It has only been 8 months since Nikon announced the D810 and today the company announced a very specialized camera for astrophotographers, the Nikon D810A. In essence, the D810A is pretty much identical to the existing D810 – the camera has exactly the same body build, ergonomics, sensor, etc. What has changed is the filter stack in front of the sensor, which contains a modified infrared filter that is more sensitive to super low light emitted by the stars and nebulas (specifically, the hydrogen alpha wavelength). In addition, Nikon implemented additional shutter speeds (4, 5, 8, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60, 120, 180, 240, 300, 600 and 900 seconds) to give more flexibility for astrophotography needs. While the announcement is certainly big for astrophotographers, because it is world’s first full-frame astrophotography DSLR camera, I do have a few concerns about this particular release. Having done a bit of research in astrophotography last year (my primary interest was in deep space object photography using specialized mounts and CCD sensors), I learned a little bit about the tools and what’s needed.
First of all, I am not sure why Nikon picked the 36 MP sensor for astrophotography. Deep sky photography requires taking relatively short exposures of the same object, then stacking them to create a single picture. 36 MP RAW files will be huge in size and might not be suitable for stacking potentially several hundred images. The software might not be up to the task and the processing power requirements will be huge. In addition, pixel-level quality on the sensor will put a lot of demand on the mount and overall stability of the setup – even slightest vibrations will introduce blur, whereas a lower resolution sensor would be more forgiving. The good news is, the D810 has the electronic front curtain mode, but the way it is implemented on the D810 requires one to shoot in either Live View or Mirror Lock Up modes, which makes the newly introduced shutter speeds only valuable when shooting in Live View mode. But that’s for those who are planning to stack images – what if one just wants to capture single shot sequences? In those situations, being able to use higher ISO with less per pixel noise is far more important, which makes 10-24 MP modern sensors much more suitable for the job…
Second, being a high-end DSLR with a magnesium alloy construction, the Nikon D810A is not a lightweight camera. With its hefty weight of 880 grams (same as on the D810), it might present balancing issues when mounting it on a telescope. For astrophotography needs, it is ideal to use smaller, lightweight cameras. If dedicated CCD cameras are out of budget, the second best alternative in my opinion is to go with mirrorless cameras like Sony A7S and A7 / A7 II that have a modified filter stack.
Third, given that it is a dedicated astrophotography camera, it is puzzling to see that Nikon did not make the rear LCD screen of tilting type. Considering that the camera will often be used at odd angles, a tilt-screen would be very valuable for initial setup and occasional checking. Although most deep sky object photography is done via a tethered setup, there are situations where one either cannot or does not want to setup the whole rig and connections. In those situations, having the ability to tilt the screen, review images or change menu settings can give a lot of convenience.
Lastly, at $3,799.95 MSRP, this is not a cheap camera. At that price range (especially in the used market), one can buy a decent CCD camera that will not only outperform the D810A for deep sky object photography, but will also have a lot less heat build-up issues (many CCD cameras come with built-in ventilation fans to deal with heat). So both price and potential heat build-up (which results in more noise even at base ISO) are both a concern. And by the way, considering that the camera has a modified filter stack, the camera is not really usable for regular daytime photography needs, so please keep this in mind…
Still, it will be interesting to see how the D810A does for astrophotography. I am planning to test a unit and compare it to my D810 to see what the differences are, particularly for handling dark current. It would also be interesting to compare the results to the Canon 60Da, although for some reason B&H shows the camera as “no longer available” (has it already been discontinued?).
Below are the Nikon D810A specifications, along with the official announcement and additional images.
Nikon D810A Specifications:
- Sensor: 36.3 MP FX, 4.8µ pixel size
- Sensor Size: 35.9 x 24mm
- Resolution: 7360 x 4912
- DX Mode: 15.3 MP
- DX Mode Resolution: 4800 x 3200
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 200-12,800
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 100
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 25,600-51,200
- sRAW File Support: 12-bit uncompressed
- Processor: EXPEED 4
- Metering System: 3D Color Matrix Meter III with highlight weighted metering
- Dust Reduction: Yes
- Weather Sealing/Protection: Yes
- Body Build: Full Magnesium Alloy
- White Balance: New White Balance System with up to 6 presets
- Shutter: Up to 1/8000 down to 4, 5, 8, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60, 120, 180, 240, 300, 600 and 900 seconds
- Shutter Durability: 200,000 cycles, self-diagnostic shutter
- Camera Lag: 0.012 seconds
- Storage: 1x CF slot and 1x SD slot
- Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
- Speed: 5 FPS, 6 FPS in DX / 1.2X mode, 7 FPS in DX Crop Mode with optional MB-D12 battery pack
- Exposure Meter: 91,000 pixel RGB sensor
- Built-in Flash: Yes, with Commander Mode, full CLS compatibility
- Autofocus System: Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX with Group Area AF
- AF Detection: Up to f/8 with 9 focus points (5 in the center, 2 on the left and right)
- LCD Screen: 3.2 inch diagonal with 1,229K dots
- Movie Modes: Full 1080p HD @ 60 fps max
- Movie Exposure Control: Full
- Movie Output: MOV, Compressed and Uncompressed
- In-Camera HDR Capability: Yes
- GPS: Not built-in, requires GP-1 GPS unit
- Battery Type: EN-EL15
- Battery Life: 1200 shots
- USB Standard: 3.0
- Weight: 880g
- Dimensions: 146 x 123 x 82 mm (5.75 x 4.84 x 3.23″)
- Price: $3,799.95 MSRP
Along with the D810A, Nikon also announced the “Nikon D750 Filmmaker’s Kit”. See the below press release for more details.
Official Press Release
STELLAR RESOLUTION: THE NIKON D810A CAPTURES THE COSMOS IN EPIC DETAIL
The D810A Provides New Features Specifically for Astrophotography. Nikon Also Announces Availability of D750 Filmmaker’s Kit
MELVILLE, NY (February 9, 2015 at 11:01 P.M. EST) – Today, Nikon Inc. announced the new D810A, a DSLR optimized for astrophotography and other scientific applications. By modifying the infrared cut filter for the hydrogen alpha wavelength, Nikon has created a camera that gives photographers the ability to capture the diffuse nebulae in the night sky and to create colorful, breathtaking celestial images. The D810A shares its architecture with the powerful and professional high-resolution Nikon D810 DSLR and includes other new features designed uniquely to help capture the cosmos, letting users achieve sharp and vibrant images of the universe.
“The Nikon D810A is engineered exclusively to meet the unique demands of professional and hobbyist astrophotographers,” said Masahiro Horie, Director of Marketing and Planning, Nikon Inc. “The camera’s distinctive feature set and powerful imaging capabilities make it an appealing option for those who are ready to discover the fantastic cosmic features that are hidden among the stars.”
I AM Star Struck: DSLR Optimized for Astrophotography
The Nikon D810A provides hobbyists as well as professional stargazers with a powerful combination of impressive resolution and features specifically created for astrophotography and scientific applications. The infrared (IR) cut filter has been optimized to allow transmission of the hydrogen alpha spectral line, resulting in four times greater sensitivity of the 656nm wavelength. The resulting images capture the brilliant red hues of diffuse nebulae and constellations in striking detail and fidelity. While not recommended for general photography, the D810A is an excellent option for photographing the universe with either NIKKOR lenses or third-party adaptors for telescopes.
In addition to the optimized IR cut filter, the D810A adds other features that are useful for astrophotography applications. A new Long Exposure Manual Mode is implemented, giving users the ability to set shutter speeds from 4, 5, 8, 10, 15, 20, 30, 60, 120, 180, 240, 300, 600 or 900 seconds (15 minutes), as well as Bulb and Time settings. Building upon the D810’s excellent low-light capabilities, the ISO range has been optimized from 200 to 12,800 (Hi-2 51,200), for maximum sensitivity with the optimal signal to noise ratio.
The Best of Both Worlds
The Nikon D810A is based off of the Nikon D810 architecture and retains all of the features that make it a powerful tool for creating images. Users will be able to produce photos of the heavens in super high resolution thanks to the 36.3-megapixel CMOS sensor. The image sensor works in tandem with Nikon’s exclusive EXPEED 4 Image processing engine to deliver images with low noise and a dynamic range that is nothing short of stellar. The D810A also features an Electronic Front Curtain Shutter Mode, letting the electronic front curtain act as a shutter when in live view or first composing through the optical viewfinder in mirror-up mode. This feature minimizes vibrations to attain maximum sharpness when shooting subjects at very slow shutter speeds. The camera also features a durable magnesium alloy body that is sealed against dirt and moisture, giving users peace of mind when getting away from the city lights means a trek off of the beaten path.
The Nikon D810A is compatible with a wide range of high quality NIKKOR lenses and accessories, including wireless infrared remotes, cable releases and the new WR-1 wireless remote system. Additionally, Nikon’s Capture NX-D software is available as a free download, and it will feature a new option for Astro Noise Reduction for use with D810A image files.
Nikon D750 Filmmaker’s Kit
For users who are looking to take advantage of the Nikon D750’s advanced video capabilities, Nikon is now offering a Filmmaker’s Kit that includes everything needed to get started in the world of cinema. The kit contains three NIKKOR lenses in popular focal lengths, including the AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED lens, the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G lens and the AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G lens; all which provide stunning HD clarity and excellent depth of field control for filmmakers. The kit also contains two additional EN-EL15 batteries, an ME-1 Stereo Microphone, one Atomos Ninja-2 External Recorder, and Tiffen® 67mm and 58mm Variable Neutral Density Filters (8-Stops) for superior control of light. In addition, the Nikon D750 Filmmaker’s Kit features custom foam inserts, which are ideally sized for use in a hard case for transporting equipment to your next video production.
Price and Availability
The Nikon D810A will be available in late May 2015 and pricing will be announced at a later date. The Nikon D750 Filmmaker’s Kit will be available in late February for a suggested retail price (SRP) of $3,999.95*. For more information about the Nikon D810A and other Nikon cameras and products, please visit www.nikonusa.com.