Operation & Controls

Top of Camera

From the top, the D810 is a more-or-less conventional high-end Nikon DSLR. The only significant change compared to the D800/E is the new position of the metering mode selection control, which moves to the cluster of buttons above the drive mode dial on the left hand-side of this image. An on/off switch surrounds the shutter release and there's a 'light' setting at its extreme which by default illuminates the upper LCD screen for visibility in poor light.

It's worth noting that, like most Nikon DSLRs, the movie record button can be reassigned to control ISO during stills shooting (along with a few other options like WB and image area). This makes it far easier to adjust ISO (or turn Auto ISO on/off) with your eye to the viewfinder. Importantly, the movie record button will still initiate movie recording in movie mode, even if you assign it to control ISO.

Back of Camera

Nikon isn't in the business of making dramatic changes to the way its high-end DSLRs operate, and the D810 will be immediately familiar to anyone who has used a D800/E. The only changes of any significance are the deletion of the metering mode selection collar from the AE-L/AF-L button and the addition of the new 'i' button which activates the 'info' display view on the D810's rear LCD.

Frustratingly, the AF-ON button cannot be reassigned to anything. If you're not a back-button focus kind of person, you'll find this button useless. Some of us in the office find the AE-L/AF-L button too hard to reach during one-handed shooting, and would've preferred to assign AF Lock functionality to the AF-ON button to temporarily disengage focus during one-handed shooting. 

Left hand-side controls

Speaking of operation in poor light, it's worth noting that the D810 does not inherit the illuminated controls from the flagship D4/S and D5. This isn't a huge surprise (the D4/D5-series are cameras specifically designed for operation in ultra low light) but it's a feature that we like a lot, and wish would make its way further down into Nikon's product line.

In this view you can see the D810's lockable drive mode dial, above which sits the image quality / metering mode / ISO / WB button cluster. To the right is the optical viewfinder and that small switch at its 10 o'clock position is a blind for blanking out the finder to prevent stray light from causing problems during very long exposures. The D810's circular eyecup can be removed and replaced with optional accessories including a deep rubber cup and a magnifier.

Right hand-side controls

Here's a closer look at the right-hand controls on the top and rear of the D810. In this view you can clearly see the resculpted AE-L/AF-L and AF-ON controls, which sit on a well-defined 'shelf' just to the right of the camera's viewfinder. The metering mode selector switch which was a feature of the D800/E has been removed entirely (there's a metering mode button now on the control cluster above the shooting mode dial to the left of the flash housing).

To the right of this control point is the D810's rear command dial, which works in concert with the front dial just visible below the nub of the on/off switch above the hand grip. These two dials are the main interface for adjusting exposure settings and countless other operations including menu selections and image navigation.

The top-mounted LCD screen serves as a quick reference for key exposure and shooting settings including shooting mode, drive mode, image quality and battery life (among other parameters).

Auto ISO

The D810 inherits one of the most sophisticated Auto ISO systems on the market (although everyone else, including Canon and Sony, has caught up by now). You can set the maximum sensitivity and minimum shutter speed, with the latter having an 'Auto' setting that uses 1/focal length as the slowest shutter speed allowable before hiking up ISO to increase image brightness. This 'auto' setting can itself be biased to choose faster, or slower, shutter speed thresholds, in 1 EV increments.

The Auto ISO settings can be found in the Photo Shooting menu. Here you can select the current sensitivity and configure Auto ISO. If you head into the minimum shutter speed option you can select the rate-of-change in full-stop increments.

You can quickly adjust the ISO by pressing the fourth button down on the left side of the LCD (or another button to which you've assigned the ISO function) along with the rear dial. Using the button along with the front dial turns Auto ISO on and off. When Auto ISO is on, the rear dial in conjunction with the ISO button sets the minimum ISO.

Importantly, exposure compensation can be used with Auto ISO in Manual mode. Just hold down the exposure compensation button and turn the back dial. It eludes us as to why this simple functionality still eludes Canon DSLRs.