Nikon D800 Review

Wednesday February 08 2012

Camera Review
Introduction | Nikon D800 Hands-on | Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4 | Nikon D800 vs Canon EOS 5D Mark II | Nikon D800 vs Nikon D700 | Nikon D800 Sensor performance | Conclusion

Nikon D800: The best sensor analyzed on DxOMark!

Nikon D800 scores

The Nikon D800: A full-frame sensor with no weak points

The two Nikon full-frame cameras, the D800 and the D4, occupy the top two places in the full-frame category. Simple and efficient. Still, be careful: as ever, in this review we are discussing only the D800’s RAW-image-based sensor results. We will follow up with DxOMark results for compatible lenses for this camera whose small pixel size promises to be very challenging.

Returning to the sensor, the D800’s Overall score is the best that has ever been achieved, and its use case scores are equally impressive:

Portrait: 25.3 bits (tied for 3rd, best full-frame score, very close to the best medium-format scores)

The Portrait score represents the sensor’s capacity to furnish vivid, varied, and accurate colors under good lighting conditions (i.e., studio).

The Nikon D4 had already obtained very interesting results. Here the D800 comes close to the quality of the best medium-format sensors: the IQ 180 (26.5 bits) and the P65 Plus (26 bits) are ahead, while the D800 achieves the same score as the P40 Plus. Even if its resolution is two times smaller than the medium format with the best resolution so far (the IQ180 and its 81 Mpix), the Nikon D800 and its 36 Mpix is a serious contender.

We still need to see how good the resolution and other optical qualities are for Nikon lenses when mounted for the first time on this small-pixel (4.8 µm) full-frame camera. We will also need to verify the performance of the best medium-format lenses on the best medium-format cameras. In short, the Nikon D800 has not told us everything about how well it will do in terms of studio photography, but we can say that its sensor performance is solid in this regard.

Landscape: 14.4 EV (1st)

Here again, the D800 achieves the best score ever measured. The APS-C sensors of the Pentax K5 and the Nikon D7000 are surpassed by around 0.3 and 0.5 stop, respectively. No need to hesitate taking high-contrast photos with the Nikon D800!

Sport: 2853 (3rd) — a pleasant surprise

The Sport score (alias Low-Light ISO score) lets you know how far you can go with regard to ISO without compromising image quality. Up until now, the sensors with the best resolution couldn’t compare their low-light performances with those of the best sensors in this category (the Nikon D3s and of course the D4). Here the D800’s sensor performance matches that of the D4’s!

All this said, it’s useful to recall these 2 important points:

  • As with all DxOMark scores, we take into account only image quality. It does not address such other important criteria as image signal processing, mechanical robustness, ease of use, flexibility.
  • These scores are obtained after normalization see “Detailed computation of DxOMark Sensor normalization” for more information.

… So be sure to figure out your photographic needs and how you intend to use it before choosing your camera.

Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4

The comparison is available here: Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4

Taking two different approaches, Nikon produced two beautiful full-frame cameras this year (see our comparison of their specifications here). In terms of sensor results, the D800 takes the lead. The 6-point gap is largely explained by the differences in measurements at low ISO.

The normalized SNR curves are very close, and in terms of color sensitivity, the Nikon D800 is slightly superior for low ISO:

Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4: SNR comparison (print mode)
Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4: SNR comparison (print mode)
Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4: Color sensitivity comparison (print mode)
Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4: Color sensitivity comparison (print mode)

The biggest difference shows up in the dynamic range scores:

Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4: Dynamic range comparison (print mode)
Nikon D800 vs Nikon D4: Dynamic range comparison (print mode)

In every instance in which the Nikon D4 reaches its ceiling for dynamic range for between ISO 100 and ISO 800, the Nikon D800 provides ever more EV at each decrease in sensitivity to achieve a maximum of 14.33 EV (normalized measurement), which corresponds to 13.24 EV per pixel. This sensor’s 14 bits of dynamic range are far from useless. (Of course, we remind you that in screen mode — unnormalized, as is the case for 100% screen view, for example — the Nikon D4 comes out ahead, and by quite a large margin — with the SNR curves showing a difference of nearly 1.5 stops.)

Nikon D800 vs Pentax K5 vs Nikon D7000

The comparison is available here: Nikon D800 vs Pentax K5 vs Nikon D7000

Nikon D800 vs Nikon D7000 vs Pentax K5 : SNR comparison (screen mode)
Nikon D800 vs Pentax K5 vs Nikon D7000: SNR comparison (screen mode)

With a nearly identical pixel pitch (4.7µm) and very close measurement results (in screen mode), be they for SNR, DR, or color sensitivity — those who predicted that the D800 would achieve pixel quality close to that of the Nikon D7000 and the Pentax K5 were not wrong. (If we wanted to get a little nit-picky, however, we might be tempted to point out that there has been no significant progress with respect to pixel quality since the D7000 and the K5 first appeared back in 2010….)

The Nikon D800, a less-expensive medium-format camera?

Several comparisons are available between this new full-frame camera and medium-format cameras:

All these comparisons head in the same direction: the D800’s sensor is comparable to the best medium-format sensor, and in fact does even better — much better — as ISO increases.

Of course, sensor scores don’t tell the whole story. For example, medium-format cameras will still offer a nicer depth of field and a smoother bokeh. We also still need to see how the best lenses behave on these different types of cameras.

Nikon D800 vs Canon EOS 5D Mark II (and soon the 5D Mark III)

The complete comparison is available here: Nikon D800 vs Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Just a quick comparison between the D800 and the 5D Mark II (while we wait for the results of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III) to see how the Nikon D800 ranks with respect to this very good but older Canon EOS 5D Mark II sensor.

The D800 is superior in every respect:

  • 16 points more for Overall score
  • 1.6 bits more for Color Sensitivity (Portrait)
  • More than 2 stops’ difference for Dynamic Range (Landscape)
  • Around 2/3 stop better for Low-Light ISO (Sport)

Looking at the details more closely, the Nikon D800 succeeds in providing the same SNR in screen mode despite a much lower pixel pitch (4.7 µm for the D800 vs. 6.4 µm for the 5D Mark II)!

Nikon D800 vs Canon EOS 5D Mark II: SNR Comparison (screen mode)
Nikon D800 vs Canon EOS 5D Mark II: SNR Comparison (screen mode)

To be continued…

Even though the D800’s sensor results are exceptional, we are looking forward to measuring the best Nikon lenses on it, and also to being able to compare it with the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III!