AustralianLight - Landscape Imagery

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Nikon D800E - Amazing Resolution ...but "Houston, We Have A Problem!"

Bernie's Nikon D800E has finally arrived and I have to say that the resolution & detail from this 36mp monster sensor is quite amazing!

That said, it didn't take long for us to strike a problem.

As the megapixel numbers grow on a camera's sensor, so does the amount of detail that the sensor can render. This puts more and more strain on the lenses to perform, as they need the resolving power to at least match what the sensor can record.

So in a nutshell, the D800E needs a darn good lens to make good use of it's mighty sensor.

In our first sample images using the Nikon 50mm 1.4, you can see the amazing amount of detail rendered, as the rivets on the Story Bridge are clearly visible.

Full Frame:

D800E full frame


100% Crops:

Nikon D800E crop


Nikon D800E crop


In this second series of sample images we show the Nikon 24mm PC-E Tilt / Shift Lens.  This lens has always been a stellar performer for Bernie and many of his panoramic images have been made with this while using it's shift functions.

Full Frame (Unshifted):

Nikon D800E full frame 24mm PC-E


Middle of Frame 100%:

Nikon D800E crop

Edge of Frame 100%:

Nikon D800E 24mm PC-E edge


As you can see from this edge of frame image, this lens no longer performs to a standard suitable for our AustralianLight prints.

Now we must remember that this is an "unshifted" image, the lens has been left in it's neutral shift position and we are looking at where it should perform at it's very best…. sadly, any shifting of the lens from this point will only make matters worse.

Now before anyone starts telling us that we have a dud lens…. This lens has performed BRILLIANTLY on the D3 for quite some time. We have also made comparisons with other tests that are starting to emerge online and these confirm that not just the 24PC-E struggles, but almost all wide angle lenses struggle on the D800/D800E cameras.

So where does this leave Bernie, is the D800E about as much use as a brick for recording landscapes?

Well… quite frankly without the right lens, yes!   Thankfully however, Zeiss have the wonderful 21mm Distagon, a lens well known for it's amazing resolving power and Bernie's new toy is now sporting a shiny new lens as well.

Having only just been taken out of the box, I have no samples to show you from this lens at the moment, but Bernie will be shooting some over the next couple of days for us and they will be posted here just as soon as they can.

Conclusion:  The D800/D800E is a mighty achievement for Nikon, as it boasts an incredible, mega detail resolving sensor that is capable of providing results normally the domain of much more expensive Large Format digital…. but perhaps the release of this camera was a little premature from Nikon? For without the lens system to back it up, this camera may well become an expensive paperweight for those who like to shoot wide angle and then print big.

My recommendation is to try this camera with your own lenses before you buy (ask very nicely at your local camera store) and be prepared for the extra cost of some new lenses if your current ones are no longer up to the task.




Follow Up: OK so I have copped some flack since posting this and there are those who argue "there will always be more resolution from the D800" and that "reducing the D800 image down to D3 image size will yield the same result as if originally shot on the D3"..... Well that may be so, but it seems to me that there is more than just pure resolution at play in this case, as our test shots reduced to D3 image size still show a degradation in image quality in the outer edges of the frame.

Perhaps micro-contrast and the resulting apparent detail is being effected by the 'airy disk - pixel size' ratio, perhaps Nikon's new micro-lens array is not all that efficient with wide angle lenses..... who knows?

To be honest I don't really care what is going on! All I want is the best possible image quality that this camera can produce and then to print images at the largest possible size for our gallery. For AustralianLight's purpose at least, it seems that the Zeiss gets much much closer to this than the PC-E can.


Follow Up #2: It seems the AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G is proving to be worth a look, as the subscription site has presented some rather good examples, it is however a more expensive option than the Zeiss.  


Follow Up #3: Rob Galbraith now has a D800 v's D800E Comparison online and provides a downloadable full-res sample from the AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED This sample shows that it clearly out performs our 24PC-E's not quite as good as the 21mm Distagon at the outer edges IMO, but looks like it does not suffer from moustache distortion, so we will be giving this lens a very close look in the near furture.

Unfortunately, Rob has not provided a full-res sample from the AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, even though it was used in the comparison.


Note: Full size sample images (both RAW NEF and JPG) will be made available for download soon.  I am sure many of you will have questions, so please feel free to chat with us via our Facebook page


See also: D800E Shadows - How far can they be pulled?

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