Practical differences between D800 and D4

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Rick Helmke, Nov 13, 2017.

  1. Evening everyone,

    As I continue to make some changes in my approach to photography I have finally found a question I can't figure out for myself. Lack of practice or in this case familiarity. Earlier this year I bought my first FX body, a barely used D800. At the time I was set to cover a wedding and simply wanted that format. It was great and I'm glad to have it. Then I wandered into my local camera store again and there sat an equally low mileage D4. I couldn't stand it. I've been test driving the D4 for a few weeks now and am trying to decide if there are any serious differences between the two that will honestly affect the work. Not the obvious things such as the way the D4 has a MUCH faster frame rate and fast AF. I'm not shooting sports much these days so those things, nice as they are, don't come into play. Both seem to have good high ISO capability though I rarely go much over 1600 and the shutter speed selection is well covered. I'm looking at two very capable camera bodies and wondering if it will matter which one I use to cover a wedding or shoot some portraits. Both have dual card capabilities of course though the D4 uses XQD and CF cards while the D800 uses CF and SD but so what. The menus are fairly close and I can go from one to the other without confusing myself. Both meet my requirement of not getting in the way of the work. So what are the real practical differences in these two?

    Rick H,
  2. In terms of tipping the scales for the D800, I'd point out that it's smaller and lighter and of course has twice the resolution.

    In all honesty, I'd go so far as to say that the D800 is overkill in terms of resolution. If I'm using top quality glass in its sweet spot on a tripod, I think I'm getting at least most of what the D800 has to offer. Using less than optimal technique or using lenses outside their "best" zone-both of which of course can happen in a wedding-leaves you with huge files to crunch that may not offer any meaningful advantage over the D4.

    For portraits, I like having a vertical release. Even back when I was using a Canon New F-1, I'd usually put the motor drive on it for portrait sessions for that exact reason. Of course, with a D800, you can stick on an MB-D12 and get that also, although you're back in the size and weight range of a D4. That is an upgrade that also doesn't come cheap-they're $500 new, and even used or 3rd party ones run $200+. I also think that add-on grips feel less solid than a complete camera. With that said, I have an MB-D10 on my D300, and both feels sturdy and looks like it belongs there. I'd expect nothing less of the MB-D12, especially given the price. Of course, you're also not married to having the grip permanently attached.

    You've asked a tough question, and to me you have two excellent cameras. As much as I love my D800, nothing really handles like a single digit D camera. All the little stuff like the AF speed, the imperceptible shutter delay, and just the overall "feel" make them unlike anything else to me. I very nearly bought a D3 instead of a D800, but ultimately the newer and higher resolution D800 won me over. The D4 has the advantage of being roughly the same age as the D800, so side by side you should see a huge speed increase.

    Personally, I say why not keep both around? You said that they both feel comfortable, out of your way, and handle similarly-to me that's important in a wedding where I consider having back-up gear paramount. Otherwise, use both to their strengths. In a wedding, I'd be inclined to grab the D4 for the reception where responsiveness can be key and you may be taking a lot of photos that won't necessarily see big print sizes. For posed pictures, the(slightly) slower D800 won't be at a disadvantage and in my experience those are the ones most likely to see big enlargements.
  3. I tend to use my D8x0 cameras at minimum ISO and do a lot of post-processing; they have a big dynamic range advantage at base ISO over a D4, but the dynamic range drops off far more rapidly - the D4 is better above ISO 400; the D4 is magic at ISO 1600 (the D5 only starts winning at ISO 3200). The D800's live view is a bit iffy (line skipping, IIRC, and the camera locks up after the shot until the file is written - both fixed by the D810). I found the D800 autofocus to be a bit unreliable - the D810 is a bit better in good light, but worse in low light (which is why I'm looking longingly at the D850).

    Budget permitting, I'd certainly keep both (especially since they can be complementary for weddings). I've shot weddings (mostly not as primary shooter) with D8x0 series bodies, and the dynamic range has been very useful when a bride in white has stood in the sun; I don't deny that churches can get a bit murky. (Fortunately most of the family weddings I've been to were of the beach front variety, for which absolute light quantity wasn't a problem. I got married in an aquarium, but I apologised to the photographer for the shooting conditions...) I'd use the D4 for dancing and the D800 for outside. Sadly (except for my stress levels) I don't do this enough to justify getting a D4 - especially now the D850 matches it at higher ISOs.

    I would say, for weddings, the Q mode on the D810 is much less intrusive than the same on the D800 (and, I guess, D4). But I'm probably excessively sensitive to how much people may care.
  4. They are pricey but not that pricey: new a MB-D12 is $370 and a new third party one goes for below $100 (I got as used third-party one when I purchased a high-mileage D800 that cost me $20).

    Which to me becomes more and more important. I like the grip when I am using larger and heavier lenses but find the bulk and weight too cumbersome to bother with when I use smaller and lighter lenses (though I might miss the portrait-orientation shutter release).

    It appears that for your applications, there are none. For me, there would be only one: I would not be happy with the 16MP for what I use FX for (travel, landscape, general photography) and would definitely prefer the D800 (actually the D810 because I find the D800 to be a tad slow and "un-refined"); why carry the heavier D4 when I have no use for the "obvious features" that distinguish it from the D800?. I borrowed a D4 once for an event; in the end, I could have as easily shot the whole thing with my D700 (which I did for another event).

    One practical thing though if you indeed decide to keep both but are comfortable having just one body: for the price of a used D800 and used D4, a D850 is easily within reach.
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2017
  5. I still shoot weddings some and use a pair of D800E. I would not even consider using a D4. The reasons? Number one it's a much heavier camera. Weddings are generally an all day ordeal and a heavy camera will just kill you, especially coupled with even heavier pro lenses. Second reason is the resolution of the D800E has helped me pull a rabbit out of the hat on at least a few occasions. Third, a used D800E is less money tied up than a used D4.

    --->and remember, for weddings, you need TWO of them. It's best to have two of the same cameras: same menu, same buttons, same handling, same look to the images, same same same. No missing shots because you're menu diving or had the camera set wrong by accident. You need TWO!

    Kent in SD
  6. Lots of good input here, thank you all. When I got the D800 there was a 3rd party grip sitting right next to it and for the $25 price I couldn't leave it there. I prefer the grip on everything, it just fits my overgrown hands better. I also prefer the vertical shutter release. I am one of those who has to have at least two of almost anything in case something fails. I rarely leave the house without two bodies of some kind and for weddings I have always taken two as primary cameras and one or usually two more as backups. I have certainly discovered a few differences in control and menu setups between these two. I am also finding the auto modes to be much better than earlier generations. I still usually shoot in manual mode, I just grew up that way, but auto modes are now, for me, much more capable and useful. I have to say, the 850 is tempting but I'll let it sit there for a while and see what problems show themselves. Kent I understand your point about weight but a heavier camera is something I got used to long ago and it seems normal for me. Of course I'm older than I used to be so we'll see how I hold up. I put the D4 on layaway when I saw it but there is another very nice D800 on the shelf and I've considered swapping over to that. Certainly cheaper and cost is a factor at some point. As for other things such as dynamic range I imagine it will take a little time for me to see the differences in the two.

    Rick H.

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