The Nikon D810 review: a worthy D800E upgrade?

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This article will not be a review in the conventional sense. I’ve covered the original D800 here, a mid-term report here, and a long term report of the D800E here; after more than 70,000 frames with one D800 and two D800Es, I think I can say I know these cameras pretty well. Instead, this report will focus on the important differences, and the reasons why I eventually caved and upgraded one of the cameras – and not just because I had that conversation with Lloyd Chambers. Whether these differences are significant enough is something that you will have to answer on your own, based on your own requirements.

Note: though I’ve completed enough bench testing to evaluate the camera’s image quality, between poor atmospheric conditions, testing of other prototypes (of course unpublishable) and family commitments around the festive season I have not had an opportunity to produce any images I’d consider worthy of publication. I aim to remedy this in the next couple of weeks, however; check my flickr stream for updates. So, I must apologize in advance for a review that’s somewhat lacking in the usual eye candy.

The D810, announced a couple of weeks ago, is an evolutionary upgrade of the D800 line. The body is similar enough that all of the accessories such as the MB-D12 grip still fit. The pixel count remains the same at 36 million or thereabouts. Most of the buttons are even in the same place. In fact, on the surface, this upgrade isn’t much of an upgrade at all; considering the D800E was the image quality flagship in 35mm DSLRs since the day of release, Nikon didn’t have to do much. Unfortunately, this lack of innovation seems to be endemic amongst large camera brands these days; it makes it difficult to justify upgrades (and will hurt their bottom lines) simply because for most users, there will be no difference.

  • I’m going to start with the things I didn’t like about the original D800E:
  • Focusing issues: even after they sorted out the left hand bank asymmetry, AF never really felt that positive or solid on locking.
  • The viewfinder was a disaster for manual focus; with a mirror that was not properly zeroed, with a focusing screen not snappy enough for fast lenses, and frankly, not enough magnification even compared to my F6 and especially F2.
  • Occasional lockups; this was fixed with a later firmware.
  • Slightly blocky live view. I didn’t personally take exception to this, but I know a lot of others did – perhaps strange considering the amount of tripod-based precision work I do. I always racked focus back and forth and looked at the transition/ difference in focal plane rather than absolute sharpness.
  • Mirror/ shutter vibration. Compared to some of Nikon’s earlier cameras like the F6, I felt the D800 had a rather poorly damped mechanism. This was made even more obvious by the camera’s resolution. 1/2x, or even 1/3x focal length is really required for consistent results.
  • The bottom portion of the grip isn’t deep enough, resulting in cramped fingers and hands with larger/ heavier lenses.

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Actually, all in all, that’s a pretty short list. Notice that image quality and reliability aren’t on it – which has made the D800/D800E pretty much the gold standard workhorse for pros everywhere. It completely rendered the low end medium format question irrelevant for me, at least; anything less than the Pentax 645Z doesn’t really push the envelope far enough to justify the price tag – and even then, you really have to be using it under very specific conditions on subjects that do actually have enough detail with impeccable shot discipline to consistently see the difference.
So, what’s new and more importantly, of notable significance, on the D810?

New sensor
It’s supposedly now a new design and AA free rather than having the AA cancelled out; I honestly don’t see much of a difference in resolution. The D800E was already one of the highest acuity cameras (assuming the right lenses, of course) I’ve ever used. The sensor’s native ISO range now goes from 64 to 12800; extended range 32 to 51.2k (up a stop and down 2/3rds of one, respectively). The lower settings may be good for long exposures, but as with all pull settings – there will be a loss of dynamic range at the top end, as information gets truncated. However, for the most part, I’d want as high shutter speeds as possible especially when shooting handheld. I personally don’t consider this to be a significant improvement. If we really gain another usable stop at the other end, that would be a very useful thing in practice.

D800E-D810 ISOL-200
D800E vs D810, lowest ISO to ISO 200. Click here for 100% – screen capture of 100% crops in PS CC.

D800E-D810 ISO400-3200
D800E vs D810, ISO 400 to ISO 3200. Click here for 100% – screen capture of 100% crops in PS CC.

D800E-D810 ISO6400-25k
D800E vs D810, ISO 6400 to ISO 25.6k. Click here for 100% – screen capture of 100% crops in PS CC.

As you can see from the comparison above, we don’t. In fact, the D810 looks a bit noisier to me, especially at ISO 3200 and up. What I see is the D800E loses dynamic range and the blacks block up; the D810 loses color and doesn’t block up (i.e. appears to maintain greater dynamic range), but adds noise in the shadows. There’s a magenta shift at 12.8k and above, though frankly I think 25.6k or higher on either camera is pretty useless, and even 12.8k is strictly for emergencies. I wonder how much of this is due to different hardware in the camera, and how much is due to ACR – remember that support for the D800E is mature, but the D810 is still preliminary release candidate only – which means no color profiling, for starters. Frankly, the 645Z does better than either of these cameras at the pixel level, let alone at equal output sizes.

DXO seems to think the new sensor is slightly better in color and dynamic range than the old one, but a little noisier. The D810 appears to have slightly more dynamic range (and as a consequence, slightly lower contrast) than the D800E, and also slightly less bite. I suspect much of the differences are going to be lost once final sharpening, tonal and color adjustments are made – that is to say, if you’re going to process for the same final result, I think you’re going to be hard pressed to tell either camera apart.

Finally, there’s also 9MP, 12-bit compressed SRAW size – though why on earth you’d buy a 36MP camera to shoot small files doesn’t make sense to me. Visually, the results are still better if you shoot at full resolution then perform the downsizing in post. Note that your buffer actually gets smaller!

Update, 30 July: I’ve discovered that the D810 requires more aggressive ACR sharpening settings to counter de-Bayering as compared to the D800E – I was happy with defaults on the older camera, but the same settings just look soft for the D810. I wonder if this is a consequence of the ‘new’ sensor – I find the same thing with the 645Z, too. That said, when all cameras are optimally sharpened, the D810/645Z still pull ahead of the D800E slightly.

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Sharper live view
It is unclear if this improvement is a consequence of the new sensor of new image processing engine, but live view is significantly clearer; especially when magnified to 100%. There’s no question that it’s now much easier to see when things are in focus; the D800E appears to be jagged interpolated mush by comparison. I personally didn’t have an issue with the old camera, but I’ll certainly take the difference for tripod work.

Higher frame rates
We now get 5fps at full resolution (up from 4) and 6fps in DX mode without the battery grip (7fps with), up from 6. A bit extra – perhaps closing in on being more useful for action photography, though the photographers’ timing is always going to be more of a deciding factor than frame rates. Remember that with 1fps, your shutter is open for say 1/1000s. With 10fps, it’s 10/1000s. That’s still the vast majority of the time when you’re not getting the shot.

Larger buffer
I’m now seeing ‘r18’ instead of ‘r15’ with the same settings, and slightly faster write speeds. In practice, with the increased frame rates, there’s a little increase in the burst duration. Still useful.

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New mirror and shutter mechanism, EFC
This is perhaps the most significant change of all. Firstly, the mirror mechanism is significantly quieter and feels a lot more damped; I no longer feel mass moving around inside the camera when the mirror/shutter cycles. It is more like the D7100’s mechanism than the D4’s – soft and low pitched rather than sharp and snappy. It doesn’t respond any slower, though. Even with the mirror up, you can feel the recoil of the shutter itself is significantly lower; and completely zero if you use the electronic front curtain mode. This introduces a little delay as the mechanical shutter has to first get out of the way before beginning the exposure; so far as I can tell, EFC works in mirror lockup and timer modes, and any of the live view modes in combination with these. It does not seem to work in the normal S/CL/CH modes. Shutter speeds are limited, and you may well see rolling shutter effects with fast moving subjects. As usual, it’s a shame that Nikon did not implement auto mirror up with timer (something the 645Z has). There’s also a new QC (quiet continuous) setting on the dial. It seems to run at about 3fps and just slow down the whole mirror cycling speed, but not wait to release the mirror until you let go of the shutter button (like the regular Q mode). Further testing will be required to determine if this actually makes a difference to camera shake. But it certainly is stealthy.

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You may be wondering why I’m making such a big deal over the mirror and shutter mechanism; it’s because the higher the resolution of the camera, the greater the impact of camera shake on image quality. It doesn’t matter whether this is induced by the photographer (insufficient camera mass), something in the optical system (bad VR) or the mirror/ shutter mechanism. In order to make the most of the imaging potential of the system, we have to eliminate as many of these problems as possible. Even if you’re on a heavy tripod, shutter vibration can still sometimes cause issues. Other cameras have been crippled by this problem in the past – the E-M1’s resonant vibration between 1/160 and 1/320s is a good example of this; it effectively cuts in half (or worse) the resolution of the camera in this shutter speed range because we get a double image.

The D800E required very high shutter speeds to handhold consistently; even lenses with good VR such as the 70-200/4 I found could be used down to perhaps 1/focal length at best; everything else was 1/2x (borderline) or 1/3x + (consistently sharp). This obviously limits the shooting envelope of the camera significantly. In fact, I can use the same speed limits on the 645Z and still obtain pixel-perfect results – despite that camera having an increase of 20% in pixels per degree field of view.

So far, early testing seems to suggest that the D810 is a significant step forwards in this regard; it’s difficult to test conclusively, but without changing anything in the way I shoot, I’m finding myself with an extra half stop to full stop of shutter speed before I see camera shake creeping in. Extended high ISO capabilities aside, this represents a very usable increase in shooting envelope.

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Autofocus upgrades
The D810 inherits the new group dynamic tracking modes from the D4s, along with other supposed improvements to the whole AF algorithm. All I can say is that in practice, it feels a lot more ‘positive’ and noticeably quicker than my D800Es, and even my D4. I find a lot fewer false positive locks, and there’s less shift in position if you refocus without moving the camera. I found that tapping the shutter button a few times in AF-S mode, for instance, used to result in two or three different distances with the previous cameras. Even worse, the lenses would lock at different distances depending on whether focus was being racked from infinity or the near limit. This doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. Continuous tracking (I only tried it briefly) appears to be significantly improved, and no, we don’t have asymmetry or the left-AF issue anymore. It appears the machines have now been calibrated properly.

A new metering mode
Previously, we had matrix (far too focal-point weighted in every camera after the D3/D700), centerweight with adjustable circle size, and spot. Now, matrix has the option of being face-weighted, and there’s a new highlight priority spot; effectively, what it does is add some positive exposure compensation to the spot meter reading as it assumes you’ve put the spot over a highlight area, something in zone 8 as far as I can tell. (Normally, the spot meter will expose to middle grey.) This is actually very useful and matches my preferred method of shooting: spot meter and focus on subject, lock exposure, and recompose as required. Having said that, it’s also possible to achieve the same effect with any other Nikon by using the custom function option to permanently bias the spot meter by a stop and a half.

Ergonomic changes: buttons, dials, grip
What you need to know is that the camera feels quite different in hand; more like the D4 and less like the D800E. In my book, they’ve finally got the grip shape about perfect – both with the vertical grip added and without. The bottom portion is now quite a bit deeper, which means your fourth and fifth fingers don’t feel cramped, nor do they butt up against the camera body. It’s especially noticeable with longer/ heavier lenses. It’s also gained an ‘I’ button on the back under the four way controller to instantly change some settings from the back LCD status display; similar to the lower end cameras. I don’t see myself using this much.

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That’s the good news. The not so good news is that there’s still no user memory modes, and they’ve moved the sensible position of the metering switch (around the AE-AFL button and under your thumb) to the cluster of four on the left shoulder; whilst this makes sense now there’s a fourth metering mode to choose from, I really liked the position of that switch – it was so easy to switch between matrix and spot without having to think about it. Bracket has now moved to above the flash mode button – and making it quite difficult to find and press especially if you plan on using either of the ports on the front of the camera. Port selection on the left remains the same, but they’re now under individual doors and a bit more intelligently grouped – mic and headphone monitoring share a cover, for instance.

Video
The D810 now adds 1080p50/60 modes, stereo microphone ports, plus uncompressed HDMI out. I find it interesting that Nikon is now pushing the camera heavily for video work; it seems like far too much of a knee-jerk reaction to Canon. Too little, too late – they’re not going to get the amateur/ semi-pro video market back at this stage in the game.

LCD
The back LCD might have the same VGA resolution, but we have a bonus luminance pixel now for a total of about 1.2 million, plus the ability to fine tune color. Not a significant difference, but the new monitor does seem to have a higher maximum brightness and appears to be more usable in daylight outdoors.

Viewfinder OLED
The display at the bottom of the finder is now bluish-white instead of green. Illumination looks a bit more even, but that’s about it. Curiously, it shows highlight-biased spot as center weighted. There is no way to tell the difference between the two modes without looking at the top panel LCD.

Longer battery life
Nikon claims a ~20% improvement in battery life. Given the previous camera was pretty parsimonious with power to begin with, it’s a nice to have but hardly a decision-maker. I could easily see up to 2,000 shots per charge from the D800E, and even 400+ in the studio with live view running continuously. I think I’ve only ever needed more than one battery on a handful of occasions during particularly long studio shoots. Though the new camera does appear to be more power efficient, I’d still highly recommend carrying a spare.

Comments on overall QC and build
There was some concern early on over build quality and tolerances now that Nikon has moved production to Thailand. I’d expect price to come down a bit because of this, but they’ll probably tell us it stopped it from increasing, instead. That said, I think those concerns are entirely unfounded. I have not seen or felt anything to suggest that the D810 is any less solid or well built than the D800E; if anything, looking at AF calibration and my personal experience with consumer bodies, it’s the opposite.

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I’ve had plenty of niggling QC-related issues with pro bodies built in Japan, but none whatsoever with consumer/prosumer bodies – starting from the D70, including the D50, D80, D90, D200, D3100 and D5100. If anything, those cameras appear to have fewer issues. Whether this is due to lower complexity or simply higher tolerances, I cannot say. But it seems to me that – so far – Nikon appears to have upped their game a little with the D810. Everything seems just a little tighter; even my lenses required far less fine tuning than on any other Nikon body so far. Too bad they didn’t bother to precisely align the mirror – I’ve pretty much given up hope on that.

Personally, I’ve swapped one of my D800Es for the D810; partially after [the discussion with Lloyd Chambers] – I had initially intended to skip this one – but mainly after handling it in person, the mirror and grip really did make enough of a difference to me, especially considering a lot of my corporate documentary and personal work is handheld. However, I didn’t swap both cameras at the same time because I’ll never take two unproven bodies on a job – call it paranoia or prudence, but I like to be fully confident with my equipment before unleashing it on a client*. At some point I may well upgrade the other one; the handling differences between the two are significant enough that they may cause some fumbles and cost some images under the kinds of conditions which I’d be shooting with two bodies at the same time.

*The same applies to pistols.

There are two other observations which I haven’t been able to fit in anywhere else – firstly, sometimes the D810 can exhibit a bit of a delay from power on to menu access; on further investigation it appears that one of my D800Es does it, but the other does not. I have no idea why as all three cameras have near as identical settings and are all equipped with the same cards (Sandisk 95MB/s Extreme Pro SDs, and Lexar 1066x CFs.) Secondly, adoption of the D810 means I’ve had to switch over to Photoshop CC for good; migration of presets and ACR calibrations from 5.5 is something I’ve been avoiding for some time now. I suppose that’s more inertia on my part than anything else.

The million dollar question for the rest of the audience – or $3,300 in this case – is whether the D810 is worth the money. I see three scenarios here. Firstly, if you’re coming from any other Nikon (or DSLR for that matter) than the D800/D800E, the answer is a very simple yes providing you need and can deploy the resolution. This means right lenses, right shot discipline, and right workflow. If you’re just posting on the web…probably not. I think the D810 can actually replace the D4/D4s for most things; you lose out a bit on frame rate, but image quality is higher (resolution, acuity, noise and dynamic range) if you downsize a D810 file to the same output size. AF performance is not a reason, either; the D810 is as far as I can tell pretty much identical to the D4s in this regard. If you have a D800, the differences in image quality are enough that I’d say the upgrade is worthwhile; it’s as though a veil has been lifted off the images.

For those of you who have a D800E…this is the most difficult question to answer. I think it depends on a few things: if you do a lot of live view work, then yes. If you shoot a lot of action and tracking of moving objects, then yes again; if you shoot handheld under marginal conditions, then yes; if you do any combination of these, then most certainly yes. However, if you are considering the upgrade solely on the grounds of image quality, then my answer would be no: under ideal conditions, there’s almost nothing to choose between the two. Whatever the case though, I’d make my decision now rather than later – if you wait, the residual value of the D800E will only get lower.

Is the D810 a better camera? Unquestionably. Is it a huge leap over its predecessor? In a few ways, yes; in most ways, it’s an incremental but solid upgrade. Is it the best camera Nikon makes right now? Yes, until they put this mirror/shutter/sensor into a D4s body for the ergonomics. Is it the best 35mm FF DSLR right now? Quite possibly. All hail the new king… MT

Update: As at 20 August, Nikon has issued a service advisory that requires cameras suffering from the ‘white dot’ problem – random hot pixels with long exposures and crop modes – to be sent in for sensor recalibration and new firmware. I can only assume this may well improve the high ISO performance too; I plan to send mine in when I get a chance and will update here accordingly.

The Nikon D810 is available here from B&H and Amazon.

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Comments

  1. Hey, you wrote this about your Viewfinder OLED: “it shows highlight-biased spot as center weighted. There is no way to tell the difference between the two modes without looking at the top panel LCD.” Please correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t highlight-weighted metering also show the asterisk (*) inside the viewfinder? I can see it in mine. Great review btw!

    • It appears that it only works with certain lenses; I had the Otus on at first, which may be why I couldn’t see it. It’s visible with Nikon G lenses…go figure.

  2. Hi Ming,

    I read your D810 article when first posted and just came back to re-read and refresh myself on it.

    You wrote initially re the new mirror/shutter that, “So far, early testing seems to suggest that the D810 is a significant step forwards in this regard; it’s difficult to test conclusively, but without changing anything in the way I shoot, I’m finding myself with an extra half stop to full stop of shutter speed before I see camera shake creeping in” and also commented once that D810 files seem a bit harder to handle than D800E’s (but possibly being due to being accustomed to the D800E files).

    I wonder if you find that both these observations still seem to hold true, now that you’ve had considerably more time with shooting on the D810?

    • Yes, I haven’t experienced anything to change that yet.

      • Mmm, I was hoping you’d say that the D810 files turned out just as easy to process as D810E’s. Sounds like a great many other aspects of D810 make it a more productive device to the D800E.

        Is it a dramatic difference? Any ideas why you’ve perceived the files more difficult, even conjecture or subjective opinions at this point?

  3. Thank you for the review Ming! I currently have an E-M1 which I love and a D800 which I don’t. For my few portrait clients, the opposite is true. They like the shallower DOF of the full frame sensor. So, I am trying to like my D800. Does the D810 render more like the E-M1, which also supposedly lacks an AA filter, than it does the original D800? I ask you because you have me wondering with your statement referring to the D810 that “it’s as though a veil has been lifted off the images.” Until reading that quote, I thought maybe it was because the E-M1 is 16MP as opposed to 36 or because the AF on the E-M1 is way more accurate and reliable than that of my D800, but now I am wondering if its the lack of AA on the E-M1 that attracts me to it. Thank you for your time and your great articles!

  4. Hello Ming,

    I just read your review and am a d800e shooter that used the d810 for one week…
    In some way i have a different experience: I find the D810 having more contrast than the d80e – I use the neutrla camera profile now in ACR where i used to choose the standard camera d800e profile… strange…?
    Also the 64 asa mode is a step forward i find. It has more detail and contrast in the dark areas..
    The color is also different and better i find. clearer color differences. Less yellow green-more magenta. Images look a bit clearer..
    of course all these differences are modest.
    What do you think after 1.5 months?
    – what i have to get used to is the new bracketing knob… i would liked to have placed it somewhere else – but i can’t – i keep on pussng the flash-compensation knob instead and sometimes the flash pops up…

  5. Who is this HATER? I have read many reviews, Ming’s review is one of the best. Thanks Ming. Thanks for the others who intelligently replied. This part below the article is so important. Sold my 2nd D800e, wonder it it was a mistake. No focus problem but never trusted left side. I’m a D810 owner.Mine has the PROBLEM. l Love it but very disappointed in Nikon. If I ran Nikon, I would realize that the D810 owner are very serious photographer and top of the field. My recall would include a formal polite apology letter, Priority over night shipping both directions, Nikon repair wastes two precious days on paperwork processing, this would be eliminated. Everybody effected gets SB910 flash as a gift and $ 200 toward a lens. Nikon sells 50% more cameras because of this and the media frenzy it will get.
    The real issue with the repair is that it takes too long if the D810 is your primary camera which is my situation. I’m considering driving 450 miles to LA nikon repair to have it done same day. Not right for just spending $ 3300. Not to mention the hassle and cost and possible damage in shipping.

  6. Ming,

    Do you know the answer to the following:

    On the D810, if I turn “d5:Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter” on, set “d4: Exposure Delay Mode” to 3s, use “Mup Shooting Mode,” then (1) the first shutter press will raise the mirror and (2) the second shutter press will release the electronic front-curtain shutter after a 3s delay: Correct or incorrect?

    Ron

    • Just tried it. Yes, it works that way, but exposure delay will also mean you get that 1s lag in every other mode. Makes more sense to use live view because the mirror doesn’t cycle when you fire the shutter with the self timer then.

      • Ming,

        Thanks.

        It seemed to me to work that way but I didn’t know how to tell whether the D810 is actually using the “Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter” rather than the regular shutter.

        One could toggle the d4 and d5 settings with memory banks to avoid delay in other modes. Toggling memory banks doesn’t bother me but it seems to drive some people nuts. To protect against inadvertently altered memory banks, I reload the camera settings fairly often from a file stored on the secondary memory card. That requires removing the primary, which, again, would probably drive some people nuts. Tastes vary.

        Ron

  7. I see no reason to leave behind my Leica MM and M240 combination for this.

    • Not at web sizes, everything looks the same. I’ve shot both the MM and M240 – I was actually involved in development of the M240 – and they don’t even come close to the Nikon’s sensor.

  8. Bene Placito says:

    Hi Ming
    I’m having a few problems with post processing D810 images myself. I’m currently using PS CS6 and have found it difficult to get rid of noise.
    In ACR I’m using amount of 70, radius 0 .8, detail 40 and mask of 35 but am still getting some halos and noise. Can you offer any advice on what might be a better workflow?
    Appreciate any help you might be able to provide.
    Bene

  9. Here we go again. What is your thoughts on the service advisory on the D810. This is the US link, but there are others for the rest of the world. http://www.nikonusa.com/en/Service-And-Support/Service-Advisories/hyvanded/Technical-Service-Advisory-for-Users-of-the-Nikon-D810.html
    I sent mine back to the merchant for a refund. I’m not going to play send it back to Nikon USA and hope they fix it right. I had to send my D800 back 3 times for them to get it right. One of the times it came back so filthy inside, I almost think they intentionally put that much debris inside the camera. Not happy at all about this. Who wants to play guess the D750 launch defect?

    • are your thoughts!! not is

    • Thoughts: a disappointment, a disgrace (after the D600 fiasco) and frankly, I’m sick of playing beta tester. But, having said that, I don’t see anything wrong with my camera (though I don’t do long exposure work), so I suspect it’s not something that’s going to actually affect a huge number of people in practice. At least they issued a fix for it fairly soon though…

    • Just got my D810 after trading in a perfectly good D800 (the shutter on the later makes too much noise for nature work). After spending a morning optimising the focus on 500mm f4 and 300mm 2.8, I received an email from Nikon asking for it to be returned for repair. This is the third new camera I have had problems with (two D7100 returned to shop). My wife bought a Panasonic FZ1000 at the same time and having great fun with it. Just about sick with Nikon and seriously thinking of trading it all in and getting an FZ 1000 myself and a G4 for digiscoping.

    • jjBrugger says:

      buy a Leica M 240, its better, less heavy, can be used with better otptics and does not lose 50% of its value every 3 years….or by a used D4 , I have found about 5 for less tha 2000 Euros on the web.

      sincerely youra

      JJB

      • how is a 24 megapixel $7000 camera a logical replacement for a 36 megapixel $3000 camera with what sounds like marginal issues and a very impressive sensor (and possible use of Otus lenses)…and have to dump all your nikon lenses as well? seems a bit of an excessive response imo.

        • Not all purchases are rational :)

        • jj brugger says:

          you may be right, but pixels are nor everything , and 24.000 is enough (if you do not head legal medicine documents…)and the D810 is at 3300. not 3000 US $. Otus lenses do not have so many local lengths. and the normal Nikon lenses, (not the professional ones, 2:8, 14-24mm or 24 /70 mmED 2.8) are insufficient for such a sensitive sensor.
          The D600 was a disaster in terms of spots, now the new D810 has problems. Nikon makes makes too many concessions to quality. for too quick and frequent evolutions . This will make the semi professional and professionals unhappy.

          • Leica made cameras that ate buffers, had strap lugs that fell off, sensors cracking…I personally had an experience with card corruption that cost me a job and a client. How is this better? At least with the Nikons I can afford to buy a backup.

          • Honestly I think about 1/2 the price of the Leica is the name. 7k for a ff 24mp sensor is exorbitant.
            for large prints over 2-3 feet across the 36 mp sensor will resolve more detail.
            I also think that even when a lens does not “grab” every pixel even the completely oof areas of an image look smoother and more pleasing than the lower mp variant.
            There is also a tendancy for people to blow “issues” w cameras out of proportion and I would not doubt that this latest issue would have gone largely unnoticed had nikon not brought it up….although I’m glad they did since I enjoy long exposures.
            IMO.

            • $7000 is now a bargain as they’ve just announced an $8000 version without a red dot. Personally, I prefer a camera at 1/10th the price that gives me 57 shots per battery, takes 10 seconds to flush its buffer, and 15 seconds on my computer to convert a RAW to TIFF … when the software doesn’t crash. ;)

              • i agree.
                i say this with no venom or gear lust issues. similarly to other luxury brand items (cars etc) Leica benefits from it’s reputation as a prestige brand that is connected with the tradition of street photography on an aesthetic level…not the level of the shots that result from the new digital liecas (old film leicas is a separate discussion imo) but from the aesthetics of the camera body itself, which i admit is cute and gives a nostalgic feeling. however as far as function and bang for the buck the D800/800e/810 platform is pretty astounding. you can get files and prints out of that body that are more impressive on a tech level than any other FF DSLR hands down (given flawless shooting technique) with the possible exception of the sony although people quibble. now w the D810 add in the improved AF, frames per second, shutter shock compensation, new OTUS f mount lenses sure to be made in the future…it’s only getting better. Nikon getting out ahead of this long exposure issue is just frosting on the cake….annoying to early adopters no doubt but good for slow pokes like myself.

      • > buy a Leica M 240, its better, less heavy, can be used with better otptics and does not lose 50% of its value every 3 years
        Are you a troll?

        I have a Leica M240 and whilst it’s a lovely camera, it’s not significantly better than the latest mirrorless cameras from Olympus and Fuji in terms of image quality, usability or reliability.

        In fact on the latter front it’s one of the most unreliable cameras I’ve ever used. Mine has had to go back to Leica twice and both times they’ve sat on it for over two months!!! I’ve likely lost enough on depreciation in that time to buy myself a very good mirrorless camera!

        The Leica’s a lovely camera no doubt, but it is not better in any way than its competitors except perhaps in looks and haptics.

    • Ok…I returned my D810 because I didnt want to send it in for the thermal fix. I purchased a new one that already had the fix applied (black dot in tripod socket and new firmware). When I started to test the new camera, I felt something wasnt right. The things I noticed on my first D810 like improved white balance, great skin tones and snappy auto focus didn feel the same with the replacement body. Furthermore, this so called “new” body already had 150-200 clicks on the shutter. I dont know the exact amount because I didnt shoot a jpeg first and check the count. I did this later, after about 100 to 120 pictures and I was already at 343. I wonder where all of those clicks came from. I ended up returning this one also because it just didnt fell right.

      I then purchase my third D810. This one did not have the black mark on the tripod socket but it did have the updated firmware and a much higher serial number than the 2nd. I assume the fix was applied during production in the factory. I start taking test shots and right away, the quality is exactly like my first D810. I notice right away. I shot a jpeg as my first picture an the shutter count reflected 1. But oh yes, a new problem. When I tried to take the lens off, I noticed the lens release button felt a little weird. It would not fully depress and I couldnt get the lens off. I had to rotate the lens back and forth ever so slightly to get the button to release. From then on, I had to do this same procedure about 1 out of every 5 times i put a lens on. This was for 5 seperate lenses that all mounted without issue on 5 different Nikon bodies.So I google this and to my shock, I found many posts on several web sites with people that had either lenses stuck on their D800’s and D4’s to the locking pin breaking off on D3’s. Now I am worried this is a precursor to one of these problems. There is something wrong with the lens mount and.or locking pin on this new body. My guess is the locking pin is not going in to the hole on the lens and by wiggling the lens, it aligns better and therefore allows me to depress the relase button, but if I dont catch it just right, the button does not press down. Oh well, I guess I’ll try a new one. This is really a pain because I have tested and calibrated all 5 lenses with each of these bodies. My insurance agent is going to explode when I tell her she has to make another serial number change.

      • That’s not good. It sounds like you got a return, and then a dud. I had the locking pin break on my D3 also; time to send it back. A new body shouldn’t be that defective!

  10. Thanks for sharing the experience.

    I’ve just bought a D810 (trade in my D700) after reading your article. I also have a D4 and had the “left-side focus issue” with it back when I bought it 2 years ago (Nikon replaced my “faulty” D4 with a good one).

    The D810, as far as I can tell, does not have that “left side” issue, but I found that focus consistency with 1.4 lenses (24/35/50/85) is poor. I did some tests today by putting the camera on a tripod pointing at a test target, and then took 10 consecutive shots using phase-detection (re-focused every time) using different focus points. I found that hit rate was very low (around 50% out of 10 shots are in focus i.e. tact sharp at 100% magnification).

    If the target is something other than a test chart (e.g. a person who I requested to stay “absolutely” still), my success rate could go as low as 30% (3 out of 10 shots were sharp).

    Did you have any chance to test focus consistency with the D810? What’s your opinion about this? If, say, you put the camera on a tripod with 85 1.4G and shoot 10 photos at F1.4 at a test chart around 5-6 meters away, how is the result? Can you get, like, 9-10 sharp shots?

    BTW, my experience is kinda similar to what Lloyd described here.

    http://diglloyd.com/blog/2012/20120811_2-NikonD800-autofocus-precison.html

    FYI, all my lenses work normally with my D700 and D4.

    • The increased resolution puts demands on the AF system that it doesn’t appear to be able to meet. I get different results whether the lens is racking focus from infinity limit or near limit; I don’t have any f1.4 AF lenses because optical performance isn’t great at f1.4, which defeats the point of the size and weight. This behaviour is visible even on the f1.8Gs.

      • Thanks for your quick response.

        So you say, even with the D810 that focuses better than the D800, your experience in relation to the focus consistency is kinda similar to mine? I find this unacceptable, as, every time I shoot, it feels like I’m flipping a coin and hope that it’ll get on the right side (with the center focus point, my chance is higher to 60-80% depending on the lighting condition, though).

        I only shoot portrait and fashion, so I mostly use “off-center” focus points. I have never had this much worry about my camera’s focus consistency with the D700/ D3s / D4, but I have to recheck image every time when using off-center focus points to make sure that the camera nails it (with left-right side focus points, the success rate can be as low as 30% as said earlier).

        With the D700, I almost got a sharp shot every time.

        • Double tapping the shutter in AF-S, or using AF-C gives me a higher keeper rate. For portraits bear in mind your subject might also move, in which case it isn’t the camera’s fault the focal distance has changed…

          Off centre focus points normally have issues because of various optical complexities and the way PDAF works…only CDAF will nail off-center accurately.

  11. Hello, Ming! Firstly, let me say that yours is by far the most well written review an the D810 i was able to find (so far) online. I`m a wedding photographer and the main complaint i have about the d800e body that i own is the lack of accuracy and consistency of the AF, especially when shooting at large apertures and under difficult lighting situations (eg low light, backlit etc). Do you think the d810 solves these shortcomings? Thank you

    • Thanks. Yes, it fixes the AF issues, but I’m not convinced image quality is better – seems the same but files seem to be a little more difficult to handle – or my workflow is so used to the D800E I must get out of autopilot…

      • Thanks for the quick reply. The improved AF is really good news and it would make it worth upgrading, at least for me. About the image quality, no complaints there, as i am still in love with what my “old” D800e provides…

      • definitely curious to hear latest updates specifically re IQ of D810 vs D800e.
        i suspect i will end up with the D810 regardless just because of the improved shutter dampening and electronic first curtain (i saw some comparisons that showed definitely sharper long lens images by using the electronic first curtain), etc but if you continue to find IQ improvement over D800e an issue that could be very valuable to hear of.
        keep it up!

        • I don’t see an improvement. In fact, I see differences in the way the cameras handle dynamic range and noise – the D810 is highlight biased, the D800E shadow biased – both deliver equally excellent results if you operate the cameras appropriately.

          • interesting! thanks for that info.
            do you see the ISO 64 D810 images as an improvement over the ISO 100 D00e images in terms of DM (or the “lo” settings of the D800e). it would seem on the surface that ISO 64 is a clear improvement for stationary subjects shot from a tripod unless Nikon is just moving the numbers around a bit. i tend to prefer less clipped highlights even if it means there is a bit more full black in the shadows as a result (and also considering the D800 line’s impressive overall shadow recovery).
            thanks again for your beyond scrupulous work!

  12. Chris Andrikakis says:

    I am an event photographer and nailing focus and exposure are most important to me. Both Canon and Nikon have great autofocus systems in their prosumer and pro bodies, but neither have implemented an ETTR exposure mode AFAIK. I read about the D810’s highlight-weighted exposure mode and I’m wondering if they’ve finally got it. Can you tell me more about this mode? Do all highlights get preserved?

    • It’s basically a spot meter with a bit of + exposure compensation added. So it’ll ETTR for what’s under the spot, but it will ignore everything else.

  13. Amandeep Singh Multani says:

    Nice review Ming! Thanks a lot.
    I currently use a Nikon D7000 (Had a Nikon D3000 when I started photography). I am planning to upgrade to a full frame as I am planning to start photography professionally. I want to get into weddings, events and portraits. I am seriously looking at the Nikon D800/810 and Canon 5D Mark III. I am utterly confused as to which camera to go in for. The D800/D810 are beautiful as far as the dynamic range is concerned but the downside IMHO is the slow shutter lag, Auto-focus and the huge file size (and hence, file storage). As far as ISO performance is concerned I found the Canon 5D Mark III better (researched online) but, I also found out that one can get more out of the shadows from a RAW image of the Nikon D800/810 when compared to its Canon counterpart. I also like the way Canon feels in the hands. I’ve never used a Canon camera as I’ve always been a Nikon ‘Loyalist’ ;) . I am in a serious dilemma!!
    Kindly, help me taking a decision, keeping in view the kind of genre I want to get into.
    Thanks in advance.
    Regards,
    Amandeep Singh Multani

    • Frankly…any of these options are more than capable enough. I would suggest saving money in equipment and spending it in education until your skills aren’t the limiting factor. You will know when something isn’t working for you.

  14. A very good, accurate and informative review and very consistent with my own findings after a week of shooting with the D810. I am an experienced D800E user, and shoot the Leica M as well. I agree with Ming that their is no noticeable difference in the IQ between the D800E and the D810 when using the Zeiss Otus and other high quality lenses. So far, I have mainly used the D810 for commercial aircraft images with the Nikon 80-400 G lens and can report the following issues. I find the images sharp, but not quite as sharp as similar images in the similar conditions with the D800E. I find I am struggling to find the optimum AF-C set up, between D9, D21 and D51, whereas with the D800E, it didn’t matter, they were all good. I am finding the presence of more noise at low ISO levels in the images, perhaps Nikon might argue this is greater dynamic range ? I find the increase in FPS, for this type of photography to be astoundingly superior to the D800E and the bufferring is blazing, in fact a faster FPS is not needed at all. I find the electronic front shutter mechanism completely useless as it seems it can only be enabled and used in MUP format which makes it useless for me. So, overall very pleased so far but a bit concerned about the fact that when using high quality zoom lens at an optimum range, 135 to 250mm, at a high shutter speed, 1000+, and in AF-C, be it D9, 21 or 51, I just don’t seem to get that super, super sharp feeling, hair standing on end, that i got with my D800E. Another issue, when using M mode, and getting the exposure exactly right in camera, I find as I found with my D800E, that the camera always seems to over expose by half a stop. I find myself stopping down to compensate for this and have never understood why this happens. Perhaps I should change from matrix to centre weighted metering? Just my thoughts so far, the D800E was a killer and I’m certain the D810 is too, might just take a while to learn the intricacies. Neither of these cameras are for the P+S, Jpeg market – they don’t suffer fools! Best regards to Ming, all the best!

    • Have you AF fine tuned your lenses on the D810?

      • No. I will look into that. Thanks for the advice.

        • It should help, possibly a lot. AF Fine Tuning did for my 28mm/1.8 Nikkor on my D800E, which required a significant -15 setting to avoid the camera/lens combo focusing behind the targeted subject, something I noticed right off when I got the lens. Other lenses like my Zeiss ZF.2 lenses and my old 85mm/1.4 Nikkor had worked best on the default 0 setting. AF Fine Tuning helps compensate for variation in camera and lenses within the tolerances of manufacture, and help get the camera and lens to match better. The setting only applies to the pentaprism viewfinder focusing (AF or electronic rangefinder), not to Live View AF, which focuses using sensor data. You can read more about it here and print out a test target to help you determine the best settings for each lens here: http://regex.info/blog/photo-tech/focus-chart . I have read that super-telephotos being used for distant subjects may be better adjusted using trial and error evaluation on very distant targets, rather than a printed target close up (close targets seem to work well for shorter lenses though). Hope this helps.

  15. “The pixel count remains the same at 36.” Sorry to niggle, Ming, but this sentence should be edited to read “The MEGApixel count remains the same at 36.” Or “The pixel count remains the same at 36MP.” 36 pixels would be rather useless for photography. ;<)

  16. You note marginal image quality differences between the D810 and the D800E. Have you tried opening the D810 raw files in Nikon Capture NX-D? I have read posts from other reviewers that indicated that Capture NX-D provided better results over Camera Raw 8.6 RC initially (which ultimately revealed an increase in image quality over the D800E). Just curious if you had the same experience?

  17. Thanks for the review,

    On the D800 I noticed a AF drift of 10 micro adjustment points between daylight and tungsten light with my 85mm 1.4. This is of course very annoying if you change location on a shoot. I know that phase detection is prone to this behavior. Did you notice any improvement in this regard with the D810?

    Regards, Daniel

  18. Thanks very much for your informed and specific write up.
    The d810 has finally pushed me into upgrading from my faithful old D700.
    Have you had a chance to try the D810 with the 55mm Zeiss Otus? I suspect that could be a giant killer of a combination, esp with a 3 frame stitch scenario.
    keep up the good work.
    thanks

  19. jswendell says:

    Dear Ming Thein,

    Your camera reviews are absolutely PEERLESS. I know being an artist and a photographer are more important to you than being a reviewer so thanks so much for taking the time to do this.

  20. HEY! DO NOT use Adobe Camera Raw to process D810 files yet! The reason they look so poor compared to the D800 is because the ACR update for the D810 is still a beta version…it does not work properly. I have seen many reports of the same problem; ACR makes the files washed out (notice how the colours are much more muted on the D810 in your example), and it also makes them appear noisier.

    Here is an example of the exact same thing happening:

    http://photographylife.com/nikon-d810-vs-d800e-iso-comparison

    • I agree, but unfortunately…that’s the only benchmark we’ve got right now. I’m not familiar with NX-D to make a meaningful A-B comparison between the D810 and D800E, and the output looks odd to me – I guess I’m too used to ACR.

  21. As one of those guys keeping the World economy turning over, I was excited about the D810 release. Thanks for the write up, Ming.

    Just as with the D800E before it, this is a camera I’ll habitually pick up and play with in Yodobashi, etc., but never buy. If they could do this sensor in a fixed focal compact — CoolpixB — I’d pay for it. Put V3 AF system in there, I’d pre-order (something I’ve never ever done).

    And that’s all she wrote! :)

    Have a good festive season, MT, and when it’s calmed down—all eyes on Flickr!!

  22. Great review, as always, Ming.

    To be slightly contrarian (ok, maybe not contrarian so much as a bit “off topic”), my concern isn’t that Nikon cannot produce an excellent DSLR/SLR camera; I know they can, and they have for many years. And clearly from your review the D810 shows a commitment to both IQ and slow, steady iteration.

    My concern is that we have reached an apex of sorts in digital photography, brought about by a perfect storm of [arguably predictable] happenstance that is going to require some serious out-of-the-box thinking on the part of today’s camera manufacturers, particularly Nikon who move very slowly and are chiefly dependent on camera sales for their revenue (I’ll leave any remarks about their medical move out of this).

    Right now I’m not seeing any out-of-the-box thinking. Whatsoever.

    Fingers crossed for Photokina, but I’m not gonna hold my breath.

    • I’m inclined to agree with you: the changes are getting smaller and smaller, the upgrades not just harder to justify but also harder to extract any benefit from. It’s time for a significant change in design philosophy, which will be painful, but necessary. I’m not seeing it from Nikon either, and I suspect we won’t until it’s too late and the financials are looking dire.

      • Yeah, I’m getting the strong sense that “Japan Camera Inc.” has no clue what its next move should be. For perhaps the first time in 75 years, I think they’ve been stymied by saturation, sufficiency, and disruptive technology coming out of left field.

        I guess Darwinism will do it’s thing now.

        • Well, some of them are still getting it right (Ricoh, Fuji, Olympus, for the most part) and some are at least experimenting (Sigma). The big boys have no clue…and it’s quite obvious in the way their market share is sinking.

          • Well, I’m not a business expert, but I know enough about market forces and simple arithmetic to calculate that the move into medical may be ill-advised for Nikon when there are so many established competitors (like Olympus) who are formidable players in this market segment.

            Meanwhile, Nikon has been neglecting clear and obvious gaps in their imaging division, whilst simultaneously allowing customer service to slide, which, in turn, becomes a PR crisis that has to be managed … but even that seemingly only gets addressed under duress.

            I’ve been following/using their products for a very long time now, and have a strong historical fondness for the company; I’d very much hate to see them take a fatal hit.

            Personally, I’m betting Nikon will eventually turn things around and adopt at least some of the smart strategies that have been proposed by others — in much the same way Ford Motor Company did middle of the last decade when Alan Mulally took over — but in this particular case by the end of it I think Nikon may emerge as a smaller, leaner company.

            In fact, they may not even be able to maintain corporate headquarters in all regions anymore. Anyone here been around long enough to remember EPOI (Ehrenreich Photo-Optical Industries)? That takes us back to the era of your F2 Titan, Ming, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe Ehrenreich was largely responsible for the emergence of Nikon as a respected name in professional circles in the early 1960s.

            If the company’s present trajectory is maintained we may see a day once more when Nikon requires an importer in certain not-insignificant regions to market its brand, handle local repairs, etc, etc.

            Hope I’m wrong.

            • Olympus is the 900-pound gorilla – most of my healthcare clients use Olympus for the endoscopes and Zeiss for surgery robotics, sometimes microscopes. Nikon is nowhere to be seen…

              The 1960s were a very different landscape photographically: Nikon (Nipon Kogaku K.K, at any rate) were lens makers; Canon copied Leica, and everybody made M and screwmount. Nikon started taking over its own distribution again in smaller regional markets 5-10 years ago; hard to say if that’s going to change, but it does seem to be extremely manpower-heavy. If I were them, I’d concentrate on product first…

        • Nikon will be taken over by Sony is my prediction. Sony at least know how to think outside the box it seems with a stream of innovative products in the last 2 years.

  23. This review is such BS. Plan and simple BS. it is a 3300.00 firmware upgrade and everyone who owns a D800/E should see the writing on the wall. Nikon does not care about you and will not take care of existing users. Plain and simple.

    • I have no doubt Nikon doesn’t care about me, but please explain how mechanically and physically different parts can be done with a firmware upgrade? And you must be the same eloquent technical expert and artist with same email address who sent this?

      “Ming, I am just stoping by to tell you to fuck off and die. I read your shitty “review” of the D810 and you are nothing more than a panty waste fan boy faggot piece of fucking shit. Fuck you, fuck your family. Fucking loser. Oh, and your imagery fucking sucks. I have taken dumps that look better. asshole. “

      • Tom Liles says:

        That is disgusting. To think, somebody gave birth to these people…

        • I just wonder how they get through life like this in person…

          • Tom Liles says:

            Or rather, how we all get through life having to deal with these children…

          • I get through life just fine. I appreciate your concern for my well being but I assure you I do just fine. I do enjoy calling out fanboy asshats like yourself. It’s just part of who I am. There are 3 physical differences between the D800 and D810. That’s it. 3. Everything else is firmware. I have serious regrets with my decision to give nikon my money. The 5d iii is still a better camera than the brand new D810. And all of our D800’s just dropped in value. For a fucken firmware upgrade.

            I know this review was mostly written for old people in retirement drawing multiple pensions and able to toss money around like its nothing. I am not one of those people. Maybe that’s why I took your review the way I did. I dunno. I don’t really care either. I’m laughing pretty hard at the nikon fanboy morons out there “upgrading” because it makes them feel like they are worth something. Way to go jackasses. And I am going to laugh even harder when this worthless company folds. Which is going to be soon by the look of their stock.

            • Digital cameras always drop in value, from the moment you buy them, you lose value. The manufacturers will always release new models every few years, sometimes with small improvements, sometimes with large ones. The electronics will slowly degrade over time due to the physics of the materials they are made from, and eventually the camera will be either unrepairable or not worth fixing due to better models available at a similar or lower price. Well made lenses might appreciate in value, especially discontinued ones like the 28mm/1.4 AFD Nikkor, or any Leica lens, but digital cameras have not in the past. You invest in the images you can make with a digital camera, not the camera itself, which is durable to some extent. Ultimately any digital camera is disposable and will have to be recycled in a few years to perhaps a couple decades at the most.

              • Sad but true, that is a consequence of technology tangibly improving and making the older equipment less competitive – but no less capable.

                As for Leica lenses not dropping in value, that’s because they up prices of new lenses every year! It’s false value and market manipulation.

                • I think you are right in part on Leica lens prices, but surprisingly some of their 40 year old lenses keep going up in price too. For example the Summaron 35mm/2.8 M lenses can be more expensive than a brand new Zeiss 35mm/2.8 C-Biogon ZM, despite the fact that the Zeiss is better in every way. I think there are a lot of wealthy collectors of Leica amassing fleets of lenses to put on their shelves, which makes it tough for people who actually like using Leica gear for photography. Leica Camera AG business practices play right into the hands of collectors, but seems less concerned with real photographers than they ought to be. Leica Camera should take some lessons from their sister company Leica Microsystems, which makes well-designed microscopes competitively priced with the scopes from other major manufacturers. Unfortunately Leica Camera has been resting on its laurels too much in recent years.

                  • Taildraggin says:

                    The Leica “T” operation is innovative and it looks like it will be copied (Fuji, initially). That should entertain Mr. ASBO above a few moments while GTA loads.

                    • A fair point about the Leica T, though it’s not a camera I’m interested by. I was really only thinking about the M system, which has some wonderful bits, but hasn’t transitioned as well as it might into the digital age. Hopefully Leica Camera AG will work harder to perfect the next iteration of the M line, with a sensor in the 36-50MP range, custom lens flatfield profiling to eliminate color casts in camera, and an optional high resolution EVF, and improved QC. And at a minimum Leica should emulate Carl Zeiss AG’s QC, and MTF test every camera and lens they sell. Their stuff is too expensive to be haphazardly inspected.

        • Dirk Diggler says:

          10 to 1 says he’s American … just that so may of them have NO respect or understanding of anything outside they’re immediate gaze ( I do apologize to the many many ‘normal’ Americans )

          • I’m not sure. Generally they’re not that rude, even New Yorkers.

            • I’m guessing the rude person is a young American, and probably is ruder online than in real life. Some shy people like venting or trolling on the Internet, it makes them feel empowered.

              • But oh so obviously mentally deficient. You should see the emails the same person sent me; every second word is f-something and abusive beyond belief. I wonder continually why I put up with this kind of thing.

                • Ooh, sorry to hear that. I guess it’s best to ignore such abuse, and trash all future e-mails from this guy, just skip reading them. Many of us do appreciate your perspective. Surely more of us approve of your approach to blogging about images and imaging gear than the occasional tolls you encounter.

                  So I just want to thank you for your blog and your comment replies. I do find what you are doing interesting and useful. Keep up the good work please.

                • Chalk it up as another one of those things to mark in the checklist of a successful blogger — you start attracting the attention of abusive trolls.

                • I think it got lost on the way to DPReview. Maybe someone will be kind enough to give it directions there so it can join its herd again. It’s probably confused and scared by all the good pictures here.

                  • Haha! No, I think it wants to be here. I’ve been deleting comments non stop today – he’s even bothering to change ip address and login to circumvent the spam filter.

                    • After reading through all this here, I’m glad you’ve implemented your new policy about comments. I suppose it’s cheaper for this ?? person to behave badly here, rather than for him to have the therapy he really needs.
                      For me, your greatness as a man is not in how much camera you have, but in your ability to affect your readers / students positively through your philosophy and your artistry. I don’t post often, but I sure do read faithfully. Thanks, Thanks, Thanks and smile every time you hit that delete button.

                    • It’s a victimless crime and makes small people feel…empowered? Who knows.

            • just wanted to give a shout out to hopefully respectful and civil New Yorkers! We’re more friendly than we sometimes get credit for!
              keep up the good work.
              cheers.

      • I am appalled…..

  24. Hi Ming, thanks for the review. That would take your present Camera to around 20 I guess ? :)

    you can do a post on after market focussing screen as I doubt many would know the benefits of it or how to go about them. Just a suggestion.

    • No, I sell what I don’t use. Down to about half a dozen.

      As for focusing screens, I don’t feel the company deserves any PR. The product is poor and requires heavy user fiddling to make it work properly. And I don’t want the liability of people trying to adjust their own cameras, breaking something and suing me. We live in a litigious and irresponsible society, sadly.

  25. Michael Tran says:

    II’ve seen comparision between these two cameras, DPReview and Imaging Resource side by side, and the D810 has about a stop better at high iso in Jpeg. In fact, the D810 high iso in jpeg looks better than the D610. You test is misleading and it needs to be clarified whether its raw or jpeg, or if noise reduction was applied. Sure the D810 doesn’t have the AA filter and OLP and therefore will appeared noisier without noise reduction, but who shoots digital without noise reduction.

    • I think you didn’t read the post. I made it amply clear in every test swatch that they were NEFs via ACR, and ACR support is preliminary.

      I shoot digital without noise reduction almost all of the time. The real question is why spend this kind of money chasing ultimate image quality to shoot jpeg?

  26. Hello Ming. Good review, I must say I agree and can confirm most of the your obervations with D810. What do you mean by giving up no mirror alingment ?

  27. Alfredo Pagliano says:

    Sadly your test images show what is already visible in Imaging-resource’s: the D810 struggles with detail in the red channel.
    Just look how the red box with “GARBAGE BLEED” writing is rendered by the D800E and D810.
    Let’s hope that this is only a youth problem…

    • I think it’s an ACR profile (or lack of, since the D810 only has preliminary support) problem.

      • Alfredo Pagliano says:

        It’s a Capture NX-D profile problem also, since I tried processing some RAWs from Imaging-resource with it and got similar results.
        Let’s wait and see.

    • It is most certainly a converter problem. One thing that really seems broken with ACR 8.6RC support for the D810 is the color noise reduction with high ISO. The default setting of 25 washes away much of the actual image detail aswell. Not so much with the D800/e.

      I just compared Imaging Resource samples at base ISO (64/100) and 6400 ISO for both cameras. You have to set ACR color noise reduction to 0 for any comparison to be fair. I think much of the differences are due to camera profiles (red channel saturation etc.), difference in lighting, and aging of some of the subjects (2 year difference :)).

      At the base ISO the D810 looks better to my eyes. The detail looks slightly sharper with the D810.

      • I’ve discovered that the D810 requires more aggressive ACR sharpening settings to counter de-Bayering, too – compared to the D800E. I wonder if this is a consequence of the ‘new’ sensor – I find the same thing with the 645Z, too. That said, when all cameras are optimally sharpened, the D810/645Z still pull ahead of the D800E slightly.

        • Allright :) The color noise setting is quite “dangerous” with the ACR at the moment. The default setting will smoothen and bleed color details way too much with high ISO images of the D810. I think that is what has happened in the right side of your comparison images along with undersatured colors due to incompetent standard camera profile. Adobe really should have realeased a better RC in the first place…

  28. Hibiki Rush says:

    Can you give some insight into AWB performance of the D810 compared to the D800E? Even when it comes to measured WB using a gray card. I find some hint of green in WB measurements with the D800E, hoping to see if the 810 is an improvement on the calculation.

    • Difficult to tell at the moment given ACR isn’t profiled for the D810 yet. I do feel it’s probably similar to the D800E judging off the camera’s monitor, but as we all know that isn’t really an accurate method. Definitely not as good as the P645Z though.

  29. I think the comparison images are not showing full potential of the D810. The Adobe Standard profile in ACR 8.6RC is quite bad IMHO and results in undersaturated colors. That is easily verified by shooting a test photo with the Color Checker target (at correct exposure). At this moment a custom camera profile is really needed.

    For sharpness I found the D810 to be very similar to the Alpha 7R (both fitted with the same lens). The A7R seemed somewhat sharper than my regular D800.

    Also, I think EFCS works at the moment only when drive mode is MUP. So with Live View that has to be select for EFCS to work.

    • I agree on color – and probably noise/ perceived acuity, too. I would imagine the D810 should deliver slightly better or identical IQ to the D800E once the workflow shakes out.

      How are you comparing the A7R and D810 if ACR support isn’t giving the latter a fair show?

      • I had to create my own camera profile using the DNG Profile Editor (by Adobe) and the Color Checker test target. Lot of manual adjustment was also needed. After profiling colors look certainly better. I think the A7R profiles that come with ACR are very good by default and really hope that the D810 profile woulds be as good as those.

        Detail level is very similar (ie. better than D800) but the D810 has advantage with ISO 64. Noise and DR are slightly better with the D810.

  30. Sh Muk. says:

    Just curious, ever so slightly — are you using or have you tried the DK-17M on D810?
    Are you using a different focusing screen at the moment?

  31. A good read, Ming. Considering that I am happy with my D800, consider it overkill for what I do, don’t own a tripod, never MF, and don’t own the very best glass, I will skip the D810. If my camera was stolen or badly damaged neither of which is a remote possibility, I would probably buy a D610 because the smaller files are easier to deal with and the D610 is a bit lighter. I see a lot of folks running out and buying the D810 that definitely do not need one based on what I have seen of their photography. Then again, if everyone limited themselves to what they really needed the world economy would collapse.

  32. It’s clear that ACR 8.6 RC can’t manage the D810 NEFs yet: http://photographylife.com/nikon-d810-vs-d800e-iso-comparison

  33. miguelito says:

    Thank you for a very thoughtful review. Lloyd Chambers has some competition now! :)
    I really really wanted to buy the D810 through Lloyd’s links to B&H. However, it’s a shame B&H did not have any in stock up until now… I walked into my local Best Buy and they had at least 5 D810’s. I could not resist…

  34. I tried a D810 in a camera shop the other day and was impressed by the quiet and smooth shutter. But even more impressive was the AF. It seemed way faster than the D800 and more accurate. I sold my D800 due to the poor AF but with over 10 Nikon lenses, need a Nikon body. My initial impression and now this superb review has made up mind…….i will definitely get one. Thanks Ming!

  35. Thanks Ming! I always enjoy your work and I have been following you ever since the release of the D800/E. I was one of the early adopters of the D800 and had the usual left AF issue. It took many trips back to Nikon to finally get it right and to also clean all of the debris Nikon US left behind on the sensor, mirror and viewfinder. Anyway, after about a year, I upgraded to the D800E and even though it appeared the left AF issue was fixed, I never felt confident in the focus capabilities of the camera. Like you and others, most of my lenses required calibration. I could easily spend most of a day calibrating a single lens. Even then I never trusted the outer sensors and often tried to use single point and recompose if I needed critical focus on something that was off center.

    Like you, I was initially hesitant about upgrading my D800E to the D810. For what it’s worth, I also own a D4. I’m not a professional and don’t make money with my work. It’s a hobby and I also take many family pictures. After the initial reviews and comments from people like you and regular users on forums and blogs, I thought this may be something worth while. Your conversation with Lloyd was the final straw. I ordered the D810 and it arrives today. I am so confident in what this camera will do, I sold both my D800E and D4. I never intended to get the D4 in the first place. I needed a camera for a dance recital my daughter was in and my D800 was back at Nikon getting the AF issues worked on. So, as crazy at it may have seemed, I decided to purchase the D4. I’ve always used it for her dance recitals and more recently to record vintage auto racing, but that will now fall solely on the D810. The extra money from the D800 and D4 sales will go to pay for some of my recent lens acquisitions!

    I think the D810 is really what the D800/E should have been all along. I think too many, well most companies these days try to rush products out the door in order to give consumers something new and to generate sales. Products are not thoroughly tested and sometimes important features are left out because they are not quite ready. However, if Nikon waited until now to release an “upgrade” from the D700, think how many sales they may have lost to Canon and the D5MKIII. On the other hand, I think they would have got most of those customers back with this release and maybe prevented a few from leaving after the left AF issues in the first place.

    Anyway….thanks again. I appreciate the time you put in to this and the fact you share it with everyone. I also like looking at all of your images. You provide great inspiration.

    • I agree: the D810 is what the D800E should have been. I feel confident with it (so far) in a way I did not with the D800E; that camera is fine when shot as a MF single shot studio camera, but not for anything moving. But frankly, two-plus years is a very long time for them to finally get it right…

  36. Thanks Ming
    Your comment about it being the replacement for the D4 makes me think.

    I shoot mainly large cats likes cheetahs and lions in the wild as well as birds. Also the odd airshow.

    So far I have bypassed the D800 because of its low frame rate and relatively small buffer. Also, I noted that my D7100 requires a much higher shutter speed and much better long lens technique when shooting handheld fast moving things such as birds and cheetahs in flight. So I was concerned that the high pixel density of the D8x0 might be equally more demanding. From your comments and from what I have read elsewhere, it seems like the D810 has a bigger buffer and is less susceptible to camera shake,

    I recently acquired a used D4 which is a useful improvement over my D3 (more pixels and bigger buffer). But in view of your comments, I am considering replacing the D4 with a D810 as the higher megapixel count will give me more flexibility in cropping.The focusing also appears to have been improved. I should be able to sell the D4 for exactly the price of the D810.

    As you have both, would you exchange the D4 for the D810 if you were shooting wildlife as I do?

    • The D8xx is going to be more demanding than the D7100 still, because the number of pixels per degree FOV is even higher. To me, the main limitation of the D800E for action wasn’t the buffer or fps rate, but somewhat dodgy AF combined with high MP meaning misses would be very obvious. The D810 appears to fix both of these, in addition with adding to the buffer and frame rate – what’s not to like?

      I’ve only used my D4 for a small handful of reportage jobs which had moving objects, required rushed processing, and were undemanding of resolution. I’d probably use the D810 for those now. If I were shooting wildlife, probably an E-M1 because of the stabiliser and effective 2x crop. I used a 4/3 body with Nikon MF glass when I still birded.

      • If so, are you gonna sell your D4 now?

        • Probably.

          • Save the money for the next Ricoh Gr coming next spring/summer hopefully with major improvements like a small built in evf/ovf (e.g. lgx7), 28 1.8 lens etc…;)

            • Or the D810’s sensor! I can live with 2.8.

              • That would be a killer combination – D810 sensor and EVF in a pocket sized GR. :)

                I hope that Ricoh will do the second iteration of the GXR experiment with a full frame sensor.

                Is Ricoh listening to its customers? :)

                • To me and you Ramana probably not but to Ming…I guess…

                  Beside his amazing work and relatively popularity (well known) there was something between ricoh / pentax and Ming…especially after license issues …hehe ;) Now they are open minded so ming please send the manager/ head of ricoh/pentax a wishlist for your new dream GR (technical features etc)….if they will follow/use your list, they are allowed to use your photo for free….;)

                  Sadly the world/business isnt so simple……

                  • I don’t know how open minded they are – see my reply to Ramana. I’m guessing not very, sadly. A shame as they’re one of the companies whom I feel really do understand photographers’ needs quite well, and one I really want to work with.

                • I can do without the EVF. An optical finder would be fine – it worked in the film GR. Does Ricoh listen? Who knows. I’m guessing not much, because feedback sent to them re. the 645Z got a ‘thank you’ and that was about it. No effort to involve me whatsoever, which is somewhat surprising. Other companies are usually far more receptive and actually court professional input…

                  • Camera companies are weird. I believe Sigma asked Lloyd to give feedback on the DPMs and then came up with Quattro!!! So if Ricoh doesn’t seek your feedback, it is fine as long as they don’t produce a Quattro-like GR! ;)

                • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

                  Is Ricoh listening to customers? I`m not so sure about it. and yet. They produced some excellent cameras like GR which I use a lot. and GXR system, much underrated but still with a lot of potential. I do participate in Ricoh Forum, which is a major site for Ricoh cameras. There`s lot of a discussions about future improvements and wishes but alas I never heard a single whisper of response on Ricohs behalf, which is strange enough.

  37. Daniel H says:

    Thanks Ming! A very thorough comparison.

    While the changes to the shutter/mirror mechanism seem very useful, the purple tinge in the blacks at high ISO seems like a disappointing downgrade. To “my” eyes, it seems much more distracting than reduced DR. But then, I hardly find myself using the upper extremes of the ISO range.

  38. Let’s not forget the Green Led of Death on the Nikon D70 that happend totaly random. ;)

  39. Hi Ming,

    1. Could the EFC (electronic front curtain) be used in live view mode??

    2. And why is the d810 noisier than the d800e??? Cannot understand….The dxo mark ranking confirms this somehow…
    The d810 achieved over 120 less points in the low light section than the d800e…..hmm…
    3. Why couldnt they improve the camera in every section /aspect??? Technically impossible..?? Thought new processor etc…

    Cheers!
    Michel

    • 1. I think it is active in LV mode also, but it’s difficult to tell because the regular shutter is already so silent.
      2. No idea. As I mentioned in the review, I suspect it’s down to preliminary vs final ACR support. I’ve seen several other cameras get a noticeable boost in image quality in the past once they were fully supported.
      3. Addressed in point 2. above. There’s probably more to improve but it would assume Nikon would also be innovative for a change, which is perhaps too big an ask.

      • Steve S says:

        As to EFCS, it functions only when the camera is in mirror-up mode: the manual implies this, and it appears indeed to be the case. When mirror-up is selected, LV can also be used, as can shutter delay. In LV, the left side of the screen displays mildly inscrutable icons for mirror-up and for EFCS, if invoked. It may be worth installing Capture NX-D if only because it annotates the shutter speed, indicating when EFCS has been used.

        • Aha! Thanks for that. So it appears that Nikon have missed the boat again…why they do not implement auto-mirror up plus EFC for self timer is beyond me.

    • The deletion of the AA filter causes noise to be more prevalent at higher sensitivities. It’s very well documented.hi resolution and high ISO are not necessarily easily achievable at the same time. Manufacturers have chosen to bills either high ISO optimized or high-resolution optimized cameras.The D810 is somewhat of a blending of versions.if the sensor or built like most medium format cameras meaning no micro lenses and a better CFA the resolution would be higher butunfortunately noise would increase at ISO and for some reason everybody likes to look at specs and say hey Camera is no good if it has any noise at ISO that is high.

      I don’t agree with the crowd that seems to follow specifications my experience is that for Ultimate image quality you have to give up something and it is generally high ISO performance.

      • Why would removal of the AA filter increase noise? That is a property of the electronic part of the sensor; the AA filter is an optical component.

        • It is very very well documented. It is a complex transfer function however the easiest way to put it is the Bayer array benefits from the spreading (blurr) of light across the array at very low light levels. Remember that the final image is a computed demosiaced interpretation, not a direct relationship. Medium format gets a bad rap because they have been totally Rez centric and therefore suffered at high ISO.

          • Could you share some of this documentation? My google skills must be lacking, because I haven’t found anything…

          • Here is a link that describes the error that creates color noise.
            As I said it is due to the nature of the Bayer CFA.

            http://jtra.cz/stuff/camera-sensors/

            Interestingly the Foveon sensor which is sensitive at every pixel to all 3 primaries does not need the AA blurr to eliminate noise.
            It has long been known that the AA filter is needed on a CFA array for numerous things and high sensitivity(ISO) aggravates factors that create errors.

            • Ah, thank you. I think I understand now: what the Bayer array is doing is hiding the noise in the interpolation, and the AA filter is the optical equivalent of that. Blurring is blurring…

  40. Hi Ming

    thank you so much for the brief comparison review….

    Does the MB-D12 fit perfectly on the D810? Some rumors on the internet mentioned that he doesnt fit as smooth and perfect as on the d800 (e)….true or false..??
    And what about the lens recommendations/selection? Is everything you already wrote and experienced with regard to lens performance also true for the d810 (no AA, no OLPF)?

    Is the D810 more behaving like the d800e (No AA, but OLPF) or d800 (both) ???

    Nikon lens 85 1.4 vs. 1.8, 24 1.4 vs. 28 1.8 etc……

    THX!
    Regards!

    Paul

    • I’m using my MB-D12 on the D810 – no issues. Feels solid and of a single piece, just like it does on the D800E.

      No change in lens recommendations. Everything that works on the D800E works just fine on the D810. I haven’t had a chance to try the lenses I’d previously discounted (the 1.4Gs) though – I no longer own them anyway.

      • I’d like to get your thoughts on the D810 AF behaviour with the Nikkor 24mm 1.4G, 35 1.4G and 58 1.4G. They behave poorly with the D800 – anyimprovement?

  41. I swear I only saw on Twitter you receiving the camera a few days ago! The weekend leading up to Hari Raya that boring you manage to fit in a camera review :p

    Is it a camera you ‘fall in love with’ much quicker vs. the D800E or still more the workhouse you have grudging respect for? As a pro, you use the tools you require for the job to get done, but as an amateur the whole enjoying experience is just as important.

    We’ve discussed Nikon running out of ideas, but genuinely, where do they go after this for the ‘D900’? I mean with a FF sensor, any more resolution will not really be beneficial.

    And hope you had a good Hari Raya as well :)

    • I did. It came in on the 26th, which is why I haven’t had the chance to shoot anything artistically satisfying with it – just run the usual battery of tests and A-B comparisons with thewD800E. In any case, it appears we’re going to have to wait for more final ACR support to get the last bit of image quality out of it – hopefully forthcoming soon…

  42. YOU HAD TO POST A REVIEW, DIDN’T YOU!

    *opens wallet*
    *ignores ‘is it worth it’ paragraph’

  43. Thanks Ming – thorough as always.

  44. Thank you for an extremely helpful review.

    So now I’ve added to the radar a budget for an Otus *and* an upgrade of the D800E? Since I don’t shoot commercially the gear doesn’t pay for itself and that, admittedly inevitable, news induced a little bit of pain sooner than I guessed it would come.

    • Chasing the bleeding edge doesn’t come cheap :)

      • Ha, yes. In my usual day-job, though, I’ve seldom ever needed to think twice about equipment for production: recapture has been rapid and then paid in generous multiples after recapture; even small mistakes made along the way are lost in the noise and in a sense are easily justified by the overarching benefits. It’s quite difficult not to bring the very same mindset to photography gear while in my case the payback isn’t there (and the habits are so ingrained that I feel aggravated that the payback isn’t there!).

  45. Very good review, especially for those who already have a D800/D800e.

  46. I’m ordering this week, via your reference link – thanks for writing this review, Ming, I can’t wait!

  47. david hopkin says:

    Thanks for this review Ming, always really interesting to get your insight, how about the viewfinder and focus screen, is it any better for your otus?

    • Unfortunately not – they’re exactly the same as the D800/800E, and still require aftermarket modification. I’ve been talking to Zeiss about making focusing screens – after all, that should help them sell more lenses. Hopefully they’ll take it on board…

      • So we have to buy additional focusing screens and modificate the cam if we want to have better screens/viewfinder for manual focusing what a bummer but was expected sadly….hopefully zeiss is following your recommendation/desire would be a gleam of hope..;)

Trackbacks

  1. […] quick fiddling and on-the-spot evaluation: AF seemed good; high ISO seemed a bit cleaner than the D810, but there’s only so much you can tell from the back of camera LCD. The tilt screen and […]

  2. […] and fast response, a Ricoh GR; for wide angle work, including some architecture and landscape, a Nikon D810 with 24/3.5 PCE; that same body also mounts the Zeiss 1.4/85 Otus for short tele and cinematic […]

  3. […] end, knocks the socks of medium format film and approaches large format in the form of the D800E/D810. We even have a new generation of lenses designed to match the pixel pitches of these things – […]

  4. […] I was encouraged to push it to the limits. And I did. Test images were made on a Nikon D800E and D810. I’ll be uploading more images to this set on flickr as time goes on. If you recognise some […]

  5. […] interesting review: Nikon D810 review: vs D800E: to upgrade, or not? ? Ming Thein | Photographer Nikon D5200 Prime: Bower 8mm f/3.5 | Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G DX | Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D | Sigma […]

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