Nikon D800 DSLR - school
Brought to you by the photographers at SmugMug

Photos and review by Christina Dale, SmugMug Support Hero. Thanks to our friends at BorrowLenses.com for supplying the gear for these reviews.

What motivated you to rent the Nikon D800?

I ordered the D300 before it even hit stores back in 2007. That was seven years ago and even  frugal-minded photographers know that means it's time to go shopping for new gear, right? I had been hearing great things about the new Nikon bodies but wanted to try one out before spending a couple thousand dollars on something that may not be just right for me.

I also, on occasion, need to shoot video. I have a Canon Vixia HF200 HD video camera which does a pretty nice job but, it’s extra gear to carry and it doesn’t have that quality you see from dSLRs that have become rather popular video cameras over the past few years. So I’m on the prowl for an SLR that can do double duty: shoot gorgeous HD video as well as action photography. 

The D800 also allows simultaneous video and photo shooting.

What camera do you normally use, and what are some of the setbacks?

My go-to camera is the Nikon D300 with either the Nikkor 70-200 2.8 VR or the Nikkor 12-24 F4. The 70-200 handles the bulk of my shooting, probably around 90%. While I typically shoot outside with sunny weather at equestrian events, shows and clinics do occasionally include classes in indoor arenas, covered arenas or bad weather with low light.

The D300 does an okay job with high ISO but I heard amazing things about the high ISO performance of the D800 and I was very excited to try the video feature. I have a handheld Canon Vixia HF200 which does shoot HD video but I love the look and feel of video taken by dSLRs as well as the flexibility of switching from video to photo and vice versa as needed.

How did the D800 compare to your D300?

The D800 is slightly lighter than the D300 (1.98lb vs 2.0lb).

The LCD +/- buttons are reversed and the menu options are numerous and a bit tricky to find/drill down to but, overall, the ergonomics and functions are very similar to Nikon dSLR bodies of yore. I was comfortable going straight out to shooting.

The battery charger is much smaller than the charger for the older EN-EL3 and EN-EL3e batteries. The new EN-EL15 battery slides into the charger which features a pivoting plug for some flexibility in charging locations while not requiring a bulky cord.

The memory card cover door slides open now rather than requiring a toggle with a thumb switch. This might make a negligible difference in the ease of opening the door and may be one less thing to break but it also felt less secure, to me.

The LCD on the D800 measures a fairly massive 3.2” versus the 3.0” LCD on the D300. This may not seem like a huge upgrade but it is and if you compare it to the tiny 2.0” LCD on the pre-2008 cameras like the D50 you might wonder why we ever were happy squinting at those tiny screens.

What surprised you about the D800? Anything you didn't like?

I heard multiple big name photographers rave about the D800, so my expectations were pretty high. I was expecting high dynamic range images, large files, great continuous shooting performance and high definition video.

I guess I blocked out the fps mentions in the other reviews because that was probably the most underwhelming aspect of this body. Shooting in FX format you get 4 (yeah, f-o-u-r four) frames per second. This is insanely slow for someone who wants to take action photos. The auto focus tracking and focus release allows more fine tuning now but the focus seemed to be a bit off at times (which based on other reviews and reports is an issue that some of the D800 bodies have).

Would you rent it again? What are your overall impressions?

I would consider renting the D800 again but, I’d most likely “go big” and try the D4 or D4S instead. Both still feature HD video and offer up 10/11fps. I’m not typically a “machine gunner” meaning I don’t always need or use continuous shooting but when I do need it I want a camera that can do an amazing job. I’m not sure why Nikon decided to go to 36.3MP with the D800 but the D4 and D4s bring megapixels back down 16.2 and both have better ISO options with the D4 going up to 12,800 ISO and the D4s going up to 25,600 ISO. (Are those ISOs usable? I don’t know. Perhaps a rental will answer that question.)

I did really like the video quality but I would absolutely need to purchase an LCD viewfinder. Holding the camera out in front of me trying to take video while looking at the LCD was awkward.

I would also suggest an external mic. The built-in mic is very sensitive and picked up a lot of white noise including the aperture dial being turned, auto focus and general camera white noise, but, despite that sensitivity the built in mic is mono, not stereo. I think this camera would be best suited for landscape photography or portraits. I do not see sports in its future.

If I could improve something about this camera I would increase the frames per second.


Who's Christina?

I am a SmugMug Support Hero but, when I’m not working I’m usually outside either taking photos, traveling, riding horses, riding motorcycles or some combination thereof. I’ve been lucky enough to travel both in the US and abroad for pleasure and work. My photographic focus is equine sports photography from the local level all the way up to World Cup events. I would love to shoot at the Olympics one day!

In addition to equestrian photography I do branch out a bit to other sports including rugby, soccer and football.Travel photography is my guilty pleasure and I’m saving up to take a photography workshop in an exotic locale (think Galapagos, Africa, Australia, Iceland, Alaska, etc) with some world class photographers. I think the chance to travel and shoot with other photographers is an invaluable experience and I’ve learned something on each trip I’ve taken.

I would love to improve my post processing skills and to learn more about videography. I hope to never stop learning.

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