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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 the Nikon 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.


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.


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.


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.

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


Total comments: 17

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...

Total comments: 17