Nikon moves into astrophotography with the D810A

Update: Got a reaction from the press contact from Nikon on a view questions;

  • “So far, the reaction I have seen has been generally positive for the camera, and for using the high resolution sensor.”
  • “The H-alpha sensitivity is 4 times great than a standard D-SLR”
  • “For future products, Nikon does not comment on any future products or speculation”

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There were rumours for a few days already, but now it’s official; Nikon has made a modified version of their D810 full frame body specifically targeted at astrophotography; the D810A. So after Canon with their 60Da and 6Da, now also Nikon decided to enter the astrophotography arena.
So what do we all think about this news?

What’s so special about the D810A?

Obviously they replaced the default IR filter with one that let’s through more h-alpha wavelengths. And this is probably the most important change and reason to buy a dedicated astrophotography version of any dslr camera.
Besides that Nikon is also offering longer exposure settings past 30secs. on the camera, up to 900 seconds which should be enough even for those who are using smallband filters on their dslr. Furthermore an unlimited number of images can be shot continuously. To me it is unclear if this really is an adjustment of an intervalometer setting, or if this is meant to provide the ability to shoot without intervals since they are mentioning this is for creating star trails.
But anyhow, basically this saves you 20$ for a remote timer. Not that special really.
Lastly Nikon mentions ‘Functions specialized for astrophotography enable photographers to concentrate on shooting.’ At this point I can only guess what these functions are, and to be honest, can’t really think of anything that would be really useful. Can you?

Why an astrophotography version of the D810?

So why did Nikon choose the D810 to release a modified, dedicated astro version for? Most likely because this is their model which has the most pixels and thus highest imaging resolution. If this is really the best option also greatly depends on the optics you are using and whether you are looking for more resolution or if you want the bigger pixels and consequently better noise performance (and dynamic range..).
From this point of view I think the choice for the D810A makes sense, but I’m a bit surprised they are only doing this for one model. Replacing a filter and adjusting some firmware surely can’t be that costly or hard to do? So why not chose a model with viewer, but bigger pixels as well? Or even a crop sensor?

Nikon’s D810A is a mistake

Of course it is great news that Nikon is (finally) paying attention to the astrophotography market, but doing this with the D810 is a mistake in my opinion. Priced at $3800, they enter the market in the price range of the dedicated cooled CCD astrocamera’s. People willing to pay this price are probably better of choosing such a dedicated and cooled camera with build in filter wheel, or pick a cheaper full frame model (like the D610 for $1500) with the option to have this modified into a cooled astrocamera yourself. Or one could make the argument for the Sony A7s with it’s stellar (pun intented ;)) noise performance being a better and much cheaper option.
We can only hope that Nikon at least did not make the same mistake as Canon did with their astro-versions and that this D810A is at least as sensitive to h-alpha as a custom (Baader) mod.
On the positive side; they did choose their model with a high resolution in terms of a lot of pixels, more or less medium sized at 4.9 micron.

What Nikon should do to capture the high demanding astrophotography market

Let me repeat that I think it is a very good move of Nikon to enter the astrophotography market, not just to provide me and my friends with good camera’s but also entering in maybe one of the highest demanding markets for dslr’s. Astrophotographers go to extreme’s in terms of long exposures, and trying to capture the faintest details of a moving target, while preserving nice sharp colourful pinpoint light sources. In terms of noise performance, dynamic range and optics we demand the highest quality to get decent pictures. So entering this market explicitly is also proving your products are up for the test.
Nikon has been outperforming Canon’s in terms of sensor performance for the last couple of years already, so it has been a great option for astrophotography al along. One of the downsides of the Nikon dslr’s is the fact that they seem to be (a bit) harder to modify it’s h-alpha sensitivity. So taking these facts into account, in my opinion, all Nikon has to do is to release more (and other) models that are pre-modded. The models that I would find very interesting to see an astro version of are the Nikon D610 (full frame, so basically cheap big pixels) and the Nikon D5300 (very cheap but good sensor).

So what are your thoughts on this release of the Nikon D810A? Smart move or mistake? Which model would you prefer to see an astro version of?

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