This week I had the chance to give the Nikon D810 a test drive on a portrait photoshoot with actor Toby Jones. Normally a Canon EOS 5DMkIII chap, it took me a few moments to get used to the Nikon’s functionality. The camera boasts some very impressive features. With a simple idea in mind, Nikon set out to challenge its previous model the D800 with the impressive specifications of the D810; with a welcome one-stop boost in ISO sensitivity; an added frame-per-second in continuous shooting modes; full HD 1080/60p video recording, up from 30p; extended battery life; a RAW SIZE S format; and other improvements to AF performance, colour balancing, and overall handling.
The overall shape and weight of the Nikon D810 is similar to its predecessor the D800, but slight updates to how some of the rear and top buttons are set within the control scheme was a bit confusing at first. The AF and AE Lock button and AF on button now protrude slightly more from the body, and the AE metering area selector has been moved to the top of the left-hand dial, as opposed to surrounding the AE/AF Lock button.
I grew to appreciate how certain controls were more accessible. Additionally, I should point out that the rear LCD monitor, which remains a 3.2” screen, has an improved resolution of 1,229,000 dots, and can now be colour-configured to your own preferences. In comparison to the D800/D800E, it’s quite a noticeable difference. The imagery appears sharper and brighter for more precise evaluation and live view monitoring.
The D810 also features a slightly deeper grip and a bit more tack to the rubberised covering, which seemed to make it somewhat easier to handle and to comfortably switch between vertical and horizontal shooting modes. This new model also felt a bit tighter; the shutter noise is a little softer, switching between settings and navigating throughout the menu was faster, image processing took less time, and things just feel better all-around.
After adapting to the slightly modified layout of the new body, I set out to photograph Toby, even without viewing my imagery on a computer, I felt that same excitement I did the first time I worked with a Canon EOS 5D MkIII. The large 36.3MP stills offer a great sense of visual depth and edge acutance that is immediately visible on the rear screen, and still holds true when finally viewing on a good computer monitor. The new OLPF-less design certainly adds to this increased sense of sharpness, but at a minute level that isn’t immediately detectable.
Colour and tonal representation, along with the ability to boast such a wide dynamic range, was also a strong point of the initial D800-series. Again, the Nikon D810 seems to supersede its predecessors in the way it handles a broad colour gamut and portraits with increased contrast. Aided by tools such as the highlight-weighted metering, the D810 is able to preserve greater detail in both the highlights and shadows. When working with this metering mode, though, I noticed that my JPEGs all appeared slightly underexposed by about 1/3 to 2/3 a stop; seemingly to ensure highlight detail is retained in the RAW files.
When the Nikon D800 dropped four years ago it instantly became known for its absurdly high-resolution sensor and excellent image quality. The ability to crop zoom or downsample and retain a high-resolution final image is still something that is unrivaled among full-frame DSLRs. The D810 doesn’t alter what has proven to be a winning formula, but enhances it with improved processing and some updated hardware. Like other recent full-frame cameras like the D610 and D5, Nikon isn’t out to fix what isn’t broken. The Nikon D810 still offers a very high-resolution sensor, but it resolves some of the worst parts of the D800’s functionality. It’s swifter, it has better high ISO image quality, and it offers a better all-around feature set to videographers who want to shoot video with a wonderful 36-megapixel sensor.