D4 Buyers May Want To Give The D800 A Second Look

D4 Buyers May Want To Give The D800 A Second Look

As a wedding photographer I was really never interested in the D800. 36mp in ideal light for commercial jobs sounds fantastic but shooting thousands of images in a dark reception hall and having to deal with massive files horrified me. Because of this I purchased a D4 hoping for high ISO performance in a more manageable 16mp file. After I tested the performance of the D4 in low light and finding it was no better than the D3S, I am giving the D800 a second look. 

The D2H, D3, D3s, and D4
The Nikon D3 was announced in August of 2007 and was a massive improvement from the Nikon D2 series. In 2009, Nikon announced the Nikon D3s which added about one stop of ISO performance and video functionality. Two years later Nikon released the D4, which many assumed would be a major jump in image quality (at least more significant than the D3 to D3s). Instead, the D4 has major improvements to the hardware, focusing, and video features but according to our test has very little improvement in image quality, if any at all.

D800 ISO performance
Now going back to the D800; the camera has not yet been released to the public, but there are many test shots from the camera floating around the internet. The general consensus seems to be saying that the D800 files will look better than D3 files if they are scaled down from 36mp to 12mp. This means that at 100% the D800 file will look noisier than a D3 file shot at the same ISO, BUT if you print the file or shrink it down for web the D800 file will actually look better than the D3.

If the D3S has approximately 1 stop better ISO performance than the D3 and the D800 will supposedly handle noise "better" than the D3 (when scaled down), why does the D4 cost twice as much? If these assumptions are correct, the difference in ISO performance between the D4 and D800 will be less than one ISO stop.

Is the D4 worth double the price?
Normally you might say that the D4 is worth double because it has a new focusing system, but in this case the D800 has the exact same system. You might say that the D4 has incredible features for videographers, like clean video output, audio monitoring, and lossless video zooming, but the D800 also has these features. I assumed the D4 would be around three stops better in terms of ISO performance but people are claiming that it will be less than one stop. So my question is: "Why then is the D4 $3000 more than the D800?" The fact that it can shoot 11fps? I have never shot more than 3fps in my whole career, so that one improvement has never appealed to me.

I thought it was strange that Nikon released a D800 and completely killed the need for their $8000 D3X. Now I'm beginning to think that the D800 may also kill the D4 for everyone except professional sports photographers. At this point I am going to buy both cameras and test them out before I make a decision. If the D800 really does perform as well as people say, I will be very excited to sell my D4 and get 2 D800s.

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76 Comments

Lee- Wish I have the luxury of getting both the D4 and D800 :-) I pre-ordered the latter due to budget limitations.      I know two local photographers here in Jax waiting for their 5DIII and D4. So we're planning to meet-up as soon as we get it and go around town to actually do some testing. 

Lee Morris's picture

I'm excited to see what all of the tests reveal.

Hey Lee, if you don't want the D4, send it my way :p (jasonlei@live.com.au) having a hard time with my trusty D90.

as long as we're calling dibs on other peoples' used equipment, my D60 could use an upgrade.

Sometimes I don't understand why companies do what they do. Starbucks building stores across the street from each other may one thing (and I get it, they knowingly poach their own customers), but this is something else entirely. 

Christopher's picture

Sometimes starbucks open across the street from each other so a competitor cannot open a store in the location. 

I was never a fan of the D4 out of the gate. I instead spent the money on the D800/E duo. I like you am a wedding photographer and my thought process was to use the 800E for formals and all of the "staged" shots and then put it away and shoot the rest of the wedding with my D700/800 combo. Most of the shots would still be on the D700 given the size of the 800 files. The 800 would also be for video. Also doing a lot of product/studio work during the off season I think this will pan out well. I'm really happy to finally see real world tests. Thank you Lee.

Lee Morris's picture

Isn't the D800E going to cause issues with formals because you will have moire with all of the fabrics shot at a distance? 

Patrick Hall's picture

I think the D800E is only for scientific or specialized shooting.  As many crazy shirts/jackets as I've seen at weddings I would def want the non E version.  People were more than happy with the D70 images years ago for formals; 36mp will actually probably cause more problems than it's worth especially if you give clients those files.  

 The only problem while shooting weddings with 12MP was for group shots with 50+ people. You don't get much detail on faces. For all the other shots it really isn't a problem

I think it will depend on the wedding. I'm guessing that what the men are wearing won't be an issue but I will need to learn what works and what doesn't. It will just be a matter of testing to learn what these new cameras can and can't do well. It might very well boil down to not using the D800E for weddings at all and simply retain it's status as "only" a studio camera. I hope it is more versatile than what is predicted. We will see. Either way I know that having both won't be a waste given the re-sale value of all the new bodies if I choose to move away from the E like you might with the D4.

One thing to consider David, the D800 is slated to be released prior to the D800E, at least per B&H.  If you're anxious to start playing, the D800 just might need to bump up a little higher on the consideration list.  -e

Capture One solves this :) 

Jessica Weld's picture

I think that alot of photographers commenting on the D800 are missing out on the possible DX and FX lens combinations. Such as using a nikkor 70-200 2.8 for formals in 36 mp glory. Then switching to a 17-55 2.8 for reception, first dance, cake, bouquet, blah, blah, blah. in 15 mp DX crop mode. After all, the majority of those pics are album fillers, not 20x24's. Even so, my D300 is more than capable of making enlargements that size. The D300 at iso 1600 is about equal to a D700 at 6400. pertaining to noise. The D800 is speculated to have better noise control than the D700. This camera could possibly be the best DX D-SLR Nikon has built. The D-800E sounds more like a Fujifilm or Foveron product. Great potential for amazingly sharp photos. But the idea of fixing color shifts & moire quite simply are not worth it. I do not want to add anything else to my workflow. I remember when I first bought the D70. A 1 gb 90x card cost $100. Now, you can buy a 16 gb card for less than $25. 36 mp sounds crazy. So did the 9mp e-900 fujifilm camera that came out just a few years ago. I plan to have this camera for at least 4 years before looking into the D5 future line-up. I can definetly say that 36 mp will be enough in 4 years. Who knows, maybe 16 mp in 4 years will be held in the same regards as 6mp today. So, the question is to buy a D4 (with speed, build & low noise) or D800 (with lighter build, higher MP, pop-up-flash with CLS commander mode). You can't go wrong either way. Buy the cheaper ;)   

No. If I buy an FX camera, I sure as hell won't use 1.2 or 1.5 crop modes regularly.
If you want to shoot DX, get a D7000 as backup and be done with it. It costs less, it is smaller and faster.
To me D700 + D7000 is still the best combo for wedding photography. I'd only need the 36mp for group shots.

My guess is that if you shoot the D800 at maximum resolution, your final ISO performance will possibly be better than the D4.  Here is my thinking:  When you process the noise out of an image, it tends to soften the detail.  I would think that since the D800 has 36MP to work with to eliminate the noise, there is more detail there to work with. Once the image is scaled down to say 15MP you should not have much softening of the edges.

Lee Morris's picture

I can't believe that will actually work but it will be hilarious if you are right. 

Actually when I did that with a Canon MkII's 21mp raw files to match my D700 12mp files that's pretty much what I experienced.

This is true because post-processing adds a nonlinear degree of freedom to the (analog) noise-area trade-off  The interesting question is, when do you reach an optimal noise level? That, of course, depends on the quality of the nonlinear noise reduction algorithm. Your thought may well motivate camera manufacturers to increase the pixel count in future designs.

The D4 has other advantages though.  The feel of the full body camera is better than a camera with a grip IMO.  Little things like remembering the focus point between orientations could mean the difference between getting a shot and missing a shot.  Small comfort things like changing the angle of the shutter release so you don't get as fatigued using it.  Clean high ISO, while a big thing, isn't the entire picture. I wouldn't rule it out yet.

Patrick Hall's picture

Maybe.  If you are getting fatigued shooting 8 hours then no camera is going to help with that.  As for focusing, I find that I still rely on the middle focus more than any other one or any combination of points.  When I interviewed the Sports Illustrated guys, I thought they would say they bought D3s's because of the fast 51 point 3D tracking...but they said the fastest focus is always single point center.  

As for the feel of the grip, I guess I'll find out tomorrow when I finally pick up my D4.  As a traveling wedding photographer, will say I'm not particularly happy about the HUGE battery charger.  It's tough enough packing 3 cameras and 5 lenses and speedlights for a flight but that charger just scares me.  

Call me crazy or overly confident, but at this point I put my complete trust in myself with prosumer DSLRs (I'm currently shooting with D7000s and D300ss), so missing a shot isn't something I really think about with the newest cameras.  I was pretty happy with my D700 before I sold it and at this point it really comes down to having better video features in these cameras, better audio, and pushing myself to get more creative with the photos I take.  

Just did some test D3s vs D800. Took raw images from image-resource at ISO 12800. I only set in Lightroom 4: Luminance - 45 to both images. Then exported them as JPEG and both set 12mpx size in export option. Left D3s and Right D800. And zoomed in 2:1 so i guess this is 200%

Lee Morris's picture

D4 appears to be about 1 stop better... I think I'm going D800s

Lee, I think Nikon was clear from the beginning, the D4 wasn't made to be better at HI ISO than the D3s, it was to be better at Video AND a better Dynamic Range at LOW ISO with 16MP instead of 12MP. 

That's basically what they did, DR is better at low ISO from all the sample I can watch, Video is Awesome and at HI ISO, it's pretty freaking good.
The speed of this camera is just perfect for all sport photography and who ever don't have time to do anything else than upload wireless to their laptop and sent the pictures to their agency.

No I think the D4 is a SUPERB camera but it wasn't made for Wedding photographer. It was made for SPORT and Paparazzi like photographers.

I think Nikon needs to bring a third FX camera that would fit the Wedding bassin.
We have Sport, Studio, we need another one for Weddings and Average all around camera.

FX 21-24 MP
FPS 5-6
1080p with 720p 60 FPS
51 Pts Focus
1 CF and 1 SD slots
HDR with Panorama feature
Face detection
ISO 100-6400 

Get the D4 so you don't end up looking like some stay at home mom that decided to get into photography. Or get the D800 and be prepared to hear, "Oh yeah I have that camera too, and I shoot newborns with it."

Lee Morris's picture

I've been shooting weddings for the last year on D7000s so the shame can't get any worse

I shot for years on a Rebel. I learned to not let gear determine how I saw myself. I also tried not to compare myself to others. 

Now you know I laughed right? Well one thing is for sure, moms don't ever use vertical grips.

This video explains why. Haha. 

So my tip for the day is, to LOOK pro, use a vertical grip because moms don't use dem.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDFCMHLtNl8&feature=g-user-u&context=G206f6a2UCGXQYbcTJ33bBwVqwirT0eLSkxlTtVNPJO7-8vlPo0E8 

D7000 is a hell of camera for weddings.
I still shoot weddings with D90's. I often see guests with a 5DII or a D3.
With good lenses and off-camera flashes, it doesn't do much difference which camera you're using.
Also guests are more relaxed in front of a DX camera + 85mm 1.4 or 35mm 1.8 + pocket wizard than in front of a D3 + 70-200 or 24-70 with on camera flash.

That's actually what I use now.  2 D7000's.  Decent lenses and sb-700's on stands and I work it man!

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