When the Nikon D810 was released it raised some heads among owners, lovers and critics of Nikon’s full frame camera line almost immediately. At just $300 more than its two predecessors, the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D800E, people were asking: what’s changed? These questions, along with some existing confusion about the separation between the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E have left a lot to clear up in choosing between the three models. We’re going to try and work through some of that now.
The differences between these three Nikon full frame bodies might be slight, but to the photographer they stand to make all the difference. Let’s have a look at each of these cameras a little more in-depth, and see where the advantage lies.
The Nikon D800, released in early 2012, was intended as a successor to the Nikon D700, but it attracted far more interest than the previous model ever had. At the heart of this were some very big numbers, namely the megapixel count on the new camera, which at 36.3-megapixels was one of the largest ever seen. But, there was much more to the Nikon D800 than a large resolution. The camera has shown Nikon’s devotion to innovation, offering a range of updates on the Nikon D700 that included better video performance and much more.
At its heart, the Nikon D800 is a camera of potential, easily a good fit for a professional photographer while still maintaining a price tag much below the ’pro level’ Nikon D4S. In terms of features, the Nikon D800 offers a 36.3-megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, EXPEED 3 processor, an ISO range of 100 – 6400 standard and 25,600 expanded, a 51-point autofocus system with 15 cross-type sensors, a 3.2-inch 921k-dot LCD screen, 1080p30 full HD video with built-in mono microphone and external jack, and single storage slots for both SD and compact flash.
The Nikon D800 and the Nikon D800E are identical in almost every way, including in price, which left many photographers confused in trying to choose between them. As with many things, the devil is in the details, and the noteworthy difference between the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D800E is the sensor.
Every single Nikon camera is fitted with an optical low pass filter (OLPF) in front of the sensor to lessen the chance of moiré and false color occurring on the images. The flipside of the OLPF filter is that it very slightly blurs the image, which is of little effect to most photographers, but of importance to some. To combat this, Nikon released the Nikon D800E, which is essentially the Nikon D800 wit OLPF filter effects removed. This makes the Nikon D800E a specialist camera, which isn’t really perfect for everyone.
The Nikon D800 is a camera body that is suited for a range of shooting conditions and formats, providing a good balance between sharp images and consistently reduced risk of moiré and false color. The Nikon D800E on the other hand is a camera body best suited to commercial, studio and still life photographers who shoot RAW images. These are professionals that can control every aspect of their shooting conditions, and don’t mind doing post production work to get rid of moiré and false color in exchange for increased image sharpness.
To Nikon, the Nikon D810 was a method of merging two popular cameras you’re likely familiar with: the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E. Released in 2014, the Nikon D810 didn’t just replace its two predecessors, it reinvented them, resulting in a camera more capable and feature rich. Admittedly, although impressive it might not be enough to kick some Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E lovers away from their favorite bodies, but it might be enough to get full frame converts over the line into Nikon’s pro range.
Filling a place higher up in the Nikon full frame range, the Nikon D810 needed to have the features to impress, and offer something new to really succeed. Luckily, the model did both providing photographers with a 36.6-megapixel full frame CMOS sensor with no AA filter, EXPEED 4 processor, an ISO range of 64 – 12,800 expanded to 32 – 51,200, a 51-point autofocus system with ‘Group Area AF’ mode, a 3.2-inch 1229k-dot LCD screen, 1080p60 full HD video with built-in stereo microphone, external jack and headphone monitor, and single storage slots for both SD and compact flash.
Many of the features of these three camera bodies appear the same at a glance, but as with the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E, the devil is in the details. Let’s have a more in-depth look at the three models, and work through the advantages and disadvantages of each body.
Although the Nikon D800, the Nikon D800E and the Nikon D810 feature the same number of megapixels, their sensors are very different. As we already know, the Nikon D800 uses an optical low pass filter to prevent moiré and false color, while the Nikon D800E removes the ‘effect’ of the filter for sharper images, but at a greater risk of moiré. The Nikon D810 on the other hand has removed the OLPF all together in a new sensor that both provides incredibly detailed images and video, without overly increasing the risk of moiré and false color.
Processor & Speed:
According to Nikon, the EXPEED 4 processor installed in the Nikon D810, which happens to be the same as the one on the top-of-the-line Nikon D4S, is some 30% faster than the EXPEED 3 processor on the Nikon D800/E. This means that Nikon D810 users can expect a little more speed and better image quality, especially when it comes to noise.
The numbers certainly back this claim up. The Nikon D810 has gained on the Nikon D800/E in continuous shooting speed across the board, increasing the max speed from a reasonable 4fps to 5fps. It isn’t the fastest on the Nikon line, but it isn’t terrible, and can be improved by shooting at crop or using a battery pack.
There’s only a little difference between the screens on the Nikon D810 and the Nikon D800/E. The newer model has slightly improved resolution of 1,229k-dots compared to 921k-dots, but the screens are the same size. In real world shooting, this might make it easier for Nikon D810 shooters to see on sunny days, as well as provide much more accurate color reproduction on screen.
The newer sensor on the Nikon D810, along with that faster processor, means that it was almost a guarantee that the newer model will provide better ISO performance. With a standard ISO range of 64 – 12,800 is significantly more than the 100 – 6,400 range on the Nikon D800/E. The Nikon D810 also offers a better expanded range of 32 – 51,200, compared to 25,600 maximum on the Nikon D800.
Both the Nikon D800/E and the Nikon D810 are enormous full frame camera models with professional 51-point autofocus systems, but that doesn’t make them the same. The Nikon D810 has had some upgrades to its autofocus algorithms to, according to Nikon, make it more accurate in a variety of different light conditions. The Nikon D810 also includes the Group AF mode, which Nikon has taken from the Nikon D4S. This mode further improves the accuracy of the autofocus for moving subjects.
In some ways, the Nikon D810 didn’t quite live up to people’s expectations when it came to video performance, with many Nikon followers expecting the inclusion of 4K video recording. Still, it improved on the Nikon D800/E by offering full HD video recording at up to 60fps, an improvement on the 30fps offered by the Nikon D800/E, and also upping the built-in microphone to stereo. The newer model also improved some software for video capture, including Auto ISO in manual exposure mode to save users adjusting aperture, and ‘zebra stripes’ to help photographers pick up on overexposed areas during filming.
Something that many photographers forget about camera bodies like the Nikon D800/E and the Nikon D810 is that 36-megapixel sensor comes at a cost. The cost is storage, as the enormous files from the Nikon D800/E can cause havoc for photographers, especially those shooting RAW. The Nikon D810 offers something of a solution, with options to create small RAW files instead of very large ones, making the workflow, transfer and storage process much easier.
The Nikon D810 improves solidly on the battery performance of the Nikon D800/E, which is a little unusual as often new models suffer battery drain from added features. Luckily in this case Nikon has avoided that situation, and the Nikon D810 offers an impressive 1200 shots on a full charge compared to around 900 from the Nikon D800/E.
The Nikon D800/E was never offered in a kit with lenses. The reasons behind this are likely the camera’s place in the Nikon line. As a more professional full frame camera, Nikon likely didn’t see the positive benefits of marketing the camera with a kit, as it would likely be targeted at photographers who already owned a number of appropriate lenses for the body.
The Nikon D810 on the other hand, came with some interesting and unique kit options for buyers. But, these options weren’t the average kit lenses that we might expect to find bundled with a typical beginners camera. Instead, Nikon has tried to provide kit options to suit the professional needs of the photographer, and has offered three buying choices: the body alone, the Animator’s Kit and the Filmmaker’s Kit.
The Animator’s Kit paired the Nikon D810 with the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED and animation software. The 105mm lens is a favorite of many photographers, and with solid quality and features it is a winner in most cases.
Featuring Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) system and internal focusing system for speedy, silent focus, it gives photographers the potential to create stunning images in detail. You might notice a slight drop in the quality of those sharp images after f/16, but overall and particularly at wide-mid aperture the 105mm performs reliably and solidly, a great fit for the Nikon D810.
The other kit that was offered with the Nikon D810 was the Filmmaker’s Kit, which had a selection of three prime lenses: the AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED, AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G and AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G. When it comes to primes, these are some of Nikon’s best, each performing admirably at their respective focal lengths. The 35mm lens in particular is a great addition to this bundle, as it is a new lens upgrade for 2014 with beautiful quality and stunningly detailed image capture.
As a bundle, the Filmmaker’s Kit offers pretty much everything that a full frame photographer and movie maker might need to create amazing visual images and video. In terms of prime lenses these three all do really well at their respective focal lengths, and the entire kit provides basically everything that a photographer or filmmaker might need.
The Final Word
There’s certainly no doubt that the Nikon D810 is an interesting upgrade to the Nikon D800/E camera bodies. Although it falls short of awe-inspiring, the upgrades to the Nikon D810 hardware and software are a compelling reason to spend just a little bit extra, especially when the cost of the bodies is already so high.
So, for those primarily shooting video, or wanting to specialize in that, the Nikon D810 is a much better choice than the Nikon D800/E. For still shooters, improved ISO performance and those updated autofocus algorithms might also be too good to bypass. As the newer camera, users can expect some more modern and updated software choices, which although too insignificant to cover here, might make all the difference to you as a photographer.
Of course, the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D800E are still very good cameras, and although the Nikon D810 does improve on aspects of their use, it isn’t time to throw them out with the trash just yet. They still have the ability to capture stunning images, and might be just the camera you’re looking for. Although admittedly the difference in cost between the two is almost negligent in comparison to their overall value, that money could always go towards some new glass.