Nikon D810 Image Quality


Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Fairly vibrant colors with slightly below average hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links above to compare ISOs, and click to load a larger version.

Saturation. The Nikon D810 pumps dark blues a lot, dark greens moderately and quite a few colors slightly, but actually undersaturates yellow, light green and cyan tones, when using default settings. Overall, mean saturation levels are a little higher than average at 12.2% oversaturated at the base ISO of 64 versus a more typical 10%. And the D810's mean saturation is fairly consistent across ISOs, ranging from a minimum of 111.4% at ISO 800 to 113% at ISO 25,600. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Nikon D810's rendering of Caucasian skin tones looks realistic in "sunlit" outdoor lighting when using auto white balance, but just slightly on the warm, yellow side. (Likely because the camera doesn't pump reds as much as most.) Manual white balance produces slightly healthier-looking pinkish tones. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Nikon D810 produces a few color shifts relative to the mathematically precise translation of colors in its subjects, as do almost all cameras. Reds are shifted slightly toward orange, light orange toward yellow and cyan toward blue, but there are only very slight shifts in yellow, green and purple. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) Mean "delta-C" color error at base ISO was 6.71 after correction for saturation, which is a little higher than average (lower numbers are better), but still considered good, and remained around 7 across the ISO range. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images


Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm results with Auto and Incandescent white balance, though excellent color balance with Manual white balance. About average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance Incandescent White Balance
Manual White Balance

Indoors, in common incandescent lighting, color balance is warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. The Incandescent setting is very warm with a strong yellow tint. (Some users may prefer this look, though, as being more representative of the original lighting.) The Manual white balance setting on the other hand produced very accurate results. The D810 required +0.3 EV exposure compensation, which is about average for this shot. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

Outdoors, daylight
Good color and exposure outdoors, but high default contrast.

Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

The Nikon D810 handled tough outdoor lighting under harsh sunlight well in terms of color and exposure. We found skin tones a touch yellow in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with Auto white balance though, so we preferred Manual WB. Default contrast is on the high side, so quite a few highlights were clipped in the mannequin's shirt, pendant and some of the flowers, though shadows aren't too deep. The D810 required +0.3 EV exposure compensation to keep the eyes relatively bright, which is a bit better than the +0.7 EV average for this shot. The Far-field image on the right a little hot at default exposure, with some clipped highlights in bright white areas and of course in specular highlights. Again, detail in the shadows is very good, and shadow noise is remarkably low. Color here with Auto white balance is very pleasing.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Extremely high resolution, ~3,500 to ~3,600 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
~3,600 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~3,500 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~3,600 lines horizontal
ACR processed RAW
Strong detail to
~3,500 lines vertical
ACR processed RAW

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns to about 3,600 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 3,500 lines per picture height in the vertical direction in JPEGs. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur before the 4,000 line limit of our chart. We weren't able to extract any more resolution with RAW files processed through Adobe Camera Raw 8.6, and the ACR conversion contained more color moiré and false colors than the in-camera JPEG images, so the camera's processing is doing a pretty good job suppressing those artifacts. The D810 does however show some luminance moiré, which is exacerbated by somewhat high default sharpening. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fantastic sharpness and detail, though default sharpening and contrast are a bit higher than the D800/E. Minimal noise suppression artifacts at base ISO.

Excellent definition of
high-contrast elements,
but with some evidence of
edge enhancement.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
though detail remains strong in
the darker parts of the model's hair here.

Sharpness. The Nikon D810 produced very sharp, incredibly detailed images at default settings, though edge enhancement artifacts are more visible compared to the D800/E around high-contrast subjects, such as the fairly obvious sharpening halos around the lines and lettering in the crop above left. Default sharpening is a little higher than we're used to seeing for a pro Nikon DSLR, but you can always turn it down if you prefer. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing color and tonal differences right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows only minimal detail loss due to noise suppression, as the darker areas of the mannequin's hair show a lot of detail. Individual strands are still distinguishable even in the lighter shadows, though some begin to merge as shadows deepen, and in places where the tone and color of adjacent strands is very close. The hair is also virtually free from chroma noise, which is often not the case, but some strands do show signs of the "jaggies" (see below for more on aliasing artifacts). Still, an excellent performance here. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

Aliasing Artifacts. As mentioned previously the Nikon D810 captures incredibly sharp, detailed images thanks to its very high resolution and lack of an optical low pass filter, but that means it's also more susceptible to moiré, "jaggies" and other aliasing artifacts than cameras with an appropriate OLPF when used with a sharp lens.

As you can see in our Still Life shots, moiré patterns can be seen in the red-leaf fabric (below) and in the Samuel Smith bottle label (at right), and you can see moiré in some other shots as well, such as in the artificial roses of our Indoor Portrait test shots.

With the increasing trend of using either a very weak or no optical low pass filter, quite a few cameras produce similar artifacts these days, and the Nikon D810's JPEG processing engine actually does a pretty good job at suppressing aliasing-related false colors in our Resolution target. But it's not fool proof, and luminance moiré is much more difficult to deal with. That's something to be aware of especially if you shoot a lot of man-made subjects with repeating patterns, such as buildings, fences and fabrics, etc. Techniques than can be used to reduce aliasing include shooting at a smaller aperture so that lens diffraction acts as an anti-alias filter, defocusing slightly, shooting at higher ISOs, and post-processing particularly with RAW files.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Nikon D810 does a fantastic job at capturing lots of fine detail in its JPEGs. Let's see how a RAW conversion using our standard converter (Adobe Camera Raw) at base ISO does:

Base ISO (64)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 8.7 using default noise reduction with some fairly light unsharp mask sharpening applied in Photoshop (150%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).

Here, we can see that Adobe Camera Raw combined with light sharpening in Photoshop delivers slightly finer detail than the camera JPEG, with fewer sharpening halos around high-contrast edges. (The D810's lack of an anti-aliasing filter means its images don't need much sharpening when shot with a sharp lens, but as mentioned previously, it also means moiré patterns may be seen on some subject matter, such as in the red-leaf fabric above.) Noise is slightly more visible in the conversion (default ACR NR used), but is still very low and not an issue.

Bottom line: The Nikon D810's revised JPEG processing produces excellent detail and crispness at base ISO and default settings, though you can still do a bit better with lower sharpening artifacts when carefully processing RAW files.

ISO & Noise Performance
Very good detail versus noise up to ISO 6,400

Noise Reduction = Default
ISO 32 ISO 64 ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800
ISO 1600 ISO 3200 ISO 6400
ISO 12,800 ISO 25,600 ISO 51,200

Nikon D810 images are very clean at ISOs 32 through 400, with just a touch of noise becoming more visible in the shadows as ISO increases. ISO 800 shows a bit more luminance noise, but is still quite clean. ISO 1600 is probably the first sensitivity where there is noticeable noise at 100% magnification, though it's very fine-grained and not in the least objectionable. ISO 3200 loses another small step in image quality, but is still very detailed with low chroma noise. ISO 6400 shows some stronger smudging and more visible luminance noise, but fine detail is still pretty good. Image quality drops off more rapidly at ISO 12,800 and above with stronger blurring and luminance noise, and chroma noise finally starts to become an issue with fairly obvious yellow and purple blotching by the time ISO 51,200 is reached.

The Nikon D810's high ISO JPEG noise performance is slightly improved compared to its predecessor in most respects (it struggles a little more with low-contrast detail in reds, though), however that's mostly due to more refined noise reduction processing as sensor performance appears to be essentially the same. The new lower base ISO of 64 does however offer a slight advantage.

Of course, the impact of noise and detail loss are highly dependent on the size the photos are printed at, and pixel-peeping on-screen has surprisingly little relationship to how the images look when printed: See the Print Quality section below for recommended maximum print sizes at each ISO.

A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. If you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us about it; we already know it. :-) The focus target position will simply have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Extremely high resolution with high default contrast. Excellent low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.

0 EV +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight. Surprisingly, the Nikon D810 struggled a little with the deliberately harsh lighting in the above test, because of its somewhat high default contrast. We felt +0.3 EV exposure compensation was required to keep the mannequin's face reasonably bright, but that led to some blown highlights in her shirt and flowers. Pros would likely prefer 0 EV and brighten the image in post (or just shoot RAW), thereby holding on to highlight detail that the +0.3 EV exposure lost. There are also some dark shadows at +0.3 EV, but shadow noise is quite low for the resolution, and what's there is fine-grained and not very objectionable. Note that these shots were captured with the Nikon D810's Active D-Lighting control set to its default of "Off." See below for how Active D-Lighting helps with hot highlights and deep shadows.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)

Active D-Lighting
Active D-Lighting attempts to preserve detail in both highlights and shadows in high-contrast situations, while maintaining moderate levels of contrast. The series of shots below show the effect of the various Active D-Lighting settings (Off (default), Low, Normal, High, Extra High and Auto) available on the Nikon D810 on our high-contrast "Sunlit" Portrait scene.

Note that Active D-Lighting is different from the Retouch menu's D-Lighting, as it is performed during image capture instead of after. (It does affect only JPEG images, though, Nikon very properly doesn't apply tonal adjustments like this to RAW file data. NEF files are however tagged so that Nikon software can automatically apply the effect when converted.)

"Sunlit" Portrait Active D-Lighting (0 EV)
ADL Settings:






Extra High

Mouse over the links to see how the various levels of Active D-Lighting affects our "Sunlit" Portrait shot at default exposure, and click on any link to get to the full-res image. (Active D-Lighting's effect can be a little subtle in shots like those above, so we decided to use a mouse-over with matching histograms to better show how each setting compares.)

As you can see from the thumbnail images and histograms above, higher Active D-Lighting settings did a good job at preserving highlights while bringing up shadows and deeper midtones, without making the image look too flat. However, Auto and Low actually blew a few more highlights in process, producing very similar results. It's also interesting to note that the default ADL setting for the D810 is Off, while in more consumer-oriented models, the default is Auto.

Far-field Active D-Lighting (0 EV)

Here are the effects of Active D-Lighting on our Far-field shot. As you can see, Active D-Lighting brought up shadow detail while holding on to highlights. The Auto setting did a pretty good job here by opening up shadows, but the higher settings again did a better job at preserving highlights.

HDR Mode
Like other recent Nikon DSLRs, the D810 offers an in-camera high-dynamic-range imaging function. When enabled, the D810 captures two images with one push of the shutter button -- one underexposed and one overexposed -- and combines them in-camera to produce a high-dynamic-range JPEG. (RAW format is not supported.) There are three exposure differentials available: 1, 2 and 3 EV, as well as an Auto option, and there are three Smoothing options: Low, Normal and High. You can also elect to do a series of HDR shots without having to re-enable the mode each time, or select a Single Photo option.

Far-field HDR mode
3 EV:

Mouse over the links to see how the Auto, 1 EV and 2 EV levels of HDR with default Normal Smoothing as well as 3 EV with Low, Normal and High Smoothing affect our Far-field shot at default exposure. Click on a link to get to the full-res image.

Obviously moving subjects should be avoided, as you can see from the ghosting in the flags and person in some of HDR shots above. Aside from the noticeable halos and "glowing" caused by the Low Smoothing option, we think Nikon D810's HDR feature is one of the better in-camera implementations, however you can likely do better by bracketing more exposures and combining images yourself.

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Here, we compare the Nikon D810's dynamic range to that of its predecessor, the D800 (the D800E is essentially the same), and to a competitor, the Canon 5D Mark III.

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), the D810's dynamic range at its new base ISO of 64 is slightly better than the D800 at the ISO 100 setting (14.76 vs 14.33 EV), but otherwise, the two Nikons are pretty much neck-and-neck, with one just slightly higher than the other at some ISOs.

The D810's dynamic range is however more than 3 stops better than the Canon 5D III's at their base ISOs (14.76 vs 11.74 EV) and about 2.6 EV better at ISO 100 settings. But the 5D III catches up at about ISO 800 and offers essentially the same dynamic range as the D810 at higher ISOs, even surpassing it slightly at ISO 12,800. Comparing the D810 to a camera with a more recent and very similar sensor, the Sony A7R, we see its dynamic range results are quite similar as expected, though the D810's lower ISO 64 setting does give it a useful advantage. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Nikon D810 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc

2 s

30 s

30 s

1/15 s

1 s

1 s

1/250 s

1/15 s

1/15 s

Low Light. The Nikon D810 performed very well here, able to capture usable images down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level (about 1/16 as bright as average city street lighting at night) at ISO 100, though our lowest light level would likely be a bit dim below ISO 100 because of the 30 second shutter speed limit (Bulb mode is required for longer exposures).

Color balance with Auto white balance was fairly neutral at one foot-candle, just a touch cool, but took on a strong magenta cast at 1/16 foot-candle, as we've seen with other Nikons.

Noise isn't an issue at ISO 100, and is well-controlled at ISO 3200 though some fine-grained luminance noise as well as chroma noise is visible when NR is turned down to a minimum (right-most column). The top ISO of 51,200 on the other hand, is quite noisy and is probably best avoided except in emergencies.

Some minor horizontal banding (pattern noise) is visible at ISO 51,200, and there's also a reddish tint emanating from the bottom of the frame at the top ISO, indicating some heat blooming. Longer exposures at lower ISOs may show similar heat-blooming discoloration. We didn't notice any issues with hot pixels.

The camera's phase-detection autofocus system was able to focus on our test subject down to the 1/16 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, which is very good, and in total darkness with the built-in AF illuminator enabled. In Live View mode, the D810's contrast-detect autofocus was able to focus down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle, which is also good.

(Keep in mind that the longer shutter speeds here demand the use of a tripod to prevent any blurring from camera movement. A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Digital SLRs like the Nikon D810 do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects.

Flash Test Results

Coverage and Range
A fairly powerful pop-up flash. Less than average exposure compensation required.

Normal Flash, f/4, 1/60s, +0.3 EV Slow-Sync Mode, f/4, 1/13s, 0 EV

Coverage. Since the Nikon D810 doesn't ship with a kit lens, we didn't take our usual flash coverage shot.

Exposure. When it came to exposure, the D810's flash underexposed our Indoor Portrait subject a bit at its default setting, requiring a +0.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment (which is actually less than the average of +0.7 EV required for this shot). The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced a good exposure without flash exposure compensation (0 EV), though with a strong orange cast from the background incandescent lighting.

Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range

7 feet
ISO 100

Manufacturer Specified Flash Range. The Nikon D810's flash is rated with a Guide Number of 12/39 (m/ft) at ISO 100. That works out to about 7 feet at f/5.6. As you can see in the flash range test shot above using those parameters, the Nikon D810 produced an exposure that's just slightly dim (less than -0.2 EV lower than ideal), indicating the flash output rating is credible.

Note: Here we shoot with manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims. The specified range has been calculated for the lens and aperture used in the test shot above.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Outstanding 30 x 40 inch prints and higher at ISO 32-400; a very good 24 x 36 at ISO 3200; and a good 8 x 10 at ISO 25,600(!)

ISO 32-400 prints are excellent at 30 x 40 inches and higher until you run out of resolution, with terrific color reproduction and nice detail for such a large print. Wall display prints are also possible at much larger sizes until individual pixels become too obvious.

ISO 800 images are also good at 30 x 40 inches, with an amazing level of sharpness for this ISO, and only a marginal amount of softness apparent in a few of the more finely detailed areas of our test target.

ISO 1600 begins to introduce minor noise in flatter areas of our target, but is usable for general purpose printing at 30 x 40 inches. For critical applications we'll call our official size 24 x 36 inches for this ISO, as the noise is virtually unnoticeable at that size.

ISO 3200 prints are good up to 24 x 36 inches. There is now a bit of fine-grained noise apparent in some shadowy areas of our test target, and some of the contrast detail is lost in our tricky red fabric swatch, but still an amazing print for this ISO setting.

ISO 6400 is where the D810 begins to appear mortal, requiring a reduction in print size to a "minuscule" 16 x 20 inches (just kidding of course, as this is still larger than most people ever print!). There is some mild chroma noise apparent and some general softness in detailed areas, but nothing that will be too obvious for most printing situations.

ISO 12,800 yields a good 11 x 14 inch print with yet again only a few minor issues here and there, and is a large print at this setting compared to the general camera population. For the most critical applications 8 x 10's are even better, so for professional level work this is the highest ISO advisable for critical printing.

ISO 25,600 produces a fairly good 8 x 10 inch print, surprisingly usable and showing only minor "film-grain-like" noise in flatter areas of our test target, while losing most all contrast detail in our red swatch. To achieve a "good" print at this size is a rare feat indeed and not achievable by many cameras in this class as yet.

ISO 51,200 prints are good at 4 x 6 inches. The 5 x 7's are usable for less critical applications as well, and certainly most family photos, especially in dim environments where you need the high gain to avoid motion blur.

The Nikon D810 follows in the hallowed footsteps of its forebears the D800 and D800E in delivering the cream of the crop for print quality in the full-frame DSLR world. As of this printing Nikons are the only bodies we've yet to award a "good" 8 x 10 at ISO 25,600, and that's something worth noting. The stellar performance continues as the ISO gets lower, and to be able to print up to two by three feet at ISO 3200 is, well...choose your favorite superlative and insert it here! If you make prints in your line of work or photographic hobby and require good performance as ISO rises from a full-frame camera body, the Nikon D810 outshines all others, save for a tie with a few other Nikon kin.


The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D810 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon D810 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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