Nikon D800E The Pros and Cons

After some confusion, delays, and uncertain waiting, it’s here~my new Nikon D800E. Before I go too far, I need to preface this post with a bit of a back story. It was only a couple years ago (as I’ve been discovering I need to multiple dates by x3 to x5, as life is traveling faster than I can remember accurately) when I was giving serious thought to the purchase of a Mamiya medium format camera with a digital back. That camera, at the time, was shooting a whopping 20 megapixel image with a price tag of $25,000. Besides the drawback of the cost, being mainly a location photographer, I really didn’t want to give up the compact ease of use a traditional 35mm camera body affords. I passed at the time and stopped drooling at the idea of such an expansive canvas for creating images.

Fast-forward to the morning of February 7, 2012 and the Nikon D800 and D800E official announcement. It probably only took me about five minutes and the memory of that Mamiya at +$1,000 per megapixel to pull the trigger on the new Nikon D800E. No, it is not a cheap camera by any means, but at $3300 for 36 megapixels, I’d waited long enough. The only other factor that consumed most of that five minute delay was the capital “E”.

E is for Extra Special

Yes, “E” is for extra special, extra sharp, and an extra $300 for the extra privilege. 🙂 The Nikon D800E marks the first time a camera manufacturer has given the photographer the choice between deliberate installed blur or sans-blur. The D800 is made like most prior cameras with a very slight physical optical blur filter applied to every image. The blur is intended to reduce the effects of moiré. Moiré kinda sounds like an evil French villain, and if it starts messing with your images, you may agree. Moiré is a banding, repeating pattern that occurs in an image when the sensor is unable to resolve a subject with fine repeating detail. This most often happens with clothing. The fine detail of woven threads can cause the photo to have funny rainbow-like bands in these areas. The solution~blur the image. Not just that image, but every image the camera ever makes, it’s permenantly installed! What? Sounds crazy, but that’s basically what every camera on the market today does…until now.

The fine people of Nikon said, “hey, why not let the photographers decide if they want this permanent feature on their camera?” Say hello to the Nikon D800E and the sharpest images around. The thinking is that landscape and macro photographers will want sharper images and are willing to forgo the installed blur.

The anxiety for me, while I waited for this beast to arrive, was the not knowing. After waiting for a couple months I’d been imagining all the scenarios when moiré might pay an unwelcome visit. I love shooting just about everything, with a heavy focus on landscapes. As it turns out the sharpness is great and the moiré has not appeared. While photographing our horse in bright sunlight I did experience some chromatic aberrations in highlight on his mane, but nothing other than that so far.

The Nikon D800E Cons

Like everything in life there are pros and cons. I’m a firm believer in getting the bad stuff out of the way fast and staying positive. So here’s what I’m not crazy about the D800E so far;

  • The images are HUGE
  • Processing is sloooooow. Adobe Lightroom in a never-ending planned-obsolescence business model does not support D800 images in LR3
  • The newly purchased Adobe Lightroom 4 basically chokes when processing the D800/D800E images. And it’s not a RAM or hard drive thing. My computer is well-endowed. The D800/D800E along with LR and Photoshop needs to be a great big love fest! Adobe fix this asap, please.
  • Reports claim that the included Nikon processing software (which bumps the camera price by $100 with no opt-out) deals with the images better. Sorry, Nikon, I love you, but I’m not changing my Lightroom/Photoshop workflow to accommodate a camera.
  • The sharpness from the D800E requires extra attention to sharp image shooting techniques. Soft, slightly unsharp images are greatly exaggerated. The moiré blurring feature discussed above affords great wiggle room for sloppy techniques, the D800E is not so forgiving.

The Nikon D800E Pros

Now for the good stuff;

  • The images are HUGE
  • Detail is amazing and laser like
  • The D800E is quieter than the D700
  • Great solid body and construction
  • I love shooting at night and occasionally (a.k.a. often) I forget or lose my flashlight. Instead of shooting with a cable release, many times I’ll use the self-timer to get my hands off the camera and make a sharp image. The mode selection dial is set up to easily remember, in the dark, which setting is the self-timer. Small, personal thing, but important none the less.
  • Also in the subtle department, the virtual horizon in the menu now includes a forward/backward tilt indicator. So not only does the camera tell you when your level, it indicates if you’re tilted forward or back. I like.
  • Did I mention the images are HUGE and laser sharp? 🙂
D800E image size comparison

To scale image size comparison

To help wrap your head around this, I’ve created the example above. This is scaled down for your own safety, the D800E images are 7360 pixels wide! To create this example, I opened an image from the D800E, D700, and the Nikon Coolpix 950 at 100% and then layered them on top of each other for size comparison. The outer image is the D800E, next to a D700 image and I had to grab a Nikon Coolpix 950 (my first digital camera) image just for kicks! 😉 By the way, I have used images from the 950 in print advertisements, just not lately (times x6).

Here’s something that surprised me. It’s common while shooting long exposures for blue hour, that the occasional bird will decide to enter stage left (or right). I shrug it off as something that will need to be removed and fixed in Photoshop. All these years of removing little grayish/black blobs from my long exposure images, I NEVER realized the beauty and elegance of birds in flight…until now! The D800E actually showed me their grace and movement. Heck, I might just go start targeting them in these low light situations to see what else I can observe! 🙂

Birds captured in sky during 1/8 second exposure

Birds captured in sky during 1/8 second exposure

Bird Detail at 100%. Yes, this is NOT enlarged. :)

Bird in motion detail at 100%. Yes, this is NOT enlarged. 🙂

While the camera is still new and fresh in my hands, I can already tell some things for certain. This will not be my main/general use camera. The image size for storing and processing is very slow and space consuming. Nikon is a couple years ahead of the hard drive size curve here. In a couple years we’ll laugh about how we thought the 36mp (approx 40mb per RAW file) images were so huge, when we walk around with a couple 32Tb thumb-drives jingling in our pocket. Would you like to hear the story about my first Apple Mac IIsi that had a 40mb (that’s megabytes) internal hard drive? I digress…but for now, these are big honkin files that are willing to suck up every last drop of hard drive space, if you let them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m falling in love with my D800E. I will be using it for the really good stuff, the stuff where you want to be able to zoom in at 100% and see things that weren’t visible to your eye when you made the photo. I will be using it for the images that I really want to be the best. I will be using it for the images I really care about. Wait…I think…I will be buying many new, very large hard drives, because I will probably be using this camera for all the images I love. And how am I suppose to know if I’m going to fall in love with the next image I’m fortunate enough to create? 😉