Nikon’s FX (full frame) has been firmly in place since the announcement in August 2007 and subsequent release in December 2007 of the Nikon D3. Quite a few models in the FX-range followed, as well as new lenses to accompany those new FX-cameras. The FX-range sits at the top of Nikon’s interchangeable lens products, where the ‘classic’ DX (1,5x crop) sits at the middle and CX (2,7x crop) sits at the bottom, with the Nikon 1-mount.

To give you an idea of the sensor size difference, here’s a comparison overview:

As you can see, FX uses the ‘old age’ 35mm format, also known as full frame. The reason it’s called full frame is the fact that the other types, DX and CX have crop factors. This involves ‘cropping’ a picture when using the same lens, as it will fill less of the frame.

An example:

To put the Nikon D810 in perspective: it’s the latest addition to the FX-lineup, and also the dSLR with the most pixels (36MP in total) of all cameras available (together with its predecessor the D800), until Canon’s 5DS and 5DSR become available, which have a 50MP sensor.

In all, there’s only one camera in Nikon’s lineup that can top the D810 right now, and that’s only in build and pro features: the flagship model D4s.

As such, the Nikon D810 carries a serious price tag. It’s currently available for around 3300 euro, which means a big investment for many photographers. Is it worth it? Let’s find out.

Basic specifications

Here’s the basic specifications of the Nikon D810 camera:

Type: FX dSLR-camera
Resolution: 36MP
ISO range: 64 – 12,800
AF points: 51
FPS: 5
Video: Full HD 60p
Flash sync speed: 1/250th
Shutter speed: 1/8000 to 30 sec, bulb
Weight: 980 grams with battery and SD memory card
Battery: EN-EL15

What’s in the box

Our review model came with a 24-85 Nikkor lens (in a separate box) the EN-EL15 battery and a charger.

First impressions

After unboxing the first impressions are that of any of the more top-of-the-range camera models from Nikon: solid build, second to none. Great ergonomics too. As I own the ‘grandaddy’ of FX-cameras, the Nikon D3, it was fun comparing the two. The D3 is about 300 grams heavier, but has a built-in vertical grip compared to the Nikon D810.

Nevertheless, the D810 didn’t feel any bit less of a camera. Great viewfinder size, excellent LCD-screen and many, many menu options. Large buttons help when using the camera with gloves on (you won’t always be shooting in ideal warm conditions, right).

The accompanying lens, the 24-85 Nikkor, is nice as well. Maybe not as hefty as the top-of-the-range workhorse 24-70 or super wideangle monster 14-24, but still very well-built. Silent autofocus and useful VR (vibration reduction) make it a great companion to the D810.


Body design and handling

Focusing on the body design and handling, a small evolution has taken place since the first FX-camera, the D3, saw action back in 2007. The live view switch allows for switching between still image and video mode, and there are now dedicated info and i buttons on the rear panel. The D810 also comes with a screen protector, to save your LCD from scratching.

Handling the camera feels just fine. If you’re used to a compact or a small(ish) dSLR, be prepared for some heft though. At just about 1 kilogram without a lens, the D810 is one of the more sizeable cameras on the market. The engineering did a great job on the ergonomics though. Handling is excellent with rubber padding where needed.

It feels great in your hands: like a solid, serious tool for photography and video. No toy!

Menus and features

Menu’s are extensive and well organized. If you are used to other Nikon pro camera’s like maybe a D700, D600 or D3, then the menus should be familiar. Many options are grouped together under autofocus, metering, et cetera.

There’s extensive options to finetune anything and everything, from sleep time for certain features (screen, meter etc) to the shutter delay option (which means the camera waits for a bit before taking the actual photo to let the mirror come to rest).

Both photo and video features are extensive, letting you control exposure, audio, resolution and focus options. With this camera in hand, you probably won’t need a D4s (Nikon’s current top model): the only reason to get one of those is either the higher FPS, the somewhat better performance on high ISO (because of lower resolution) and maybe just a bit better build including the full body with vertical grip built-in.

Let’s just say that the D810 won’t keep you wanting in terms of menus and features. Onward to speed!

Speed

Likewise with the menus and features, speed should never be an issue, except for one area. The 36MP means there’s a lot of data to be computed and transferred to storage (either an SD card or CF card: the D810 has both). This is where your card’s speed comes into play. If you have a slow to medium speed card, be prepared to sometimes have to wait for image review or for the camera to write away all the shots. You can continue shooting of course, so it’s not a big issue, but be prepared if your cards aren’t very fast.

Other than data throughput, speed is never a problem. FPS (frames per second) at high speed is nice with 5 fps. It’s not machine gun-style like the D3 (which shoots at 8 fps), but more than fast enough for most action and sports moments.

Battery life

Battery life is good to great. On the first charge, I got about 600 shots from the battery, including a lot of image review, menu time, some video and continuous use of autofocus and VR. I’d say that when you go easy on the image review and turn off VR when it’s not needed, you should be able to get about 750 to 800 shots on one charge. This is great as the EN-EL15 battery is not the biggest on the block.

However, if you will be doing a lot of video, image review and use lenses with AF-S and VR, packing an extra battery or 2 might just do the trick.

Image quality

Of course, this is what it’s all about. The final product. In total, I’ve shot well over 1,300 shots with the camera. Indoor, outdoor, action, nature, model photoshoots, everything. It hasn’t let me down in any situation at all. I’ve added a few samples for you to check. Both in resolution, exposure, sharpness and low to high ISO performance: the D810 is excellent. Noise only becomes a bit visible at about ISO 3200: and even then it’s negligible.

Verdict

If you’ve read through the full review, you’ll probably already know where this is headed. The D810 is one of the best cameras I’ve ever used, save maybe the top models in the industry. Handling, speed, features, image quality, battery life, the LCD screen: it’s all great. Only a few niggles remain, but if you’re looking for a serious dSLR with a lot of resolution on board: be sure to get the Nikon D810. It’s a great camera that makes photomaking fun, every time.

Pros

– Superb resolution

– Excellent viewfinder and LCD
– Very fast in almost all categories
– Good battery life despite small battery
– Exposure is always spot on
– Great performance in both low and high ISO’s
– Excellent build quality: great grip and connector covers
Cons

– Slower cards may leave you waiting for image review
– High resolution demands good handholding technique

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