Nikon D810 Myths and Truths

D810

I’ve owned my Nikon D810 DSLR camera for just over a month now and although there are many reasons I changed back to a DSLR from the rather good (in fact better than I imagined) Olympus OM-D E-M1, the main two were the fact that I wanted a bigger sensor and much more resolution – 36MP. I was rather lucky to find a nearly new 810 from my local London Camera Exchange store with an extremely low shutter count in mint condition, boxed and at a very reasonable price. I was originally looking at a new Nikon D750 which is an excellent DSLR (and is doing very well for Nikon) but I wanted the pro body and the 36MP sensor. I also picked up a boxed mint condition 50mm f1.8 G lens at the same time this was also at a reasonable price.

It is the high resolution of the Nikon D810 as well as it’s previous versions the D800 and D800E that is the source of much FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). The D810 gives me the ability to crop a lot when the subject is not full frame in the picture as well as a better high ISO capability and wider Dynamic Range; these were lacking in the OM-D. The fact that I can push the RAW files from the D810 so much more still astounds me as the OM-D files couldn’t be pushed as much.

So the popular consensus for getting the best out of the D810 (as well as the D800 and D800E) are the following:

  1. You must use good (read expensive) glass to get the best out of the sensor
  2. You have to lock the camera down on a tripod
  3. You must use good technique
  4. You need to have lots of storage and a fast computer to play with the massive RAW files that the camera produces

I’ll talk about these one at a time.

1) You must use good (read expensive) lenses to get the best out of the sensor:
Nikon recommends that you use good lenses to get the best out of this sensor in fact they produce a list of recommended glass to use with the D800E as follows:

  • AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
  • AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED
  • AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
  • AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II
  • AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II
  • AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED
  • AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G
  • AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G
  • AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
  • AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G
  • AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G
  • AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G
  • AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G
  • AF-S NIKKOR 200mm f/2G ED VR II
  • AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II
  • AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/4G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 600mm f/4G ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR
  • AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED
  • AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
  • PC-E NIKKOR 24mm f/3.5D ED
  • PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED
  • PC-E Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/2.8D

There are a few lenses on this list that are surprising, first the only 50mm lens is the f1.8G version and not the more expensive f1.4G. Also, all of the new f1.8G prime lenses that Nikon has been releasing over the last couple of years are on the list (28mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm) I suspect that the 20mm f1.8G lens would make this list too. The other big surprise is the 24-85mm variable aperture VR zoom lens. These are all easily affordable lenses – although this may be relative as what I consider as affordable may be expensive to the next person, who ever said photography is a cheap hobby?

So even though all of the very expensive f1.4 primes, f2.8 and f4 zoom lenses as well as the extreme telephoto prime lenses all make the list there are a number of affordable primes and zooms that are good enough (from Nikon’s point of view) to be used with the D800E (and I suppose if updated the D810 too).

The only lens that I own that is not on the list is the Nikkor 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 VR Zoom lens. This lens is one of the most underrated ones out there, there are a number of Pro photographers who recommend this lens as it is an optic gem (even Moose Peterson recommends this lens). I have to agree as I cannot find anything wrong with the results I get, yes it’s a bit slow at the 300mm end but if you have the light you get excellent results. From my point if view this “optically” matches the 150mm end of the Olympus M.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 lens that I used to own.

So far I have the 50mm f1.8G, 85mm f1.8G and 70-300mm Nikon lenses and the next two Nikon lenses on my list are the 35mm f1.8G and the 24-85mm f3.5-4.5G VR – both are around £400 each which in the grand scheme of things are far from expensive. So the fact of the matter is you don’t need expensive glass to get the best out of the sensor.

That said, there are some cheap lenses that are real stinkers and should be avoided, putting a really cheap lens on the D810 would produce inferior results. I remember being present in one of the LCE stores here in Lincoln when a guy who had just got himself a Nikon D800 camera went in and asked for the cheapest lens that they sold; what a waste! I suspect that this guy no longer has the D800.

I know partly why this is the case and it has to do with Pixel Density. Nikon currently have 3 ranges of “cropped” or DX sensor bodies in the market – the 3xxx series, the 5xxx series and the 7xxx series. All of them now have 24MP sensors and whilst cheap crappy glass isn’t recommended, Nikon do not produce a list of recommended lenses either. If you were to create a full-frame (35mm) sensor with the same pixel density of these cameras you would have a sensor of around 50MP; strangely this is the resolution of Canon’s new 5DS/5DSR cameras. So the pixel density of the Nikon D810 is less than the Nikon consumer DX bodies!

2) You have to lock the camera down on a tripod

Yeah I know it's a Canon!

Yeah I know it’s a Canon!


My favourite kind of photography is wildlife, followed by events, family and then portraits. Whilst I own and use a tripod most of the time for wildlife I don’t always and don’t for the other types of photography. I have never felt that my shots aren’t sharp because I don’t always use a tripod. Yes, I occasionally get blurry shots but this is usually down to me not being steady and using too low a shutter speed.

However, this may be partly because I use a Nikon D810 and not a D800/D800E. One of the improvements of the D810 over the D800/D800E were the dampened mirror mechanism of the D810 so this will play a part.

3) You must use good technique
I won’t argue with this one – great technique is always needed with any camera to get the best out of it – as is learning as much about the camera as possible to make the best use of its feature set for your kind of photography.

4) You better have lots of storage and a fast computer to play with the massive RAW files that the D810 produces
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The RAW files from the D810 are bigger than the OM-D; a typical RAW file for the OM-D E-M1 is around a 16MB, whilst the RAW file from the D810 is about 56MB. More storage is needed, whilst taking pictures and later when storing them; I did have to purchase larger 32GB compact-flash cards. This is something to bear in mind.

I currently use an iMac 27″ to edit my files using Lightroom CC and it is evident that the D810 files take just a fraction longer to load over the OM-D files, the effect is most pronounced when you are working at 100%. I usually get a non-sharp photo followed by a sharper one once the RAW file is fully loaded. I suspect that this is more to do with the fact that I only have 8GB RAM though. I will have to add another 16GB to take me to 24GB.

If you have a much older computer, you may have more need for an upgrade or a new computer.

Conclusion
So I was a bit worried about using a D810 but as I have shown here, it isn’t the daunting prospect that it is made out to be. I am also having a different experience with the camera than other users on various forums from Facebook to DPReview and I’m not sure why.

With all that is said you have to remember that all cameras are tools and it is the photographer not the camera that takes a great photo – a good photographer knows how to use light and composition.