Nikon D800 Review – Stuck in Customs

Nikon D800 Review

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The Nikon D800 Camera Living Review

This is a “living” review. I’ve now been using one for quite a while, and I will continue to add to this review with new notes and observations.

My Reviews

I review a lot of stuff that I actually use – see the Reviews area for more camera, lens, and software reviews. I know you’re time is as precious as mine… so I don’t waste time and get right to the best. 🙂

Compared to the Nikon D3X

I bought a new Nikon D800 right when it came out, and I used it for well over a year. It’s a great camera!

I used to have a Nikon D3X and many people wonder why I would rather have the D800. One reason is the megapixels and cost. Both are better! I know people often groan at the megapixel bit, but I do like having very large images. Given the choice of a medium or high-res photo, I will always take high-res. It’s not for prints, although that helps — it’s also for monitors and wall-displays of the future. Another significant reason is that it is better in low-light. It will shoot at 6,400 ISO instead of 1,600 ISO. Some minor points that make it better for me are: It is cheaper, it is smaller and lighter, and it has a bigger screen (3.2″). There are many more advantages, although very minor. These include a self-cleaning sensor (hope it works!), a quicker shutter lag (119 ms faster!), video (which I won’t use too much, but happy it is there), and it is over twice as fast to start up.

Magical Fog in San Francisco over the Golden Gate BridgeI recently drove across the bridge and up this little mountain road to try to find this shot. I started driving up a road I knew well, but it was closed. Closed! So I parked, got out my tripod, and hiked about a mile up this hill to get to this spot. It was a very cool night, but there was some strange inversion happening. Almost anywhere I stood on the side of the hill was a stead hotel-room 72-degrees. And there was zero wind. It was a perfect night, and just when I arrived, the fog really started pouring over the bridge, so I set up for this shot...- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

I took this photo in San Francisco while using the Nikon 28-300mm lens.


File Management

The files are huge and glorious. It’s almost medium-format in this glory! I’ve had to crop in many times on my 36 megapixel shots to recompose in post, and the resulting image still has more than ample resolution. Each RAW is between 40 and 50 megs when in 14-bit mode… and it seems to vary wildly.

So then you have a file-management issue of sorts, yes? This is sort of the “Red Queen” problem. The Red Queen describes a hypothesis where species that exist together are constantly co-evolving to keep up with one another. In this case, bigger files means you need a faster computer with more memory so that you have the same experience as before. Personally, I made a switch to an SSD (Solid State Drive) over a year ago, and it has saved me countless hours of waiting-on-the-hard-drive!

The Mysterious Rock of Wonder The day in Death Valley was about 115 F (46 C). It wasn’t a dry heat either… there has been a lot of humidity here and there is flash lightning in the day and night. This location here took a lot of time, effort, and 4×4 to find. I took five gallons of water, a map, and some warnings from the place that rented the jeep that this area was inaccessible because of recent road wash-outs from rivers. Well, they were right! So getting the 4×4 over and through the washed out rivers took many more hours than expected. I only suffered one minor injury when my head slammed into the rollbar during a clumsy maneuver. But after I finally found this place I’ve always wanted to visit, it was late afternoon with plenty of time to hike around before night fell.I look forward to your theories (from the boring to the surreal) of what makes these rocks move across the playa on their own!- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the entire post over at the Stuck in Customs blog.

A rock moves across the desert floor in Death Valley.


A Pro Camera?

I was a bit worried that this would not be a full-on “Pro” body in terms of toughness, water resistance, and the like. But, it certainly is! I find it to be quite tough and weather resistant. As you can see above, we had a good time in Death Valley together with no problems. The only “toughness” problem was a bit of an extreme situation when the whole tripod blew over in Sydney Harbor. That did require some repair, but I think the same thing would have happened with my D3X.

The Grid Overlay

The new Grid overlay system when looking through the viewfinder is GREAT. It has really helped me to line up photos better. I didn’t realize that was a minor feature of this camera before I got it, but I really love it.

Auto-Bracketing and Self-Timer for auto-HDR

First, the auto-bracketing has all the features of the entire line if Nikon Pro cameras. It has 9 stops, so you can easily go from -4 EV to +4 EV, stepping by 1. Unfortunately, you can only step by 1, and I wish they would open up more possibilities with a firmware update like Sony did.

Also, whenever I fire off an HDR, I simply put the camera into Timer mode, which is on the dial atop. Inside the settings, I did a one time setup of a 2 second delay and 9 exposures. Most of my HDR shots are just 5 exposures from -2 to +2, but this still works. I just:

1) put it in timer mode
2) set my BKT to 5F (5 exposures from -2 to +2)
3) press the shutter button
4) wait for the 2 second delay and it automatically takes all 5 exposures.

This method is great because you don’t need an external trigger or anything!

The only disadvantage is that there is a 0.5 interval between each of the bracketed shots. If that is too long for you, then using the Interval Timer Shooting can help. But, that is a cumulative time-waster because you’ll have to go through the menu system each time, which takes more time than just waiting 0.5 seconds between each exposure.

Why not the D800E?

Like many people, I had to choose between the D800 and the more-expensive D800E. I’ll tell you basically with the “E” is without getting overly technical. If you really want to know the tech-speak, you can go look that up elsewhere. The “E” means that a thin layer is removed on top of the sensor that decreases something called “moire”; this supposedly makes your photos sharper. Moire is that strange effect you see sometimes when you zoom into 100% and in the parallel lines you see those pixellated stairs. The filter in the camera removes those, and some people want those in there for absolute sharpness in those very very rare situations.

Some of my friends got the D800E, and I can’t really tell a difference.

Last, one of my final steps in post-processing (see my HDR Tutorial) is sharpening. This tends to get everything I need more than sharp enough.

...and the SF Giants!I was down on the field with the SF Giants before a recent game. I got down there because Tom Anderson sent out a tweet, and the marketing manager for the SF Giants responded and got us in! So, we were able to go anywhere and do anything before and during the game. It was great! I made full use of it.I had my giant D800 Camera out there (see the Nikon D800 Review for more baseball photos from that evening).After I left the field, I went to the very very very top part of the nosebleeds to take this shot...- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this entry at the Stuck in Customs blog.

This is a shot from the nosebleed seats at the SF Giants game. Here’s a good example of when 36 megapixels comes in handy.


Focus Issues

This is a common topic of discussion, and my story is a strange one that will not sway you either way on this issue!

I used the camera for about 5 months with no problems at all. Maybe the focus was a bit off, but I never noticed. Even at 100%, things seemed “sharp enough” for me. Of course, I’m always looking at these images in a vacuum, without another D800 right beside me. All focus-sharpness is relative, of course. You can’t tell how sharp something really is until you compare it side by side. Once something is “sharp enough”, you tend just be satisfied.

But then here is the confusing part of the story that wil not give you any indication as to the answer to this question. In a HUGE wind on Sydney harbor, my D800 blew over on my tripod along with the 28-300mm lens. Now this DID knock the focus out of whack. Strangely, though, the focus is only out of whack at low F-Stops, like f/3.5 for example. Everything looks good around F/8. Anyway, I sent in everything to Nikon Professional Services for a proper fix-up.

What are my favorite Lenses for the Nikon D800?

These are the three lenses I use the most for my D800. Of course, keep in mind that I love to do landscape and architecture photos…

  • Nikon 14-24 Review – A great wide-angle lens for landscapes and architecture
  • Nikon 28-300 Review – Perfect walk-around lens mid-range stuff like landscapes, birthdays, sports, etc.
  • Nikon 50mm Review – Ideal for cute children, family and close-up objects where you like a blurry background

I only write reviews for lenses that I use and recommend.  Here is a complete list of camera lens reviews.


Since this is a “living review”, I add to it from time to time based on questions that I receive here and on social networks. The nature of all my photos are kind of this landscape situation where I used a tripod. Some people are wondering if it’s okay for just handheld snapshots.

The answer is yes, it is great with snapsots! This is a very high-end DSLR with a huge sensor. Having a tripod around is really kind of a luxury, but you definitely do not need one to get quality shots of people, architecture, buildings, flowers, landscapes, or whatever you happen to enjoy shooting.

Why I Bought the Nikon D800

This is a video below where you can find out more…. and it is also in response to a controversial article about DSLRs being a dying breed … something that I still believe … In the article I said that DSLRs are on their way out and Mirrorless cameras will take over in the next few years. I didn’t see myself spending more money on DSLR equipment, but that is before the D800 came out, which is half the price and better for my situation than the D3X! So…. this is my loophole… hehe… and well… you can see more in the video.

Sample Photos

 I’ll continue to experiment and put more beneath.

Construction in Cleveland I went out with my host during the Kent State speech, Lester Lefton, and this is the first place he brought me! I don’t think other guests get to do things like this… you know… go to dangerous construction sites and stuff… But, if you could not tell, it turns out to be an awesome place for a little photography adventure!This was actually the FIRST photo I ever took with a D800, and it was using Lester’s camera. I put in my memory card, which felt a little weird. But then when I looked through the viewfinder and snapped away, it felt like my own! Anyway, we had a great time together. - Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

This one is literally the FIRST photo I took with the D800. It is HDR, like many of my photos, created with 5 exposures from -2 to +2.


Disney Fantasy Cruise - The Skyline BarWhich city do you think this is??This is the coolest bar on the ship.  I was in here this night with John Lasseter (I think!) - but he was sitting with a group of people and I didn't want to interrupt him to say hello.  Anyway, these walls are filled with images of different cities that change out every 12-14 minutes or so.  And, if you get up close to these hi-def walls, you can see movement!  People walk around the streets, cars move, lights flicker, people go about their days inside their homes, etc.  It's endlessly fascinating.  I also have some video of this too -- I'll release that as soon as I have more bandwidth at dock!- Trey RatcliffRead the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

This is the Skyline bar, where the walls are actually ever-changing video screens. The D800 got a nice clean shot here.


Disney Fantasy Cruise - Tunnel VisionHere is one more photo from the Fantasy!  I've been going photo-crazy.  Not only is the cruise kind of expensive, but the internet costs 75 cents a minute... so, many Bothans died to bring you this image!  But... it is so amazing I wanted to share it ASAP.See those tubes there on the right and left?  It's a huge waterslide that even extends out beyond the edges of the ship!  Amazing...  and that huge movie screen there?  They play movies on it regularly... so you can relax at the pool while seeing something more interesting than what always seems to end up on my airplanes:  Miss Congeniality 2.- Trey RatcliffRead the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

This shoots as well at night as my D3X. Of course, to get something like this, it helps to have a tripod.


The Disney Fantasy Cruise ShipI am here on the maiden voyage of the Disney Fantasy.  It's an amazing ship (50% bigger than the other ships) and a great playground for photographers!  Forget the kids!  In fact, I almost did a few times… but they are having fun in all the kids' clubs…  Well… I have a ton to talk about and show… but busy busy busy with photos and not much internet!  Anyway, debate away on whether or not this is HDR…  Either I'm tricking you, I double-tricking you, or something unknowable... I look forward to coming back and seeing what you think!- Trey RatcliffRead the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

This is a non-HDR photo. This all came out of a single D800 RAW!


Sunset in Milford Sound    I slept in my sleeping bag under the stars this night. It was very peaceful after seeing the pink milky sound under Mitre Peak.I took this right before I left New Zealand down in Milford Sound. I was in a bit of a hurry (you know how things get rushed before a trip), and I left the house without my tent. All I had was a sleeping bag, but it’s a good one.I slept under some trees that were tall and seemed to be leaning inwards while I looked up. Not long after that, I fell asleep…- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the entire post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

I now use the D800 for all my landscape shots, including this shot of my new homeland in New Zealand.


Morning at SeaI've been waking up at Ouch-o'clock every morning to see the sunrise off the front of the boat. It's always been worth it... listening to music, moving around the boat, pretty much totally alone except for a few members of the crew out doing their morning duties.This morning, we went to Castaway Cay, which is Disney's private island in the Bahamas. I thought it would be kind of lame (I'm both cynical and optimistic!) -- but it was really awesome... we had a great time there!- Trey RatcliffRead the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Another photo from the Disney Cruise.


Inception: New York I took these photos in New York City before going to LA to prepare for Burning Man. I found this spot below in midtown during a walk from Bryant Park over to the Facebook HQ in NYC. If you check my Facebook page, you’ll see some photos that Luke shot of me while I was taking this shot. It’s the one when I was awkwardly up under my camera shooting almost straight up in the air! You know that position…- Trey RatcliffClick here to read the rest of this post at the Stuck in Customs blog.

Here’s a shot from New York City that reminds me of Inception…


Sydney Australia Opera House

And last, a portrait shot of the Sydney Opera House…