Discerning the Differences between the Nikon D800 and D800E
With the announcement of the Nikon D800 and the D800E, you might wonder which camera is best for you. This article is intended to highlight the crucial differences between the two cameras and ultimately help you decide which camera better suits your needs.
The Nikon D800 and D800E DSLRs are both highly capable cameras featuring a 36.3-megapixel FX format full frame CMOS sensor. They both support full HD video recording at 1080p and have extensive low-light sensitivity to ISO 25600 in expanded mode. Both also have a fast 51-point autofocus system and support up to 4 frame-per-second continuous shooting.
These cameras are identical in most regards; however, there is one notable difference between them that should be a factor in deciding which model is the right one for you. Let’s look at the way in which images are captured to help outline the major differences between these two Nikon cameras.
All Nikon DSLRs incorporate an optical low-pass filter (OLPF) in front of the imaging sensor that blurs the image very slightly to help reduce false colors and moiré patterns. These artifacts are an inherent consequence of digital imaging and are most commonly seen when photographing very finely detailed patterns. Moiré is created because of the manner in which images are recorded by the imaging sensor; each individual pixel conveys information that has passed through a patterned system of three filters (red, green and blue) to render the image as a digital file. During the exposure, each pixel is exposed to only one of the three color channels, and the remaining visual information is interpolated by the camera. A moiré is the result of this interpolation being depicted with such density that the camera is unable to properly resolve it.
Moiré is commonly countered by the OLPF, and the blur that it causes breaks up this density of visual information, allowing for smooth representation of patterns with natural colors—but at the cost of a slight reduction in sharpness.
The D800 makes use of this OLPF and produces images that have a high resistance to moiré and color shifting. This OLPF also acts as an anti-aliasing filter and helps to reduce aliasing that is caused when photographing hard-edged subject matter. Similar to the way moiré patterns are caused, aliasing occurs when photographing tight patterns and skewed lines that are difficult to render due to their visual frequencies. The filter scatters the light rays and breaks them down by defocusing slightly. This minute decrease in sharpness can give a more natural and fluid appearance, with longer tonal gradations. When an anti-aliasing filter is not used, the camera’s sensor sometimes records gradients in a way that makes them appear a bit more choppy and truncated.
The D800E is able to produce images with slightly higher sharpness and resolution.
An example of moiré and false color can be seen in the kimono fabric in the image that was captured with the D800E.
The D800E differs from the D800 by incorporating optical glass between its OLPF substrates that eliminates the blurring effect of the OLPF. This optical glass reorganizes the path of light reaching the sensor and essentially un-polarizes it, causing it to strike the sensor in a straight path. By eliminating this effect and straightening the path of the light, images are recorded with higher sharpness and resolution.
The idea of increased sharpness and resolution sounds like an ideal consequence, but the risk of spatial aliasing, moiré and color shifting is certainly increased. The D800E does not provide an in-camera solution for anti-aliasing, so it is specifically designed for photographers who can effectively control their lighting situations and are more apt to spend time correcting images during post processing. The benefits of the D800E are also most noticeable when working with the RAW (NEF) file format.
When photographing in JPG or TIFF formats with the D800E, in-camera image processing dramatically reduces the efficacy of any subsequent alteration of moiré patterns in post production. Because of this automatic image processing, moiré patterns are essentially fixed into the file and dramatic pixel manipulation will be required to remove them during post production. By contrast, with the D800, your workflow can be the same whether you’re recording RAW (NEF) or JPG or TIFF files.
It should also be mentioned that while the moiré patterns will be more prevalent in images captured with the D800E, image processing tools such as Nikon’s Capture NX 2 and Adobe Lightroom 4 now feature plug-ins to simplify the removal of aliasing. This addition to your workflow could prove to be quite a chore when bulk-editing files, but these tools are promising solutions for moiré elimination.
Some points to take away when considering which model is most appropriate for you:
- Both cameras feature an optical low-pass filter (OLPF); however, only the D800 truly makes use of it to reduce aliasing, moiré and false color.
- The D800E incorporates an optical glass element between the substrates of the OLPF that negates their effect and results in greater sharpness and resolution in imagery. This increase in definition comes at the expense of an increased likelihood that moiré patterns and false colors will occur.
- The D800E is an ideal camera for photographers who can very precisely control their shooting situations (i.e. studio and commercial setups). This involves control over the lighting, a steady camera (often with the use of a tripod), the ability and desire to photograph with middle f/stops (roughly f/5.6 to f/11), photographing only in RAW (NEF) file formats and a post-processing workflow that allows for the removal of moiré and false colors.
- The D800 is an ideal camera for all shooting situations and allows you to work in any file format. There is no compensation required to reduce moiré.
With this difference aside, it should be noted that both cameras are highly capable of recording outstanding imagery. While the D800E could be perceived to be the better camera, this is certainly not true for everyone. You should make a careful consideration of your personal needs and shooting styles before determining the best model for you.
|Nikon D800||Nikon D800E|
|Optical Low Pass Filter||Reduces aliasing, moiré and false colors||Rendered ineffective due to optical glass between filter layers; aliasing, moiré and false colors are more likely|
|Sharpness||OLPF slightly blurs light before reaching sensor, resulting in a slightly less sharp image||No diffusion of light reaching filter, subsequent images are the sharpest possible|
|Post-Production Workflow Adjustments||Not necessary||Might have to correct for moiré or false colors during post production|
|Ideal Shooting Situation||Appropriate for use in all situations||Appropriate for use when lighting can be controlled or altered easily; camera should be held as steadily as possible for best possible results (i.e. use of a tripod or the ability to shoot at 1/125 second or above)|
|Ideal File Formats||Any file format||RAW (NEF) file format|
|Ideal Aperture Range||Any aperture can be used for optimal results||Middle apertures should be used|
|Intended User||Anyone||Studio or commercial photographers who are able to compensate for moiré via lighting adjustments and manipulating images in post|
|Pros||Elimination of moiré and false colors at shooting stage||Maximum sharpness and definition|
|Cons||Slightly less sharp images compared to D800E||Increased occurrence of moiré and false colors compared to D800|