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Wednesday, June 20 2012 @ 02:42 PM EDT

Nikon D800E Initial Impressions

Nikon D800E @ ISO 6400
Nikon D800E @ ISO 6400

The Nikon D800, is it a game changer? Could this be the ultimate tool for travel photography?

I am one of the lucky few, an early adopter of the Nikon D800E.  This is not an elusive review sample either, but a proper production - bought and paid for - bonefide over the counter actual example!

I am a long time Canon user with a fairly significant investment in L series glass, a 5D and a 5D Mark II. You might rightly ask what made me decide to throw my lot in with the opposition and trade everything in that was acquired over the last decade(ish).

It is quite simple really.  I have been on a quest for Dynamic Range since I entered the world of digital photography.  I have never been entirely satisfied with what has been offered and have often found that when I delve into those intentionally atmospheric shadows I am left with a mess of noise.  It ain't pretty.  The spec list of the Nikon D800E had me salivating at the prospect of what this camera would be capable of. I have to admit I have been a fan of Nikon since my early days in film photography, cutting my teeth with my brother's F301 and later running a Nikkormat FT3 as my expedition go-to camera for it's entirely mechanical operation and bullet proof build quality. The D700 almost offered enough to make the change, not so much for the camera good as it was, but I had been coveting my friends 14-24 f/2.8G lens since I first saw it in Ireland!

Thurson Castle Moat

The other important factor to me is body size. I can't stand the "pro" DSLRs with the built in grip.  Whilst I accept that they offer increased functionality and comfort when shooting in portrait orientation they also have the side effect of looking more imposing. I don't want an imposing camera. I don't want to be any more conspicuous when shooting than I really have to be! The small form factor cameras that offer a full frame sensor are, to me, the holy grail of minimising body size whilst offering the benefits that come with the full 35mm real estate.

First impressions of the D800E were hugely favourable when I pulled it out of the box. The battery went on to charge straight away which gave me some quality time with the manual which is hugely comprehensive and worthy of mention in itself. The "Quick Start Guide" is bordering on being as comprehensive as most full manuals whilst being small enough to slot into my camera bag as a reference when out in the field.  The main manual is more like a novel in size, and it comes purely in the relevant language. This was somewhat intimidating at first, but I have skimmed it and decided to go back and read up on features as I need them rather than try to ingest the whole lot at once.

Shetland Pony Grand National

With the battery charged it was time to start the familiarisation process. Everything on this camera falls to hand where you would expect it. It feels more like a camera designed by photographers than engineers and is just so very intuitive to use. The first niggle to strike was the dark viewfinder in comparison to the 5D Mk II. It isn't much, but with fast f2.8 glass on I was expecting something brighter, especially as the Canon's is slightly brighter with an f4.0 lens attached (from memory, I will do a side by side comparison once my camera comes back from the Canon Service Centre in a few weeks!). Once I got used to this slightly darker world it became a non-issue and I started to love the functionality that the viewfinder offers - with a built in grid on demand (no need for additional focus screens), the flash of red that tints the entire viewfinder when focus is achieved, and the in-viewfinder virtual horizon really standing out for me!

What this camera seems to leave off is the fluff. Everything is there for a reason, everything is where you expect it to be and works in an entirely logical manner. It really is a superb photographers tool ... and that is before we start looking at the images output!

Sizergh Castle Pond

What can I say about the files produced by the D800E. They are exceptional. Sharp, very sharp ... but with a wonderful tonal rendition that matches what you see infront of you. The Auto White Balance seems more accurate than the already good Canon offering. With the stellar autofocus offering crisp images and the Auto ISO helping to reduce camera shake you are left with vast files of the highest possible quality.

Speaking of the Auto ISO - this was a feature I didn't think I would use. I am usually found on ISO100, or 50, with only the occasional foray into the higher sensitivities.  Stick the camera in Auto ISO and it ensures that your shutter speed is always adequate to avoid camera shake by bumping up sensitivity on the wing. And it works. Very well. Why no one else has implemented this I do not know, but I am a convert! For what it's worth ISO 1600 images are coming out very useable, beyond that there is a fall off, but not to useless levels. 

"Why the E over the standard D800" is a question I have been getting a lot. Well for me it came down to one thing - ultimate image sharpness. I am aware of the dreaded moirĂ© issue that many, many people have been worrying about on the internet, but in my photography I felt it would rarely be an issue, and where it did show it's hand it is relatively easy to deal with in Lightroom 4. I shoot predominately landscape and travel photographs and would consider spending an additional £300 on a lens which offered a slightly sharper result over another, so why not spend that on a body which gives you that edge with EVERY lens?  Lost image data from the AA filter can not be recreated after all, and in digital photography data really is King!

100% Crop Kirkstone Pass

At the moment I am well inside the honey moon period of a new camera, but I have found the switch from Canon pretty painless, and the files which I am getting are astonishingly nice to work with. I can pull shadows with almost complete abandon, retrieve highlight data with ease (both of these are aided by the new Highlights and Shadows sliders in Lightroom 4 I agree, but I am getting no noise which used to plague my 5D/5D Mk II files).

So ... is the D800 the game changer that it is being mooted as? Yes, I think it is. A camera that can challenge the image quality of a Digital Medium Format set up for a fraction of the price, in a smaller and more discreet package which is easier to use. I think it has moved the goal posts a considerable distance so much so that I have put my money where my mouth is. And personally I wouldn't want to carry a full size "Pro" DSLR around when travelling, let alone a Medium Format system!

See 24 sample images from my first week with the D800E in "Nikon D800E Samples".


Kirkstone Pass


The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Authored by: Walter Rowe on Friday, June 15 2012 @ 03:42 PM EDT Nikon D800E Initial Impressions

I upgraded from a 12MP D300 to the 36MP D800 a week ago. Two things of significance that I noticed from the start are that the raw images have greater saturation and more clarity right out of the camera. I find I'm doing less adjustments for them using Apple Aperture 3.3 for post processing. I played with one of them in Lightroom 4.1 and it shows similar improvements over the D300 raw files .. more saturation and clarity.

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