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.
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.
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
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|
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.|
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*|
*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 settingsWithout 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.