The D800 provides a high level of video functionality, including provisions for customising the key controls. A dedicated video start/stop button is located just behind the shutter release. It’s a feature that isn’t made much fuss of, but the higher-end Nikon D-SLRs all have built-in intervalometers rather than requiring an external timer.

Like on the D4, there’s a multi-exposure HDR capture mode which captures two images at a time – one underexposed, the other overexposed – which are subsequently instantly combined. The degree of exposure adjustment can be determined automatically (based on the brightness range in scene) or set manually to 1.0, 2.0 or 3.0 EV. Additionally, smoothing adjustments (which work on the combined edges) can be set to High, Normal or Low. HDR capture can be set to self-cancel or continue until manually cancelled, and it can be combined with the D800’s intervalometer.

The ‘Active D-Lighting’ processing options are pegged back slightly compared to the D4 so there isn’t an ‘Extra High 2’ setting. ADL essentially works like the ‘Shadow/Highlight’ adjustment in Photoshop, and combines exposure and tone curve adjustments to optimise brightness and dynamic range, but without the provision for precise manual control. ADL bracketing can be applied over sequences of two, three or five frames which progressive cover more of the setting options. So the five-frame sequence captures frames with the ADL switched off and then on at the Low, Normal, High and Extra High settings.

The ‘Active’ part of the function’s title indicates the corrections are performed at the point of capture (so this additional processing will reduce the continuous shooting speed), but the alternative is to process the image in-camera later, using the ‘D-Lighting’ function available in the D800’s Retouch Menu. This creates a new file and, usefully, provides both a preview and a comparison with the original.

The D800 can also perform a number of in-camera correction routines for lens aberrations. ‘Vignette control’ and ‘Auto Distortion Control’ are selectable from the main Shooting Menu while correction for lateral chromatic aberrations is always applied automatically with JPEG capture. It works by compensating for the differences in the resolving index for each colour wavelength rather than just correcting for any colour fringing at a contrast edge. Consequently, it’s particularly effective at eliminating the chromatic aberrations that occur at the edges of the frame when shooting with older wide-angle lenses. The correction for brightness fall-off can be set to Low, Normal or High while the distortion correction is simply either on or off. Both only work with either D-type or G-type Nikkor lenses.

Both high ISO and long exposure noise reduction is provided, the former with four settings – ‘High’, ‘Normal’, ‘Low’ or ‘Off’ – although ‘Off’ doesn’t actually mean off because noise reduction is automatically applied with any of the boosted sensitivity settings.

The D800 has an expanded ‘Retouch Menu’ which includes a number of special effects presumably considered beneath the D4’s dignity. These comprise ‘Fish-eye’, ‘Colour Outline’, ‘Colour Sketch’, ‘Miniature Effect’ and ‘Select Colour’. The D800 also has something called ‘Quick Retouch’ which automatically boosts the saturation and contrast with the choice of ‘Low’, ‘Normal’ and ‘High’ settings. The other offerings in the Retouch Menu include straightening, distortion control, perspective control, red-eye correction, adjustments to colour balance (using RGB histograms for guidance), trimming, B&W conversion (with the option of either sepia or cyanotype toning), skylight or warm filter effects, image overlay (for two RAW files with the capacity to balance the exposures as required), resizing, in-camera RAW-to-JPEG conversion and basic movie editing. Many of these editing functions are adjustable and, of course, the effects can be previewed. The D800 adopts the D4’s more streamlined method of in-camera RAW (or TIFF) file conversion which provides all the adjustable parameters alongside the thumbnail image and it’s simply a case of using the camera’s four-way ‘Multi-Selector’ control pad to navigate through them and, if necessary, change settings. Exposure compensation adjustments are reduced to a maximum of +/-2.0 EV.

In The Hand
Although considerably more compact than the D4, the D800 is still a pretty chunky D-SLR. It has an all-new bodyshell which incorporates a number of styling elements from the D4 and has the same 8.1 cm LCD monitor screen – although as a clip-on plastic protective cover for this is supplied, it may not have the same heavy-duty scratch-resistant faceplate.

The external covers are magnesium alloy and there’s extensive sealing to provide protection against moisture and dust, but the D800 isn’t intended to be as rugged as the D4… the built-in flash compromises structural rigidity for starters. Nevertheless, it’s still undoubtedly built to work and it looks like it too… the external design is all about practicality rather than looking pretty, and functionality takes precedence over any other consideration. That said, the handgrip still provides the expected Nikon level of comfort and this is a camera that still feels extremely well balanced even with a big lens attached. The top panel retains a monochrome LCD read-out panel and, while it has built-in illumination, the D800 misses out on the D4’s fabulous back-lit buttons.

The control layout is decidedly no-nonsense with a heavy reliance on external keys and selectors which are operated in conjunction with the Multi-Selector pad and/or the front and rear input wheels known, in Nikonese, as ‘Command Dials’. It’s old school, but it’s old school that works and, like the D4, the logic of it all makes for a high level of efficiency. Indeed, the D800 actually improves on the D4 in a couple of areas. The selector on the top panel expands to accommodate four function keys – for ISO, white balance, image quality and bracketing modes – and is encircled by the drive mode dial which also has settings for the self-timer, mirror lock-up and the ‘Quiet’ shutter release. In ‘Q’ mode all the audible signals are disabled as is the reflex mirror’s instant return, and it won’t drop back to the viewing position until the shutter button is again pressed down to the half-way metering and autofocusing position.

Live view activation is via a dedicated button with a selector switch to move between the still and video modes. Talking of the reflex mirror, the D800’s optical viewfinder provides virtually 100 percent scene coverage in the ‘FX’ format at a magnification of 0.7x. It uses a proper glass pentaprism and the resulting brightness and clarity help re-enforce why the D-SLR is going to remain the preferred choice of many photographers despite the enticements of compact system cameras. The latest Mark VIII version of Nikon’s ‘Type B BriteView Clear Matte’ focusing screen is fitted and, while it looks to be interchangeable, no alternatives are mentioned in the camera’s list of accessories.
The viewfinder display includes illuminating focusing points, AF area frames, vertical and horizontal level displays, a pretty comprehensive set of read-outs and the option of a framing grid. The monitor screen can also be switched to serve as an information display with a choice of colour schemes, but it’s not a full control screen. Instead, two rows of ‘soft’ buttons at the bottom of the display provide direct access to a small selected capture functions, including the ‘Active D-Lighting’ settings, the noise reduction settings, the colour space settings and a couple of the assignable buttons. It’s also possible here to switch between the ‘Shooting Menu Banks’ and ‘Custom Settings Banks’ (four of each) which are set up via the menu system. An ‘Extended Menu Bank’ allows for the addition of adjustable exposure modes, shutter speeds and/or apertures to the customised ‘Shooting Menu Banks’.

‘Active D-Lighting’ processing for balancing exposure and dynamic range is available with automatic correction or a choice of four manual settings (one less than is offered on the D4). In-camera lens correction is available for vignetting and distortion.