Image Quality: Studio Comparison

Our latest test scene is designed to simulate both daylight and low-light shooting. Pressing the 'lighting' buttons at the top of the widget allows you to switch between the two. The daylight scene is shot with manually set white balance aimed at achieving neutral grays, but the camera is left in its Auto setting for the low-light tests (except Raw, which is manually corrected during conversion). We also offer three different viewing sizes: 'Full', 'Print', and 'Comp', with the latter two offering 'normalized' comparisons to more fairly compare cameras of differing resolutions by using matched viewing sizes. The 'Comp' option chooses the largest-available resolution common to the cameras being compared.

Raw

The Nikon D810 is really all about dynamic range and high signal:noise ratio at ISO 64. It offers medium format-like Raw image quality with respect to noise at its base ISO because of the extra light it can tolerate before clipping the same tones a comparable camera might clip at ISO 100. Pay attention to the noise in the Gretagmacbeth patches above: it exceeds the Canon 5DS R and Sony a7R II, at least matching the Pentax 645Z, while still yielding respectable, yet not quite class-leading, performance in low light. The D810 is surpassed, though, by the 645Z at high ISOs due to the latter's larger sensor, as well as by the Sony a7R II thanks to its backside-illuminated technology. The D5, D810A, and D750 also edge out the D810 in low light performance, to varying degrees.

JPEG

JPEG colors continue to be pleasing, with warm yellows and greens that lend to great landscape and low light imagery. Compare this to the greenish yellows and bluish greens the Canon, and to a worse degree Sony, demonstrate. Canon arguably takes the lead in reds and skintones though, with skin having a magenta cast on the Nikon. JPEG sharpness is still disappointing, especially compared to Sony's recent JPEG engine, but it is better than the original D800 (which was, frankly, terrible), and it does avoid the large radius sharpening halos recent Canons, and the Nikon D5, display. High ISO JPEGs aren't bad, but lack the fine balance between noise reduction and detail retention the Sony a7R II displays. The D810 is definitely a camera that begs you to shoot in Raw.

More and More and Moiré

If you've got so far as to read an in-depth review of the Nikon D810 on dpreview.com, 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 minimize the risk of moiré patterning in images. The D810 foregoes this filter in favor of maximum resolution.

As a consequence, moiré is obvious in some images from the D810, in areas where we've come to expect it - not just in our studio scenes fine etchings, but also in the fine weave of fabrics, 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, compared to the D800, the extra resolution of the AA-less D810 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 frankly, we've rarely found moiré to be a real-world problem: increasing resolutions of sensors means it's becoming less and less of an issue.