Recently I am writing more and more about the Nikon D800E, and for a good reason, that is. I was reluctant to carry this heavy DSLR with me on my trips, I thought if I was to take a rather large and heavy camera, my first choices would my 4×5 view camera or one of my medium format cameras.
But since my vast majority of my photos are taken close to my car, I packed the D800E with a couple of lenses and kept it in the trunk. I found out that there were many cases when I didn’t take a photo of a particular subject since it required some time setting up a tripod, take exposure meterings, etc (with the exception of the Makina 67 which I almost always shoot handheld). But by having the D800E with me, it was just a matter of a few seconds to make the shot.
The readers of this blog know that I am mostly a film shooter. I love the look of film and whole procedure of making a photo using film. But I am not a “film fanatic”. I embrace both mediums (digital and film) and use them according to the situation. Until the arrival of the D800E I didn’t consider making my “serious photos” with a DSRL, but as you can guess, I am starting to change my mind. There are many things that a 4×5 view camera cannot do, and also some things a medium format camera cannot do. This is where the D800E comes in to fill this gap. By being a digital camera I can also experiment much more than with my film cameras. Recently it also serves me as a digital Polaroid, to take exposure meterings and preview how a subject will look before I waste some film. This way, it also works a a digital backup of the image I am going to shoot with film, so in case something goes wrong, I wills still have the digital version of the image.
At some point I tried to make head to head comparisons of the D800E with my film gear. But after a couple of tests, I got bored. The images between them were far beyond a simple resolution, color and dynamic range comparison. Personally, I find that you can’t get the color of Velvia or the tonality of a b&w film with a digital camera (just two short examples). Other people find the crystal clear look of digital much more to their tastes, so it all comes down to your personal preferences.
The image above is one of my first with the Nikon using the LEE filter holder (which I frequently use with my 6×17 and 4×5 cameras). The superb dynamic range of the D800E allows you to do some heavy post processing without affecting a lot the image quality. That means that you can digitally add in post processing effects like a polarizer filter and a ND Grad filter. But, I prefer to return home with an image that will not require much post processing, that’s why I am using filters while in the field. On the image above, I used a stronger filter than I should but currently I only own the 0.9 ND Hard GRAD !!
In order to full exploit the 36 megapixels of the D800E you will need a good lens and a good tripod. Diffraction appears earlier than other cameras, so you also have to think seriously in getting a sharp photo with the desired depth of field. It’s a serious camera, and the huge megapixels number shows your mistakes more than any other full frame camera.
In terms of absolute image quality, my 4×5 view camera easily gets ahead of the D800E, but… the Nikon can be used instantly in any situation, whether that’s a landscape or action shot, its superb available light performer, etc, which basically means that its a camera for everything. That’s a fact I cannot ignore, in today’s terms, the D800E is the 4×5 camera of its era. Of course if you consider the ability of movements which a a view camera possesses, that’s a whole different game, but after all, that’s why I added a view camera in my arsenal. Someday I will probably try to use the D800E as a digital back on a view camera, but that requires an investment out of my reach right now (the small sensor of a full frame camera means that you will need modem large format lenses which are very expensive, so for a hobbyist like me, its now wise to invest on them).
So, one more post about the mighty D800E, many more to follow !!
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