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High ISO noise and shadow detail

The D800 offers ISO sensitivity up to 25,600 (equivalent) which, combined with a fast lens allows for shooting in very low light at hand-holdable shutter speeds. The default JPEG processing at these top ISOs is rather impressive, striking a reasonable balance between noise suppression and image detail. The camera is capable of noticeably superior results, however, when shot in Raw mode. As the examples below illustrate, processing a D800 raw file - even at ACR 6.7's default settings - allows you to effectively eliminate chroma noise while producing better-defined high and low-contrast edges compared to the in-camera JPEG at its default settings.

ISO 16,000 (equiv), in-camera JPEG at default NR and sharpening settings ACR 6.7 Raw at default NR and sharpening settings.

ISO 25,600 (Hi2)

Like its predecessor the D700, the D800's ISO sensitivity span tops out at ISO 25,600 (equivalent) - marked in the camera as 'Hi2'. While not a match for the D4's highest ISO sensitivity setting of 208,400 equiv, 25,600 is probably higher than most people will ever need to shoot. But what if you do need to go this high? Well, image quality at this setting isn't great, not surprisingly, but it's not awful either, and it's perfectly possible to draw results out of raw files which look more than acceptable even in extremely poor light. The image below was shot in a bar, using auto white balance mode, in light so low that the viewfinder image was almost indiscernible. But we'd still be confident in using the processed raw file for a small-ish print or web gallery.

ISO 25,600 (equiv), in-camera JPEG at default NR and sharpening settings ACR 6.7 Raw processed 'to taste'

Compared to Canon EOS 5D Mark III

On paper, the Nikon D800 has a resolution advantage over the 24MP Canon EOS 5D Mark III; one which you can explore for yourself in our studio comparison tool. We thought it would be interesting to see how these two cameras compare in terms of low light performance at an identical output image size. To that end we processed raw files from each camera with ACR's sharpening and noise reduction set to '0'. The 22MP Canon EOS 5D Mark III image was then upsampled to match the 36MP resolution of the D800. Identical amounts of low-radius sharpening were applied to both images in Photoshop.

The scene below was shot at ISO 6400 under low color-temperature (approx. 2600K) artificial light, designed to be representative of typical indoor lighting. This accentuates the appearance of noise due to the low level of blue light in the spectrum of the light source. This means that to achieve accurate white balance the blue channel has to be amplified strongly, and the green channel to a lesser extent - thereby increasing the visible noise. Each camera was used at its default noise reduction and sharpening settings.

Nikon D800
ISO 6400 1/30 sec., f/8.0
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
ISO 6400 1/30 sec., f/8.0
Upsampled to 36 MP using Bicubic

In looking at these files it is clear that precious little separates these cameras at ISO 6400 when their output size is equalized. To the extent that you can see any consistent differences, the upsampled Canon EOS 5D Mark III file looks slightly less-detailed - just as you'd expect. Yet this subtle difference could be minimized even further with a touch more sharpening applied to the Canon file in Photoshop. And its important not to lose sight of the fact that both of these cameras are performing extraordinarily well, showing fine detail with a level of chroma noise that is far from objectionable considering the ISO sensitivity and pixel count of both their sensors.

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Comments

Total comments: 11
bdenize
By bdenize (1 month ago)

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
0 upvotes
calicam
By calicam (2 months ago)

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
By scottstensland (3 months ago)

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

0 upvotes
aquadream
By aquadream (4 months ago)

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.

0 upvotes
mufflon
By mufflon (3 months ago)

sound interesting -> i will test that too :)

0 upvotes
munro harrap
By munro harrap (4 months ago)

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
1 upvote
SASpurr
By SASpurr (5 months ago)

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
By Joed700 (3 months ago)

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
By YogiGX20 (2 months ago)

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.

1 upvote
Mike Davis
By Mike Davis (6 months ago)

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
By arhmatic (6 months ago)

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...

2 upvotes
Total comments: 11