In today’s post, we will compare the similarities and differences between two Nikon flagship cameras, their D800 and D810. We will assess which of these cameras is the best choice for your specific needs. And also answer the question, is the newer body worthy of an upgrade? The release of the D810 aims to fill in the gaps between the D800 and later release D800E, both of which proved to be industry-changing releases from the manufacturer. However, is the successor enough for users to forgo both earlier versions and go with the pricey body? Let’s find out.
Note: we refer to the Nikon D810 as “successor” and D800 as “predecessor” for the remainder of the article.
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Size & Dimensions
The dimensions and weight between both cameras are mostly identical, though not 100% identical. Each measure approximately 145 x 122 x 81 mm, and the successor is now lighter by 20g, moving down from 900 g to 800 g. Overall, the differences between these cameras in hand are exceptionally insignificant.
Physical Controls & Ergonomics
Their physical controls and dial placement is another area the cameras are relatively indistinguishable. The main change here is the successor features a slightly redesigned grip, now proving better contouring for a more secure hold compared to the flatter grip of the predecessor. Outside of this, the successor also replaces the Bracketing Button with a dedicated AF point selection button instead, providing more immediate access to this particular functionality. Overall, minor changes here, just improvements.
Both cameras have optical viewfinders with an x0.70 magnification.
Both also feature 3.2-inch rear TFT LCDs. However, their resolutions differ. In this case, the successor offers a display with a greater resolution, now at 1.23 million dots compared to the 921K dot resolution in the predecessor. In all, this means that it provides better resolving and contrast when zooming in to assess focus while shooting. Outside of this, both screens deliver excellent brightness and color rendering.
Both cameras provide 36.3-megapixel CMOS sensors, inherited from Sony’s flagship a7R camera. While the successor still uses the same sensor, it now removes the included Optical Low Pass Filter (OLPF). The removal of the OLPF allows the camera to deliver even sharper images, with better fine details, though incredibly subtle in most cases. The predecessor, on the other hand, keeps this filter. Though removing this filter increases the occurrence of moiré, in some cases, it provides the absolute best image quality possible from this particular sensor and gives the successor the slight edge.
The successor now includes a base ISO of ISO 64, further reducing the presence of noise by 1/3 of a stop. While most camera manufacturers are bragging about higher ISO values, Nikon opts to lower the camera’s native sensitivity further to provide even sharper images. An exciting and welcomed addition for sure. Overall, this addition makes the successor an excellent choice for those shooting studio, product, or still life photography who want the absolute cleanest images available. The successor also features an updated image processor, Expeed 4, instead of Expeed 3, allowing the camera to offer better low light performance. The native ISO is also expanded 1 stop upwards as well, now to ISO 12,800 instead of ISO 6,400.
Video on the successor vastly improves over the predecessor. Firstly, the successor finally features Auto ISO when filming. Now you can finally lock both Aperture and Shutter Speed then allow the camera to compensate for changes in ambient light automatically. Secondly, the successor now offers 1080p Full HD video up to 60 frames per second, not just 30 frames per second. While both cameras feature recording limits of 29 minutes and 59 seconds when shooting at their highest quality formats. The successor now shoots at this length at 1080p 30p. Previously, the successor could only do so in 720p, and 1080p was limited to 20 minutes, which made filming longer clips slightly challenging. Thirdly, the successor now features a Flat picture control profile. This profile delivers more neutral footage, especially compared to the Neutral profile, which lends itself better to post-production grading and dynamic range recovery. Lastly, the successor allows for shooting video in the DX APS-C crop mode, which effectively multiplies the current lens by 1.5x, allowing users to extend the reach of the lens. Thankfully, doing so does not incur any degradation or loss in quality and maintains true 1080p resolution.
The successor now features Group-area AF, which groups nearby autofocusing points in subsections of the frame. What this does is it allows these AF points to work cohesively, which provides better subject tracking performance. Group-area AF is a lacking feature in the predecessor, sadly. And it’s one that significantly aids in the camera’s precision and accuracy when autofocusing, especially when tracking motion. Outside of this addition, both cameras still feature the same 51 point AF system, 15 of which are cross-type compatible, along with 3D-tracking inherited from Nikon’s flagship D4S.
Both cameras use the identical EN-EL 15 battery. However, the successor provides a 1,200 shot per charge battery life, compared to the 900 shot life of the predecessor. That’s a 25% improvement, incredibly impressive.
User Interface & Menus
Both cameras feature identical menus, interfaces, and levels of customization.
The successor now features a smaller version of RAW called RAW small, which is a compressed format that reduces its file size demand. It could be a good option for those wanting smaller files. The caveat, however, is that it reduces the resolution to approximately 9-megapixels, ouch. Including the larger RAW medium format would be the preferred choice for this purpose. Nonetheless, RAW small is here if you want to take advantage of it.
The successor now offers a slightly improved continuous shooting speed at 5 frames per second instead of 4 frames. It also allows users to further extend the camera’s continuous high-speed mode by shooting in the DX-crop mode with an optional grip. Doing so allows the camera to shoot at 7 frames per second, instead of the 6 frames on the predecessor. Helpful if you need even higher speeds.
The successor resolves any degradation in quality that occurs when shooting in the DX-crop mode. With that, users can take advantage of this mode to extend the reach of their lens without fear. Previously, the predecessor would suffer a significant loss in quality and resolution when shooting in this mode.
The successor now features Zebra exposure warning to help users better gauge clipping in shadows or highlights, a lacking feature in the predecessor.
The successor features a resigned shutter mechanism that provides better damping to reduce shutter shock and vibration. Not only that, but it can also shoot with an electronic front curtain shutter in the Live View mode. Both of which are great news for those who shoot still life, product, landscape, or astrophotography as it will provide even sharper images than before.
Both cameras have microphone inputs.
Both cameras have headphone inputs.
Both have built-in pop-up flashes.
Both have Flash Sync Terminals.
Both cameras offer two card slots. One is a Compact Flash (CF), the others an SD.
Both cameras have built-in time-lapse shooting modes. However, the successor provides added flexibility and increases the maximum limit to 10,000 images instead of 1,000.
Both cameras lack 4K UHD recording.
Both cameras lack W-Fi and GPS connectivity, only Nikon’s lower-end bodies have these particular features.
So which is best?
Overall, the Nikon D810 is the better option. Sure, much if it’s improvements are rather incremental, not revolutionary in nature. But, it makes for the more future-proofed camera. The addition of a lower ISO, lacking OLPF, grouped AF, and improved video capabilities will go a long way over the years to come to keep you competitive. However, the actual improvements in image quality are significantly subtle and not immediately apparent between both cameras. So, if your budget doesn’t allow for the successor, the predecessor is still more than capable if photographic capabilities are all you need. The improvements to the photography side, while helpful, don’t provide enough value to forgo the predecessor if you are using the camera for photography alone. However, if video is also essential, the successor is the better choice and the better all-round camera.