What Time Does to Prices/Capability

A reader question about whether to buy a D800E prompted a thought in my mind: how do the various D8xxx models stack up these days?

  • 2012: D800 or D800E, 36mp
  • 2014: D810, 36mp 
  • 2015: D810a, 36mp
  • 2017: D850, 45mp

Each of these have been top-of-the-game cameras when introduced. While at first it doesn't look like the D810 is all that much different than the D800, those that shot with both know that the step forward was far bigger than it would appear on paper. Indeed, Nikon has done an impressive job of making each generation of this seminal camera clearly better and more desirable than the previous.

But you know what? The original D800 (in good condition) takes photos that will hold their own against anything currently on the market. Maybe the frame rate, buffer, UX, and feature set are a bit reduced from the most current model, but Nikon launched this product line with a really solid camera to start with.

So let's look at how much it would cost you to buy each of those cameras in excellent condition today:

  • D800: US$700+
  • D810: US$1200+
  • D850: US$1900+ (used), US$2500 (new)

This is another reason why APS-C (DX) is in danger: we've got really capable full frame cameras—and a D800 at DX crop is 16mp—that are available at APS-C (DX) prices. This is a problem that Nikon has been grappling with ever since their big push towards FX started just over 10 years. Their success in converting so many people to full frame (FX) and keeping them there diminished the APS-C (DX) market upgraders, and now excellent condition FX cameras sell for less than new DX models.

Is there a sweet spot here?

Yes, the D810. It's only 36mp (!) and doesn't have the D5-generation focus capabilities, but it's still a really good camera. You can find a like new D810 for less than a new D500.  Which makes a shift to full frame tempting. 

Another temptation: buy an older body to convert to UVIR photography. 

So, are there things to watch out for in buying older models? Yes:

  • D800 and D800E — I would not buy these used unless I could first verify focus consistency. First, there's the left-side focus problem, which plagued at least a third of the early D800's made. This isn't a terrible problem, in that it can be "fixed" by Nikon repair, but it's an aggravating problem, as correcting the issue often means that you'll have to AF Fine Tune all your lenses. Also, Nikon has dropped their service advisory on this, so you'll probably pay for that repair. Second, there's the cracked frame issue, which isn't fixable. A D800/D800E that's been dropped can crack the back of its frame and then result in the focus sensor module not being in a fixed position. You know that Nikon was aware of this in the change to the frame they made with the D810. 
  • D810 — Since Nikon drops service advisories after 7 years post production, we're coming up on that with the D810. The very earliest D810's created bright noise in long exposures and sometimes in 1.2x crop. Nikon can fix that. In the US you can still check the serial number of the camera to see if a particular D810 was impacted, and if it was, you can look in the tripod socket to see if it was fixed (black dot inside). If it wasn't fixed, Nikon will still fix it for free.
  • D850 — No known issues.

The D800, D800E, D810, and D810a all used the original EN-EL15 battery, and that also has a current service advisory in effect. 

All that said, I know pros who are still using all of the D8xx variants, and happy while doing so. These were great cameras to start with, and got better with each generation. I don't see a lot of harm in exploring the used market here as long as you're informed (this page) and you have the ability to test and possibly return a camera you find has a problem.

Nikon service advisories

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