About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nikon's D800 released

A confession: Why I had to order the new Nikon D800.

The new Nikon D800, from the Nikon website.

 When I attended Joe McNally's light workshop in Vancouver in early January there were two buzzes at the Nikon display: One, the just release D4 and two, the holy grail for some photographers, the rumoured D800. Nikon reps would not respond to queries but the sense I got was that it was still a rumour. I told my son not to hold his breath or keep his hand over his nether regions.  He said I was wrong.  He was right.

Just when I was trying to talk myself into the purchase of Nikon’s new D4 they have announced, on February 7th, the much anticipated, much awaited, D800. It will be released Mid-March.  Okay, this is my camera. Below are some links to the full story but here are a few features that suit my interests and work, in no particular order.

First of all the D800 is a 36 megapixel camera with a full frame FX-format CMOS sensor, a sensor that equals the size of 35mm. So if you want detail for landscapes for instance, or the ability to crop verticals from horizontals, or just increased detail then here it is. This is the lightest full-frame digital camera made; the highest resolution of any 35mm DSLR, ever, and is reckoned by some to be the biggest news from Nikon since 2008.

For example: There are now many photographers wanting to shoot in High Dynamic Range or HDR. This is usually accomplished by taking three photos (or less, or more) at different exposures, say one exposed for the background sky, one for middle tones and another for shadow areas.  Then in software the three are combined for outstanding images.  Now, with the D800 you can shoot two images in the camera. The camera then instantly combines them to cover a wider dynamic range. In-camera HDR.
            There is a virtual horizon, minute white balance control and a new shutter speed control for auto ISO sensitivity control. It handles USB 3 for faster file transfers. The on-camera flash can be used in Commander mode for multiple flash setups. Auto focusing is now available up to f8, not the previous f5.6.  Why is this important? When you take an f4 lens and put on a 2x tele-converter you are at an effective f8, so no auto focus.  I just tried that a few weeks ago and had to go back to manual focus.  Now, it will auto focus down to f8.
            The ISO range is 100 to 6400, expandable to ISO 50 to 25600 equivalent. Film photographers will remember having to push develop film to get 1600 ASA – and those images broke down in grain. The D7000 is remarkable for night or low light shots, constantly amazing me with what it can see. At this range of ISO the D800 is not what some photographers wanted or expected. Many hoped this model would have the same ISO range as the D4, which extends to an amazing 204,800. Talk about shooting in the dark! But not so. If you want 200k ISO choose the D4.
            The D800 will not be the favorite of sports or action photographers. It will shoot up to 4 fps in FX mode. In DX mode it will increase to 5 fps. Add a battery pack and it is 6 fps.  The D4, however is a stunning 10 fps. The battery is the EN-EL15, same as the D7000.
            A big feature for me is the ability to shoot in multiple formats, that is FX and DX. My D7000 is a DX and many of my lenses are designed for DX, not the full frame FX. But, I can crank on a DX lens and the DX format is automatically selected on the D800.  So, photographers with a few DX lenses (which tend to be less expensive) can still use DX format. In DX resolution drops to 15.4 megapixels. And the D800, like the D7000, is backward compatible to 1977 lenses, of which I have several.
           The Picture control button provides six preset options: Vivid, Monochrome, Neutral, Standard, Landscape and Portrait for stills and video while nine customizable settings provide personalized color control. Of course you can still do most of this in post-production.
            The camera shoots time-lapse photos or video, similar to the D7000, and offers a wireless transmitter accessory. It offers two card slots; one for SD and another for CF or CompactFlash which offers more speed and capacity (important for video). The list goes on and on. 
So, one more feature that makes the new model a closer for me. As many of us know Nikon has fallen behind Canon in one area - video. Many independent video producers have come up with elaborate rigs for shooting video on Canon DSLRs. Well, that is over. The D800 will shoot broadcast quality video! Plug in your external mic, your headphones and get live-view from the HDMI port.

What does this mean for me? Well, I used to shoot several film formats: 4x5 for scenics, Hasselblad 2 1/4 for scenics and some action, then 35mm in black and white and color (so two bodies minimum) and 16mm film for my TV work. Often the choice was which to shoot first. I missed lots of good 35mm shots while I was shooting 16mm. With my setup I could crank a 35mm lens onto my 16mm with a C-mount. It gave me great film with superb Nikkor lenses and a crop ratio of 1:2, so a 300mm Nikkor gave me the equivalent of a 600mm in 16mm. But the choice, still or motion picture, was always hard.

A young grizzly boar near Atlin B.C.  Richard Wright photo
A similar example occurred a couple of years ago. For the last few years I have been using a Canon HV30 for video work. I have shot hours of video at the Theatre Royal, Barkerville for instance. A couple of years ago Amy I took a fall vacation north to Dawson City, Yukon Territories. For a couple of days we traveled down to Atlin, B.C. where I spent several weeks some 35 years ago to shoot a CBC documentary. On the way we stumbled on a remarkably cooperative young grizzly. For an hour I took several still frames and close to 30 minutes of video as he wandered around and dug roots. Again, the choice of formats was difficult. And, the resulting video while HD, was not broadcast quality. I remarked to Amy that had this been years ago and had I been shooting 16mm, that footage would have brought me a minimum of several thousand dollars. With the D800 I could be shooting stills and with the flick of lever and push of a button be video recording in high rez broadcast quality. The D800 will shoot in several formats and will take 29 min of video at normal resolution. How times have changed.

There are of course, many other features. These are just a few of those that affect me. I always try to think of a new lens or camera in terms of what it will do for me that I cannot do with the equipment I have. If it won’t effect my final images or workflow then I don’t need it. This model will allow me to shoot images I cannot capture now, and in higher resolution. It also opens up video/film shooting to me once again. I can offer clients greater options, and shoot photos closer to what I imagine or envision, and that is the ultimate goal.
Finally there is another dealmaker. The D4 retails at $6300 Cdn. The D800 retails at $3149. Is it the D4? Nope. But having it will not stop me buying a D4 if I need it or can afford it in the future.
There is one negative issue of course: How to get your hands on one. Remember it is not being released until mid March, so they are not on store shelves, and likely will not be for several months. I called a Vancouver B.C. camera store which I favor and they already have 16 preorders, which they do not expect to be filled until the end of March.

I am number 17. Be still my heart.

Watch the web for reviews and example photos but here are some links to get started if you are interested or in the market.

Nikon Canada

Nikon United States

Nikon D800 brochure

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