Africa 2012 Live Diary: DAY 6 D800 thoughts


DAY 6, D800 thoughts

Well here we are once again. Jen is sadly now back in the UK and the camp is not the same without her. One of my least favourite parts of the job is missing family and friends and it was much harder this time as Jen joined me for this first part of the trip, it was amazing having her out on the plains with me. Very sad to see her go 🙁

I took today off from drives to recover from the early starts and late night blogging! I am now stretched out in my new tent well fed from dinner browsing the last weeks images and contemplating my thoughts on the D800 for you. r&r is often overlooked and I need to be fresh and ready for when my guests come into camp on Saturday!

I will be writing a full, more traditional review of the camera when I get back, but here are some general musings on this great piece of kit..

Firstly, do I like it? Yes! A quick disclaimer, Nikon kindly allowed me to borrow a D800 for the first part of my African trip, it is now winging it’s way back to them and if I want one I need to buy one, no freebies (unfortunately!). The first think I noted about this camera is that it feels nice in the hand. Well balanced, relatively light for a camera of its type yet sturdy. I normally wield the larger pro bodies with the additional grips and to be honest prefer those. My loaner did not have the grip and out on the plains in the vehicles I did miss the natural portrait usage the grip affords. For any serious use I highly recommend also getting the grip wich makes wrangling the camera much easier and allows you to use more batteries as well for longer life between swapping them out.

Where does it fit into my gear?

As most of you know that are also interested in gear, I use the Nikon D3 as my primary camera, in fact I have two of them. I have not seen the need to upgrade to the D3s and now highly priced D4 for the moment as the D3 is serving all my needs as well as those of my clients perfectly and the money is better put to other uses for now. A D4 may be on the horizon later this year if a few projects come to fruition that require its talents (namely super speed and huge buffer afforded by the XQD cards). Well the D800 is a totally different beast to the D4 that the D700 was to the D3.

The D700 shared the same great sensor of the D3, but in a smaller, slower package. Many users don’t need the lighting fast frame count and buffer of the sports cameras and the D700 offered a cheaper, smaller package that yielded the same results. The D800 has moved this range of cameras into a more suitable direction in my opinion. Super hi-res. Sports pros and wildlife shooters keen on action will be wanting to invest in a D4. This brings me to the D800’s weakness, albeit an expected one; speed. Compared to using the D3 it simply feels sluggish, however speed is not this cameras target. It is pushing huge amounts of data through its pipeline and to be honest you wouldn’t want to be saving 9, 33 megabyte raw files a second. It simply would cause too much of a bottleneck for my (and I suspect many other’s) workflow.

Where it does shine is, well… everywhere else mostly. The detail is simply breathtaking. To have medium format resolution in a small portable package that shares the D4’s autofocus and many other traits is amazing. The resulting files are a whopping 7360×4912. This gives immense options for cropping both as when a necessity and creatively. Cropping into the raws is a somewhat weakness of the D3 although it does interpolate up well. Check out the image below for an example..


A full frame image from the D800, 200-400 at 400mm, f7.1, 1/800 at ISO 500

MM30659 CROP

DETAIL!!! The 1:1 crop, you can see the veins in the fly’s wings for goodness sake!!


There are a few things to be aware of, from my D3 perspective the movement of the ISO button proved problematic and was out of site when you are crouched facing the back of camera. Also in my 1 weeks use I noted the AF-ON button, unlike the D3 activates the lenses VR system. I use the AF-on technique to focus, separating the shutter button from activating it as this gives you greater and quicker control for focusing and changing composition. Also I am able to track a subject and only activate the VR just before I take the shot which saves battery. I had no manual supplied with the camera and gave up attempting to see if it was an option I could change after 10 mins of menu hunting. Hopefully you can or if not a firmware update can be made. I will quiz Rob at Nikon on this later!

Also I am seeming to notice that the D800 simply resolves so much detail that you notice a much larger difference in quality when using tele converters (compared to using it on the D3), even the 1.4x which works great on my D3, 200-400 combo. The images are still good and especially if you were to down-sample slightly you would still have a very (Very!) saleable image so it is not a huge worry. But I will not be using any tele converters on the D800 in the future unless absolutely necessary as you have enough pixels to crop in anyway. I will upload some examples of this in the full review.

High ISO performance

The high ISO performance seemed up to my usage, initial impressions are that there is some noise creeping in at 800 if you really boost the shadows but not much and it does have a natural look. I will update the blog with more details on this in a few days once I have had a really good play with some of the high iso shots I took. I also took some comparison shots with the D3 to see what the difference was and will be talking in more detail on all this later.

Many thanks to you all, please let me know if you are liking the images and what you would like to see or read about in future updates. Also for those of you that have asked about the big cat safaris, you can see details here at this link or in the PDF brochure

Stay tuned, this is only just the beginning!! I am up at 05:30 tomorrow so time for bed!!!


Stay tuned via the RSS feedFacebook and Twitter! Lots more to come.

Comments 2

  1. Thank you for doing these blog entries. In the short time I have been reading them (from about the day before your current safari started) they have become a real highlight of my day.

    As a once former light aircraft pilot in Kenya I had many opportunities to spend time in the Mara and I thought I had seen the best of its denizens. But your outstanding photographs have opened a window into its animal life I have never seen before.

    And oh yes. While not a gear head I find myself wondering very seriously about moving toward a D800. Those detail shots are amazing.

    All the best

    Rick Grant

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