The Nikon D800E in the field

23/04/2012
Nikon D800E 24mm F11 0.6sec ISO100
First landscape shoot with the Nikon D800E
Having described my initial impressions whilst setting up for this shoot in a previous Blog, we’re now on to the capture stage.

Okay, this first foray into the field is in fact on a high hill (for the New Forest) overlooking misty and frosty moorland. It is 5:35 in the morning and the sun is about 30 minutes from breaking the horizon to my left. I’ve set the camera on RAW, ISO 100 and if you read my previous blog, mirror lock up - all easily found. Setting the ISO is a case of pressing the large button on top of the release control and using the main command dial to adjust the setting. You can either view the ISO number through the viewfinder display or using the top LCD panel. With my camera set at eye level viewing the top panel is difficult, so I use the viewfinder. If needed to, a twist of the on-off switch will illuminate the top LCD. Moving down to this body size from the D1 (D2, D3 etc) series body, I do miss their second LCD display on the back of the camera, which is ideal and easily viewed for setting the ISO for instance. This is the trade off for smaller size and lower weight of course.

The D800E viewfinder is clear and being full frame, large in comparison with smaller sensor sized cameras. I’m using the Nikon 24-70 F2.8 lens and manually focussing as usual. The contrast of the viewfinder is fine so that focussing is not an issue, even in this pre dawn light. Okay, first frame away. The image is so quickly written using a compact flash card that it is of no concern. (Indeed I hadn’t even thought about it until I came to write this missive!) The camera can take two cards, a compact flash and an SD card which can be programmed as to which cards do what in the menu custom functions.

Reviewing my first image on the large monitor on the back of the D800E is clear and produces a clean image. Zooming in to check the detail is a revelation. Allowing for the resolution of the monitor, which is as good or better than most, detail is superb. Zooming in and out is again very easy using the two lower buttons on the back of the camera. Pulling up the histogram follows the same practise as my other Nikon’s, by using the multi selector to the right of the monitor. I had set the parameters of the display to my own requirements and those of my other cameras, yesterday. So far the switch over has been seamless.

Dialling in some exposure compensation again follows usual Nikon button and dial, handily placed where my right index finger naturally falls. This actually feels ergonomically better than my other cameras. On examination I see the D800E’s exposure compensation button has been placed further away from the back of the camera, increasing the space between the thumb and index finger. You have the ability to customise the rotation direction of the dial as you prefer, either left for plus compensation or right for plus compensation, your choice. All my cameras have the same movements and customisation so there is one less thing to think about on the job.

I fire off the second shot and then a series of images at different apertures to view the results later. The shutter sound is different from my other cameras, somewhat softer if that makes sense, somewhat more rounded but quite purposeful and robust. It is obviously different because I’m writing about it! Little things….

Okay, the sun has just crept over the horizon now, although it is slightly diffused with high level cloud. With this directional light I move across the hill for a different composition, wide angle initially to check the camera out with the same 24-70 lens at 24mm and also a 24mm prime. We all know that in any situation focus is critical. Here, after taking the shots and zooming in, I can see that as this D800E has the ability to capture masses of information, it captures is all come what may – good and bad! The inherent softening at the edges of wide angle lenses is brought home well and truly. Conversely, in the sweet spot of the lens, the detail is revolutionary in my view. I’ve again shot at a series of apertures to pass comment on later when the images have been processed, but for now, I can already anticipate that the effects of diffraction are more than likely to show up at 100% on the screen. (Don’t get too hung up on this though as at 72ppi the image viewed on the screen would be over 8 feet wide and you don’t view an 8 foot wide image from 15 inches away do you!!!)

Changing lens to my 80-200 F2.8 N lens and zooming in, I am, quite honestly astonished at the capabilities. Both of the camera to show the detail and the lens in being so damned sharp. That old saying that there is no substitute for good glass really holds true. To be honest, I was a little bit concerned that the camera would out resolve the lenses. Now, I’m only commenting at the moment about what I am seeing in the field, but to date, with my pro lenses, they seem up to the task. At the end of the day in any case, it is the print that matters, not pixel peepers who verbose unnecessarily. In the real world photography is more than that.

Okay, the mist has lifted, the sun is up, so I move to take some shots to test the dynamic range which is supposed to be really impressive according to DXOmark, and then one last shot. This one is to see what a straight print from the camera is like, without any processing other than the Capture NX raw conversion. We’ll wait and see.

Summing up, the camera is continuing to impress. To be honest, anyone spending near on £3k on a camera is not going to say it is bad, because I don’t think there is a ‘bad’ camera out there nowadays, almost at any price. But practically, for a working photographer, this Nikon is up there for ease of use with many of the functions available on the pro D1 series carried down/over to this model, plus some new features yet to be explored. Now for some breakfast.

Downloading and processing of these images will be covered in another blog soon. Keep up to date by following me on Twitter or Facebook, where I will announce the publication.

Keep practising – I am
Ian