Opinion: The decade-old Nikon D800 is still a beast, and here’s why

(Image credit: Future)

I’ve experienced something of a consumer-tech Ragnarok over the past few months. Just before Christmas the dishwasher stopped working and then my laptop conked out following a mild drop. At the beginning of 2022 I was finally ready to admit my tablet had become so slow it was practically unusable – but before I could replace it, I was forced to shell out on a new car or face a laundry list of costly repairs.

Disposable tech is pretty much impossible to avoid at this point, and if you do try to hang onto something – like my poor tablet – you’ll often find that a lack of software support makes it redundant long before the hardware gives up the ghost. It’s pretty astounding, then, when you consider that last month marked the Nikon D800’s 10-year anniversary – a camera that’s still widely used today.

There’s something poetic about the D800’s tin anniversary roughly coinciding with the Nikon Z9’s release. The latter has redefined what we’ve come to expect from mirrorless cameras and that’s exactly what the D800 did for DSLRs; back in 2012 it was the highest-resolution full-frame DSLR in the world. 

Today the D800 isn’t the world’s best anything. If the Z9 is Usain Bolt, the D800 is an over-encumbered sloth crawling through molasses. Even by DSLR standards the AF is sluggish, burst speeds are laughable, and if you’re hoping to shoot 4K video, you can forget it. But as is very often the case, specs don’t tell the whole story.

I've proven time and again that mine’s more than capable of keeping up when I shoot motorsports and, although now exceeded by cameras such as the Nikon 850, Nikon Z7 II and Z9, the D800’s still-beefy 36.3MP sensor is arguably a huge part of its long-lasting appeal. And that’s before I wax lyrical about the gorgeousness of its files. Image quality is entirely subjective, of course, but gosh darn it, those juicy raws take some beating!

Then there’s the build quality. For some the hefty 900g body is a turnoff, but I’ve grown used to its bulk. I can think of few cameras that can take as much punishment: mine’s been dropped in puddles, peppered with mud, slathered in sunscreen (don’t ask) and shrugs off impacts like it’s Carl Froch. 

Nikon tech has come a long way since 2012, but if you’re in the market for a full-frame workhorse with a big sensor that won’t break the bank, you can currently pick up a used D800 for less than some of the best cameras for beginners. There’s life in the old DSLR yet… 

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Mike Harris
Technique Editor

Mike is Deputy Editor for N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine, and brings with him over 10 years experience writing both freelance and for some of the biggest specialist publications. Prior to joining N-Photo Mike was the production editor for the content marketing team of Wex Photo Video, the UK’s largest online specialist photographic retailer, where he sharpened his skills in both the stills and videography spheres.  

While he’s an avid motorsport photographer, his skills extend to every genre of photography – making him one of Digital Camera World’s top tutors for techniques on cameras, lenses, tripods, filters and other imaging equipment, as well as sharing his expertise on shooting everything from portraits and landscapes to abstracts and architecture to wildlife and, yes, fast things going around race tracks.