The arrival of the Nikon D800 was a game changer in the 35mm DSLR world. A phenomenal 36 megapixels sensor with superb dynamic range at a price far less than a medium format digital back. In order to get that resolution I would either use a medium format film camera or digitally stitch a sequence of images.
Even now, I prefer to shoot MF film for my large prints since I much prefer the film’s tonality and color and especially for a panoramic image I will use the Gaoersi 617 camera instead of stitching digitally. But for a specific project that I had in mind, the D800E was probably the only way to go. I am currently at the process of creating a series of very large prints, about 120 inches wide each.
I could use my 617 camera (from which I have successfully printed 80×25 inches photos) or employ my recently acquired 4×5″ view camera. I will certainly use these cameras but I also wanted to have the flexibility that a digital camera can provide in some situations, so I decided to take the D800E for a test drive.
The above image is a 430 megapixels photo created from sticking 39 images with Autopano Pro software. It was shot at Meteora, a wonderful location at Greece. The scenery was perfect for testing the D800E, rocks are full of textures and the presence of monasteries far away would provide me with helpful information about how much detail can be recorded and the quality of stitching.
I se up the camera on a heavy tripod and turned on the live view function. Focus and exposure were set manually of course. My choice of lens was the Nikon 135mm f/2 DC, a lens with great sharpness and image quality. Having in mind that at two or three stops above f/2 would be an optimum aperture I set it to f/5. With the D800E, I considered it to be a good setting since from f/8 and above the large amount of megapixels on a 35mm sensor are on the edge of diffraction.
A panoramic head would be the best solution, but I don’t own one, so I used the levels function that is displayed in the live screen to maintain a good alignment. It took 39 shots to cover the are I wanted and about 10 minutes shooting. Back home, I used Lightroom 4 to corrrect lens distortion and then used the Autopano Pro to make the stitch. As you can imagine, it took a few hours to complete the whole process.
Since the final file was over 3GB, the only way to save it was PSB format which can be opened and processed at Photoshop (TIFF files over 2GB don’t work well and there was no option to save it as a JPEG of course).
The image above is a 100% crop at the top right edge of the photo. It’s what you actually see on a 120×40 inches printed photo at 300dpi without any interpolation. I was really stunned with the detail of the stitched file and the image quality of the D800E at base ISO.
Today, I am going to print this image and see how it looks (I am sure it will look fantastic, judging by the quality I see at 100% crop).
Although I am mainly a film shooter (and I will continue to be), I just can’t ignore the ability of a modern high end digital camera to produce these kind of images. It’s a tool for serious photography work and I will sure take advantage of it for specific projects that I have in mind.
(c)2012 Konstantinos Besios. All Rights Reserved.