Nikon D800
Low light, high quality: the Nikon D800 shows its capabilities.

Andy Stead

Probably one of the most highly anticipated DSLRs of the past few months, the Nikon D800 was launched globally on 7 February. With its astonishing 36.3-megapixel full-frame FX sensor, Nikon is aiming the D800 at the higher end of the market: professionals and top-end enthusiasts. The launch was preceded by that of the new Nikon D4 in a smaller body and at a cheaper price point. The D800 utilises many of the new features of the D4.

At the local launch of both cameras on 9 February, Nikon South Africa announced that the D800 is not a replacement for the Nikon D700, but will sit alongside it – for the moment at least.

Both the D4 and D800 are extremely powerful in their own way. The D4 is a workhorse designed specifically for two things: high frames per second – great for sport and wildlife – and low light sensitivity, boasting a phenomenal ISO of 208400 that allows you to capture images in near darkness with very low noise levels.

The D800 is purposefully built for broadcast quality video as well as unbelievable high quality 36.3-megapixel stills. The D4’s specifications are 16 megapixels, 11fps, 100 - 12800 ISO (50 - 204800 boost modes) 3.2-inch LCD full HD 1080p video at 30fps. In addition to the massive 36.3 megapixels, the D800 is 4fps, 100-6400 ISO (boosts up to 25600 ISO) 3.2-inch LCD full HD video 1080.

So what sets the D800 apart from other DSLRs, and why is it relevant to the film and television industry? The Canon D5 and D7 has become the camera of choice for many DOPs for shooting commercials, dramas and indeed feature films, because its image sensor exceeds that of a conventional video camera, it shoots 1080 video in HD, is a remarkably small package and can take a variety of lenses. There has been nothing really to beat it. Until the D800 arrived.

Marli van Schalkwyk, marketing manager for Nikon South Africa, explains: “The capabilities of the D4 and D800 positions both cameras in the film and television industry as market leaders and Nikon in South Africa is planning a number of exciting projects, with specific focus on music videos shot on a DSLR. More details on this will be revealed soon.”

The D800 brings full HD functionality. It can record 1080p video at 30, 25 and 24fps frame rates, along with 60 and 50fps rates at 720p for shooting slow-motion movies. Both FX and DX crops are available in video mode, although the D800 lacks the D4's useful new 1920 x 1080 crop mode.

It's also capable of focusing right down to -2 EV (moonlight, essentially), which, coupled with its ability to shoot at up to ISO 25,600 (at the Hi 2 setting), should make this a promising camera for its low-light shooting – ideal for the wildlife filmmaker wanting to shoot night scenes.

Nikon gave Johan Pretorius, an internationally acclaimed professional still photographer specialising in sports and portraiture, the chance to work with both the D4 and D800 on assignment in the Seychelles. At the launch he gave a talk to the assembled industry professionals and press.

"These are tools that will change the game and rules forever” he says. “The shoot centred around two luxury yachts and the lifestyle in the Seychelles. The cameras were truly superb and I defy anyone show me a camera that exceeds this quality.” To get an idea of the quality of the imagery take a look at