2017 Roundup: Semi-Pro Interchangeable Lens Cameras $2000+
36.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor | 51-point AF system | Base ISO 64
What we like:
- Unprecedented image quality at ISO 64
- Excellent AF, particularly subject recognition and tracking
- Class-leading dynamic range
What we don't:
- Low light AF significantly worse than competition
- Mirror/shutter shock can be an issue, particularly with VR lenses
- Limited, centrally-concentrated cross-type AF points
- Poor live-view / movie AF
The Nikon D810 is a professional grade full-frame DSLR. Like the D800 before it, the Nikon D810 sports a high resolution 36.3MP sensor, but omits the AA filter for maximum resolution. A new base ISO sensitivity of 64 offers unparalleled dynamic range.
The Nikon D810 features ergonomic improvements over the D800/E, and an improved processor that make it snappier in use and generally a pleasure to shoot with. The increased processing power also helps the AF system and maximum continuous shooting, which gets a bump up to 5 fps in Continuous High mode, with the option of shooting 6 fps in 1.2x crop mode and 7 fps in 1.5x crop mode with vertical grip.
The Nikon D810's AF system is inherited from the pro-level D4S, and works together with the 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor to produce a class-leading ‘3D' AF tracking mode, capable of uncanny accuracy when it comes shooting moving subjects. In continuous AF, the D810 can recognize subjects (including faces in 'Auto') you initiate focus on and track them no matter where they move to in the frame. 3D Tracking does stumble during bursts though - a reason to step up to the D4/D5-series. Only the central 15 of the 51 AF points are cross-type, which means off-center points may experience hunting in challenging lighting scenarios, particularly with low contrast subjects. Unexpectedly, we found the D810's AF system gives up much more readily in low light conditions relative to most of its competitors, including its predecessor.
Image quality from the D810 is outstanding, particularly in Raw where the camera's dynamic range at base ISO is class-defining and challenges medium format (JPEGs are weak on detail, with unsophisticated noise reduction). Meanwhile, highlight-weighted metering can expose for and retain highlights, with shadows remaining relatively noise-free for boosting in post, or via the 'Flat' picture control option in-camera. Low light noise performance is very good for such a high resolution camera.
Getting outstanding results from the D810 can be challenging, though. Since the sensor isn't stabilized, you may need higher shutter speeds to avoid handheld blur. Despite the redesigned mirror and shutter mechanisms (which do help relative to its predecessor), the D810 can suffer from mirror/shutter shock. Ironically, the problem is exacerbated by vibration reduction (VR) in certain Nikon lenses, and can be frustrating to work around. Thankfully, Nikon includes an electronic first curtain option during viewfinder shooting as a workaround, but it's cumbersome, only available in Mup mode. That makes it practically unusable for anything but static subjects.
Pro-level video features like flat, log gamma picture profiles (also available for stills) and power aperture, which allows for smooth aperture transitions during video capture, are welcome additions to the D810. The D810 also features a redesigned built-in stereo microphone, and offers zebra stripes to monitor highlights. Video can be captured at up to 1080/60p and video quality, in general, is nice and detailed. Built-in intervalometer and time-lapse (with exposure smoothing) functions are a bonus.
The D810 is a versatile tool that, when used properly, can result in class-leading imagery. ISO 64 offers excellent dynamic range and general image quality, and Nikon's 3D tracking offers class-leading subject recognition and tracking. But it has shortcomings worth considering, particularly mirror/shutter-induced shock (exacerbated sometimes by VR lenses), and an AF system that struggles in low light far more than its competitors.
May 26, 2017
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