When you think of fast-action photography, the D800E isn’t exactly the first camera that comes to mind – and with good reason. At a top speed of 4 frames per second and a buffer that will fill up pretty quickly with those massive 36MP files, it’s not a camera that lends itself to that kind of photography easily.
If you’re in a pinch, however, and need to be able to use the D800E (or the D800) for a bit of fast-action work, there are a few things you can do to get a bit more performance out of this camera.
The first thing you can do is switch your D800/E to DX-mode. This accomplishes a few things.
- It ups your framerate to 5fps.
- It makes your file sizes smaller, which gives your camera’s buffer the ability to handle more shots before it chokes your shooting speed.
- It gives you more “reach” than the FX-mode, so you have the field of view of a 900mm lens when using a 600mm lens.
To do this, simply go to the “Image Area” option in the Shooting menu, as shown below.
Select the “Choose Image Area” option, then scroll to “DX” and hit the “OK” button on your D800.
Now your image size has been dropped down to about 16MP, and if you look through the viewfinder, you’ll see a rectangle outlining the field of view for the cropped image size. Use that to frame your shot.
At this point, you’ve already bumped your shooting speed by about 25%, but there’s another way to bump it even more.
Rent the MB-D12 battery grip for the D800, and make sure you select the option to request the AA battery tray with it.
You’ll need to use AA batteries with this (or an EN-EL18 battery with a cover, which we do not carry at this time). I like to use NiMH rechargeables. Once you’ve inserted the batteries and attached the grip, you have to tell the D800 to source its power from the grip first.
To do this, go to the Custom Settings menu in your camera, then select “Shooting/Display” -> Battery Order -> Use MB-D12 Batteries First.
Then, you have to tell the camera exactly what kind of batteries you’re using in your MB-D12. For this, go to the same “Shooting/display” option from the Custom Setting menu, then chose option “d11” (MB-D12 battery type) and chose the kind of batteries you’re using.
Once you’ve done this, switch your D800’s shooting mode to “Continuous High” and you’re set to go.
So what’s it like shooting fast action with the D800/E?
In a word? Better.
Two words? Way better.
6fps is respectable enough, and gives Nikon D800 shooters the same shooting speed their Canon brethren have on the 5D Mark III. Autofocus is pretty snappy, though I do think the 5D Mark III’s focus speed is a lot snappier, especially in continuous tracking mode. True, it’s no D4, or 1Dx, but the D800 will absolutely work if it’s the only body you have, and want to use it for the occasional trip out to the local wetlands for a spot of bird photography.
I was a bit afraid that in DX mode, the D800 wouldn’t have good detail or the image would somehow be otherwise be compromised. I needn’t have feared; as long as you can lock focus, you’re going to get a good image. In the shot of the seagull above, for example, a 100% view shows that it’s more than likely about to enjoy a piece of sourdough bread. for its dinner.
The D800 wasn’t built to be a primarily fast-action camera, but with the addition of the battery grip and an alternate power source, it can work as a pinch-hitter. Its top speed of 6fps might seem somewhat slow when you compare it to the D4’s top speed of 11fps (with focus and exposure locked) or the 1Dx’s 12fps, but nature photographers have been making pictures of birds in flight long before auto-winding systems let them rip through a 36-frame roll of film in a few seconds.
If you’re renting a D800, and you give shooting fast-action a try, let us know what you think. As always, questions and feedback are welcome in the comments below.