Nikon D810 Review VS D800 VS 5D3 VS FS700

I believe that the Nikon D810 is currently the best all around camera you can buy for the money ($3300) even with competition from Sony's A7R. The more difficult question comes from current D800 owners like me; "Is this camera worth upgrading to?" The answer isn't cut and dry. 

The D800 was an incredible jump in technology for it's time. The D700 was 12MP and the D800 jumped to 36MP without losing the incredible ISO performance. The D800 never really had any major downfalls and therefore it has become very difficult to even imagine a camera much better than the D800. The D810 is not a completely new camera; it's an upgrade and some how they have managed to upgrade almost every major feature of the camera. The question is, are these upgrades worth selling your current D800 (for the current used price of $1800) and paying $1500 more for a D810? I'll tell you about my findings and you can make that decision for yourself. 

New Sensor

Although the sensor is "new" we can't see a massive upgrade in terms of ISO performance.  Nikon has now removed the anti-aliasing filter on the sensor and so this camera can produce slightly sharper images, similar to the D800E. Although the Canon 5DMK3 has better ISO performance, the extra pixels from the D800 and D810 can add more detail. Basically all 3 cameras can take incredible pictures and image quality should not be a deciding factor when it comes to upgrading from the D800 to D810. 

Lower Native ISO

The new native ISO is 64 on the D810. This gives you one extra stop of light to darken ambient light. This is particularly useful when strobing outside. You can also extend this ISO down to 32 for even more control in exposure.

New Autofocus

Although I have not used this camera at a wedding yet, the D810 is supposed to have far superior autofocusing to the D800. Depending on what type of photography you shoot for a living, you may want to upgrade for this feature alone. Apparently the D810 has the exact same focusing as the Nikon D4s camera. Group-area autofocus similar to Canon's is now available allowing you to choose a group of 4 focus points rather than just one or all 51 focusing points. This is helpful for capturing moving subjects when you want to maintain a specific composition. 

Better Time-Lapse Features

The D810 can shoot 9,999 images in a row automatically, up from just 999 on the D800. It has a range of other features as well including exposure smoothing. I have not had a chance to test this feature; in fact, I have never actually taken a timelapse with a DSLR so you may want to read about this feature elsewhere if you are interested. 

Faster Frame Rate/ Better Buffer

The D810 can now shoot at up to 7 frames per second with an MB-D12 battery grip, up from 6 from the D800. You can shoot 28, 14 bit RAW files in a row at this speed before the buffer fills up which is double the amount the D800 could hold. I've never filled up my D800s buffer before nor have I ever shot more than 2 frames per second so this doesn't really affect me. 

Better, Quieter Shutter

The shutter is now much quieter and they have added a quiet-continuous mode for burst shooting. As a wedding photography this feature is greatly appreciated. You can also set the shutter to "electronic front curtain" which eliminates camera shake due to shutter clicking. This feature is only useful to those people shooting at extremely slow shutter speeds without strobe. 

Better LCD Screen and Live View

The LCD on the D4s and D810 is WAY better than any other Nikon camera. It's extremely sharp and colorful, very similar to today's high end cell phones. Dropping into Live View is far better now and zooming in to while in LiveView now actually uses the pixels on the sensor to create an ultra sharp image on the LCD rather than just interpolating an image like older Nikon cameras. Focusing in LiveView is so much easier as well as filming video. 

Way Better Video Quality

The true upgrades of the D810 can be found in the video functions. The camera captures ultra sharp 1080p video that we thought looked better than the D800, 5D3, and the $8000 Sony FS700 at low ISOs. The D810 was slightly better than the D800 at high ISOs but not more than a stop improvement. The 5D3 easily beat the D810 at video at high ISOs and the Sony FS700 was by far the best, creating a super clean video at even 12,800 ISO.

Slightly Better Slow Motion

The D800 can shoot in 60FPS at 1080p now, up from 720p on the D800. I really wish this camera could shoot at 120-240fps and fill the buffer and THEN dump the footage to the memory card similar to the FS700 but it cannot. 

Much Better DX Video Recording

The D800 allows you to switch into "DX" mode while shooting video to get extra reach out of your lens (example: a 200mm lens becomes 300mm in DX mode). The D800 in DX had massive video quality loss but the D810 doesn't have any loss in quality making this feature actually usable. Being able to use DX mode is extremely helpful to videographers and I wish Nikon would take more advantage of the 36mp sensor and allow us to "zoom in" to the sensor more than just once. 

Conclusion

So now that you know all of the major improvements of this camera vs the 2 year old D800, it's up to you to determine if this camera is worth the upgrade. If you're in the market for a new Nikon DSLR do not be fooled into buying the D800 for $3000 when you can spend an additional $300 and get the new D810.  There is no doubt the D810 is worth $300 more for these upgrades. 

Used D800s are currently selling for $1800 on eBay which means that if you own one (or 3 in my case) you will wind up paying $1500/camera to upgrade each camera. This also could make it difficult for those people who do not own the D800 but who are looking to buy their next camera. Do you buy a slightly used D800 for $1800 or do you spend $3300 and get the slightly upgraded D810? I personally do not believe that the still photography advances alone are worth the upgrade unless for some reason you really need the enhanced autofocusing, but If you shoot video a lot like me, it could easily be justified. I'm honestly still on the fence about upgrading. My D800s are incredible cameras but the new video features of the D810 are extremely tempting. 

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45 Comments

Sean Shimmel's picture

As I'd guess with so many other D800 owners out there, I STILL get excited uploading my images into Lightroom and zooming in on the details and so easily reclaiming lost highlights at low iso's. Although I'm gladly sticking with what I have, the D810 is a fine iteration.

Here's a peek at a shoot with it from last weekend.

http://lifeascinema.blogspot.com/2014/08/gunslingers.html

beautiful shot

Sean Shimmel's picture

Thanks for the kind words Lee. Any links on your end with images shot specifically with the D800?

Sadly we haven't really used the camera. We have just done tests with it for 3 days in a row. It's so mind numbing.

Noam Galai's picture

The Nikon D800 was the best camera in the market to-date. These improvements are not huge, but it makes the D810 the new king in town.

Noam Galai's picture

Nikon, if you read here - requests for the D900:
- Make the shutter quitter... you did amazing job with the D610, take notes from that one.
- Improve rubber grip and make it so it wont expand after 3 months.
- extend shutter life. 200K is cool, but we all know you can double that.
- Add a record button like you have on the D3/D3s/D4/D4s to record notes on images. easy and useful.
Thanks ;)

So..a new D5? Hah jk

...

Leigh Miller's picture

The Canon's aren't even in the same league anymore..and haven't for awhile now except for focusing and better live view.

Seems like evolution rather than a really big jump.

I noticed slightly better dynamic range but at a cost of a bit more noise from the D800E. Probably only noticeable to pixel peepers though.

Better vibration control on the shutter...high MP count equals "you better practice your shot discipline" or risk double/soft images.

Dunno if I would upgrade if I was still shooting DSLR's though...the D800E is pretty much the top dog only challenged by the all out IQ of the A7R.

Aaron Brown's picture

Do you even Canon, bro?

Leigh Miller's picture

Ya "Bro". I've been a Canon user since the original EOS 1D classic and every model right up to the 1Dx. And what?

And what happened to your 1dx? I would love to hear your expert opinion on what made you put that one down. I have a 1dx and I haven't seen a single body from Sony or Nikon that can beat it in sports photography. Stills, marginally.

I just love it when people make ignorant statements like "this camera is not even in the same league as x". I'm a Canonnite. And according to your avatar, you are a closet canonite as well. But to assert that Canon or Nikon are in separate leagues exposes profound ignorance and bias. Both brands are incredible and I am glad they both exist as they force each other to continue developing their product line aggressively. And then you lost all credibility by later claiming you owned a 1dx.

Stephen Vosloo's picture

Lee I'm curious where you landed? Love love love these comparison posts. About to pull the trigger on a D810 upgrade from my trusty D700 and this sold it for me. Thank you!

Honestly still don't know. One thing I do know is that I hate having different types of cameras so it's either all or nothing for me.

Scott Mosley's picture

Darn. Now I need to buy this... The Quality of DX crop mode is really what made all the difference for me

Isn't it funny how such a small thing can make such a difference?

Willian Silveira's picture

I was thinking about buying a D610, but a used D800 will fit my needs with better specs and about the same price :)

Matz Rios's picture

You mentioned in the video that you were able to copy the flat profile of the D810 to the D800. How were you able to do that? I'm really wondering since I would love to have the flat color profile on my D800.

I may have misspoke. The new flat profile is only available on the D810

Nice review, Its weird the fs700 has this black edge around the bright areas coming through the leaves. It looks like there is a sharpening being applied to the chroma channels.

As someone who just sold my d4 for canon 5dmark3. (Sold it for $4000 and bought 2 new Canon 5d3s.for $2500 each on ebay. I can say that its a way better camera for the money. The fact that 5d3 is 2 years old and the 810 is just slightly better in your review shows alot about Nikons direction. I really love everything about my 5d3s photo and video. ISO IS GREAT, FOCUS POINTS ARE GREAT, LCD SCREEN IS GREAT, SKIN TONES ARE GREAT AND THE MAIN REASON I SWITCHED IS BECAUSE THE VIDEO IS AMAZING.This is coming from a guy who owned Nikon since F100. I still love Nikon but after the D4s was announced I knew it was time to switch considering price and the slight upgrades that Nikon added. Its sad but the 2 year old 5d3s is better than the D810 considering price and the age of the camera. BTW Ive got a few of my lenses still for sale Nikon 70-200 vr 2 , 60 macro, and sigma 85 1.4 if any Nikonians are interested.

I'm not sure one is really THAT much better than the other. The 5D3 has better ISO but the 800/810 has more MP. The video at low ISO is way better on the Nikon and the video at high ISO is way better on the Canon. At the end of the day all of these cameras are so freakin good that i believe you'd have a hard time telling the pictures apart.

@Lee Morris Thank you for this nice review. I have to mention that when you made the video comparison you "forgot" to add that D810 is not capable of capturing Full Frame (FX) video format: in fact it captures a so called by Nikon "FX-based movie format" which is cropped. In FX video D810 uses only the 32,6mm of the sensor's width while 5D3 uses 35.8mm for the same function. As a result D810 changes the FOV of the lenses. This is a very serious problem with many side effects. Nikon "forces" you to buy another camera if you want full frame video: D4 and D610 are capable of capturing full frame video. But you will not buy a D4 for the video only, nor a D610 which is not a Pro model. Also if you consider the problem with the spots you do not want to use any Nikon for video: I am a Nikon user for many years who now uses also Canon, and I am not going to buy any Nikon body anymore. I have the D800, the 5D3 and another cropped Canon. I have never needed to clean the sensors of the Canons, and they work flawlessly with many lenses, also with my Nikkors via adapters. D800 and another cropped Nikon need cleaning of the sensor all the time, if you want to use them for video at aperture f=22.

Wow I had no idea. We noticed that the D810 and FS700 with speedbooster had the same frame size. We had to zoom in on the Canon 5d3 to get a similar crop. Now I know why!

a friend of mine had the 800 at one time. We got together and did some comparisons with the 800 and 5d3. Because we shoot a diverse range of subjects, our applications were similar. After a few hours of "testing", he sold his 800 for a 5d3. His claim was that the iq was better. I disagreed a bit, but to me the 5d3 was just a better overall camera; especially it's focusing system. Now that he has a 5d3, he absolutely loves it. His only complaint is that he wishes the 5d3 was more hdr friendly. I told him to get a promote control and stop depending on the body to do hdr for you.

chris pilling's picture

proper focusing and a higher FPS. looks like I can finally trade in the old D700.

Robert Hall's picture

Excellent overview. I found the d800 series clunky and slow previously and stuck with my D600. But the D810 has improved and fixed everywhere it needed to be to increase the function of the series.
I didn't see any included here, and while the overview portion is just some of the information you posted, I do have a link to full size raw and sraws available for download here, if anyone would like to take a look at them.
http://www.robhallphoto.com/education/nikon-d810-review-sample-raw-files...

I really enjoyed this comparison, very clear and to the point.

I'm personally invested in a Canon system, so I'm not about to switch lens fauna any time soon, so I'm wondering whether or not it's likely to believe that Canon will introduce a successor to the MkIII in the near future? Looking back, announcements from one brand do tend to follow the other.

Jason Switzer's picture

Quit being such a cheap bastard, Lee, and get the D810. Just kidding. I shoot Canon so I don't have a dog in this fight. If I shot Nikon and already had a D800 and extra cash burning a hole in my pocket, I'd probably keep the D800 and buy some new glass (this is assuming that the autofocus on the D800 isn't complete crap... If it is, I'd spring for the D810. The whole reason I bought a 5D Mark III is because of its stellar autofocus).