Operation and controls

As you'd expect from an enthusiast/professional oriented DSLR, a wealth of external buttons and adjustment dials grace the D800. Exposure and other shooting-related parameters can be confirmed via the LCD on the camera's top plate. The 3.2" rear LCD screen provides access to setup and customization menus where you can fine-tune the camera's behavior to your liking.

Top of camera controls (right)

The controls arranged on the top right of the D800 are nearly identical to those in the same position on the D700. The exception is a new direct movie shooting button, tucked to the left of the shutter release and within easy reach of the index finger. Although conveniently placed, the movie record button is hard to distinguish from the shooting mode button by touch alone. We can envisage this causing confusion for some D700 owners, at least until they get used to the new arrangement.

Around the periphery of the shutter release is a collar-type on/off switch with a sprung 'illuminate' position which activates the a backlight on the D800's top LCD screen. The D800 does not offer the backlit controls found on Nikon's flagship D4.

Top of camera controls (left)

The D800 has a four-button arrangement atop the drive mode dial, with the addition of a 'BKT' (bracketing) mode. In the D700, auto bracketing was accessed (by default) via one of the two customizable buttons around the lens throat. The lockable drive mode dial is where you'll find the continuous shooting, normal and silent single-frame advance modes as well as mirror lock-up and self-timer. In comparison to the D700, we're very pleased to see live view mode control moved from this dial onto a dedicated control on the rear of the D800. This makes live view much easier to activate solely by feel.

We do find it a pity that the ISO button hasn't been moved as well. Its current location means that reaching it is, quite literally a bit of stretch when the camera is held to your eye - it's especially inconvenient when shooting with a large lens that requires support from your left hand. We much prefer Canon's now-standard ISO button placement, adjacent to the shutter button.

Rear Controls

The D800's rear controls have been reshuffled a bit compared to the D700. The most obvious changes being the deletion of the AF Area mode selector and the addition of a dual/mode live view switch for framing stills and videos. The D800 inherits its LCD screen from the D4. At 3.2 inches, it is slightly larger larger than the 3 inch screen of the D700. The resolution stays basically the same though, at 921k dots. As with the D4, the LCD incorporates a gel resin layer to resist fogging in damp and humid conditions.

Eagle-eyed readers will also notice that the 'lock' button on the D800's rear performs two additional duties. It acts as a 'help' button when navigating the D800's menus and also provides direct access to Nikon's Picture Control presets. This latter functionality helpfully saves a trip into the menu system when you want to quickly swap picture styles for stills or video, in either viewfinder or live view mode.

MB-D12 Battery Grip

Like the D700, the D800 lacks an integrated vertical shutter release, but for those photographers that need one, an accessory battery grip - the MB-D12 - is available.

The MB-D12 grip adds a set of vertical controls, including a duplicate shutter release and front/rear dials to the D800. It also expands the power options of the camera, and allows the D800 to achieve its maximum frame rate of 6fps in DX format (15.3MP) mode (see below).

Of interest to D4 owners considering the D800 as a second body, the MB-D12 battery grip provides the option of running the camera using the D4's EN-EL18 battery, which will fit the battery grip via an optional adapter. Using the D4 battery will allow for 6fps shooting speed in DX mode versus 5fps with the camera's native battery. The gain of an additional 1 fps aside, we can't envision many D800 owners opting to use a D4 battery, outside of those who already own a D4 and want to carry just a single battery charger.