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Nikon’s D800E. The new 35mm resolution champ?

May 8, 2012

Frame cropped 40% Nikon D800E ISO 100 Nikon 60mm Micro ƒ29 1/160 sec

I had the privilege of unpacking, setting up and briefly testing a friend’s brand new Nikon D800E 36 megapixel, full frame, 35mm digital camera. I felt I would like to share some of my first impressions.

Firstly, it is a moderately large hand filling camera and very pleasant to hold and handle. Nikon have incorporated evolutionary improvements into the design of the camera and its controls. Anyone familiar with previous Nikon offerings will have no trouble adapting to the revised layout. There are real improvements in ergonomics and menus. Autofocus was quick and precise as was the shutter.

After some random shots, it didn’t take long to download the first test results into Lightroom 4. The quality of the capture is excellent. In spite of reading internet test, I wasn’t prepared for the level of detail available. At 300%, the image looks like a normal 12/14 megapixel image at 100%. The level of detail, that is the cornerstone of the cameras ability, can also create problems. The camera mercilessly amplifies any minor lens faults. A reasonably old 105mm Nikon macro exhibited chromatic aberration that had not been seen previously. Replacing it with a new 60mm ƒ2.8 Nikon macro and a Nikon 50mm ƒ1.8G, the results were impressive. A Sigma 70-200mm ƒ2.8 zoom also acquitted itself admirably. White balance was reasonably neutral and accessible through a quick press of the left hand button in conjunction with the control wheel.

The resolution, size and brightness of the rear display makes this a great studio camera. It is easy to see settings and evaluate results.

We shot some tests for ISO and noise. Considering the image size, I wasn’t expecting much in the way of high ISO performance, but we were very pleasantly surprised. While there was some visible noise at ISO 6,400, it was easily controlled in Lightroom. It wasn’t visible at normal print sizes, because of the image size.

FURTHER THOUGHT: When you’re lusting after the latest multi-megapixel offering (as I often do), there is an often overlooked aspect to owning such cameras; the cost of purchasing lenses and peripheral accessories. Your expenditure doesn’t simply end with the purchase of the body and kit lens. The higher quality output requires a further investment in fast memory cards, quality lenses and a fast, modern computer with enough RAM to cope with downloading the large files. The computer needs good software to maximise the quality plus a high-resolution, calibrated computer monitor. If you want to make prints, you will also need a printer capable of producing the images with a full colour gamut. Generally, this will be an A3+ with 8 colours or more to reproduce the colour range. It is a large commitment both financially and in time, however if you want the best image quality possible, it is well worth it.

My philosophy is to buy a camera body that offers reasonable image quality, but leave money in your budget for one or two good quality lenses. Your investment in lenses pays dividends, because they don’t tend to be updated as often as camera bodies. The photo below was taken with a Nikon D5100 which has the same sensor as the more expensive Nikon and a Nikon 40mm Macro which is reasonably priced, high quality and very sharp. This is a better result than I would have achieved with a Nikon  and the kit lens for around the same investment..

Enzo Nikon D5100 Nikon 40m Macro

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