Back in 2005, Canon released the 20Da, an astro-DSLR to help photographers achieve better night-sky images, especially of distant nebulae and galaxies. It was replaced in 2012 by the 60Da, though this is itself now fairly dated. So astrophotographers aren’t exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a camera. But Nikon has just launched the D810A, its first ever dedicated astro camera. With 36.3MP – more than double that of the 60Da – the camera is based on the pro-level D810. As such, it comes with a full-frame sensor, enabling a higher resolution and better low light performance, though less reach.
On the outside, the camera is identical to the D810. Pop the bonnet though, and you’ll find some important differences, the most important of which is a modified IR cut filter on the sensor, making the camera 4x more sensitive to hydrogen-alpha (H-Alpha) light. This allows it to better capture the reds and pinks of distant deep-sky objects such as nebulae and galaxies. The camera also comes with a new Long Exposure Manual Mode (M*) for shutter speeds of up to 15 minutes, rather than the usual 30 seconds. In conjunction with this, there’s a Virtual Live View Exposure Preview for easier focusing and composition on very long exposures. For wider-angle shots, a time-lapse mode, an interval timer, and unlimited continuous shooting are built-in.
Not only does the full-frame D810A offer a very high 36.3MP resolution, but it has no optical low-pass filter for extra sharpness. The camera also collects 4x as much H-Alpha light as a regular DSLR, allowing it to see the reds and pinks of distant nebulae and galaxies. In testing, we found the camera produces significantly better images than other DSLRs.
The D810A is a far more advanced model than any previous astro-DSLR, and is really the only choice for serious astrophotographers. The obvious downside over Canon’s 60Da is that it offers less reach on account of the larger sensor, though the 36.3MP resolution does compensate for this. Overall, an excellent specialist camera, though as it can’t be used for everyday photography, it may only be of interest to the most dedicated astro shooters.
- Camera: Nikon D810A
- Price: £2699 (Body only as of June 2016)
- Effective resolution: 36.3MP
- Sensor: 36x24mm
- FX Engine: EXPEED 4
- LCD: 3.2in 1229k-dot
- Autofocus: 51-point
- ISO: 200-12,800 (expands to 51,200)
- Shooting speed: 5fps
- Video: Full HD (1080p) at 60p
- Battery life: 1200 shots
- Card type: CF and SD
- Size (WxHxD): 146x123x82mm
- Weight: 880g
- Visit: www.nikon.co.uk
This review was first published in the September 2015 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.