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Autofocus

The D800 has the same new autofocus sensor as the D4 and, while its headline improvement is that it can now focus in lower light (down to -2EV) , this isn't the only step forward. The sensor module has also been redesigned to enable it to operate with slower lenses (and lens/teleconverter combinations that give slower effective apertures). The D800 features six AF Area modes - single point, 9-point, 21-point, 51-point, 51-point '3D' tracking, and Auto Area mode (shown below). In single-servo autofocus (AF-S) operation only the single and auto modes are available. All other modes require the camera to be set to continuous-servo autofocus (AF-C).

In single-point AF mode, the D800 simply focusses where you tell it to - you can set your desired AF point using the rear 4-way controller. In 9-point 'Dynamic Area AF' mode the camera will use the eight AF points surrounding the one you select as 'backup' in case your subject moves.
In 21-point Dynamic Area AF mode the surrounding 20 AF points are used... ...and in 51-point Dynamic Area AF mode, the other 50 will also help out.
In 'Auto Area' AF mode, all of the D800's 51 AF points are active, and the camera uses its 91k-dot metering sensor to identify your subject automatically. This mode also makes use of automatic face detection. With AF mode set to 'C' for 'continuous', you can select '3D tracking AF'. In this mode, the focussing system uses color information to track your chosen subject across the AF array.

With lenses of f/5.6 or faster, 15 of its 51 AF points act as cross-type: sensitive to both horizontal and vertical detail. The 9 central focus points will continue as cross type when used with lenses with a maximum aperture of between f/5.6 and f/8. The D800's central AF point will still operate as a cross-type point with lens or lens/converter combinations with a maximum aperture of f/8. In addition, 10 AF points retain horizontal sensitivity at this aperture. In the diagram above, cross-type sensors are indicated in orange.

F5.6 or brighter F5.6-F8 F8

Autofocus speed / accuracy

While the D800 may lack the fast shooting rate of Nikon's flagship D4, it does inherit that camera's 51-point area AF system, which performs admirably in a range of indoor and outdoor scenes. The D800's low light focusing ability is impressive, among the better performing cameras we've seen. Anyone moving up to the D800 from an entry level DSLR will notice a significant improvement in this regard. During our time spent shooting with the camera we experienced far more hits than misses with regard to focus accuracy.

This shot was taken at f/4 on the AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm VR, at 1/25sec at ISO 25,600 (equivalent). Even in this extremely low light situation, the D800 locked focus using the central AF point without any trouble at all. 100% crop

Continuous AF

The D800 can be used quite successfully to track focus on moving subjects when you're shooting in a continuous drive mode. We had the most consistent success by using the 3-D tracking AF-area mode. With this setup, the camera utilizes color information from the subject that occupies your chosen AF point at the time you first acquire focus, and attempts to track the subject as it moves within the AF acquisition portion of the frame.

In the four-image sequence shown below, the center point AF was chosen and the camera was set to continuous AF with 3-D tracking as the AF-area mode option.

Frame 1
Frame 2
Frame 3
Frame 4

As you can see, the initial image shows AF acquisition (highlighted in red) on the athlete's jersey. In the following frames the camera locks on to the jersey, shifting the focus point as it detects movement. The 100% crops (inset above) from each frame show that with the athlete's face within the same depth of field as her jersey, the D800 has successfully acquired sharp focus in three of the four frames, with Frame 3 still exhibiting a usable degree of sharpness at magnifications below the pixel level view.

DX mode and AF area

One less than obvious benefit of shooting in DX mode - even with an FX lens attached - centers on the D800's massive 51-point AF array. As you can see in the example below, the AF area encompasses nearly the entire viewfinder when the camera is set to DX mode, allowing you to track subjects nearly to the edge of the frame. And with DX mode still providing a 15.3MP file, this mode essentially transforms the D800 into a D7000 with superior AF performance (albeit a slower maximum frame rate).

In FX mode, the AF area (outlined by the white frame) occupies the central portion of the frame. Switch the camera to DX mode, however, and the AF area covers the majority of the frame.

Contrast-detect autofocus

The D800's fast and accurate phase-detection AF system is not available in live view mode, which of course, includes video recording. In these instances, the camera relies on a contrast-detect AF implementation that is disappointingly slow. And not just in comparison to phase-detection on the D800. We've seen faster AF acquisition with less lens hunting on most of the recent mirrorless cameras we've used. For more information about the D800's performance in live view mode, go to the live view page of this review. You can also watch an example of lens hunting during video recording on our movie mode page.

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Comments

Total comments: 16
Galbertson
By Galbertson (1 month 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
josikim
By josikim (3 weeks ago)

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.

0 upvotes
Vmo9
By Vmo9 (3 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 (3 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 (1 month 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 (5 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 (6 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 (7 months ago)

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

0 upvotes
aquadream
By aquadream (8 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 (7 months ago)

sound interesting -> i will test that too :)

0 upvotes
munro harrap
By munro harrap (8 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 (9 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 (7 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 (6 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 (10 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 (10 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: 16