The Nikon D800 is available now for a body-only price of $2999.95. We tested the camera with the Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 lens.

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Box Photo

The Nikon D800 comes body-only for an MSRP of $2999.95, with just the body and the following accessories:

• AN-DC6 strap

• EN-EL15 rechargeable Li-ion battery

• MH-25 battery charger

• UC-E14 USB cable

• BM-12 LCD monitor cover

• BF-1B body cap

• BS-1 accessory shoe cap

• DK-17 viewfinder eyepiece

• NikonView NX2 CD ROM

The lens we tested the Nikon D800 with was the Nikkor AF-S 24-120mm f/4 lens. This lens provides a solid zoom range and relatively large aperture throughout the focal range. It also matches up closely with the 24-105mm f/4 Canon lens we used in testing the Canon 5D Mark III, allowing us as close a comparison as possible throughout the testing process.

The lens itself is somewhat heavy, but compact enough to fit into a small bag without sacrificing ergonomics. It has a AF/MF and vibration reduction switches on the lens, large zoom ring, and a smaller focal ring next to the body for manual focus. When autofocusing the front element does not rotate, allowing you to set up filters prior to focusing on your subject. The lens barrel extends outward when at the extreme telephoto focal end, remaining fully compact at the wide angle.

The Nikon D800 uses Nikon's standard F-mount, which they've used practically continuously since 1959. The D800 can function almost perfectly with lenses back to 1977, including manual focus lenses. The camera also includes an autofocus drive motor, allowing it full autofocus compatibility with all current AF Nikkor lenses. One of the biggest advantages of the camera's high-resolution image sensor is using DX crop with either DX or FX lenses to narrow your field of view while still producing a 15-megapixel shot. This gives you greater flexibility, while still producing shots with enough resolution for editing, cropping, and printing.

Lens Mount Photo

Classic Pentax lenses can be mounted with readily available adapters.

Megapixels are always a bit of a sore subject when it comes to digital cameras these days, but that's generally overlooking the utility of having an extensive amount of resolution per shot. While it's true that all a photographer needs to make a very large print is between six and eight megapixels of information, having much more is a great advantage in tough circumstances.

For the Nikon D800 and its ridiculous 36.3-megapixel sensor, that resolution has two great benefits. First, it allows users to shoot in DX crop mode and still produce a 15.36-megapixel (4800x3200) image. Second, all that extra resolution allows you significant editing leeway, especially with sharpening and noise reduction, while still downsampling to an image that will look great on the web or in medium-sized prints. This allows you to shoot in less than ideal conditions and still produce an image that you can work with, even as high as ISO 6400.

The viewfinder on the D800 is excellent, with 100% frame coverage of image. The viewfinder is bright and clear, with a focus screen that lights up red when a focus point is being used. The focus screen on the D800 uses boxes around each focus point, rather than tiny individual points. This lets you see what you're actually focusing on, confirming that the phase detection autofocus was accurate.

The D800 uses a 3.2-inch, 921k-dot rear display, protected by a plastic scratch guard. The display is large and fairly high contrast, though we found that it had some issues in bright sunlight (as we've seen on most camera displays). The D800 can use the rear monitor for an informational readout letting you make quick adjustments to settings, or as a live view monitor. The live view functionality has plenty of utility, as the screen has a listed viewing angle of up to 170 degrees. We found it worked very well from extreme angles both horizontally and vertically. It isn't as easy as an articulated LCD for tough shot angles, but it's still quite good and will be helpful for videographers and photographers without an external monitor handy.

The Nikon D800's built-in flash pops up from above the pentaprism housing. It has just a small plastic mechanical release that allows the flash to pop up. It seems like a durability concern, however, as the flash popped open accidentally on more than one occasion while transporting the D800 around in a standard shoulder photo bag.

The flash itself has a guide number rating of 39 feet at ISO 100, with the ability to fire flash bracketing of two to nine frames in 1/3-, 1/2-, 2/3-, and whole-stop increments. The flash isn't terribly harsh, but it also isn't terribly powerful. If you're doing professional work we'd recommend going with an external flashgun, but the built-in one is at least there if you need it in a pinch.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

The Nikon D800 includes only some of the advanced connectivity features of the Nikon D4, which we tested earlier this year. The D800 also gets the SuperSpeed USB cable, but it lacks the Ethernet connectivity of the higher-end full-frame models. The camera also has built-in microphone and headphone jacks in addition to a standard mini-HDMI port.

The D800 uses the Lithium-ion Nikon EN-EL15 battery pack, which is removable and rechargeable. It has a capacity of 1900mAh, good for 900 shots by CIPA standards. Unless you use the built-in flash very frequently you can expect far greater battery life out of the camera, as CIPA standards call for utilizing the flash more often than most people typically would. We used the D800 to photograph cameras all through Photokina in Germany and only had to charge the battery once for a few hours. All told it captured somewhere in the realm of 1500 shots through the week before we had to plug it in, though your mileage will vary, of course.

Battery Photo

The D800 uses dual card slots, which can be found on the right side of the body. The compartments are revealed by sliding back a plastic door built into the grip, where you'll find a single SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot and a single CompactFlash slot.

The dual card slots are put to work on the D800, with several options controlling what types of files go to which card. The menu allows you to designate the primary slot (either CF or SD) and then designate the secondary slot's function. The secondary slot can be used as overflow if you fill your primary card, as a backup (mirroring what the primary captures), or as a JPEG repository, saving the uncompressed RAW files to the primary card.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

Like most professional-level digital SLRs, the NIkon D800 is capable of surviving life in some fairly moist and dusty environments. The camera is weather-sealed to survive field-work, with a magnesium alloy shell to provide durability when using the camera out in the wild. The insides are also fairly durable, with a shutter tested to "well over" 200,000 cycles, according to Nikon. If cared for properly, the Nikon D800 should last anyone quite some time, even when put through the abuse of a professional workload.

The D800 came through our image quality tests with flying colors. The camera's high resolution sensor excelled in the sharpness test, with Nikon also enhancing edges with their default JPEG processing settings. The D800 lagged behind the top Canon bodies for color accuracy, but not by a wide margin. We also found that the camera produced excellent results in our high ISO and dynamic range tests. The D800's 36.3-megapixel, full-frame sensor isn't quite as solid at high ISOs as the Nikon D4, Canon 1D X, or Canon 5D Mark III, but it outpaces all three at the minimum ISO speeds due to its resolution.

We found that the Nikon D800 with the Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 lens was able to produce sharp results across much of the frame and through the focal range. The lens only really had issues at the the narrowest apertures, where sharpness began to falloff mostly in the corners. We found the lens really excelled at the medium apertures, especially around f/9. We did notice that the camera does apply a little bit of extra edge enhancement when shooting JPEGs, even in the neutral color mode. In our real world shots we did notice a little softness at f/4, as well, but the high resolution of the D800's image sensor allowed us to bring much of that detail out with a simple unsharpness mask. More on how we test sharpness.

As with other Nikon cameras, the D800 comes with a number of preset and custom color modes called picture controls. We've tested each and, as is typical, we found the neutral picture control to be the most accurate. Capturing a 24-patch Xrite ColorChecker, we found the D800 produced a color error of just 2.57, with a practically perfect level of saturation at 99.92% of the ideal. It isn't the most accurate color result we've ever seen, but it's well above the threshold of acceptable performance. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The Nikon D800 produced a color error quite similar to the NIkon D4, but somewhat behind the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 1D X. The Canon 1D X had some of the best color accuracy that we've tested to date, but its best delta-C was just 1.72 compared to the D800's 2.57. While the difference is noticeable when you're comparing test shots, a delta-C of 1 between cameras roughly corresponds to a "just noticeable difference" (JND) that you'd detect consistently. Either way you slice it, the full-frame options from Canon and Nikon all performed admirably, with very good to exceptional color accuracy.

The Nikon D800 has six color modes pre-programmed into the menu: standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, landscape, and a number of custom modes that can be set by the user. Each color mode can be adjusted in several ways, with options for increasing or decreasing sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue. The color modes can be accessed through the main menu or by pressing the dedicated button on the back of the camera (otherwise doubling as the "protect" button).

The Nikon D800 offers a full measure of custom and auto white balance control, including several presets, direct kelvin temperature entry, and user-savable adjustments on a standard amber/blue and green/magenta scale.

Automatic White Balance ()

We found the automatic white balance to be fairly typical, with strong performance under daylight conditions, but significant issues under the warmth of tungsten lighting. The temperature error was roughly 2700 kelvin under tungsten conditions, and just 200 kelvin under daylight temperatures.

We also found curiously poor performance under compact white fluorescent lighting, which was off by more than 1800 kelvin. This error produced the "green tint" issue that has been a frequent complaint by some D800 users. While the green tint issue has been mostly discussed as a problem with the LCD, we found it was consistently reproducible under compact white fluorescent conditions, and wasn't an issue with custom white balance.

Custom White Balance ()

The custom white balance was much more successful with the Nikon D800, with tungsten, fluorescent, and daylight conditions all showing temperature errors of less than 150 kelvin. This was the easiest fix when the "green" tint issue showed up, and it's likely a problem that is isolated to the automatic white balance system in the camera. Taking the time to capture a custom white balance or simply shooting in RAW and adjusting it later should fix the problem.

The Nikon D800 produced mostly typical results with its custom white balance, while its automatic white balance mode struggled under compact white fluorescent conditions. It also struggled under tungsten lighting, but just about every camera we test has issues there, as the warm lights produced by tungsten bulbs generally go beyond what an automatic white balance range is designed to accommodate. The tungsten lighting preset usually works just fine in these conditions if you don't want to produce a warm final shot.

Capturing a white balance on the D800 is the same as it is on the Nikon D4, though it's more complex than most other DSLRs (save for Canon DSLRs). The D800 can capture up to four custom white balances at a time, which can be saved for later use.

A custom white balance is captured by setting the camera to "preset manual" and choosing one of the four white balance settings. By holding down the white balance button on the top plate of the camera, you can then take a shot and the camera will use the information in the frame to produce a custom white balance reading. This is easy once you get used to it, but it doesn't provide a way to focus on a smaller portion of the frame—important if you're using a smaller white balance card that won't cover the entirety of your shot.

The Nikon D800's high ISO performance was quite good, with perfectly usable photos up to ISO 3200 for large prints and ISO 6400 for the web. Shooting at Photokina 2012 we shot some of the darker booths handheld with the D800 and even when the auto ISO kicked up to ISO 6400, the shots came back perfectly usable without noise reduction applied.

The camera's built-in noise reduction system also does well here, as each setting of reduction (low, normal, and high) allows you to use an extra ISO step if need be. We found that noise was kept under 2% (our rough threshhold for acceptable quality) all the way to ISO 3200 with no noise reduction, ISO 6400 on low, ISO 12800 on normal, and ISO 25600 on high. There's a level of detail loss associated with each step up, however, so it's still a trade-off. More on how we test noise.

Detail loss was not very significant on the D800 with noise reduction turned off or to the low setting. We did notice that it began to impact detail at the maximum ISO speeds (12800 and 25600, seen in the camera as HI-1 and HI-2) at the "normal" noise reduction setting, however. With noise reduction increased to its maximum setting detail loss was greater, and it began to extend down to ISO 3200 and 6400 as well, but was negligible at the minimum ISO speeds.

The D800 places ISO control right at your fingertips, with a dedicated ISO button beside the optical viewfinder. If you press this button and rotate the control dial, you can move up and down the ISO scale quickly and easily without going into the menu. If you do pay a visit to the menu, you can turn on the automatic ISO and set the upper limit for sensitivity or the lower limit for shutter speed, ensuring you get a sufficiently fast exposure.

The D800's massive 36.3-megapixel image sensor provides it with the ability to capture tones across a very wide range without letting the appearance of noise poison away detail. The D800's biggest advantage for dynamic range came at the low end of the ISO spectrum, where it gains nearly all the advantages of its high-resolution sensor while the disadvantages of smaller photosites don't yet become an issue.

At ISO 100 we found that the D800 was capable of reaching 8.5 stops of dynamic range above an RMS noise threshold of 0.1 (most other review sites put an RMS noise threshold at 1, which is a much lower benchmark for quality). That performance held strong until ISO 400, where it fell to 6.91 stops, which is still quite good. From there performance fell off more dramatically, with just 3.09 stops available at ISO 6400. More on how we test dynamic range.

Putting these numbers into context, we put the D800 up against the Canon 1D X, Nikon D4, and Canon 5D Mark III—its chief full-frame competition in the market for 2012 among the cameras we have tested to date. Putting the D800 up against these bodies, it's clear that its advantage is at the lower ISOs, while its performance falls off slightly at the higher ISOs. The other three cameras also all offer higher sensitivities, capable of reaching ISO 204,800. While we found that ISO speeds above 51200 were not really feasible for printed photography in those cameras, they do provide an advantage for those looking to do extremely low light or surveillance work.

The D800's high resolution sensor provides it a great deal of advantage in most of our bright light testing. However the camera can only offer a maximum ISO of 25600. For most photographers this is not a problem, but the competing full-frame options from Canon as well as Nikon's own D4 do provide a little more flexibility in low light when a faster shutter speed is more important. Still, we found that we were perfectly satisfied with shots up to ISO 3200 for printed work, while even shots as high as ISO 6400 were usable for web or small prints.

The other advantage for the D800 is the characteristics of its noise. As it is such a high resolution camera, the relatively large spatial frequency results in noise that is typically less apparent than it might otherwise be on a camera with a lower megapixel count. We found that while noise was beginning to be apparent as ISO 6400, chroma noise was kept to a minimum. While the increased noise significantly decreased each shot's latitude for editing (especially levels adjustment), the more "filmic" luminance noise wasn't as ugly as we've seen on other cameras.

The Nikon D800's high ISO performance was quite good, with perfectly usable photos up to ISO 3200 for large prints and ISO 6400 for the web. Shooting at Photokina 2012 we shot some of the darker booths handheld with the D800 and even when the auto ISO kicked up to ISO 6400, the shots came back perfectly usable without noise reduction applied.

The camera's built-in noise reduction system also does well here, as each setting of reduction (low, normal, and high) allows you to use an extra ISO step if need be. We found that noise was kept under 2% (our rough threshhold for acceptable quality) all the way to ISO 3200 with no noise reduction, ISO 6400 on low, ISO 12800 on normal, and ISO 25600 on high. There's a level of detail loss associated with each step up, however, so it's still a trade-off. More on how we test noise.

The D800 places ISO control right at your fingertips, with a dedicated ISO button beside the optical viewfinder. If you press this button and rotate the control dial, you can move up and down the ISO scale quickly and easily without going into the menu. If you do pay a visit to the menu, you can turn on the automatic ISO and set the upper limit for sensitivity or the lower limit for shutter speed, ensuring you get a sufficiently fast exposure.

We found the D800's 51-point autofocus system to generally be quite good, both in our testing and in our time using the camera in a variety of real-world conditions. The D800's main issue at large seems to be focus accuracy on the left side, though supposedly there is a fix available if your body is affected by it. You can see an example of this problem using a Lens Align Mk. II to analyze the D800's problem here.

We also use a Lens Align Mk. II for our focus test, but we utilize the center focus point to judge focus efficacy in low light. The D800 did quite well in our test, as the center point is much more sensitive than many of the surrounding points. Even in dim 10 lux light in the labs we found the D800 was able to lock on to subjects with that center point with a degree of accuracy. It won't give you much flexibility with moving subjects, but given the camera's lack of shot-to-shot speed we don't suggest using it for those purposes.

The D800 was able to produce a video image with a brightness of 50 IRE using a target illuminated by just 4 lux of light. This puts it among the most sensitive cameras we've tested, though the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D4, and Canon 1D X all beat it by a fairly wide margin due to their superior ISO ranges. We should note that this was using the D800 with auto ISO engaged, so it didn't take advantage of the two higher ISO speeds equivalent to 12800 and 25600. Those speeds produce a large amount of gain, but if you need to capture video in less than 4 lux of light, they're available.

Chromatic aberration was generally quite minimal on the D800 when paired with the Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 lens. It showed up in the typical places—wide open and narrow apertures and at the extreme ends of the focal length range. Even then we didn't detect much lateral color fringing, except at 100% magnification in high contrast scenes.

Distortion was a heavier than usual problem with the 24-120mm f/4 lens that we tested the Nikon D800 with. The lens showed a heavy barrel distortion of 3.62% at the wide angle end of 24mm. In these longer zoom lenses that usually quickly settles into a minor pincushion distortion for disappearing all but completely. On the 24-120 it produced a significant pincushion distortion through the middle (2.9%) and telephoto (2.55%) ends of the focal range. This was with distortion control turned off, so your normal shots should be unaffected if you use the in-camera correction, but there are probably better lenses for architecture photography.

The Nikon D800's full-frame image sensor produced great motion results in our test videos, but the camera's high resolution caused issues with rolling shutter, especially if the camera was moved in any way. In our still life motion rig, there's very little ghosting or trailing, however, and signal interference is practically nil. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

The Nikon D800's motion video stands up well against the competition, including the Canon 5D Mark III. The D800 videos came out sharper, though the higher bitrate of the ALL-I codec tended to result in more pleasing gradation in the videos from both recent Canon full-frame cameras.

The Nikon D800 produced exceptional results in our sharpness test, as we've seen in many test videos shot with the camera here and elsewhere. However, even with the D800's anti-alias filter intact (the D800E version has an optically cancelled low pass filter), moire was still significant in our sharpness footage. It was much better than we saw with the previous generation of DSLRs like the Canon 5D Mark II, but it lagged behind the updated 5D Mark III.

Still, the D800 produced a sharper image overall, with nearly 800 line pairs/picture height visible in our sharpness footage. In bright light we consistently saw 750 LW/PH of sharpness horizontally and vertically, with moire creeping into the shot at higher frequencies. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

In low light we found that the D800's sharpness began to suffer, with horizontal sharpness falling down to 675 LW/PH, though vertical sharpness stayed strong at around 750 LW/PH. The biggest reason for the sharpness falloff was simply noise, as the auto ISO rose to ISO 6400 at the lower light level, encroaching on the video's sharpness.

The D800 was able to produce a video image with a brightness of 50 IRE using a target illuminated by just 4 lux of light. This puts it among the most sensitive cameras we've tested, though the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D4, and Canon 1D X all beat it by a fairly wide margin due to their superior ISO ranges. We should note that this was using the D800 with auto ISO engaged, so it didn't take advantage of the two higher ISO speeds equivalent to 12800 and 25600. Those speeds produce a large amount of gain, but if you need to capture video in less than 4 lux of light, they're available.

The Nikon D800 offers a level of control on par with what we've seen in other professional full-frame bodies that we've reviewed this year. The D800 includes direct access for all the major shooting functions—white balance, ISO, focus, metering, image quality, size, etc.—right on the body itself. In addition, there are 54 customizable functions that you can assign through the menu, including the function of the shutter button and command dials. If you're looking to do something different, the D800 also includes interval shooting and in-camera timelapse functionality.

The Nikon D800 offers its host of automatic features as well. It's hardly a Leica when it comes to automation, offering a program automatic mode that, for the most part, will make the hard decisions for you. The camera employs a 91,000 pixel RGB metering system that uses a built-in database of images to try and figure out what proper exposure is based on the brightness and color of the scene. You can tell the system to meter the entire frame, the center, or a specific spot, with a dedicated metering mode switch right on the back by the viewfinder. All these features mean you can turn the D800 into a glorified point-and-shoot, if you so desire.

The controls on the D800 are all quite easy to use, with most offering a fair amount of resistance so you know when you've activated a feature or hit a button. The D800 is mostly designed around the idea of making your settings adjustments and then shooting uninhibited, rather than constantly fiddling with settings while you're framing your shot. As such, most of the settings on the camera require a second hand to adjust, including white balance, ISO, picture quality/size, and drive mode.

This isn't at all a bad thing, and anyone who has been using Nikon cameras will feel right at home with the D800. The camera features dual control dials, with one on the front of the grip and a second on the back near the thumb rest. The camera also includes a four-way directional pad for making finer adjustments in the menu. This is occasionally useful, though we found it was much easier to use the control dials themselves to navigate the menu, a feature found in the camera's custom menu.

What can we say about the Nikon menu that hasn't already been said about the RMV? Long lines, pointless waiting, and a lack of proper organization generally describes the Nikon menu system relative to the competition. In truth it isn't all bad, and you can relatively quickly learn where most of the major functions are—or bypass them altogether with the on-body controls.

Still, the top-down organization hasn't changed in more than a decade, as it's still organized in practically the same way as Nikon's D1x and D1h models. The menu is comprised of several broad sections organized on the left side of the screen. Within each broad section is a long list of options. While you can use the command dials to more quickly scroll through these lists, this still means you have to go hunting through the entire list to find what you need. Even simple things like changing the self-timer delay requires scrolling through a long list of options, until you find it in the custom timers menu.

It's been eleven years now with the same menu system. What was light years better than the original D1 has barely changed since. Nearly every other major manufacturer features some sort of tabbed menu system where a command dial can move between pages easily. Your phone has tabbed browsing. It's time to move on, Nikon.

The manual for the Nikon D800 is incredibly extensive, easily topping 500 pages of explanation on the D800 and D800E bodies. The text is nice and legible and spaced out well, which adds length but makes things easier to read. In general the manual doesn't explain everything in great depth, but with the long list of features in the camera, that's necessary to keep it from swelling any larger.

The Nikon D800 is a well-built camera that feels solid, even when shooting at tough angles. The camera's grip isn't particularly plush, but it has a very tacky rubber coating that makes the camera easy to hold on to with just a single hand. The grip is curved in the front, with an indentation offering a ridge for your middle finger to press up against. On the back of the camera, a large swath of rubber is reserved for the thumb, extending down so that your palm can wrap around the entire grip, securing the camera.

Handling Photo 1

The D800 isn't the lightest camera in the block, especially with the lighter, smaller D600 soon to be released to the public. Still, it's roughly 4oz lighter than the D700 while improving control and accommodating the additional controls for live view and video. The camera features dual control dials, with one placed just in front of the shutter release and another right where the thumb rests. This gives you almost complete control of exposure in manual shooting mode without having to change the positioning of your grip hand.

Handling Photo 2

The control placement of the D800 doesn't afford the user complete one-handed control, but the metering switch and autofocus activation buttons are all present right by the rear control dial. The autofocus mode switch and selector are placed on the front of the camera, right where your supporting hand would normally sit. This lets you adjust metering an focus while in a normal shooting position. It means that white balance, bracketing, image quality, ISO, and drive mode are all out of reach, but it does at least provide some measure of control while shooting.

One area where we'd like to see some improvement in these full-frame bodies is in video control. The camera's layout is still very much geared toward still photographers, and Canon and Nikon don't seem to be willing to make great strides toward designing cameras with strict video usage in mind. Those looking for a full-frame DSLR for video production may want to check out the Sony A99, which includes video-centric features like an electronic viewfinder, silent jog dial, and articulating rear LCD. On the D800, video control seems an afterthought.

Handling Photo 3

The controls on the D800 are all quite easy to use, with most offering a fair amount of resistance so you know when you've activated a feature or hit a button. The D800 is mostly designed around the idea of making your settings adjustments and then shooting uninhibited, rather than constantly fiddling with settings while you're framing your shot. As such, most of the settings on the camera require a second hand to adjust, including white balance, ISO, picture quality/size, and drive mode.

This isn't at all a bad thing, and anyone who has been using Nikon cameras will feel right at home with the D800. The camera features dual control dials, with one on the front of the grip and a second on the back near the thumb rest. The camera also includes a four-way directional pad for making finer adjustments in the menu. This is occasionally useful, though we found it was much easier to use the control dials themselves to navigate the menu, a feature found in the camera's custom menu.

Buttons Photo 1
Buttons Photo 2

The D800 uses a 3.2-inch, 921k-dot rear display, protected by a plastic scratch guard. The display is large and fairly high contrast, though we found that it had some issues in bright sunlight (as we've seen on most camera displays). The D800 can use the rear monitor for an informational readout letting you make quick adjustments to settings, or as a live view monitor. The live view functionality has plenty of utility, as the screen has a listed viewing angle of up to 170 degrees. We found it worked very well from extreme angles both horizontally and vertically. It isn't as easy as an articulated LCD for tough shot angles, but it's still quite good and will be helpful for videographers and photographers without an external monitor handy.

The viewfinder on the D800 is excellent, with 100% frame coverage of image. The viewfinder is bright and clear, with a focus screen that lights up red when a focus point is being used. The focus screen on the D800 uses boxes around each focus point, rather than tiny individual points. This lets you see what you're actually focusing on, confirming that the phase detection autofocus was accurate.

Nikon has provided D800 users with just the usual four PASM shooting modes, letting you go full-manual, shoot with an automatic program, or set aperture or shutter speed manually. The modes are adjusted by pressing the "MODE" key on the top plate and adjusting the rear control dial. There is no dedicated "bulb" shooting mode, meaning you'll have to place the camera into manual or shutter-priority mode and scroll past the 30-second mark to get to it.

If you want to take direct control of the camera's exposure yourself, that's also an option. The D800 can shoot at shutter speeds ranging from 30 seconds down to 1/8000th of a second, with a bulb and 1/250 X-sync mode also available. The camera also offers aperture control, but that is dependent upon the lens you're shooting with.

The camera also offers the user control over a multitude of other settings. A cluster of control is present on the left side of the viewfinder on the top plate of the camera. This cluster includes four buttons which can be used with the control dials to adjust settings for white balance, ISO, bracketing, and image quality/size.

We found the D800's 51-point autofocus system to generally be quite good, both in our testing and in our time using the camera in a variety of real-world conditions. The D800's main issue at large seems to be focus accuracy on the left side, though supposedly there is a fix available if your body is affected by it. You can see an example of this problem using a Lens Align Mk. II to analyze the D800's problem here.

We also use a Lens Align Mk. II for our focus test, but we utilize the center focus point to judge focus efficacy in low light. The D800 did quite well in our test, as the center point is much more sensitive than many of the surrounding points. Even in dim 10 lux light in the labs we found the D800 was able to lock on to subjects with that center point with a degree of accuracy. It won't give you much flexibility with moving subjects, but given the camera's lack of shot-to-shot speed we don't suggest using it for those purposes.

The Nikon D800's massive resolution is a real benefit for almost every kind of shooting you're going to do, but the image files it produces are very large as a result. You can reduce the resolution if you need, with options for large, medium, and small images. You can also select the file type, letting you shoot in RAW, JPEG, TIFF, or RAW+JPEG.

One thing worth noting is that all that resolution can also fill up memory cards very quickly. The large JPEG files came in between 10-17MB per shot, while the RAW shots could be as high as 50MB in a single shot. That will fill up even an 8GB card very quickly, so you may want to keep extra cards handy if shooting at a reduced resolution simply isn't an option.

The Nikon D800 also includes several advanced controls for taking some shots in-camera that would normally require extra processing with a computer. These usually allow you to go beyond the bounds of what the camera's normal modes are capable of. They're not difficult effects to pull off, but some of them are quite time consuming.

In-Camera High Dynamic Range

The D800 includes a built-in high dynamic range mode which will capture several shots in a row at different exposures and either save them as a series of photos or combine them into a single image. The shots can be captured at an exposure difference of up to 3 EV, with "smoothing" turned to one of three levels.

The effect is nice and quick if you're not looking to do much post-processing, but it should be noted that the D800 also includes extensive exposure bracketing functionality as well. The "BKT" button on the top plate of the camera can be used to quickly and easily set up a bracket of up to nine frames, with an exposure value difference as large as one whole stop, giving you nine shots that you can then edit into a singe HDR shot on a computer.

Interval and Timelapse Shooting

The Nikon D800 includes all sorts of wonderful features for users who are looking to take extended exposure shots, timelapses, and intervals over a long period of time. The D800 includes an interval timer built into the camera which will simply tell the camera to take a certain number of frames at a set interval for a set period of time. Intervals can be as long as 24 hours, with up to nine shots taken at a time. The interval can be repeated up to 999 times. This is a feature that requires an external intervalometer on most cameras, save for Pentax bodies.

The timelapse functionality is a little different, as it will capture a series of photos, but it will combine them all into a single 1080p video file of your timelapse. This is infinitely faster than loading hundreds of large JPEG files into a video editor and assembling a video. The timelapse mode will automatically assume all the video settings that are set in the "movie settings" menu, letting you set a specific interval and length for your video. The camera will capture a single shot per interval, with intervals as long as 10 minutes each. You can have the camera capture an automatic timelapse this way with a maximum length of 7 hours and 59 minutes. Once the timelapse is captured all the shots that were taken are discarded, however, so you won't be able to make your own timelapse later, unfortunately.

Multi-exposure

The D800 also allows you to capture multiple shots and even layer them into a single exposure. You can capture up to 10 shots in this way, either as a single photo or as series of shots. You can activate automatic gain for this as well, which will adjust to compensate for layering multiple photographs together. While you can use this to create some rather wild shots, its best use is for still life and studio photography, where having multiple exposures worth of RAW data can be used to more accurately interpolate the color for a scene, producing much more accurate colors.

The Nikon D800 is not designed to capture fast-moving action the way that many high-end DSLRs are, but it presents an interesting middle ground for those looking for a camera with very high-resolution and some serviceable continuous shooting chops. The D800 is rated to fire shots at up to 4 frames per second, which puts it well behind even most entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, but well ahead of medium-format bodies. While the D800 doesn't have the flexibility of a medium-format camera such as those from Phase One, Hasselblad, or Pentax, it also doesn't cost nearly as much for the whole package.

Drive modes on the D800 are controlled with a locking ring on the top plate of the camera beneath the WB/ISO/BKT/Quality cluster. This is the same location as we've seen on many past Nikon DSLRs, so it's hardly a surprise. It allows the user to quickly change drive settings, with options for single shot, quiet shutter, continuous low, continuous high, and the self-timer.

The self-timer can be set in the menu, with both standard and custom options allowing for multiple exposures after a short delay. The continuous low speed can be fixed in the menu as well, pushing as high as 5fps or as low as 2fps, depending on your need.

The Nikon D800 is listed as shooting at up to four frames per second by Nikon. We found this to be right on the money, as the camera captured a five-shot burst at exactly 4.14 frames per second. Again, this puts it among the slower cameras in Nikon's line of DSLRs (and the market at large), right in line with last year's Nikon D5100. Still, the impressive aspect of this performance is that it's capturing that information across a full-frame 35mm wide image sensor, with each shot capturing 36.8 megapixels of information.

We found that the camera was able to capture up to 13 RAW frames in a row before running out of room on the internal buffer, after which it was forced to stop shooting until space freed up, even when using a CompactFlash card with an SD card for overflow. When shooting full-size JPEGs we found that the burst capacity increased to around 25 shots, but that again the camera had to stop shooting until buffer space freed up.

The D800 offers a number of self-timer and interval options that will allow you to set up a variety of shots. The drive mode dial on the camera only has a single setting for self-timer, but you can go into the custom "Timers/AE lock" menu to define just what the timer is going to be. From this menu you can set the self-timer to have a delay of two, five, 10, or 20 seconds, at which point it will capture from 1-9 shots, with a delay of up to three seconds between each shot.

The camera also features an interval timer (as well as a multi-exposure and timelapse function), all of which we've detailed on our controls page.

We found the D800's 51-point autofocus system to generally be quite good, both in our testing and in our time using the camera in a variety of real-world conditions. The D800's main issue at large seems to be focus accuracy on the left side, though supposedly there is a fix available if your body is affected by it. You can see an example of this problem using a Lens Align Mk. II to analyze the D800's problem here.

We also use a Lens Align Mk. II for our focus test, but we utilize the center focus point to judge focus efficacy in low light. The D800 did quite well in our test, as the center point is much more sensitive than many of the surrounding points. Even in dim 10 lux light in the labs we found the D800 was able to lock on to subjects with that center point with a degree of accuracy. It won't give you much flexibility with moving subjects, but given the camera's lack of shot-to-shot speed we don't suggest using it for those purposes.

The big headline draw for the Nikon D800 is not a specific mode or option, but simply the hardware that's included for its $3000 price. Looking past the camera's durability and its high-resolution image sensor, though, and you'll see a full-featured camera that offers enough for both professionals and enthusiasts. The D800 includes features like built-in timelapse, full HD video, in-camera HDR, in-camera editing, and multi-exposure shooting. These aren't unique to the camera, but they're nice extras that complement the full level of control offered in the D800.

The Nikon D800 doesn't offer a glut of video recording options, sticking with a maximum resolution of 1080/30p recording in a MPEG-4/H.264 compression. Videos are contained in a .MOV file with Linear PCM audio recording. The camera also lets you record at 1080/24p, 720/60p, and 720/30p sizes as well. The D800 can record for up to 29 minutes and 59 seconds in most recording modes, though at the maximum quality the clip length is limited to just 20 minutes. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

When recording video the D800 lets you adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO when in the full manual mode. In the priority exposure modes you can also record, but automatic exposure takes over and manual control is limited to the same degree as it is in still shooting. Aperture control is available while the camera is recording, but it is not a smooth adjustment on the 24-120mm lens, with each aperture stop down audible on the captured video.

Auto Controls

The D800 uses through-the-lens metering with the whole image sensor in order to judge exposure. The camera offers exposure compensation in these situations so that you can adjust the brightness of your scene. The D800 doesn't have a mode dial, so you'll have to place the camera in program auto mode and hit the live view button in order to shoot video with full automatic exposure during recording.

Zoom

For optical zoom the D800 doesn't offer any sort of control on the body, leaving you to have to manually turn the zoom ring on the lens itself. For the 24-120mm lens that is a fairly rough action, and you won't get the kind of smooth zooms in and out that you would on a full video camera.

Focus

The D800 offers contrast-detection autofocus while recording video. It's not particularly quick, but it's not any slower than it is for live view still photography. The autofocus can be engaged with the shutter button, with a box indicating focus zone turning green when focus is achieved and red if focus cannot be found.

Exposure Controls

When shooting video you have full use of the lens's aperture range, but limited use of the shutter speed. You can only set shutter speeds faster than 1/30th of a second in 1080/30p or 1/60th of a second when recording with a 60fps frame rate. The ISO range can extend all the way to the 6400 in automatic exposure, but can go all the way to HI-2 (ISO 25600 equivalent) when recording video in manual exposure mode.

The D800 includes both a mic and headphone jack, with audio level control in the menu available as well. If you don't want to record audio you can just turn off sound entirely. The D800 comes with a built-in monaural microphone, but accepts stereo microphones via the 3.5mm mic adapter on the left side of the body. The real advantage of the D800 is the headphone jack, which lets you actually monitor the audio that you're recording, adjusting levels as need be.

Mic Photo

The Nikon D800 is a beast of a camera, an extraordinarily high-resolution anachronism dropped into a supposedly post-megapixel world. The 36.3-megapixel sensor of the D800 defines it; it is the camera's greatest asset, making it one of the most flexible, enjoyable cameras we've ever shot with.

If you follow the rumor mill, the D800 was supposed to be a successor to the D700, a camera that would excel in low light, offer exceptional speed, focus quickly, and still be light and compact by the standards of bulky full-frame bodies. When the D800 was actually released, it was derided as an exercise in excess, a body that would necessarily suffer in low light because so many pixels can't fit on a sensor without sacrificing somewhere.

Nikon has made some sacrifices by using this high-resolution, Sony-made sensor, but they have nothing to do with low-light performance. In addition to our usual round of lab testing we took the D800 to Photokina in Cologne, Germany for a week. Shooting on dim trade show floors and sparsely lit old-city streets, the D800's pixel count turned out to be its greatest advantage.

With so much resolution, we were able to edit very effectively throughout the week; softer images could be sharpened up, noise could be reduced, and even cropped images were still huge. Resolution was the biggest advantage in our lab tests, too: The sensor simply provided more data for the processor to work with. This led to some very sharp images, expansive dynamic range at low ISO speeds, and a very low signal-to-noise ratio, on par with even the Nikon D4 and Canon 1D X. Of course, with all that resolution comes the D800's real limitation: file sizes.

The amount of data coming off the sensor causes the camera to quickly lock up, even when shooting at its relatively pedestrian speed of 4 frames per second. Once you've exhausted the buffer of 12-15 RAW shots, burst shooting is practically impossible for almost a full minute while the internal buffer clears.

Even if you're a single-shot photographer, it's not long before those large files will eat up even large memory cards, not to mention your hard drives. Storage space is relatively cheap now, but it's the main issue that crept up throughout our time with the camera. This is still a far faster (and cheaper) camera than most medium-format bodies, but sports and action shooters need not apply.

Otherwise, the D800 is a fantastic camera with exceptional handling and solid design. If you're a Nikon shooter you'll know exactly what to expect here, but anyone can learn his or her way around the camera quickly. Some things are more difficult than they need to be—white balance and menu navigation chief among them—but just about every major setting you'd want to adjust can be done without ever needing to head into the menu.

We'd still caution sports shooters to look elsewhere, but from the street to the studio, the D800 put its best foot forward and performed as well as we could've hoped for. Megapixels have earned a bad reputation in the past few years, but they're a boon to this camera. There are some hitches—the spotty left-side autofocus and green tint under fluorescent light are very real problems—but the D800 is otherwise one of the best cameras we've tested and a real competitor for our 2012 camera of the year.

Meet the testers

TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews
TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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