D800 v. D800E: Real world comparisons (continued)

Studio portrait

In the samples below we're comparing 100% crops from D800 and D800E raw files processed through ACR 7. The raw files were edited to taste with identical brightness and contrast settings applied to each. Both cameras were shot with off-camera flash using theNikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G lens at an aperture of f/4.

In ACR 7, both sharpening and noise reduction were set to 0, with Exposure set to +.05, the Whites slider at 40 and Blacks moved to 10. The files were then sharpened in Photoshop with our standard USM settings of Amount 100%, Radius 0.6, Threshold 0.

D800E ACR 7 custom settings 100% crop
ISO 100, f/4 at 1/200 sec.
D800 ACR 7 custom settings 100% crop
ISO 100, f/4 at 1/200 sec.

In the 100% crops above, you can see that edge detail is slightly more 'crisp' in the D800E. It's hard to argue that the D800E is providing more actual detail - the D800's resolution is very impressive in its own right - but edges are a bit more clearly defined in the D800E. You can also see, however, the presence of color artifacts in the D800E that are either absent or significantly reduced in the D800.

Below, you can download the raw files from each camera and make your own comparisons between the camera files using your raw converter of choice.

Studio still life

Below, we photographed the same scene with studio flash heads using both the D800 and D800E with the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G lens at a range of apertures. The raw files were processed in ACR 7 with both sharpening and noise reduction set to 0 and a very slight white balance adjustment to match output between all exposures. All other ACR settings were at their default values.

The converted raw files were sharpened in Photoshop with our standard USM settings of Amount 100%, Radius .06 and Threshold 0.

D800E @ f/5.6 ACR 7 100% crops D800 @ f/5.6 ACR 7 100% crops

As you can see in the cropped areas (indicated in red in the full scene image above), the differences in output between the two cameras at an optimal aperture are small, but there to be distinguished on close examination. The D800E renders fine detail that appears mushy on the stock D800. We want to stress again, however, that the D800 is a stellar performer in its own right; it 'suffers' only in side by side comparison to the D800E. And don't lose sight of the fact that here we're literally looking at extremely 'granular' detail in the form of actual grains of sand.

When photographing a scene like this one, it's important to acknowledge that expanding depth of field may easily take precedence over pixel-level sharpness along the plane of focus. And once you use smaller apertures to bring more of the scene into focus, the differences between the two cameras shrink even further. Below you can see crops taken at apertures of f/8, f/11 and f/16; familiar apertures for many studio and macro photographers.

D800E @ f/8 ACR 7 100% crop D800 @ f/8 ACR 7 100% crop
D800E @ f/11 ACR 7 100% crop D800 @ f/11 ACR 7 100% crop
D800E @ f/16 ACR 7 100% crop D800 @ f/16 ACR 7 100% crop

As you can see in the crops above, by f/11 the advantages of the D800E at f/5.6 are largely negated, due to the effect of diffraction on pixel-level sharpness. The output from both cameras can be made to look sharper than this with Unsharp Mask, but the point is that by f/11 and f/16 the D800E simply does not offer a meaningful resolution increase over the D800.

But don't simply take our word for it. Use the links below to download the raw files from both cameras and draw your own conclusions.

Moiré

With the D800E, Nikon has, in their words, 'cancelled' the effect of the optical low pass filter - commonly referred to as an anti-aliasing, or AA filter - for the sake of increased image detail. In theory, this carries the risk of producing moiré and false colors in finely detailed repeating patterns; a real concern for product photographers. What the D800E has working in its favor, however, is the high pixel density resulting from fitting 36MP within the surface area of a 35mm-sized sensor. This means that a moiré-inducing pattern has to be much finer that you'd typically come across in many fabrics.

Fabric

In the example below, we photographed a jacket - with flash - that has a series of repeating patterns on the exterior and a very fine weave fabric lining. This is the sort of jacket that you wouldn't be allowed to wear in front of a TV camera for fear of moiré in the footage, but the D800 and D800E's resolution is so high that from a shooting distance of roughly 11 feet, using an 85mm lens, moiré is visible only in the extremely fine weave of the jacket lining.

Even this small amount of moiré disappeared when we moved the camera a foot or two closer or further away from the subject. To provoke the appearance of moiré in the exterior fabric of the jacket itself, we had to photograph it from a distance of more than 25 feet with an 85mm lens, at which point it was very small in the scene.

85mm, f/8, 1/200sec, ISO 400 (subject-to-camera distance 11 feet)
D800E ACR default sharpening 100% crop D800 ACR default sharpening 100% crop
D800E Capture NX 2 Color Moiré reduction set to High, 100% crop D800 Capture NX 2 Color Moiré reduction set to Medium, 100% crop

Interestingly, the D800 appears to be using a relatively light AA filter to begin with. As you can see above, instances of moiré in the D800E are also present - to an admittedly lesser degree - in the D800. Based on our experiences we wouldn't expect the D800E to pose insurmountable obstacles for many types of studio photography (after all, if you should encounter moire in a controlled shooting situation, simply moving your camera or subject slightly might completely eliminate the effect).

Nikon's Capture NX 2 raw processing software offers a color moiré reduction tool that is largely effective at minimizing false colors and moiré patterns, as you can see in the samples above. This reduction, however, does come at the expense of a slight but noticeable loss of color saturation when the tool is used at its most aggressive setting, 'High' which we had to use to treat the D800E image above.

Landscape

In our daily shooting with the D800E, we found instances of moiré-induced false colors to be very few and far between for still images. And in most instances where it is present at all, you have to really look to find it. Every now and then, though, we were surprised by its appearance in scenes where we wouldn't normally expect moiré to be a problem. This landscape scene does not contain any elements which immediately stand out as 'high-risk' for moiré, but close inspection reveals false colors in the fine ripples of the water. Here, we're showing you two images - the out-of-camera JPEG, which was deliberately underexposed slightly to preserve highlight detail - and a typical 'processed' Raw file, with (minimal) custom exposure, noise reduction and sharpening applied.

40mm, f/5.6, 1/1600sec, ISO 800
D800E JPEG 100% crop - Center D800E RAW (adjusted) 100% crop - Center
D800E JPEG 100% crop - Left edge D800E RAW (adjusted) 100% - Left edge

This scene, however, is one of literally only a handful out of many hundreds of 'real world' photographs that we've shot where moiré might be genuinely problematic (and other shots taken in this exact same spot, when the water fell in different patterns, are effectively moiré free). Overall, we wouldn't consider the risk of moiré to be a significant criteria in choosing between either camera.

In our time spent shooting video with both cameras though, we have found moiré to be significantly more prevalent than it is with still images. This was not unexpected, and is a notorious side-effect of DSLR video caused in part by how the sensor output is downsampled and also by the fact that the anti-aliasing filters of DSLRs are optimized for full-resolution still capture, not low-resolution video. Here, though, the D800 and D800E perform all-but identically in terms of the amount of moiré visible in the final footage.