UPDATE: More photos added at the end of the review
UPDATE 2: Slideshow video of wedding now online:
To new readers looking for D810 info
The above video is the final edit of our photos, which contains images from the D810 and our other cameras.
The below review provides you with out of camera shots with no editing applied. I’ve had some readers comment a few of the images appear drab or under-exposed but keep in mind that we shoot in RAW, exposing to save highlights and always with a certain level of editing in mind – which the D810 will certainly allow us to focus less on. We’ve had a lot of emails coming in asking about the D810 and we will get back to you ASAP.
We will also be adding a second wedding shot with the D810 in the coming days so keep an eye out.
So this past weekend, we shot our first wedding with a new member to our stable of cameras. Ultimately, my heart ruled my head and my wallet, and we decided to make the jump to the full frame, top of the line, Nikon D810.
All I can say is, wow, what a revelation!
By way of background, I’ve been shooting with Nikon cameras for most of my digital life, starting out with the Coolpix 8800, moving up the digital SLR ranks from the D80 to the D7000 to ultimately the D7100 (arguably the top of the DX line at the moment).
I’ve always loved the image quality of the Nikon cameras – don’t get me wrong, I’m no zealot – I see equally good quality produced by Canon, Fuji, Olympus et all. The fact is, once you get familiar with a particular system, you get to know its strengths and how to work around its weaknesses and pretty much any camera can produce a prize-winning image.
Our setup until now has consisted of a D7100, two D7000 (of which Dasha and I use one each) and the D80. Dasha used the D80 as a second body, but it really was always more of a backup body than anything else. Although Dasha acts as the second shooter at weddings, we really do work together as a team, to the point where the D80 just wasn’t practical anymore and I felt it was time to update the weakest body.
I had ummed and aaahed for a long time, initially thinking to get a second D7100 for the continuity of switching between two camera bodies. I contemplated the Nikon Df for the obvious retro appeal and we toyed with the idea of getting a smaller setup for Dasha to use, the likes of the Fuji XT1 and Olympus OM-E1 fitting in with the image quality, feature set and controls that we both liked. Nikon’s newly announced D750 did nothing to help the decision by adding some great features, such as the swivelling screen and decent frame rate in a full frame body almost identically laid out to the D7100, but at the same time dropping the max flash sync speed and shutter speed from both the D7000 and D7100 (for me, both very important to the way I shoot). I was also grateful for the opportunity Fuji gave me at this year’s Photokina to borrow the XT1 for a day, what a great idea! If only Nikon would do something similar, I would have made my decision A LOT sooner.
And a 100% crop of the above shot (click on the image for the full size crop);
A couple of fellow SWPP members helped me make the final decision by speaking to me on the topic of the Fuji X-series and mentioning the possibility of borrowing the XT1 for the day at Photokina – I’m sold on the concept and it’s a brilliant little camera with great image quality, but I am sticking with Nikon for now (for how we operate, they just fit in better). Also, pointing out the D810’s auto-cropping feature when attaching DX lens – proved to be quite useful for a quick play around with our DX wide angle (just for fun, you know?). Our lenses consist of a couple of DX lens, including the amazing Sigma 18-35 1.8 (which was part of the reason for my struggles on deciding whether to upgrade, as it rivals the 24-70 2.8 for image quality) and the older Sigma 10-20mm. The rest are full frame compatible, including amongst others the Nikkor Micro 105mm 2.8 VR which was used to shoot all bar one of the images shown here.
Having opted to use the 105mm with the D810, the 18-35 Sigma stayed on my D7100.
When it comes to handling, it’s like every other Nikon camera I’ve ever held. Some prominent Nikon users whom I greatly respect, like Thom Hogan, have their gripes about ‘moving the cheese’ but for me personally, apart from the switch of the zoom in/out buttons I’ve quickly adjusted and each time, after admittedly initial frustrated use, the revisions have ultimately made more sense than the last. Whether that will stay true with the ‘i’ and ‘info’ buttons on the D810, I don’t know, but overall it’s a very similar physical and menu layout to the D7xxx’s so there’s not a lot new to learn. I picked the camera up on the Friday, set up settings as near-as-damnit close to the D7100 I use and went straight into the wedding on the Saturday. Personally, I have no qualms about changing Nikon bodies overnight and the D810 justified its instant call-to-arms.
The gadget lover in me giggled like a little schoolgirl when I pressed the shutter the first time – the sound sends a little shiver down my back it’s so lovely. Bizarre but I really do like the sound. It’s noticeably quieter than a D7k, but it’s not the quietness that gets me – it’s just this nice, dampened click that sounds like a camera that’s doing its job and doing it properly. Like the difference between a Ford Fiesta and a Mercedes E-class door closing. That same sort of beefy quality. Sorry, I know it reads weird, but it really is a lovely sound. It won’t help your photography, it will just make you feel good. The way I work, I don’t need a completely silent shutter, but for shooting in the church, the quiet click is appreciated, and quiet mode dampens the noise even more. It’s not silent, and people will hear you, but not anywhere near as much as they did when shooting with a D7k. Even then, I’ve never drawn attention to myself with camera noise – unlike the D4 body which has a machine-gun rivalling shutter sound!
And the 100% crop of the above (click for full size);
I use the U1 and U2 settings on the D7100 and D7000 frequently, but the custom menu banks are not as bad as people make out. I only ever switched to the U1 and U2 with a purpose, and always made a habit of switching out of them when I wanted to use a different set of exposure settings. If you can adjust to doing the same, then the menu banks can ‘save’ your exposure settings, and there are 4 of them as opposed to only two. The difficulty arises if you switch to a menu bank with the exposure all set up as you want it, and then go ahead and make a change to (pretty much any) setting before switching to another menu bank. Whatever change you make will automatically be saved on exit, so if you have a go-to setting, like we do for first dance shots, or if you like to pre-set your exposure and lighting (e.g. to enable quick in-and-out portrait sessions with two different looks from the same camera), then you have to be very careful not to play around with exposure options before switching to another menu bank. For what it’s worth, I have already renamed 3 of the 4 menu banks to suit my needs and they will form the basis of any pre-saved settings, and the 4th is the ‘do whatever’ one that I will be in and use for most of the time. It may just be me, but when I saved a U1 or U2 exposure, it was because I had set it up for a specific look. I did not need to stray from that. When I wanted to use a particular exposure setting merely as a starting point, I would go into manual (or aperture priority) and dial that in beforehand, rather than using the U1 and U2.
And here’s a crop from the edge of the frame, check out the tyre texture;
Compared to a D7k, it’s a big, solid, camera. That comes with the added feeling of confidence that you can drop it and it will just keep going, but it’s not so big as to be unwieldy. Dasha tells me she feels the body and grip is too big for her hands, but for me it fits perfectly and is very comfortable for extended use. It’s a heavy bugger, significantly more weight in the hands than a D7xxx. I use a dual camera strap so am not holding them all day, just wearing over the shoulders. I imagine if you were holding the camera in your hands or around your neck for longer than a couple of hours, it would get uncomfortable.
It’s annoying for me that I can’t just carry around SD cards, since all my other bodies use them, but the compact flash cards do have slightly faster speeds – given that I shoot with 2 cards and use one as a backup of the other, it is not a speed gain that I will see as you are always restricted by the speed of the slowest card. For the situations where I could possibly need it (i.e. not likely to be at a wedding), it’s a nice to have feature that I can run the buffer into the ground a fraction more than with the SD cards, but truthfully I think I’d rather just have two SD slots. I never hit the ceiling with the D810 whereas I would always hit it on the D7k bodies (most notably for the confetti shot, but not much else at a wedding, and capturing action for our fitness shoots). The buffer increase is a real boon. I’ve always adjusted my shooting to the 1 second of buffer that the D7k gives me at top fps, and it’s really nice not to have to come up against that limitation any more. I’m not a birds in flight or sports shooter so I can’t say whether it would be enough for you, but 5fps at full frame for just short of 10 seconds seems a fairly decent amount to me. Shooting at a cropped size gives you 6fps and if you add the grip you can increase to 7fps but as I understand it, you have to use DX cropping at the same time, so you don’t get the full benefit of all the megapixels if speed is your priority.
Check out the text on the right, and keep in mind this is at ISO 3200;
Focusing is good. My first impression is better than the D7100, even though I believe it uses the same focusing system. Certainly in low light, I found it didn’t have to hunt very much (not that the D7100 struggled much either). It is probably slightly more accurate because the focusing points are proportionally targeting a smaller area of the frame than the D7100’s points were. To me, that’s a good thing, as I mostly focus and recompose. The flip side of course is that the D7100’s points covered the majority of the frame, whereas the D810’s doesn’t go anywhere near as close to the edges of the frame as the D7100 does. Switch to DX crop and you have focusing points on a slightly greater area than the D7100, effectively covering the whole frame.
When it comes to editing, the long and short of it is this, I used to spend quite a few hours tweaking the RAW files from my D7100, D7000 and D80 to get to where I wanted them to be. The D810? I am finding that the RAW images are crisp, contrasty and vibrant straight out of camera, with absolutely no tweaking necessary. It’s stunning. I cannot over-emphasize how truly liberating this is. Lots of people talk about how fantastic the JPEGs are SOOC from the Fuji’s (and I agree with them) but frankly, I’m even more impressed by the look of the RAW files from the D810.
I edit in Lightroom and Adobe have recently released beta camera raw profiles for the D810 to fix the banding issue (assuming you want to use the camera profiles rather than Adobe Standard) and I am seriously impressed by the output.
Of course, if you WANT to play with the files then there is plenty of leeway and having purposefully underexposed a couple of shots during the day to play with the shadow recovery, I don’t see how it can get any better than this.
Take a good look: another 100% close up for your viewing pleasure:
Noise is non-existent up to ISO 800. Above that I haven’t had a chance to really closely inspect as yet, beyond a few ISO 6400 images with the kind of noise I would expect to see at 1600 on a D7k body. But, and I must stress this, this is when pixel peeping. In other words, for the vast majority of applications, it’s noise that you probably don’t even have to deal with as by the time the image is downsized for print (or to go into a photobook) it will become irrelevant. Otherwise Lightroom’s built in noise reduction capabilities are more than adequate for removing noise but keeping clarity in the image. In the few 6400 images I shot, there wasn’t any noticeable colour shifting. I didn’t have many situations to push the dynamic range over the one day but it all seems favourable, and obviously is a ton better than the cropped sensors can allow.
And ignoring all the shutter speed rules, whilst no prize-winner, a 100% crop reveals that you can make out the beads of sweat! Keep in mind this shot has not had any noise reduction applied to it. The fine grain is uniform and clean, easily reduced and could be as good as gone with a luminance reduction of around 30 in Lightroom, whilst retaining good amounts of detail in the individual strands of hair.
No complaints on the image size either – the flexibility offered of having, in effect, a prime lens but with the ability to ‘zoom’ should not be overlooked by people considering this camera and should definitely be balanced against the fear of having to upgrade your storage capacity. In theory, you could just shoot full frame throughout and crop afterwards. Personally, I decided to set the front function button to change the image crop size and so with just my 105mm macro lens attached, I was able to very quickly take two differently framed shots in quick succession. The DX crop gave me the field of view and framing that I was used to, whereas the uncropped size gave me an even greater love for the macro lens. With a DX crop image coming in around the same size as the D7000 that I am used to, it’s absolutely more than enough to work with (but with the added benefit of better DOF and low-light ability).
Also, the rumors of proper sharpness at handheld being difficult because of the increased resolution are not something I came across over the weekend. I didn’t stick to the supposed new rule of thumb of 2x focal length, and loading the images up on screen they are sharp where I would expect them to be. Perhaps I don’t give my handholding technique enough credit, or maybe the Nikon VR is really REALLY good, but I genuinely wouldn’t have any concerns – by way of example I was at 1/80 using the 105mm (which has built in image stabilisation) and came away with acceptably sharp images several times during the evening (groom’s speech above by way of example).
Pulling the images into Lightroom, I work the way I always have (import the memory cards onto harddrive, import into lightroom whilst rendering 1:1 previews). I found no issues of slowdown on my system, which is no slouch to be fair but it’s a Dell XPS27 all-in-one so the processor is a mobile Core i7 rather than desktop. There was no noticeable speed difference when flicking through images from the D810 or the other bodies, even using the Develop module.
If you are mulling it over and considering a D810, I really strongly suggest you rent one out for a day and push it to your own limits. Personally, this was the best decision I could make and although our budget only barely allowed for us to buy one, I have already started to plan financially to upgrade at least one more of our DX bodies with a second D810. Of course, some might say that money is best spent on better glass than a better body, and I don’t disagree with that. But I do photography because I love it, and personally I like to have a camera that makes me smile when I use it as much as I can rely on it to deliver.
I was *this* close to opting for the XT1. But the fact that I am so heavily invested in the Nikon system (lenses, flashes, bodies) and wanted a gearbag of consistency rather than a mish-mash of different systems had a large part to play for sure.
There’s something much more stale and workmanlike for me about using the D7k bodies. They just get on with their job and that’s it. They also leave me with (albeit relatively basic) editing to tweak the image to where I want it, which I’m used to and factor into my photography. The D810 has made me fall back in love with the art of photography again, just by the simple fact that the images come out ‘ready’ straight from the camera, the beefy feel of the body and that fantastic shutter sound. As I said at the start, I was ruled by the heart and the fact that the D810 makes me feel good is vindication to me that I made the right decision.
That’s all that springs to mind at the time of writing, feel free to ask any questions if it’s on your wishlist and I’ll try to answer them best I can.
UPDATE: In the meantime, here’s a few more shots from the day, with slight adjustments applied in Lightroom to taste (those above had minimal or no adjustments, unless stated).