A selected number of capture functions – ten in all – can be accessed via the information display. The LCD monitor screen can be switched to show a comprehensive set of read-outs, but this display doesn’t operate as a control panel.

Ahead On Points
The D800 borrows its camera control systems pretty much lock, stock and barrel from the D4, starting with Nikon’s third-generation ‘3D Colour Matrix’ metering which uses a 91,000-pixel RGB sensor. Each pixel analyses colour and brightness information, but the 91K sensor is no longer only involved in exposure control. As with the D4, it works in conjunction with the imaging sensor to also drive autofocusing operations such as face detection, subject tracking and point selection. On the exposure side, it’s handling auto white balance adjustments, contrast control and i-TTL balanced fill-n flash control.

The two sensors also underpin the D800’s ‘Advanced Scene Recognition’ system which is designed to more precisely tune the AF, AE and white balance to the subject and/or lighting situation. Note this is only data analysis for scene recognition and doesn’t involve the setting of scene or subject modes (which, not surprisingly, the D800 doesn’t have anyway). Using data derived from either or both sensors, Advanced Scene Recognition performs light source identification to enable auto white balance control, highlight analysis to enable contrast correction via Nikon’s ‘Active D-Lighting’ processing, ‘3D’ subject tracking, face detection with backlight correction, the live view functionality and flicker reduction.

Multi-zone metering is supplemented by centre-weighted average or spot measurements; the latter concentrates on a 4.0 mm diameter spot – which represents just 1.5 percent of the total image area – while the former’s central weighting area is adjustable to 8.0 mm, 12 mm (the default), 15 mm or 20 mm.

The standard complement of ‘PASM’ exposure control modes is backed by program shift, an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV compensation and auto bracketing. The exposure bracketing sequence can be up to nine frames with adjustments of plus/minus 1/3, 2/3 or 1.0 EV per frame. As on the D4, there is also auto bracketing functions for white balance, exposure and flash, flash only and the ‘Active D-Lighting’ contrast control. This is preselected via one of the camera’s 50+ custom functions which include setting all the exposure adjustment increments to either 1/3, ½ or full stops.

The D800’s vertical travel shutter has a speed range of 30-1/8000 second and employs self-diagnostic monitoring to determine – and correct - when settings waver outside the accepted range. The unit has been tested to 200,000 cycles which is half that of the D4’s assembly. Flash sync is at all speeds up to 1/250 second and, unlike the D4, the D800 has a built-in flash which Nikon makes extra-specially useful by giving it a manual mode – so it can be wound all the way down to just 1/128 of full power – and the capacity to act as the commander for a wireless TTL flash set-up. The other modes include red-eye reduction (via a built-in illuminator), first/second curtain sync, slow speed sync and balanced fill-in flash with the exposure determined via pulsed, low-powered preflashes (and using the 91K sensor). Advanced flash control has always been a Nikon strongpoint and the D800 continues the tradition. Flash compensation is available over a range of -3.0 to 1.0 EV in 1/3-stop increments and can be combined with exposure compensation.

Focused And Balanced
The D800 also gets the upgraded ‘Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX’ phase-difference detection autofocus module as used in the D4 and which has 51 distance sensing points, 15 of them cross-type sensor arrays. These detect both vertical and horizontal contrast edges, and all the points work with lens speeds of f5.6 or faster.

Eleven focusing points are still available with lens speed of f8.0 (the centre point acting as a cross-type array) which means autofocusing can be maintained when using telephoto lenses combined with a 2x teleconverter. As with the D4, the minimum sensitivity is down to a remarkable -2.0 EV (at ISO 100) which is pretty much the limit of the human eye when using the optical viewfinder.

Four AF area modes are available, namely single-point (i.e. manual point selection), ‘Dynamic area’, ‘3D tracking’ and ‘auto-area AF’ (i.e. auto point selection). The ‘Dynamic area’ mode uses data from the points around the selected point to assist with keeping moving subjects in focus and this can be set to work over clusters of nine or 21 points or the full 51. Alternatively, in the ‘3D tracking’ mode, the points are automatically selected as the subject moves within the frame.

There’s an ‘AF Fine Tune’ function which allows the autofocusing to be adjusted for the particular focusing characteristics of individual lenses, over +/- 20 steps. This corrects for a particular lens which may suffer from slight front- or back-focusing when fitted to a particular camera body. The adjustments for to up 20 lens models can be stored and there’s a provision for identifying different examples of the same lens.
As noted previously, white balance control is performed via the 91K RGB metering sensor. The standard automatic correction has a range of 3500 to 8000 degrees Kelvin, but there’s the option of a ‘Keep warm lighting colours’ or ‘Auto 2’ setting which is designed to maintain warmer tones when shooting under incandescent lighting. There’s a total of 12 presets for different lighting types, including seven for the various different types of gas-ignition lamps ranging from sodium-vapour at 2700 degrees Kelvin to mercury-vapour at 7200 degrees Kelvin.

Fine-tuning of all the presets is possible in five-mired increments across the green-to-magenta and blue-to-amber colour ranges. Alternatively, the colour temperature can be set manually from 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin with the option of adjustments in extremely fine ten-degree increments or in mireds (separately for the green-to-magenta and blue-to-amber colour ranges). White balance bracketing can be in one-, five- or ten-mired increments and over two, three, five, seven or nine frames. Four custom white balance measurements can be taken and stored for future recall.

Process Worker
The D800 also shadows the D4 pretty closely in terms of its image processing functions, starting with a set of six ‘Picture Control’ presets. These are designated Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape. All the colour presets have adjustments for sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue while the Monochrome preset replaces the last two with B&W contrast filters and toning effects. Nikon continues to offer an impressive range of in-camera B&W toning options with nine colours, each with seven levels of density. Up to nine modified ‘Picture Controls’ can be created and stored with provisions for each to be named using titles of up to 19 characters in length. Alternatively, custom ‘Picture Controls’ can be created in Nikon’s ViewNX 2 or Capture NX 2 software and loaded into the camera via a memory card.

A dual-axis electronic level display is available in live view and for shooting video. Level indicators are also shown in the viewfinder. Video clips are captured at the Full HD 1080 resolution and at either 24 or 25 fps (in the PAL standard, 30 fps for NTSC) using the MPEG-4/H.264 compression. There are high-quality and normal modes corresponding to 24 Mbps and 12 Mbps respectively.