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Nikon D800 Samples Photos: Low Light, High ISO Tested

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Will the Nikon D800 live up to your low light expectations? New Nikon D800 sample images are giving us a hint of how the new DSLR will perform in low light and with high ISO settings.

We’ve already taken a look at standard Nikon D800 sample photos, but those were shot at ISO 100 with ideal lighting situations. A lot of photographers need to shoot in the wild and don’t have the privilege of perfect light and stationary subjects. The Nikon D800 is getting some heat for not having the same sensor and ISO range as the Nikon D4, which is Nikon’s $6,000 flagship DSLR, but will it matter for most photographers?

Russian review site Ferra.ru got its hands on an early Nikon D800 review unit and tested how useful the Nikon D800 is at various ISOs. Unfortunately, they’ve only had a chance to shoot a few still life, but this is the first time we’ve seen what the Nikon D800 can do with ISO 800, ISO 3200, ISO 6400 and ISO 25,600.

Nikon D800

(Read :Nikon D800 Sample Photos Are Mind Blowing)

Most photographers will rarely venture north of ISO 3200 or ISO 6400 and many question the need for something as high as ISO 25,600. There are a couple of reasons why potential Nikon D800 buyers are making a fuss over this. The Nikon D800 has the same ISO range as the Nikon D700, a camera that was released more than three years ago. The recently introduced Nikon D4 has a maximum ISO setting of 204,800.

The Nikon D800 packs a whopping 36.3 megapixels into it FX (35mm diagonal), which is more than double the resolution of the D4 and triple of the D700. More pixels spread over the same area equals a higher pixel density, which can be bad news when trying to shoot in dim conditions. Despite popular belief, more pixels isn’t necessarily better for all purposes.

(Read: Nikon D800: Amazing Sample Video)

So how does the Nikon D800 actually perform in low light and at high ISOs? Check out the below D800 sample photos.

Nikon D800 high ISO 800 sample photo low light

Nikon D800 Sample Photo - ISO 800, 1/250 sec, f1.8, NIKKOR 50mm f1.8 G lens (click image for high res sample photo)

In this sample photo you can clearly see that Nikon D800 is up to the task for shooting still life scenes at ISO 800. Wedding and event photographers will likely be able to shoot in this range with natural light without any issue at all.

100% NIkon D800 Sample Image at ISO 800

Here’s a 100% crop of the flower petals. Here you can see how the Nikon D800 handles shadows at ISO 800. Not bad at all considering how small this part of the image will be on most prints and displays.

 

Nikon D800 high ISO 3200 sample photo low light

Nikon D800 Sample Photo ISO 3200, f2.2, 1/3200 sec. (Click for high res version)

Above is an example of shooting at ISO 3200 with the Nikon D800. Again, it’s a perfectly usable image for publishing online or printing at a reasonable size.

nikon d800 sample image low light iso 3200 shadow

100% Crop Nikon D800 Sample Image ISO 3200

But when you zoom in to view this Nikon D800 sample at 100% on a computer you can see noise in both the shadows and the curtains. You can see that there’s noise in the shadows and on the brass and the lines don’t appear as crisp.

nikon d800 sample image low light iso 3200

100% Crop Nikon D800 Sample Image ISO 3200

In the white curtains you can see significant noise at 100% crop. Keep in mind that the Nikon D800′s ridiculously large megapixel count means this noise will only be visible when printing massive prints or heavily cropping/zooming.

Nikon D800 Sample ISO 6400

Here’s a nice shot of a chandelier with the Nikon D800 set at ISO 6400. Nothing wrong with this ISO if you’re presenting your work online.

Nikon D800 Sample Photo ISO 6400

Stepping up to ISO 6400 you can see more noise when zoomed in, especially in the background behind the chandelier.

NIkon D800 Sample Photo ISO 100, f1.8, 1/160 sec. (Ciick for high-res image)

This Nikon D800 was shot at the minimum – ISO 100. As expected, there’s no noise at all and details are crisp and clear at 100% crop.

Nikon D800 Sample, 100% Crop ISO 100

Here’s what the camera on the table looks like up close and personal. Note that you can clearly read the text imprints and how clean the lines and edges appear on the focus ring. The white on the hot shoe mount is bright and the blacks are nice and clean.

Nikon D800 high ISO 25600 Sample Image

This is the same shot, but the Nikon D800 is set to 25,600 ISO. Even at this extremely reduced size you can see that there’s a ton of noise and the overall image quality is much lower.

Nikon D800 Sample at ISO 25,600

As you can see in this crop, there’s a ridiculous amount of noise and it’s difficult to make out individual lines. It might be ok to shoot at this kind of ISO if you’re willing to put in some serious time in post production or if you’re going for an artistic look of some kind, but you’ll want to avoid ISO 25,600 on the Nikon D800 in almost all cases. There may be the odd time that you will have to max out your ISO on the D800, but if you are that worried about shooting in low light you or at ultra-high ISOs you might want to save up some cash and buy the Nikon D4.

We still haven’t seen any sample action shots or event photography at high ISO from Nikon or other earlier reviews. If you’re holding off on buying the Nikon D800 due to concerns about low light and high ISO performance we recommend waiting until more samples are available or you get your hands on the camera next month.

One thing that won’t change in the next month is that the Nikon D800 maxes out at four frames per second, which is less than half the speed of the D4. You can add a vertical grip to bring performance up to six frames per second, but that still won’t be fast enough for some sports and wildlife photographers. The Nikon D800 is an amazing camera, but there are compromises to consider.

Xavier Lanier is the publisher of Gotta Be Mobile and a photographer. He uses too many devices to count, but his current favorites are the iPhone 5s, HTC One, Nikon D800 and Sony RX 100M II. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

55 Comments

  1. Isawa

    02/09/2012 at 6:58 pm

    we want to see high iso video! 1920×1080 it’s totally different from 36,3 mpx!

  2. Robin

    02/09/2012 at 7:11 pm

    Sir you are just re-hashing someone else’s article, and sound like a idiotic parrot. Please be original.

  3. Timpicks

    02/09/2012 at 11:56 pm

    VERY disappointed in the low-light capabilities of the D800. Where’s the D700 low-light champion’s replacement?  The $6k D4, you say?  Well, that’s a ridiculous ask of Nikon just to get what the four year old D700 could already do just as well, if not better.  For the first time in forever I’m left wanting for a Nikon body that doesn’t exist.

    • Timpicks

      02/09/2012 at 11:59 pm

       In reply to myself, I’ll add that for music and theater photographers we have no optimal choices at this point from Nikon.  We need crisp, noise-free photos at 1600 and 3200, not 32MP and HUGE file sizes.  While I love the medium-format challenging MP size, the D800 is a major disappointment for indoor shooters.

      • Jlmphotos

        02/10/2012 at 6:39 am

        Get the D700.  I own 2 D700′s and a D300 and have the D800 on pre-order.  I expect to use the D800 for my wedding/landscape business.  The D700′s for weddings especially the low light. I’ve shot images on my D700 @ ISO 3200 that are just unbelievably clean and beautiful.  I know they are hard to come by.  And I agree with many — 6k for the D4 to replace my (when new) 2399.00 D700 is ridiculous.

      • Mr_Crocket

        02/18/2012 at 4:23 am

        If you reduce the 37mp image size of a D800 file into a 12mp image (4256×2832) you will realize that D800 images will have more detail and less noise than the D700…

        otherwise you can try to enlarge an 100 ISO D700 file to an 100 ISO 37mp file… Please dont look at pixels, look at your final print. D800E will be a monster in detail and will have good noise levels compared to anything in the market, because is a matter of reproduction size, not pixel peeping….

        • Dod713

          03/23/2012 at 2:17 pm

          thats what people who owns canon 5d II vs nikon d700 before… I wish it would be just 24 mp and more ISO.. It  would have been perfect =(

      • Mark Mulder

        02/24/2012 at 1:17 am

        What are you talking about? Have you ever shot at above 6400 ISO on the D700? It looks about as bad as the above sample image at 25,600 ISO…and this is THREE times as many pixels as the D700. So if you’d reduce the image size to 12MP to match the D700 you’d end up with a cleaner image at 25,600 ISO than the D700′s 6400 attempt.

        The D800′s low light capabilities ARE an improvement over the D700, it’s a simple point of fact.

      • Joe

        03/01/2012 at 11:42 pm

        Sure you have options — the D4 and D3s will both have better per-pixel high ISO noise values.  You just, for some odd reason, don’t think it’s fair to charge top-dollar for a top-end camera and want all the benefits of the top-end sensor at a mid-range price.

    • Robertleeking

      02/11/2012 at 5:38 am

      Who do you think you are kidding Mr.?  Get real you whiner!

    • Mirk

      03/01/2012 at 6:56 am

      I think you’ll find a second-hand D3S would sort you right out – atleast a 1 1/2 stops better in low light than the D700

  4. Weyskipper

    02/10/2012 at 1:48 am

    The levels of noise seems similar to the D700 and better than then D7000. The D700 noise handling has always been good enough for me, married with the high pixel count, Nikon has achieved something unbelievable. It is probably worth noting that there is no Canon currently available that can do better. We still have to see wha the 1dx will do, but it is nearly 3x the price. I think you need to get real and recognise the scale of the achievement here.

    • Xavier Lanier

      02/11/2012 at 10:35 pm

      I agree re D7000. I really don’t like using it in low light and always reach for my D700 when the sun goes down. I’m looking forward to getting the D800 and comparing it to the others. 

  5. Wagner Goldberg

    02/10/2012 at 4:17 am

    it’a interesting to see that 25k iso is pure rubbish and a little disappointed for such a large format machine. i will need to wait and see on this one.

  6. Landscape Photographer

    02/10/2012 at 9:56 am

    Remember the days of ISO 1600 film, how grainy it was, (and yeah in B&W it was kinda cool), but today you are getting really decent ISO 800 on this camera, which downsized and post-processed with noise reduction is going to look damn fine.  Ok, this is not a low-light camera, (or no more so than the D700.)  If you really need uber-ISO it is not your camera, but for many applications where that is not necessary it will be a fine tool.  (You have to select gear on the basis of what you plan to do with it.)

  7. Sean Molin

    02/10/2012 at 12:56 pm

    You guys really think the 25,600 looks rubbish? If you’re shooting 25,600, chances are you have no business taking photos there in the first place… and the fact that it’s acceptable for display online or even for a newspaper article… it’s absolutely acceptable.

    ALSO, keep in mind these were some of the earliest samples and they have had NO noise reduction or sharpening applied. 
    http://www.cmphotography.com/blog.cfm?postID=48&the-nikon-d800-a-few-more-features-to-point-out If you want to see a serious photographer’s use with 6400 on this beast. Looks good enough to eat.

    • TK Anthony

      02/18/2012 at 10:49 pm

      Thanks for the CM Photography link.  It well exemplifies what few seem to realize: When you down sample the 36 MP image size to the 12-16 MP range of those cams cited for low light capability, the quality improves to equal footing.  This is primarily due to the fact that the downsizing tends to blend the random amplifier noise spikes that pushed gain creates. Also, as far as 36 MP being too high, I also concur it is primarily a sentiment of those who just don’t see or care about the subtle detail that high MP’s invariably give you.  From emperic observations of my own film results over 40 years, I would peg Plus-X at about 10,000x 7,000 pels.  Much higher than the low 36 MP of the D800.  Lastly, I readily and distastfully notice the low acutance of images at 12 MP or less. 

      • Guysudel

        02/22/2012 at 5:12 pm

        use big words much?

  8. Nikon66

    02/10/2012 at 1:25 pm

    I don’t understand what all you critics are talking about.  First of all, Nikon has made it abundantly clear that unlike the D3 and D700, the D4 and D800 are two very separate and different creatures.  No one should expect to get D4 noise performance from a camera that has more than twice the pixels.  No camera on the planet gets perfectly clean images at ISO 25,600 on a 36.3 megapixel sensor.  I defy anyone to find a medium format camera (Hassey, Mamiya, Leaf, etc.) that even shoots at ISO 25,600.  None!  The D800 is simply alone in this regard.  Nikon has never claimed that the D800 is a little brother to the D4.  They have made it clear that this is meant for a different target audience.

    In addition, I would be very hesitant to rely on any of these photos to come to the conclusion that the D800 is noisier than a D700.  As noted in the article, these photos were taken with a pre-production camera.  The final production units may be significantly different.  Moreover, without a side-by-side comparison with a D700, there is simply no way you can say that these are worse than a D700.  In fact, I have seen D700 photos shot at ISO 25,600 and, quite frankly, I don’t believe they were any less noisey than what we see here.  From what I have read, Nikon is claiming that the noise levels on the D800 will be comparable to the D700.  Until I see some valid test results showing the contrary, I am going to tend to believe Nikon’s claim.  Quite frankly, they are usually pretty conservative in making these claims.  If the D800 is anywhere close to the D700 in terms of noise, this will be a remarkable accomplishment given the fact that the D800 has 3 times the megapixels.  Three times!! 

    I have my D800 on pre-order, and I’m willing to take the risk that Nikon is going to ruin their reputation with their very loyal customers by putting a $3,000 camera on the market that is nothing but junk.  For those of you who have been shooting Nikon like I have for over 40 years, you should know better.   

  9. some camera buff

    02/10/2012 at 3:49 pm

    yeah cramming 36mp into a 35mm eqiv frame…do the math, dosn’t work correctly

    • Sean Molin

      02/11/2012 at 7:57 am

      That’s a load. It’s the exact same pixel density (very slightly smaller, actually) as the D7000… and that has been regarded as a great sensor that works very correctly.

  10. Saltwaterroad

    02/10/2012 at 4:13 pm

    I have a D700, and Nikon66 is correct, the noise level is about the same at 25,600……….and in the four years I have owned the camera and been all over cloudy Southeast Alaska with it, I have yet to try and photograph anything at ISO 25,600.

    What I want to see are more test shots with the D800E.  I am somewhat intrigued.

  11. Anonymous

    02/10/2012 at 4:46 pm

     http://lnk.co/IHOTL

  12. Alweyedoc

    02/11/2012 at 4:31 am

    As a former 700 user, I’m looking forward to aquiring a D800 as I plan to down-sample resolution from 36 MPs to about 18 MPs. This should clean up any noise very issue nicely and I also don’t expext to shoot at ISOs much higher than 3200 based on previous use of my D700. 4 FPS is an issue but the cost and size of a D$ is a bigger one. If the D4 was about the size of an F6, the 6K cost wouldn’t bother me.

    • Weyskipper

      02/13/2012 at 8:33 am

      Could you elaborate on the downsampling.  This sounds interesting and worth knowing about.

      • Jaduffy007

        02/13/2012 at 11:36 pm

        If you go to Lloyd Chambers’s site or even dpreview.com forums, you can find this topic discussed in detail.  Basically in post, apply some noise reduction (preferably with Topaz Denoise or Nik’s Dfine 2).  No need to overdo it either. Then in Photoshop or your editor of choice…you resize the image to say 16 or 12 MP.  Many, myself included, anticipate the D800′s image quality to then match or exceed the D700. Will it match the D3s? No but we have to be realistic. :)  There is math to support this but it’s beyond my ability to explain.  Personally, I think the D800 will be a stellar machine.

      • Alweyedoc

        02/14/2012 at 4:30 pm

        To downsample, I simply plan to set the desired (reduced) resolution level in the camera. For example in FX format, a medium image size (M) setting of 5520×3680 pixels gives 20 MPs.

  13. Kjell Saeten

    02/11/2012 at 10:30 am

    Is it possible to down-sample using Aperture on a Mac ?

  14. Peterhirtz

    02/13/2012 at 10:57 am

    From Peter in Germany,
    hi friends, please have a look at       http://imaging.nikon.com/lineup/dslr/d800/sample02.htm
    Kind regards
    Peter

  15. COFDM

    02/13/2012 at 8:36 pm

    Unfortunately Nikon did not post any samples over ISO 640.  I am a bit cautious about anything digital after returning the horrible SONY A850 with the even more disgusting pseudo Zeiss 24-70 lens back to the store.  I was waiting for the 5D replacement , but having a whole collection of Nikkor and Angenieux lenses for the Nikon I am now thinking about the 800. Anyone has any more precise data on the video quality?

  16. Lou

    02/13/2012 at 9:28 pm

    I sold my D700 just before Nikon announced the D4 and D800. I thought about buying the D4, but wow, the bucks!! I considered the D800 but don’t need that many pixels and oh those file sizes, ouch!. . I ended up buying a slightly used D3s (two months old, 1200 actuations and 10 months Nikon USA warrant) for just over $4,000 . . and I don’t look back.  The D3s is and remains a superb camera for any photographer who doesn’t need great video capability . . . So far, the D3s with its 8.45 micron pixel size delivers low light like no other, except for maybe the D4, maybe. But more importantly, am I a camera collector or a photographer?  Time for me to stop chasing the next generation of technological bells and whistles and get back to the basics,: interesting and compelling subject matter,  great composition, excellent exposure and creative lighting . . Cameras don’t make the pictures, we do!

    • Dod713

      03/23/2012 at 2:22 pm

      I think thats an excellent move there.. the cheapest one ive seen online is $4900.00   its brand new though. hope you can provide the link. the looks and the way d3s handles will trump d800 anytime .  +)

  17. Peterhirtz

    02/15/2012 at 2:43 am

     

    I prefere
    the camera by travelling all over the world with Nikon 2,8 14-24mm (landscapes),
    1.4-35mm( reporting), 1.4-50mm(for best resolution) and 70-200mm VRII (all others). I
    often had the problem to be not close enough to my objects (venomous snakes for
    example). Therefore, I
    would go with the 70-200mm
    on DX format, then
    I have a larger focal
    length of 300mm and a super-resolution of about
    23 MP. This is ideal
    for enlargements up
    to DIN A 2. A higher ISO of >640 is not
    used by me. This possibility, I’ve not with d700.
    With D 700 I get in DX format
    only approximately, 8 MP.

    • ABC

      02/23/2012 at 11:43 am

      200mm DX crop from D800 will not be 23mp, but about 16mp. And with D700 it will be about 5mp, not 8mp (square of 1.5 = 2.25)

  18. Michael

    02/24/2012 at 7:36 pm

    Are you kidding me? The noise in the sample image at ISO 25k is something Photoshop or Lightroom can easily take care of. Noise reduction out of the box is pretty good these days.

  19. Jjr9999

    02/24/2012 at 7:47 pm

    I’ll keep my D300s for a walkaround, my D3s for my fast needs and my D800E for landscapes.  That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
     

    • Timpicks

      02/25/2012 at 12:56 am

       And that’s fine, but for those of us who don’t want (or need, or can afford) three bodies, the discussion over the D800 rages on.  Do you really take three bodies when you travel?  I need an all-in-one beast like the D700 that does everything pretty well, over three bodies that do one thing perfectly.  I can’t justify $2600 for a D700 when the D800 is $3000, and yet the D800 doesn’t do what I need, which is shoot in low-light.  I’m stuck.

      • Mark Astle

        02/27/2012 at 1:41 pm

        What kind of light are you shooting in that you’re gonna need anything much over ISO 1600? I’ve shot all kinds of events and very very rarely needed to go higher.

        • ThomasEdison

          02/28/2012 at 8:41 pm

          That’s insane. I just shot a concert here at school. For stage shots, ISO 1600 was optimal. But if I wanted audience shots in low light, I had to go 4000+. It’s something that the D800 probably will do well at small print sizes, unless you pixel peep.

  20. Moscia1

    02/25/2012 at 6:34 pm

    I think you should all go and fuck you self.

  21. Peter

    02/26/2012 at 1:22 am

      you have demonstrated your lowest level. we don’t need you and your comments. not today and not tomorrow.peter

  22. Scott

    03/01/2012 at 9:22 am

    I have shot with almost evry Nikon camera made and it was just a few years ago that the Nikon D2Xs was the king Pro camera for professionals. It maxed out at ISO 800 and 6 FPs was considered fast. All sports photographers wanted this baby at over $5,000.00. I have a D700 and agree that it was a great camera for both inside and outside work and under many conditions of light. I don’t think the D800 will dissapoint anyone that is using a D700 or 5DMKII. It will be interesting to actually get my hands on one and put it through the paces. Let us not be too quick to judge until we have it in the field. I bet the tone of the blogs will change in two months time.

  23. GerardP

    03/03/2012 at 8:29 pm

    Of course there is a ton of noise in the 25,600 ISO image. It is at least one stop underexposed, just as the other images posted here.

  24. Kahiri78

    03/07/2012 at 7:56 am

    no point of buying and then resizing d800 high iso image just to match the D700 and satisfy some poor souls.

    imagine urself shooting 200-300 lowlight images at concert, than have to resize them just to make you ‘comfortable’ with the high iso performance.

    Pros wont do that. they buy the camera because they need the resolution. Even i dont wanna do that.

    • Derek

      03/27/2012 at 3:02 pm

      True, but also consider that Photoshop can quickly batch convert images.

  25. COFDM

    03/07/2012 at 10:43 am

    It appears that with the advent of digital acquisition few of the participants here even remember shooting i.e. kodachrome 25, with the current appetites going into 5, 6 digits.  since I don’t read reviews, can anyone suggest the most unbiased, comprehensive sources (links) for reviews on this and the canon mark3?

  26. Ron

    03/07/2012 at 3:11 pm

    you are incorrect in stating “which is more than double the resolution of the D4 and triple of the D700″ resolution (how we measure it in optical science and in this industry of photography) is a linear metric. in order to DOUBLE the resolution of the 12MP D700, we would need a 48 mega-pixel sensor.

  27. Sunil

    03/09/2012 at 12:01 am

    Yeah! 3 times the no of pixels would be the the square root of 3 to find the effective increase in resolution , 2 times the number of pixels ie nikon d3x compared to d3s would give approx. a 40 percent increase in resolution in favour of the d3x , all other things being equal.

    Sunil Singh

  28. phil

    03/12/2012 at 8:06 pm

    i n now using 2 units D3s, i sold D700 2 units , i like D700 but i have to sale it cos i n not camera collector. D3s is amazing gear. But , any latest tecnology or product must be in good result!
    if u r capable why not to ” ADD ” new one? Dont simply comment any which u just ony guess!
    try n experience it, u will feel the different, i believe it will bring great reasult.
    by the way,any ” bonus ” or ” gain ” as u comment after the 100 % crop??? why need to crop 100% ???
    before shooting, frame the picture in our mind. so the outcome will b beter…

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