Well it took seven years but finally the king of dynamic range is getting some competition. The incomparable 8mp-esq dual large/small diode spot sensor of the Fuji S5 Pro which retailed in 2007 at $2300 but can be had today for $590 is finally getting a challenger. And Nikon had to pull out all the stops to do it.
Challenging the increadible large/small sensor in every pixel approach of the S5 has taken a lot of technical advances. And the Nikon D810 has them. First it's full frame not DX. But with 36MP, each sensor spot is small. To make it work better there is no anti aliasing filter, no OLPF lens, and each spot is given a new advanced microlens for focusing. Each spot also had deeper electron gathering material.
What the 810 lacks is the softknee which prevents clipping highlights (going to maximum number so no detail is recoverable). This has always been a hindrance with digital cameras. But with range reaching 15ev, the odds that you would expose so poorly and hit this is getting rarer.
It's been an amazing technology run for a digital camera to last so long and even today can do amazing things. It just doesnt have the super resolution, the great big bright viewfinders of the non-dx cameras. And you suffer the 1.5 conversion on the lens so shooting wide with you 24mm prime isn't so easy (tis a 36 on the s5).
Interestingly enough, Kodak's new film - TMAX, often gets nabbed for the same blown highlight issue with purists opting for the slightly less fine grain (but twice as beautiful they say and I have to agree) Tri-x 400.
"I have found TMAX 400 to be a pretty bad film, in most respects, and
Tri-X to be a very wonderful film.
TMAX 400 might be great if you're doing studio lighting and can control
the light precisely, but if you shoot outdoors in changing conditions,
you WILL be a victim of the blown-out highlight problem.
Contrary to what others have said, Tri-X almost NEVER gets blocked
highlights unless you severely overexpose and/or overdevelop it.
What makes Tri-X even better is that it looks very unique in different
developers. TMAX 400 is designed to be machine processed, and is
bullet-proof to developer changes. On the good side, TMAX 400 can be
very fine grained. That's the only good thing I can say about it."
Item Numeric Stops of range in subject
Tmax 400 film (0.58 CI) 3.4d 19.5 stops
Tmax 100 film (0.58 CI) 3.0d 17 stops
Nikon d810 14.8 stops with hard clipping, finally beats the fuji s5 at $2,900
Nikon d610 14.4 stops with hard clipping
Fuji Finepix s5 2.7d 13.5 stops with soft knee (like film)
Nikon d3200 13.2 stops with hard clipping
Tri-X 35mm film (0.58 CI) 2.4d 13.5 stops
Kodak DCS Pro 14n digital 69dB 11.5 stops with hard clipping
Fuji Finepix S3 digital camera -- 10 stops (estimated) with soft clipping
Tri-X 35mm film (0.75 CI) 2.4d 10.5 stops
Nikon D2x digital camera -- 9.5 stops (measured) with hard clipping
Typical LCD display 500:1 9 stops
Kodachrome 25, 64, 200 (1.4 gamma) 3.7d 8 stops
Ektachrome 100 (1.4 gamma) 3.4d 7.5 stops
Human eye (no iris change) 150:1 7 stops