D800 V. D800E:
JPEG Resolution Compared

For obvious reasons our focus when comparing the D800 to the D800E has mainly been on their raw output, but naturally, this isn't the whole story. If the D800E can give significantly better JPEG sharpness than the D800, this might be enough to sway some photographers towards investing in the more expensive model. Better JPEGs means less need to shoot in Raw mode for casual photographers, and better quality out-of-camera proofs for professionals.

Urban Landscape (50mm f/1.4G @f/4.5)

D800E JPEG (default settings) D800 JPEG (default settings)
D800E JPEG (default settings) D800 JPEG (default settings)

In this example the difference between the D800's default JPEG output and the D800E is very clear. Not just better sharpness, but noticeably more actual detail in some areas of the scene. The D800E's JPEG rendition here is impressively close to its Raw output, whereas the D800 is slightly hazy, and low-contrast detail rather mushy in comparison.

Still Life (85mm f/1.8G @f/5.6)

D800E JPEG (default settings) D800 JPEG (default settings)

It's the same story with our still life scene. The D800's JPEG output is very good, but the D800E betters it both in terms of the amount of detail that is delivered, and the sharpness of this detail as it appears in the image. This difference might be enough to make the D800E a more attractive proposition to a studio photographer who wants to send quick JPEG proofs to clients.

Portrait (85mm f/1.8G @f/4)

D800E JPEG (default settings) D800 JPEG (default settings)

Portraits contain a different kind of detail to landscapes, and the difference between the appearance of these two images is more subtle, but it's still there on close inspection. Arguably, for this kind of subject, it matters less, since too much detail can be unflattering.

Equipment and methodology

If your goal is to wring every last ounce of resolution out of the D800E (or the D800), you'll want to take every precaution to prevent any sort of ambient or camera-created vibration from affecting image detail. On a decent tripod with mirror lockup used along with the camera's exposure delay option, we actually encountered a very small amount of image-softening vibration at shutter speeds ranging from approximately 1/10 to 1/30 sec in the controlled environment of our studio. At higher shutter speeds the problem disappeared, and the same thing happened at longer shutter speeds (where the duration of the shutter movement is such a small portion of the total exposure that it is effectively cancelled out). While unnoticeable in 'real world' shooting at long-ish subject distances, this very slight softening effect was noticeable when capturing our studio scenes and charts.

Most professional tripods provide a hook from which to hang weights, for extra stability, and when we hung a couple of kilos onto the base of our tripod - a precaution that will be second-nature to many landscape and macro photographers - the problem was effectively eliminated. Even with the tripod unweighted, the issue really is very minor, but for those chasing down the last 1% of image quality, it pays to be very meticulous in this regard. Another reminder that medium format resolution requires medium format technique.