Home > Photography, Travel > On the road with Nikon D800 Part 2

On the road with Nikon D800 Part 2

I had the Nikon D800 with me on two trips now. Except Indonesia I took it for short weekend getaway to Vietnam where I photographed scenes in Mekong Delta. It is still not enough to get fully familiar with all the quirks  however there are definitely things that I can say about this camera. I am not experienced reviewer and I am not attempting to do a full review (Full review at dpreview.com). I purely describe my experience shooting with D800 for couple of days.

Is Nikon D800 really for me?

There are many discussions about Nikon D800 in terms of what kind of photographer is the camera for. I have to say honestly I didn’t really need D800. My good old D700 was just fine for everything I was shooting. I am not professional and I don’t do large prints. My photos go mostly on the web and occasionally I do a print or a book as a present for which the D700 resolution is more than good enough. However D800 is a new toy and try to explain a child that he doesn’t need a new toy when the old one is still good and usable. That is the my case, I just wanted it, so I got it 🙂 I usually shoot travel, documentary, landscapes and fine art style photography. This doesn’t require a machine gun ala D4 (I have tried it and it is like Kalashnikov) or Canon 1 DX. 4fps is plenty for me and I think for 36Mpix (cca 75MB filesize) is lighting fast. I never shot on the burst mode on the trip anyway. If I need faster I have my D700 as backup. As far as resolution and file size concerned, this can be really an issue in certain cases. memory cards and hard drives will fill up much faster. On a trip to more remote locations without access to electricity and computer there is a danger of running out of memory space rather quickly. Also storage at home suddenly feels little small. I think this camera requires a change of shooting style and much harsher selection process when editing and sorting the images. Camera certainly forces you to slow down and think before shooting. When shooting on continuous drive it is necessary to keep in mind that buffer fills up rather quickly.

I ventured into do time lapse photography with Nikon D700. I shot in RAW to give myself enough latitude when adjust the final sequence to my liking. With Nikon D800 it is much harder to do. Even big memory card can fill up quickly (unless you shoot JPEG). I have never tried to change memory card while doing time lapse shoot. Unfortunately when you shoot RAW with Nikon, there is no option to choose smaller image resolution as Canon offers. Only possible choice I see is to use DX crop mode but in that case our pretty expensive wide angle lenses just get multiplied by 1.5 crop factor.

I really want to get into DSLR video. This is my first DSLR with video capability so I consider it as one of the reasons I bough the camera. I cannot really comment on video mode at this point since I never done any and to this point my experience with DSLR video equals to zero.

Nikon D800 as a travel camera

It is heavy. When you hold it first time and you thing otherwise, I tell you. It is heavy …. for traveling.I’ve done two trips now and I know. The thing is, with this resolution you need the best lenses that are out there to brig the maximum from it. Best lenses usually pack lots of glass and glass is heavy too. Put a body and let’s say 24-70 and 70-200 zooms into your bag and try to walk around for hours. It is not fun and I bet you shoulders start hurting after a while. Add a tripod to it if you happened to shoot landscapes and you are done. For somebody who goes for expedition, organised trip etc. there is a chance that camera is going to be transported from place to place by a vehicle or porter. For solo traveler it is a shoulder or back. I am quite a big guy myself, yet I felt tired carrying it around. I don’t think it is ideal travel camera (unless it is for assignment when hight quality is a must).

Learning curve

My previous camera was Nikon D700. Switching to Nikon D800 was pretty easy. With some exceptions the buttons and menus are the same so even with no previous shooting experience I felt pretty much home soon enough. Camera is little lighter than D700 and little rounder but from usability point of view this has no effect whatsoever. You hold it and you know/feel it is a Nikon. There is nothing really that bugs me on the camera. Only thing I would change (it is just a personal preference) is a multi selector in favour of jog dial on Canon cameras. I feel I can cycle through menu or photos much faster using a dial than clicking on multi selector.

Focusing issue and green color cast

There are many reports and articles all over the internet about focusing issue and greenish colour cast on back display. As far as focusing goes, I took my body to Nikon service centre soon after purchase to get it checked and everything was as it should be. I guess my particular body was not from that faulty batch. With green colour cast it is a different story. I was travelling with friend of mine who had a Canon camera and I have to say yes the colours seem to bee shifted slightly to the cooler/greenish side. By the same token I can say Canon colours were much warmer and more saturated however I do not necessarily feel they represented the reality better. They just looked warmer and maybe little more pleasing to eye. As I shoot solely RAW, I am not too much concerned about this issue and I guess it will be addressed (if it is not already) by a firmware update.

In bad weather and environment

One of the reasons why we pay more for camera in this class is their ability to withstand various and not always favourable weather conditions and environments. I was not able to test it in wet environment but if it is same as D700 I have nothing to fear. However during Semeru climb the camera went through lots of bashing. If anyone visited Semeru or Bromo volcanoes in Indonesia, they can confirm that those two places are the very definition of dust. And boy, the camera got fair amount of time in that environment. After a few hours my camera didn’t look anything like a brand new one but it still operated perfectly. Dust sealing worked pretty well. After returning home I didn’t find any dust inside in the mirror area, neither I had dust spots on the sensor.

Resolution and consequences

36 Mpix is amazing but at the same time scary. D700’s 12 Mpix are much more forgiving. With Nikon D800 the focusing and shooting technique has to be top notch. I had a look at some files from my trip and I have to confirm this. This is also a reminder for me to really work on my technique. In most cases I tried to follow the basic rules of “sharp photography”. I used tripod whenever it was possible. I used fast shutter speed, high enough ISO to achieve sharp results. I have fairly good lenses. However I still felt my images are not sharp enough. At least those I shot hand held.  I do not blame the camera, I know it is me who have to make an improvement. 36Mpix is UNFORGIVING. However if the photo comes out sharp, it is amazing to look at.

Dynamic range and noise

Now dynamic range is where Nikon D800 really shines. Especially in shadows. I have never had so much detail there before. Even with very contrasty scenes, after checking my histogram I still had no pure black pixels. On the highlight side I think it is not as much improvement but overall this is beside the sensor resolution, this is the most impressive feature.

Battery life

As the trip was physically quite though and I wasn’t shooting as much as on my other trips I cannot really judge how good the battery life is. I had two with me and I didn’t even use one full charge. I took about 350 photographs and looked on the back screen frequently. Also batteries were exposed to cold environment (sub-zero during night) which should shorten their usage time but mine did just fine. so this is pretty much as much as I can say about it.

Conclusion

This is pretty much what I have to say about Nikon D800 at this point. It is still fairly new addition to my gear and as time goes by I probably find more things that is worth to discuss. Certainly one trip and 300+ photographs are not enough to get under the skin of this fine piece of equipment. So far it certainly didn’t disappoint. Could I be without it? Absolutely yes. And would be probably much smarter to use that money better and visit some places in the world I always wanted to visit. But hey… I am happy kid with new toy. Hopefully, if time allows me I will follow up with part 3 with some image samples. If not , there will be certainly additions in gallery either here on richardsimko.com or my 500px account.

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Categories: Photography, Travel Tags: ,
  1. March 23, 2013 at 11:41 am

    D800’s ability to shoot very low light at ISO 3200 with little noise is superb. Some street images shot from moving car at night in Haiti on my site: paulryanphotography.com

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