The camera that I used for my stills photography has been the Nikon D800. Released back in 2012, it's now approaching six years old. The fairly recent release of the D850 last year also now sets the D800 back to be two generations old. So for a person, in 2018, shopping for their first full frame camera, why should they look at the D800? I want to highlight three major points of why the D800 should be at the top of your list.
I want to preface this that I'm talking about getting a used/pre-owned D800. If you already own a full frame camera, this suggestion isn't really going to be of much use.
- You're not buying an obsolete camera
- A large lens selection
I want to lead with the most important talking point. Price. Take a gander on eBay, and you will find many D800s approaching the $800 price point. Take into consideration that the new D850 is $3300, it's a pretty good deal. You could buy a D800, and a good selection of lenses, for the same cost as a brand new D850.
You may also be able to find the D800 for under $800. Be sure to scrutinize the details carefully though. These cameras are usually very well worn (nearing 200,000 shutter clicks), and be liable to break soon. If the shutter count hasn't exceeded 100,000 it should be worth considering. Some people do list lightly used D800s at $750 though. So, look out for the deals!
Is the D800 obsolete? Absolutely not!
If you have been following the latest camera releases, you would understand that there are many good cameras to choose from. The D800, despite its age, still has respectable specifications.
Let's start with the "heart of the image", the sensor. The D800 rocks a 36 megapixel CMOS sensor. I'm not going to get into the technical side of things, there are many other websites for that. Many new cameras released recently can't even compete with this megapixel count.
Setting a great piece of glass in front of the D800's sensor will give you a wealth of detail to manipulate in post processing. A lens like Sigma's 50mm F1.4 Art lens gives impressive results. Furthermore, that detail also allows for you cropping a bit if the original shot wasn't quite right. Ideally, you wouldn't have to crop. Getting the shot right first still matters, so don't use cropping as a crutch.
The D800 sports a 51 point AF system. Compared to the newer auto-focus systems featured in the D500, and D850, it's rather mediocre. However, the auto-focus is still quick, and accurate. Keep in mind that having a good lens attached also affects the auto-focus performance.
Then there's the little things like the CF card, and batteries. The CF card is being phased out with the increasing usage of CFast, and XQD cards. However, the Canon 5D MkIV still uses the CF card so, I imagine that these cards are here to stay for a bit longer. The D800 uses the EN-EL15 battery which the D850 also uses, sort of. There is a new battery, the EN-EL15A but it should still work either way.
A great lens selection
If there's a particular focal length you want, it's probably available for the D800. When it comes to buying your first full frame camera, the last thing you need is a limited selection of lenses.
In addition to Nikon's lenses, there are a few third party lens manufacturers supporting Nikon as well. The most notable two to me are: Sigma, and Tamron. These lens manufacturers provide great alternatives to Nikon's offerings. They often come in at lower price points too. The deals are out there for third party glass. I bought the Tamron 70-200 VC (gen 1 lens) together for $500 on Craigslist. I also bought the Nikon 24-70 F2.8G for $900.
If you're only about Nikon's glass, then Nikon has some good "amateur" glass at good price points. Their F4 zoom lenses, and F1.8 prime lenses are of good quality, and come in at a fraction of the cost of the more "professional" F2.8 zooms, and F1.4 primes. The Nikon 200-500mm F5.6 has really impressed me, and it can be found for around $1000.
The Nikon D800 is a great place to start your photography. Great deals on used equipment are out there, and it's only going to get better as time goes on.
But, Elliot, why not Sony mirrorless? Sony has been making great products no doubt. However, their lenses are hyper expensive, and relatively new. That means any Sony glass that's on the used market will generally be more expensive than Nikon's. Sony's latest bodies are the only ones I would consider buying as well. The older Sony mirrorless bodies have tiny batteries, and only one card slot. If money was not a concern, I'd recommend an A7R III with their latest lenses.
In my opinion, mirrorless cameras are the future. You shouldn't at all feel short changed for buying "older" camera technology though. These cameras, and lenses last. If you're serious about your photography, the D800 will serve you well for many, many years.