Nikon D810 first impressions

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Nikon D810 first impressions by Jakob Gronkjaer (Website | Facebook | Vimeo | Twitter):

Last weekend we went out to a wedding with the Nikon D810. I work with my wife as a team shooting with two bodies each. We had always used DX bodies until now and decided our 4th body was due for an upgrade. Ultimately, my heart ruled my head and my wallet, and we decided to make the jump to the full frame, top of the line, Nikon D810.

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Nicky and Graham - 1/1000 @ f/2.8, ISO 400, Nikon D810, 105mm

All I can say is, what a revelation it was!

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1/1600 @ f/3, ISO 1000, Nikon D810, 105mm

I have used Nikon cameras for most of my digital camera life, from the Coolpix 8800, moving up through the DSLR bodies starting with the D80 up to the D7000 and ultimately the D7100 (arguably the top of the DX line at the moment – if you discount the pro DX bodies long overdue a replacement).

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Backlit against the window - 1/1250 @ f/2.8, ISO 1000, Nikon D810, 105mm

Rings - 1/200 @ f/3.2, ISO 320, Nikon D810, 105mm

Rings - 1/200 @ f/3.2, ISO 320, Nikon D810, 105mm

And a close up 100% crop for those curious;

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The Nikkor Micro 105mm 2.8 VR was attached to the D810 for all but the fairy lights shot at the end. Having opted to use the 105mm with the D810, the 18-35 Sigma stayed on my D7100.

When it comes to handling, it is like every other Nikon camera I have ever held. Nikon do have an annoying habit of making the odd few changes from one body to the next. For me personally, apart from the switch of the zoom in/out buttons I have quickly adjusted and each time, after some frustration, the revisions have generally made sense.  Overall it is a very similar physical and menu layout to the D7xxx's so there is not a lot new to learn. The camera arrived on Friday, we set up and went straight into the wedding on the Saturday. I have no qualm about changing Nikon camera bodies overnight and the D810 justified its instant call-to-arms.

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Sidelit by window light - 1/800 @ f/3.0, ISO 800, Nikon D810, 105mm

The first thing I noticed was the sound when pressing the shutter the first time - It is noticeably quieter than my DX bodies. Imagine the difference between a small hatchback and a luxury saloon car door closing. That beefy sort of clunk. It really is a lovely sound. It may not do much to help your photography, but it will make you feel good. The way I work does not need a completely silent shutter, but for shooting in the church, the quiet click is great, and using quiet mode (or quiet continuous) dampens the noise even more.

Bouquet - 1/1600 @ f/3.0, ISO 64, Nikon D810, 105mm

Bouquet - 1/1600 @ f/3.0, ISO 64, Nikon D810, 105mm

I use the U1 and U2 settings on lower end DX bodies frequently, but the D810’s custom menu banks are not as bad as some people make out. I only ever used U1 and U2 for specific purposes, and always switched out of them when I wanted to use a different set of exposure settings. The difficulty is if you switch to a menu bank with the exposure all set up as you want it, and then make a change to (pretty much any) setting before switching to another menu bank. The new settings will be saved on switching, so if you have a go-to setting, like we do for first dance shots, or if you like to pre-set an exposure and lighting setup (e.g. for quick portrait sessions with two different looks from the same camera), you have to be very careful not to play around with exposure options before switching to another menu bank. I have already renamed 3 of the 4 menu banks to suit my needs for any pre-saved settings. The 4th is the default one that I will use most of the time. Personally, whenever I use U1 or U2, I set it up for a specific look. I do not need to stray from that. If a particular exposure setting is merely a starting point, I will shoot in manual (or aperture priority), rather than using U1 and U2.

1/1000 @ f/2.8, ISO 64, Nikon D810, 105mm

1/1000 @ f/2.8, ISO 64, Nikon D810, 105mm

And here's a crop from the edge of the frame, check out the tyre texture;

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Compared to a D7100 or D7000, the D810 is a big, solid, camera, but not so big to be unwieldy. The body and grip are too big for my wife’s hands, but it fits perfectly for my average hands and comfortable over extended use. (This particular wedding was an 8am start and midnight finish). It is a heavy bugger, but I use a dual camera harness so am not holding my cameras all day, instead wearing them over the shoulders. I imagine if you had to hold the camera or if it was hung around your neck for longer than a couple of hours, it could get quite uncomfortable.

Here I had to rely on fast autofocus and got a series of 10 shots, all equally clear and in focus – you can actually make out the stitching in the shoes at 100% view - 1/320 @ f/2.8, ISO 64, Nikon D810, 105mm

Here I had to rely on fast autofocus and got a series of 10 shots, all equally clear and in focus – you can actually make out the stitching in the shoes at 100% view - 1/320 @ f/2.8, ISO 64, Nikon D810, 105mm

It does annoy me that I cannot just carry one type of memory card, as all my other bodies use SD cards. Compact flash cards does offer slightly faster speeds but if you use both card slots with one as a backup of the other, the D810 will always be restricted by the speed of the slowest card. That said, I never hit the ceiling with the D810. I would always hit it on the D7k bodies for the confetti shot, but not much else at a wedding. I am not a birds in flight or sports shooter so I cannot say whether it would be enough for you, but 5fps at full frame for just under 10 seconds seems fairly decent to me. Shooting cropped frame gives you 6fps. Add the grip and you can increase to 7fps but you have to stick with DX crop at the same time, so you cannot make the most of all the megapixels if speed is your priority.

Something most cameras struggle with is shooting against a strong backlight like this entrance shot. A touch of shadows increase and the facial expressions become visible - 1/500 @ f/3.5, ISO 3200, Nikon D810, 105mm

Something most cameras struggle with is shooting against a strong backlight like this entrance shot. A touch of shadows increase and the facial expressions become visible - 1/500 @ f/3.5, ISO 3200, Nikon D810, 105mm

Check out the text on the right, and keep in mind this is at ISO 3200;

100% crop

100% crop

My first impression of the focusing is good, better than the D7100. In low light, there was minimal hunting for focus. The D810 is probably slightly more accurate as the focusing points are proportionally targeting a smaller area of the frame than the D7100. To me, that is a good thing, as I mostly focus and recompose. The flip side of course is that the D7100 focusing points covered the majority of the frame, whereas the D810 does not go anywhere near as close to the edges of the frame. If you switch to the DX crop mode the focusing points appear to cover a slightly greater area than the D7100, practically the whole frame.

An example of the versatility of 36mp - here's a DX crop of the bride and groom - 1/250 @ f/2.8, ISO 125, Nikon D810, 105mm

An example of the versatility of 36mp - here's a DX crop of the bride and groom - 1/250 @ f/2.8, ISO 125, Nikon D810, 105mm

And a few seconds earlier, the FX shot

And a few seconds earlier, the FX shot

When it comes to editing, the long and short of it is this, I used to spend quite a few hours tweaking the RAW files from my other bodies to get to where I wanted them to be. With the D810, the RAW images are sharp and vibrant straight out of camera, with no tweaking necessary. It is stunning. A lot of people say how fantastic the JPEGs are from the Fuji's (and I agree) but frankly, I am even more impressed by the look of the D810 RAW files.

1/200 @ f/2.8, ISO 64, Nikon D810, 105mm

1/200 @ f/2.8, ISO 64, Nikon D810, 105mm

1/160 @ f/5.6, ISO 1250, Nikon D810, 105mm

1/160 @ f/5.6, ISO 1250, Nikon D810, 105mm

Take a good look: another 100% close up for your viewing pleasure:

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100% crop

Noise essentially does not exist up to ISO 800. Above that I have not looked very closely yet, apart from a few ISO 6400 images that display the level of noise I would expect to see at around ISO 1600 on a D7k body. Lightroom's built in noise reduction capabilities are more than adequate for removing noise but keeping clarity in the image. In the few ISO 6400 images I shot, there wasn't any noticeable colour shifting.

Groom's speech at high ISO - 1/80 @ f/2.8, ISO 6400, Nikon D810, 105mm

Groom's speech at high ISO - 1/80 @ f/2.8, ISO 6400, Nikon D810, 105mm

And ignoring all the shutter speed rules, whilst no prize-winner, a 100% crop reveals that you can make out the beads of sweat! Keep in mind this shot has not had any noise reduction applied to it. The fine grain is uniform and clean, removed almost entirely with a luminance reduction of around 30 in Lightroom, with good detail in the strands of hair.

100% crop

100% crop

As for the image size point – yes, they are big files but do not ignore the flexibility offered of having, in effect, two prime lens focal lengths in one (without using a zoom lens). You could easily just shoot in FX and crop afterwards. For me, I set the front fn button to change crop size, allowing me to very quickly take two differently framed shots in quick succession with one lens.

For anyone moving up from a crop sensor, it also helps having the DX crop with the field of view and framing that you are used to. A DX crop image of 16mp is about the same as the D7000 and so plenty to work with (with better DOF and low-light performance).

1/100 @ f/4.0, ISO 2000, Nikon D810, 10mm using the Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

1/100 @ f/4.0, ISO 2000, Nikon D810, 10mm using the Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6

Also, the rumors of difficulty to obtain proper sharpness handheld because of the increased resolution are not something I personally came across over the weekend. I did not stick to the supposed new 2x focal length rule, and when I load the full size images, they appear sharp. Maybe the Nikon VR is really that good, or my handholding technique is better than I give it credit, but I genuinely would not have any concerns - by way of example, shooting at 1/80sec with the 105mm (which has built in image stabilisation) I came away with acceptably sharp images (such as the shot of the groom's speech above).

With Lightroom, I render 1:1 previews on import, and had no issues of slowdown on my system. It’s a Dell XPS27 all-in-one, which uses a mobile Core i7 processor rather than the desktop CPU, so it’s not the top of the line, but clearly not the weakest system either. There was no real noticeable delay when browsing through images from the D810 compared to the other bodies, even in the Develop module.

Low light autofocusing is a breeze - here the focus point was aimed at the bride's face

Low light autofocusing is a breeze - here the focus point was aimed at the bride's face

100% crop - individual eyelashes of the groom are visible!

100% crop - individual eyelashes of the groom are visible!

If you are currently considering a D810, rent one and push it to your own limits. I do photography because I love it, and personally I like to have a camera that makes me smile when I use it as much as I can rely on it to deliver.

The D810 has made me fall back in love with the art of photography again, just by the simple fact that the images come out ‘ready’ straight from the camera, the beefy feel of the body and that fantastic shutter sound.

Keep an eye out on the blog in the very near future as we will be taking the D810 for a spin on a stroboscopic sports shoot in the coming weeks, looking forward to sharing it with you all.

Jakob's original Nikon D810 first impressions post has even more samples images and additional information. If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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