Nikon D810 Review - The Nikon D810 is the manufacturer's latest full frame DSLR, arriving with the promise of the best image quality of any Nikon DSLR ever.
Two years ago the manufacturer launched a pair of DSLRs in the form of the D800 and the D800E, with the main difference between the two being that the D800E has the effects of its low pass filter cancelled out.
Nikon has now replaced the two of those models with a single new model – the Nikon D810.
What makes this DSLR notable is that it’s the first full frame DSLR to be completely lacking in an optical low pass filter – rather than have its effect negated as seen previously – and as a result Nikon claims it’ll produce the best image quality in its history.
There’s no doubt this is a lofty claim, so let’s take a closer look and see whether these claims ring true.
Nikon D810 Review – Features
Nikon’s claims of the D810 offering the very best image quality of any Nikon DSLR ever are made possible by an impressive sensor.
The chip found in the D810 is a 35mm full-frame CMOS sensor with a 36.3MP resolution. This, combined with the absence of a low-pass filter, means that the D810 should be capable of capturing an excellent amount of detail.
One by-product of the high resolution and large sensor is that the D810 produces some huge files which can quickly fill up your memory card and then, in turn, bring your post-processing equipment to a grinding halt.
The good news is that Nikon has given the D810 a wider range of image capture formats including a new ‘S Raw’ format which captures images at 9MP and uncompressed and thus a smaller file size.
Images can be captured at a native ISO range of 64-12,800, extendable to ISO 32-51,200 when the need arises.
Despite the hefty resolution, the presence of Nikon’s Expeed 4 processor means that images can be captured at around 5fps – a speed not to be sniffed at – while this can be increased to some 6fps if you’re happy to shoot in DX crop mode.
On the rear of the camera you’ll find a 3.2in, 1.23m-dot LCD screen which is as well specified as most other full frame DSLRs, while as you would expect the model also features an optical viewfinder to aid composition.
If you’re interested in video capture, the good news is that the D810 caters well for those needs as well. Although it doesn’t offer the new ultra-HD 4K video capture, it does still capture at 1920 x 1080p Full HD.
The video capture capabilities are also fairly comprehensive in terms of frame rate, with 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p and 24p all on offer, as well as 60 and 50p at the slightly lower resolution 1280 x 720 setting.
One other welcome feature is the presence of a small pop-up flash which can obviously be used to illuminate a scene as well as trigger off-camera Nikon flash guns.
Unfortunately the D810 doesn’t feature Wi-fi or GPS as standard, however there is the option to add the functionality through a range of extra adapters. This helps keep the cost of the camera down for those who wouldn’t usually use the Wi-fi functionality.
Nikon D810 Review – Design
If you’re familiar with the D800 and the D800E, the D810 will be fairly recognisable straight away. That’s not to say that there aren’t differences between the new model and its predecessors, and the most noted of these is with regards to the placement of the buttons.
As a result of user feedback, according to Nikon, the D810 features several button placement refinements, including the introduction of a new ‘I’ button and slightly less indentation around the image review and delete buttons.
The previously fiddly metering mode button has been replaced by a dedicated button taking the place of the bracketing button, which is now housed on the side of the camera.
The camera’s grip also sees some design tweaks, with a larger indentation for the middle camera and a larger thumb rest area on the rear of the camera. These two changes are welcome as they give the D810 a more secure feel in the hand while shooting.
In terms of the camera’s build quality, it really is a solid workhorse of a camera. The body is comprised of magnesium alloy and although that makes the camera heavy – at a touch under 1kg in weight – the improved weather sealing means it will really stand up to tough conditions.
Nikon D810 Review – Performance
When it comes to the performance level of the Nikon D810, it excels in every department.
The model utilises the same Multi-Cam 3500FX AF system as seen in the D4S, and as a result it delivers lightning-fast AF even in low and difficult lighting conditions. The set-up features 51 focus points which are concentrated towards the middle of the frame and can be altered between using the various focus modes.
When shooting in live view mode the D810’s mirror is locked up, and as such the camera must rely on contrast detect autofocus, a method which naturally isn’t as quick as the conventional set-up. That being said, in live view mode you can magnify the display by up to 23x and as such it aids manual focus acquirement.
Not only is the LCD screen one of the best specified in the market in terms of size and resolution, but it also benefits from the addition of a fourth white dot per pixel. In real terms, this means the screen offers better visibility in bright conditions and reduces power consumption in lower light.
The screen also adjusts brightness to suit the conditions you’re shooting in, and on the whole it’s a screen which impresses and certainly feels like an improvement.
Nikon D810 Review – Image Quality
Colour and white balance
In the default JPEG settings colours are generally well rendered across the whole range, with skin tones particularly well rendered. Colours also appear natural, and if you do want to add more punch there is a wide range of customisation available through the various colour settings.
As you might expect, the camera’s auto white balance is also impressively reliable and presents very few issues when shooting in a range of conditions.
Exposures are generally well balanced, even in dark conditions and areas of high contrast, meaning you can rely on the camera the get the decisions right should you require.
There’s also a new ‘Highlight’ mode which specifically looks to preserve highlight detail. When you consider just how much detail can be drawn from shadow areas thanks to the large dynamic range this option is certainly welcome.
In terms of detail which the D810 can resolve, it’s one of the most impressive camera’s on the market. At base ISO it almost out resolves test charts, and as such the level of detail the camera will capture is startling.
Across the lower ISO settings the D810 handles noise really well, managing smooth and good quality images up to ISO 3200.
Above this there does begin to be a few signs of luminance noise in the shadow areas, although it is well managed and is certainly still useable, although ISO 25,600 and 51,200 are best reserved for emergencies.
Raw vs. JPEG
JPEG files are generally well processed, with the D810 handling both colour management and noise control well.
That being said you’ll likely want to handle noise processing and colour yourself, and as such it would be advisable to shoot Raw files, especially if you’re having to shoot at the higher ISO settings.
Nikon D810 Review – Verdict
Although the D810 isn’t a complete overhaul in comparison to its predecessors, the improvements which have been made are certainly welcomed.
The improvements to the LCD screen are instantly noticeable and really betters the image review process.
It’s also welcome to have the varying file size options so that you don’t have to always shoot at the 36.3MP resolution and therefore fill up your memory cards.
Also as with before the level of image quality is truly stunning, and the removal of the low pass filter means that the level of detail captured is stunning.
Overall, the D810 is a truly welcome upgrade and one of the very best DSLRs on the market.
Nikon D810 – Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of images captured with the Nikon D810. For a wider range, head on over to the Nikon D810 review sample image gallery.
Nikon bills the D810 as being pitched at professional and ‘advanced aspirational’ photographers.
With 36.3MP of resolution, the D810 boasts the highest image quality of any camera currently in Nikon’s lineup. This is further enhanced by the fact that Nikon have removed the optical low-pass filter.
In a first for a DSLR, the D810’s ISO range starts at ISO 64. Natively it goes up to ISO 12,800, however the range can be extended to ISO 32-51,200.
Plenty of the internals in the D810 have been borrowed from the D4s, not least of which is the Expeed 4 processing engine, which gives the D810 a boost in terms of image rendering and the aforementioned ISO capability.
Image: The Nikon D810’s sensor
Also lifted from the D4s is the Multi-CAM 3500FX AF system, which boasts 51 AF points and Group Area AF mode.
The D810 is able to shoot full-resolution images at up to 5fps, and can manage 7fps in X crop mode (15.3MP).
It also boasts a new Raw Size S file format, which delivers 12-bit uncompressed NEF files that can be transferred faster than ordinary Raw files – useful for photographers who don’t necessarily need the full power of the 36MP sensor.
In terms of metering, the D810 has a new Weighted Metering mode which takes its cue from the highlights of an image. Nikon says this should be particularly useful for theater or concert photography, where the main subject is typically lit by a very bright spotlight.
The 3.2-inch LCD screen features 1,229,000 dots of resolution and an anti-reflective surface. The colour balance and brightness can also be extensively adjusted, and a new split-screen Live View mode allows for quicker, more accurate monitoring.
A number of Picture Control settings allow the user to streamline their post-processing. ‘Flat’ setting maximises dynamic range , while the ‘Clarity’ setting allows for fine adjustments of minute detail.
The magnesium alloy body of the Nikon D810 has been extensively sealed to be resistant against weather and dust.
A new electronic front-curtain shutter has also been included to minimise internal vibations and reduce the risk of slight blur in subtle details.
In terms of movies, some may be surprised to learn that the D810 does not shoot 4K video. What it does shoot is Full HD (1080p) movies in FX and DX format at 50 and 60p.
Videographers have access to the D810’s full ISO sensitivity range, and audio can be recorded via a 3.5mm jack input. The D810 also features Zebra mode, which indicates when highlights are blown when shooting video.
The Nikon D810 will be on sale from July 17, priced £2699.99 body-only. We’ll have our hands-on first thoughts of this new camera up soon, so check back with us.