About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Thoughts On the Nikon D800

Thoughts On the Nikon D800

If you’re into camera gear at all you have no doubt read by now that Nikon launched the new D800 this week. This seems to have been a long time coming in many respects. Ever since Canon launched the 5D Mark II people have been wondering when we would see Nikon step up the full frame video equipped high resolution plate. The wait, it turns out, was longer than most people expected, but I think given what was announced today, it will have been worth it.

Addressing the naysayers

I’ve learned the hard way over the years that specifications alone don’t mean much when it comes to real world experiences. As with any launch of this magnitude, reaction was unsurprisingly mixed. Some people were complaining loudly about the specs. Others were proclaiming them. The problem is though, until this gets into the hands of people, what is written on paper doesn’t really mean anything.

There is one complaint that I have to take issue with though. A lot of people commenting are complaining that this isn’t what they thought the D800 should have been. They are complaining about the high pixel count and the high iso performance compared to the recently released D4. When the D700 was originally launched it was billed as a cut down version of the D3, so understandably some were expecting that the D800 would be a cut down version of the D4. The thing is though, the reason I find the complaining a little odd, is that what is in the D800 is exactly what people have been asking for.

When Canon released the 5D Mark II Nikon fans everywhere pronounced doom for Nikon unless they also released a prosumer high megapixel camera that also did video. For three years people have complained on forums and blogs that Nikon didn’t have an answer to the 5DII. Now that Nikon has given people exactly what they asked for, all those people seemed to have developed collective amnesia. I guess it’s a case of dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.

A Few Drawbacks

Despite the naysayers, the D800 represents a very interesting development in the DSLR market. For the first time we have a 35mm Camera moving into medium format territory. I know there’s more to medium format than the resolution, but still, here we have a camera capable of pushing same level of pixels as some medium format cameras and backs. What’s even more impressive is that it’s doing it at a very low price relatively speaking.

That resolution doesn’t come without a price though. For a start your lenses need to be absolute perfect optically or it’s really going to show up. Given the price point it’s likely that many potential customers won’t own the highest of high end glass so an investment in the D800 is just the beginning of your expenditure. It doesn’t stop there either. Files from this camera are going to be around 100mb a pop so you better be prepared to invest in more storage too.

The other thing that I think is important to consider, is that this isn’t a general purpose camera. It has a very specific market. That’s not to say you couldn’t use it as a general purpose camera but its targeted at a specific type of photographer. It will primarily suit people who shoot studio or landscape photographs. In other words, situations where speed isn’t a requirement. Unlike the D700 it shoots at only 4fps and the quality of its high ISO output is yet to be determined.

But if you do shoot landscapes or studio work, oh my, what an animal. The few test shots that have been floating around are absolutely stunning. It blows away the D3X and that was amazing.

Other Features to be excited about

Incase this is sounding a bit negative (it’s not meant to be - honest) there are lots of other things on this camera to be excited about. Full frame video, which seems to be reasonably well implemented, should be a huge boon for potential film makers out there. The few videos that have surfaced look pretty good, although it’s hard to tell at this stage. It is interesting that they are offering clean uncompressed out, a feature from the D4.

Another cool addition is the second card slot. What’s even better is that it is an SD card. Why is this important? Well, two reasons. First of all, it offers the opportunity to use an eye-fi card inside the camera without having to resort to adaptors and the like. Secondly, if you are using something like a macbook air with a native SD card slot, or an iPad with the camera connection kit, you can shoot RAW to your CF card and jpegs to your SD card, then view the JPEGS on your laptop or iPad without having to load up gigabytes of Raw files. Given how large the raw files are this will potentially be very useful when you’re in the field and all you want to do is look at your images.

Will I get One?

So, that is the €3000 (or €2700 to be precise) question, isn’t it. To be honest I’m not sure at this point. It will depend on a few things, which won’t become clear until the camera gets into the hands of reviewers and more photographers.

The biggest thing for me will be how it performs at ISO 800. That’s the sweet spot for me and the type of photography I do. I have gotten used to shooting on the D700 at ISO800 where there is little or no noise. When shooting street and city shots with a long lens, in my experience 800 works the best as it is about as low as you can go and still shoot at a high enough shutter speed as to avoid any potential camera shake. I rarely shoot above 1600 so the super high ISO’s aren’t of much interest to me.

The examples I’ve seen online bode well enough for 800. There is a little more noise than on a 700 file, but without knowing the pipeline of the post processing it’s hard to make a judgment call. As Camera Raw doesn’t support this camera yet, people are either shooting JPEG or relying on Capture NX which in my opinion doesn’t do a great job (compared to Adobe’s camera raw)

So again, it gets back to what I was saying earlier - you can’t tell from the specs. Until it gets out in the real world it’s too early to tell if it will suit my type of photography or not. I would certainly like the resolution. I do like the high res files I get from the 5DII (I just hate the experience of using he camera) so it would be nice to get that kind of quality in a Nikon body.

The D700 Lives On

The one thing for sure is that I am glad I got the D700 when I did, because now that it has been discontinued there is not camera like it on the market any more. It’s a small, fast full frame camera with a great high ISO performance.

I have written before about the thought process that led me to buy the D700 even though it was reaching the end of its lifecycle, and the D800 announcement confirms my suspicions. The D800 may well be a fantastic camera, but the D700 still has a unique look in a unique form factor that we may never see again. If nothing else I suspect that there will be a robust market for used D700s

In conclusion

I hope this little piece hasn’t come across too negative and I hope I haven’t given you the impression that I’m down on the D800. If anything, quite the contrary. It’s just that it’s not targeted at the same market as the D700 was and that is understandably confusing and annoying some people. I have to agree with Scott Kelby when he mentioned recently on The Grid, that he wished they’d called it anything but the D800

But even the most cynical would have to admit that this is a major step forward for camera technology. It represents medium format technology for a fraction of the price and it has the potential to be a real game changer. I for one am looking forward to see the results once this gets into the real world.

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