Nikon D800 review update: daylight shooting

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On reflection. D800, Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon

As promised, here’s an update to the Nikon D800 first impressions review I posted last night. I’ve now had the chance to shoot with the camera for several hours under bright daylight conditions (read: no problems with running out of light, base ISO and nice high shutter speeds) and want to share some more images, impressions and report back on a couple of things.

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Are you my mother? D800, 28-300VR

Firstly, I think I need to clarify a few points that have repeatedly come up on both the forums and in the comments to the first part of the review.

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Out of place. D800, Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon

1. AF is not as fast as the D4, nor do we expect it to be.
The difference is similar to that between the D700 and D3 – probably down to battery voltage and the current available to drive the lens motor. It seems subjectively the same as the D700 under very low light conditions – specifically, speed and tracking ability. However, I was using an 85/1.4 G wide open to see if the camera could track moving objects with it – the answer is, hit and miss. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I suspect the actual AF module performance is no worse than the D700, but with the increased pixel density of the D800, the demands on focus accuracy just got a lot higher – and that’s the shortfall we’re seeing here.

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Distorted reality. D800, 28-300VR

2. Noise.
People seem to get angry and anxious when I say it isn’t as good as the D700 at the pixel level – I don’t know how it could be, the photosites occupy half the area! (Probably less, once you take into account the additional power and read circuitry required to run the sensor.) HOWEVER, if you downsize to 12MP to match the D700 (or print both at the same size) – the D800 is better, markedly so. I’d put it a stop ahead for noise, and there’s of course the extra detail.

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Not used to being the little one. D800, 28-300VR

3. A lot of people have said the images are noisy. Yes, they are at the pixel level, but remember a) mixed light sources; b) I run zero noise reduction and sharpen fairly aggressively – I much prefer grain to smearing and indistinct edges; c) this is a worst-case scenario, overall.

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Virtual continuation in reflection. D800, 28-300VR

4. Usability and ‘demandingness’.
To achieve the same PIXEL LEVEL quality as the D700, you’re going to have to up your game. And the camera itself cannot deliver the same level of quality at the individual pixel level (think 100% enlargement on screen) because the pixels themselves are smaller. Those are laws of physics. In reality, this means shooting at one stop lower ISO, and taking care with camera shake. If you’re just talking about the overall appearance of a print at a given size, see #2.

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Man-mountain to capitalism. D800, 28-300VR

With that settled, let’s move on to the update part of the review. This is to address performance of the camera under bright daylight, i.e. close to optimal conditions.

AF, under daylight
Focusing is snappy, positive, and noticeably faster than the D700. I was testing the AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR today – not known for being a snappy lens – but nevertheless, the picture was in focus before I expected it to be. I often re-focused again, because I wasn’t sure it had locked – subsequent testing revealed it always had. AF-C mode is best described as being a little bit skittish – you can hear the AF motor chattering away as it tries to keep the lens elements in optimum position. Whether this is because of the new AF system, the interaction between the camera and the lens or something else, I don’t know. Tracking moving subjects – in this case motorbikes coming towards the camera – was no problem at any focal length using the 28-300VR. I’m certain performance would be better if a lens with a faster motor was used.

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Untitled. D800, 28-300VR

Resolution
In short: at base ISO and sufficiently high shutter speeds that camera shake isn’t a concern, there’s more resolution here than you can shake a stick at, even with decidedly ordinary lenses: even the 28-300VR delivers pretty amazing levels of detail. With the Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon, it’s on par with the entry level medium format systems. Retouchers, beware. This thing is going to produce files that take two or three times as long to fix as previous cameras, simply because there’s so much more information here. I would honestly recommend NOT getting the D800E if you’re shooting portraits, because it’s going to produce downright unflattering results for anybody without absolutely perfect skin or makeup. Bottom line: the D800 delivers what you’d expect it to, and in a most impressive way. The anti-aliasing filter in the regular D800 is evidently very weak; fine detail remains well resolved, but simultaneously it’s just strong enough to prevent moire. I haven’t seen any evidence of it in the ~2000 images I’ve shot so far, even in fine repeating textures (which you’ve be surprised by how many of them there are when you have this much resolving power).

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Porthole-barnacles. D800, 28-300VR

Some more resolution examples:

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Work in progress. D800, 28-300VR

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100% crop of above

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Morning skyscrapers. D800, Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon

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100% crop of above

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The much-maligned pump room. D800, Zeiss ZF.2 2/28 Distagon

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100% crop of above

Dynamic range
Nikon’s claims about more dynamic range than the D700 are true, but must be accompanied with a caveat. I’m finding that while there was a lot of recoverable headroom in D700 files, there isn’t so much in the D800 – however, there’s more useable shadow detail and less noise. Subjectively, I think we’ve lost 1 stop in the highlights and gained around 2 in the shadows; this at base ISO. You could probably pull a bit more out of it with judicious use of the right sliders in your raw converter, but then color accuracy starts to wane. At higher ISOs, color accuracy in the shadows is a bit suspect and heavily influenced by the ambient light source.

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Urban dynamic range torture test canyon. D800, 28-300VR

White balance, color and tonality
The D800 seems to deliver the same general white balance as the D700, but with a slightly different tonal response. I can’t put my finger on exactly how it’s different, but the files are quite reminiscent of the Leica M9’s output – my color profiles for that camera actually deliver better results during conversion than the D700’s profiles. I can only put it down to new sensor architecture, or perhaps a change in the filter pack in front of the sensor. It’s definitely more pleasing, that’s for sure. Note that I’m talking about RAW file output converted via ACR for both cameras, which removes any manufacturer-specific processing.

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Untitled. D800, 28-300VR

The other crop modes
I’m actually finding these surprisingly useful. The 15+MP file you get from the smallest DX crop is still a serious amount of resolution. On a personal note, I’m also starting to like 5:4 a lot. 3:2 is increasingly feeling like no-mans’-land between 16:9 and square for me.

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Verticals. D800, 28-300VR

Battery life
Seems even better than yesterday after a full charge and cycle – I shot 500 frames today, and at the end was only down by 20% – again with heavy LCD use and mucking around in the menus. I was also using a VR lens, which wasn’t the case yesterday. That means an estimated 2,500 shots per charge – on par with my D3, as far as I recall. I don’t know what Nikon have done with power consumption, but it’s impressive. I don’t think I need to buy that third battery anymore.

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Voluntarily caged people. D800, 28-300VR

Commentary on the AFS 28-300/3.5-5.6 VR
This lens has been a bit of a mixed bag for me in the past – it’s so-so on the D700, good at some focal lengths (the longer end) and downright unusable at 28mm until you hit f5.6 or preferably f8. Oddly, it did pretty well on my D5100; enough that I’d actually use it. On the D800, it’s a big, big surprise. The midrange is excellent at f5.6 and outstanding at f8 – we’re talking about 35-200mm or so here; the ends are slightly less good, with the 28mm lagging slightly behind the midrange (but useable wide open, if slightly hazy due to flare) and the 300mm end being just okay to good. Still, it’s a surprise given the resolution of the sensor. I didn’t think the lens was capable of resolving this well. Don’t get too excited though, while it delivers excellent macro contrast, micro contrast structure lags far behind the Nikon primes, let alone the Zeiss primes. Look out for a full review of this lens in the near future.

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Chevrons. D800, 28-300VR

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And a 100% crop of the above – can you say ‘detail’?

The shutter mechanism
Although it’s a bit more hollow-sounding than the D700, and frankly I was a little disappointed it wasn’t as smooth and well-damped as the D7000, it’s got one other trick up its sleeve: low vibration. Again, subjectively because I have no way of testing this, the D800’s shutter and mirror mechanism has a lot less recoil than the D700 – this is very, very, very important because it helps us reduce camera shake. Bravo.

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The glass ceiling. D800, 28-300VR

Intermediate conclusion
Initially, I thought I’d shoot this camera at full size raw and then reduce by 50% to 18MP; not so. Instead, I’m processing at full resolution but forcing myself to be more selective about the keepers. I guess it’s a rare example of a camera actually driving you to be a better photographer – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I still need to go out to buy more hard drives, though. MT

Look out for more updates and images over the coming days and weeks. I’ll be shooting some studio assignments this week and next week, so I’ll report back after on how the camera performed. I’ll also try to make some video with it in the near future.

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Keep on smilin’. D800, 28-300VR

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Comments

  1. jlmphotography says:

    Excellent Review! Thank you. I own both the D700, and the D800. I do believe the D800 has more noise at the same ISO’s as the D700. I won’t downside my images so at this point, until I do further testing once Nikon sends my focus handicapped D800 back and I can run further test, I use my D700 for hand held, and high-iso work, and the D800 for base iso, or a tad higher, for tripod work — same that I do (did) with my Mamiya 645AFD. I don’t think in all the years I owned it that I shot the Mamiya handheld more than a handful of times.
    Thanks for the review.

    • On a pixel-level basis, yes. For the whole image, if printed at a given size, no. Treat the D800 like a medium format camera and the results are spectacular.

  2. Ming, you are truly a brilliant photographer! May I ask you a question that has been gnawing at my brain for months and months! Your watch and food closeups are unique because it makes me want to buy the watch and I start salivating when I see the delicious food. But you typically use a Nikon 60mm macro instead of the more heralded Nikon 105 VR macro. May I ask why? Is the 60mm sharper?? Thanks, Mike

    • Thanks Mike. The 60mm makes it easier to get more magnification with extension tubes (for a given length of extension; magnification is related to the focal length and amount of helicoid – shorter focal lengths get more magnification for a given amount of helicoid.) I used the 105 for a while but found that it had very pronounced spherochromatism.

      • OC Mike says:

        Wow! You are the Chinese Ken Rockwell. Thanks. There are many words that each webmaster writes for his audience but there’s just a few from each that stick in my brain. You have so thoroughly thought out the resultant photograph that your end product exceeds reality. These super perfect photographs of yours almost deserve their own photographic term just as the word invented for out-of-focus-background is “bokeh.” A word needs to be similarly invented to describe a technique of photographic capture that is hyper-perfect: like “Ming-reality.” :-)

  3. OC Mike says:

    Ming, Superb review! Can you possibly expand to include things important to me: highlights, shadows, portraits & colors??? Thanks for your great reviews.

    • Thanks. I think I touch on some of these in the earlier portion. I was planning to do this in the final long-term review but I’m still waiting for an AF solution for the D800E…it’s still not quite right with left side points yet.

  4. Mats Eriksson says:

    Hello again, thanks for your answer.
    I wonder what is the best camera if i want to have good pictures
    Directly from the camera?
    I like to take a picture that works without spending a lot of time on the computer.
    Some time i like to use photoshop or light room, but not on every picture.
    The best photos for me are the ones that i can use directly without sharpening or other corrections.

  5. Mats Eriksson says:

    Hi, i realy like your rewiev of d800.
    I have an d200 and im shooting a lot of pictures of dogs, in the forest and indoors.
    Do you think the d800 is the best next step for me?
    I dont like to use the flash, and i dont need super fast framerate.
    Do you think i should uppgrade to D800 or d700?
    Thanks
    Mats

    • Thanks. Sounds like you’ve answered your own question: you need some forgiveness with DOF, and good low light performance. D700 would be the way to go for you.

  6. Hi Ming, just had a great read through your work on the D800. Very insightful information and thoroughly enjoyable photography.

    I’m in the unique position to be very close to Nikon Japan and that has given me access to pretty much all the cameras they have made now for the past 7 years and while the D3S is close to my heart, the time has come to stump up for my own camera again. I’m torn on the D800 and 28-300 bundle which, for all intents and purposes looks like a great place to get “back in” to the field with my own equipment. The main issue I have is that I shoot outdoor motorsport and automotive pretty much 24/7 for web and magazine work in all sorts of weather conditions and light levels. I’m just wondering what the D800 is really going to be like for a person like me who has those photographic prerequisites. The D7000 I had was poor in low light conditions and not fast enough where it needed to be and the D3S ( which was lent to me by Nikon for a couple of months ) was superb but I can’t afford the expense of the D3S or its bigger brother D4 and I want to go full frame. The D800 seems like a good compromise at a decent price.

    But… will it suit a motorsport and automotive photographer?

    I’d be totally keen to hear what you have to personally say on the matter.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks Adam. I think you’ll find the AF on the camera itself is probably fast enough, but you’ll be better served by a lens with faster aperture and faster AF. I have done motorsport with the 28-300VR and D700 before; wasn’t as problem in any light conditions. However, with the D800 I think you might find yourself shooting in DX crop mode for the extra frame rate and reach. At a pixel level, it’s somewhere between the D700 and D7000 at higher ISOs. I honestly don’t think it’s the right camera for motorsport (you’d be better served by a D700) but you could make it work, I suppose. A D700 would be cheaper too, which would give you some spare budget for perhaps a 300/4…

      • Thanks for the reply Ming. Much appreciated. It’s hard to get some good, down to earth, honest and insightful opinions from an eager and experienced professional at the best of times so please let me take this opportunity to pass on my regards in the matter.

        Can you suggest an alternative in these regards? It defeats the purpose of having the D800 if I’ll be shooting in DX format for the extra reach and I’d like to make the most of the camera. Of course in static photography, I don’t see an issue in any regard but for action photography I wonder if something like the D300S is a better choice. I’d ideally like to make the step up to a full frame sensor for many reasons but a balance needs to be struck somewhere. I’m looking at the 70-200 f:2.8 as a staple telephoto with something like the 17-55 or 24-70 for closer shots.

        Is the D800 hampered in such a way that resolution is such an issue? I mean, shooting at 12MP or even 15MP should not pose a problem in regards to frame rate would it? I am reading into it here that this camera isn’t for motor sport endeavors… so any compromise solutions are most welcome from you in response.

        In your opinion, ruling out the D3S and D4 of course, what is the next best body and lens choice? Keeping in mind that lenses of a palatable price are more important that the body itself..? The D700 is an excellent suggestion but if I had to stick with DX format due to budgetary issues…?

        • You’re welcome.

          If you’re considering a D800, why would the D700 be out due to price – it’s cheaper? For the price of a new D800, you could get a used D700 and D7000 and have the best of both worlds. Just a thought.

  7. Hi Ming, well done. I am especially pleased that you are getting great results with 28-300m VR as I have one and suspect that it will spend a lot of time on my soon to arrive D800. I believe is is not listed as a Nikon “approved” lens for the D800 and I do have lenses that are, but 28-300mm will do a good job too as you have proved. Thanks again.

    • The funny thing is that some of the ‘approved’ lenses I’m using aren’t that hot – the 24/1.4, for instance, leaves a lot to be desired in my book. The 85/1.4 is so-so until you hit f2 or 2.8 even. 60 AFS is okay, 24/3.5 PCE is stunning, in the brief time I’ve tried it. I’ve also ordered an 85 PCE, because diffraction kicks in pretty early withs the 60 AFS.

  8. Ming, fantastic review :) Really appreciate all that has gone into this and can’t wait to see all your follow ups, ESPECIALLY the lens comparisons. Please give up sleeping so you can finish sooner! ;) Regarding lenses, I’ve seen in the review that you mention the 28-300 is pretty impressive, but in the comment above you say reference “the 28-300VR, which isn’t exactly the best in the lineup” of zooms. I’m torn between replacing my Canon 24-105L with a 28-300 VR or what I think I prefer, the 24-120/4 VR. My main question would be, for sharpness sake for landscape use, do you think the 28-300 is professionally superb (printing larger than 24×36 here, want to take the file to the biggest print I can at times), with my concern really focused at the 28mm, 35mm, 70mm, 105mm, 200mm and 300mm focal lengths. My style of shooting doesn’t like primes and all that lens switching, and the 28-300 is historically WAY too big of a zoom to yield superb quality, let alone on a D800, although I don’t think the D800 sensor is that much more demanding than the previous current full frame sensors, it’s just that much better at capturing the resolution in 35mm lens designs since lenses already out-resolve sensors. Any chance you can link us to a full res jpeg or two of 28-300 VR landscapes or cityscapes? I’m almost bald I’m tearing hair out so much trying to make this decision. :)

    • That’s precisely the thing: the 28-300 isn’t the best zoom I’ve ever used (that would go to the 24-70) yet it somehow still does a stellar job on the D800 – witness the detail crops. I don’t have a 24-70 anymore, so I can’t comment if that will be better or not – I’d certainly hope so. If you’re okay shooting at f8 – either with flash or plenty of available light – you’ll be fine. There are 100% crops from the 28-300 in this post above. I don’t share complete full resolution files, sorry. (I don’t keep images that aren’t interesting enough to at least sell as prints or stock, and if I can do that, it certainly doesn’t make sense to distribute the source files!)

      Specifically for the 28-300 at the FLs you mentioned: 28mm – hazy at 3.5, good by 5.6, excellent at 8. 35mm is good at 4 (max, I think) and excellent at 5.6. Ditto 70 and 105mm. 200mm is okay at 5.6, excellent at 8. 300mm is so-so at 5.6, good by 11 (300mm is definitely not this lens’ strong point.). Haven’t used the 24-120/4, but I’d imagine it’d be better than the 28-300. Your main difference is going to be the amount of light captured by these two lenses – the 28-300 has a T stop more like 8, so it’s not exactly the best available light lens – and certainly not on a D800.

      • Thanks so much Ming, really grateful for your sharing your experience with us. That helps me choose as well, …sort of..lol…as I just can’t make up my mind…if the 24-120/4 VR was noticeably better in big prints, then I’d do that for sure, and I do want f4 (not need, but want) for possible interior shots like the occasional wedding on the side if I go down that road, and f4 for portraits at the 100-120mm end of the 24-120. Very helpful to know though that 28-200 is so useable at least for landscape and static shots. I may buy both lenses and test them side by side.

        NEW QUESTION: Any chance you’ll be reviewing the D800E as well? I’m torn on which to get, thinking the D800E will be the better choice for my needs, although the razored sharpness is a concern for portraits, as I don’t want to make a thirty year old’s face look like she has more texture than a peach. :) Have you printed any of your D800 shots by the way, off of a 44″ printer or anything in that range? Gotta believe they’d be stunning, especially B/W’s.

        • If I were you, I’d check the T stop of the 24-120 first – it’s probably more like 4.8 or 5.6 – certainly faster than the 28-300, at any rate. However, not enough to make a big difference indoors – go with fast primes and the 28-300 for when you have enough light. Has worked out well for me so far.

          Sadly, I don’t get given gear, so that means I’ve got to buy everything I review. I may add a D800E at some point if my commercial work justifies having a second one (no point in getting the D800 if I can have the non-AA option for not much more cost), but no immediate plans. I’m finding the limiting factor to resolution isn’t so much the AA filter as your lenses; so new glass comes first. Regular D800 is more than fine – more like overkill – for 99.95% of work.

          Haven’t made any prints larger than 18″ wide yet, but it looked almost like a large format contact print. Pretty stunning, and even at that size streets ahead of any small-format digital prints I’ve done to date.

  9. Ming – fantastic review, and I’m learning a lot from the comments and your responses.

    I have a D7000, which is a great camera, but was thinking of moving to full frame for better AT, high ISO, depth of field, etc. I was eagerly awaiting the D800, but now I’m not sure it’s the right tool for me based on your review and other things I’ve read. 99% of my images are portrait-based. Specifically, candids of adults, my newborn and 3 year toddler who never stands still. I have a basic, low-cost studio for my newborn photography, but the rest are candid photos indoor and out, with and without flash.

    Do you think the D800 is the right tool for my needs? Will I get better AF, high ISO/less noise and overall better IQ/results with the D800 over my D7000 for the type of photography I focus on?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Thank you. I think you’ll be better off with the D700.

      • Thanks for the quick response. Do you think the jump from D7000 to D700 is significant enough? I know the D700 is an awesome camera, just want to make sure it’s worth it rather than putting more money towards glass. Plus, I’m always hesitant about buying “older” technology.

        • It’s significant, but only if you shoot about ISO 800 a lot. That could also be corrected for if you buy faster glass :)

          The bigger difference is going to be in field of view and depth of field for a given angle of view.

  10. “On a personal note, I’m also starting to like 5:4 a lot. 3:2 is increasingly feeling like no-mans’-land between 16:9 and square for me.”
    Agreed!

  11. Henry Dinardo says:

    Ming have you read about the green color cast on the LCD monitor of the D800? I’m seeing the exact same thing as others are posting. The color is very strange. Is there a way to fix this? The image once displayed on the computer monitor has the same green cast. Also I have been using single point AF-C and my shots are much sharper. What do you use for moving subjects? Typically with the D3s I would use either 9 point or 21 point depending on the subject. I tried a few bird shots on the beach in good light with the 70-200 and had ISO 400 and plenty of shutter speed up to 1000 and most shots had motion blur.

    • That’s odd. My monitor on the D800 is definitely different to that of the D700, but I don’t have a green cast. No issues with color on my computer, either. Perhaps it could be a bad batch of LCDs or something?

      I usually use 3D tracking with 51 points on CAM3500 cameras, but I am finding now that single point AFC works much better – if you can keep the AF box on the subject, which is tricky. Not sure why you should be seeing motion blur at 1/1000s – however, I suspect it’s ‘VR bounce’ – try turning VR off and repeat. If your shutter speed is high enough (say 2x), I don’t recommend using VR because the stabilizer can’t move into position fast enough, and as a result you get motion blur not from camera or subject motion, but the stabilized lens element itself moving.

  12. Yikes! a really good review made by a really knowlegable and experienced photographer. How rare!
    You make me want to switch back to Nikon :::)))

    And I absolutely love the Chevrons picture – would you consider selling a copy of it? say 13 x 19?

  13. After a quick perusal of your site, I must commend you on your review style. Many sites just go with their usual still life setup and resolution chart, and if they actually do go out and take photos they’re typically just snapshots with no great forethought. Your images, however, tend to have a more thought out and styled approach. I would suggest one thing though, that when you review the dynamic range of a camera, you should really show more before-and-after image samples, because after all this is a photography site reviewing the image quality of a camera so more images displaying what you have in text would be nicer :).

    • Thanks Raymond! I write reviews from the perspective of things I would like to read as a professional user, not a chart-peeper. That of course requires using it under as close to proper working conditions as possible – studio work will be fulfilled soon. Thanks for the suggestions re. dynamic range – I think it may be a little tough to show before/ after, the best I can do is find a high contrast torture test like I did here. The raw files aren’t that instructive in and of themselves. Perhaps what you mean is show a basic zero-work raw file and then a fully tweaked one?

      • Yah that’s what I was going for, showing the original raw, then a processed finished image (finished as in showing the basics of the dynamic range – no need to get artistic unless you really want to :). As with most digital cameras, “shooting to the right” has been quite the norm, but you make it sound as if the D800 is contrary to the norm, so I was curious as to exactly how much highlight headroom was lost and how much was gained in the shadows. I was quite surprised to see how much more information was recoverable in the D700’s RAW files after my D300 upgrade, and almost nothing in the highlights (just barely over a stop – which gives rise to my curiosity of what you described about the D800). Years past, I read quite a bit about the D700’s image quality, but I really had no idea the extent of that range until I tried it for myself, and was something I thought was lacking in review sites. More specifically, it would be interesting to see how much detail would be recoverable from those nearly blown out areas of the buildings, and how noisy things get when you start dodging up the shadows. The DxO report showed a very high rating for dynamic range, and I can see some of that here, but not all of it :).

        • I’ll add it to the list of things to look at for the final review update. Quite busy with shooting right now.

          In short, though:

          D300: expose to the right, don’t go over. No recoverable color info, some luminance info – maybe half a stop. One and a half clean stops in the shadows, a bit more if you’re ok with noise – even at base ISO.

          D700: expose to the right, I routinely overexpose by one stop; you can get back around two stops in the highlights, and perhaps another two in the shadows at base ISO for a total of 12.5-13.

          D800: expose to the right, but you can get back a stop of luminance and color info in the highlights, maybe a stop and a half if you’re okay with a little hue shift. Two to three clean recoverable stops in the shadows (again, base ISO).

          My gut feel is that the D800 has more native DR than the D700, and about the same recoverable (through your raw converter) – just that it’s shifted a stop towards the shadow end.

  14. Mu McGregor says:

    Thank you for this early comprehensive review. My D800 is on order and I can hardly wait to get my hands on it. Kind regards, Mu

  15. victor,yewmeng says:

    Apa kapal Ming
    AS they say, I stumbled on your wonderful review , very actual . honest out of the gun. but the D700 is out of production any idea that some may be around in KL stores. Balek kampong in Jun for a month.
    Good work
    victor

  16. Jim Watkins says:

    Hi Ming,
    Earlier, I asked an question about your Zeiss 2/28, thanks for the reply. I have the 17-35 2.8 and the 24-70 2.8 and after reviewing a lot of my files I find that I shoot at the 24mm FL a lot. So now I am considering either the ZF.2 2/25 or the Nikkor 24G f/1.4 instead of the 28. What are your thoughts?

    If I buy the Zeiss, it would be my first MF lens, although I do shoot my 85D 1.4 and 300f/4 on manual in low light. Mostly I intend to shoot night markets, astrophotography, landscapes, temples (My wife and I have a 2nd home in Thailand) and street scenes with the 24/25.

    Thanks,
    Jim

    • On the D800, I’d have to go with the 2/25 because frankly, what I’ve seen out of my 24G so far is not encouraging at all – in fact, it’s downright awful compared to the 2/28. No worries about running out of light – the T stop of the Zeiss lenses is very close to the f stop; you’re probably getting T2.1 against T1.8 or worse with the Nikkor (it’s an incredibly complex optical design that has a lot of elements and air-glass interfaces – read: potential for light loss). You might want to look at a new focusing screen, though.

  17. i found you from fm forums — fantastic review style! subjective, with meaningful personal observations, and above all interesting.

    though i am drenched in canon gear, i am considering the d800E as my future upgrade — landscape and travel documentary style. i hope and look forward to any insights from you concerning the d800E when its released.

    thanks so much for taking the time to provide us netizens with your thoughts!

    stevemp

    • Thanks Steve! I had no idea the review spread to the FM forums – I’ve never posted on there, as far as I can recall. :)

      The D800 and D800E are the same camera except for the AA filter. So, everything that I’ve said about the D800 applies to the D800E; the advantage of the E will be better edge acuity with the right lenses and slightly more detail; the disadvantage will be moire on some repeating patterns/ fabrics; not to mention larger file sizes. I think either will serve you well for landscape work; travel documentary in available light you may not always be able to maximize resolution due to shooting conditions (high ISO requirements etc). Hope this helps!

  18. Ming Liu says:

    Love your reviews and enjoyed them very much! Currently I have D700 and D300. I think I will cancelled my D800 order because of your reviews :) in a good way. Keep the great work, Ming.

    ML

  19. I’m seeing moire in image #2 on my monitor.

  20. Hello Ming,
    Others have already said it, but I also want to thank you for an amazingly well done and very timely review of the D800. you provided a very thoughtful, objective, and well written review. You also provided it before anyone else. I greatly appreciate your efforts and sharing you knowledge and experience. I am very glad someone posted your link at DPReview – I will be checking back frequently as I value your reviews! Keep up the good work!
    -Scott

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Scott – in addition to equipment, I’ll also be writing about photography in general – on assignment, philosophy and technique. Cheers!

  21. Two great reviews. For my D700 I’ve got the 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR I, 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II, 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED & assorted Nikkor prime lenses (e.g., wonderful old manual ED 600mm); some DX (18-200mm) for my D200.
    Couple questions:
    1) having been happy with my current cameras (D700/200) does it make sense to upgrade to the D800 (the 36.3MP CMOS sensor (compared to 12.1MP) is very enticing)?
    2) do you find that the camera works better with primes than zooms?
    I am an amateur; shoot mainly wildlife, landscapes and youth sports.

    Thanks,
    MR

    • Thank you. To your questions:
      1. No unless you absolutely need the resolution – the D800 is not as good a sport camera as the D700 because of the lower frame rate, but you’d certainly see some advantage for landscapes, and the 15MP DX crop is useful for wildlife.
      2. Hard to say because the only zoom I use at the moment is the 28-300VR, which isn’t exactly the best in the lineup. The sensor exposes all of the weaknesses of the primes at f1.4; if you stop down to 2.8 they’re bloody excellent. Focusing is very, very critical to maximize image quality.

  22. Dennis Miller says:

    Hi Ming. Thanks so much for your thoughtful and helpful reviews. I own a D700 and a D7000 and plan to hand the 7000 over to my wife and buy a D800E. I had used the 7000 for long reach shots primarily – I carry two cameras everywhere – and kept an 80-400 or 300 f/4 with 1.4 TC on the 7000 most of the time. Could you comment a bit about using the 1.5 crop mode on the 800 – how do you find focusing with the smaller image int he viewfinder? is it darker than full frame mode? Any other considerations? My plan is to basically “replace” the 7000 with the 800 and use it for the same sorts of longer shots. Just wonder if you have any thoughts on that notion.
    Thanks again and best wishes,
    Dennis

    • I got your email yesterday but the address bounced, so here is my reply again:

      Glad you’re enjoying the site, please keep visiting and share it with your friends!

      Short answer: no problem. The pixel level quality of the D800 is slightly higher than the D7000 – which means that with the same pixel count, your overall image quality will be higher. You’ll lose 1fps though.

      As for viewing, I think the cropped out portion of the finder is no worse than the D7000’s finder; however framing isn’t as precise and the little black LCD overlay outline delineating the crop area isn’t that easy to make out if you have a busy subject. Shame they didn’t put in the grey blurring overlay of the D3/D4.

  23. Looking at the second image (“not used to being the little one”) are the 5-6 vertical building segments on the left side of the image an example of moire?
    Something that would likely be more prevalent with the D800E.

    • Nope, what you’re seeing is artifacts of downsizing to about 1% of the actual image area and web sharpening. No moire in the actual full size file because there aren’t pixel-level repeating structures.

  24. Jeff Stulin says:

    Hello Ming:

    Usually when “amateur reviewers” post early reviews just after getting their new toys, the value of the review is just about nil; a lot of gushing and no objective information. So I had low expectations when, by accident, I stumbled on your D800 review.

    What a great surprise! Your informations is objective, verified with pictures, and amazingly complete considering the short period of time. Even better, the quality of your writing is professional and nuanced, giving the reader confidence in your analysis, and a strong impression of the camera.

    Normally I do not respond to onLine blogs, but since you spent so much of your time creating this unexpectedly excellent review, I thought it only fair to spend my time thanking you for the effort. So, thank you!

    Jeff Stulin

    FYI I have ordered an 800E and I hope to see it sometime this summer, if I am lucky!

    • My pleasure, Jeff. I was editor of a camera/ photography magazine here for the better part of five years, so I’ve done a review or two in my time ;)

      However, I think this is the fastest I’ve ever churned one out – about 7 hours from end to end, non stop since getting the camera. However, please note that I do not consider this to be a complete review by any means – part two on daylight shooting and image quality is here – along with small incremental updates which I’ll post regularly. I’m also going to do a report on studio use – which is my primary commercial work these days – along with a closing report about a month or so from now, once I’ve had time to get used to its nuances. But after a so-so start due to high expectations, I’m pleased to report the camera is performing at a level I didn’t think possible from a 35mm FX sensor. Enjoy your D800E! Ming.

  25. Hi Ming. I’ll be honest, i havent heard of you before, but on following the recent link from dpreview, and reading your review, you have one more “follower”

    Great open and honest style.

    Bookmark added.

    • Thank you. I’m generally not that active on the fora these days – no time – but I’ve been on flickr for ages, and used to be editor of a magazine here. Looking forward to seeing you here again! :)

  26. Lovely! Thank you for this hard, yet pleasant work on the article.

  27. cpapenfuss says:

    Awesome reviews! Thanks so much!!! Quick question – have you tried the 12bit lossless compression option? What is your experience with handling the files?

    • Thanks! I used 12bit on the D700; it’s marginal, but if you push your files a lot in post, then you’ll find the 14bit files will hold subtle tonal gradations better and not posterize where the 12bit files might. There’s definitely a slowdown in processing speed, but if you’re considering this camera, you already knew that, right? :) The way I see it, no point in going half way and skimping on quality because of a few mbs of storage space.

  28. Steve Wilson says:

    Ming, I really hate being a parrot, but I just have to say your photos and text are both excellent and useful, thanks! I even got dizzy looking up at all those tall buildings :-)

    One question: how do you see the role of the D4?

    • Thanks Steve! Parrots of that sort are just fine :)

      The D4 is a go-anywhere, do-everything universal photographic tool. More like a swiss army knife; the D800 would then be like a scalpel – it can be used for general purpose cutting, but excels at certain specific tasks – like studio and landscape work, for instance.

  29. Ed Kelly says:

    Thanks for the great review and photos. You have a great eye for composition. Do you think it would be a good tool for doing weddings?
    By the way, I love the idea of the 15mb crop, also. My biggest concern is focus accuracy.

    Thanks Again

    Ed

    • Thanks Ed. I think it’d be challenging for weddings if you’re not using flash, but probably overkill with flash given the number of shots you’ll be putting out. Right on re. focus accuracy – use AFC at all times to counteract the effects of slight subject or photographer motion and shallow DOF.

  30. thanks for the great info…nice to hear from someone who is not just using the camera in the shop or looking at posted test pictures

    • My pleasure. I too hate reading reviews from people who don’t use the gear for real photography, so I try to write from the point of view of what a user would be interested in knowing -the little things that make or break the camera in the real world. Reality is that we all have plenty of pixels…

      • Considering a switch to from Canon and your review has been very helpful Ming, very nice work!, you’re favored with a photographic eye that not everyone has. Enjoy your talent and your camera, they’re both extremely adept! My only complaint with your review is the lack of a charity program where you mail your camera to the most flattering post. ;) Take care man, a fellow photographer that appreciates your help.

        • Thank you – good luck with the decision. Best news is I suppose that there are no bad cameras these days, just ones that work better than others for the individual.

  31. So nice to see a thoughtful review from someone actual using the camera. thanks for your effort

  32. John kendall says:

    Beautiful work. I look forward following your site and reading your reports, even though our skills are worlds apart. It’s great to be in such company. Thank you for imparting your knowledge to us all. John.

  33. From what I read of it, so far, excellent review! Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks – there’s still the big question of studio work, but I have no doubt it will ace that. This camera was built for that kind of photography.

  34. Great review again. Really good insight.
    Thanks for your efforts.

  35. w.coyote says:

    thank you thank you Ming for these two great reviews. it will help me take better control of my D800 when it arrives.

    • No problem! If there are any useful insights I learn in the meantime while shooting with the camera, I’ll post them to the blog too, so please check back regularly.

  36. Thank you for two excellent articles on the D800. I have really really enjoyed such an intelligent and well written report with superb photos. I am happy I found you and your site.

  37. mrbenblue says:

    Your photos really inspire me. Thank you :)

  38. Ming, fantastic review and pictures to accompany the article. Last night when I walked in the door I said to my fiance “This camera is going to force me to be at the top of my game every time I pick it up.”. These are very exciting times.

    Jay from Boston

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