D800 vs D4 first impressions

Started Jun 21, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Trataka
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D800 vs D4 first impressions
Jun 21, 2012

First impressions are that these are two quite different cameras.

Basic synopsis:

D4 = high ISO, high frame rate, great button layout, firm grip & perfect ergonomics. Autofocus is impeccable. Images usable up to ISO 12,800. Weatherproof. Battery life is not quite as good as expected. Image file sizes are acceptable.

D800 = studio environment for working more slowly and accurately, absurd detail, nearly identical to D700 in layout, built in flash is handy in a pinch. Images get rough quickly past ISO 1600. Seems on par in high ISO IQ as D700, if not slightly worse. Transporting D800 is far easier than D4, and you don't attract flocks of nerds with the smaller body unlike the D4. Battery life is excellent. Image file sizes are huge.

My D800 does have the left AF point focus bug, but I don't care because I use the central AF point and recompose. The D4 focus toggle is much faster to use than the D800 focus pad, so D4 I use continuous focus. It's a matter of adjustment to which camera I have because D800 technique is different than D4. When I'm in a hurry or shooting fast action, the D4 is the go to camera. Everything about the D4 is built for speed. The D800 feels good for when there is time to create photographs using filters or light modifiers.

Both cameras have a heavy green cast. I shoot RAW so it doesn't matter a ton, but it would be nice to have a little more accuracy in color rendering. The D800 is worse, so use a white card when you can.

Half my work is video, so I can't decide which to keep since D800 has world's better video IQ at the full image sensor. D4 video resolution is terrible, not even usable at the professional level. Nikon has positioned these products to compliment each other, so now I need both. Hate to part with my trusty D700 though.

Here are a few samples. D4 resolution does not appear far behind the D800. The date on the D800 shots is off because I just went straight to shooting right out of the box.

Note the noise in the green backgrounds of the first two examples. D800 exhibits tons of grain even at ISO 400, whereas the D4 looks perfect at ISO 1000.

The next two examples are ISO 6400 from the D4. The first looks great, tons of detail, minor grain. The second, tons of grain, but still usable for editorial.

ISO 12,800 is usable for editorial as well. This was shot inside a CNC machine in a dark factory setting. I was not able to use flash as this was a quick snap with no setup time. D4 has fast focus acquisition even in the dark. Noise in the shadows is relatively low. Shots like this for editorial use are what drive D4 sales.

The following were shot using the pop-up flash on the D800 for fill. Despite the flat look an on-camera flash can give a photo, it is useful at times for a little fill. This was at a Father's Day family gathering where I had no time to set up any shots. The point & shoot crowd made fun of my 'giant' D800, until they saw the results.

Same pop-up flash, but underexposed. A little work in Lightroom reveals the exposure latitude in the D800 files. Not a necessity by any means, but impressive nonetheless.

Now for a little juicy detail. D4 detail is excellent, even at ISO 2000.

It goes unsaid that in a studio environment, both cameras are excellent tools.

D800 is ideal in a controlled environment. Low ISO and light modifiers produce brilliant detail in the D800.

So which will I keep? I shoot a broad range so D4 is a clear winner there. I also do backpacking trips which puts the D800 at an advantage for size/weight and for landscape resolution. Video puts the D800 ahead again. But the D4 just feels so good in hand and is so versatile. I was planning to try both cameras and sell the one I liked the least, but Nikon has positioned these to be complimentary to one another so it looks like I'll just have to work harder to keep both, which puts the D700 up for sale...

Nikon D4 Nikon D700 Nikon D800
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