Nikon D800 – my first impression

Well, I am fortunate enough to have received one of the first Nikon D800’s – its serial number is 6000292.  Wow!

It arrived on Friday morning, and I have shot quite a few tests with it already.  My impression is that this really is everything its hyped up to be.  Now I have owned many stills cameras, amongst them Hasselblads and Leicas, and the D800 is way up there.  And it shoots video too.

I know a lot of people are excited about the video prospect that this camera offers, and I’ll share a few thoughts with you here.  Beware though, I do love my gadgets but I’m not a geek.  I want this stuff to do what it says on the tin.  I want it to be relaible, efficient, and reasonably easy to use.  And being an owner of a D300, this camera is fundamentally no different in terms of operation and handling, although its a bit taller.

The live view has two very simple settings LV stills or LV video.  In video mode you can superimpose a histogram onto the pictures, which is very useful, but in operation its quite difficult to see those highlights burning out, and as you know if they’re burned out you won’t get them back.  On big video cameras I set the zebra patterning to 100%, and make sure my highlights are there.  The only way around this on the D800 would seem to be using an external viewfinder which can do this for you.  But I guess that if you’re shooting serious video with this camera, then you will need to be using an external viewfinder.

Another advantage is that you can change the iris setting as you’re shooting, as well as the shutter speed.  I would normally shoot everything at 1/50 second anyway, and it is  a slight irritation that you can accidentally knock the shutter speed while shooting.  If you are using a G type Nikon lens (ie no iris ring), then you will have to satisfy yourself with the fact that controlling the iris through the camera body has to be done in 1/3 stop increments, which makes the stop pull visible.  I wouldn’t use this as anything other than a cutaway (or B roll) camera, so I don’t consider that to be a problem.

The data rate at full 1080/50 is 24mbs, so its not up to broadcast spec (in the UK), where 50mbs is viewed as being the minimum broadcast standard.  But the HDMI out of the camera is clean, so you can always go to one of the many external frecorders on the market.  The picture output is 4:2:2 at 8 bit.  But come on, this is a stills camera that can shoot movies, not the other way round.

The video tests I have shot so far do look very good, even acceptable at 5000 ISO, albeit a bit noisy in the low light areas.  This is much more noticeable at night.  I’ll post a clip when I get a chance.

I have attached a still (shot camera RAW, then tweaked a tiny bit in CS5, but only colour and levels).  This image was shot on a brand new 70-200 f2.8 Nikkor at 200mm, f5.6, at 50 ISO.  One thing I have read about is glass… everything I have read is true, you need to use the best lenses available.  I have tested a number of my Nikkors, some of which date back 40 years, and I am going to have replace the lot.  They are not sharp enough for this camera!  This may sound a bit drastic, but I produce a lot of exhibition quality prints, and this camera is quite capable of producing A1 size prints (the uncompressed files in CS5 are 200mb), but for that quality, you will need the best glass.  And there is no point in buying this camera unless you want to exploit the high resolution it offers.

ISO 50 test image, Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 click to view full size

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~ by Stephen Foote on March 25, 2012.

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