E is for…

Yesterday I final bit the bullet as the final step in the crystallization of my decision to focus on macro photography above all else: I traded in my beloved 600f4 VR (which I’ve had for 4 years now), and received a D800E and grip in part exchange.  I hadn’t used the 600 since February, and figured that if I wanted to shoot birds I could still manage with a combo of the D3S and D800E with my 300f4 and teleconverters.  I haven’t really had the time to put the new body through its paces, but have taken one or two handheld shots, to test tolerances for noise and sharpness, and to get used to processing the files.  On the latter, I maxed out the ram in my MacBookPro to 16GB before even starting on anything else…

My main interest with the D800E is to get increased amounts of fine detail in shots, esp. with the aim of printing at A2 size (594x420mm).  I have lots of A2 prints with the D3S, but have to uprez them for output; having a massively increased amount of pixels to play with increases my compositional options in post-processing, and should also increase the quality of the larger prints.

I’m yet to try base ISO shooting on a tripod, which should really make the files sing, but the quick test snaps handheld were important for me because I wanted to check out a few things in comparison with the D3S:

Is handholding this new combo possible at flash-sync speeds (interestingly the D800E has an extra top sync setting of 1/320)?

What are the tolerances for this, in terms of noise and sharpness?

How does fine detail really compare to the D3S?

I’ll post some shots below, though at 1200 pixels max here the results are merely for illustration because the differences really only appear at larger file sizes.

Composition/Fine Detail/Cropping:

It’s clear that the D800E has huge possibilities here; handheld, I will probably shoot FX and crop later as required, though I may use other in-camera crop modes for tripod shooting depending on subject.

Noise:

Noise seems very good, though not quite as good as the D3S; if I crop in super tight (not something I would usually do anyway) I would apply some noise reduction in ACR, though this probably wouldn’t really be necessary for prints.  I’m yet to test higher ISOs but I don’t think I’d be too troubled as long as I don’t crop too much.

Sharpness:

Basically amazing.  This is good news for handheld shooting; with insects my benchmark test for sharpness is details in compound eyes: this is pretty tricky to accomplish with the D3S, and is tricky handheld with the D800E also.  But it is possible!  At f/16 diffraction may be offset to some degree by the extra sharpness of the D800E over the standard D800.  For insect shots, where your main subject is often fairly central, it’s not going to be a big issue I don’t think.

Dynamic range/rescuing shadows:

Both the D3S and D800E are excellent in this regard, but the E has the edge I think; it did a great job recovering some detail in the greenbottle not illuminated by the flash.

Greenbottle

Nikon D800E/MB-D12/200f4micro/cpl/SB600+softbox
ISO 800 1/320 f/16 handheld

Greenbottle1200NF

Below is a 100% crop, to show off details possible even handheld at 200mm and 1/320, on a windy afternoon.  I applied 25% noise reduction for this crop only.  For small mobile subjects like this I might also be tempted to use the D3S and a bit of extension to get closer.  A touch of moiré just noticable in the eye here, but you really have to look for it.

Greenbottleheaddetail

Bluebell detail

I wouldn’t have been able to get a shot this sharp or as detailed with the D3S without using extension and tripod anyway.

Nikon D800E/MB-D12/200f4micro/cpl/SB600+softbox
ISO 500 1/250 f/16 handheld

A hefty crop from full frame (full size this is 1737×1327, down from a whopping 7360×4912 – 2 mp instead of 36 mp); 15% noise reduction applied in ACR; downrezed to 1024 high, selectively sharpened.  At full size the detail in the pollen is amazing!

Bluebelldetail1024

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