even when the ambient light is poor. It is also very precise, by the way.
If necessary, you will have the possibility to group your collimators to ensure better monitoring of your subjects. After that, everything will depend on the scenes you want to shoot, but it's really easy to switch from one mode to another. Just press the button against the lens and play with the dials to change settings and toggle between AF-S and AF-C.
The sharpness is remarkable , of course, and that's not surprising given the images the D800 and D800-E are capable of producing. Be careful, however, because with the definition of this sensor, you will not be allowed to make mistakes and you will have an interest in investing in quality optics.
Side settings, I also advise you to significantly increase the speed of the shutter of the body to avoid motion blur. Do not hesitate to charge on this side, especially if you have trouble staying stable.
The images crisp, therefore, and the dynamics are truly breathtaking. I have not found a better term. The D810 is able to see things you don't even know exist. He is very comfortable with highlights, and even more with shadows. It's really amazing and it will ultimately allow us to save a lot of time in post-production since it will no longer be necessary to artificially increase the contrast of the images to bring out the subjects.
In addition, and this is one of the great novelties of the camera, Nikon has integrated an exposure mode capable of weighting the highlights to improve the rendering of the shots. It is obviously very suitable for concert photos and I think the photographers officiating in this field will be very sensitive to the attention.
I've read everywhere that the D810 is mostly a studio box. I absolutely do not agree. It is very suitable for this type of use, it is true, but it also does very well on the ground, even in the most difficult conditions. I have taken him with me on hikes a few times – yes I do get to walk around – and he always came out like a chef.
I didn't have any bad surprises with the white balance either. I just switched it to automatic and let the D810 do all the work for me.
What about his sensitivity?
No surprise here, he masters the subject down the line. Noise remains very well managed up to ISO 6400. Then, we have a few artifacts that start to appear but the clichés are still usable. Of course, the higher you climb, the more work you'll have in post-production.
Note that the box includes a function to reduce noise. However, I preferred to deactivate it because I read everywhere that it also had a negative impact on the sharpness of the images.
Some of you may know, I also had the Nikon DF on loan recently. This summer, to be exact. I did not put the two cameras side by side to compare them on this ground, but the images delivered by the D810 in low light are of equivalent quality.
I find that amazing, moreover, especially when taking into account the definition of the sensor of the latter.
As indicated a little above, the images delivered by the box are quite heavy to manage. They take up space on memory cards, but they will also require resources on the computer side. However, Nikon has incorporated a special mode for recording RAW 9 million pixels to help save space.
It's a good initiative, but I think the manufacturer could have offered a few more intermediate modes.
On the sidelines, we also have a lot of options in terms of cropping and we can for example decided to shoot in FX or DX. If you opt for the latter solution, then you will be able to enter more into the image and type in the central part of the sensor. The definition of the image will then drop to 15 million pixels.
I put you some photos taken during these weeks of testing. With no adjustments. They are available in their original formatat this address , in an archive.
For a very long time, SLR type cameras were content to capture still images. However, some manufacturers have decided to go a little further and this is particularly the case with Canon, which set a real precedent with the highly regarded 5D Mark II.
Nikon stayed behind for a long time but everything changed with the launch of the D800 in 2012. There, all of a sudden, videographers began to take an interest in the yellow mark and some of them even took the gamble to trade their bulky cameras for their reflexes.
The D810 is in line with its predecessor, but it goes a little further than the latter by incorporating very interesting new features. Like this zebra system that will highlight overexposed areas of the image to help you identify them more easily.
The box also offers several recording formats. 1080p is obviously part of the game, and this in 24, 25, 30, 40 or 60 frames per second. Unfortunately, it will be impossible to climb higher, so fans of extreme slow motion will have a bit of post-production work. For 720p, it will be necessary to be satisfied with a frame rate reaching a maximum of 60 frames per second.
4K is not in the game, and it is ultimately one of the biggest criticisms that can be made to Nikon in this area. While this format is not widely used today, it should develop considerably in the years to come. The day the videographers wish to go a little further, they will therefore have to change the camera.
But that's not the most embarrassing lack.
No, because Nikon has also ignored “focus peaking”. If this term is not familiar to you, just know that it is a mode working on the same principle as the zebras mentioned a little above, but for the development.
Basically, it's just a matter of coloring the areas where the focus is. This is obviously very practical when you decide to do without autofocus services. Hopefully this lack will be fixed in a future software update.
Now that we've covered the D810's main video flaws, it's time to talk about its strengths.
The quality of the videos, for starters, is exceptional. The dynamics, the sharpness, everything that is valid for the photo is also valid for the animated sequences. Nikon has also had the good idea to integrate a new image style (flat) to obtain more neutral tones.
The same goes for the sensitivity which obviously remains very good. However, it will be best not to push it too hard to keep an image as crisp and pure as possible.
The autofocus is a little too soft, however, and above all too noisy. It will therefore be better to work manually.
I did not do a thorough test on the “rolling shutter”, however, and I humbly apologize.
Otherwise, the built-in microphone works quite well, except in noisy environments. Which will not surprise many people. However, it will be perfectly possible to invest in an external microphone since the D810 integrates a compatible input. Same thing for sound control through headphones since a jack is part.
Another interesting point is that the HDMI output is not compressed. This should please those skilled in the art since they can connect an external recorder to increase the bit rate of the video stream.
Summarizing these few weeks spent with the Nikon D810 will not be easy.
The truth is, a camera body (or any other product) isn't just a long list of specs. I'm not saying that the definition of a sensor or the accuracy of its autofocus module isn't important, just that they don't do everything. Behind, there is also the pleasure that one can feel while taking it in hand.
And the D810 has nothing to envy its competitors in this area either.
In reality, this case totally amazed me, and this since the moment I discovered it, resting at the bottom of its box.
He amazed me, and he also surprised me because I did not expect to find myself with such a compact, light and… accessible device.
Accessible, but not simplistic. We must not lose sight of the fact that this box is intended above all for professionals and very… enthusiastic users. However, its ergonomics are particularly formidable and it will not be necessary to be a killer to get out of it either.
A great achievement, of which the engineers at Nikon can be proud.
And then, of course, there are the images it delivers. Animated or not, for that matter. There, clearly, it is almost faultless. The definition, the dynamics, the sharpness, the sensitivity, it excels in each of these areas and it also has the good taste to offer all the functions that we are entitled to expect from a high-end case.
With “timelapse”, nine-shot bracketing, HDR and even an electronic level on two axes that can be displayed on the screen or directly in the viewfinder.
Is he perfect for all that? Of course not. As mentioned above, it is not capable of filming in 4K, and it does not offer “focus peaking” either. Yes, and unfortunately it also ignores WiFi and GPS.
However, that does not prevent him from bordering on perfection and it is with great sadness that I will see him go back to his happy owners. Sadness, and a touch of nostalgia too. Casually, we were starting to get along well, him and me.
All photos and videos included in the article were taken with a NIKKOR 28mm f / 1.8 G.