D800 Softness, Grain & CA!!!

Started Oct 25, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Gobbly
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D800 Softness, Grain & CA!!!
Oct 25, 2013

Hello,

Background:-

I've been using a D90 for the past 5 years and I have a Nikon 50mm 1.8D lens and a Tamron 90mm 1:1 Macro lens besides the Kit lens my D90 came with. I've been very satisfied with the D90 unit that I have. But I wanted to upgrade to a Fx body because the one thing that I wasn't satisfied with my D90 was the low light performance and also I wanted to get into film making.

What happened:-

After what seems like an eternal wait, I finally saved up the money and ordered a brand new D800 off Amazon and it reached my hands yesterday. I was expecting to be blown away by the IQ but right off the bat something didn't feel right. I just couldn't put my finger on why but I certainly wasn't blown away. I was in fact disappointed.

With the Nikon 50mm 1.8D, my most favorite lens of all time, I wasn't getting the sharpness I loved it for. With the image as is on the LCD screen, everything seemed alright but when I zoomed in, there was notable softness and worse of all GRAIN! I slept unhappy last night and this morning I started researching and noticed that a lot of people were saying the D800 needs "good technique" and that I can't expect good sharpness while shooting hand-held. I mean, even at 1/8000s my images were soft and grainy. I just don't expect a $3k body to be so soft even at 1/8000s.

The issue:-

Mind you, this isn't an issue of back focusing or front focusing. The focus is quick and spot on, both in the left and the center focus points. The issue is with softness and grain.

The following shot is taken handheld with a Nikon 85mm f1.4 lens that I borrowed from my campus photographer. My hands were very steady.

100% crop of unedited RAW image taken handheld (steady though) with the Nikon 85mm f1.4 lens.

I know the ISO is bumped up to 2500 and that could result in some grain but quite frankly this much grain is unacceptable to me on a camera that is known for its low light performance.

Our campus photographer was surprised with the lack of sharpness too but he suggested that it might be because of the low shutter speed or that perhaps my hands weren't steady enough.

What I did:-

Anyway today I went out in the cold to do some real testing to eliminate all possible operator errors. I used my tripod and shot some timed shots. Here are the results.

100% crop of unedited RAW image taken using Nikkor 50mm 1.8D mounted on tripod with timer and the Image Quality setting on the camera was "Fine" and the print size is "Large". I made sure that the aperture wasn't too wide open so that the DOF wasn't too shallow.

I used my Tamron 90mm macro for the following shot.

100% crop of unedited RAW image taken mounted on a tripod with timer using the Tamron 90mm lens, which is very sharp with my D90. I ensured that the DOF wasn't too shallow, thus the small aperture.

To me, images of such poor sharpness TAKEN IN CONTROLLED ENVIRONMENTS devoid of shake (both on the camera and the subject) on lenses that are known for their sharpness is simply unacceptable.

But as I was experimenting with different subjects, I noticed something even more alarming - Chromatic Aberration that was quite ugly and scary.

100% crop of unedited RAW image taken handheld with the 50mm 1.8D lens

EWWW!!!

Note that close examination of this subject revealed nothing other than just pure white text on brown background.

I tried on a 85mm f1.4 lens that I had borrowed and the CA got worse! Here's the shot:-

100% crop of unedited RAW image taken handheld with the 85mm f1.4 lens

I was worried that the earlier handheld shots were because I had "poor technique" and the IQ bothered me a lot. I was just disappointed but now after doing all the testing using tripod and timer, I'm convinced there's something terribly wrong and it isn't just my technique that's at flaw.

I went for Amazon because of their beautiful return policy and I'm seriously considering returning this unit and getting a new one but I want to be sure that this is the unit's flaw and not something that I'm doing incorrectly or worse, if this is expected of the D800. I just want to make sure that I won't have the same issue with the new D800 that I'll purchase after returning this one.

So the following are the questions I have:-

  1. Are these results expected of a brand new D800 and the lens combinations?
  2. Am I doing something incorrect?
  3. Can you confirm with certainty that my unit is flawed?

Thanks a lot for reading through this extremely long post. I appreciate any constructive comments.

PS - I have to add, PLEASE view the images in original size to appreciate my concerns of grain and softness. The images as is in the post don't reveal the grain as much.

 Gobbly's gear list:Gobbly's gear list
Nikon D800 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D Tamron SP 90mm F2.8 Di VC USD 1:1 Macro Adobe Photoshop CS6 extended +1 more
Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G Nikon D800 Nikon D90 Tamron SP AF 90mm F/2.8 Di Macro
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