Since I took my first images with the Nikon D800E, and saw first hand how it feels to shoot a 36 megapixels digital camera with a great dynamic range, I wanted to perform a comparison with my medium format cameras.
I love shooting film, for the majority of my photographs I prefer it over digital because I love the way it looks, the tones of a medium format camera and of course I enjoy the whole process that goes with it. Medium format looks different that 35mm, whether it’s film or digital. But with the introduction of the D800, the game has changed and I wanted to see how much.
I shot a few identical images with the Nikon D800E and the Fuji GSW690iii. The Fuji is a 6×9 MF camera with a superb 65mm lens (28mm equivalent in 35mm format) which is one of the best landscape cameras ever made. No automations at all, no meter, no batteries needed, just a box with a fantastic lens. Since I didn’t want to wait long for the results, I loaded it with the new Kodak Portra 160 Professional film, which is supposed to have the finest grain and was made for scanning.
As I have written before, I much prefer the older (and now discontinued) Portra 160VC version, which has more saturation and contrast. Although today you can boost saturation and contrast in Photoshop, I still prefer the look of the 160VC as it comes out of my scanner. Anyway, I though I finer grain modern emulsion would be more competent to the crystal clear digital file. A comparison between the D800E and the GSW690 with a slide film like Provia or Velvia of course would yield different results, so I am planning on repeating this comparison again when I find the time.
Both cameras were on a tripod. I shot the D800 using a cable release and the mirror up function in order to be as steady as it could be, and chose the 24-70 zoom lens (at 28mm) which is considered one of the best zoom lenses. The same procedure was followed the Fuji, cable release and metered the scene with my Sekonic LS308. The 6×9 negative was scanned with Nikon Coolscan 9000 which is the best thing under a drum scanner.
Now, let’s the see the results from the first image (I just got the time to scan the first frame, so the rest will be shown at a future post).
The two scenes look quite different. The film recorded a more accurate color but the details and vividness is a in favor of the digital file. It was a difficult scene to meter properly, and I might have overexposed a little the digital file (I didn’t do any compensation to the cameras reading since that is also a part of the comparison for me). With some tweaking in Photoshop the two files would come even closer. Also, if I had used the Portra 160VC film or a Velvia, the color and contrast would favor the film file (although it would be very difficult for Velvia to capture the whole dynamic range of the scene).
Now, let’s see a zoom crop of the two images.
Here, you can clearly see that the digital file has more information. Actually, it’s a 100% zoom crop of the D800E but not a 100% crop of the 6×9 negative. At 4000dpi, produces a file with more (theoretical) megapixels, but at this magnification the grain really starts to diminish the detail of the image, so I cropped at the same portion of the image to show the differences.
The fact remains, that the digital file has more detail which is really an accomplishment of a 35mm digital camera over a 6×9 MF frame. A drum scan would provide a better result for the film, and of course a high resolution slide film would produce a more detailed file, but the fact remains that the D800E is a match for MF film.
It will take of course many more images to make a better overall comparison of the two systems but as a first conclusion, the D800E is one hell of a camera.
A few more observations. The D800E / Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 combo is not cheap. Even you replace the zoom with a good wide angle Nikon or Zeiss prime the cost is many times more the cost of a good used MF camera. Until you reach the price of the digital combo, one would have to shoot hundreds of rolls of films. So, for a landscape shooter like me, who even with a digital camera will only shoot a limited number of images on each photo trip, does it really worth it ? Well, that’s a difficult question to answer.
The D800E is a very demanding camera that must be treated like medium format gear. Shoot on a tripod with a cable release and mirror up, find the correct aperture to deal with the optimal combination of desired depth field and avoid diffraction, and like MF film, deal with huge files that really push the limits of a computer. With digital you tend to shoot many more images (since they do not cost money like film does), so you end up with gigabytes of images which require time, hard disk space and great effort. With 36 megapixels, every small error gets magnified and shows up on the final image.
Of course all these are true, if you are aiming at making large prints (I have just printed a 40 inches wide image and it looks really great). But if you are just going to upload a small image on the web, why bother with a 36mp camera ? The ability to crop is great but spending 3000 euros for cropping and a greater dynamic range, well that’s something I would not do, but of course that’s just me. Photography is about enjoying yourself above all, and if the D800 will provide that enjoyment even for uploading photos at Facebook, then by all means, it’s a great camera and I consider it a huge leap in digital cameras evolution.
More comparisons coming soon !! (please note here, that although I know a few things about cameras and lenses, I am not a professional reviewer, I just do these comparisons for me and like to share them, and that’s the way these comparisons should be read.)
(c)2012 Konstantinos Besios. All Rights Reserved.