'Look Ma, no Wifi!' I'm feeling underwhelmed with the Nikon D810...
Earlier today Nikon announced its latest high-end DSLR, the D810. This is the $3300 successor to the D800 and D800e, a model which sits close to the top of Nikon's range, under only the flagship D4s. It's a camera which, at this price and position, should be absolutely stunning. Indeed Nikon describes it as no-compromise, and yet I can’t help feeling underwhelmed. Judging by the usual sycophancy online, I also feel like I'm in the minority for pulling it up, so am I missing the point? Here's my case.
Sure, the D810 sports a number of key enhancements over its predecessors, but they mostly feel like they're addressing a few annoyances with the earlier models rather than offering anything genuinely new. Anyone who owns a D800 or D800e will doubtless nod with appreciation at a shutter mechanism which suffers from less vibration, the availability of RAW files at a lower resolution, a brighter screen and a broader native ISO range. It's also nice to inherit the AF system and EXPEED 4 processor from the D4s which equips the D810 with zoneable AF, 1080p video at 60p, and an extra 1fps of continuous shooting in FX mode.
But what about the innovation? The pushing of the envelope that's expected in a product of this price and class. To me, the only really new things here are the highlight-weighted metering, the split-screen magnified display which lets you monitor two different parts of a composition, and a flat picture profile for those who intend to tweak in post. Nikon may claim the sensor and processor deliver its best quality yet, but the rumourmills are grinding it's the same sensor in the Sony A7r, so if you're processing RAW files there may be little if anything between them.
Now don't get me wrong, the D800 and D800e are still fantastic cameras, so by improving on them even slightly, the D810 becomes even better. I've also no reason to doubt Nikon's claims that the D810 delivers their best quality images to date, at least at lower ISOs. So the D810 becomes one of Nikon's best DSLRs to date. I can see long exposure specialists especially loving its lower vibrations and lower ISO values.
But this ranking only applies within Nikon's own range. What really frustrates me is how Nikon and Canon seem blissfully unaware of what their competition is doing, and how people beyond their core customers are taking and using their photos. They'll even avoid certain features within their own ranges to avoid canibalising sales of other models.
While all this is going on, I see more and more people moving away to mirrorless rivals which in some cases match the same quality, but in smaller, lighter, cheaper and better-featured packages. People who used to scoff at equipping cameras with Wifi are now seeing the potential of using their smartphone as a remote control or tagging their images with GPS co-ordinates at no extra cost. People who weren't sure about video in a stills camera have not only come round to the idea, but now actively seek 1080p at high frame rates or 4k capabilities. People who'd traditionally only use lenses from their actual camera manufacturer are now also adapting those from multiple systems and exploiting technologies like peaking to focus more accurately and easily than ever.
This is happening today. Right now. On cameras that are not only more portable, but much cheaper too. Now I know some feature-sets are constrained by budget or even physical size, but lest we forget the D810 is a large and expensive camera that's only one step down from the company's flagship. To me it is unforgiveable to launch a new high-end camera without Wifi, focus peaking or 4k video that costs over three grand and is likely to remain current well-into 2016 and possibly 2017. The feature set is behind the curve in 2014, so how's it going to look in two or three year's time? At this price you want a camera that shouldn't just serve your needs now, but also anticipate those well into the future.
I know there's a faithful set of owners who'll argue that they don't want or need these features, and I believe them too, but it's a shrinking group and I reckon many of those who already own D800 or D800e's won't see enough here to warrant an upgrade. Then there's the other group of photographers who do want these features, if not now, then almost certainly within the lifespan of the camera. These are the people who are abandoning Nikon and Canon for more innovative companies like Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm and especially Sony.
If I'm sounding harsh it's because I have a great fondness for Nikon, both as a reviewer and an actual owner in years gone by. I don't want this company to go away, but fear it could be in serious trouble if it keeps launching products which don't appeal beyond a core faithful. I guess the one thing we can all agree on though is the hope the new shutter block doesn't suffer from any issues with oil.