You may have read or heard that the D800 isn’t suitable for… It’s “a studio and landscape only” camera, people say. People assume that because of the 36MP it’s too slow or too noisy for sports? Is this true?
What is needed for a good “sports camera”?
1. Good Lenses
2. Fast AF System
3. High FPS
4. Large buffer and fast buffer clearing (relates to part 3)
5. Good high iso (keeps shutter-speed fast)
I won’t cover point one. That’s got too many variables for this article. I will cover the other points below.
The D800 uses the same AF system as the new Nikon D4: Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX with 51-points (up to 15 cross-type points) with up to f/8 (up to 9 cross-type sensors).
It’s very good and isn’t a concern for sports at all. So check one for the D800’s sporting credentials.
Frames Per Second
The D800 has 4fps. Mainly this is because 36MP is a lot of data to be pushing around. This can be a major problem for sports. The main problem I have come across is when people are running. When people are running one of the best shots you can get is like this one (as far as body shape is concerned):
This is my preferred “pose” for running. Of course you may prefer something different. The above shot happens to be from the D800. This was a pretty hard shot to get because:
People tend to run at about 4 paces per second. If I wanted to get exactly the pose I wanted (above) more fps would give me a lot more to choose from and the chances of one of the shots being the “magic” pose would be greatly increased. 4 fps gives me a similar pose each time. You can see it below (4 fps burst from D800). You’ll see the runner has her left knee up, then right, left, right and so on. There’s nothing in between.
This is annoying.
Another advantage of more fps is a higher chance one will be in focus.
Fast buffer clearing
Because even at 4fps 36MP is a lot of data to be moving about. A large buffer and fast clearing is necessary.
A camera’s buffer is space on your camera to store the files as they are being taken, when you stop shooting your camera then moves the files to the card. It’s a bit like RAM on your computer. When shooting at a high FPS the buffer might fill up. Then the FPS will slow down. A faster card helps a lot because it helps you clear this buffer more quickly. Use a slow card and you’ll be waiting for the buffer to empty often. And you might even get a delay when trying to view a photo in the image preview mode.
If you shoot lossless compressed 12 (or 14 bit) files the buffer on the D800 should be about 12-16 shots. This means you should be able to get a burst of 12-16 shots before it starts to slow down. This may or may not be enough. For me it is.
Good high iso levels
The main benefit for good high iso levels is being able to keep shutter speed high and apertures stopped down, making it a bit easier to get shots within the DOF. The latter is especially beneficial when using telephoto lenses. Having good high iso levels is always a good thing.
So how does the D800 do? Well, a common thought is that lower MP are always better for high iso. This is because the photosites are bigger which = more light gathering abilities. This is generally true given exact same sensor technology, firmware and chipsets. This only works however if you compare 100% crops without resizing. The problem is, prints (and online photos) are made by resizing the picture to suit. This makes the best way to compare 2 cameras to compare them at the same size. On my personal site I have another article (http://www.aidavproductions.com/articles/D3svsD800.html) comparing the D800 to the D3s. At a per pixel basis the D3s wins and the D800 is about level with a D3 or D700. When you resize the D800 is very close to the D3s.
There is one warning I’d give however. If you want to crop a picture (and often with sports you do) you’ll lose the iso advantage that comes from resizing the image down. This isn’t too much of a problem though because even at a per pixel basis (100% crop for example) I personally would say you could easily shoot to 3200iso, even going up to 6400iso if needed. These iso levels are generally fine for sports, even in low light.
This image is from my other article. You can see at 3200 (100% crop) without any noise reduction, the D800 (left) is quite usable (and the D3s is awesome of course).
Ability to crop
Here is where the D800 comes into it’s own. All those megapixels gives you a LOT of leeway when it comes to cropping. I can crop quite a bit and still have 10MP. Which is fine for most purposes.
Here’s an example. Remember the photos from the burst rate example above? Here it is:
I wasn’t too happy with this shot because the runner is too far away. So I cropped it:
Here it is cropped:
The amazing thing is this image (in its full size) is 4007 × 2674 pixels. Which calculates to 10.7MP. Not bad.
This is quite the advantage if:
1. You can’t get close enough.
2. You like to crop.
3. You can’t afford expensive telephoto lenses.
So, can you use your “studio and landscape” D800 for sports? In a word: yes. The AF system is very good and the high iso will let you keep your shutter-speed high. The ability to crop so much is the main benefit the D800 has though. The fps isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. This can be frustrating in sports and sometimes the difference between a good and a bad shot is between the 1/4 second it takes to move from one frame to the next on the D800.
So, if you can put up with 4fps and relatively large (35-70MB RAW files) then the D800 is a fine sports camera.