Has it really been over three years since Nikon released the 12-megapixel D700 digital camera? At long last, its replacement - which effectively triples the pixel count of its predecessor - is due to arrive next month. The new D800 is about half the price of the D4 announced in early January, with which it shares a number of features, plus it's smaller and lighter, and features a new 36.3 megapixel FX-format (35.9 x 24mm) CMOS sensor. It's also the first digital camera to achieve USB 3.0 certification.

The D800 HD-SLR is said to be ready to shoot in just 0.12 seconds and in FX format, the camera's new sensor is capable of producing images with a whopping 7360 x 4912 pixel resolution, which also happens to be Nikon's highest so far. The company says that "resolution of this magnitude affords photographers the ability to portray even the smallest details, such as a strand of hair, with stunning sharpness or crop liberally with confidence."

All that data hitting the sensor requires a high speed image processing engine, suitably supplied in the guise of the company's latest EXPEED 3 technology, which also takes care of color and tone while minimizing image noise. The new prothusiast camera benefits from a 9, 21 or 51-point AF system, where the Multi-Cam 3500-FX AF sensor module and algorithms have been improved for low light performance. The ISO range of 100 - 6400 is expandable to 50 (Lo-1) - 25600 (Hi-2), and an enhanced optical low pass filter and 14-bit A/D conversion with a high signal to noise ratio also help with the camera's low light performance.

The AF sensor works with the Advanced Scene Recognition System - with the latest 91,000-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering III technology, and featuring a newly designed RGB sensor at its heart that examines the scene in front of the lens and compares key features with the built-in database of 30,000 images - to give detected faces some special attention.

The improved face recognition technology operates when framing images via the optical viewfinder as well as in Live View on the camera's 921,000-dot, 3.2-inch LCD monitor with reinforced glass, automatic monitor brightness control, and 170 degree viewing angle. Nikon says that the new enhanced auto white balance system allows the D800 a greater accuracy in determining natural and artificial light sources, and gives the user the choice to keep the tones offered by ambient lighting.

In an age of ever-increasing camera function automation, the D800 has very welcome full manual control of aperture, ISO, AF and shutter speed. The Picture Control presets have been given their own dedicated button on the back of the camera for easy access to on-the-fly settings changes, and the camera benefits from JPEG, TIFF and RAW image support with multiple aspect ratios. It is also capable of 4 frames per second burst image capture at full resolution in FX mode, increasing to 6 frames per second in DX mode.

There are a number of HD video recording modes to choose from, including full HD 1080p at 30 frames per second or 720p at 60 frames per second. There's also an included headphone jack for audio monitoring, a built-in mono microphone and a stereo mic jack. An uncompressed HDMI out features, with simultaneous viewing on both a connected monitor and the camera's display possible.

The 5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2-inch (144.78 x 121.92 x 81.28 mm) D800 HD-SLR sports a Nikon F bayonet mount (NIKKOR lens compatibility), its magnesium alloy chassis has been dirt and moisture sealed, the included Li-ion battery is said to be good for 900 shots per charge, and there's a built-in flash and dual card slots to take Compact Flash and SD/SDHC/SDXC media.

Nikon's new multi-megapixel monster will be made available next month for a suggested retail price of US$2,999.95. Nikon has also announced that its new HD-SLR will be followed in April by a model that enhances the 36.3-megapixel resolution capabilities of the system even further by canceling the effects of the anti-aliasing filter, delivering light directly to the sensor's photodiodes. The D800E version will, therefore, be priced at US$3,299.95.

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