Our Nikon D800E review will cover much of the same territory as the Nikon D800 (they're practically identical cameras). To read that review in full, please click here.
The Nikon D800E is a large full-frame professional DSLR. Built for resolution rather than speed, the D800E does not have the large vertical grip and battery housing as the $6000 Nikon D4, so it resembles a typical mid-size DSLR. The camera comes with a large rear screen, flat directional control pad, a relatively simple button layout, and a secondary LCD on top with a quick informational readout on current camera settings.
The D800 series is an update to the older D700 and, despite major internal changes in terms of sensor, processor, and purpose of the camera, the D800 is roughly equivalent in size and design. The D800E lightens up some of the parts, resulting in a camera that weighs slightly less than the D700. The main differences are in the slope and profile of the camera body, as the D800E features a more ergonomic sloped shutter release, a more rounded shape that falls more naturally in line with the hand. The camera also now features an autofocus method selector on the front of the camera, right where the left hand supports the camera when shooting hand-held. This lets the user quickly change from single AF to continuous, which is great for wedding photographers trying to capture motion such as a bride walking down the aisle.
The D800 and D800E are—externally—precisely the same design, with absolutely no difference between the two. For our full review on the D800, please click here.
The menu system on the D800E is practically the same as the menus found on all current Nikons. It's arranged into several tabs aligned vertically along the left side of the screen, each tab featuring a long list of menu options for you to select from. The tabs include shooting settings, playback, a retouch menu, a recently used settings tab, and a very in-depth custom settings tab.
Our main issue with the Nikon menu system is its arrangement of long lists rather than pages. By designing the menu system in such a way, every tab leaves many options off the screen. This means that to find out what is at the bottom of the custom settings tab, you have to scroll through every option above it. A better method is to align the tabs horizontally along the top edge of the screen with pages of options, so that you can quickly scroll through pages by pressing left and right keys, letting you scan each tab. Canon and other manufacturers do this on their cameras. We understand Nikon's desire to not design a Canon-esque menu system, and the recently used settings and my menu tabs on Nikon DSLRs do help with this problem, but it's a fundamental design flaw that only inhibits new users. The result is a system that doesn't aid usability and only works to hide some of the best features of the camera under dozens of other options.
The Nikon D800E is not particularly difficult to use, despite the camera's extreme level of sophistication. The camera features a program automatic mode and the button layout is clearly less intense than the more expensive D4. The D800E is certainly not for novices, and we wouldn't recommend it as a first DSLR for anyone no familiar with the ins and outs of high-end photography.
That being said, the control scheme is remarkably simple while the menu system is practically identical to any other current Nikon DSLR, simply with more options to tinker with. The addition of a dedicated "picture control" (Nikon's term for their color modes, which also dictate sharpness, contrast, and color tone) button beside the LCD is a welcome addition, and certain to find its way into the eventual updates to their D3100 and D5100 DSLRs.
For professional users accustomed to the D700 fear not, the control is very similar, with a full measure of customizable function buttons that will let you tweak to your heart's desire. We would've really liked to see the use of the same joystick control found on the D4 rather than the flat video-game directional pad that is being used, but it's a minor complaint.
The D800E sits at a slightly taller height than the D700 (and identical to the D800, its parent model), but weighs slightly less. The changes in design are subtle, but the result is a camera that is the sum of the last three years of ergonomic improvements made by Nikon to their DSLRs. The D800E's top plate is now sloped downward towards the grip to better align with the angle at which the right hand naturally falls, requiring less gymnastics to reach certain buttons. Most notably, the shutter release is pitched at almost 45 degrees forward more, bringing it right up against the index finger.
Our favorite improvement on the D800/D800E is to the grip, which now features a grove where the index finger can rest while controlling the camera. The grip now has a profile that is almost like the handle on a pistol, fitting the contours of the hand more accurately than on previous Nikons. All these changes should make handling a D800E for long periods of time by hand much less of a chore than a day's worth of shooting on the D700.
The Nikon D800E features a full complement of typical shooting modes, with options for program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, and full manual exposure programs. The modes are indicated on the top plate display, changed by holding down the camera's mode button while turning the control dial. The camera doesn't have a typical mode dial as you'd see on a mid-range DSLR, with the rounded hump on the left side of the top plate featuring a drive mode dial and access to controls like white balance and ISO.
The Nikon D800E benefits from the inclusion of the same 91k-pixel RGB metering sensor as found on the Nikon D4. This should be vastly improved over the three year old Nikon D700. The camera will utilize this meter in all but the full manual mode, with the option to compensate for exposure on a typical +/- 5 stop scale in whole, 1/3-, or 1/2-stop increments. The camera can also make use of Nikon's "Active D-lighting" option to enhance range and even brightness without losing detail in highlights and shadows, with several different intensity levels available.
The video mode on the D800E is practically identical in terms of features to the Nikon D4, with full 1080/30p video capture (options for 25 and 24p are also available, as are 720p at 60, 50, 30, 25, and 24p). The camera features uncompressed HD output via HDMI, which can be recorded to an external drive or used on an external monitor (or both). Using the uncompressed HD output allows the user to adjust aperture while recording as well, an option which isn't offered when recording to SD or CF cards in the camera.
The D800E utilizes B-frame compression in-camera with the H.264/AVCHD codec in a .MOV container. One thing that will be interesting to see is how the camera downsamples from 36.3 megapixels to the much lower resolution of an HD video signal.
The lack of a low pass filter shouldn't theoretically have much of an effect (versus the D800's video with the filter), as downsampling from such a high resolution will likely result in moire regardless. The anti-alias filter in the D800 (and other DSLRs) is primarily designed to have an effect at extreme resolutions, generally in excess of 2000 lw/ph. Most DSLRs can't render anywhere near 2000 lw/ph of sharpness in video regardless, with our testing generally showing DSLRs maxing out at frequencies closer to 1000 lw/ph. We don't always see moire at just the extremes, but usually in a middle section between 700 and 900 lw/ph. Therefore while we do expect significant moire in downsampling from a 36-megapixel image sensor, we don't think the camera will be capable of rendering sharpness levels anywhere near the point where an anti-aliasing filter will have a noticeable effect on the final video.
The Nikon D800E includes a dedicated drive dial for selecting shooting modes, with options for self-timer, continuous hi, continuous low, single shot, and timelapse shooting. The camera is capable of a maximum full-resolution burst of four frames per second, which is actually fairly fast for a camera with such high resolution capabilities. At that speed you wouldn't really consider the D800 or D800E for high-end sports or action, with the $6000 D4 filling that need with its 10+ fps shooting.
Playback on the D800 is fairly standard, with options that are primarily geared toward just reviewing your photos to make sure that focus and other fine details were achieved properly. The camera features the ability to review a single image, zooming in to check out very fine details, or zooming out to view an index of up to 72 images at once. When viewing a single image the full information readout is available, letting you see the relevant information on any shot taken with the camera.
The D800E includes a full complement of picture quality and sizes, as you'd expect given its 36.3-megapixel image sensor. The camera lets you shoot at a maximum resolution of 7360x4912, with large, medium, and small options at its full FX format, in a 1:2 ratio, 5:4 ratio, or as a cropped DX format resolution (when shooting with DX lenses). For a full list of all the resolution options available on the D800 and D800E, please check out our D800 first impressions review by going here.
The D800E includes the same 51-point autofocus system seen on the Nikon D4 and very similar to the one seen on the Nikon D3x. The 3500FX sensor has 15 cross-type sensors, with 8 that are functional down to f/8 (one cross-type in the center). This lets you use the camera with any of Nikon's many teleconverters, which restrict the available aperture but bring subjects in closer. The camera's phase detection AF system has a detection range reported to be -1 to 19 EV at ISO 100, letting it achieve focus in very limited light scenarios. When shooting video or using the camera's live view capabilities the camera switches to contrast detection AF, which is less accurate, speedy, and requires more light to work effectively.
The D800E features the same 91k-pixel RGB sensor found on the D800 and Nikon D4, which will generally expose a scene in order to balance brightness. Users can use spot, center-weighted, or matrix metering methods, with the ability to select where that data comes from. Spot metering can be manually selected, while center-weighted uses the area around the center AF point, with the user able to dictate how far from the center data is counted. The metering system has an effective range of 0-20 EV in center-weighted and matrix metering modes, with a 2-20 EV range when spot metering.
Users can keep the camera's metering as-is or opt to adjust exposure on a +/- 5-stop scale, with adjustments made in whole, 1/3-, or 1/2-stop increments. The Nikon D800E also features exposure bracketing of 2-9 frames, with whole 1/3-, and 1/2-stop increments available there, as well. Nikon's "active d-lighting" system can also be utilized, which accounts for highlight areas and works to maintain as much image detail there as possible.
The Nikon D800E features a native ISO range of 100-6400, which is fairly limited by contemporary professional DSLR standards. This is because the camera features both an extremely high-resolution sensor and because it's designed usage doesn't call for fast shutter speeds in limited light. As a portrait and landscape camera (the D800E especially), the camera doesn't need to really go far above the minimum ISO. In fact the D800E will better the D700 by allowing users to choose a minimum ISO of just 100, which combined with the massive 36-megapixel resolution, will make noise all but impossible to spot, even on prints that are several feet across. If users do require a higher ISO than 6400, the camera does support speeds up to 25600, but they're considered "HI" settings.
For a full breakdown of the D800E's ISO settings and other controls, please visit the D800 first impressions review page by going here.
On the D800E, users can select from two types of automatic white balance, or from a number of presets. The camera includes seven different presets for fluorescent light, as well as presets for incandescent, direct sunlight, flash, cloudy, shade, preset manual (four values savable), and direct kelvin entry (2500-10000K). Every preset allows you to fine-tune the selection on a color grid.
Nikon doesn't include in-body image stabilization on their DSLRs, opting instead for technology built into the lens, called vibration reduction. Nikon does this because it allows them to design vibration reduction technology that specifically addresses the characteristics of an individual lens design. Second, it stabilizes the image even while composing in the optical viewfinder, whereas in-body stabilization can not correct the light path before it reaches an optical viewfinder.
Nikon's standard "picture control" modes are available on the D800E, with a dedicated button on the camera body that immediately offers access to the picture control mode menu. These include the standard "color mode" settings, with options for adjusting contrast, saturation, etc. The list includes the usual group, with standard, neutral, vivid, monochrome, portrait, and landscape modes selectable. Each are user adjustable.
The 36.3-megapixel image sensor on the Nikon D800E is a massive resolution jump over Nikon's next-highest resolution camera, the D3x. That large of a jump is designed to specifically target the needs of landscape, portrait, and studio photographers and challenge the province of medium-format digital backs and film cameras. The D800E's contribution (and only difference from the D800 parent model) is the inclusion of a low-pass filter that does not have any anti-alias (AA) properties.
The Nikon D800 and other DSLRs with anti-alias filters essentially blur out very high frequencies in captured image data, such as very fine lines. What this does effectively is reduce image sharpness in very specific areas that are troublesome for digital cameras. When this isn't done, an ugly and noticeable effect called moire creates odd wavy patterns of discolored light (often green or purple) called moire to appear all over the pattern. The D800E includes this same low-pass filter, but it doesn't have any of these anti-alias properties, allowing light to pass through fairly normally.
This retains the maximum amount of image sharpness, but leaves the camera susceptible to the moire effect. This is exactly what photographers who want the maximum amount of detail (landscape and portrait photographers) have asked for, as they can use computer software to mostly correct for this discoloration. That's a difficult proposition, but Nikon will include a moire reduction filter with the Capture NX2 software that comes with the D800E.
The D800E gets a nicely upgraded monitor over the D700, with a 3.2-inch 921k-dot rear TFT LCD screen. It's also fairly bright, with user-selectable brightness levels for use in harsh lighting conditions. The camera can use the rear screen for live view shooting or shooting during video recording, a function the D700 also did not have. The D800E can use its uncompressed HD video output (via HDMI) to use an external monitor, which could be used for framing purposes on a larger screen while still shooting. This is a poor replacement for true tethered shooting, but it's something, at least.
The optical viewfinder on the D800E is a fixed eye-level pentaprism unit with approximately 100% coverage when shooting in the full FX resolution (it falls to around 98% at other resolutions, including cropped DX mode). The viewfinder is bright and clear, with a type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VIII focusing screen with AF area brackets. The AF point that is activated when focusing also lights up red in the viewfinder. It's very bright and clear with a magnification of 0.70x. The viewfinder is the same as on the Nikon D4 and several other models (with most of the changes being to the focusing screen), including the D800 parent model.
The built-in flash on the D800E is bright and powerful, while also functioning as a wireless master flash commander. While wireless master flash commander sounds really awesome, it's actually also functional for controlling multiple flashes off the camera. This allows you to configure creative lighting setups that will fire flashes at the same time, lighting your subject as you see fit. For more on the D800E and D800's flash and hardware, visit the D800 first impressions review by going here.
The D800E includes all the same ports as the D800, including HDMI, a 3.5mm mic input, a 3.5mm headphone output, a SuperSpeed USB 3.0 input/output port (backwards compatible with mini-USB 2.0 cables as well), a 10-pin remote connector, and flash terminal. The ports are all located behind rubber flaps on the left side of the body, with the remote connector and flash sync terminal on the front of the camera. The D800 does not include the Ethernet LAN connectivity of the Nikon D4, which will restrict the speedy offloading of images. While this will likely slow down workflows in a studio where lots of images are taken, Nikon's reasoning was that keeping size (and likely price) down was more imperative, with speedy transfer more of a priority for news and sports photographers, for which the Nikon D4 is better designed.
The battery on the D800E is the same standard Nikon EN-EL15 unit that the D800 uses. The battery is rated to approximately 900 shots by CIPA standards, with the ability to use a vertical battery grip on the body. The battery grip is still dust and weather-sealed, same as the body itself, but it can use EN-EL18 batteries, EN-EL15s, or four AA batteries (as well as DC power). The battery grip also enhances the camera's shot-to-shot time, allowing you to shoot up to 6 fps when using the DX crop.
The D800E includes dual memory card slots, with room for one CompactFlash card and one SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card. Users can assign to which card video and stills will be stored, with the option to copy files from one card to another. The D800E supports the newer UHS-1 speed classification SDHC/SDXC memory cards.
The Nikon D800E is a derivative model of the Nikon D800, featuring all the same hardware, 36.3-megapixel image sensor, and physical body design as the parent model. The D800E. without a true anti-alias filter, is the version that will likely appeal most to those looking for the maximum resolution and an alternative to medium-format film and digital back cameras.
The D800E utilizes an optically-cancelled low-pass filter that shouldn't restrict the camera from recording the sharpest parts of images. In most cameras, that level of sharpness is filtered out prior to the light reaching the sensor, which helps in reducing some of the ugly sampling errors, called moire, that you often get when shooting fine patterns and details.
With a low pass filter that doesn't have any anti-alias properties, the maximum amount of detail is retained in the final image, giving landscape photographers the ability to record every branch or blade of grass. The camera is also designed to appeal to videographers, featuring many of the same abilities as the $6000 Nikon D4, but at roughly half the price.
While we'll have to get the D800E (and the D800) into our labs to tell you the true difference, we can say that we're excited to see how well Nikon accomplishes that goal.
For a full breakdown on the Nikon D800 (and by extension, the D800E) and its potential impact on the industry, please visit the D800's first impressions review right here.
Meet the tester
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.
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