Why I Still Love My Nikon D810

Photograph of a Shiras bull moose in Northern Colorado.
Nikon D810 & AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR @ 200mm, f/5.6, 1/400 sec, ISO 5600 (cropped to a 5×7 aspect ratio)

I am close to winding up this summer’s moose photography season. It’s been a challenge this year but I’ve made a pretty solid effort and made some pretty darn good photos. Most of those photographs were made by my Nikon D810 DSLR too.

Why am I still shooting with a Nikon D810? Don’t I know that the DSLR is dead and gone, left behind to belong to the ages. A inferior, outdated, old school digital camera that can be bought used on eBay for less than $700.

Well, let me tell you something. If you are looking to get into photography, you could do a lot worse with buying a brand new mirrorless camera for 4 to 10 times the cost of a used D810 because the D810 will make a photo that is about as good as any camera on the market, or has ever been on the market.

I’m also still packing a Nikon D850, which gets it’s fair share of use, and it’s a great camera too, but my D810 is my go to body when it comes to moose photography using the super-telephoto 200-500mm zoom. The D810 with the AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR zoom are a perfect match. I usually keep a 70-200mm f/2.8 mounted on my D850 and there is my second body in the field, great for when I’m up close and personal with the fuzzy brown monsters of Northern Colorado. Neither camera has ever failed me in the field.

A few quick facts about the Nikon D810.

Announced in June of 2014, available July of 2014.

Camera Format: Professional Grade DSLR

Lens mount Nikon F-mount, full frame sensor body.

Resolution: 36.3 megapixels / 7360 x 4912 pixels (full resolution.)

2014 Introduction price: $2,900. Current used value (2023) < $700.

Image file format: RAW (NEF), TIFF & JPG, 12 or 14 bit lossless compressed or uncompressed.

Continuous Frame Rate 5.1 fps.

Max ISO: 12,800.

Autofocus: OVF: 51-point TTL phase detection via Nikon Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX including 15 cross-type sensors; f/8 supported by 11 central sensors; Contrast detection AF in Live View mode.

Video: Up to 1920×1080 (60p), MOV (H.265/MPEG-4 AVC, Linear PCM stereo audio.)

Built in flash.

Blah, blah, blah. You can read the Nikon D810 full specs here.

One thing to note is that the D810 does not have built blue-tooth or wifi capability. You’ll need to pick up the WT-5A w/UT-1 for wireless connectivity, which will cost you more than the camera these days, unlike the D750 and the D810’s replacement, the D850 both of which have a newer set of features. I’ve never found it to be a problem though. I can remove the SD chip from the D810 and put it in the D850 and then transfer files wireless using the D850. To be honest though, I seldom use any of the wireless functions on any camera I’ve owned. I just download the images from my camera’s SD chip to my laptop or desktop and I can do what ever I need to do with the image files afterwards.

Wow, it all sounds like something released 9 years ago. Not exactly state of the art by today’s mirrorless standards to say the least. In the time since the Nikon D810 was considered “the best all around camera on the market”, technology advanced and the digital camera world moved away from DSLR’s into the mirrorless world. With that move came quite a few improvements and new capabilities. Today’s mirrorless cameras can do a whole lot more than a 9 year old D810 can do, except for one thing. Make a better photograph. Today’s mirrorless haven’t really moved the bar much from twice outdated camera gear from the past when it comes to actual image quality. The Nikon D810 is a CAMERA, for making PHOTOGRAPHS. I emphasize those two things, because it still to this day makes exceptionally good photographs as compared to anything on the market today or in the past.

Today’s resolution standard in the digital camera market seems to rotate around 24 megapixels. Things are just now beginning to move resolution above 24 megapixels. After that we have 45-50 mega-pixelish bodies for those who want the highest resolution. I find the 36 megapixel images to be a very good resolution to work with. Enough pixels for cropping without losing much detail, but not so much information that it bogs the photo editing down like the 45-50 megapixel bodies do. As far as prints go, the D810 can fill in a 24×36 large format print with enough detail and resolution to wow anyone. I do wish that the current cameras would move the benchmark from 24 megapixels to something closer to 36 megapixels. It’s plenty of resolution for just about anything and would probably bring the costs down on the new bodies as well.

All that aside, what the D810 still provides is a rock solid, well built, full frame body that has been a workhorse for me for over 8 years. Using the Nikon 3D tracking function and the 200-500mm VR  zoom lens, I simply don’t miss many wildlife shots. A sturdy, reliable setup that continues to serve me well in just about any environment I’ve worked in. Functionally, the controls and body handling are quite similar to the D800, D500 and the D850. The shutter click on the D810 is my favorite though. It makes the most delightful sound of any DSLR I’ve ever used.

How about battery life. Using a standard Nikon EN-EL15 Li-ion battery, I can get over 3,000 photos on a single charge if I don’t chimp and use the LCD screen much. I can’t think of an instance where I’ve drained a D810 battery in the field. Try that with a mirrorless body.

What about that sensor? How does the photographic dynamic range stack up to other digital cameras. Using the website Photons to Photos analysis, the D810 sensor has a measured PDR of 11.6 stops. That’s the same as a Nikon Z7II and a Sony A7 Mk3, and just a minuscule amount behind its replacement the Nikon D850. We’re talking about a 9 year old sensor that still hangs in there with the most current Mirrorless and Medium Format camera bodies. Get this, it outperforms a Nikon Z8 and Z9 which have a PDR of 11.32 and 11.3 stops of photographic dynamic range. You wouldn’t be able to visibly tell the difference between a D810 and any mirrorless body on the market when it comes to dynamic range, it’s still that good.  We are talking about a 9 year old full frame camera body that can be bought for under $700. Not bad.

So, I’ll keep using my old school Nikon D810 DSLR until it falls apart. It’s still cranking out images that look fantastic and it’s been holding up in the harshest environments of Northern Colorado. It’s my wildlife camera of choice and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.