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Raw

As we discuss on the photographic tests page of this review, gaining access to the highest quality of which the D800 is capable of delivering means working with the camera's raw files.

Supplied software

The D800 comes with a software CD which contains:

  • Nikon ViewNX2 (Windows / Mac OS X) - An image browser / file editor featuring Raw to JPEG conversion with adjustment of exposure compensation, white balance, Picture Control, sharpening and tonal adjustments.
      
  • Nikon Transfer (Windows / Mac OS X) - Automated transfer of images from camera or card reader.

Nikon's ViewNX 2, while not as sophisticated as the company's Capture NX 2 (available separately at a list price of £160/$180) offers basic editing functions including the ability to crop and straighten images, and change white balance, exposure and Picture Control options in NEF files. More advanced tools include D-Lighting and highlight/shadow recovery sliders, plus lateral and axial chromatic aberration correction. Basic video editing functionality is also available. In a nice touch, many of these parameters can be built into presets using the Picture Control Utility, meaning that presets you find yourself regularly applying can be uploaded to the camera. Absent, unfortunately are any noise reduction options.

ViewNX 2 also allows you to geotag photographs using Google Maps (automatically if you use the optional GP-1 GPS unit), and to rate and label images with stars or colors for ease of organization. You can even modify the names of the color tags so that they show up as 'Work,' 'Holiday,' 'Portraits' or whatever best suits your needs.

Although it lacks much of the functionality offered by Nikon's Capture NX 2, the bundled ViewNX 2 software makes it easy to make basic adjustments to both raw and JPEG files from the D800. The thumbnail view does exactly what it says on the tin - it arranges all of the images in a particular folder as thumbnails, for easy navigation.
When adjusting raw files, you can either apply an existing Picture Control preset (Standard, Vivid, etc.) or create and modify your own, which can be uploaded to the camera and applied to JPEG captures. ViewNX 2 allows you to geotag your images by using Google Maps to find and record where you took your your photos. If you use Nikon's GP-1 external GPS unit with the D800, geotagging is automatic.
Creating video projects is a simple matter of opening the new video editor program, and importing clips into a playlist. From here you can add transitions between clips, and audio files. When you're ready to export your video project you can name it and specify your desired output settings.

Raw file conversion

In the sections below we'll compare the same raw file as processed by Nikon's supplied ViewNX2, pre-release versions of DxO Optics Pro 7 and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 7.1, alongside the associated in-camera JPEG file.

  • JPEG - Large/Fine, default settings
  • VNX - ViewNX 2.3.1, default settings
  • ACR - Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 beta, at default settings using 'Adobe Standard' profile
  • DxO - DxO Optics Pro 7 beta, default settings

Sharpness and Detail

As you can see below, converting a raw file has the potential to bring out a more natural, pleasing rendition of ultra-fine detail in comparison to the more aggressive sharpening applied by the camera's JPEG engine. In our opinion though, the in-camera JPEG is actually preferable to the default settings of Nikon's ViewNX 2. Looking carefully, we place ACR's ability to describe the finest feather detail just slightly ahead of DxO Optics Pro 7. These differences are admittedly small and could certainly be minimized with subtle adjustments to sharpening in the raw converter. And keep in mind that to actually see these 100% screen view differences would require viewing extremely large prints at very close distances.

Adobe ACR 7 (beta) Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
DxO Optics Pro 7 (beta) Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
Nikon View NX 2 Raw -> TIFF (Default output settings)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crops
JPEG out of camera, High quality setting, manual WB (all other settings default)
ISO 100 studio scene 100% crop

Resolution

The resolution differences between the ACR and DxO conversions are fairly minimal, as you can see below. A larger area of distinction lies in their abilities to suppress color artifacts between the resolution lines. In both the ViewNX 2 conversion and the JPEG rendering, you can see sharpening halos along the resolution numbers. While this increased contrast can lead to the perception of improved separation between lines, this does not represent an increase in actual resolution.

Adobe Camera RAW 7 (beta) DxO Optics Pro 7 (beta)
ViewNX 2 JPEG Large/Fine

Real-world advantages

The examples below illustrate the kind of real-world advantages you can get from shooting in raw mode. At low ISO sensitivity settings the D800 gives generally pleasing color and contrast in 'straight from camera' JPEGs. Viewed at 100%, however, there can be a lack of fine detail at the default sharpening settings. With a little careful adjustment in Adobe Camera Raw 7, more detail can be drawn out of the image.

Camera JPEG RAW + ACR 7.1 beta with sharpening set to Amount 55, Radius .6 and Detail 67.
100% crops

Shooting in raw mode also allows you to take control over white balance and noise reduction and provides the ability to retain highlight details that can be lost in a JPEG. The night scene below was shot at ISO 6400. The D800's metering system has done a good job of delivering a balanced exposure and noise levels are impressively low.

There is room for improvement, however. Using the extra highlight 'headroom' of the raw file, you can see it is possible to regain some usable detail around the lights, although bands of solid gray are revealed (see the crop below), indicating areas where no color information was available. Using ACR it is also possible to avoid color splotches and artifacts in lower light areas of the scene and provide cleaner detail rendition as well.

Camera JPEG RAW + ACR 7*
100% crops

*ACR 7: Custom WB, Exposure +.05, Contrast +7, Highlights -50, Shadows -30,Whites +2, Blacks -6; Sharpening: Amount 35, Radius .6, Detail 34; Noise reduction: default settings

Without much effort, I was able to use the settings detailed above to neutralize a warm color cast, bring back some usable highlight detail, while increasing contrast by lowering the luminance in the darkest shadows areas.

Raw files for download

Here we provide Raw files from the sample shots we've taken, so you can apply your own workflow techniques and judge the results for yourself.

As you can see below, something to bear in mind when working with raw files from the D800 is just how big the files are. The D800's JPEGs are much larger than those from the D700, and depending on scene composition and ISO sensitivity, raw files can exceed 50MB. D800 files eat up storage space on your hard drive and can place a considerable load on computer memory and processing power when editing the files, especially so if you're fond of adding image layers in Photoshop.

Given this, we are disappointed that Nikon does not follow Canon's lead and offer a 'small RAW' option in which you could enjoy the benefits of raw editing at reduced file sizes. After all, we can't imagine that even users who shoot Raw files exclusively will need 36MP files for every single image they take.

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Comments

Total comments: 16
Galbertson

Maybe subject expressed before, has anyone tested older legacy glass, 70's manual prime nikkor glass on D800E for overall performance? The resolving power on film was extremely high, the only artifacts in hi res scans was film grain, not flaws in optics, seemingly capable of resolving limits of 36mp sensor. Have never found true test without bias for "new", "best" nikkor glass.

0 upvotes
josikim

Legacy glasses will do just fine! I only have one, which is a 50mm F2 AI. I own the D800E and the resolving power on that little lens is still amazing. It keeps up with my modern Nikkor 35 1.8G, which, according to Dxo is sharper than it's big brother the 35 1.4G. It's definitely not as sharp as, say my 58mm 1.4G, but for an old lens, it really does bring out its best.

0 upvotes
Vmo9

After using this camera for a while, I tried the Canon 5D Mark III and recently made the switch. Auto focus needs improvement, as does the weather proofing. After 30 plus years of being a Nikon fanatic and after the issues with this camera causing countless shipping for maintenance and water seepage I became frustrated and ended not using it as much. Resale value was fair but not what I had thought a camera such as this would bring.

2 upvotes
q8wizard

VMO9 you have the same issue of mine, focusing problem and slight salty water leaked inside and spreads like a cancer in the camera component, it is not a weather nor water sealed and it cant be fixed, now since i have all the top of the lenses and accessories i cant think of switching, so I'm in delma, should i wait for the upgrade or to by the d800e, I'm very loyal to this brand for very long time, i cant think of abandons nikon but i guess as someone said Nikon who is trying to.

1 upvote
Vmo9

It was not easy to switch from Nikon to Canon, especially since I owned every "fast" professional lens Nikon produces. From the fisheye to the 800mm and two 400mm f2.8 lenses, it was a very difficult choice financially and also to end my loyalty to Nikon after 30 years. Selling all of my used gear and basically starting over was an adventure in itself. What I can offer is that since I made the switch the customer service that I've received from Canon has been impressive, as I'm hard on my gear and push the limits. The recent firmware update for my 5D Mark III pushed the standards even higher. It's difficult after purchasing an expensive piece of hardware to give it a thumbs down, as know one wants to admit making a bad decision.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 3 minutes after posting
2 upvotes
bdenize

I just got my D800 2 days ago, coming from D7000.
I do not own the very expensive lenses everyone say to be the "MUST" on the D800/E. And that was my very big concern about getting this camera.
I tested it with my 70-300VR and even with my 24-85 AFD. It works just GREAT !
Maybe I unconsciously take a bit more care in holding the camera when shooting. But that is the point also for every amateur... improving the technique.
Still, IMHO... I am very happy I didn't go for the smaller D610. Worth every penny I spent for it. I am VERY happy I did it.
I did my homework of course, and checked the left AF points. All is fine for me.
I found the shutter noise to be a bit kinky compared to D7000... not as "smooth" but it seems normal for FX.
If you are Amateur, go for it and be happy if your budget allows it. You will certainly be with the D800, no matter you need or don't the extra mpx. It is a monster.

Comment edited 51 seconds after posting
1 upvote
calicam

I agree that to take full advantage of the D800E quality, it demands extra care when shooting and using the best lenses. I'm looking at the Sony A7R for a possible future purchase, maybe easier when backpacking. I also don't care for the very curvy, roundish look of the Nikon and Canon offerings.

0 upvotes
scottstensland

the ON/OFF switch on D800E is less ergonomically pleasing than D300

0 upvotes
aquadream

The review states that best results are obtained from D800/E if best (most expensive) lenses are used, which sounds a bit like a drawback. My experience shows the opposite. Nikon D800E shines the brightest over any other camera I have used when I use just simple plastic zooms like Nikon 28-80/3.3-5.6G
I was not able to get ever sharper immages with any Canon using superior prime lenses than the images I get from nikon D800E with the nikon 28-80/3.3-5.6G lens.
Perhaps the best D800E results will be with the best lenses there are. I also have Nikon 85/1.4G, no questions there. This lens is so sharp that manages to exite some moire and aliasing even when shooting grass.
However D800E produces superior image quality over anything else even with cheap lenses.

I could post some examples.

4 upvotes
mufflon

sound interesting -> i will test that too :)

0 upvotes
munro harrap

There seems to be a kind of failure to realize that the D800 responds very much faster to use than does the 5D MkIII, and that it does not degrade images as do the 5D MkII and 5D MkIII series.
There's no point having the resolution if the 5D Mk II and III smooth away all low contrast detail as they do- certainly in Raw files as well as Jpeg in the 5D MkII.

I would not advise anyone to buy such a camera whose shutter lag is also much greater than its peers. An Old 1Ds is a much better bet if you are a Canon fan, much. No degradation to fine detail (which happens at ALL isos and much much faster response-same as D800 in custom function mode.

I bought a 5D MkII. I was appalled at what it did to the images and the Jpegs are a disgrace-worse than the Basic level off a Nikon with all detail mushed. Well, if you want that, and the finest detail turned to mush in 5dMkII and MkIII RAW files too , as now Dpreview admit(years too late), go ahead, but the D800 is just SO much better -it just is.

Comment edited 1 minute after posting
3 upvotes
SASpurr

In the 'Final Word' subsection of the 'Overall Conclusions' section it states:-

"Yet, I'd caution anyone who considers buying the D800 or D800E solely, or even primarily because of their ultra-high resolution. Pushing these cameras to achieve their maximum level of detail requires an investment of both time (methodical preparation) and money (the very best lenses Nikon makes)."

The part about which I would like clarification is "...requires an investment of both time...". Is the author referring to additional tasks over and above what one would 'normally' do in taking a picture? If so what are these tasks?
Or does it refer to care in the conduct of normal tasks: use of tripod, select correct depth of field/aperture, exposure delay and remote control to reduce vibration, switch off image stabilisation??

1 upvote
Joed700

The only reason you want this camera is because you plan to present your photos or make BIG prints. Of course, shooting RAW at all time. You probably want to invest in prime lenses or good zoom like 24-70mm f2.8 or 80-200mm f2.8; 50mm f1.8g... Also, purchasing a photo processing program is a must, like CS6 or similar. If you are a causal shooter who doesn't care about post processing, you are better off getting the D610 for full frame or D7100, D5300...and shoot jpegs.

Also, you really don't need a tripod in many situations. I think Nikon was trying to emphasize the pixel power of this camera by telling people to shoot at a higher shutter speed...

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
YogiGX20

When digital cameras reached 14 MP, with the first being the Pentax K20D, criticism was raised, that lenses won't cope. It's now crept up to 24MP for APS-C and the sensors are praised for their detailed pictures. Makes me wonder how great all these new kit lenses must be??? Or it was all just a media hype?
Using a DX lens on a D800 brings the resolution down to about 15MP which is roughly the same pixel pitch as a Nikon D7000 or Pentax K5 - it is also considered the best compromise between pixel size and resolution. So a D800 is basically a full frame version of a 16MP APS-C sensor as far as I understand it.
I think you do need much better glass for a D7100 or D5300 (than a D800) to get the best out of the sensor and a much steadier hand (or fast shutter speeds) for really sharp pictures. Such a high amount of photo sites will pick up any lens movement ....
I reckon if Nikon also produced a "D800" with a 24MP sensor, it'd be more appealing to a wider audience.

2 upvotes
Mike Davis

Regarding the excellent demo of diffraction's impact at various f-stops, on page 25 of this review, where is the photo showing what could have been accomplished using Photoshop ACR sharpening against an f/4 RAW file?

I would very much like to compare sharpening of the f/4 RAW file to sharpening of the f/22 RAW file. Surely, a silk purse made from silk would be more attractive than a silk purse made from a pig's ear.

Link to page 25 of this review: http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/nikon-d800-d800e/25

Mike

0 upvotes
arhmatic

Maybe it's just me, but I see this camesas looking more and more like a melted soap bar. I miss the days when bodies had straight, clean lines. They were also much smaller, for the same full frame film...

3 upvotes
Total comments: 16