As most of the photo world knows, the Nikon D800 and D800E cameras are best suited to landscape and nature photography. They aren’t necessarily the best cameras for sports and action because of their slower frame rate of 4 FPS. That said, I wanted to try the D800 in a few sports and action scenarios to see how well it held up under pressure.
I found that the AF tracking is very good and the camera had absolutely no problems keeping runners in focus throughout their movement. For a few years now, I’ve used Dynamic 21-pt focus for most of my Nikon cameras and continue to be happy with this setting on the D800. Below is a 19-shot sequence of a baseball player running from 2nd base through third base and on his way home (below). I shot it with a D800 and a 70-200mm f2.8 at ISO 2200. On the seventh frame, you’ll see another player running through the image, but the D800 did a great job of keeping the AF tracking on the first runner. In fact, all 19 shots are in great focus. I’m impressed.
The slower frame rate of the D800 means that you need to time your shots more carefully than a camera like the Nikon D4. The D4 shoots at 10 FPS so you can really just “spray and pray”. The D800 requires more timing and finesse to capture the shot a the peak of action. Even so, I found that shooting at 4FPS was workable for the most part. For example, I went to a local track meet and photographed kids running the hurdles and the long jump. In both situations, the resulting images were in focus. Here’s a shot sequence from the Nikon D800 of a student competing in the long jump (below).
Here’s one final shot of three girls competing in the 100 meter sprint (below). Again, the camera exhibited great focus tracking and the resulting images had very good detail. My focus point was trained on the middle runner and the camera did a perfect job of keeping her sharp, even with the clutter of people, cones, and a fence behind.
So, what’s the final verdict? The D800 autofocus system is excellent and tracks fast-moving action very well. The file size and overall resolution is excellent, so you can crop your images while still having great detail. The downside of using the D800 for sports/action is the slow frame rate. I know I missed some “peak of action” shots because of the 4 FPS limitation. You can get around this by setting the camera for a 1.2x crop factor, but even then, you only get to 5 FPS. If sports and action are your main subject, then you should be shooting something like the Nikon D4 for its blazingly fast frame rate of 10 FPS.