As those of us who follow the rumor blogs have known for several months by now, Nikon was planning to introduce the successor to it's widely used (and much loved) D700: the rumor had it that the new camera was to have been introduced in the autumnn of 2011, but the combination of a tsunami in Japan and the floods in Thailand put paid to said plans, at least for a while. Now, at long last, the rumored D800 is finally here, and my feelings about the new camera are ... ambiguous, to put it mildly.
From the above, one might think I were exaggerating, but the numbers back me up. Realistically, 36mp is enough for even a double-spread in Vogue*, while landscape prints needing more resolution aren't sold in all but the smallest quantities. Finally, it isn't even the case that most medium-format camera will be able to match the D800 for dynamic-range, let alone best it: given the rumored provenance of the camera's sensor in Sony's "Exmor" CMOS technology - the same technology behind the D7000's impressive dynamic-range - I am quite certain that the D800 will outdo all but the very top 1 or 2 MF cameras on this metric, at less than 1/10th the price (indeed, the now obsolete D3x already gave medium format backs a run for their money in this regard).
Having praised the D800 so fulsomely in the preceding paragraphs, you'd think I'd be rushing to get my hands on one, but there are other aspects of the new camera which manage to dull my enthusiasm a great deal. To begin with, I am not a videographer or amateur filmmaker, nor do I entertain the slightest ambition in such a direction, and as such the new camera's video facilities do not serve as a selling point.
The D800's extremely high resolution also fails to excite me in the slightest, as I am well aware of how little I make full use of even my current camera's "mere" 12mp resolution: despite taking at least 10,000 pictures over the last 12 months, I have not bothered to print out a single one in that time period, and the highest resolution at which anyone other than myself has viewed my pictures has been at 1200x800. That this is the case isn't because no one ever bothers to take a look - at present, my Flickr statistics indicate that my photos have been viewed over 393,000 times since I opened an account - but because nowadays, the primary means by which people view my pictures (or anyone else's) is online, either on a computer monitor, a tablet screen, or even on a smartphone. More resolution is therefore the last thing I require.
If the extraneous video and overkill resolution were the only issues I had with the D800, I would still have considered eventually upgrading someday, but in aiming so directly at Canon and the medium-format market, Nikon made design compromises I find impossible to live with. With the D700, I was able to shoot at 5fps under normal conditions, and simply by inserting 8 AA batteries in a detachable pack, I was able to go up to 8fps; this facility proved extremely handy on several occasions when I was covering an event, e.g. at the 2011 Notting Hill Carnival, or this year's New Year's Day Parade. Given the circumstances in which most of my photos are taken nowadays, what I need most of all is the ability to shoot fast, a deep buffer to avoid having to miss any key moments, and sufficient resistance against the elements for me to be able to keep shooting whatever the weather. On none of these points does the D800 improve over its predecessor in the slightest, and in some aspects it is actually worse.
Beyond the issue of responsiveness, there is also the important matter of high ISO performance. As I happen to live in a part of the world which isn't exactly blessed with sunny weather even at the very height of "summer", being able to shoot in low light is of the highest importance to me. If I only ever shot in a studio, or had the money, means and cooperative subject matter which would allow me to transport a heavy tripod and unlimited amounts of lighting gear to any place in which I wished to take a photo, the D800 would probably prove ideal, but this is very far from describing my situation. As all indications from Nikon are that the D800 only matches the D700 in the feature which matters to me most, without actually beating the older camera, there is really no point to spending the extra outlay involved in getting a D800 for essentially no gain.
There is in fact a camera for sale by Nikon which provides all of the benefits I'd hoped to see in a D700 successor, and it happens to be called the D4: unfortunately, it is offered at twice the price of the D800, making it hard to justify for anyone who isn't either in the 1% club, or eligible to charge the camera's cost as a deductible business expense. I understand why Nikon has failed to provide a cut-down D4 to entice D700 owners like me - the company's management wants to avoid the cannibalization of sales which occurred with the D700/D3 - but the end result is that no reasonable avenue is available for me to improve upon the equipment I already have; how fortunate it is, then, that the D700 remains a stellar camera in its own right, the first I've ever owned which retains the power to astonish me with the quality of the images it produces so long after it came into my possession.
To summarize, studio shooters, wannabe filmmakers and professional landscape photographers will rightly love Nikon's latest product, but for those of us who already have a D700 and aren't in any hurry to make gigantic prints, this is an "upgrade" best left on the shelf ...
*At 250dpi, which is better than even high-end magazine quality, 36mp is still enough for a 20 x 30 inch print! What is more, I know that Steven Meisel was happily using a 16mp 1ds Mark II to shoot Vogue Italia spreads a few years back.