In this Nikon D850 vs D810 vs D800 / D800E comparison article, I will go through all the differences in specifications between these DSLR cameras and talk about what has been added, changed or improved with each generation. While both Nikon D810 and D800 / D800E cameras have been very popular among many enthusiasts and professionals for the past few years, the Nikon D850 is clearly a huge step up in many ways for the D8x0 line of cameras. It is the first high-resolution Nikon DSLR that is aimed at many different photography genres, from landscape and macro, to sports and wildlife photography. Let’s take a look at what the D850 brings to the table when compared to its predecessors.
It seems like releasing a product without proper testing has become a norm for some camera manufacturers like Nikon. You would think that after all the recalls, service advisories and lawsuits, manufacturers should be thoroughly testing equipment, preferably giving the equipment to real photographers who use and abuse their gear for a living, before trying to market and sell it. Nikon specifically has gone through so much bad press, that one would think it is time for the company to think about its long term strategy with releasing products. Looking at the past few years, it seems like almost every major product announcement has been followed by a plague of service advisories. The Nikon D800 / D800E cameras were definitely the spotlight of the industry, except almost every camera was impacted by the infamous Asymmetric Focus Issue. Nikon went quiet on that one for a while and never truly confirmed the issue.
I’ll admit it — I was a bit late to the party. While everyone else has been enjoying the brand new D750 and D810, I have been happily stuck with my aging D7000.
Being a student, I am on a student budget. This means that I buy used technology, and I buy old technology. I have nothing against this, though, since older DSLRs are truly dependable machines, and they still are capable of producing wonderful images. Over the course of two years, I have taken 50,000 photos with my D7000, and it doesn’t look a click over 10,000.
I have been a fan of infrared photography for a while now (largely thanks to Bob Vishneski’s amazing infrared work), but I have not had a chance to explore that side of photography yet. After I bought the D810 to replace the D800E, I first thought about selling the D800E. But seeing how much the D800E was going for on eBay and other sites, I decided to keep it and convert it to an infrared camera instead. After some research and a few email exchanges with Bob on who he recommends, I picked the folks at Kolari Vision, who effortlessly converted my D800E to an IR camera. I did not want a full IR B&W conversion, so I opted for the thinner 720nm filter that allows some colors to come through. Have not experimented yet, as it is really cold and snowy outside, but there are some great news for our readers – my future lens reviews will now include infrared ratings and hot spot reports! So if you already enjoy infrared photography or want to start exploring it (I highly would recommend reading Bob’s excellent introduction to infrared photography article), then you will find the IR section of the reviews particularly helpful!
As you may already know, the difference between the Nikon D800E and D800 is their filter stacks – the D800E has the same size stack as the D800, but its third filter reverses the effect of the first one, essentially cancelling out the effect of the optical low pass filter. This is clearly illustrated in the below image, which compares the two filter stacks side by side:
One of the tests that we will be including in our upcoming Nikon D810 review is a dynamic range comparison between the D810 and the D800E. Instead of making our readers wait for this comparison, we decided to publish it in a separate article. Whether one shoots landscapes or portraits, dynamic range is important, because it allows recovering of both shadow and highlight details in RAW images. With the release of the Nikon D810, one might wonder if it is any better than the D800 / D800E cameras in dynamic range performance. Since the D810 has a base ISO of 64, we decided to provide ISO 64 and ISO 100 samples to see if there is any discernible difference between the two. We also provided ISO 3200 samples to show differences in dynamic range at high ISOs between these cameras.
After I have published my Canon 6D review, a number of our readers asked if there was a way to show a comparison between dynamic range performance of a Canon DSLR and and a Nikon DSLR side by side with image samples. Since the Canon 6D has the largest dynamic range in Canon’s line (higher than 5D Mark III), it was a good candidate for such a comparison. On the Nikon side, I used my Nikon D800E, since it has the same base ISO of 100. Since there was a brightness difference between the two cameras (as noted in the above-mentioned review), I compensated the shutter speed accordingly to make it a fair game. The results are quite interesting to look at, showing visible advantage on behalf of Nikon when compared to Canon. The intent of this article is not to spark another Nikon vs Canon debate, as I personally find such discussions useless. This is done as a case study to analyze recovery options between the two brands when shooting in the field.
If you weren’t already aware, Nikon’s newest DSLR, the Nikon D810, was just released on July 18. For the announcement history, features, sample images and other current D810 posts, you can search Photography Life’s archives. When I saw the camera’s features, a few of them got me immediately excited. I don’t consider myself to be a photographer who has gear lust and must always have the newest camera body, regardless of how incremental the improvement may be. With that being said, as soon as it was announced I simply knew that I had to get the D810. Why? I’m glad you asked.
After I received the Nikon D810 in the morning today, I thought about posting an article on the ISO performance of the camera and how it stacks up against the Nikon D800E. After Adobe announced the release of the Camera RAW 8.6 RC, I thought about using the Adobe converter for the Nikon D810 RAW files instead of Nikon’s software like Capture NX-D or ViewNX. Well, that was a really bad call on my side, because I ended up wasting the whole day trying to figure out why the performance of the D810 was coming out so bad when compared to the D800E. I ran many different tests and each one of them showed the same thing – the D800E was surpassing the D810 at every ISO above 3200. Whether it was with retaining colors and dynamic range, to plain noise – the D800E was just killing the D810 in every case. Although the D810 images were coming out about a stop brighter (with the exact same exposure settings and even custom white balance set at 4700K), I even tried to equalize the brightness both in cameras and post, only to see variations of the same problem. Nothing made sense and I simply could not believe that Nikon would release a camera that was inferior than its predecessor in image quality. That really did not make sense, but that’s what I was seeing!
Since the Nikon D810 got announced yesterday, we have been getting a lot of questions from our readers via emails, comments and Facebook messages. After answering many questions and doing some additional research, I decided to compile everything I have gathered so far in a single article. Looks like the biggest number of questions is coming from existing Nikon DX and D600/D610/D700 owners, who are considering to move up to the D810 as an upgrade. Some Nikon D800 and D800E owners like myself also find some of the new D810 features attractive, but there are still some items that remain unclear from the announcement (such as the camera buffer size), so the below article will hopefully address some of those questions and concerns as well.