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Using the Nikon D800

Nikon hasn't made many drastic changes to the handling experience of the D800 compared to its predecessor, the D700. That's a good thing in our book, as the latter was a pleasant camera to hold and operate. And the changes that have been made are consistent with design decisions seen in Nikon's more recent DSLRs, providing a useful level of continuity for current Nikon owners considering the D800.

Replacing its predecessor's MF/AF-S/AF-C focus mode switch on the lens throat, the D800 uses a combined AF/MF switch and AF mode button of the type seen on the Nikon D7000 and D4. A dedicated live mode button with a stills image/movie mode switch is also inherited from the D4. And sitting atop the lockable drive mode dial is now an auto bracketing button, providing a fourth control where the D700 had only three. Most notably, however, for video shooters is the addition of a direct movie shooting button on the camera's top plate.

Overall handling

In your hand

The D800 is a solidly-built and ergonomically well-proportioned camera, just like its predecessor. A prominent rubber hand grip is augmented by a subtle yet effective recessed channel, offering a comfortable platform for your bottom three fingers with your hand in the shooting position. The D800 balances well in-hand with a wide range of lenses including fast zooms like the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II.

The D800 is nicely balanced and its controls are well thought-out. While we had few complaints with the ergonomics of the D700, the D800 feels, in most aspects like a slightly more refined version.

External controls for most key shooting parameters are easily reached with your hand in the shooting position. We do, however, wish for an ISO button design and placement that allows for right-handed operation by default. To be fair, the D800's high degree of customization means that without too much effort - though you'll certainly be consulting the owner's manual - you can configure button and dial operation exactly to your liking. The multi selector is very well positioned for operation with the camera held to your eye, making the manipulation of AF points a quick intuitive process.

As you'd expect, the responsiveness of the D800 is swift and sure, whether adjusting individual parameters or navigating its extensive menu system. You can confirm your shooting options in the viewfinder, on the top plate LCD or, with a press of the Info button, on the rear LCD. The viewfinder offers 100% coverage of the image area to be captured, a small but not insignificant improvement on the D700 which provided 95% frame coverage.

Nikon's traditional two-button 'press and hold' operation that is used to change frequently used settings like ISO, white balance, and shooting mode may be initially off-putting for new users, but it does have the welcome effect of preventing accidental changes to crucial settings. And, in a sign of the camera's high degree of customization, this behavior can also be changed to eliminate the button hold requirement.

The D800 is a comfortable camera to operate and - sans the optional battery grip - offers DX and FX functionality in a smaller, lighter package than Nikon's flagship D4. Make no mistake though, the D800 is a body of substantial heft. Mount a lens like the Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f/4G ED VR and you have a combination that will certainly make its presence felt around your neck during a day of shooting.

With the MB-D12 Battery Grip attached (shown below) the D800 gets pretty close to the size and bulk of the D4, but of course becomes even more comfortable to use with super telephoto lenses or when shooting in portrait orientation.

As you can see above, the MB-D12 Battery Grip significantly adds to the weight and size of the D800... ...but offers a duplicate shutter release, command dials, AF-ON button, and multi selector, all optimized for use when shooting in portrait orientation.

Specific handling issues

Much of the D800's operational behavior will be familiar to D700 owners, and indeed to any user of recent enthusiast-grade Nikon DSLRs. We struggle to find much to complain about in day to day use. And we applaud the D800's enhanced video handling and live view operability.

The combined AF/MF switch and AF mode button neatly associates numerous options with a single physical control point.

With the surrounding switch set to AF mode, pressing the button and turning the rear dial switches between static and continuous AF modes. When set to continuous AF you can then use the front dial to cycle among six AF Area modes.

This 'simplification' comes at a cost, however. Specifically, it makes switching between AF-S and AF-C, and indeed changing AF pattern mode, slower than on Nikon's previous generation DSLRs. Using the D3S, for example, a quick flick of the left thumb is all it took to go from single AF to continuous, and a quick flick of the rear lever would switch from single-point AF to multi-pattern. With the D800 (and the D4) there's an extra step - a button press - in both cases. This may admittedly be a minor issue for many D800 owners, but does represent a significantly different (and slower) way of working for longtime Nikon users.

When holding the camera at eye level in the shooting position, we'd really prefer to be able to make ISO adjustments with one hand. On the D800, however, the ISO button sits on the top left side of the camera and must be selected with your left hand, which leaves you unable to support the lens barrel. This is certainly not a deal-breaker, but feels much less fluid than on the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, for example where an ISO button sits behind the shutter button for easy one-handed access.

The D800 has a 'Quiet' shutter mode, something of keen interest to D700 users who wished for a less audible mirror slap. One feature of Quiet mode is that once the mirror is raised, it does not drop back down until you allow the shutter button to return to the half-press position. In essence you can delay the sound of the mirror dropping back down. Disappointingly though, this mode is only marginally quieter than the single frame advance option. In side by side comparisons, Quiet mode on the D800 is significantly louder than even the standard shooting mode on its rival, the 5D Mark III. As it stands the most silent operation on the D800 occurs in live view, where the mirror is already raised before you press the shutter button.

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I own it
I want it
I had it
Discuss in the forums
I own it
I want it
I had it
Discuss in the forums


Total comments: 18

This is a great camera. However, one concern that many reviewers voice is the 4fps continuous shooting rate. Is there any way to improve this in FX mode? For example, can the user shoot at a lower resolution (i.e. ~24MP) in FX mode to achieve a greater continuous shooting rate?

1 upvote

Maybe subject expressed before, has anyone tested older legacy glass, 70's manual prime nikkor glass on D800E for overall performance? The resolving power on film was extremely high, the only artifacts in hi res scans was film grain, not flaws in optics, seemingly capable of resolving limits of 36mp sensor. Have never found true test without bias for "new", "best" nikkor glass.


Legacy glasses will do just fine! I only have one, which is a 50mm F2 AI. I own the D800E and the resolving power on that little lens is still amazing. It keeps up with my modern Nikkor 35 1.8G, which, according to Dxo is sharper than it's big brother the 35 1.4G. It's definitely not as sharp as, say my 58mm 1.4G, but for an old lens, it really does bring out its best.


After using this camera for a while, I tried the Canon 5D Mark III and recently made the switch. Auto focus needs improvement, as does the weather proofing. After 30 plus years of being a Nikon fanatic and after the issues with this camera causing countless shipping for maintenance and water seepage I became frustrated and ended not using it as much. Resale value was fair but not what I had thought a camera such as this would bring.


VMO9 you have the same issue of mine, focusing problem and slight salty water leaked inside and spreads like a cancer in the camera component, it is not a weather nor water sealed and it cant be fixed, now since i have all the top of the lenses and accessories i cant think of switching, so I'm in delma, should i wait for the upgrade or to by the d800e, I'm very loyal to this brand for very long time, i cant think of abandons nikon but i guess as someone said Nikon who is trying to.

1 upvote

It was not easy to switch from Nikon to Canon, especially since I owned every "fast" professional lens Nikon produces. From the fisheye to the 800mm and two 400mm f2.8 lenses, it was a very difficult choice financially and also to end my loyalty to Nikon after 30 years. Selling all of my used gear and basically starting over was an adventure in itself. What I can offer is that since I made the switch the customer service that I've received from Canon has been impressive, as I'm hard on my gear and push the limits. The recent firmware update for my 5D Mark III pushed the standards even higher. It's difficult after purchasing an expensive piece of hardware to give it a thumbs down, as know one wants to admit making a bad decision.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting

I just got my D800 2 days ago, coming from D7000.
I do not own the very expensive lenses everyone say to be the "MUST" on the D800/E. And that was my very big concern about getting this camera.
I tested it with my 70-300VR and even with my 24-85 AFD. It works just GREAT !
Maybe I unconsciously take a bit more care in holding the camera when shooting. But that is the point also for every amateur... improving the technique.
Still, IMHO... I am very happy I didn't go for the smaller D610. Worth every penny I spent for it. I am VERY happy I did it.
I did my homework of course, and checked the left AF points. All is fine for me.
I found the shutter noise to be a bit kinky compared to D7000... not as "smooth" but it seems normal for FX.
If you are Amateur, go for it and be happy if your budget allows it. You will certainly be with the D800, no matter you need or don't the extra mpx. It is a monster.

Comment edited 51 seconds after posting
1 upvote

I agree that to take full advantage of the D800E quality, it demands extra care when shooting and using the best lenses. I'm looking at the Sony A7R for a possible future purchase, maybe easier when backpacking. I also don't care for the very curvy, roundish look of the Nikon and Canon offerings.


the ON/OFF switch on D800E is less ergonomically pleasing than D300


The review states that best results are obtained from D800/E if best (most expensive) lenses are used, which sounds a bit like a drawback. My experience shows the opposite. Nikon D800E shines the brightest over any other camera I have used when I use just simple plastic zooms like Nikon 28-80/3.3-5.6G
I was not able to get ever sharper immages with any Canon using superior prime lenses than the images I get from nikon D800E with the nikon 28-80/3.3-5.6G lens.
Perhaps the best D800E results will be with the best lenses there are. I also have Nikon 85/1.4G, no questions there. This lens is so sharp that manages to exite some moire and aliasing even when shooting grass.
However D800E produces superior image quality over anything else even with cheap lenses.

I could post some examples.


sound interesting -> i will test that too :)

munro harrap

There seems to be a kind of failure to realize that the D800 responds very much faster to use than does the 5D MkIII, and that it does not degrade images as do the 5D MkII and 5D MkIII series.
There's no point having the resolution if the 5D Mk II and III smooth away all low contrast detail as they do- certainly in Raw files as well as Jpeg in the 5D MkII.

I would not advise anyone to buy such a camera whose shutter lag is also much greater than its peers. An Old 1Ds is a much better bet if you are a Canon fan, much. No degradation to fine detail (which happens at ALL isos and much much faster response-same as D800 in custom function mode.

I bought a 5D MkII. I was appalled at what it did to the images and the Jpegs are a disgrace-worse than the Basic level off a Nikon with all detail mushed. Well, if you want that, and the finest detail turned to mush in 5dMkII and MkIII RAW files too , as now Dpreview admit(years too late), go ahead, but the D800 is just SO much better -it just is.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting

In the 'Final Word' subsection of the 'Overall Conclusions' section it states:-

"Yet, I'd caution anyone who considers buying the D800 or D800E solely, or even primarily because of their ultra-high resolution. Pushing these cameras to achieve their maximum level of detail requires an investment of both time (methodical preparation) and money (the very best lenses Nikon makes)."

The part about which I would like clarification is "...requires an investment of both time...". Is the author referring to additional tasks over and above what one would 'normally' do in taking a picture? If so what are these tasks?
Or does it refer to care in the conduct of normal tasks: use of tripod, select correct depth of field/aperture, exposure delay and remote control to reduce vibration, switch off image stabilisation??

1 upvote

The only reason you want this camera is because you plan to present your photos or make BIG prints. Of course, shooting RAW at all time. You probably want to invest in prime lenses or good zoom like 24-70mm f2.8 or 80-200mm f2.8; 50mm f1.8g... Also, purchasing a photo processing program is a must, like CS6 or similar. If you are a causal shooter who doesn't care about post processing, you are better off getting the D610 for full frame or D7100, D5300...and shoot jpegs.

Also, you really don't need a tripod in many situations. I think Nikon was trying to emphasize the pixel power of this camera by telling people to shoot at a higher shutter speed...

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting

When digital cameras reached 14 MP, with the first being the Pentax K20D, criticism was raised, that lenses won't cope. It's now crept up to 24MP for APS-C and the sensors are praised for their detailed pictures. Makes me wonder how great all these new kit lenses must be??? Or it was all just a media hype?
Using a DX lens on a D800 brings the resolution down to about 15MP which is roughly the same pixel pitch as a Nikon D7000 or Pentax K5 - it is also considered the best compromise between pixel size and resolution. So a D800 is basically a full frame version of a 16MP APS-C sensor as far as I understand it.
I think you do need much better glass for a D7100 or D5300 (than a D800) to get the best out of the sensor and a much steadier hand (or fast shutter speeds) for really sharp pictures. Such a high amount of photo sites will pick up any lens movement ....
I reckon if Nikon also produced a "D800" with a 24MP sensor, it'd be more appealing to a wider audience.

Mike Davis

Regarding the excellent demo of diffraction's impact at various f-stops, on page 25 of this review, where is the photo showing what could have been accomplished using Photoshop ACR sharpening against an f/4 RAW file?

I would very much like to compare sharpening of the f/4 RAW file to sharpening of the f/22 RAW file. Surely, a silk purse made from silk would be more attractive than a silk purse made from a pig's ear.

Link to page 25 of this review:



Maybe it's just me, but I see this camesas looking more and more like a melted soap bar. I miss the days when bodies had straight, clean lines. They were also much smaller, for the same full frame film...

sebastian huvenaars

Funny, soap bars tend to follow the shape of your hands over time... Aesthetics vs ergonomics.

(i do like the look of straight lines better by the way)

Total comments: 18