On paper, the D810 may not appear to offer significant upgrades over the D800/D800e. In part, this is just Nikon following the pattern of how they upgrade their pro cameras, like the D4 to the D4s, but it is also a testament to how good the D800 is. Two years on, it still boasts the highest megapixel count of any DSLR and is regarded as offering the best all-around image quality of any 35mm sensor, with the one exception of high ISO performance (which, especially after normalizing to a lower resolution, is still really good). So some may wonder why Nikon needed to upgrade the camera at all, but, despite how incredible a machine the original D800/e was, there were a few things that felt a little lacking.

Firstly, the D800 was not a particularly fast camera. With a maximum 4 fps burst rate, it wasn’t exactly suitable for shooting action sequences. The new Expeed 4 processor of the D810 has upped that speed to 5 fps, which may not seem all that significant, but it represents a 25% increase. In DX crop mode, which produces a 16MP file, you can now shoot up to 7 fps when using the MB-D12 and AA batteries. In theory, the new processor should also help with image transfer speeds onto the memory card, helping to keep the buffer clear so you can continue shooting more.

The 36MP sensor was pretty mind-blowing when it was announced, and the D800 (particularly the “e” model) became known for its superlative resolution. But it was also particularly sensitive to vibrations. Even on a tripod, the shutter mechanism caused enough motion to generate blur at the microscopic level of individual pixels. In the D810, Nikon has introduced a new shutter mechanism which promises less vibration, helping photographers push the resolution envelope even further. They have also redesigned the sensor, completely removing the low-pass filter (as opposed to “canceling” it on the D800e), which may squeeze out even more resolution. The D810 will also introduce an electronic first curtain shutter for live-view shooting, which will remove shutter lag and vibrations. Live view will now be a great option for still photography, especially for manual-focus tripod shots.

That super-high resolution may have been wonderful for studio and landscape photographers, but it really did not make sense for wedding and event shooters, who were some of the main users of the previous D700 camera. New to the D810 is a small raw option, producing a 9MP image down-sampled from the full 36—so you still get the entire image area. This means photographers can fit more images on a memory card and post-production should be much faster, as well. (9MP may be a little small, but I’m guessing Nikon chose this number because it is computationally simple to downsize 36MP to 9MP without losing sharpness due to image processing. My bet is these new S-Raw files will still look great, but we will have to wait and see.)

One feature that not everyone will use but which I’ve always appreciated about Nikon’s pro-level DSLRs is the built-in intervalometer. Used for automating exposure sequences to build time-lapse movies, this feature is back and better than ever on the D810, which now allows you to shoot up 9,999 images in one sequence. Combined with the incredible resolution and ISO capability, this is a time-lapse shooter’s dream camera, with plenty of room for zooming and panning to add motion in post to your time-lapse without a motion control unit.

With the original D800, Nikon actually did a good job on their video signal processing, producing sharp results relative to other cameras in its class. With the large, 35mm sensor and incredible dynamic range, the camera found itself being used in high-end production environments, including the last 2 seasons of Showtime’s Dexter. The D810 adds several video-specific features, including a new “flat” picture profile, 1080p/60 fps, the ability to record to the memory card and an HDMI recorder simultaneously, and zebra stripes for checking highlight exposure. In fact, Nikon videographers may be the one group for which the D810 is a “must have” upgrade.

Overall, the D810 may not be enough to attract all current D800/e owners, but it certainly offers enough new features and improvements to make many happy. And at $3299, Nikon has kept the price in line with the D800e, so photographers who have yet to upgrade to a D800 series camera won’t suddenly need to come up with extra cash. The D810 should begin shipping in mid-July, and we’ll be sure to offer a full review as soon as we have our hands on one. If you are interested, we are also taking preorders at this time. Call or email if you would like to be added to the list.

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