Nikon Release the D800

The Nikon D800 ©Nikon UK

Finally the Nikon D800 has arrived.  It must be said this is the camera I’ve been waiting quite a while for.  It’s been talked about amongst the photography rumour site fraternity for many a month now and after several leaked details and photos came into existence I’ve been eagerly awaiting this lovely Japanese gadget, and finally it’s here.

Some years ago, back in my wet-behind-the-ears-twenties, I would’ve scoffed at buying this level of camera – something which I would perceive to fall below a pro-spec body – a kind of wannabe photographer’s camera that only entry level people would buy.  Part of this was really because I’ve always liked the solid feel that comes with a D2X or a D3 camera, something that that did not require a bolt on battery/vertical grip, but had a far more organic aesthetic; some would say a proper camera.  Well, we all grow up sometime (my snobbery has left me) and you start to consider what is really important and what we desire a camera to offer us as seasoned professionals, as opposed to what we think we should have.

When I bought my Nikon D3 five years ago I was fully convinced that I would never need to purchase another camera again.  This really was what you call ‘revolutionary’.  It completely opened up creative doors to photographers, the World over, that it changed the way many of us worked, and what most of us considered possible.  It had the incredible new FX chip and full frame characteristics that a film camera had, which meant no messing about buying those silly DX lenses, and shooting measure for measure good old fashioned photography, with the right lens equalling the correct focal length.  The most fantastically amazing attribute it gave us was the ability to shoot at high ISO’s with minimal noise levels.  To emphasise this point, in 2010 I embarked on a world photography assignment for Anglo American as part of their global rebranding process, shooting their various mining sites in South Africa, Australia and South America.  Much of the photography took place underground in the coal mines of SA, and myself and the team had been given strict instructions by the creative agency to shoot with as much available light as possible to maintain a natural look, shunning any flash, and working with what we had.  You can imagine the horror.  In the old days of the D2x, we would’ve been well and truly screwed.  But this D3 opened up the opportunity to make this seemingly impossible task a reality, and sure enough it surpassed all expectations.  I was shooting regularly underground at around 2,500 ISO and gained some excellent results.  This camera enabled photographers to now shoot in extremely low lighting conditions without the need to use any artificial lighting, and my Anglo American project was a great, and easy, test for this camera.

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Anglo American Global Rebrand Shoot/ Photographs ©Daniel Lewis 2010

If there was a slight downside to the D3 it was it’s pixel count.  At just over 12 megapixels it wasn’t by any means huge in it’s ability for use on the large scale, then I suppose you would buy the D3x for that wouldn’t you – but hey, it didn’t have the same chip in it that had so changed the world with the D3.  You just couldn’t get all the pieces into one camera body!!  Obviously this is a Nikon business plan – they know this, they plan for it and their business thrives on it.  They want to frustrate us, they make more money that way – if you want all the technology on offer at once, you have to buy it ALL.

If, as I mentioned I could change one thing about my darling D3, it would be to give it a megapixel boost.  That’s all.  So you can imagine how excited I was when news of the D4’s impending release hit the news.  I was sure this was going to be my final camera purchase, yes, this would do me for life….

BUT NO!!  They brought out a vastly improved sensor to record the most stupidly high ISO rated image ever, like 100,000 or something ridiculous, with all the usual bells and whistles, but somehow avoiding to up the pixel count past 16MP.  WHAT?!!  HUH?!! We wait five years for a new top of the range DSLR from Nikon, to be awarded with a meagre four additional megapixels…?  I was crushed.  Yes I know it has extended ISO range and face detection etc and I know I sound like a spoilt brat, but what I really wanted was for them to give us a really amazing file size to work alongside the fabulous low light shooting capabilities.  And with the £5000 price tag, I was not going to be opening my wallet for what I believe, maybe wrongly, that the actual improved spec is not worth paying out for.  I was also annoyed because I thought Nikon had let themselves down in the fight against Canon.  My gripe being that the 5D Mark II, the camera which everyone is lauding over as the best thing since sliced bread, is actually a mid-range camera body and possesses a 21.1MP CMOS sensor, so 16MP by comparison seems fairly lame.  My girlfriend owns a Mark II (yes there is a Nikon v Canon war in our house) and I have to say that I don’t even think Canon would have predicted how well this camera has done.  Certainly its video spec is up there fighting against the out-and-out video cameras.  I know professional cameramen who use it for corporate shoots, so there’s no denying Canon have a huge market share in the video production niche, especially with the convergence situation – of photographers moving over, to add to their already huge stills share of the market.

Street kids in Sowetto, SA, using D3/ Photograph ©Daniel Lewis 2010

Back to my original topic, the much anticipated D800, admittedly a littler, less handsome brother to the D4 is out there, ready for pre-order, retailing in the UK at £2,399  and I am very, very tempted to buy it.  It pretty much builds everything I had hoped and desired of the D4 into a smaller version.  Though it doesn’t possess the high film speed of the D4, it more than betters my D3, and the incorporation of a HD video shooting mode is very useful as I am looking, like many snappers, to venture into this art of ‘convergence‘.  It has, for the first time in Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) history, a 36 MP count which will allow the photographer the ability to capture far more detail than ever before, certainly on this format anyway.  I shoot a lot of portraits and it is always preferable to capture as much detail on a face as possible, to give it that real texture you sometimes seek on, for instance, the dirt-smeared face of a coal miner in South Africa perhaps.

It seems to me that Nikon are aiming this camera as a direct competitor to the Canon 5D Mark II, or even the Mark III when it’s released, judging by the fact that they have gone ‘gung-ho’ with the MP count.  The ball is well and truly in Canon’s court now.

Yet, still Nikon frustrate me.  Could they not have built those 36 megapixels into the D4, just for me? No, of course not, that wouldn’t make sense would it…not business sense anyway!!


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