Mid term report: The Nikon D800E

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I’d long ago intended to post a full review of the Nikon D800E, but somehow that got lost in a flurry of work, left-side AF problems, and repeatedly having to answer the question of ‘which camera should I buy?’ – note that this has now gotten even less straightforward now that the D600 is an option, too. And then there was the fact that it wasn’t really that different to the original D800, which I already reviewed here (I believe it was the first complete one up on the internet, actually). But now, I think enough time has passed, and I’ve used the camera under enough situations (and somewhere in the region of 20,000 images – almost all of them on-assignment) that I think it’s about time for a mid-term report card. This won’t follow the form of my historical reviews; rather it will take the form of a series of annotated comments. Some apply to both the D800 and D800E.

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Apples. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

One general observation is that it seems Nikon got the product mix wrong – most of the photographers I know bought the D800E over the D800, figuring that if they were going to go all out with resolution, they might as well really go for broke. I suspect this is contributing to the limited availability of the camera, despite the D800 being in stock – Nikon’s facilities were probably geared up to produce more D800s, but the demand is in favor of the D800E. I was recently told by NPS in Malaysia that while the D800 is readily available, the D800E is still back-ordered for a month or more.

I’m going to start with the bad first, to get all the negativity out of the way upfront.

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Dragonfly. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

Something still doesn’t feel right with the autofocus system.
Although my camera no longer exhibits any asymmetry with its focus points following the recalibration and fix by Nikon Malaysia, it just doesn’t seem to be as positive or accurate as the D700 was (or D600 is now). There are situations in which the camera nails everything perfectly, and situations under which it just seems to miss by a hair; far more of the latter exist than the former. And no combination of AF settings seems to work; this means that the D800 is effectively an unviable proposition to me as a documentary/ reportage camera. Bottom line: I’m not 100% confident that it’s going to focus where I tell it to.

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Up or down? D800E, 28/1.8 G

The viewfinder is nearly useless for manual focusing.
Sure, it’s big and bright and covers 100% of the frame, but the problem is that it just doesn’t have enough focusing ‘snap’; it’s very difficult to tell when things are in critical focus or not, which is made doubly critical by the extremely high resolution of the sensor. It seems that all modern focusing screens are really just optimized for brightness with slow zooms. I would have done the same thing I did to my D700 – namely, cut and fit a custom screen from one of the other cameras I like – the F6 type J and FM3A type K3 are my favourites. However, the D800’s focusing screen is so enormous that this simply isn’t an option – I think it actually has the largest focusing screen of any Nikon to date, which means there are no suitable donors. I’m trying to get hold of an original screen to see if I can make it more matte on my own, perhaps by grinding it down with 1200 grit sandpaper. (You’re probably wondering how I use the camera at all without AF and a good finder – since most of my work with this camera is tripod-based anyway, live view comes to the rescue.)

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The ZR012. D800E, 60/2.8 G Micro

Demands on lenses and technique are high.
It’s not the pixel density, but the pixel density for a given angle of view – this is the highest it’s been for any consumer/ prosumer level camera (i.e. non-medium format) to date. I think a lot of people confuse this with pixel pitch. The bottom line is that if your lens covers say 90 degrees horizontally, then the D800E puts much more resolving power per degree in the hands of the average photographer than they’re used to; this places corresponding demands on lens quality and technique (focusing, camera shake etc) than the vast majority people can manage handheld except under good light. I can’t even get a consistently sharp image unless I’m over 1/2x focal length – and I’m certain I’ve got better technique than average. This, and the size of the files (a throughput issue) make it impractical for a documentary/ travel/ journalism camera. Oh, and you’ve got to use good lenses too, which tend to be large and heavy – not ideal for walking around with.

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Eleven. D800E, 28/1.8 G

The live view exposure implementation needs work.
If you shoot manual exposure, live view mode always shows you a preview of the actual exposure. Guess what this means if you’ve got things set up for a studio strobe exposure with zero ambient: a black frame! You’ll have to toggle back and forth between P and M modes to focus, which wastes time and is unnecessary – especially since they fixed this on the D600. I hope it’s something that gets addressed in a future firmware update. Or, at least give us an option…

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Bored. D800E, 28-300VR

There are a few ergonomic fails.
The mode button is more and more annoying the more I use the camera – it’s just impossible to reach without contorting your grip, and muscle memory from using every other Nikon pro body means that you will almost inevitably try to change exposure with the video record button and back dial. The D-pad lock switch is too loose, and easy to activate, meaning that you may not be able to change focus point at a critical moment – and then be left wondering why, while your shot disappears. By a similar token, the metering mode switch is too stiff, and difficult to operate with the edge of your thumb. Aside from that, ergonomics are spot on. What I don’t understand is why Nikon seems to make minor changes between generations to both things that need fixing, and things that work fine as they are…

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Polo. D800E, 28-300VR

The shutter appears to have a vibration issue around 1/30s or so.
I’ve noticed a strange blurring/ double image that occasionally pops up in the 1/20-1/40s range; even with everything locked down on a heavy – Gitzo 5 series systematic – tripod and studio lights; the only conclusion I can come to is that somewhere in the shutter or mirror mechanism, something is vibrating at that natural frequency and creating a bit of camera shake. The solution around this has been to use live view and the self timer when required; it of course doesn’t require the mirror to cycle.

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3T MRI. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon

File handling is…chunky.
This isn’t a flaw of the camera. But the increased amount of detail means even larger files than the D800; you’re looking at 40-50MB routinely for a compressed NEF. It would be a waste to shoot jpeg with this camera, of course. This is one of the reasons why I tell prospective buyers to think very, very carefully about whether they really need such large files: it has a knock-on effect on everything else from processing to storage. I usually open my raw files in batches; with the D700, my current laptop can happily handle 20; for M9, OM-D and RX100, it’s about 15; for the D800E…I think a threshold has been crossed somewhere, because it’s more like five.

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Sarpaneva Korona K0. D800E, 85/2.8 PCE

Now for the good news:

Visible diffraction is offset somewhat by the lack of an AA filter.
My work requires small apertures on a regular basis; the diffraction limit for the D800 was visibly between f8 and f11, with all other things equal. The lack of an AA filter allows you to claw back some perceptual sharpness (though remember that diffraction is a property of the pixel pitch, and still sets in at the same point for both cameras) – all other things being equal, this allows a D800E image at f16 to have the same perceptual sharpness as a D800 one at f11 or thereabouts. Handy. Needless to say, at smaller apertures, the D800E provides a noticeably crisper image – there isn’t necessarily more resolution, but the pixel acuity is definitely higher.

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All about the hair. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100 Makro-Planar

Moire is a non-issue for the majority of circumstances.
I don’t shoot a lot of fabrics or repeating patterns, but on the occasions I have done, I’ve seen very, very little moire. And these tend to be studio situations anyway, which means that I’m at small apertures; I can always have the option of removing any aliasing by stopping down a little bit more and letting diffraction take care of things for me should the situation arise. Conversely, I can’t add the acuity back to the D800’s files.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Ultra Thin Moon detail. D800E, 60/2.8 G Micro

Image quality is impeccable.
After working regularly with good D800E files, it makes me feel as though my other cameras are all lacking something; however, the knowledge that you really have to have all your ducks lined up in a row to make the D800E sing is enough for me to remain happy with the image quality from the rest. That said, the D800E is easily the best DSLR at the moment for any form of controlled lighting or tripod work; color accuracy and dynamic range are both superb; pixel acuity is beyond reproach (with the right lenses, of course) and – barring the aforementioned issues – usability is excellent.

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Spiral. D800E, Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21 Distagon

Battery life is outstanding.
Both the D800 and D800E have excellent battery life – easily 2000+ shots per charge without use of flash, or 1500+ if the built-in is used as a CLS trigger – which means that I only have one spare battery. This is a first for me: even my D3 had two spares. In fact, I think the real-world battery life of this camera is bested only by the D600.

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Omega Speedmaster 9300. D800E, 85/2.8 PCE

It doesn’t feel that heavy.
Even though the camera isn’t much lighter than the D700, you do notice the difference after a day of shooting with it – my hands just don’t feel as tired as they did when I was using the D700. Perhaps it’s also a function of grip shape. I don’t know if this has negative consequences for camera shake and stability, though – probably not, since the D600 is even lighter and seems fine (though admittedly it also has a much lower-vibration and slower shutter).

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How the other half live. D800E, 28/1.8 G

Overall, the impressions are good: very seldom is there a camera which I would consider perfect or close to it (the D700 was probably the last one) – the D800E pushes the image quality envelope forward by a significant margin, and with this necessarily comes compromises. The mistake I think most people make is in thinking that if you used the D700 with great results, you should be able to do the same with the D800E; no. Even for somebody who pays constant attention to shot discipline, you will find situations under which the demands of the sensor exceed your ability at that moment to achieve a pixel-level, critically sharp image. I know, because it’s happened to me several times.

This brings me to the final portion of this report card: I want to conclusively answer the ‘what should I buy?’ question once and for all.

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Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso Latitude. D800, 60/2.8 G Micro

Buy the D600 if:

  • Size and/or weight is a priority.
  • You are coming from a DX body that doesn’t have the same controls as the pro bodies (anything except the D2H/D2x/D300/D200)
  • You just want a general purpose FX body, and getting the large sensor ‘look’ is your priority.
  • You want resolution for large prints but can’t afford a D800E.
  • You shoot mostly handheld
  • You shoot a lot of live view work in the studio
  • You don’t print larger than 40×60″ or so

Buy a (or keep your) D700 if:

  • Budget is a priority – second hand D700s are abundant now, and cheaper than new D600s. They’re still capable of producing excellent images – I still use mine for reportage work.
  • You need speed or AF tracking ability – it has more coverage than the D600, and (I feel) higher precision than the D800E. It also runs at up to 8fps, which none of the others can.
  • You do a lot of low light or marginal shutter speed work – it’s just more forgiving for handholding.
  • You shoot in hostile environments
  • You don’t print larger than 20×30″ or so
  • Workflow throughput is a priority – events, weddings, sport etc.
  • You shoot mostly handheld
  • You don’t need video or live view

Buy the D800E if:

  • You need to have the absolute best image quality in a DSLR available now (due to lenses, or budget vs MF, or whatever)
  • You don’t mind using studio lights and/ or a tripod to maximize image quality
  • You don’t mind re-evaluating your lens lineup
  • You shoot a lot of video – it has manual exposure controls and power aperture than none of the other cameras do
  • You need to print larger than 60″ wide
  • You don’t mind (and have the hardware to) handle enormous files

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Nadiah. D800E, 45/2.8 P

And what about the D800? Well, I honestly can’t see why anybody would bother unless money is super-critical, or you shoot a lot of fabric –  the price difference to the D800E isn’t big enough to be a factor if you’re already committed to spending that much money, and it requires almost as much shot discipline and lens quality anyway. Finally, if you do a lot of long lens work – wildlife or similar – then you should probably look at a DX body instead; cropping isn’t going to up your frame rate much, or improve AF ability; the D600 and D700 probably won’t have enough resolution for demanding applications in DX crop mode, either.

I think what says the most about this camera is the fact that I only use it on assignment – it isn’t my first choice when I’m shooting personal work, or teaching (except in studio), or just going out for a while and feeling like I want to do some photography; something’s missing. And I don’t know if it’s the file sizes and processing that subconsciously puts me off, or something AF-related, or perhaps I’ve just moved on from feeling the need to carry a big camera for reassurance. Bottom line – I’m just not bonding with it in the same way I did with my D700, or even D2H for that matter – and those were even larger and heavier cameras. All of that said, I wouldn’t dream of using anything else for critical commercial work. MT

The Nikon D800E is available here from B&H and Amazon and the D600 here from B&H and Amazon.


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  1. I’m fashion photographer,..workflow using capture one pro and I know all advice is to avoid the d800E for fabric but I want sharper images! I have tested the 800 and all tho it is good. I know the 800E will give me more detail. Should I get the 800 or 800E?

  2. Ming- as you say- no monitor, therefore no Web page or software application is capable of
    displaying the full resolution of this camera. The only benefit I see from this camera is very
    large prints. What we really see from any of your examples is how well your browser or
    software down-samples your file.

  3. I wonder if Ming or any readers have had any luck with focusing screen alternatives for the D800E? There appear to be a few choices over at Focusing Screens, including a F6-J style among others.

    • I’ve ordered a couple but they still haven’t arrived yet. I’m hoping they didn’t get lost in the Christmas shipping kerfuffle…

      • Hi Ming,first of all thx for your wonderful and inspiring website and blog. I highly evaluate your opinions that’s why i dare to bother you by asking your advice: i have D800E and planning to buy a Zeiss 135 f2 APO for some commercial work..i shoot mostly fashion and catalogues..i’m curious how do you find focusing with the Zeiss especially wide open, do you think a focusing screen F6-j style is needed?

  4. ming – just wanted to say hello from los angeles – really appreciate your in-depth, no-nonsense and technical-based reviews. nice to know there is a no BS pro out there who talks straight to me, covering what really matters withouth a subjective ax to grind. getting a D800E next week: you tilted the scale for me.

    thx, michael

  5. Ming, was there any fix for the live view problem? I’m planning to get a D800 by the next quarter to shoot events and expand towards product photography. it may seem strange i’d use that for events but I figured since I shoot primes, I’m better off being able to crop fast to zoom in case of rapidly unfolding events. will downres to DNG before PP.

    any thoughts?

  6. it s very good information about camera providing such information is an inspiring because its really helpful for readers. i like your post its very informative and very awesome. keep providing such kinds of post

  7. I am a commercial photographer. I want to shift from D300s to D800. I have some FX prime lenses. I shoot architectural, interior, factories, machines, products , tabletops. My images are often enlarged to poster and large hoarding sizes. All the time I use manfrotto tripod and studio lights. What should be the resolution of my monitor to see the complete resolution of D800? My current monitor is Dell 2312HM which has full HD 1920X1080 resolution. I understand I will have to buy extra hard drive for more storage. Will I need to connect graphic card to my PC to edit the images of D800? What should be the ideal PC config to edit D800 image with reasonable speed? Will I be forced to buy 64 GB CF card if I buy D800? Sorry for so many Qs?

    • The D800’s files are 7360x4912px. No single monitor with that resolution exists.

      You can buy or use whatever you want, it depends on how much patience you have. I can’t answer that question for you.

  8. Ming, as always, you seem to have a knack in writing that stimulates the best in your readers. Great job. In reading this line of replies, I get a recurrent thought that a lot of camera enthusiasts have more disposable income and less true photographic experience. So, the get the best camera and I will learn someday methodology seems to abound. Regardless of this mispent bank accounts, I wonder if you would find it worthwhile to write an article specifically designed for your affluent readers who can easily drop Three and a Half for a new camera when they only have a 50mm kit lens and a zoom lens in their lens quiver. How about an article about great lens with non Rolls Royce Lens? I know that for your specific occupation uses, the Nikon 85mm f1.4 G is not a useful tool for you, BUT this lens IS the finest lens that any of your normal readers and even your affluent readers will ever see! The DxO folks rate this lens nearly off the top end of their scale. Just seems to me that your affluent D800E users would have greatest confidence using this best above any other lens with a lesser camera than the big boy’s D800E. Not only woukd they have increased confidence but their photos would LOOK BETTER! What do you thnk? Mike

    • Most of those people usually buy Leicas…

      The 84/1.4 G (reviewed here) is a lens I absolutely loved on the 12 and 24 MP FX cameras, but it just isn’t up to par on the D800E – there is no point paying for f1.4 if you have to use it at f2.8 for the CA to go away!

      Lenses are only as good as the photographers using them…I can show you fantastic images made with optical dogs, and vice versa. Just because somebody has the money to spend on something doesn’t mean that buying it will reap necessarily any benefits.

  9. Ian Watt says:

    Just wondered if your feelings for the D800E have changed in any way as time has passed. I have been using a D800E for a year now and have grown to love it more and more. I dumped my zooms for a set of primes and now its the only camera I use on a daily basis. The results I’m getting now are better than ever, not sure if thats down to the lens change policy (thanks to you) or the camera but it works for me. By the way I think your site is one of the best.

    • Yes and no; whilst I’ve gotten accustomed to the file sizes, dynamic range, plasticity of the files and general output quality, I’m no more in love with the ergonomics or build – especially after shooting with an F6 of late – and the color accuracy leaves a lot to be desired, even compared to its Coolpix A brethren – let alone the Hassy CFV-39 MF digital back I’m also using.

  10. Do you have experience with the D3X ? And is the D3X a better image quality than the the D4 (at Low ISO) ?

  11. Seems you were using the D800E for street photography in Fukuoka in March 2013 with some success.
    Did you change your mind or your technique?


  12. Thom Hogan and dpreview say that due to diffraction there is no difference between D800 and D800E beyond f/8, or at least beyond f/11. As far as I understand, diffraction should be the same for cameras using the same sensor and therefore the starting aperture of softening should be the same for cameras with the same sensor regardless of absence/cancellation of AA filter. This is indeed the view of TH and dpreview, which I seem to agree. Dpreview’s samples does not show any difference either. However your quite powerful statement “all other things being equal, this allows a D800E image at f16 to have the same perceptual sharpness as a D800 one at f11 or thereabouts” is contrary to their views.

    Although I understand that you are not saying “diffraction starts at f/16 in D800E whereas at f/11 in D800”, and that your emphasis is on “visible sharpness”, I cannot understand why the cancellation of the AA filter in D800E positively affected the visible sharpness in your experience.

    – Can you elaborate on what aspect(s) of the cancalled AA filter might have produced visibly sharper images at f/16 than f/11 of D800?

    – Do you have any idea why TH and dpreview could not observe the difference you observed? Could you please post some samples?

    • They’re both correct in saying that diffraction begins at the same point because it’s a function of the pixel size; however, since the D800E starts of sharper to begin with, you can stop down a bit further before they appear to have the same level of softness.

  13. I’ve been using d800e for the past two years and i am quite happy shooting with such a great cam. Nothing to worry about if you’re going to purchase it. Its actually worth paying for. All you need to have a better grip and quality shooting experience. This would ultimately help you in getting masterpieces.

  14. Steve Lamb says:

    I have been using a D800e for months and have many many years of experiance with Nikon products.
    I can find no fault whatsoever with the D800e,only with slovenly technique by me do issues manifest themselves.
    This is a superb camera if you are willing to work with it but it will punish you if you try to compromise.

    Steve Lamb NPS

    • Well, clearly I don’t know what I’m doing then.

      • Steve Lamb says:

        I wasn’t trying to say that you don’t know what you are doing ,I didn’t say that, I said “only with slovenly technique by me do issues manifest themselves”,since when does the word me mean you?

        • The camera is far from perfect, and it’s not user issues: I’ve been through six of the damn things which didn’t focus properly, and mine required two rounds of adjustment. Although it’s possible I might be the cause of the problem, it seems unlikely that this is the case as I can focus all of my other Nikons, and others are reporting the same issues. I’m now finding that sometimes the camera thinks it’s in focus when it isn’t, and even if neither subject nor camera have moved, AF-S will refocus at a different distance – using the same AF point, on a planar target. I agree that image quality and ultimate imaging potential is outstanding, but a perfect camera? Far from it. Even with excellent technique you can still find inconsistencies in its behaviour.

  15. Peter Martin says:

    No need to get back to me. I just wanted to say that you’re wonderful photographs are only matched by your concise-informative reviews. I have just bought a d800e and I am more comfortable with my decision now that I have read everything here.

  16. nice article and website
    problem is:
    you say buy or KEEP d700 if You shoot mostly handheld,
    you say buy d800 for best image quality in a DSLR available now

    want to buy a cam,this two confuse me for choose
    im a beginer,but can understand that on TRIPOD we have best image quality in a DSLR.
    if we use 50-50 hand & tripod which is better?
    fixing-shake , long and precise handheld photography may solve problem?
    and after reviewing comments cant find that
    really d800e AF problem is such critical that make only 2/10 photo sharp but a d700 from 2009 can do 9/10?
    if yes why you gave 9.5/10 rate?
    seems there is a problem make rate 8.5/10
    or this problem is only for handheld photo of d800e?

    one request,there is no 10/10 camera rate but for lens we have much.
    like you mentioned:
    lens a.a mm (10/10) :KING of 50 mm lens!
    (10/10) :Best every day use 50mm lens
    (10/10) :Claimed to be the best 50mm lens out there
    (10/10) :My favorite lens
    reading your detail is good but is hard to analyze and choose one.hope you make your list to table with profit and disadvantage columns.

    best regards.

    • I’m not quite sure what you’re trying to say. If you think my list is inadequate or not clear, then you’re welcome to make your own…

      As a beginner: learn photographic fundamentals and good technique first. It doesn’t matter which camera you use. You can make large prints from a point and shoot if the basics are there, but a large format view camera with scanning back is useless if you don’t know how to use it. Either 700 or 800 will make great prints up to 20×30″ – if you don’t print larger, why are you concerned? Both are overkill for anything less.

      • there was a request(suggest)about list.
        you say another post d800 for landscape and d700 everything else.(think no matter print size.)
        i try to say is handheld photography major for d800.seeing some handheld photo or your FAQ was answer 🙂
        thanks again for answering and sorry for idiot question.
        your sincerely

  17. Very quickly this website will be famous among all
    blogging visitors, due to it’s pleasant articles or reviews

  18. Colin Johnson says:

    Makes me feel a lot better about moving from Nikon to Canon and a 5D MK3 when the D800/E was announced.
    Seems my fears were justified…

    However, I have a lot of AF issues with the 5D MK3 too, so maybe Canon’s jigs are out of alignment too? 🙂


    • Quite possible. It’s just that we’re only starting to see it now because sensors are catching up to AF precision, and all in all, we’re hitting diminishing returns for most people.

      • This is why 99% of the time I reach for either my Fuji X-Pro1 or XE-1.
        They may be slower to focus, but once you know how to use them they are way more reliable and the IQ is as good, if not better, than the 5D MK3…


        • Perhaps better than the 5D3, but that isn’t what’s being discussed here. There’s no way either resolution or dynamic range of the Fuji 16MP APSC sensors come close to the D800E – though they are probably the best of the APSC cameras at the moment.

  19. Definitely going up.

  20. Asking questions are truly good thing if you are not
    understanding something fully, except this article offers good understanding even.

  21. Hi Ming,
    I revisited this article and decided to leave a comment because I would like to understand what do you mean by “critical sharpness”. Can you post a few shots in a blog post at 100% crop and show what you consider critical sharpness, and some tips on getting sharper shots? Will really help out an amateur like me get the most out of my new D800E.


  22. Ming I know that you do not shoot weddings but your street photojouralistic/reportage work is similar to the type of situations encountered at weddings. I thought that most of the discussion above was almost entirely about a wildly inaccurate af system. A system the D4 shares. I bought the D800 based on the premise that low light performance was at least equal to a D700 and that it is able to acquire accurate focus in low light. There is just so much both good and bad out there about this camera. I was much more worried about the green cast lcd/overly green files issue, which doesn’t seem to be mentioned in this review at all? Do you think the D4 has most of the same af issues but they are masked by the much lower resolution of its sensor? Thanks Ming. Jason

    • 1. Acquiring focus is one thing, accuracy is another. It doesn’t have a problem locking on, but I’m just not seeing the kind of accuracy I’d expect to perfectly nail focus wide open with fast glass.
      2. The files themselves are definitely not green. Neither the D700 or D800’s LCDs are color accurate, they’re on either side of it. I don’t worry too much about LCD color because I have to color correct everything in my workflow anyway. It’s a non-issue that’s been blown out of proportion by the web.
      3. The D4 has the same AF issues; I was loaned one while my first D800E went in for the AF fix – it too had the left side problem. I think something in the assembly jigs was off after the tsunami; I have not experienced this kind of inaccuracy with the D3x – and that has more resolution than the D4. In fact, the degree of error seen with the D4 and D800 would have been visible on the D700 too – I tried downsizing the files to 12MP and found you could still see clear backfocus.

  23. I just bought a barely used D800 on ebay yesterday. I am excited to receive it but also a bit apprehensive as well. I keep reading on several forums that the af on the D800 is spectacular and features the exact same components as the D4. I will have to test it for the left side issues when it comes but now I am not sure what to think after reading all of this. There are some really exceptional photographers out there who are claiming the af is much better in low light than the D700 or even the D3. I plan on using this camera for weddings. Ming, you are saying that you would not trust this camera at all to acheive focus in critical situations?

    Ming, I greatly respect your opinions and believe that you have probably forgotten more about cameras and photography than I could ever hope to know, but man am I confused about this camera!

    • I shoot mine off a tripod with live view for critical focus. You can probably still get more resolution than a D700 image even if your focus is not perfect, but it will drive you mad once you’ve seen what you can get out of a right-on D800 file. Let’s just say I don’t use it for handheld documentary work. 🙂

      • Ming, assuming the D800 (left side issues aside) indeed shares the exact same focusing system as the D4 ( right down to the very nuts and bolts) would you say that you would not feel comfortable shooting it at weddings as well?

        • Firstly, I don’t shoot weddings. Secondly, it’s not the AF system that bothers me – it’s the inability to get perfect pixels most of the time while handheld, unless you’ve got a lot of light or are using flash. The resolution of the sensor is very demanding of both AF accuracy and handholding technique.

  24. Toan Nguyen says:

    Hi Ming,

    I am so glad that someone else has the same AF problem that I had with a D800E! First, my left AF point is fine. It the lack of AF consistency with my f1.4 lenses that is driving me nuts! The worst is my 24mm, second is the 35mm and best is the 85mm. I also tried it on my Nikon 24-70 at f2.8 and 70-200G AF-S II, where the problem is less apparent. Compared to my 1DX on the new Canon 24-70mm, my D800E is very unreliable… Keep the good work and do not worry about some people! Cheers!

    • Thanks Toan. I’ve come to the conclusion that the D800E is to be used pretty much as medium format replacement – manual focus on a tripod – in such a capacity, it excels.

  25. Hi Ming – I just happened upon your review of the D800/e and felt I had to reply. I am actually pleased to hear that there appears to be an issue with the PDAF system on the D800. The reason being, Nikon are saying they can find no issue with my camera after testing.

    I have had three D800/e’s so far and all have been returned faulty. The first had the left hand AF point issue, I returned immediately and it was replaced. The second has a mark on the body of the camera, it was also replaced immediately. The third did not have the LHS AF point issue, but did have PDAF issues. It also had a very bad mark on the body under the paintwork and a live pixel on the CCD. Because this was the third camera I decided to give it a full test and if everything was OK I would live with the bad mark and live pixel issues. After three weeks of testing I found a PDAF issue I am unable to get round without either manually focusing lenses or using the camera in live view mode to focus. Using live view It focused perfectly almost 100% of the time. I have the 24 / 35 / 85mm 1.4’s AFS lenses and have been very happy with the results when using my D700.

    Ming, I found after adjusting the lenses using micro adjustment everything appeared to be fine. Until I started to move the subject to different distances away from the camera. I found anything below F2 I was very lucky If I would get pin Sharpe focus. This is handheld or on a tripod. I was using fast shutter speeds of 250th or faster to rule out camera shake. Using live view or manual focus, shots were always pin Sharpe. I persevered for three weeks adjusting micro ajustement etc, I have had 30 years experience with all types of cameras from my Canon F1 to the present D800/s, I have to say I have never had this experience of so many out of focus results.

    The point here is that It appears many other have had this experience with the D800, and I would say the issue is on all cameras but maybe not all are using 1.4 lenses and wide apertures so not seeing these issues.

    I bought the last d800/e in the UK in mid September, I returned the unit for all three issues stated above. Nikon tested the camera and were unable to find any focus issue’s and the also could not find the bright pixel. I eventually got my money back due to the mark on the bodywork. Nikon were unable to comment on this as it was a blemish from the factory. My worry here is that If I didn’t have this issue on the body I would have had to accept the inaccurate focus issues and the live CCD pixel.

    It appears Nikon either cannot find the PDAF fault, or will not admit there is a fault. I wrote a very accurate letter explaining how to test the camera and how to see the PDAF issue. I and a friend can produce with ease the PDAF issues very easily. I am sure they did not use my lens combination or did not follow my explanation as per letter.

    I also think Nikon are recalibrating and resetting frame count of cameras that are being returned to them and then resellers are reselling them as new. This may be why we are still seeing the focus issues on recent cameras as recalibrating is not fixing the focus issues completely but hiding an underlying fault of the PDAF system. I also noticed that two of the cameras boxes looked used but was told by the dealers these were only delivered 1 day before I received them and no one had touched or looked at the cameras also books were not sealed in bags and also looked used. I am sure it will be many months or possibly a year before completely new cameras are put into the system as many people are still returning faulty units and these will be recycled to unknowing buyers.

    Ming – what do you think?
    I am now thinking of a D600 as there does not appear to be any focus issues, my only concern is if I can live without the extra resolution of the “E”.

    Best regards

    • Ouch. You can always check the serial numbers to see if you’re getting a new camera or not. Unless you’re printing at 40×60″ or larger on a regular basis, the D600 is fine. It lacks the out ring of AF points of the D800 though, but I suppose they’re pretty useless anyway if they’re not accurate. You might miss the feel and controls of the pro body, though.

      • Hi Ming. Thanks for reply. I would much prefer the D800. But I can live with the D600 lack or out ring AF points. I will try a D600 and see how I get on. If not I will continue to use D700 and try another D800 but maybe in 6 months or so when more of the issues are ironed out.

        Thanks again Ming
        Best regards

  26. Ming – do you have dates yet for the US courses? I would like to register and will need time to plan ahead given my work schedule. Any idea on how long shipping takes for the DVD you sent? Thank you. Kim

    • Would be March or April 2013, dates are still a bit flexible and pending some other things that I’m awaiting confirmation on. Your DVD went out on the 31st of October, so it will probably be another week or so. Thanks!

  27. Ming – I am not sure if you remember me, but I sent you several queries while working with the D600 which I eventually returned as the AF tracking was not robust enough to follow erratically moving high speed dogs which I regularly photograph. I thought about a D4 but this was too much camera for me so wondering if I was making a huge mistake, I cautiously purchased a D800 and paired it with a 70-200 mm II f/2.8 lens, and to my surprise I am getting incredible photos – tack sharp images. It gives me the dynamic range that the D700 could not and highlights are no longer blowing out. The AF tracking is fast, exacting and does not miss. But it requires incredible discipline. I am using very high shutter speeds of 1/1600 – 1/2000 (at ISO 100) at f/2.8 shooting in very bright harsh light conditions and loving it.

    I also purchased the 28 mm f/1.8 G and 85 mm f/1.8 G lenses you recommended to go with the D600. The first copy of the 85 mmm f/1.8 lens had such terrible chromatic aberration on the D800 that many of my shots of white objects were literally purple. I returned it for a second copy which does not exhibit that problem. However, I cannot get consistent focus with the D800/85 mm lens pair making it nearly impossible to shoot. In trying to figure this out, I micro adjusted the lens at varying distances and consistently got these results:
    at 7 feet the lens adjusts to +8
    at 8.5 feet the lens adjusts to +5
    at 10 feet the lens adjusts to +2.
    Is this to be expected for the 85 mm f/1.8G lens with the D800? I had hoped to use this for casual photos of people outdoors in bright light where I could have a high shutter speed and hand hold and shoot at variable distances but that does not seem possible especially if I move even further beyond the 7-10 foot range. Could you advise me if this lens cannot be used at varying distances and if so could you recommend a lens to pair with the D800 for this type of situation or is this a bad copy? I know, one possible answer may be to try another D600 for casual shooting or pair the 85 mm on my D700, but I am hoping to use the D800 in very bright light where I can use a high enough shutter speed to hand hold.

    Hoping your workflow CD arrives any day as I am so looking forward to that. Once I get that figured out, my gear straightened out and a little bit further advanced in my skills, I am wondering if you might consider me for your email course.

    Thanks for everything,

    • Ming – a little more info. I tested the D700 with the 85 mm f/1.8G lens using FoCal software which I used for the above D800 testing. The same software worked perfectly for the D800 with the 70-200 mm f/2.8 VR II lens mentioned above. The results of the D700 with the 85 mm were:
      at 7 feet the lens adjusts to > +20
      at 8.5 feet the lens adjusts to +15
      at 10 feet the lens adjusts to +8
      I do not believe testing technique is a problem. I set the camera parallel and centered on the target using forward and back, side to side features of the virtual horizon on the D800 and placing the center of the lens and the center of the target the exact same distance from an adjacent wall so the sensor is perfectly aligned with the target. I then just removed the D800 from the base clip of the tripod and replaced it with the D700 to avoid changing the position in any way. I also visually looked at the images and they are consistent with the software findings.

      • No, this sounds like the lens might be an issue. If it’s not working with either D700 or D800, that rules out the body. Get another copy of the lens…

    • No problem. I’m glad to hear somebody is getting good AF-C results from the camera – so far, I haven’t. Then again, I haven’t used the 70-200II on it either.

      The 85/1.8G should focus fine at all distances and all apertures. No problems here. Perhaps try another copy?

      • I found that the AF-C, 9 point setting with AF tracking lock set to off is the only way I have been able to achieve such success and that is with the 70-200 mm f/2.8 II lens at 200 mm and fine tune adjusted for this focal length (AFA setting at 200 mm is -11 vs. +10 at 70 mm). I do not have any of the longer telephotos. Thanks again for your incredible teaching, and generosity of time and energy. Your knowledge and work are truly amazing. Will you be offering any courses in the US in 2013?

        • I’ll give that setting a try. Maybe single point is too tight or too little info for the camera’s focusing system to determine perfect focus.

          Preliminary workshop schedule for next year includes San Francicso, Boston and NYC for the first half of the year 🙂

  28. Thanks for another excellent article. This is my first FF and your insights have greatly helped me to make effective use of this camera. Do you mind sharing the settings you have on the D800E?

    • No problem. That would be a LOT of settings since there are 50+ custom functions! Critical ones are that I shoot manual and base ISO on a tripod/ with studio lights, or aperture priority and auto-ISO (handheld). Focus is always AF-C and single point, or MF with live view. File format 14 bit lossless compressed RAW. The rest doesn’t matter so much, it has more to do with personal handling preferences.

      • Thanks MT for the instant reply. I read in your earlier article to max the sharpness & contrast. Any other settings that you use to aid reviewing shots taken?

        • That only affects the JPEG previews – helps with focusing and review, doesn’t affect the raw file. One upshot is that because the histograms are taken from the jpeg previews, they will appear to clip a lot faster than reality; you’ve got a bit more dynamic range than it appears you do. Only one other setting – set the multi-selector center button to magnify zoom on playback.

          • Thanks again for your reply. That’s what I’ve on center button – medium zoom on playback.

            Keep up the excellent work.

  29. Fernando J Marques Jr. says:

    Definitely one of the best and most honest reviews about the D800E. Thank you!

  30. Hi Ming,
    Always like and appreciate the reviews and images you post on your website.
    Especially, the D800E with Zeiss glass shots which you can easily see the IQ difference to your OM-D shots and other smaller sensor cameras.
    I have been really enjoying shooting my D800E with my Zeiss 21 and 35/2, Leica 100/2.8 APO and 24/1.4G.
    This is my first Nikon (dark side) as I have shot only Canon previously (1ds3,5D,7D,1d2n).
    Yes, the D800E LV implementation is subpar with its alternate line interpreting video mode like behavior and ability to only display at the shooting aperture only like you mention.
    Yes, you have to shoot at shutter speeds close to 1/2x unless you have a VR lens to get non-blurry shots.This is ok for me, either I bump up the ISO a stop when handholding as this camera’s noise performance is two stops better than my 1ds3.
    But I was surprised that you say the viewfinder is worthless for critical focusing. I find the VF just as good as my 1ds3 which I can manually focus well my Zeiss and Leica lenses with the factory screen and have a high success rate. Yes, I shoot a lot of landscape, but I also shoot cityscape stuff and just successfully shot a wedding with this camera. My only problem was it not being able to confirm focus a few times when using my AF 24/1.4G in very dark spots of the reception hall. Usually, I just had to find a high contrast edge in the scene to put the AF sensor on. Yes, my camera has the left AF sensor problem with the 24G but I shoot mostly using center AF sensor unless for portraits in portrait orientation, I then will use a right edge AF sensor which seem to be pretty close to be as accurate as the center one which works well for me.
    I am wondering if my eye sight is better than most and that is why I can succesfully MF with this camera or if it is all my practice doing it it for so long, as I have used Zeiss MF glass for awhile now?
    The camera is much lighter than my 1ds3, so for me it has been nicer to carry around and hike with. I just took it and my lenses on a 7 mile hike to photograph the Hawaiian lava flows at night. I guess I am a slave to getting the best IQ and don’t mind hiking with the extra weight. Though, I understand for your street shooting the smaller size of compact cameras and rangefinders are much better suited.
    I also rented the 200/2 VR2 for this last wedding and it AF’d great on the D800E in the dimly lit church near wide open and the IQ was excellent for that length lens wide open. Better of course than the 70-200 VR2 I also rented. But of course it should being a $6000 lens. 🙂
    Yes, the D800E is not perfect and requires good technique but it rewards you with leading IQ especially with Zeiss glass and the extra DR is a huge plus for me too.
    Thanks again for all your good work on your website!

    • Thanks Wayne. I’ve been using an F6 K3 screen previously in my D700 and D3, which is far, far superior to the stock B screens in the D800/ D800E. And comparing even that to the F2 is like night and day – the F2 simply blows it away in focusing snap, but it does of course mean the viewfinder is a lot darker. The stock screens are not bad, but they’re not good either. I don’t know how often you shoot wide open – but I find it’s the fast, moderately wide lenses that seem to be tricky. Now if only Nikon (or perhaps Zeiss) would realize that there is a market for a really good MF screen…

      • Have you looked into Brightscreen? They supposedly offer good MF screens for the D800.

      • I shoot some wide open as well as stopped down where even then there is usually a peak sharpness spot within the DOF which I need to place onthe subject like a car. Anwa y, I understand some like the focus screened for more focus snap.
        Just had a disappointing issue while doing a night shoot at Alcatraz. Accidentally enabled the AutoISO while adjusting the ISO in the dark.
        Easy to do if you spin the subcommand wheel in front instead of command wheel in back.
        It was on all night and caused my camera to use ISO 6400 all the time except the few timers I shot in manual mode. Since I have never had this feature before and because I could not see the little “autoiso” in the top display when I changed the iso, I could not figure out that it was enabled. The good thing is that this camera’s ISO 6400 performance is usable and much better than my old cameras.
        The noise is so fine grained with 36MP, I am trying out which is the best way to reduce the noise for web and print.
        Use LR NR or PS NR and how much. Any suggestions?

        • I actually like the fact that I don’t have to dive into menus to turn auto ISO off – I use it for handheld work but not on a tripod. Since the D800E lacks the U1/2 positions (they could probably add it in FW since the mode ‘dial’ is electronic) it makes for faster switching at least.

          Try starting with 30 luminance NR and 50 chroma NR in ACR, don’t push the shadows at all.

      • Jorge Balarin says:

        Sorry for my ignorance but, what is a focusing screen and how and when do you use it ? I have a D700. Thanks.

        • The focusing screen is the matte bit above the mirror where the image from the lens is projected for the viewfinder. On some cameras it’s interchangeable, on older cameras it has a split prism and sometimes microprism collar ring, and on newer cameras, it’s optimized for brightness rather than optimal contrast/ ‘snap’.

  31. Hi Ming,
    A different approach to a review that I really appreciated and which got me start thinking. A couple of thoughts:

    The point you make with respect to the D800(E)’s ability as a walkaround camera when considering it’s ability to provide handheld sharp images at below 1/2X was initially well known and in fact pointed at by Nikon in their technical follow-up documentation for the camera that was published last spring. So this, along with the D800’s enhanced requirements when it comes to good shooting practises, should not come up as a surprise now – half a year later. This has not changed. But, it is a good reminder. It was actually the reason why I decided to keep my D700 back in May.

    Instead of putting my D800E on the shelf for walkaround use, I tested (and aquired) the 24-120VR for such use. What I found was that this lens (with it’s VR functionality) give me back some of the walkaround capabilities I lost with the D800E, 24-70/2.8 combination. For tripod use I still go back to the 24-70, 24/PC or other sharper lenses. My copy of the 24-120 is decently sharp, also for the D800E (and the only lens I have that doesn’t need AF Fine-Tune in camera).

    Another thing that really puzzled me was that when looking and comparing files, I actually found more moire problems on the D700 files than I had with the D800E. I guess I just hadn’t noticed before…

    The consequence is that I actually carry my D800E in almost any situation, and the D700 is left at the shelf unless I need to carry two bodies with different lenses attached. And, I must say, I start to bond with the D800E (even after having gone through the left focus problems as many others have). It’s an amazing camera!

    Else, thanks for a good review.

    • Handholdability demands are nothing new. But a lot of people don’t seem to understand why – as you say, it’s just a reminder.

      I’ll have to look at the 24-120 seriously again, though f4 is a bit slow for my liking. And I’d probably use it as a 24/4 and a 120/4…

      Haven’t noticed moire on the D700, but then again I didn’t really shoot any subjects that might be prone to it with that camera.

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      So it would be nice to have a VR update of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, an even to have primes with VR.

    • I wasn’t savvy to learn about the 1/2x shutter speed, which was quite important for the type of work I do. So basically, we lose a stop or two (which the D800E makes up with the high ISO performance but still . . .). However, I will have to say, with the VR lenses, including the 70-200 AF-S f/2.8, shutter vibration was much less of an issue. Just last night I shot the 70-200mm at 200mm at 1/40 sec (granted I held still) and there was no shake in my image. It would seem that the new Nikon cameras are increasingly reliant upon the VR technology.

      • VR definitely helps. But I don’t think we’re going to be able to do 200mm at 1/20s as we did with the D700/ D3, though. VRII seems to be noticeably better than earlier systems, too.

  32. Good and interesting review, thanks fo that! I appreciate the studio and street angles, it gives insight on using the cameras for very specific tasks. It’s nice that after the negative aspects encountered, you still took photos that were more than just decent in non-studio environments 🙂

    It was interesting to read your motivations for why the D800E is the camera to get and the D800 isn’t. In my part of Europe, it was much easier to get a D800E than a D800 and still, I got a D800. The reasons were that an ‘E’ would have been roughly 600 euros more expensive for me and the improvement was not worth it for me, as sharpening mitigates the difference for a small penalty in noise. Furthermore, I regard moire as a serious visual defect and since it detail lost to moire cannot be recovered I was more comfortable with the plain D800. However, I do completely understand your viewpoint — I think it’s just a matter of looking at the same thing differently and having different valuations.

    On the more technical aspects, I think that the AF is sometimes great (I had no left-point issue or such), sometimes it fails in the easiest situations. Once I was comparing a Nikkor 85/1.8G and a Voigtländer 90/3.5 for night shots, used CDAF for the former and detected at the computer that the 85/1.8G was very slightly misfocused. It could be that the focusing motors are not accurate enough, or the CDAF is not accurate due to issues with LV, but it was a useful experience, as I don’t completely trust CDAF on the D800 now.

    I actually don’t find the viewfinder so bad, I was probably expecting worse, but agree it could be better. I, too, used a K3 previously and now have to use the stock screen. If the lens is snappy, the aperture isn’t f2 or higher, the distance isn’t really long and it’s not dark then I can usually nail the focus, otherwise the percentage of success starts to drop. I’m not sure there’s a perfect solution, a K3 would be an improvement, but there were situations where I used to have problems with that too.

    The LV issue with strobes that you describe is extremely irritating and Nikon should really fix it. Additionally, I find the LV quite annoying in that the image is lower resolution than on the sensor and very noisy in darkness, making accurate focus very tricky indeed. Nokia made a phone with a 41 mpix camera and collaborated with a leading Japanese company on designing the video processing chip so that all the pixels could be processed in real time. I find it embarrassing that a DSLR this expensive lacks such a capability, leaving users guessing where exactly is the precise point of focus with LV.

    I was surprised to read that you found battery life outstanding, but I realize that I may have unrealistic expectations. Where I live, it’s generally cool or downright cold and that makes battery life critical. This becomes an issue especially with LV on, which seems to eat the battery fairly rapidly. But reading the review, I believe my usage patterns (mostly outdoors, cool, lot of LV) are quite different from yours.

    Phew…couldn’t really cut it down to one sentence…the camera is complicated and is sure to split opinions! But most of the time, I’m getting great results and the image quality with some select lenses is really ground-breaking.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Oskar. I’m assuming you’ve done the AF fine tune routine – my 85/1.8G has no issues at all. Manual focus was initially hit and miss until I realigned the mirror; that threw AF fine tune off a bit again, but it seems manual focus is pretty much dead on. For critical work, I’m using LV on a tripod. This is a nearly completely foreign way of working to me, I’m used to shooting handheld…

      If you use LV a lot, then the battery life tanks – perhaps 500-600 shots on a full charge. No idea with cold weather because it’s about 30C outside 🙂

      I think as with every tool, the more specialized it gets, the harder it is to use – but the higher the potential in the right hands.

      • I agree. I did fine tuning, but probably need to recheck it, since it’s a bit sensitive. A friend of mine has been putting in a lot of work in fien tuning various lenses and comparing between the D800 and D3X and he is finding that fine tuning differs slightly for short distances versus long distances and the difference depends on the lens. Some lenses would differ relatively little, some significantly. His conclusion was that Nikon could make it all a lot easier by giving out detailed technical information (he has a PhD and would favor a computational approach) and I pretty much agree, there are quite a number of things that can go wrong with focusing a D800.

        FWIW, I used the 85/1.8G for a sports event and was pretty satisfied; the camera was brand new so I wasn’t so familiar with the settings, but he focusing worked quite well and I got some excellent results. On the negative side though, there seems to be issues with the camera locking up occassionally when shooting rapidly (but not yet at buffer fill level) or in some situations involving LV. I really hope Nikon puts some effort to FW upgrades…

        • I actually don’t think it’d be that difficult for them to make software which would allow user calibration of lenses, which could then be uploaded via USB or card to the camera. Worst case scenario is you go back to defaults if you mess up the process.

          Are you running the latest FW? It’s supposed to solve the lockup problem, but I did encounter it a couple of times when the camera comes out of standby or when things get hot after sustained LV use.

      • I know that someone managed to pretty quickly write a program to analyze focus strip pictures to get the correct focus adjustment and a simple algorithm gave pretty good results, but having complete automation gets quite tricky. Wouldn’t mind if camera companies did something about it, though.

        I checked that I have FW 1.00/1.01, so seems that some lockup issues persist still 😦

        • The program is contingent on you getting the setup right (and perfectly planar). It’d be nice to have something a bit more simple – stick it on a tripod, tether, shoot one in LV and one in CDAF, then adjust CDAF data for the point as necessary. Hell, I don’t see why you couldn’t write something that would do individual calibration data for every lens, at every focus point.

          Looks like we will have to wait til 1.01…

  33. schultzphotographic says:

    Thank you for the report – very insightful and “real world” useful as usual. Your last comment about D800E not being your ‘go to’ camera is quite telling. My friend also has this and chooses his old D7000 repeatedly over it (race track photography). I’m wondering if the D600 would feel more like the ‘everyday’ camera? Thanks again for this review!

    • No problem. To be honest, I’m not really bonding with the D600 either – some of the controls are rather frustrating, like the inability to do a 1-button zoom to check focus. How many clicks is 100%? Four? Five? No idea. This is rather annoying. It’s isn’t any cleaner than the D800 at the pixel level either, but it does seem more forgiving of camera shake.

  34. Matthew C says:

    Great review.

    I find it funny that you mention the shutter vibration issue around 1/30s or so, I can’t say I saw it at 1/30 but a little slower maybe around 1/2.5 for me (of course on a tripod, 2s delay shutter). I was actually shooting Niagara Falls with my D800 and shots looked fine when not zoomed in on the LCD so I felt I didn’t need to reshoot the shots. It was my first time traveling with the D800 so I didn’t think I would have to be so paranoid about camera shake, boy was I mad when I got home. Now I’m super paranoid checking and rechecking any shot, the issue seems to have rid itself as I haven’t witnessed it lately but it does make me more alert in checking my images.

    • Either try using mirror lockup, or shoot in LV when on a tripod – the mirror doesn’t cycle, so the vibration is much lower. It could also be your tripod transmitting vibrations from the falls…happened to me once when shooting a job on a construction site.

      • Matthew C says:

        Yeah I’ve starting using MUP since but in the same location I took a few 2-4s exposures to achieve a little water blur and I didn’t get the same double image issue. Like you said in previous posts, this camera is demanding and makes you work to get quality out of it. Thanks for responding.

        • No problem. I’m finding that a 2s self timer + LV solves just about all of the vibration issues – and a good tripod and head helps enormously 🙂

      • The 1/30th issue is likely “shutter bounce”. In the world of medium format (with physically bigger shutters) we’re quite familiar with it. The only solutions are either avoiding the problematic shutter speeds or higher total system dampening (changing the tripod/head/plate/lens mounting or adding something like a sand bag on top of the camera or hanging from the tripod center to change it’s inertia).

        It will be most obvious when the weight of the camera is levered on the tripod head and the direction of the shutter transit pulls/pushes that lever off-center.

        With a Contax 645 and Mamiya 645 it was closer to 1/15th or 1/8th. Not surprised the number would be a bit different given the different size/weight/material of the body and shutter.

        Naturally using self timer and LV are pre-requisites to worrying about this at all. 99% of the problems anyone reports with vibration are caused by the mirror, the user, or the environment. Only after eliminating those would you worry about shutter bounce.

        • Handheld, it’s certainly a user problem. But on a very sturdy tripod – a Gitzo 5-series systematic and geared head – the issue is still present to some extent; it goes away with LV since the mirror doesn’t cycle. Ergo, mirror bounce…

  35. Ming I ALWAYS look forward to reading your blog! I’m stoked you put up an article for the D800E and can’t wait to read it. Just wanted to say thanks for your fine work!


    hobbyist in Canada 🙂

  36. Hello Ming, very nice review and great images as usual.

    I got the D800 and was a little shocked by how demanding it was in the beginning after coming from a D700, but now after some pratice I would say that I get really good output that can be post processed quite a bit to achieve excellent output.

    I definitely “bond” a lot more with the D800 than I did with the D700 and even use it for sports with much better results than from the D700 because colors are retained much better at high ISO. Also the ability to crop more is really nice because I “only” got the 70-200mm, but usually need more reach for sports.

    I didn’t want to pay more than $1000 extra for the D800E here in Denmark as I don’t need the extra super fine sharpness as I think the D800 is plenty sharp for my use.

    By the way I have very good experience with manual focusing with the ultra compact Voigtländer 40mm f/2.0. It is a great little lens that is very nice for a light setup with the D800.

  37. For times when you do not trust the Nikon D800 PDAF and want to use image sensor CDAF, or even live view manual focus, this might just be the trick:

    • Can’t help but wonder if that will overcome the crappy focusing screen issue for MF…

      • I think it would make both CDAF in live view and manual focus a lot easier to see and confirm. One concern is how well it attaches to and stays on the camera.

        • I’ve seen one which uses a couple of rubber bands that go around the front of the camera instead. This might interfere with the buttons, but it does look a lot more secure than magnets (and you never know what other sensitive components might be affected by the magnets if they’re strong).

  38. Hi Ming,
    Great review, as usual. I have had the same problems, and felt the same lack of “bonding” with my D800. I guess the latter has to do with human nature (like when we disliked a class in school we were not good in, and vice versa), as the learning curve on the D800 seems to be much steeper than any other Nikon body I have used (since the days of the FE). Here is a link to some pictures to show what the camera, however, is capable of with fast moving objects, when all the stars line up: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/1108889/0
    BTW, I found the answer to a question I had asked you about the 70-300mm VR on the D800: it is not as good as it was on the D700, especially past 200mm; this camera does demand better lenses and techniques.

    • Excellent and outstanding !

    • Consistency is important with a pro body – and if you can only get it when the stars align, that’s like saying you might be able to shoot F1 with a compact and occasionally get something amazing…the D800 is much happier being used for static subjects and situations where the photographer is in control.

      Not surprised about the 70-300VR; it was already noticeably weaker above 200mm on the D700 – you’d need f8 and smaller to get an acceptably sharp image.

  39. .

    Ming, I enjoyed the photos in this article – stopped to look at every one carefully, and I rarely do that. The MRI shot in particular is striking and perfectly composed,

    One thing I’d love to see, and many of your readers may as well – a comparison shot taken with the D700 and D800, same subject/settings, in which you prefer the D700 shot over the D800 shot.

    The reason I ask is because I have not been able to see any situation where my D700 produces better output. In situations where I do see very slight blur at the pixel level on the D800 shot at 100%, I’m seeing the detail dissolve on the D700 shot – it’s not even there in the first place. In shutter-speed constrained situations, when both are printed or displayed at the same size, they at least look the same – the D700 shot is never better. So… I’m confused about what you’re seeing, and I’d love to see a graphic example if you have the time. I think it would make a very good (and often linked-to 🙂 ) article.

    I suspect with regard to that, you may be applying a personal aesthetic here, and describing it generally – as in, “I personally would rather see less resolution, where details are not even present, than see slight motion blur of those same details when viewing at 100%. The former pleases me more.”

    There’s nothing wrong with having that opinion, but describing that personal aesthetic as the lower-res sensor being ‘more forgiving’, I think is misleading.


    • Thanks for the feedback. I doubt I’ll ever do this because I won’t be carrying both cameras in a situation where one will perform better than the other; moreover it’ll be impossible to do a direct A-B as it’s always going to be in a photojournalism situation where you simply cannot get the same shot twice.

      I’m not disagreeing with you, but if you read what I’m saying carefully you’ll see that a) yes, they may both look the same at a given output size; b) the D800 might even look a little better downsized; but the big difference is on such assignments, speed of throughput and workflow matters. And I simply don’t want to take three times as long postprocessing files that contain no or marginal additional detail.

  40. Thank you for your thoughtful review of the D800E. I have read many of your other articles and I thoroughly enjoyed and respect your opinion.
    I consider myself as an amateur but I’ve invested in both the D800 and D800E. Don’t ask why but enough to say I love the output 🙂 Recently I bought the 24mm f/1.4 and it needs to be fine tune to -20 for the D800 and -15 for the D800E in order the picture to be sharp. A few other lenses also need to be fine tune too but to varying degree but a lot lesser than the 24mm f/1.4 and a few does not need to be fine tuned. I tried to check for left side AF issues using your method stated in a different article but I could not reach for a definitive conclusion. Does that mean I have the AF issues for both the bodies or is it the lens? Should I send the bodies to the Nikon service centre? Any thoughts would be very appreciated.

    • Hard to say without knowing how you performed the test and what the results were. Sounds like your 24/1.4 may be off if the other lenses are mostly okay (i.e. not at the limits of adjustment). I’d try another 24/1.4 and see if the results are the same before sending in the bodies or lens.

  41. Thanks once again for a objective, calm, clever and honest review. I highly appreciate all your work here in your blog. I hope Nikon reads your reviews very very carefully! There is something very wrong with Nikon nowadays, very scary indeed. I am so sorry for all the customers having these issues, and I hope you get them fixed.

    I just bought a used D700. I am very pleased. And when I read your camera recommendations, I know I was right :). It was a bit too expensive (bought from a camera store), but it was serviced and inspected by the official Nikon service center, and had 2 months warranty and only 16000 shots taken. I gladly paid a bit extra for not to have back focus issues (my earlier D7000), left focus and all the rest you mentioned in D800(E) or dust/oil issues like many D600s are suffering.

    Nikon, you should really out yourself and to the right thing. Really.

    • Thanks Cathy. I know some people at Nikon read them, but I also know that they pretty much do whatever they feel like on any given day – it takes a lot of poking to get the bear to move.

      Enjoy your D700…

  42. Ron Sprunger says:

    A wonderful review as always, and a lot of food for thought. While I would love the occasional super resolution image, and admire your images above greatly, I really don’t regret having canceled my D800E order in favor of keeping my D700/D7000 duo. These cameras suit me well and should continue to serve well for years to come.

    In addition to my previously stated preference that you remove the juvenile, mean-spirited (and ignorant) comments of “Eric Estrada” and his ilk, I have one small quibble. When you occasionally speak of “pixel acuity”, shouldn’t the word be “acutance” rather than “acuity”? See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acutance

    • Thanks Ron. I believe acutance has more to do with unsharp masking (‘sharpening’) than pixel acuity, which is I suppose more of a signal-to-noise plus demosaicing algorithm plus lens resolution thing – though it is a very fine line. If anybody has a more definitive take on this, we’d love to hear it…

  43. Regarding the focusing screen, have you considered trying to cut down a medium format screen? I suspect trying to modify a standard screen yourself will not end well. There are some reports that focusingscreen.com is going to have replacement screens available soonish.

    • I haven’t found one of the right thickness. Cutting down isn’t the problem, but not changing the optical path is. I tried on an older camera’s spare screen I had lying around…you’re right, it didn’t end well at all – even 2000 grit sandpaper marks were very visible in the finder. You did gain a tiny bit of focusing snap, but you also gained an overwhelming number of irritatingly visible microscratches – all in all, not advisable. 🙂

      • Jeweler’s rouge would probably let you do this without the scratches – if frosting will work at all.

        • I’ve got some for polishing out scratches on my watches. It actually becomes too smooth. Frosting works – remember early view cameras had something called a groundglass for a reason…

  44. Just to stir it up some more. Some fresh news about the D800 and the D600:
    “Unfortunately lensrentals.com has stated that they have had more issues with this body (D800) and the Nikon D600 than any other body and almost all have been sent in for repair. And now the D600 has issues as well with hot pixels and dust/oil getting on the sensor which many D800′s had as well. I reviewed the D600 which is a great camera but I had 2 hot pixels and dust on the sensor without ever removing the lens.”

    • Heard about that. Haven’t seen any hot pixels on my D600, but then again I don’t do long exposures with it. I thought the dust on my sensor was from my usual frequent lens changes, but I guess that may not be the case.

  45. Dennis Mook says:

    Mr. Thein, first, thank you for all you write. You are very knowlegeable and generous in sharing information. The post on the D800E is very interesting. My experience with the D800E is slightly different than yours, as I am extremely pleased with the camera and have experienced no problems. But different experiences are to be expected. I am a stock photographer mainly photographing landscapes, both urban and rural. I use the D800E mainly on a tripod and with high quality Nikkor lenses. I have had great success on both the tripod and, when necessary, handheld, but I also am very careful with the relationship between shutter speed and focal length when using the camera handheld. I have been photographing for 43 years and have refined my technique over the years, especially with this tool, to maximize its potential image quality. After reading your post, I went back to Lightroom and closely examined my files. I found no image files that were not precisely focused (I use both continuous focus decoupled from the shutter button and live view) and carefully looked at a number of files made with shutter speeds of 1/30th, 1/20th, 1/10th and 1/8th, etc., of a second. There were no double images nor evidence of mirror vibration or mirror slap. I must also say that I have used the FoCal software to finely adjust the microfocus with each of my lenses and also to determine the aperture of each lens that produces the most resolution as well as determine acceptable apertures for each lens. I asked myself why would I use a 36mp camera body and top quality lenses and not know they were precisely matched for focus? The FoCal software gave me confidence that I had maximized the potential quality of the system.

    As with anything I may buy, such as an automobile, there wlll be certain things that don’t quite “fit” what I would like. But I have to remind myself that every product is a compromise of customer needs and wants, trying hard to please everyone, but not necessarily meeting each individual’s preference. So I accept sizes, shapes, controls or functions (or lack thereof) as compromises and make do. If I find something that I really don’t like or something that is missing and is of such importance that I can’t live without it, then I move on to a similar product that better meets my needs. I used 5″X4″ and medium format for many, many years and I have to say I find the image quality, convenience and ergonomics of the D800E better than any system I had used in the past. I am one of the fortunate individuals who has no complaints. The D800E is a superb piece of equipment if you fully exploit its potential. Again, we all have to remember that each of our experiences will differ. Also, this is not to say that some camera bodies may have technical or mechanical flaws as with any product. I know we hope they don’t, but in our world of making hundreds of thousands or millions of a particular item, it seems some will be poorly engineered or malfunction right from the factory.

    Again, I really enjoy reading your blog. You are a remarkable photographer and a remarkable writer and I am thankful for your generosity in sharing all you know.

    • Thanks Dennis. Under the conditions you shoot – and I do the same for architectural work – I haven’t had any problems either; I can only agree that it’s both the best 35-format camera in terms of image quality, and with a versatility that isn’t matched by larger formats. However, those are near ideal conditions – small apertures to cover AF errors, sturdy tripods. The problem comes when you try to use it handheld as a reportage camera and don’t have enough shutter speed or stability…

    • Hi Dennis, Where can I buy the FoCal software? I had sent back my D800E camera 3 weeks ago to NIKON because I had focusing problem on tripod with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens! I had used before a Nikon D3X and a Hasselblad 203FE with 39MP CFV and I never had focusing problem! Best wishes – Attila Fovenyessy – attilainnewyork@gmail.com

  46. Paul Lloyd-Roach says:

    Hi Ming
    Thank you very much for this highly thoughtful and insightful review. Quite how you manage to keep this website up to date and continue working as a professional and tutor is beyond me. Have you managed to clone yourself? ;-))

    Without your technical knowledge I nonetheless agree with every point you raise and was starting to feel somewhat disenfranchised with my D800E and was suffering from buyers remorse. But and it is a big but, when you get the camera on a solid tripod and weld a top notch lens to it, it delivers staggering quality and like you say there is no better DSLR for landscape work or studio work. Your review is, in my humble opinion, the best I have seen on the D800E.

    It was a very difficult decision whether or not to buy it in the first place and had your “verdict” been available sooner I may not have purchased it. However like you I have decided to keep it and work within its limits and those it imposes on the lenses, technique and the photographer.

    Once again many thanks for sharing your experience and skill

    • Thanks Paul. Yes, the site is a very elaborate trial run for a new human cloning program 😛 In reality I just sleep very little, type fast and sometimes rely on dictation software so I can drive or do postprocessing or something else and write posts at the same time.

      As for the D800E…it is not the do-everything D700 replacement most expected. I still prefer the D700 for reportage work. The D600 feels somewhat orphaned – the ergonomics aren’t as good as D700 or D800, the AF system is accurate but lacks coverage, and the sensor has less resolution but also similar DR, noise and color performance to the D800E. It’s a backup camera.

      But yes, as you say, when the stars align – the D800E delivers some amazing files, and it’s stopped me from having to go to medium format on more than one occasion.

  47. Eric Estrada’s comments make no sense. If the various folks who had problems were simply lacking in technical skill they wouldn’t all be complaining about the left focus issue.

  48. Hi Ming,

    It is always a joy to read your blog. I’m sure it feels better talking about the hot camera of the moment, the one you’ve been using only for a few weeks, but a “mid term report” has a high value and is much more difficult to find on the web.

    I’ve upgraded from a D200 to a D800 that I use with a 35mm f1.4 and 85mm f1.8. Perhaps it was not the camera for me in terms of resolution (36 Mp is too much for what I do), but I like the handling of the F100 and the D200 that I am not sure I would have found with the D600. Anyway, I love the controls of it. I shoot mainly in Aperture priority mode and being able to adjust directly the ISO with the rear dial (the Easy ISO option) is exactly what’s I’ve been waiting for in terms of ergonomics.

    Now, the AF system 😦 I’ve tested 3 D800 all released between june and august to the USA market. They all backfocus with my new lenses (about -5 / -10 in AF Fine Tune to get it right). Even if AF Fine Tune can make it accurate for a given distance (30x or 50x the focal length), it always backfocus a little when the target is 20 meters away. Usually, we are still in the “depth of field” so that you can’t make any difference looking at the target you are focusing on, but a slight focusing error can put you out of this zone of optimal sharpness. Therefore, all you can wish for is luck.
    According to Lloyd Chambers, it is a problem that he had with all recent Nikons: D3X, D800, D4. It seems that your experience is different. Have you ever found the same problem with a D4 which is supposed to have the same focusing module?

    All the best.

    • Thanks Francois. Reviews are something I do because you can’t separate the gear from the art; it’s important to know what your tools can do – and some things you only find out about after a decent amount of time using them.

      I don’t suppose you tried the D700?

      Haven’t seen any problems with the few D3x cameras I’ve used, but definitely exists with D800, D800E and D4. That said, the majority of cameras I’ve tested from later batches – colleagues, friends, demo units in Japan on my last trip (every camera store has a few to try out, and there are lots of camera stores) – seem to be okay, which is the reverse of earlier batches where all of them were problematic.

  49. Ming,

    I love your art and greatly appreciate your reviews. Thank you for your contributions to the community and your willingness to share.

    Is it fair to say that if one shoots the D800E with good shot discipline and adequate shutter speeds (greater than or equal to, or greater than 1 divided by double the focal length), that it’s suitable for someone who shoots mostly hand-held and can deal with the other limitations like large files? Obviously such shot and shutter speed discipline may not always be practical in the field and that’s where the understanding of the camera’s characteristics helps.

    The reason I ask is that some tend to take Internet postings quite literally and quote out of context or in absolutes. Like, “Ming says the D800E must be used with a tripod!”

    Thank you.

  50. I don’t think anybody expected the Nikon D800(E) to take over the streets. I expected it to be a good landscape and studio camera. Had Nikon sold it with just one accurate center point AF á la Hasselblad its place in photography would have been more self explanatory.
    At the moment it seems that the Nikon D800 does have an unresolved focusing problem. Unfortunately some people associate this with the high resolution image sensor. The sensor makes it easier to detect a missed focus, but it does not alter the severity of the miss.
    A high MP sensor can be used many different ways. It does not have to produce an image pixel per sensor pixel. High MP sensors can be used to weigh and average pixel data to produce lower MP images with improved dynamic range, improved ISO and reduced noise.
    Maybe Canon will learn from Nikon’s mistakes and offer a Canon XX with a menu choice between 48 MP Studio, 36 MP Landscape, 24 MP Sport and 18 MP Night.
    Mirrorless of course !

    • I certainly didn’t. But what was surprising is that there was such a huge difference between D3x and D800 in focusing capabilities; even if you downsize a D800 file to 24MP, the D3x would still look better a) before the fix and b) within certain shutter speeds. That was unexpected. I agree that focusing has nothing to do with the imaging sensor, but the previous generations seemed to have better accuracy out of the box; the recalibration fix has addressed this problem providing that it was applied properly. Of course, it shouldn’t be necessary at all.

      Pixel binning is worthwhile if they would implement it at the camera level, so you get a raw file that’s actually ~20MB in size instead of the full-fat 40-50MB which you have to then downsize yourself; I don’t see the benefit of larger files – the small additional gains from binning are far outweighed by the much, much slower workflow and processing times.

  51. Tony Holt says:

    Hi Ming,
    Just wanted to thank you for the great review. Your comments on the AF system seem spot on to me (I have a D800), especially about never being quite certain of getting accurate focus. I wonder if having the central points working at f5.6 has compromised accuracy somewhat – perhaps having some operating at f2.8 would have been better, particularly given the demands of the high sensor resolution. (I may be completely wrong about that though!) The rest of the review seems very fair and balanced to me, I don’t think that the less than polite comments you have received are in any way justified.

    • Thanks Tony. I don’t think the AF system performance is affected by the new f5.6 ability; if anything, it should be more precise because it has to be able to deal with less light and narrower phase angles; given that CDAF really has nothing to do with the imaging sensor, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be getting at least the same accuracy as the D700/ D3x. Granted, errors would be far less visible with the D700, but I felt the D3x gave a far higher hit rate.

      • I think you must mean PDAF not CDAF? I agree, there seems no reason not to expect the same accuracy as the D3X, but I was thinking that more accuracy would be of benefit, because of the higher sensor resolution. My understanding of how PDAF works makes me think that the PDAF system does not see anything greater than f5.6 (whatever the lens aperture), and so it is always working with narrower phase angles than would an f2.8 sensor. The narrower phase angle gives a lesser displacement on the AF sensor for a given (image side) amount of misfocus, and would therefore be less accurate.

        • Sorry, yes – PDAF. CDAF should always be perfect as it uses the imaging sensor. More accuracy would of course always be better.

          The PDAF system now works with lenses that have a maximum aperture of f5.6, i.e. admit less light, rather than previously which required larger aperture lenses. However, I don’t see why this should have to compromise accuracy when you have faster lenses and greater phase angles…

      • Tony Holt says:

        Because (I think) it never uses the greater phase angles available with faster lenses. The PDAF system does not use all the light entering the lens. It compares two fixed position portions (four for a cross type sensor) of the light from opposite sides of the lens. This web page (from Canon) has a better explanation and diagrams than I can manage – http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/tech/report/2011/09/

        • Hmm, if that’s true it would go a long way towards explaining the reduction in accuracy. I’ll try to follow up with my contacts at Nikon on this…

    • Thank you Tony for the excellent link: http://www.canon.com/camera-museum/tech/report/2011/09/
      It sure beats guessing and misleading.

  52. I have a D800 and can relate to much that is being said in the review. The D800 clearly do demand a higher shooting discipline to get the most of all those pixels. This is especially true when shooting hand held. What bothers me a bit though is the view that pixel level sharpness is always crucially important, even at 36 megapixels. When shooting on the streets or any occasion where there isn’t always practical to count on technical perfect shooting, I just view the D800 as a 12 megapixel camera. That is, I count on the resulting image to be down sampled to (at most) 12 megapixels. Then almost all the fears of not getting pixel level sharpness goes away. When doing landscape work, I of course make sure I have a stable platform and so on to get the most out of the sensor. For me this makes the D800 the best of both worlds.

    • It isn’t always crucially important, but then if it isn’t, why deal with the inconvenience of dealing with those enormous files? I’d rather shoot the D700 if I’m in a situation where I know I can only get 12MP of real resolution. This of course is different if you only have one camera…

  53. Hi Ming.
    I am still looking for the truth about the Nikon D800(E) left focusing problem. You announced a long time, in capital letters, that Nikon had solved the problem. When I questioned you about it you retracted to claim that you were only talking about Your D800 and that you found my questions insulting.
    Ming, I think that you are a great photographer and I would be happy to take a class from you. However, your technological conclusions are shallow and emotional. They probably reflect the kind of temper and creativity that makes for a great artist, but they are not preferable qualities of an objective reviewer of equipment and technology. I realize that you will probably, again, feel that I am insulting you. If you do I apologize. I am only treating you the way I feel that you treat the equipment that gets in your way.

    • The truth is that I’ve disclosed whatever information I’ve been given or been able to discern from my own experiences and cameras.

      1. Nikon Malaysia has a specific fix for the problem that involves recalibration and new data appended to firmware.
      2. This fix came from Tokyo.
      3. My unit now focuses consistently left and right after the fix, as do the units of my students and friends.
      4. Obviously, if the solution in 1. has been applied, and the camera now works correctly (where it had a problem before), the problem is solved. If I’m being lied to, then I don’t know, because I have no information that suggest otherwise.
      5. And if something doesn’t work properly, I’ll try to seek a fix; if that’s possible, then that’s the end of the matter. I don’t need to waste time worrying about the other thousands of cameras out there that might or might not work, or might have had the fix in 1. applied with varying degrees of skill depending on the technician. I announced that the fix was available because I have literally hundreds of people asking me, and my own unit now works as expected.

      This has always been my position. Your accusation of me ‘helping Nikon to hide the issue’ – not seeking clarification – is what makes me angry, because it is well documented here and on other sites that I was the one who discovered and publicised the problem in the first place.

    • Jorge Balarin says:

      Oye Bengt, no jodas !!

  54. This is easily the most impressive review I’ve read from you Ming – well balanced and fair. I’ve used the D800E for a couple of months and although I’m not a Pro I can easily relate to all your points. It produces awesome pictures if it works. But its definitely not the kind of camera for all possible situations. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and this great review.

  55. I’d concur with everything you’ve said here Ming — an excellent, balanced review as usual. Personally, I’ve had the D800E pretty much since it came out and whilst it’s most definitely everything I wanted in terms of resolving power, there’s just *something* stopping me connecting with it in the same way I did with my D700 or D3x, both of which just felt “right” and complete in every way for their respective (and different) purposes. On the D800E, there’s the minor annoyances with the controls you’ve already mentioned, the fact that the grip is so heinously expensive for what it is (I’ve not bought one on principal) and most importantly that results are just that bit less predictable. Of course, it definitely demands more control over technique, which is fine, but one thing I’ve noticed with mine, which I’ve not seen talked about elsewhere, is that the metering sometimes for seemingly no reason, is completely out, over exposing by a long way. I also dislike the smaller meter indicator in the viewfinder. There’s also just something about the way it handles compared to the other bodies I mentioned which I don’t like. Considering it’s the number 1 option for considered situations and ultimate resolution in a DSLR, it doesn’t feel as pro-orientated as it should in my opinion. I’m still really hoping Nikon will produce a D4x addressing some of these shortcomings.

    • Well, a lot of people seem to think that I’m being emotional and 36MP exceeds my skill level…

      Re. your metering issue – could it be stray point sources entering via the eyepiece and throwing things off that way? Of course this is irrelevant if you have the camera at eye level. I haven’t seen it in my own cameras or borrowed units, but that’s not to say it doesn’t exist. These things are so damn complicated these days that it’s almost a miracle they work as well as they do.

      I do wonder if we’ve just hit a wall in terms of practical usability with pixel density per degree of field of view; I’m pretty sure that nobody would dream of using a medium format camera with say >50MP handheld and expecting critically sharp results. The only difference is that the silent majority shooting MF have always been doing so on tripods or with studio lights (and thus very short exposures), and now this resolution has been put into the hands of the less experienced masses. I do remember trying out of curiosity to shoot a rented H4D-39 handheld and not being able to get a single sharp exposure under 1/200s or so. Needless to say, I shot the rest of the job on a tripod.

  56. Mr. Estrada, it is not necessary to post such a negative-toned comment at Mr. Thein. He is just sharing his experiences & his opinions on the D800E. And testing one takes a lot of effort in jotting out the camera’s performances and we, or at least I, appreciate it very much whether or not it would yield the same result should we have the same camera body.

    We all have our own different opinions on anything or something. But it’s always better to be decent in our commentaries, isn’t it?

  57. Ming,

    You are an amazing resource. I look forwad to your blog posts. Thanks for this amazing review.

    Warm Regards – Eric

  58. eric estrada says:

    more resolution = more exposure of user error and poor technique

    sorry ming
    but the problem with the d800 is between your ears

    • I’m aware of that, and I’ve said as much in every single post I’ve written on the D800. Being aware of the limitations of the camera and of your own technique doesn’t mean the problem ‘is between my ears’ as you put it. Frankly, it’s insulting given the results I can achieve and have shared from this camera – hiding behind an obviously junk email address does not enhance your credibility one iota.

      • eric estrada says:

        either the 2 samples you bought are hopelessly cursed
        or 36mp is simply too much for your skill level right now

        nikon is not going to completely screw up it’s most important camera since the D3
        its flat out impossible that the camera only works right over 1/125 or in liveview

        i am shocked to read, you, a real pro, blaming the camera for your failed photos
        that is kind of talk im a used to reading on amateur crop sensor forums

        man up ming

        • I suppose every single one out there with the left AF issue is also cursed, and the hundreds of pros are idiots, and Nikon must also be wrong because they acknowledged the difference in resolution between live view and AF.

          I didn’t say it only works over 1/125. Nor am I blaming the camera for ‘failed photos’, of which I don’t have any. If you check my exif data, you’ll see that I use all shutter speeds as required. I said that if you want critically sharp results at the pixel level, then you need to have proper support at lower shutter speeds. Your are obviously happy to criticize without substance or knowing the full facts, otherwise you’d know for a start that I’ve only owned ONE D800E, but tested about five of them. End of discussion.

    • nathanielsy says:

      Mr. Estrada, it is not necessary to post such a negative-toned comment at Mr. Thein. He is just sharing his experiences & his opinions on the D800E. And testing one takes a lot of effort in jotting out the camera’s performances and we, or at least I, appreciate it very much whether or not it would yield the same result should we have the same camera body.

      We all have our own different opinions on anything or something. But it’s always better to be decent in our commentaries, isn’t it?

    • Actually the problem is you. You don’t belong here. There are plenty of blogs/sites were comments like yours are the norm, but not here. Constructive criticism is one thing, but what you offer is useless to Ming and the rest of his readers.

      • Well, Jeff, Ming did express his appreciation over my comment. And telling someone that “the problem with the d800 is between your ears” or stating, “Man up ming” would not ever be associated with constructive criticism but definitely “Anger Provoking.”
        I just bought a D800 and the initial shots (Nikon 24 at f1.4, handheld) told me to have it checked at our service centers where they said the unit suffered from backfocusing and they recalibrated it using their software provided by Nikon Japan. So far, the images right now seem to be more pecise and it’s quite challenging to hit a precise shot at the widest opening.
        Ming has advised me to rather invest on a D600 before when I inquired but decided otherwise because I felt that the D800 is a more worthy investment because of its construction (Magnesium all over) & capabilities (e.g., AF at -2EV) and if he says that I have to acquire higher shot disciplines, then that’s what I’ll be doing.
        And at the end of the day, however and whoever we express our comments to, “decency” will always prevail over arrogance.

      • Just to clarify my previous comment…. when I said the “Actually the problem is you.” I was referring to “Eric Estrada.” Fathom, even if some of the readers may not always agree with Ming or follow his advice, I believe the majority of the readers truly appreciate what Ming has created here. There is a wealth of information here on this blog that Ming has provided, and that resource grows here in the comments section as photographers from all walks of life share their experiences and opinions. I appreciate your “decency will always prevail over arrogance.” Best of luck with that D800 (wish I had one to hone my skills on!!)

        • Thanks again for the support, everybody. I encourage open, objective discussion and criticism with the end to make us all better photographers – recognising one’s shortcomings is part of that. No, I’m not as steady as my tripod is, but that’s why I have one. No amount of brain surgery is going to change that…

      • Hi Jeff. My sincere apologies for not clarifying myself as to who you were addressing your comment to. Thanks also for appreciating my statement. Yes, I commend Ming for offering his personal time and effort for the benefit of many. And I believe, all of us are thankful for it. Here’s to the unit I bought. I just hope I would not feel the dreaded, “Buyer’s remorse” and enjoy the D800 as much as I can. God Blessing’s be upon you, Jeff.

    • I know of Ming Thein but who is Eric Estrada that I should care what he thinks?

  59. Great insight as usual…anyone who has seen your images above cannot but take your words about the camera seriously.

  60. Great review Ming. This would probably clear the horizon on choosing the more appropriate cam for anyone purchasing a new one soon especially in the Nikon FF area.

  61. Interesting. I ended up sending my D800E back without even taking it out of the box. Ate over $100 in shipping, but I just didn’t feel right about it somehow. At some point maybe there will be a D800E “Mark II” that will be totally comfortable. In the meantime, I think I’ll go with a D600 and use the money I’ve saved toward the 21 Zeiss. Thanks for the review! (All that said, man, when you get the shots right, it sure is stellar isn’t it? I find “Eleven,” “Polo,” and “Spiral” particularly awesome!)

    • I’m not that comfortable with it in AF mode or handheld. On a tripod and/ or with controlled lighting, it’s incredible. I don’t think it’s user idiocy, but who knows, I could be wrong…thanks for thec ompliments.

  62. Hey Ming,

    I purchased another D800E, hoping that by now Nikon has solved the AF issue. I am sorry to say, this late sample too had the left AF problem. So I am returning it. Everyone of the 7 samples that I purchased had the left AF problem of varying degree. The one I ended up keeping had the least of the problems, and I did have Nikon service it. I too am experiencing inconsistent AF results since. the “repair.” Also, I have noticed that, unlike the D3x (which I now miss somewhat), shutter speeds lower than 1/125 sec often resulted in unacceptable camera shake when the photo is shot handheld, with a 85mm lens. The vibration of the shutter definitely feels stronger.

    There is no question that the D800E is the highest resolution camera in my lineup, and when shooting landscape wide angle lenses or on a tripod, using live view, there is no competitor at the moment (unless we go medium format). However once the new Leica M comes out, even though it has less megapixels, it will be interesting whether it will give the D800E a run for the money given the smaller transistor gate width of the new sensors. And, of course, the Leica glass will be more than capable of handling the higher resolution.

    After such a long wait, I am extremely disappointed at Nikon’s QE with the D800/E. As you said, it cannot be relied upon for critical situations . . .

    • Ouch. What was the serial number? Did you need to have a significant amount of AF fine tune to bring lenses back into spec afterwards? I found that to be the case with some of my lenses, not with others. Completely agree on the camera shake/ shutter vibration issue: this is the main reason I cannot recommend the camera for handheld available light/ reportage work. Didn’t have the issue with D3x or D600 either, both of which are 24MP.

      I doubt the M will challenge the D800E for sheer resolution – both are AA filter free; color and dynamic range may be better, though. Resolution is not a property of the transistor gate width – but the other two parameters are. At least we won’t have to play RF alignment roulette for critical work anymore; I make it no secret that I’m now a huge fan of live view.

      • 3006386 is the serial number of the latest one.

        I find the doubters of this problem, such as Eric Estrada, to be entertaining, especially considering that Nikon (as you mentioned), on more than one occasion, has acknowledged the problem (both to me personally at the El Segundo facility when I spoke with the manager and most recently at Photokena, see e.g. http://falklumo.blogspot.de/2012/09/photokina-2012-nikon-talks-about-d800s.html). I also found that this is NOT a 36MP resolution problem, because the same issue exists with the early batch of D4 that I tested, and I didn’t have any such problem with the Leica S system (which, given the larger sensor size, would theoretically have a greater focus issue, but it doesn’t).

        My particular D800E sample has yet to be fixed by Nikon’s latest solution (it was “fixed” once a long ago with I think just a regular calibration), so I will do that before re-tuning all of my lenses. Currently, the most “off” lens in my line up is the 24mm f/1.4. It performs best at a -9 setting, and the left AF problem still exists somewhat. My 85mm f/1.4, the lens I used most often, is tact sharp in the center, and acceptable on the edges. My other lenses range between good to okay. The 85mm f/1.8G and 50mm f/1.8G are sharp everywhere and that raises an interesting question on whether it’s an issue of compatibility between the D800/E and the older series of lenses. It remains very puzzling to me why discrepancy exists with live view for the fast f/1.4 lenses at f/1.8, but not for the f/1.8G lenses. I thought it was a case of bad crop of sample lenses, but when I tried with another 24mm f/1.4 the results were the same. I am the first to admit that I am not a high-precision photographer and my tests may very well may have been flawed, but I have been shooting Nikon for 30 years. If we are holding the D800/E to such a high standard of users to exclude someone like myself, then you question Nikon’s marketing strategy.

        We’ll have to see what happens with the new M. If the new M, in combination with Leica glass, gives the D800E (in combination with Nikon glass) a serious run for the money, then I would switch to the M for landscape work (if nothing else to save travel weight), and buy the D600 for my portraits/fashion work, leaving the D800E collecting dust . . .

        • The D4 I was loaned during my D800E recalibration also had the same problem. It subsequently went in for the fix too. I think this is clear that something is not well on the production line; the D3x didn’t have these issues – and that had 24MP instead of 16. That said, the center points worked fine on all cameras tested – and the Leica S2 only has one AF point.

          My results agree with yours on the lenses: every 24/1.4 sample I tried looked off somewhere in the frame, but was okay at center. All required AF fine tune even after body recalibration/ fix. I suspect there may have been some slightly astigmatic lenses that left the factory – tolerances required for a fast wide are extremely tight – but nobody noticed up til now because there wasn’t enough resolution. My 85/1.4 G was sharp in the center after the fix, but there was an unacceptable amount of CA wide open – so I switched to the 85/1.8 G, which as you point out is tack sharp everywhere in the frame (but flares like crazy). My solution is the 1.8G lenses and Carl Zeiss…I do mostly studio product/ architecture/ food work, for which the camera works quite well. I’ve long since moved over to smaller and lighter solutions for travel; they’re more flexible in a handheld environment anyway.

          I’m told I should have a production Leica M to test around December.

      • The CA issue with the 85mm f/1.4 is frustration on a second degree, but under certain conditions I still prefer the 85mm f/1.4 over the f/1.8G. At times, the tradeoff of additional resolution in exchange for all these problems really didn’t seem to be worth it. I shoot with less confidence than I did with the D3x, I have less number of usable frames for each 10 shots that I take (sigh). It seems we are left somewhat with a Hobson’s choice, and I suspect mine will be to use the D600 for most of my work.

        • I ran both side by side for a while, and found that I was using the 1.8G more. There doesn’t appear to be any compromise for the lower resolution bodies other than flare and T stop, both of which I can live with – so I went the opposite route to you.

          Agree with the feeling of lower confidence though. I can use the D700, OM-D, D600 and be fairly sure I’ll get a critically sharp shot 9/10 times – but with the D800E it’s more like 2/10, if that.


  1. […] On the other hand, if you’re employing a pricier piece of glass like, for example, the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, and you put a cheapie UV filter up front, you need to rethink what got you into photography in the first place.  If you put an expensive UV filter on there, you still run the risk of degrading your image – and I’m sure you bought the lens for the image quality.  The implications of this get even more serious if you’re shooting on resolution monsters like the D800E. […]

  2. […] of equipment over the last few months – everything from an old Olympus E-1, to the Ricoh GR, D800E and Zeiss […]

  3. […] article will not be a review in the conventional sense. I’ve covered the original D800 here, a mid-term report here, and a long term report of the D800E here; after more than 70,000 frames with one D800 and two […]

  4. […] set was shot with a Ricoh GR, Nikon D800E and Zeiss ZF.2 1.4/55 Otus […]

  5. […] D800E is a good case in point: together with the A7R, it is perhaps the most demanding camera at the […]

  6. […] tricky part was the digitization process. I ‘scan’ my film with a D800E, AFS 60/2.8 Micro, an SB900 for light, and a custom jig to keep the camera and film planes […]

  7. […] Nikon D800E: Here, it all boils down to the system of lenses and flashes: if you need any special purpose gear […]

  8. […] Photography imitates art. Nikon D800E […]

  9. […] Photography imitates art. Nikon D800E […]

  10. […] the clouds are truly free was shot at the top of Taipei 101 with a D800E and Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 APO Distagon; to paraphrase Nick Brandt it’s a subtle reminder that man […]

  11. […] Note: there are others who have done a good job of far more comprehensive formal and technical tests, such as Lloyd Chambers, DXOMark etc. – this will not be that kind of review; I’m going to approach it from the point of view of what this lens was designed for: making pictures. I won’t be posting full size samples because I do not want to lose control of any images; and images that have no real merit shouldn’t be posted at all in any form. In any case, a large print is really required to see what this lens can do; no screen can do it justice. All images were shot with a Nikon D800E. […]

  12. […] Live view was used to match subject sharpness as closely as possible. Testing was done on a D800E body, at base ISO with self timer used at all times, on a locked down solid tripod – a Gitzo […]

  13. […] system – D800E, 24-120/4 VR, 85/1.8, Zeiss 2.8/21 Distagon and a couple of SB900s (you never know when you might […]

  14. […] then again, Ming Thien reported that moire wasn't a real problem under most circumstances… Mid term report: The Nikon D800E And of course people that shoot digital medium format routinely shoot without the anti-aliasing […]

  15. […] that exclusively for my professional work – in many ways, it’s more flexible than the D800E, and for 99% of intended end use, there isn’t enough difference in image quality. It’s […]

  16. […] this assignment, I packed a range of gear (D800E, D600, Zeiss ZF.2 2.8/21, Zeiss ZF.2 2/28, Zeiss ZF.2 2/100, Nikon AFS 24-120/4 VR, OM-D and […]

  17. […] F6 on Ilford Pan F 50 film, using the 45/2.8 AI-P and AFS 85/1.8 G lenses, then scanned with a D800E and 60/2.8 G Micro. Enjoy! […]

  18. […] OM-D is available here (B&H, Amazon) and the Panasonic 14-42 X here (B&H, Amazon). The Nikon D800E is available here (B&H, Amazon) and 24-120/4 VR here (B&H, Amazon). […]

  19. […] 4G11 by Hijjas Kasturi Architects, Putrajaya. Nikon D800E […]

  20. […] Canon 7D would work. If it’s image quality, then buy a tripod, some good prime lenses and the Nikon D800E. Frankly though, any of the cameras you can buy today at each of the levels – prosumer […]

  21. […] of reportage; this added another tool to my repertoire. A third, less major, shift came after the Nikon D800E forced me to shoot mostly tripod based: I would shoot with precision, with more depth of field, and […]

  22. […] Architectural Residence Design Architectural Home Strategy Salient FeaturesArchitecture Prototyping and The Software Debate – by Piet Meijs – It's a 3D WorldDavid Chipperfield Architects Reports 57% Profit IncreaseMid term report: The Nikon D800E – Ming Thein […]

  23. […] siempre, para los que sepan ingles, mejor vayan al sitio original del post, porque tambien, de paso, le da un repaso bastante detallado a la D800E y sus virtudes, pero luego […]

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