When I discovered Nikon was to release the D800 and later found out a D800E was also going to be available, I was interested to see how Nikon was going to offer a better D700, but the D800 may not be a replacement for a D700. I quickly focused on the “36 mega pixel” resolution of the D800 as being the “thing”, it was almost un-believable, I read it twice – how can it be almost triple the D700, but It was true. After doing research on the variations between the Nikon D800 and 800E my mind was made to stick with the known and seeing in the results only minimal detail increase between the two and several hundred in price , but when I looked at the availability of these Cameras they were months away from delivery to a shop near you, and you needed to get on a waiting list for early delivery. If you read my first sentence – This is not my first DSLR rodeo. Unlike others who say buy the first and be the first, I say why? I waited over a year before actually buying my D800 with a modest cost reduction, but still too expensive IMHO.
Ok so what do you get with a D800?
First you get huge files, so you better have a plan on storage and managing them, not to mention any movies you produce. I moved up to what is now cheap storage and backups – over 3 terabytes per drive. I keep three drives in rotation, two are on site and one kept at my work location, this way if disaster strikes I am only out a few days of photos. I have not attempted to keep originals (NEF) on cloud storage since a single file can be 40+ mb, and if you produce tiff you can expect that to be over 100mb each, so unless you have vast amounts of free space and lots of bandwidth, local storage is pretty much the only option.
Speaking of files, the D800 now has dual storage card slots, and the ability to keep backups, overflow or movies on any assigned card. I use my second slot as backup, One card stores NEFs, the other a backup JPEG at same time, the D800 movies can be assigned to either the CF or SD card. So, basically you not only get great movie options, you also have options on how and where to store your files. To be honest you have almost any combination of file and storage options now, be it compressed, un-compressed, tiff, NEF, JPEG or a combo. The D800 supports very large CF and SD cards, mine is equipped with 128gb CF and SD, so it is up to you if you prefer carrying smaller cards and switching or one large card for all day.
Details are in the resolution, Needless to say the 36 mega pixel makes for some very detailed photos, I do notice the difference between the D700 and D800 especially when doing landscapes, and with the larger resolutions comes the ability of greater crop options. Since I don’t always get the best frame/composition, I can crop the image and still get a large detailed image when using the D800. I find having so many pixels camera shake need to be minimized as well as getting proper focus. With the D800 it performs best with a steady hand and fast (VR) lens to achieve optimal results.
The layout and ergonomics of the D800 are sub-par compared to the D700 which felt perfect in the hand. Although the D800 is lighter it lacks the great thumb cradle the D700 had which make the D800 feel a little clunky in the hand and I also notice the D700 has firmer “stiffer” feel than the D800, maybe because the D800 uses more plastics. After a week of use you quickly learn your way around the menus and buttons, after all the D800 is not that different.
Menu Options Greyed out: Some have complained that the menus are greyed out and even admitted to sending the camera in for repair thinking something is broken. Trust me, If you set up your camera certain ways you don’t have all the other options available – case in point HDR. In camera HDR is only available if you shoot JPEG, if you shoot in raw HDR will be greyed out. So, don’t freak out if you run across options greyed out, another one is the “lock up mirror for cleaning” check your battery level, and if you have NEW batteries, it may take a couple of charges before the camera knows you have enough on the charge to lock up the mirror for an extended period. Keep in mind, the camera does have a pretty good sensor cleaner built in, I use mine before every shoot. Speaking of sensors, I did notice that only after shooting a hundred photos my sensor had spots on it, Others have reported this occurrence, and I can verify I have no idea how my spots got there, they look like oil or something. I used a cleaner and removed it (see other review). For the most cases dust is not even noticeable under normal shooting circumstances, but if you do tone mapping or HDR spots can be a nightmare. Compared to my D700 I only cleaned the sensor twice in the years I owned it and shot thousands of photos. The D800 already underwent one cleaning.
Battery life for the D800 is reasonable, I do notice less shots per charge, so I recommend a second spare battery to carry along a third if you use flash etc, I opted for the MD-12 and can go out all day on the two batteries and one spare without worry. I was embarrassed once after driving an hour to get a bridge shot at dusk, only to find out my D700 battery was almost dead and I failed to bring a spare. Thus I opted for the MD-12 for the D800.