It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the D800 has stirred up some controversy. There were the nay-sayers who said the rumors couldn’t be true, or that if Nikon was putting 36 mega-pixels into a camera it would be incredibly noisy. It shoots too slow at 4 frames per second. It generates enormous files that are vastly larger than any one needs. The vertical grip costs as much as a second hand camera. And on and on. That’s all true from a certain perspective, and so laughably irrelevant from my perspective.
I LOVE my D800. So much so, that I’m thinking of buying a second one for weddings and events (I use a D700 as my second body right now). Why does this camera work so well for me? Because I capture dramatic light and make massive prints. And no where does that shine through more than in my cityscapes. When I shoot 14 bit RAW files at ISO 100 on this camera, I capture an image so good that I’ve practically stopped using HDR for my cityscapes (using the newest RAW converters in Lightroom and Photoshop are also critical to pulling out all this detail). I can generate an image that captures my vision more realistically than ever, and do it without hours of noise and artifact correction to make up for the short-comings of HDR. When I shoot with proper technique, there is very little detail (in color or resolution) that this camera can’t capture. And with the huge original files, I can easily print 30×60″ panoramas to put on my wall with all the detail I’m seeking.
Beyond the unbelievable image sensor (which alone is worth every penny of the upgrade for me) are several other notable improvements. The focusing system is more accurate and works in lower light – which is critical when I’m working with wide open apertures at wedding receptions. The LCD is large and beautiful (though the polarization is setup in a way that the screen is not viewable in landscape orientation with polarized sunglasses; Nikon should have rotated the screen 90 degrees). The movie mode is a huge plus when I want to add more life to my Animoto slideshows (I had no video on the D700). The dual card slot (compact flash and SD card) gives me the ability to save duplicate images to protect me from the risk of a card failure. Oh, and the $60 third-party Meike verticle grip I bought works perfectly.
What about the large files? There’s no question, they demand a fast computer or a lot of patience. I’m using a Retina Macbook Pro with 16GB of memory and SSD hard drive, and it flies. If you don’t have a reasonably fast processor, decent RAM, and a fast RAID or SSD hard drive; you’ll probably want to plan to upgrade your computer to get this camera.
What about lenses? I was already using Nikon primes and fast zooms, and I’ve found that my lenses keep up with the increased resolution very well. But if you don’t have sharp lenses, your investment in the camera/computer won’t get you the results you are seeking. That said, there are some very affordable lenses that do very well. I use my 35mm f/2 lens for many of my cityscapes on this camera, and the results are beautiful.
So, would I recommend this camera? It depends. If you want to print huge prints, it’s an amazing camera that has no rival (unless you count cameras costing tens of thousands of dollars). If you’re on a tighter budget or aren’t printing huge, I’d recommend taking a look at the new 24 mega-pixel Nikon D600 – it promises amazing image quality as well and will be less demanding on computers/lenses.
UPDATE: I now recommend the Nikon D810, it takes a great camera to a whole new level.