Considering the Choice: To E, or not to E

Considering the Choice: To E, or not to E

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.

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20 Comments

Tyler Hoff's picture

So we are completely disregarding the video capabilities of these cameras for this review correct? 

Disregard puts a wrong spin on it. I think Blair was looking at it from the perspective of a purely pro portrait shooter- strictly as a still image capturing tool. 

I still find "professional DSLR's" doing video to be a bit of a puzzle. Yes, they do it well, and yes I have seen Laforet's work, but when "professional video" comes to mind, large budgets and resources are (to me) a given. Arri, RED, Panasonic, and Sony are the camera systems I would be going to. 

absolutely!!!  I don't use video at all as a pro.  My friends that are pro videographers use Pro equipment. Red, Alexa.  This camera and the 5D series are going to give you amateur quality (but certainly usable) video but by no means can it compete with pro video.  From a photographic stance, this is top notch for 35mm dslr.

The biggest deal-breaker to me is that you're dealing with an 18+ megapixel sensor designed to do still frames. Line skipping and column down-sampling result in both unpredictable moiré patterns and flickering (frame tearing). Most of the time this is not a problem, but that's my beef - pros don't get paid for "most of the time".

Anto de Chav's picture

I have used both of these.. the E is recording more detail and moire is not a real issue due to small pixel pitch.. (nyquist frequency_)  the D4X will be good but can the lenses do a higher mp sensor justice? the D800E already pushes G glass to the limit.. although the D body feels way better and expect more FPS..

Jason Schultz's picture

D4X, I don't think we'll see it. I think Nikon has turned a page in purposely rolling out cameras in specialty fields. D4: sports/wildlife/concert 800/E: landscape/portrait/macro 600: everything else. I think the D800/E is the D4X.

Anto de Chav's picture

The Megapixel race is not over yet.. canon are rumoured to be preparing a 46mp body with 16bits. the d800 could be improved with better ergonomics .. it feels a little cramped and not as tough as many people would like it.. Fuji and canon have camera's with 2.7micron pixel pitch.. this size pixel on full frame (36x24) equals about 96mp.. and zeiss have a new range of glass in the works designed for very high mp 35mm camera's.. the best is yet to come.. which is better foR us.. 

Anthony Tripoli's picture

Great write up.

I think I will be going for the e as well, just waiting until it is a little older first

I'm content with my D7000 and Sigma 17-50 f2.8. But then again I'm not a professional. I take pictures as a hobby and I'm having a real blast.

Still, the D800(E) and D600 look killer. But I'm not sure my PC would handle those large files :)

If you're a hobbyist and looking to jump into full-frame, I wholeheartedly endorse the D600. We've been playing and testing it out at SLRLounge.com and I love it! You can see my 17-shot panorama to check out its quality. Nikon is on a huge roll right now! Love the D800, D800E, and the D600!!

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fotosiamo/8049380821/sizes/o/in/photostream/

- JoeSLR Lounge Editor

Blair, do you have any experience with Zeiss ZF glass? I have noticed that on some of the D800 shots I've pixel-peeped that even expensive G zoom lenses (70-200 VR II) are the limiting factor, not the sensor.

John Godwin's picture

If everyone is honest with themselves though, once an image has been processed, there's absolutely nothing in it between any of the top-end DSLR's.. 

Jens Marklund's picture

Why is there no example of moire? If you're gonna do a comparison, you obviously need some shots of fine pattern or alike, to see the downfall of no AA filter as well.

Jacques's picture

 Agree, we need to see some examples with moire in them, otherwise the purpose of the comparison fails to deliver; the purpose of the E is to eliminate moire and there are no moire in any of those example images.

Hi Gents,
 
Very well written comments, let me just say this, the Carl Zeiss prime lenses I use on my brand spanking new SONY A99 outshine anything NIKON OR CANON have not to mention that Sony make the senses that go into both the other brands. But in the end Blair its all personal choice, as long are still living the dream its all good.
 
Cheers

Anto de Chav's picture

You obviously haven't tried either canon or nikon's 200F2 primes.. they're awesome,as as they're fast 85mm's and 35mm's,I have owned quite a few Zeiss lense's,they're very good but not really better than canikon's best and no A.F will put most people off buying them...

"the truth of the matter is that the best camera comes down to the man or woman behind it" Bollox pretty much covers my response tot his, the better camera is the better camera and will be used better by a better photographer.

"the truth of the matter is that the best camera comes down to the man or woman behind it" Bull**** pretty much covers my response to this, the better camera is the better camera and will be used better by a better photographer.