Forgive me for the non-linear article to follow, but this is my first evaluation of the transitive properties of the figurative "E" and it's marginal utility in the life of the Nikon D800. Whereas others may tell you which camera can photograph grass or your pet Weimaraner, I would like to talk about the real life application the D800 has to those of us that call this hobby a job.
While there will be the inevitable comments that camera "x" has more resolution or camera "y" is better priced, the truth of the matter is that the best camera comes down to the man or woman behind it. That said, we all have to make a decision on the tool to use at some point or another. Some of my friends tell me I can take a decent pic (references available on request), so allow me to wax poetic on to those that haven't left because of the Weimaraner comment.
Those of you who know me or read my blog know that I have a passion for Nikon, not based unbiasedly, but out of experience. I grew up shooting Canon, but over time found that they couldn't deliver the quality I needed anymore, and at that time I sold everything and transitioned to the D3. For the first few months using a Nikon, it was as if I had rediscovered photography. So when the D3X was released it was a no brainer. Since then I have spent the past couple years shooting nothing but a D3X and Nikkor 24-70 G for EVERY shoot, from ads to editorial, portraits to cars. That combination is all I used.
To some, buying a camera is the equivalent to adding another tool to the toolbox, but I often worry that the respect for the technology goes away as soon as the next photoshoot arrises. For me, a new camera is like listening to a song, not for its music, but in an effort to understand a culture that the artist conveys. A camera will do the exact same thing that any other camera can, it will record light. However, if you embrace that camera for the technology is has, you can exploit every detail it can capture. After all, what is the point of buying a new camera if you do not intend to use its advantages over its predecessors?
Enter the Nikon D800.
I was on set in Chicago when the news of this camera broke and I was confident that this camera was a rumor, vaporware if you will. However, for good measure I checked B&H to see if there was any truth to the matter and, low and behold, there was the D800 and D800E available for pre order. Originally I ordered both of the cameras, but as time went on I cancelled the orders when I sat down with my assistant and talked it over. The thought of purchasing both options was foolish to me, because inevitably one would sit in the case while I shot with the other, so I needed to find which I preferred and dedicate myself to that platform alone.
Before I go into which version is better, let me just address the D800 as a system in general. Is it the best DSLR on the market for an ad shooter? Yes. For reasons that even Nikon usually doesn't state such as noise pattern, file quality, grain structure and color accuracy, the D800 hands down is a stronger system than any other DSLR, including it's older brother, the D3X. Please understand that I wanted this to not be true, as I already have a D3X and wanted to wait until its successor to upgrade, but after testing have decided to go ahead with the move.
For a professional I believe the transition is more than warranted, but for an amateur it might not be needed. In my case I need files that have a large latitude that I can emphasize with a lot of lights on set and a file that will hold up to what myself or a retoucher can throw at it without getting patterned.
So which one did I choose?
Before revealing my decision here are some things to consider:
Is there a significant difference between the files? No
Is there an issue with moire? No
Will the $300 premium be seen in day to day shooting? No
For most people is the "E" needed? No
Can the "E's" lack of AA filter be noticed on anything but the best glass? No
So I bought the E.
Reasoning alone being this: My clients pay me for the best image I can deliver. I cannot justify even the slightest shortcut to giving them my best or I am lost amongst those that will settle for what's easiest over what's ideal. Leaving set wiped out and mentally drained makes me happy because it means nothing was left on the table, so why should I let $300 stand between me and giving my all?
The D800 is an absolutely solid camera, and it took me zooming into 100% and even 200% to see the difference in some of the files, but what mattered was less about how little difference existed, but the fact that it existed at all.
A note on the progression of the direction in quality and a big impression that I took from this whole test was how strong the D3x was. In no way did I expect the nearly 4 year old body to hold a candle to the new camera on the block, but it does. With so much of my loyalty to Nikon based off the D3 and D3x bodies, I was kind of giddy to see what the next system would progress to, and the D800 is shockingly strong and very capable. However, I have used pro bodies for many years and like the feel of a built in grip and have become so accustomed to the ergonomics of the D3x that I have kept it as well. The D800 is the perfect back-up camera for me and it is perhaps the first camera that allows me to mentally separate from work and still deliver high quality - strike that - the best quality images possible.
So where this leads me in summation is this... my truest and most prominent thought about the D800:
The D800 should be the scariest camera alive to Canon, because it tells us all that Nikon has got an utter monster up it's sleeve with the D4x.