Nikon Debuts 36.3MP, Full-Frame D810 DSLR with No Optical Low Pass Filter (Hands-on Preview)


JUNE 26, 2014

By Dan Havlik

Nikon took the wraps off its latest professional digital SLR this morning: the 36.3MP, full-frame D810, which uses no optical low pass filter (OLPF) in an effort to optimize resolution and increase sharpness and dynamic range.

We got some hands-on time with an early version of the Nikon D810, which is designed to replace both the D800 and D800E models from 2012.

The 35mm-sized, CMOS chip in the Nikon D810 has the same resolution as the sensors in the D800/E models, but a Nikon representative we spoke with during our hands-on time with the camera said it has been "newly designed."

He stopped short, however, of calling it a brand new chip.

The Nikon D810 will go on sale in late July for $3,299.95 (body only), which is about $300 more than the D800 debuted at in 2012, but the same price as the D800E. The first two images of the D810 in this story were shot during our hands-on time with camera; the rest were provided by Nikon.

No Filter
While the Nikon D800E featured a specially designed anti-aliasing filter with no low-pass filter effect, the Nikon D810 eschews the OLPF altogether, continuing a trend with the company's recent DSLRs. OLPFs are used to prevent the incidence of moiré in images where there is a preponderance of converging lines, such as in a suspension bridge or a building.

Removing the filter helps increase detail and sharpness but could cause an uptick in moiré. That hasn't really been the case with Nikon's filter-less DSLR so far but the jury is out on the D810 until we can get one in for testing.

Design Changes
Otherwise, the Nikon D810 resembles its predecessors but with a few changes. For one, it has a deeper pocket in the handgrip, much like Nikon's flagship D4S pro DSLR. In our time with the D810, it was comfortable to hold yet distinctly undersized compared to the D4S, which is a beast of a camera.

The D810's body is made of magnesium alloy, like the previous models, but inside the camera features a revamped mirror sequence/balancer unit, designed to reduce vibration during shooting to increase sharpness when shooting bursts of images.

The D810 doesn't feel as tough and durable as the D4S, but it is sealed and gasketed to protect against the elements. The shutter has been rated to withstand 200,000 cycles.

The 3.2-inch LCD screen on back of the D810 is the same size as the previous model but has more resolution at 1229K dots, which should make it easier to check focus when reviewing images. The D810's optical viewfinder has 100% coverage, and there's a new "i" button on back of the camera for quicker access to your most used settings.

Another small internal tweak is that the D810 adds a “Clarity” setting to the Picture Control adjustments, letting you tweak mid tones to enhance detail in an image.

New Processor
The processor in the D810 has been upgraded to Nikon's Expeed 4, which Nikon says makes it 30% faster to use overall. Burst rate has improved to 5 frames per second (fps) at full resolution; 6 fps in the cropped DX or 1.2x modes, (15.4MP, 25.1MP, respectively); and 7 fps in DX mode (15.4MP), with the MB-D12 battery pack attached, which sells for $616.

The Expeed 4 processor is also designed to reduce noise, which the previous models struggled with. The Nikon D810 can shoot at a wider, native ISO range of 64 to 12,800. ISO is also expandable to 32 (Lo-1) to 51,200 (Hi-2), offering more versatility for shooting in different lighting conditions.

You can shoot full resolution 14-bit RAW/NEF files with the Nikon D810 or smaller images in a new RAW Size Small format. These 12-bit files are half the resolution and about 1/4 the file size of full RAW files for when you don't need all that resolution and want smaller, more manageable files that are faster to download.

The D810 focusing system uses 15 cross-type AF sensors for better accuracy, and it adds the new Group Area AF option that we liked so much on the D4S.

With Group AF Area deployed, four additional AF points around the center focus point are activated, giving you a larger focusing target to track and capture a fast-moving subject. In effect, there’s a bit more focusing wiggle room with this feature if your subject is traveling quickly through varied terrain.

We liked Group Area AF so much on the D4S that once we turned it on, we pretty much kept it on. We expect the same with the D810.

Video Skills
For HD video, the Nikon D810 can shoot at full 1080p at 60/30/24p and adds a built-in stereo microphone. It offers additional video goodies but, sadly, no 4K capture mode.

Here's a rundown of some of the other video features offered in the Nikon D810, via Nikon's press release on the new camera.

•    FX (Full-frame) and DX crop modes offered while shooting video
•    Flat Picture Control profile: This neutral color profile for video offers flexibility in post-production.
•    HDMI output: The D810 can relay uncompressed digital video to an external recorder via HDMI, while simultaneously displaying the video on the rear LCD display and external LCD monitor. Operators can now also record both to the internal card (compressed) and to the external recorder (uncompressed) simultaneously.

•    Smooth in-camera time-lapse and interval timer: Like the Nikon D4S, the D810 uses an auto-exposure setting to help create smooth exposure and tonal transitions with time-lapse and interval-time shooting.

•    Audio control: The D810 features a built-in stereo microphone, and an external microphone can also be attached, such as the Nikon ME-1. Wide and voice frequency ranges are also now available for audio capture.

•    Expanded ISO for video: The ISO range is expanded for video, now including ISO 64 to 12,800. The Auto-ISO function is also available while recording to adapt the exposure as the light changes, which can eliminate the need to adjust the aperture (in manual mode, ISO 200- 51,200).
•    Zebra stripes: A zebra pattern can be displayed during live view, making it easier to spot overexposed areas.
•    Highlight weighted metering: This new setting helps to prevent blown-out highlights in video. This is useful when capturing spot-lit stage performances or shoots with harsh directional lighting.

•    Full manual control: With the innovative Power Aperture setting, it's easier to adjust the exposure and depth of field on the fly while recording to an external recorder or SD/CF cards. In manual mode, users can also control shutter speed and ISO while recording. Additionally, white balance and  exposure compensation can be adjusted prior to recording.
•    Full time AF: The Live View AF has been improved, and now provides faster full-time AF (AF-F mode).

Final Thoughts
The Nikon D810 is not a major overhaul from the D800/E but there are some significant changes to this camera, not the least of which is getting rid of the OLPF altogether, which should bring out more detail and greater sharpness in images. Otherwise, the design changes to the D810 made it feel more comfortable to use during our brief hands-on time with the camera and we liked that Nikon has upgraded many of the video features. The larger questions of whether the redesigned 36.3MP full-frame sensor in the D810 will improve some of the noise issues with the previous model remain to be seen but we're looking forward to putting this pro camera through its paces when it ships in July.

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