5) Camera Construction and Handling
Similar to the D700 and other higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the Nikon D800 has a full magnesium-alloy frame. The camera is built tough and will last a long time, if it is properly taken care of. So far I have taken it up to mountains and have shot some images at below freezing temperatures and the camera worked just fine. I also used it in very dusty conditions and in light rain and none of the dust or moisture made its way into the camera.
Handling-wise, the D800 is superb – definitely better than the D700 I have been so used to. Although the ergonomic changes to the camera might seem small when comparing the D800 to the D700, there are a few big changes that I really like on the D800. First, the old C/S/M switch on the front of the D700 has been replaced by the one from the Nikon D7000. Now we just have the “AF” and “M” switch options with a button on top of the switch, so changing the focus mode from AF-S to AF-C and vice-versa is accomplished by depressing the button and rotating the rear camera dial. Rotating the front camera dial changes AF focus mode: Single, Dynamic (9, 21, 51), 3D or Auto. Much better and faster to get to than trying to use the switch on the back of the D700 then messing with the “Dynamic AF Area” custom setting menu option. I really liked this feature on the D7000 and I am glad that Nikon ported this change to the D800 as well.
Another big and welcome change is the enhanced rotating dial on the top left side of the camera. Instead of the thin rotating base with the letters on top, we now have a much larger base with the letters on the side. Because of this change, the full surface of the top of the dial is now available, so we now have 4 buttons instead of 3 – QUAL (changing image size and format), BKT (bracketing), ISO and WB (white balance). Now you can access bracketing options without going into the menu or assigning a custom button for bracketing.
The grip went through some changes as well and it feels more comfortable on the D800. While the shape of the grip handle stayed the same, the spacing between the two function buttons and the handle has been increased. When holding the D700, my fingers occasionally touch the function buttons, so it is nice to see this small, but important ergonomic change. People will bigger hands will find the D800 to be better to hold, especially with a battery grip. Speaking of which, I do not understand why Nikon wants to rip people off with a $450 battery grip (MB-D12 is listed for $616 on NikonUSA.com). Considering the battery life of the camera (more on that below), I think they are expecting plenty of photographers to buy the grip, so the intentions here are pretty clear. I won’t be buying the MB-D12; it is just a matter of time until much cheaper alternatives are released by other manufacturers. On the other hand, I am happy to have a $3,000 D800 with a $450 grip than a $3,500 D800 with a $250 grip…
Back to camera handling. The shutter release area of the camera has also been redesigned. Now the shutter release is angled a little lower, which certainly adds to the comfort in my opinion. The “MODE” button has been moved a little further away from the shutter to make space for the smaller video record button, as shown on the image.
One more welcome change is the harder plastic access door to the camera ports such as USB and HDMI located on the left side of the camera body. The door on the Nikon D700 opens up too easily after several years of heavy use, which is kind of scary when using the camera in dusty and wet conditions. Looks like the Nikon D800 will be protected better in that regard.
The buttons on the back of the camera stayed the same, except the Zoom In/Out buttons are now reversed. I agree that it is a good ergonomic change, but it should have been done a long time ago in Nikon’s first DSLR camera bodies. I got too used to having the zoom button lower, so I keep on messing up for now. I guess it will take time to get used to this change.
Oh, and for whatever reason, Nikon decided to flip the (+) and (-) signs on the camera by default. If you are used to the normal way of changing exposure compensation or your shutter speed, then go to Custom Setting Menu, f9 Customize Command Dials and f12 Reverse indicators and change the orientation to (+) being on the left and (-) on the right. This will make the D800 behave like D700 and other older Nikon DSLR cameras.
The AF Area Mode Selector has been replaced by the Live View switch/button. The switch allows choosing between image and movie modes, while the “Lv” button in the center is for getting in and out of the Live View mode. Lastly, the “AF-ON” button on the D800 now triggers VR to get activated. I tested this with a couple of VR lenses and VR started to engage as soon as I pressed the AF-ON button on the back of the camera.
Other than these and a couple of other minor changes, everything else stayed the same.