Nikon D800: Two Years

Concept: 5 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: "It has 53 teeth still in place."

The Long Version: After two years the Nikon D800/e remains the best camera on the market. It's tough, it's fast, its image quality in good light is unequalled by any camera costing less than three times as much, and it's still among the very best in low light as well. Its viewfinder is superb, the controls are well considered, and as a bonus it works with some excellent lenses and speedlights.

Other cameras solve different problems, or emphasize different priorities. Smaller, lighter, faster, tougher, cheaper: all of them are possible, and sometimes a few of them occur in combination. But anyone who thinks that newer cameras have caught up to its image quality – yes, Sony A7r, I mean you – simply isn't paying attention.

Today is my D800's second birthday. After this much time with my D700 I had its faults precisely identified: obscure bracketing and custom white balance controls, 98% viewfinder, and too low resolution. The D800 fixes all but the awkwardness of setting a custom white balance, but I actually prefer to just shoot a white reference card and then sync everything in post, which is what I do with every other camera I own as well.

Compared to the D700, Nikon has only introduced one new shortcoming with the D800: the hand grip is not as comfortable. Those who have used both will know what I mean, and for everyone else it doesn't really matter. Some day I may try building up the hand grip a bit, but I'll probably never bother. It's really a matter of hand position, and not trying to grip the camera in a fist, which is easy enough when shooting but a bit harder when the camera is held at rest. The MB-D12 helps.

The past two years of marching technology is really only apparent in the D800's LCD and Live View implementation. A contemporary cutting-edge screen would be nice, but mostly I'd like a better magnified view and manual focusing assistance modes. I'll use a Hoodman loupe to shield the LCD when I need to focus precisely outdoors, but even then it isn't always easy to see where critical focus falls. If this could be tweaked within the existing camera I'd take it, but I certainly wouldn't upgrade the camera over it, should the inevitable day come when there's one out there that thinks it can succeed the D800.

There are a lot of really good cameras out there. Nikon has several and Canon makes a few, as do Fuji and Olympus; Panasonic and the former Pentax have one each as well. The market for mirrorless cameras has changed radically since the D800 came out – the X-Pro1 is also two years old – while the SLR world hasn't really changed at all.

Maybe SLRs are dinosaurs, being undercut by the smaller and nimbler 16 megapixel squirrel-like mammals with cropped tails. But it's worth noting that mammals didn't end the dinosaur's reign – it took an asteroid. There's no telling what the future will bring, but in the mean time the D800 will continue to be one of the cameras that rules the earth.

last updated 4 dec 2010


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