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First Impressions:

Having waited a little over a month for my D800, I was greatly relieved when I finally picked it up. I can’t imagine what others must have gone through, where some have waited three months for their D4 or D800’s to arrive. Below are my first impressions. I would like to point out that this should not be regarded as a negative review. I’m just critical by nature, and as a consequence, the tone of my reviews may seem negative.


Anyhow, with camera in hand, I’m a bit ambiguous - err’ing on the side of disappointment - about how the camera fits in my hand. Even if the highly famed car designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, designed the camera, I find the ergonomics a little disappointing and unfinished. One can see they have tried, but clearly the sample group tested must have all had very small hands and short fingers. I don’t have big hands, and my fingers may be a little long, but it’s clear that better provisions could have been made for hands of all forms. The D800 lacks a fatter, more filling grip, and also a more pronounced thumb ridge.

 

As someone who is still puzzled by the fact that video and stills are featured in the same product, and not as separate product lines, I can’t help but say that the video functionality has been slightly invasive. Had the recording button not taken such a high priority, we would probably have had a Mode button that isn’t so far back and awkward to reach. I often mistake the Record for the Mode button. Why do we need a separated video record button when the function can be assigned to the shutter button? Or, if a record button is important, then why not place it at the rear, for convenient thumb access. 


Coming from Nikon’s first generation moderately-sized FX DSLR, the D700, I’m greatly relieved that there are a number of shortcoming that have been sorted out. Of course, there are some things I feel that should’ve been revised, but haven’t changed at all... For example, the memory card door was sloppy on the D700, and hasn’t changed with the D800. I would have liked a simple card-door locking mechanism as seen on the D200, D300, and D300s cameras. On the other hand, Live-View is more refined than before, and far quicker to access with the dedicated button. The shutter and mirror mechanisms operate on seemingly independent mechanisms, and the shutter can now cycle through shots while the mirror is locked in the upward position. While in Live-View, this allows for shots to be taken quietly and with far less vibration than before. It also means that Live-View and Mirror Lockup can be used in conjunction.

The rear buttons and features have seen small improvements over the D700. The dedicated live view button is a relief! No need to rotate the release mode dial, or assigning a Live-View function to the AE-L/AF-L button. The multi selector has been greatly refined. The press click has been removed from the multi selector, which makes operation feel softer, dampened, and generally less flimsy than that of the D700. The release mode dial on the top left of the camera is also much nicer and easier to use, plus there is a four button layout on top which brings back the missed bracketing button.


A weird find was realising that Nikon switched the places of the [+] and [-] buttons on the camera’s back. Nikon also switched the indicator direction on the LCD as well as inverting the command dial orientation! As strange as it is, this can be reversed in CSM menu f12. To revert the exposure compensation orientation back to normal, head to CSM menu f9 and change it back.

Alongside the traditional CF card slot, an additional SD card slot can be found. This is a neat feature. I’m glad it was SD and not the new XQD cards, as I feel the latter needs more time to become mainstream, and is currently very expensive.


The green LCD tint “issue” flying around in forums is evident on my camera, but only when directly comparing the same image file on both the D700 and D800. By itself, my camera doesn’t seem to be problematic at all. If anything, it represents colours as I see them on screen. I have a tendency to think this is a white balance issue, since setting a white balance off a white sheet will result in slightly green images. Attempting to correct the the pre-set WB hue in camera, will only overshoot the problem and consequently result in images with a magenta hue.  All in all, I think this is a non-issue which has exploded into a false hype about inferior or faulty LCD screens. Besides this, certain LCD manufacturers use a specific bonding agent which, when not fully evaporated, can show a green tint during LCD operation.


With the left / right AF issue aside, the D800 has a notably improved auto-focus system. It reminds me of my F5, which has a very high refresh rate, and in general seems quite “active”. The D800 is quick and responsive, and accuracy is greatly improved. The sensor’s resolution demands this! On that note, the rangefinder focus assist is also more accurate when used in conjunction with manual focus lenses. This is easily noticeable, along with the crisper focus-screen. However, I still find that the margin for error is too large when the focus confirmation dot is glowing green. Shooting with my Zeiss Makro-Planar 100/2 ZF, the green dot confirmation is still a hit and miss affair.


In general, the D800’s functionality has evolved from that featured in the D700. The imaging characteristics of the D800 are revolutionary, and drastically different from anything Nikon has had before. My shooting style has changed and my technique has needed some refining, since 36mp comes at a price. The colours from the D800 are seemingly more attractive than the D700. I’m noticing that colours aren’t contrived and over-saturated, which makes achieving the desired results just that much easier. Maybe it’s just a RAW converter issue, since RPP is the only RAW converter that gives me reliable colour with D700 files.

There’s a noticeable difference in shooting sound between the D700 and D800. The D800 sound is less sharp and more suppressed, but for those expecting a much quieter camera, it’s going to disappoint. On that note, quiet mode is not what it seems; With regard to the exposure cycle, the mirror up and shutter actuation is just as it’s normally, but the return of the mirror can be delayed by keeping the shutter release depressed. Upon release of the shutter button, the mirror drops down as normal, but the shutter curtain draws back in a slower and quieter fashion. A neat function to play around with, but seemingly pointless from my stand point, since it doesn’t perform the function it advertises. It’s much the same gimmick as the silent mode on the Nikon F4 and F5; It’s not quiet!