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Nikon D800 and D800E User's Guide
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Nikon D800 and D800E

Nikon D800 and 50mm f/1.4 G. enlarge.


July 2012    D800 and D800E Review  Nikon Reviews  Nikon Lenses  All Reviews

User's Guide Page Index   

Setting the D800 and D800E's Autofocus System


NEW: Nikon D800 User Guide App 21 December 2012


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This will make you to an expert and teach you every possible nuance of using the Nikon D800 and D800E. It includes lots of tips, tricks, secrets and the settings I prefer to use, but this alone won't get great pictures.

The D800 and D800E are the same camera, differing only in having a slightly different filter in front of their sensors. Therefore, everything about how they work is the same. I only mention one or the other throughout this guide for the sake of not having to type them both all the time.

My apologies for you needing this guide at all. If Nikon had done a good job in designing the camera, we wouldn't need guides. Your iPhone, iPod and iPad have cameras and do a zillion times more than any camera, but do you need a guide, much less an instruction book to use your iPhone? Of course not; Apple designs its products properly, while Nikon and most technology companies are more concerned with cranking out products fast, and don't take the time to make them usable. My apologies; if there's anything you don't understand about your D800 or D800E, know that it's not your fault: it's Nikons.

To get great photos you still need to get yourself to the right place at the right time and point the camera in the right direction, which is a lot harder than mastering the D800 and D800E. Right out of the box at default settings the D800 and D800E does a great job.

If you just want to set up your D800E exactly as I have mine set, simply download and copy this NCSETUP8.BIN file to your computer, copy it to a memory card, pop the card in your D800E, then MENU > SETUP > Save/load settings > Load > YES to replace your settings with mine. Feel free to load them into your D800E, but know that my D800E is programmed to add my name, address, phone number and eMail to the EXIF data of every photo I snap, and this will be an incentive to update your copyright and contact information. Sorry, I didn't save my D800 settings files, and I don't know that this D800E file will load into D800s. You will need to update my personal information in three places: MENU > SETUP > Image Comment and MENU > SETUP > Copyright information for both Artist and Copyright.

Making a great photo involves knowing what makes a great photo, knowing how to get great exposure, knowing when to use the D800 and D800E's adjustments, knowing how to get great color, locations, timing, patience and a whole lot more. I cover general photography issues here.

Getting great photos out of the D800 and D800E, or any other camera, really only takes about two settings and a good eye:

1.) Take a picture. Look at the rear LCD. OK? You're done. If not:

2.) Too light or dark? Change the Exposure Compensation and shoot again. OK? You're done. If not:

3.) Colors not right? Adjust White Balance and try again. OK? You're done. If not:

4.) Contrast, saturation or other fine points not right? Adjust the Picture Controls. OK? GREAT! If not, you're either not at the right place, not at the right time, or looking in the wrong direction. It's never your camera's fault.

For more examples of why you'd want to change what settings and why, also see my the "teaching" galleries on my Gallery page.

Looking for a specific control? Use my Search page. Be sure to mention the D800 or D800E in your search.

Want free live phone support? In the USA, call (800) NIKON-UX, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Below are the basics. Explicit details follow in later pages linked at the bottom.

Some of my favorite secrets, which I cover in detail throughout these pages, are:


Setting wild colors and Getting Wild Colors

Setting the Autofocus System

Automatic Distortion Correction

Letting the D800 pick the perfect ISO automatically

Digital Zoom while shooting

Setting the BKT button to select HDR mode

Instant high magnification zooming with the center thumb button

Inserting your © and contact info automatically into every file

Using the dials to select among images

Getting useful histograms

How to Use Manual Focus AI-s Lenses

How never to shoot without a memory card

One-Handed Shooting with the INFO screen

One-Handed Menu Operation

Shooting Movies


Camera Settings      top

I leave most settings at their defaults. Here's what I do each time I pick up my D800 and D800E.



Always format your card after you put it in any camera, or if you've connected your camera to a computer.

Formatting your card(s) ensures any folder or file corruption acquired anywhere goes away.

You can shoot without doing this, however constant formatting is good practice and should eliminate ever having any card errors.

Be sure you've downloaded and backed up all the files in two different physical locations before formatting.



I used to reset everything every time I picked up my older cameras, but not with my D800 or D800E. With these newest cameras, there would be too much to have to reset away from Nikon's defaults each time.

If you want to use this feature to reset most things about D800 is set, find the two green dots on the QUAL and +/-buttons on the top of the camera. Hold them both down for a few seconds. The LCD blinks and almost everything is back to Nikon's defaults.

I no longer do this. I wish Nikon gave us a way to preset these defaults to our own preferences, but no.



Nikon offers a zillion different selections for what sort of files you get for your pictures because different people want different things.

I usually use JPG SMALL BASIC, which makes 9 megapixel images in typically 800 kB files, is enough resolution for anything, especially prints several feet wide.

No one really needs 20 MP (MEDIUM) or LARGE (36 MP) unless you're printing at least six feet (two meters) wide. Today, these crazy resolutions are just put in cameras as sales features, and make no visible difference in images unless you're really printing larger than several feet wide — and have exceptional lenses and technique to be able to make good use of all those pixels.

Even though there's no visible difference between SMALL BASIC and LARGE FINE files, LARGE FINE makes files about twelve times as large (10 MB versus 830 kB), which wastes lots of time waiting for files to transfer, reduces the number of pictures you can fit on a card by a factor of twelve, clogs hard discs fast, and slows down even my six-processor 3.33 GHz Mac Pro trying to sort through LARGE files.

If I'm testing lenses, I'll shoot LARGE BASIC. If you prefer LARGE or RAW, go right ahead, but for everything else for me, it's SMALL BASIC. Try it, and you'll save yourself a lot of headaches, time, cards, and hard drives. I've got great 20 x 30" prints from 6MP cameras, and at 9 MP SMALL, the D800 is far better.

To change the image size, hold the QUAL button and move the front dial.

To change the image type and quality, hold the QUAL button and move the rear dial. You'll see the changes on the top LCD and the rear INFO screen.


ISO (pronounced Eye-Ess-Oh, not "eyeso.")

I use the default of 100.

I set AUTO ISO to chose ISOs for me automatically. AUTO ISO selects ISOs exactly the same way I would as the light or my lenses change, except that now I don't have to.

AUTO ISO increases the ISO automatically as it gets darker. Set this way, it shoots at ISO 100 in good light, and starts ramping it up in lower light to a maximum of ISO that I define, typically ISO 12,800. Only if it gets still darker will it let the shutter speed go below a certain preset speed.

Even better, we can set the slowest speed below which AUTO ISO starts increasing the ISO to vary with focal length and if we prefer!

I offer more details in the Shooting Menu, and once set, we can activate or deactivate AUTO ISO simply by holding the ISO button and turning the front dial.


White Balance (WB)

White balance is how you set the color balance, and color is critical to every image.

I use AUTO1 WB and set a slight color shift to make all my images slightly warmer (more orange), and remove the D800's slight green bias.

I set A (amber) 3 and M (magenta) 1 in the Shooting Menu.

If you don't need to set magenta/green shift, you can set amber/blue shift simply by holding the WB button and spinning the front dial to taste. A6 is a lot of amber, 0 is neutral, and if you want cooler, B6 is much bluer. You can read this on the top LCD or INFO screen as you adjust it. It disappears when you release the WB button.

Whatever looks right is right; this is an art, not science.

See examples of different settings here and broad details on my White Balance page.

See my Shooting Menu section for more details about all the settings.


Picture Controls

This is how you get your choice of wild colors or creamy skin tones. I have a whole page about this at Nikon Picture Controls. They work the same way for most of Nikon's DSLRs; one setting on one camera will give you the same look on another, thank goodness.

Picture Controls are how you set your D800 and D800E to give you the pictures you want right out of your camera as ready-to-use JPGs.

Learn these, and you'll never have to waste your day screwing around with raw files.



I have an entire page on How to Set the Nikon D800 and D800E's Autofocus Controls.



I've used Matrix for everything since I got my first Nikon FA back in 1992.

You set this on the rotary switch on the back. Matrix is the middle position that looks like a rectangle with a dot in the middle. I discuss the other modes at Back Panel Controls.

I use the Exposure Compensation control if I need to lighten or darken my pictures. See my Exposure page for details on getting perfect exposures.


These were the basics. Keep reading for explicit details.


Top of D800 and D800E User's Guide

Nikon D800 and D800E Review


Page Index     top



Setting the Autofocus System   < < NEXT











          a Autofocus

          b Metering/Exposure

          c Timers/AE&AF Lock

          d Shooting/display

          e Bracketing/flash

          f Controls

          g Movie





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