Thursday, June 26, 2014

NEW! Nikon D810 36.3MP Digital SLR

NEW! Nikon D810 36.3MP Digital SLR
($3,499 CDN - Available starting July 17)

[For a detailed list of changes see: D810/D800/D800E Comparison Sheet - 515KB PDF]

Nikon has announced the D810, a successor to both the D800 and D800E digital SLRs. While there is nothing dramatically ground-breaking (the D810 name might have been enough of a clue to tell you that already), there are indeed numerous enhancements that might make a fairly big difference depending on your shooting style or subject matter. Firstly, let’s discuss the sensor…

The D800 had an anti-aliasing (AA) filter in front of the sensor and its function was to ever so slightly blur the finest details across more than one pixel. This is generally useful to help prevent stair-stepping on hard edges, false-colour in fine details as well as colour and luminance moiré. Without going into all the technical details, the D800E had “half” an AA filter, and then a “refocusing” filter to cancel this half AA filter, the intention being to ensure that maximum detail is retained. The reason that Nikon didn’t simply leave out the AA filter entirely (a much easier solution) was that they needed the same thickness of “filter-pack” in front of the sensor on both the D800 and D800E. Whether or not this is the only reason, I cannot be sure but in any case, the D810 has now completely done away with this somewhat complicated and now unnecessary solution since there is only one camera and no separate ‘E’ version. This is, in my view, a major improvement and may indeed prove to have slight benefits in detail rendition, even over the old D800E. As far as concerns about moiré and aliasing (will it be worse than the D800E?), one won’t really know until detailed side by side tests are done. However given that the D800E wasn’t all that much more prone to these image artifacts than the regular D800, hopefully they will remain minimal on the D810 as well.

The sensor and/or support electronics for it also seem new since now the base ISO is 64 instead of 100, so you can shoot at a lower ISO than before without compromising dynamic range. This is a 2/3 stop improvement and will be a benefit for those that want to slow shutter speeds down or shoot with ultra-fast prime lenses in broad daylight. As well, the lowest extended ISO is now 32, but there you will see a loss of highlight dynamic range. Whether or not the sensor is improved in the dynamic range department or at high ISO is unknown for the moment, but I cannot imagine it being a step down from its predecessor’s.

The key feature that might be of interest to those having to shoot and edit bucket-loads of images every day is the “small RAW” (sRAW) format. When switched to sRAW, you will get an uncompressed raw file that is 9 megapixels and it should retain much of the flexibility of a regular raw file (adjusting exposure and WB in post), albeit at a lower resolution. What is currently unknown is how good the detail rendition is with this 9MP file since it will very likely be demosaiced and not 100% raw anymore. For example, the sRAW modes on Canon bodies do slightly compromise image quality - you will see a noticeable improvement in detail rendering if manually downsizing the full-res raw image to the sRAW size. Still, it is probably going to be a useful solution for some that feel the native 36MP file size is simply too big. However, I was hoping for a little more than 9MP… oh well. The good thing is, that since sRAWs are exactly 1/4 the MP count of the full native RAW file (half the pixel count both horizontally and vertically), there may indeed be minimal loss of quality for the 9MP sRAW files, but I'll have to wait until I can do some careful tests before I can really answer that question.

The shutter and mirror mechanism have also been totally revamped. The shutter is a Kevlar/carbon-fibre composite and the mirror mechanism has been redesigned to be smoother, quieter and faster with a shorter VF blackout, with the reduction in shock likely to help improve image sharpness at slower handheld shutter speeds. The normal shutter release action is now much quieter and the “Quiet” mode is better yet. However, for the smoothest and quietest release possible, there is now also an electronic first-curtain shutter option, similar to what Canon employs as one of the Live-view release modes. Basically when releasing the shutter in Live-View, the camera will simply “clear” the sensor electronically while the first shutter curtain remains open, the exposure will start and then the shutter will close at the end. This will allow for 100% vibration free shutter release, great for super-telephoto, macro photography or any situation where camera shake needs to be kept to a minimum. However as an improvement over Canon’s implementation, the D810 also allows this to work when using mirror-lockup! One limitation is that it only supports shutter speeds up to 1/2000, however at higher speeds, shutter-induced vibration won’t be an issue anyway of course.

Next, the AF system has been tweaked significantly, gaining the improvements that also came with the D4S, the main one being a new focus mode (Group Area AF) where 5 points are linked together and work together as a group. This makes it far easier to keep focus lock on fast or erratically moving subjects. Another interesting new feature is Highlight Weighted Metering. This will be useful when, for example, photographing spotlit performers on stage. The camera’s metering will generally ignore the large expanses of dark and concentrate on accurately metering for the smaller, more brightly lit areas. Personally, I could even see this as beneficial for certain landscape photography scenarios, nighttime cityscapes or, for example, dramatic continuous lighting with a dark background on a portrait shot.

Other enhancements are exposure smoothing for time-lapse work with a greater maximum frame count of 9999 images in a sequence, one-fps faster shooting speed in all modes compared to the D800, auto-ISO for manual mode, "zebra-stripes" during Live-View that show clipped highlights which is great for video work, a new Split-Screen Live-View mode that allows for critical leveling and alignment, improved viewfinder optics with a brighter OLED data display, a higher resolution rear LCD, plus much more. See the linked PDF at the beginning of this posting for a list of all the changes.

We are in the process of taking pre-orders and to ensure you get one ASAP, we will need to take a small deposit to secure the order. Note that NPS members will get priority delivery. Contact us for more details!

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