D800E and D800 Raw Resolution Compared

The D800E can resolve a lot more of our studio resolution chart than any other camera of its type that we've ever tested. But we said the same thing about the stock D800 when we first published this review. How much of a difference is there between them?

Effects of lens aberrations and diffraction

To get the absolute best resolution, naturally you need to shoot within your lens's optimal aperture range. At large apertures, lens aberrations will limit resolution, while diffraction will have a similar effect as you stop down. What this means is that, while the D800E will in principle always offer higher resolution than the D800, the difference may not always be huge in practice.

Here, we're showing these effects by shooting our resolution chart with the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G lens at a range of apertures, and comparing results from the D800 and D800E side-by-side. We know from our testing of this lens that it is sharpest in the center around f/4-4.5.

The following 100% crops are made from unsharpened Raw files, to give a better idea of the camera's sensor output. The lowermost crops show you the area of the resolution chart that we're looking at, but we've kept the rest of the crops small enough to allow convenient comparison.

D800E Raw (unsharpened) D800 Raw (unsharpened)
F2.8 Raw 100% crop F2.8 Raw 100% crop
F4 Raw 100% crop F4 Raw 100% crop
F5.6 Raw 100% crop F5.6 Raw 100% crop
F8 Raw 100% crop F8 Raw 100% crop
F11 Raw 100% crop F11 Raw 100% crop
F16 Raw 100% crop F16 Raw 100% crop

At F2.8, the slight blurring from lens aberrations is sufficient to narrow the gap between the D800 and D800E to the point you'd probably not be able to see any real difference in normal shooting. It's only at the lens's very sharpest apertures, i.e. F4 - F5.6, that the difference between the D800 and D800E is really pronounced. The latter gives clearly higher contrast, but at the expense of the more-prominent moiré that we noted earlier.

However the gap narrows again even at F8, with slight diffraction blurring reducing both the contrast and the false colour of the D800E's image. At F11 - scarcely an unrealistic aperture to use with full frame, indeed one many landscape photographers may well use a lot of the time - the D800E shows just marginally higher contrast, and by F16 diffraction blurring has become sufficiently pronounced that there's scarcely any visible difference between the two cameras at all.

Naturally, any other form of blur will have a similar effect, be it from camera shake, subject motion, misfocusing, or even atmospheric effects in long-distance shots. So the overall message is that the while D800E can indeed provide higher resolution than the D800 (although with the risk of accompanying false colour), you'll only obtain this across a specific aperture range, and (of course) when using impeccable technique. In the following pages we'll explore what this means with real-world examples.