Nikon D810 Shooting Experience (continued)

By Barnaby Britton

More and More and Moiré...

There is no such thing as a free lunch, as the expression goes. To non-native English speakers that aphorism might not make any sense, but basically it means that you don't get anything for nothing - there's always a price to pay in the end. In the D810, the price you'll pay for its astonishing detail resolution is occasional moiré in your pictures.

If you've got so far as to read a first-impressions review of the Nikon D810 on, you probably already know what moiré is, but in case you're unfamiliar with the term, it describes the stripes of false color in areas of very fine detail, visible in digital images from some cameras. Most digital cameras have anti-aliasing filters to built into their sensors, the job of which is to slightly blur the image falling onto the sensor, to minimise the risk of moiré patterning in images. If you've been paying attention you'll know by now that the D810 has no AA filter, to maximise resolution.

As a consequence, moiré is obvious in some images from the D810, in areas where we've come to expect it - the fine weave of fabrics (as shown above, in a converted raw file), distant architectural details and so on. The effect is mostly subtle (you'll see it if you hit 100% view and go searching) but sometimes it's impossible to ignore. Typically, in our experience it's most problematic if you're taking pictures that include fabric.

What does this mean? Well, if you're a D800 owner who shoots portraits, fashion or weddings, the D810 might not be a good upgrade for you. The extra resolution may not be worth the inevitable penalty in moiré in some images and the time spent dealing with it in post-processing. If landscape photography is your thing though, or macro, or some types of architectural work, the D810 is Nikon's best DSLR yet when it comes to pulling the maximum amount of detail possible out of a scene.

And this is not only because of the lack of AA filter - Nikon has also made noticeable improvements to mirror dampening which means that you're more likely to be able to get the befit of the D810's high-resolution sensor when shooting in a range of environments - not just at carefully chosen apertures on a tripod. You can read more about that in our page dedicated to a quick look at 'shutter shock'.

Highlight-weighted metering and dynamic range

One of the things we came to value most from the D800 and D800E's sensor (and the closely-related sensor used in Sony's A7R) is its exceptionally good dynamic range, especially when it comes to detail recovery from shadow areas. The D810 is (as expected) at least as good in this respect as its forebears. When shooting with the D810 in contrasty situations, it is entirely practical to routinely underexpose by as much as -2EV in Raw mode to protect highlight tones and then simply push up the shadows later, in software.

Original JPEG
(ISO 64, accidental -2EV exp. comp)
Adjusted Raw

In the shot above, I actually did this exact thing, but accidentally. With -2EV set from a previous image, I had forgotten to return the EV bias to zero and accidentally took a series of images of this crop dusting plane with severe underexposure. I can't do much with the JPEGs (it is possible to brighten the midtones but the highlights lose saturation and noise becomes an issue in the shadows) but the Raw files just opened right up in Adobe Camera Raw 8.6, with some basic global shadow and highlight adjustment.

Had I been really concentrating at the time I took the picture above, I would probably have dialled in a touch of exposure adjustment anyway, but it's immensely reassuring to have this ability to 'rescue' an underexposed image if you simply (as I thought I had) mess up the original shot.

Highlight-weighted metering is a new metering mode in the D810 designed to allow you to take advantage of the camera's wide dynamic range. It works by deliberately doing what I accidentally did in the crop duster shot - biasing the exposure for highlight retention, which results in general underexposure of midtone and shadow areas (to differing degrees depending on the subject).

JPEG (3D Matrix metering)
JPEG (Highlight-priority metering)
Raw (Highlight-priority metering after adjustment)

For Raw shooters working in difficult lighting conditions - Nikon gives the example of music or theatre settings, but really this means any situation where you're trying to capture a wide tonal range - highlight-weighted metering makes a lot of sense. It effectively gives you one less thing to worry about at the point of capture, assuming of course that you're comfortable spending some time on post-capture adjustment.

Split-screen Zoom in Live View mode

Depending on how you work, you'll either never use the D810's new split-screen zoom feature or you'll love it immediately.

Misaligned (left-leaning)
Misaligned (right-leaning)

Intended as a leveling guide for live view operation, split-screen view allows you to define two points in your image, on the left and right, which are parallel to one another. It then displays them side-by-side on the live view screen. You can move the points inwards, outwards and up and down across the image area, and make them bigger or smaller as desired. This is supremely useful when it comes to leveling horizons, architectural or structural subjects, as well as the dpreview studio test scene!

'Flat' Picture Control mode

New in the D810 is a 'flat' Picture Control mode specifically aimed at videographers, which delivers a lower contrast, more linear tone curve file which is better suited to post-capture adjustment in video editing software. There have long been third-party custom Picture Controls floating around the Internet for people who want to add more than the default selection to their Nikon DSLR, but no doubt the addition of a new 'standard' will be welcomed in some quarters.

'Standard' Picture Control

1920x1080 24p, MOV, 10 sec, 116 MB Click here to download original file

'Flat' Picture Control

1920x1080 24p, MOV, 12 sec, 116 MB Click here to download original file

These two files, shot using the Flat and Standard Picture Control settings should give you some idea of the different renderings you can expect when shooting video in either mode using the D810. The 'Standard' rendition has a lot more 'pop' but thanks to the comparatively high contrast there's not much scope for tonal adjustment. The 'Flat' footage, on the other hand is a better starting point if you want to spend some time 'grading' the footage and applying tone curves to footage after it's been captured.