Nikon D300 versus Nikon D800

Started Jun 21, 2012 | Discussions thread
Zlik Contributing Member • Posts: 990
Re: Nikon D300 versus Nikon D800

jfriend00 wrote:

The D800 has the following advantages over the D300:

1. More MP
2. Lower noise
3. Higher DR
4. Next generation AF
5. Narrower DOF at same settings

The question then becomes what type of images do these advantages give you noticeably better IQ? Let's take them one at a time:

More MP

This will most clearly help you when you print large and examine the large print up close. We all know that 12MP cameras can produce stellar results at 11x14 and in many cases even larger than that. So, clearly you have to be printing quite large for the MP to give you a clear advantage.

More MP also help you if you have to crop significantly. If the reason you're cropping significantly is because the FX D800 doesn't have enough reach, then this isn't so much of an advantage because you may not have to crop at all on the D300 for that same image. The D800 at DX crop has marginally more pixels than the D300, but not enough of a difference to make much of a difference in IQ.

The other claimed advantage of more MP is that, even when downsized to a smaller print or smaller web size, an image that was originally recorded with more MP can produce clearer edges and edge detail. I can imagine how this might be technically true, but I haven't seen any conclusive side-by-side evidence to show that it is a noticeable difference.

Lower Noise

Because the larger FX sensor collects more light at a given camera setting, an FX camera always has a better signal-to-noise ratio than a DX camera and thus delivers lower noise. The larger MP count also allows for smaller noise artifacts that are less visible in the final output.

We all know this can be visible in conditions of high ISO or shadows that are recovered/pushed in post (e.g. underexposed portions of the image that are pushed). But, it's usually not visible around base ISO.

Excellent post but I would like to add one more thing: the D800 has lower noise even in DX, because of the newer technology. I did a comparison yesterday between 6 cameras (D60, D90 (same sensor as D300), D3200, D5100 (same sensor as D7000), D5200 (same sensor as D7100 with OLPF?) and D800 in DX mode). I will post my findings as soon as I have time.

Higher DR

If the scene has a DR that exceeds what the sensor can record (not uncommon in any image that has both bright sun and shadows), then you will either get blown highlights or underexposed shadows. In an uncorrected image in post, some detail at the extremes will not be as visible as the eye can discern. If the exposure is done carefully the image can be somewhat improved in post, but this usually results in a loss of detail and/or color in the rescued shadows.

A camera with the capability of recording a higher DR has fewer issues recording these high DR scenes.

Next generation AF

This is a little harder to quantify. Nikon now claims that they can still do AF at f/8 which allows the use of some TCs with lenses that couldn't formerly do reliable AF. This is an advantage in some circumstances.

It's also likely that the performance of tracking of dynamic/moving objects has been improved (this usually happens from one generation to the next), but I haven't seen any hard data on this. If this is the case, it would only apply in certain dynamic/tracking focus circumstances (like action sports) and would probably mostly make a measurable difference in more difficult circumstances.

Narrower DOF

This is a generic FX vs. DX issue. Sometimes a narrower DOF is an advantage, sometimes not. It depends upon the circumstances of the composition.

So, there are certainly a lot of circumstances where a D800 might have advantages in producing a better image than a D300. But, it really depends upon the circumstances. There are also lots of situations where you probably won't be able to tell a difference.

And, the D300 is not without some of its own advantages:

1. Significantly less expensive.
2. 8fps with grip vs. 4-5fps
3. Lighter
4. More DOF

Not true because you can always stop down more on FX. And stopping down + rising ISO will almost produce the same image (depending on sensor efficiency). In that case, the D800 would actually win: D800 + 50mm at f/14 and ISO 6400 at 1/60 (extreme example of limited light photography) will produce a better result than D300 + 35mm at f/9 and ISO 2500 at 1/60. And if shutter speed is not a constraint (tripod, daylight, ...) then the D800 will win by a even bigger margin (D800 at F/14 and ISO 100 will destroy the D300 at F/9 and ISO 200).

5. More viewfinder reach

And, yes there are some circumstances where these can help you produce a better image. For those with limited funds, having $1200 more to spend on quality glass could be a very meaningful IQ benefit.

So, bottom line, there are many, many images that when viewed at normal sizes will show very little if any visible difference between a D800 and D300. And, in fact, this is most of what we shoot. But, there are other circumstances where the newer camera can produce better images. If one was purchasing a D800 expecting that it would make every image better, then you will be disappointed because that's unlikely to be true. But, if you know when the advantages will make a difference or you regularly print very large, then you will be able to find some images that show the improvements.

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