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Last week I got the chance to take the new Nikon D810 out for a test drive. I was at Adobe Max in LA, and a few friends and I met up to go shoot at Corona Del Mar (photo above is my good buddy Chris Orwig). So I thought I’d give you a quick review/first thoughts on it, and some things you should know as a landscape photographer using the D810. Also, I’m heading out to Oregon for some hiking/camping/photography and I’ll be putting it to the test more there. But for now, I’ll go through the main features over the D800, as it pertains to me (coming from a landscape photography point-of-view).

Quick Side Note: Just so you know, I don’t do typical camera reviews. I don’t write about sensors, processors, nor do I take photos out in my backyard to show chromatic aberration, vignetting, diffraction, and edge-to-edge sharpness at various f-stops and ISOs. I just simply wrote about the features that I found useful (or not useful) in my real world shooting. So… I may not cover every feature, but all I can do is write about the features that I noticed as a landscape photographer. Got it?! Okay, here we go: 🙂

1) Lower ISO
This one surprised me in how useful it is. It wasn’t something I wanted, but now that I’ve used it I can totally see the benefit. The D810 has a lower limit to it’s native ISO range. It’ll let you go down to ISO 64 natively. Now, I never saw any noise at my ISO 100 or ISO 200 photos, so why should I care about going down to ISO 64? Because it let’s me get longer shutter speeds for long exposures, without having to put on an ND filter. Just like moving your ISO higher, makes your shutter speeds faster – moving it lower, makes the shutter speed longer. It doesn’t sound like much, but any time I can avoid putting an ND filter on to slow the shutter speed is huge for me.

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2) Sharpness
The D810 has no anti-aliasing filter and no optical low-pass filter, so technically it’s going to be sharper than the D800 (or even D800E). No surprise here. I wrote about this a while back when I compared the D800 and D800E before buying one, and I came to the conclusion that, although the D800E was a bit sharper, the D800 was the camera for me. Basically, the D810 is like the D800E in that it doesn’t have a High Pass sensor which is just fancy talk for the photos being just a tad bit sharper. Is it true? Yes. Is it noticeable by mere humans who aren’t pixel peepers and don’t zoom in to 200% on your photos? Nope. It is a little sharper, but to me it’s not a selling point. Every photo I have is going to be sharpened in Lightroom or Photoshop (and so should all of yours by the way), and once that happens I can’t tell the difference between the two. Will I take the extra sharpness now that the D810 only offers this version? Sure, but I’d have been fine without it too.

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3) Redesigned Mirror/Shutter
WARNING: Techie-weenie talk ahead!
I noticed the shutter is quieter than the D800 which is nice. It’s not like I’m shooting weddings or events with it (or delicate wildlife that could get distracted), so the sound of the shutter isn’t huge to me. But you’ll definitely notice a difference. Now, that said, one of the benefits of what they’ve done with the shutter is something called an Electronic Front-Curtain Shutter which means the image sensor acts as a front curtain to reduce internal vibrations. Now, I have absolutely no idea what that really means other than this – not only is shutter quieter, but it also vibrates less. Again, all that techie stuff is way past me. And since I’ve abandoned using mirror-lock on my camera years ago, anything that may help translate to sharper photos, is good to me.

Side Note: I do want to say that the D800 (800e) was one freakin’ sharp-ass camera. From the photos I’ve taken with the new D810, I can’t say that they’re any sharper, but I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison so I’ll keep you posted if I do.

4) Frame Rate
The D810 went from 4 frames per second to 5. For me, this is a landscape camera. Because of that, I’m not trying to capture a lot of movement so FPS doesn’t matter much. But, if you’re like me, you probably grab your DSLR and shoot your kids sports games (I do), or maybe even some wildlife (me, not so much), when you’re out shooting. And that extra frame will help capture more action. Plus, the FPS gets even higher if you shoot in DX crop mode.

5) Bracket Improvements
I huge gripe of mine on the D800 was that I couldn’t shoot bracketed exposures that were 2-stops apart. I bracket everything because I don’t want to worry about the technical histogram stuff when I’m in the field. But I never merge them for HDR. It just gives me choices when I get back to editing, to pick the best exposure.

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Anyway, for me, what I really want is a Dark Exposure (-2 stops), Middle (0 compensation), and Light (+2 stops). With the D800, I had to shoot 5-shot brackets to get this, because it would only do 1-stop increments. That meant I filled up my cards almost twice as fast and had to go delete the photos later. Now (FINALLY!), the D810 will let you separate your brackets by 2 stops so I can shoot a 3-shot bracket and get what I want.

6) Highlight Weighted Metering
Again, this feature isn’t for everyone so I’m just going to use Nikon’s description for it:
“Highlight-weighted metering is the go-to choice when you are photographing a spotlit bride in her wedding dress, a ballerina on the stage, or whenever you are faced with uneven lighting and a background that is much darker than the subject.”

For me, it’s not something I use for landscapes. I bracket everything so metering modes don’t get used much on my camera. That said, as with some of the other features, if you’re taking your landscape camera and also shooting your kids dance recitals on stage, or something similar, then this will definitely be a feature that’ll help, since bracketing wouldn’t be of any use to you.

7) 9MP Raw Mode
The D810 includes a 9MP raw mode for when you don’t want that whopping 36 MP photo. For landscapes, I’d never turn it on for landscapes. But again, if you use your D810 for taking pictures of your family then I could definitely see a benefit when you don’t need those huge files, and just want to capture some moments without huge files to take up space and process.

8) Split Screen Zoom In Live View
This one is really for architectural shooters, but not something I’ve used yet. Basically, it splits the LCD screen in Live View mode, and shows you two different areas of the photo on each side of the split. It’s really hard to explain, so here’s a link to Nikon’s site where they show you how to use it, and I think you’ll get a better feel for what it does and if it’s for you or not.

9) The LCD
I did notice a difference in the LCD over the D800. It’s not any larger, but it’s definitely more crisp and clear. Also, I use Live View mode all the time for focussing. One of the gripes I’ve had with the D800 is zooming in when in Live View. It’s always been kinda pixelated. But on the D810, it looks better.

10) Clarity Setting in Picture Control
It sounds cool that there’s now a Clarity setting in the Picture Controls in camera. This is great if you’re shooting JPEGS because that’s the only time those settings get used. But if you’re shooting raw, those styles get stripped off the raw file when you move in to Lightroom or Photoshop. Definitely cool to have it in camera though.

Bonus) The New “i” Button
10 Seemed like such a nice number for the name of this post that I’m calling the 11th feature a bonus 🙂 There’s a new “i” button on the camera. It’s another extra button that comes in pretty handy for getting to some important settings fast, without digging through menus.

Things I Wish It Had
There’s only two big things I wish it had.

1) Built in Bulb-Mode-Timer – I SOOOO wish it had a built-in bulb-mode-timer in Bulb mode, so I could go beyond 30-second exposures, and have the camera time it for me without using a cable release. Long exposures are really the only reason I carry my cable release any more. If I simply want to avoid camera shake, I just use the self-timer on the camera. But if I go over 30-seconds I still need the release. I know the feature is out there on other cameras, and I’d love to see it included one day.

Side Note: I still always get great feedback from my class on Long Exposure photography over on KelbyOne.com. It’s probably one of my favorite classes I’ve done, so if you still haven’t seen it make sure you check it out 🙂

2) GPS – Need I say more? 🙂

Things I Didn’t Talk About
There’s a few other areas of improvement in the camera that I haven’t really talked about: 1) Auto-focus, 2) Video, and 3) Improved Time Lapse features.
1) The D810 made some nice improvements in the auto-focus area as well as video. Since I’ve only shot this on a tripod for still landscape photos, I can’t really comment on either.

2) I don’t shoot much video so I can’t comment on this one either.

3) A lot of people love Time Lapse photography, and the new features let you shoot more frames as well as an exposure smoothing feature that that helps improve the quality of the time-lapse as the light changes.

And Finally, It’s Always Nice to Shoot With Friends
Regardless of what camera you’re shooting, it’s always great to meet up with friends and get out. I had an awesome time shooting with Chris, and a few friends of mine from Wacom (Wes, and Joe).Nobody posed for this photo, but I thought it was kinda cool to see everyone so close together, yet shooting something totally different.

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Final Thoughts
Well, hopefully that helps if you’re thinking about picking up a D810. I really enjoyed shooting with it, and it’s looking like a nice upgrade to the D800. Especially for people that want a more versatile camera in case they end up using it for other things besides landscapes. The new auto-focus stuff, smaller files if you want, and all of the video goodness make it a landscape workhorse, but also good to have for lots of other things as well.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a good one!

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