Nikon D800E Image Quality

By December 6, 2015 Reviews 2 Comments
Thattekkad - 1

Date: 26-Nov-2012

I want to share my experiences about the Image Quality (only) of a full frame DSLR camera, Nikon D800E (which I bought accidentally without any intention) against some OLD crop sensor DSLRs I have used/using (Nikon, Canon & Olympus) and here are my initial thoughts.

Actually I should say this is the realization I got after using a Full Frame Camera First Time Smile

It looks like comparing apples and oranges but unlike those with different tastes and vitamins etc, here the end product is the same, a photo Smile

But the only thing I don’t compare here is the detail and resolution, it’s definitely unfair.

Always full Frame DSLRs have better IQ compared to small sensor bodies.
And the difference I felt here is about 5 Stops (yes, 5 stops) at the same image size (12MP) between D800E and D90.
I felt that D90 at ISO 400 is same as D800E at ISO 6400 and some times even D800E at ISO 6400 matched to D90 ISO 200 when compared at the same size (out of the camera with no post processing) at 12MP.

I am sharing some images here, except in focus test all images are down sampled to 12MP.
Why I stick here to 12MP is that it is good enough for my needs. I occasionally print 16X24 inch prints and mostly I print 12X18/10X15 inch. With 36MP at ISO 2,000 I am planning to print 20X30 inch to see the print quality (but this is once in a blue moon). So for me the IQ at 12MP is very important for the max 24 inch prints when needed (people are able to print with similar resolution using D3S some beautiful gallery prints too).
Typically these requirements change from the nature of work and purpose of each individual.

And all the images here are without any post processing (shot in RAW with in-camera NR low) except resizing to 12MP using View NX2. All images have full EXIF to check the camera settings.

The ISOs 12,800 and 25,600 are not getting displayed in the Picasa EXIF, so please check the file names to get the ISO value.
Also I have added couple of samples with suffix _NR for which I have applied noise reduction to compare the results with their equivalent ISO 25,600.

I did not capture them with utmost care and precision/manual mode as most of the real world shots are not so accurate but generally shot in very similar conditions.

Very unfortunate thing here is Picasa reduced the IQ by around 10-20% with thin vertical/Horizontal lines and some random pixels while uploading even though uploaded with Original Size option. So there is around 10-20% IQ loss from the original with thin lines and random pixels.
I have now realized that its applicable to all the images uploaded to Picasa irrespective of resolution, can’t get away with it.
The total files uploaded in the below links are around 160 MB.

Also note that when an image is viewed after clicking magnifying glass (zoom) icon even after pressing the + sign to the maximum, 12 MP files will take that status to half after a couple of seconds based on the Internet speed so one has to maximize further to see full 12MP image. In addition, there are couple of 36MP images.

These photos are with the light falling directly on the Subject (Manual WB setting to test, hence not so natural).
Front Light

These photos are with the light falling from TOP (Subject is not lit and it is slightly darker, other scenario).
Top lit

And also adding some more images for details comparison at different ISOs, the technique used for these has the limitation to get more DOF.
Details

Focusing speed for high end cameras is not at all an issue from the past, irrespective of the conditions, light, background or foreground or even backlit. The same here too.
To get the best, the only limitation now is the lens reach and lens quality. Cameras now are capable of extracting maximum out of the lenses.
Here I uploaded the images (shot mostly in DX mode for reach) where the subjects are at different positions in the frame, not just in the center. The advantage in DX mode is that the focus points are spread across the complete frame, so all these focus points help in tracking the subject.
Focus Test

Wildlife photos were shot in DX mode with 15.3MP resolution and re-sized to 12MP, so little bit more noise compared to FX.
Some Real World Photos

Skin tones are far more better at ISO 12,800 on D800E compared to D90 at ISO 1600 (I have captured around 300+ portraits till now and not able to post even one as I need their permission Smile ).

So my conclusion is YES, the camera matters.
Colors, Contrast, DOF and Skin tones are immediately apparent with the same lens on both.
To observe the rest one has to view big.

End of the day, I set max ISO on my D90 to 800 and on D800E I will go up to 6400 in FX without a second thought for general photography, and in D800E DX mode I set it to max of ISO 2,500.

  1. My estimation as per my experience is all 36 Megapixels are useful till ISO 1,600 on D800E, can be printed till 24X36 around 200dpi
  2. At ISO 3,200 one can print 20X30 inch(16X24 in bad light)
  3. At ISO 6,400 16X24 (12X18 in bad light)
  4. At ISO 12,800 10X15 (8X12 in bad light)
  5. At ISO 25,600 8X12 (5X7 in bad light)

Good post processing will definitely help in increasing the print size.

I got an opportunity to shoot ISO 25,600 in overcast weather where even ISO 12,800 failed to get decent shutter speed, (just rained, hence the BG water droplets) and the subject is perched in a dark bushy place.
Auto focusing itself is impossible for my D90 in this situation not just because of the poor light but also because the subject is black. But D800E auto focus locked instantly on all the images and I am able to get the following Full Frame shot Handheld!
This is exactly where I like D800E exposures.

This is out of the camera full frame jpeg (Shot RAW, converted in-camera to jpeg, with Active D-Lighting and Noise Reduction OFF) and only did careful noise reduction, no other post processing (in-camera or software) is performed.
(EXIF: Aperture Priority, F/5.6, at 300mm on 70-300mm VR, 1/100 Sec, 0 EV, No Flash, ISO 25,600)
This requires very minimal adjustments like slight increase in Brightness/Contrast/Saturation and Sharpness to get a good 12X18 inch print.

Other DX mode shot at ISO 2,500 with post processing.

One more for auto focus.

The last and the best of D800E is its amazing exposures in worst/horrible/terrible light (please check above link of ISO 25,600), D90 is nowhere near. Its impossible to know the lighting condition when shot with D800E and its always mind boggling.

What is missing in D800E is the battery life compared to D90 and Auto WB is not accurate.

Please do not mistake me here that the other cameras cannot produce good images.
I was able to get good images with Nikon/Canon/Olympus/Yashica/Samsung Point and Shoots & iPhone/Mobiles too, and some awesome ISO 1,600 images right out of my D90, but now with D800E the keepers are even more and no need to worry about the light especially in places like Bangalore where light won’t be good in most of the seasons.
We have fabulous images from decades, it’s getting easier now a days with new technology.

With any camera, the composition and the creativity still lies with the photographer only, cameras atleast are not that intelligent yet, giving gyan (enlighten) to the photographers Smile

Finally, to conclude, with the modern cameras like D4, D800, 1DX or 5DMK3 etc. nothing is left to blame the camera or even the LIGHT like before!

 

Update: 11-Dec-2103

Self evaluation of my above observations shared.

Below is my self evaluation of my previous observations shared in the above post (in Bold below) w.r.t. other renowned reviews on net.

Focusing speed for high end cameras is not at all an issue from the past, irrespective of the conditions, light, background or foreground or even back-lit. The same here too.

Reference
“If you shoot in indoor/low-light environments, you will be surprised by just how well the new AF system works in poor conditions. I took the D800 for a short tour with me to Denver downtown at night and I was surprised by how well the AF system worked in street light.

Reference
“Autofocus System
In terms of performance, it’s quite good. Basically similar to my D4 experience so far (but I’m still testing that camera). I had no real complaints about the previous FX focus system, so it’s not likely I’d have any about the new one.”

Skin tones are far more better at ISO 12,800 on D800E compared to D90 at ISO 1600 (I have captured around 300+ portraits till now and not able to post even one as I need their permission ).

So my conclusion is YES, the camera matters.
Colors, Contrast, DOF and Skin tones are immediately apparent with the same lens on both.

Reference
“If anything, there’s a bit more “magic” to the automatic bits, probably due to the fact that the camera recognizes skin tones so well.”

Reference
“2) Colors and Skin Tones

One thing that surprised both Lola and I, was the color reproduction of the D800E for portraiture and the skin tones it produced. While this topic is always a matter of debate, especially when it comes to Canon vs Nikon colors and skin tone comparisons, we both agree that the D800E by far had the best colors compared to previous generation Nikon DSLRs, including the D3s. I have praised the sensor of the D800 quite a bit before for landscape photography, because colors just looked so good straight out of the camera. After our first wedding with the D800E, Lola opened up images in Lightroom and she was blown away by the richness of colors and beautiful skin tones the camera produced. ”

My estimation as per my experience is all 36 Megapixels are useful till ISO 1,600 on D800E, can be printed till 24X36 around 200dpi.
And at ISO 3,200 one can print 20X30 inch(16X24 in bad light), at ISO 6,400 16X24 (12X18 in bad light),
at ISO 12,800 10X15 (8X12 in bad light) & ISO 25,600 8X12 (5X7 in bad light). Good post processing will definitely help in increasing the print size.

Reference
“Print Quality
Excellent 40 x 60-inch prints from ISO 100 to 400; ISO 3,200 shots look good at 24 x 36; and ISO 25,600 images make a great 8×10!

ISO 100 images look pretty amazing printed at 40 x 60 inches, with good detail and great color.

ISO 200 shots are a little softer at 40 x 60 inches, but only by comparison. We’d still call them quite good.

ISO 400 images also stand up to printing at this very large size of 40 x 60. Though some luminance noise starts to appear in the shadows, it’s not objectionable.

ISO 800 images are a little soft for printing at 40 x 60 and 36 x 48, but look good and sharp printed at 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 1,600 shots are quite usable at 30 x 40 inches, but we prefer prints at 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 3,200 shots hold up well at 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 6,400 shots are usable but soft at 20 x 30 inches. Printing at 16 x 20 looks quite a bit better.

ISO 12,800 images are good at 13 x 19, but really tighten up at 11 x 14.

ISO 25,600 shots are usable at 11 x 14 inches, but shadow noise is distracting enough that we prefer 8 x 10-inch prints.

Overall, it’s a very impressive performance from a high-megapixel camera, far exceeding our expectations. At very low ISO settings, it’s a little like looking at our targets through a large magnifying glass.”

The last and the best of D800E is its amazing exposures in worst/horrible/terrible light (please check above link of ISO 25,600), D90 is nowhere near. Its impossible to know the lighting condition when shot with D800E and its always mind boggling.

Reference
“I have been shooting in aperture priority mode for about a week now and I have had very few occasions when I wanted to dial in exposure compensation the exposure was spot on, especially when photographing people.

The Nikon D800 does not seem to have any of these exposure problems. I started with 0 EV in matrix metering mode and the camera pretty much nailed the exposure every time. Lola and I photographed weddings with the D800 and metering on people was spot on, definitely more accurate than any other DSLR I have used to date, including the D3s.”

Reference
“And with the much better 91K RGB metering system, the D800E seemed to require a lot less exposure adjustments than previous generation DSLRs when photographing people.”

Others can share their thoughts too.
Thanks for reading and for your time!

Have a great day,
Sravan

2 Comments

  • sushant says:

    Hi Sravan

    Whats your opinion about D810 (vs D500)

    I am a amateur photographer and enjoy doing city wildlife (birds /birds in flight/birds hunting in city lakes/nallah, small mamals) .
    I ‘d like to do landscapes and family wedding shoots for the candid moments.

    I’ve been shooting with D3200 until it broke down/(diopter adj broke)..and am looking for a new camera – would you suggest D810 for IQ or D500 for action- which one is value for money.

    Thanks in advance

    Sushant

    • Sravan says:

      Hi Sushant,

      I am very sorry for the delayed response. There were few technical glitches and upgrades to the website as well as my email.
      Regarding your question, I would suggest you to go for Nikon D500 if you are primarily interested in wildlife.
      Nikon D810 is a very good camera but can’t compete with Nikon D500 when you take the speed into consideration along with the buffer which are primarily required for wildlife.
      Auto focus is also extremely good in Nikon D500.
      If you want a better all round camera and shoot occasionally wildlife and more into Landscape and Wedding, D810 is a better camera and also it is a full frame camera too.

      So simple answer would be for primarily Wildlife photography and occasional Landscapes and weddings, please go with D500.
      For primary shooting of Landscapes and weddings and occasional Wildlife photography, please go with D810.

      Please feel free to ask if you have any further questions.

      Thanks,
      Sravan

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