cameras
  • Best of Year 2014
Expert Score
9.7

Nikon D810 Digital Camera Review

Nikon polishes up yet another great full-frame camera.

November 18, 2014
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By the Numbers

The D810 isn't a revolutionary camera, with Nikon once again simply refining what was already a popular model. While the D800 was a monster performer on both paper and in the lab, many people were skeptical that such a high-resolution sensor would be practical for most kinds of work. There were also small issues with handling and a relatively slow burst rate that kept many people from leaving their now legendary D700s.

The D810 remedies most of these issues. It gives users a deeper grip, faster burst shooting, and overall performance increase. We saw improvements in nearly every category from the D800. You can see our in-depth performance analysis below.

Color and White Balance

Color performance was solid on the D810, but nothing life changing. We found that the most accurate color mode was standard, which by default returned a color error (∆C00, saturation corrected) of 2.2, with 98.6% saturation levels. Anything less than 2.2 is considered practically perfect, so this is a fine result for Nikon. Both vivid and landscape emphasized saturation and were worse as a result, but may be more pleasing depending on what you're working with.

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Standard was the most accurate color mode.

White balance was another story, which isn't surprising as Nikons typically struggle with white balance. Auto white balance with the D810 usually resulted in a color temperature error of anywhere between 120-2000 kelvin. Some lighting situations are, but it actually did slightly improve from the D800 and not terrible. Daylight is not bad with an average error of 120 kelvins, but fluorescent was regularly off by around 1000 kelvins and tungsten was closer to 2000 kelvins. It's these areas where the D810 really struggles, but only the fluorescent result is notably poor—most cameras struggle with tungsten. You'll have to shoot custom and/or RAW to preserve the correct color balance in those settings.

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Sharpness

We tested the D810 with the 24-70mm f/2.8G ED lens from Nikon. We chose this lens as we consider it a standard lens for professional use. With the D810 we found that the combination really shined and made incredibly sharp images with only a hint of chromatic aberration and vignetting when at f/2.8. We found that the lens consistently resolved close to 2,400 line widths per picture height at MTF 50 from f/2.8 through the useful aperture range. Stopping down aids this considerably, eliminating many of the aberrations we saw at f/2.8.

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The 24mm crops show a fair bit of haloing from over-sharpening.

This is exactly what we expected seeing how the D800 was extremely sharp and this is one of Nikon's sharpest zoom lenses. If you opt for a prime lens you can expect even better results, as in our sample photos we consistently got sharper photos from Nikon's enviable prime lens lineup than with almost any zoom lens.

Noise

The D810 has a base ISO range is 64-12,800 and 32-51,200 if you include the expanded settings. Overall, we found the D810's full-frame image sensor could capture images throughout the range effectively. With most cameras we test, we have a noise threshold of about 2% for image quality. At that point the image starts to degrade to a point where you get an unattractive amount of noise and it would affect prints. At ISO 32, we found the D810 produced around 0.74% noise. That rose to 1% noise at ISO 400 and only hit 2.02% at ISO 3200. If you see in our sample below, you will want to stay below ISO 1600 if you want to keep the detail up and noise down. For web work or anything where you can comfortably downsample then you can push that all the way to ISO 12,800.

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As you can see you get usable images as high as ISO 3200 before you see detail starts to give way to noise.

The D810 does have fairly aggressive noise reduction (NR) modes if you need to float the ISO up more. However, it does come at a penalty to fine detail. While using the lowest NR, we could get as high as ISO 6400 before crossing the 2% noise threshold. NR Standard gave you another stop, making ISO 12,800 usable. The top noise reduction setting keeps noise below 2% through ISO 25,600, but the more noise reduction you apply the less fine detail will make it into your final image.

Video Performance

The Nikon D810 is capable of shooting cinema quality video, thanks to the 36.3MP sensor and Expeed 4 processor. The D810 offers video at 1080p in 60, 50, 30, 25, and 24 fps modes. There are also options for 720p at 60 and 50fps, but no VGA options.

In our resolution tests we found that in bright light the D810's 1080/60p mode resolved a solid 625 line pairs per picture height both horizontally and vertically. That drops slightly in low light (60 lux) to 525 LPPH horizontally and vertically. If anything, the camera's video sharpness is balanced with both vertical and horizontal sharpness matching. In our motion test the 1080/60p mode was the best, with only a slight showing of trailing.

The real issue here isn't the D810 itself, but the H.264 codec that it employs. We rarely see this codec push beyond 625 line pairs per picture height when shooting 1080p video, even with a sensor like this that should be razor sharp. It's a downside of using the D810 for video, as a 4K-ready option like the Panasonic GH4 will be able to resolve considerably more detail.

Low-light video testing actually surprised us going much lower than the D800. In this test we expose for a white patch on a standard test chart and lower the light level until the camera no longer produces an image that hits 50 IRE on a waveform monitor. When we ran the test in our lab we were able to get down as low as 1 lux before the image finally hit this threshold. The improved performance is entirely due to the higher ISO range allowed by the new processor.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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