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Performance

Overall Performance

The Nikon D800, is, by any measure an extremely nimble and responsive camera. Its autofocus performance is swift and sure (except in live view and movie mode) and cycling among the 51 AF-area points can be done easily and quickly by 'feel' with the camera held to your eye in the shooting position. A wealth of external controls greatly limits the time you spend in the camera's menu system - assuming you first configure the D800's many customization options to your liking. Yet whether navigating through menu screens or using the command dials to change shooting parameters, you're never far off from being ready to capture an image. The only area in which the D800 feels even remotely sluggish is its rather pedestrian frame rate which - in FX mode - tops out at 4fps.

From power-on to first exposure with the camera in MF mode occurs in just under 0.5 seconds. The D800 features dual card slots, so that an SD and CF card can be loaded simultaneously. You can specify either card slot as a primary storage source, with the remaining slot configured as overflow (default) or duplicate storage. When shooting in RAW+JPEG mode, you can also designate a specific card slot to record either file format.

Continuous Shooting and Buffering

As you'll see in the tables that follow, the amount of images you can shoot with the D800 before filling the buffer varies according to the image quality settings. Yet the frame rate remains consistent regardless of the image quality selected. Crucially, you can still shoot single images as well as access all of the camera menus and shooting options while data is being written to the card. The stiffest penalty to be paid for shooting at a very processor-intensive TIFF setting for example, is long wait times for the images to be off-loaded from the buffer to the card; a requirement to resume at the camera's maximum frame rate

The D800 offers two drive modes; Continuous Hi and Continuous Lo. The former has a maximum rate of 4 fps in FX mode and 5 fps in DX mode. You can increase the maximum rate as high as 6 fps in DX mode by using the optional MB-D12 grip.

In FX mode, when shooting at a quality setting other than JPEG, there is a delay after the buffer reaches capacity (noted in each table below) before the shutter will fire to record any additional images. The secondary burst that follows this is captured at a reduced frame rate. In RAW and RAW+JPEG modes, the shutter fires at staggered repeating intervals. While the frame rates between any successive shots will vary somewhat, we've noted the maximum frame rates achieved by any pair of shots.

For the timing tests below we used a SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB UDMA7 CF card (100MB/s) and a Sandisk Extreme Pro 64GB Class 10 SD card (95MB/s). All in-camera lens corrections and Active D-Lighting were disabled.

FX Mode: Continuous Hi (with CF card)

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
TIFF
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 4.0 fps 4.0 fps 4.0 fps 4.0 fps
Burst capacity 40 images 16 images 16 images 15 images
Buffer full delay* none 2 sec. 0.9 sec. 1.4 sec
Buffer full rate 3.0 fps 0.2 fps 3-image bursts
at 1.0 fps max
2-image bursts
at 1.6 fps max
Write complete 39 sec. 1 min. 5 sec. 21 sec. 23 sec.

FX mode: Continuous Hi: (with SD card)

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
TIFF
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 4.0 fps 4.0 fps 4.0 fps 4.0 fps
Burst capacity 36 images 16 images 17 images 15 images
Buffer full delay* none 3.3 sec. 1.3 sec. 1.5 sec
Buffer full rate 2.0 fps 0.17 fps 3-image bursts
at 1.6 fps max
2-image bursts
at 2.0 fps max
Write complete 32 sec. 1 min. 21 sec. 21 sec. 28 sec.

DX mode: Continuous Hi (with CF card)

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
TIFF
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 5.0 fps** 5.0 fps** 5.0 fps** 5.0 fps**
Burst capacity 100 images 21 images 30 images 23 images
Buffer full delay* none 1 sec. none none
Buffer full rate n/a 1.0 fps max 8-image bursts
at 3.0 fps max
4-image bursts
at 2.0 fps max
Write complete 1 min. 9 sec. 36 sec. 28 sec. 23 sec.

DX mode: Continuous Hi (with SD card)

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
TIFF
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 5.0 fps** 5.0 fps** 5.0 fps** 5.0 fps**
Burst capacity 100 images 20 images 30 images 21 images
Buffer full delay* none 3 sec. none none
Buffer full rate n/a 0.32 fps 2.0 fps max 1.4 fps max
Write complete 1 min. 11 sec. 58 sec. 26 sec. 20 sec.

Whether using our fastest CF or SD cards, we measured roughly comparable results. The CF card typically provided slightly faster write times, which reflects its slightly faster speed rating of 100MB/s compared to 95 MB/s for the SD card.

The most significant performance improvement by far, comes by shooting in DX mode (1.5x crop factor) versus FX mode (full frame). The smaller DX format image files allow for faster shooting, substantially higher burst capacity, the elimination of 'buffer full' shooting delays in all but TIFF mode, and offer regular shooting intervals while the camera continues writing data to the card.

Interestingly, we tried a configuration while shooting RAW+JPEG in which raw files were written to the CF card while JPEGS were written to the SD card to see if the camera could more efficiently write to both cards simultaneously. We found slightly slower write times compared to having the camera write both files to the same card.

Continuous Lo at 2 fps: FX mode with CF card

The D800 gives you the option of specifying the maximum frame rate when the camera dial is set to Continuous Lo drive mode. Curiously it can be set as high as 5fps, the same rate for Continuous Hi in DX mode with the standard battery. The table below shows results at the camera's default setting of 2 fps.

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
TIFF
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 2.0 fps 2.0 fps 2.0 fps 2.0 fps
Burst capacity 100 images 17 images 25 images 19 images
Buffer full delay* none none none none
Buffer full rate n/a .4 fps 1.6 fps max 1.6 fps max
Write complete 1 min., 13 sec. 1 min., 5 sec. 29 sec. 27 sec.

Continuous Lo at 2 fps: DX mode with CF card

Timing
JPEG Large/Fine
TIFF
RAW
RAW+JPEG Fine
Frame rate 2.0 fps 2.0 fps 2.0 fps 2.0 fps
Burst capacity 100 images 26 images 100 images 100 images
Buffer full delay* none none none none
Buffer full rate n/a .5 fps n/a n/a
Write complete 1 min., 7 sec. 41 sec. 1 min., 11 sec. 1 min., 16 sec.

*'Buffer full delay' refers to the time you must wait, with your finger still pressing the shutter button, before another image is recorded as part of a secondary burst, specified as the buffer full rate.

**A 6fps burst rate is possible in DX mode when the optional MB-D12 battery grip is used.

Continuous drive real world sample

At a maximum frame rate of only 4 fps, (5 fps in DX mode) the D800 cannot compete with a camera like the 11fps D4 when it comes to capturing split-second action. When you take into account that the camera is processing 36MP files in FX mode, however, this frame rate seems more than reasonable. And, as demonstrated below, even at 4fps the D800 is fast enough to capture some scenes very effectively.

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Comments

Total comments: 15
Galbertson
By Galbertson (3 weeks ago)

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.

0 upvotes
Vmo9
By Vmo9 (2 months ago)

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.

2 upvotes
q8wizard
By q8wizard (2 months ago)

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
Vmo9
By Vmo9 (3 weeks ago)

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
2 upvotes
bdenize
By bdenize (4 months ago)

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
calicam
By calicam (5 months ago)

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.

0 upvotes
scottstensland
By scottstensland (6 months ago)

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

0 upvotes
aquadream
By aquadream (7 months ago)

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.

4 upvotes
mufflon
By mufflon (6 months ago)

sound interesting -> i will test that too :)

0 upvotes
munro harrap
By munro harrap (7 months ago)

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
3 upvotes
SASpurr
By SASpurr (8 months ago)

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
Joed700
By Joed700 (6 months ago)

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
0 upvotes
YogiGX20
By YogiGX20 (5 months ago)

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.

2 upvotes
Mike Davis
By Mike Davis (9 months ago)

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: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikon-d800-d800e/25

Mike

0 upvotes
arhmatic
By arhmatic (9 months ago)

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...

3 upvotes
Total comments: 15