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Live view

The Nikon D800 offers a considerably more robust live view feature set than its predecessor, the D700. The most obvious improvement is a dedicated 'Lv' button on the rear of the camera surrounded by a lever that toggles between still image and movie mode.

The D800 has a dual mode live view system. You can compose still images or preview framing for video with precision. A press of the 'Lv' button at the hub of the switch activates live view mode, offering a significant usability improvement over the D700.

When live view is activated, the camera's mirror flips up and a through-the-lens view is displayed on the rear LCD. The lens is automatically set to the taking aperture, which means you can accurately preview depth of field. Manual exposure adjustments are updated in real time in the preview image on the LCD. You can press the 'OK' button to display an onscreen exposure indicator along with the option to display a histogram, both of which update in real time. Of even more importance though, is that pressing the 'OK' button is necessary to preview the effects of any exposure compensation adjustments that you make.

In situations where the scene is too bright or dark to present an accurate preview of the final image, however, the preview histogram will not match that of the final image. The only indication of this mismatch in live view mode is that the exposure indicator will blink, signalling that the camera cannot provide an accurate preview.

After taking an exposure in live view, the rear LCD remains blacked out until the image is written to the card, a delay that can last several seconds when shooting in RAW+JPEG mode. While access to all of the menu screens is locked out during this period, you can, however, change parameters available via the camera's top plate controls such as shooting and drive modes, ISO sensitivity, image quality, white balance and exposure compensation. These can all be verified on the camera's top plate LCD.

In live view you have the option of using all of the D800's additional crop modes, such as 1.2x, DX (1.5x) and 5:4. The preview fills the frame with these crop modes, with the 'mis-matched' 5:4 ratio displaying black bars along the side of the screen area. Note that switching among these crop modes requires you to first disable live view. The menu option is actually grayed out while live view is active.

Information displays

The D800, by default offers four separate information displays, with an additional exposure indicator/histogram view available if you first press the 'OK' button. You cycle through these views by pressing the Info button.

By default, live view does not preview exposure compensation adjustments. To do that... must press the 'OK' button, which gives an accurate exposure preview along with an exposure compensation indicator.
A grid view is available. You can also display a histogram.
The dual axis virtual horizon can be displayed. An 'information' view displays key camera settings.

Live View autofocus

When live view is activated the D800 is limited to using contrast-detect autofocus. This is a departure from D700 behavior. On that camera, in addition to the contrast-detect AF 'tripod' mode in live view, you have the option of a 'hand-held' live view mode in which a half-press of the shutter momentarily disables live view, lowers the mirror and uses a phase-detection autofocus system to acquire focus.

While allowing for a continuous live view feed that doesn't black out during focus aquisition, the D800's contrast-detect AF is much slower than the phase detection AF the camera employs when live view is disabled. In fact, D800 AF aquisition in live view is far more sluggish than most of the mirrorless cameras we've used. To be fair, we imagine that for most D800 users, live view will be reserved primarily for critical focus applications like landscapes, still lifes and product photography, where maximum AF speed is somewhat less important than accuracy.

The AF point can be manually positioned anywhere inside the frame via use of the multi selector arrows. You can choose between static and full-time AF modes, with the latter option allowing the camera to continuously adjust focus until the shutter button is pressed. In addition you can select one of four AF area modes. In Face-priority mode, the camera attempts to detect and lock focus on the face positioned closest to the camera. This works as advertised with faces that are fully turned towards the camera and can actually be quite useful for quick snapshots, although we doubt owners of a $3000 camera will be using live view in Auto AF mode much of the time.

A Wide-area AF mode provides a larger focus point than the Normal-area AF. A subject tracking mode allows you to identify an element of the scene for the camera to follow as it moves within the frame. With the slow autofus performance we cited above, we find subject tracking to be eminently more useful in non-live view shooting modes, as you can see on our AF performance page of this review.

Live view manual focus

The manual focus implementation during live view is pretty straightforward. As with image playback, the zoom buttons on the rear of the camera can be used to change magnification of the image preview. You scroll through magnified areas of the image by using the multi selector's left/right up/down arrows. In live view, the highest magnification level yields a pixelated image preview that is not useful for manual focus adjustment. It is the penultimate magnification level that provides a preview most suitable for critical focus. It should be noted that the live view preview reflects the taking aperture of the lens. So in many cases you may benefit from temporarily opening the lens up while focusing.

You can customize the behavior of the multi selector button to toggle between the fit to screen view... ...and one of three levels of magnification ('medium' is shown here) to make critical focus adjustments.

In the custom 'f' menu you can configure the multi selector's center button to automatically toggle between this magnification level (designated as 'medium magnification') and the default 'fit to screen' view. Frustratingly though, even at this magnification level you must contend with what appears to be interpolation-generated artefacts that can make critical focus a bit more difficult when viewing patterned objects of fine detail. The view of the same image area at the same magnification level in playback mode displays none of these artifacts.

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I own it
I want it
I had it
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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