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D800 v. D800E: Real world resolution comparisons

While our resolution tests provide information about a camera's ultimate capabilities, its obviously important to examine a camera's performance outside the confines of our studio. In the examples that follow, we'll compare the D800E's detail rendering against that of the stock D800 in real world scenes.

Urban Landscape

In the samples below, we compare the same scene photographed with identical exposure settings using both the Nikon D800E and the stock D800. We shot using the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens at f/4.5 - the aperture at which we know this lens delivers maximum sharpness. We also shot at f/16 - a more practical aperture for a landscape photographer who wants to maximize depth of field.

Both cameras were shot on a tripod, using mirror lockup and a three second exposure delay to minimize vibration. The raw files were processed through ACR 7 with both sharpening and noise reduction set to 0. The converted raw files were then sharpened in Photoshop with our standard USM settings of Amount 100%, Radius .06 and Threshold 0.

D800E @ f/4.5 ACR 7 100% crop D800 @ f/4.5 ACR 7 100% crop
D800E @ f/16 ACR 7 100% crop D800 @ f/16 ACR 7 100% crop
D800E @ f/4.5 ACR 7 100% crop D800 @ f/4.5 ACR 7 100% crop
D800E @ f/16 ACR 7 100% crop D800 @ f/16 ACR 7 100% crop

These crops are taken from very small areas of the scene (indicated in red) and it's clear that both cameras deliver outstanding detail resolution. At an optimal lens aperture, the D800E can indeed render fine detail - like the chain link fencing shown above - that turns to mush in the D800. Note though that when looking at buildings and foliage across the lake - shown in the second set of crops - the difference between the two cameras becomes a bit more subtle. The D800E file does show marginally more crisp edge detail. Yet as you can see from the balcony railings towards the top of the lower set of crops, color moiré is more pronounced, a side effect of the D800E's 'cancelation' of the AA filter.

When you stop down the lens to a very small aperture, however, all meaningful advantages of the D800E essentially disappear, as you can see in the f/16 examples above. This diffraction-induced softness also minimizes the color moiré in both the D800 and D800E. You'd be hard pressed to choose one file over the other.

It's also important to note that even the more pronounced differences you see above in the 100% views are minimized once you put ink onto paper. You can make satisfyingly detailed large prints from either camera's files. In side by side print comparisons, we found that that discerning an improvement in D800E output over the stock D800 required examining 20 x 30 inch prints at very close viewing distances. In fact, when holding those same prints at arm's length, the differences were all but impossible to detect. Safe to say that if you're deciding between these two camera versions with an eye towards print output, you'd need to be producing very large prints or do significant cropping to gain much practical benefit to the D800E's increased resolving capabilities.


With such small differences in output between the two cameras, the obvious question is whether you can close the gap simply by applying additional sharpening to the D800 file. Below, we're comparing two sets of crops from the D800 and D800E where we've applied an additional round of sharpening to the D800 to try and achieve a perceptual match with the D800E results shown above.

D800E @ f/4.5 with no additional sharpening D800 @ f/4.5 with additional Photoshop USM: Amount 250%, Radius 0.3, Threshold 0
D800E @ f/4.5 with no additional sharpening D800 @ f/4.5 with additional Photoshop USM: Amount 250%, Radius 0.3, Threshold 0

The first crop shows a low contrast scene area and the D800 can easily handle a more aggressive sharpening adjustment on top of what we've applied originally. In the following crop from a higher contrast background area - with strong diagonal lines - you can just begin to some edge halos and slightly more pronounced stairstepping; two characteristic signs of oversharpening. The artifacts are really very minor, though. And the result is D800 output that - for many users - will lack nothing in comparison to that of the D800E (at our original sharpening settings).

Of course, should you opt for the D800E, there's nothing to stop you from applying additional sharpening to its files. As you can see below, applying slightly less aggressive sharpening to the D800E (200% vs 250%) yields output that appears marginally more crisp than the D800 without incurring the stairstepping and edge halos we begin to see in the D800 file.

D800E @ f/4.5 with additional Photoshop USM: Amount 200%, Radius 0.3, Threshold 0 D800 @ f/4.5 with additional Photoshop USM: Amount 250%, Radius 0.3, Threshold 0

Simply put, with optimum sharpening applied to raw files from both cameras, the D800E still nudges ahead of the D800, albeit by a very narrow margin, and one that is arguably academic for normal everyday photography.

Comparison between Raw converters

Although we use ACR for the bulk of the raw file conversions in our reviews, there are a variety of professional level options, each with their devoted users. Below we take a look at a single D800E file as processed via ACR 7, Nikon's Capture NX 2, Capture One Pro 6 and DxO Optics Pro 7, all at their default settings.
D800E ACR 7 default settings D800E Capture NX 2 default settings
D800E Capture One Pro 6 default settings D800E DxO Optics Pro 7 default settings

As you can see in the 100% crops above, the default settings of Capture One Pro yield noticeably crisper edge detail, without producing obvious sharpening artifacts. It should also be noted that while Capture One Pro and Nikon's Capture NX 2 each offer color moiré removal tools, we've generally found more success on the D800E's files using Capture NX 2, which managed the task of removing false color with far less de-saturation of similar colors in other areas of the scene.

Note that Nikon is bundling its Capture NX 2 software with the D800E in some, but unfortunately not all, regions. Buyers in the UK can expect a free version, for example, while those in the US must pay separately for the software.

Of course, we encourage you to experiment with raw converters of your choosing. Use the links below to download the raw files from each camera and draw your own conclusions.

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I own it
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I own it
I want it
I had it
Discuss in the forums


Total comments: 18

This is a great camera. However, one concern that many reviewers voice is the 4fps continuous shooting rate. Is there any way to improve this in FX mode? For example, can the user shoot at a lower resolution (i.e. ~24MP) in FX mode to achieve a greater continuous shooting rate?

1 upvote

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.


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.


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.


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

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

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

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.


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


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.


sound interesting -> i will test that too :)

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

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

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

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.

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:



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...

sebastian huvenaars

Funny, soap bars tend to follow the shape of your hands over time... Aesthetics vs ergonomics.

(i do like the look of straight lines better by the way)

Total comments: 18