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As is the case on all Nikon D-SLRs, there’s a wide choice of playback screens, including a thumbnail with a full set of brightness and RGB histograms and three pages of image data which increases if copyright details are included and/or the optional GPS receiver is fitted. The highlight warning can be cycled through the RGB channels separately. The other playback options include 4/9/72 thumbnail displays, zooming up to 46x and a slide show with variable image display times.

Speed And Performance
As noted earlier, the D800 is no speed machine, even if 4.0 fps is still pretty impressive given the large file sizes involved. No digital medium format camera system in the same resolution range can go much quicker than a tortoise-like 1.0 fps so, in comparison, the Nikon is definitely a hare.

Card speed is important in achieving the best possible performance in terms of the burst length, although with JPEG capture the D800 will go shooting after the buffer is full, but at a slower rate. With RAW and TIFF capture, there is a delay while the buffer clears the decks.

Hardly surprisingly perhaps, the D800 wipes the floor with the competition in terms of resolution… and this isn’t even the ‘E’ version. The level of crisply-defined fine detailing is simply phenomenal, but the camera’s potential in this regard quickly highlights any deficiencies in camera technique… in terms of lens quality, focusing accuracy, aperture selection and, very critically, the avoidance of camera shake. Quite simply, there is nowhere to hide and any sloppiness will be punished by less than acceptable results. Such is the increase in resolution over anything we’ve seen in this class of camera before, it requires a completely new mindset and that’s one that  requires considerable more care and attention in camera set-up and settings. The Nikon D800 is, indeed, a whole new ball game.

Noise levels are exceptionally low all the way up to ISO 3200 which is remarkable given the pixel size. In reality, the D800 does almost as well in this regard as the D4 – no mean feat in itself – and easily matches the EOS 5D Mark III despite the Canon’s significantly lower resolution. At ISO 3200 there is some slight softening of fine detailing which becomes more noticeable at ISO 6400, but the overall contrast and colour saturation is still exceptionally good so these higher sensitivity settings are still quite useable. Both the ‘push’ settings exhibit increased amounts of colour noise to the detriment of colour saturation, and the definition is also significantly diminished. Consequently, the enlargement potential is markedly reduced.

Interestingly, in terms of dynamic range, the D800 also pretty much matches the characteristics of its big brother, again despite the smaller pixels.

With no ADL corrections applied, the D800 still delivers some tonality even in the brighter highlights which is then progressively increased at the higher ADL settings, although it’s hard to see too much difference in an image – as opposed to a greyscale step wedge – between ‘Off’, ‘Low’ and ‘Normal’. The shadow detailing appears to be largely unchanged at any setting which is actually to be expected given the exposure adjustments and tone curve tweaks would cancel each other out here.

The Verdict
For the time being at least, the D800 is the best performing D-SLR in its category as far as image quality is concerned… actually, in any category for that matter. However, there is much more to it than just its remarkable sensor. Like the D4, the D800 is the complete package of features, specifications, ergonomics and handling. In terms of a direct comparison it’s not as strong – so, presumably, not as durable in the long term – and it’s obvious a lot slower in terms of shooting speed. It also lacks some of its big brother’s finesse… like the backlit buttons, but it really makes up for all of this with its unbeatable balance of performance-versus-price. The best D-SLR on the market right now is also unquestionably the best value.

As noted earlier, the ultra-high resolution comes with a price of a different sort, namely the need to tighten up shooting techniques and possibly also invest in new computer hardware that can support the much bigger file sizes. It’s also possible many purchasers may have to think about updating their lenses as the D800’s sensor is very much tuned to Nikon’s current-generation FX-format AF-S Nikkors, among them the constant-aperture zooms. This could make the upgrade a much more expensive exercise overall, but nevertheless the D800 still represents the most affordable route into a whole new world of truly eye-popping image quality. It’s a gold medal, personal best and new world record all rolled into one.

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