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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Goes to show you how good the 7000 is.  It seems the D800 is going to create more processing to achieve the same result as the D4.   75mb raw files.. ouch.  D4 is maybe worth more because it saves time (is money).

Your comments about Moms are offensive.   You sound a little threatened.   You can't judge a photographer based on when in their life they started shooting.   

I did post process both of your raw files Lee and didnt see all that much of a difference. Yes you are correct that there is more contrast out of the camera on the D3s but it was the same thing I experience moving from the D700 to the D3S as I thought the images were flat on the D3S when I first got it. After altering the settings to 7 or 8 sharpening and one bump up to contrast I was happy with the D3S. So far to me I'm just finding that the default setting of the D4 is just softer. Joe McNally did mention last month on his blog the images out of the camera so make the skin look creamier if that's the term he used.

But none the less for a wedding photographer or sports photographer if the noise levels are the same on the D4 as the D3s to me, just the faster or better focusing at an -ev 2 makes it worth it with all the bells and whistles.

PS. I did post on LR4....and copied the develop settings and pasted it on the other photo and exported it.

Mind you I'm also waiting on my D4 to come in so I'm hoping it's just it's more of a default setting issue as far as the softness you , mentioned is concerned.

OK, same test but with D4 vs D800 and exported as 16mpx:

Lee Morris's picture

what is up with that second image with the paintbrush and the chart. The right image looks way too sharp. Is that really D800? 

Yes Lee i was also surprised, my guess it's because of the high MP, retains more detail.  Also look at the red rope on D800 a bit more detail retained. Im just curious if D800 can retain that detail then D800E will do better whit out AA-Filter. Well this is my guess... 

Lee Morris's picture

if you email me these examples I'll throw them in the post. lee@fstoppers.com

I think he knows about this website :)

Sent you these images.

I've read the user manual of D800 and it says that it's recommended to shoot on tripod through "Live View", because you need to get the mirror up in order to get the sharpest image. Even the movement of the mirror can effect the image in D800 ! plus if you want the kill that resolution, you have to buy one of the recommended lenses listed in same user manual !!! I want to upgrade to FF cameras, I have D7000 and I hope D400 will be in the middle between D4 and D800. correct me if I'm wrong! cheers!

if you want FF i don't thing Nikon will make D400 a FF, but everything is posible, time will tell :)

I think I will keep my D7000 instead of selling it and buy D800. I bet they will be a great couple. :p

thanks ..

I also have D7000 was thinking the same thing getting D800 :) 

Mirror slap causing blur is common in all cameras though.  So you'll get the sharpest image with any mode that delays the mirror movement.

good to know that, there's a "Mirror-up" mode in D7000, and I hope D800 has the same feature. However, I don't think that D800 has "Mirror-Up" mode otherwise why would they recommend to shoot through "Live View" ?!

★☆★ Tam Nguyen ★☆★'s picture

There's already been so many talks about this on Photo.net. One example: http://photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00a48r

Jens Marklund's picture

Then why not get a D700? Of course you'll only use the full resolution with the sharpest lenses available. It's the same if you'd have a 6MP camera. I've noticed a major loss in resolution on my D700, when comparing lenses. A bad lens is a bad lens. And people have used tripods and mirror up, for landscape stuff for a long time. That's just Nikon's way to be safe from lawsuits, just like the "don't eat this" stickers on all toys. 

If you compared the D800 without mirror up on a tripod, against a D3 or whatever - the D800 will give more resolution, and a better print. 
The D7000 you have, got about the same pixel size as the D800. So shooting it on a tripod without mirror up, should give around the same loss in sharpness as you're saying the D800 will get. 

★☆★ Tam Nguyen ★☆★'s picture

There's already been so many talks about this on Photo.net. One example: http://photo.net/nikon-camera-forum/00a48r

I just checked out http://www.dpreview.com/previews/nikonD800/8 and you can compare the d800, d700, d4, and d3s raw files and move it all around and the d4 looks slightly better than the d3s, and the d700 looks slightly better than the d800 at iso6400 and up.  you can clearly see the difference when you look at the paperclips at the higher iso's

Scale to 1:1 then you will see that the D800 is better than D700...

Not to be a buzzkill and bring up Canon, but as a Canon Shooter, I have the EXACT same question for Canon.  Why did they announce the 1DX (like the D4) and then go ahead and release a 5DMkIII (like the D800) and give the focusing system of the 1-series along with a fast continuous shooting mode?!  Now there is VERY little that is worth the price tag of the 1DX over the 5DMkIII.... it seems Canon and Nikon are both doing this.... why?! 

This is what you call a Marketing bait, they made the D3/D4 series to sell the D700/D800 series, come to think about it when PS3 was priced up high the first year sales were less, when they lower it down, the people were flooding to buy because they thought it was a pretty deal when in fact that the lower price is the normal price for them.Japan has always have good Business Minds.For us consumers, it could look stupid, but for them it makes a perfect sense.They practically lost nothing because they are anyway making less D4 compared to D800.The big profit of the D800 will fund their invention of the D5 which will hype the coming D900, got my Point?

well with all the commotion about the D4 image quality, i think nikon might even counter that with a fix in the newer models of the D4. maybe wait until the end of the year to see if the newer models production will have an improvement.

didn't the D700 poach sales from the D3? seems like they are repeating themselves.

Has anyone yet mentioned anything about latitude in the Raw files? The D4 might have an advantage in correcting clipped highlights, which was one of the things that made the D3 so good when it came out. I also wonder how the cameras would compare if shot at high iso in 2700K tungsten light.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Without wanting to sound critical on the one had or like a naive technological luddite on the other... the "old" D3's breakthrough iso performance is STILL impressive today. How in the world can excellent 3,200 (comfortably pushed to 6,400 if needed) still not be enough for weddings?

I'm all for progress and crave the new as much as anybody else... but much of the work I've seen from photographers demanding purer 6,400 and beyond still has not lived up to the potential of 1,600 and beyond.

could you make one about how the 1dx and the 5D3 compares?