Nikon D810 Review

Four years ago, I made the switch to full frame, upgrading from my trusty Nikon D300 to the Nikon D700. By the time I made the switch, the D700 was already available for  2 1/2 years, so its reputation and capabilities were already well-established. Full frame was like night and day after coming from a cropped sensor camera, and while some things definitely took some getting used to, it wasn’t long before the D700 became my rock solid companion for everything that I would shoot. However, as time went on, the 12 MP slowly began to be a bit of a limiting factor, especially when it came to commercial work. The Nikon D800 and D800E were released in 2012, and while the new 36 MP sensor was very attractive, it didn’t shoot fast enough to fully replace my D700 for my race track, action, and wedding needs. On top of that, my Macbook Pro at the time didn’t have enough RAM to really process such large files efficiently. Knowing that eventually I’d have to upgrade to something with more resolution soon, I made it a point to upgrade to a newer Macbook Pro late last year, and then I found myself waiting to see what Nikon would do to succeed the D700.

Enter the Nikon D810: with the faster processor and autofocus system from the mighty Nikon D4s, in one fell swoop Nikon “fixed” the things that stopped me from picking up the D800/E, and since my computer was now upgraded, I put in my pre-order as soon as I could. The camera then arrived in late July with some fanfare and celebration.


Behold the #Nikon #D810 is mine! #cameraporn #36MP #BAMF #Beethoven #OdeToJoy

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All joking aside, immediately I fell in love with this camera body. The autofocus is lightning quick and accurate. From my new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART to my old Nikon 50mm f/1.4D, the D810 nails the autofocus and rarely has to hunt, even in low light. Here’s one of my first photos with the D810, in mixed indoor lighting with the Sigma 35mm at f/2.5 and ISO 400:

The sharpness is definitely apparent right away, and I put it to the test even more with some family photos on my niece’s 16th birthday. I took this photo with my tried and true Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR2, which historically proves its sharpness no matter what body it’s on:

Both of the above were taken at ISO 400, which is definitely good, but the D810 introduced ISO 64 as its lowest base sensitivity. Fortunately, I was able to test it a bit with a 30-second night exposure, which did not display any of the white spot problems that prompted a recall of the first batches of D810s:

Friends and family photos are great and all, but I really wanted to see how well this camera would perform for actual work. The chance came soon enough as we ended up shooting photos for NWMotiv’s theKings series, which not only allowed me to test out the new ISO 64 in plenty of light, but also see how good this sensor truly is. Here’s a 100% crop as well as the full photo itself, shot with my Nikon 50mm f/1.4D at f/2:



The sharpness of this camera is quite amazing, especially given that this was taken at f/2. Here’s another 100% crop from a Lightroom screenshot, this time at f/8:


Impressive! The D810 also still performs great with my old Tokina 17mm f/3.5, which isn’t the sharpest lens toward the edges:

You can see more photos from this shoot in my EP3 Kings blog post. Soon thereafter, I was also able to try out some portraits using my Wescott IceLight, SB-700, and reflector during Alan and Krystal’s engagement photoshoot. The D810 showed off its dynamic range with the sunset photos, leaving the couple quite happy with the results:

While static, still shots such as these proved to be easy for the D810, how would it fare with motion and action shots? After all, the “slow” 4 fps of the D800/E is what prevented me from switching to that body previously, so I was definitely anxious to see how the claimed 5 fps with the new autofocus system would perform in a real-world environment. The test for this came soon enough with Dennis and Monica’s wedding, and the D810 once again lived up to its hype. The D810 nails the autofocus with the newlyweds walking toward me, and shows that the D810 and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART seem to be a lens-body match made in heaven:

Shooting a wedding is also a good time to test a camera body’s high ISO noise and dynamic range. You can see how mixed the lighting is on this photo, but I was able to recover a lot of detail that was either blown out or clipped in the dark areas. This is definitely a situation where the dynamic range of the D810 shines over my old D700:

As the wedding moved inside, I could definitely test the D810’s low light / high ISO capabilities. Overall, it’s definitely not as good as the big pro D3s/D4/D4s bodies that I’ve used, but it’s still very good, especially given that I’m able to work with 36 MP. ISO 800 here seems like it has no significant noise problems whatsoever:

You can see a little more noise at ISO 800 here with this action shot where I pushed the exposure a little higher in post, but it’s still quite good:

You can also still see plenty of sharpness and detail here at ISO 800 as well:

I didn’t have to push the camera into higher ISOs during this wedding, but nevertheless I’m quite happy with how well it performed. Together with my old D700 as a reliable second body, I definitely feel that I have an excellent wedding setup, and I’ll be anxious to try shooting with both bodies on the race track as well. I also haven’t had a chance to really test out the much-touted video capabilities of the D810, but I didn’t buy this camera for video anyway, so I’m not too worried about that at this point.

Overall, the D810 is rock solid and already performs like a champ. The ergonomics are excellent, the shutter is very quiet, and as you can see from the photos, the performance is exemplary. I have a feeling I’ll be keeping this camera body for a very long time, and while I might not always need 36 MP, it’s definitely good to know that I have it when necessary. I can’t wait to shoot some drifting with this new body, and I plan to test out the 1.2x crop mode that will get me up to 6 fps with a smaller 24 MP file. Until then, I’ll be enjoying everything that this camera body can do, and I definitely don’t regret jumping on this right away instead of waiting for the new Nikon D750.


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