Mark Dubovoy on the new Nikon D800 & D800E Cameras

Maserati Birdcage Nikon D800 AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

A lot has been written on the internet about the new Nikon D800. Unfortunately, there are a lot of websites and a lot of discussion forums where incorrect information seems to be the order of the day. As such, I thought I would clarify a few things about this wonderful new camera system that in my view is a game changer.

First of all, there seems to be a lot of discussion about Moiré because of the D800E, which many people incorrectly say is a camera with no Anti-Aliasing filter. This is false. The D800E has the same filter as the regular version, plus a second filter installed to try to eliminate the blurring from the first one. Having 4 air to glass surfaces, coatings, refraction and imperfect filters (all filters are imperfect, nothing is perfect) can never be the same as having no filter. I would call the D800E a camera with reduced blurring from two Anti-Aliasing filters, not a camera with no AA filter.

All this talk about Moiré is a bit surprising, particularly given that every Medium Format digital back for the better part of the last 2 decades and every Leica camera has had no Anti-Aliasing filter. It is an absolute myth that Moiré is a terrible problem for cameras without this filter. I have made tens of thousands of exposures with these kinds of cameras for over 12 years, and I cannot recall a single image where Moiré has been a problem.

For the vast majority of photographers, Moiré is an extremely rare event. It is highly unlikely you will ever see it, and if you do, there are well known simple fixes in RAW converters and in Photoshop. Some RAW converters even include a “de-Moiré” filter.

In fact, sometimes the converse is true. I once saw a demonstration of a specific shot where Canon and Nikon top of the line pro cameras produced large amounts of Moiré, and several cameras without Anti Aliasing filters produced none.
Without going into the Physics involved, whether Moiré appears or not is dependent on many factors, the lens, the aperture, the number of pixels in a sensor and the pixel pitch and sensor geometry, the distance to the subject, the lighting, the subject characteristics, etc. If you are worried about Moiré in cameras without AA filters, you better start worrying about cameras with AA filters also!
The most disturbing thing to me is that in the past week or so I have seen many sites and blogs (even some of the more credible ones) calling color artifacts that are not Moiré a Moiré problem (Moiré has a very specific look. Once you have seen it in scientific tests or books, you can easily recognize it).
Cameras without AA filters require much more sophisticated RAW conversion software, particularly in the de-Mosaic area. Most of the color artifacts from the D800E that I have seen people show on the internet are not the result of Moiré They are the result of suboptimal RAW conversion software. I would recommend to folks that are buying this camera to stick to Lightroom 4 and CaptureOne. I know these work extremely well; I do not know about the others.
I would also suggest that you stay away from discussions about whether the D800E is sharper than the D800 or not. Those discussions are a complete waste of time. The real issue is resolution, not sharpness. They are very different things, and the D800E has better resolution than the D800; period. Can you see the difference? The answer is yes. You can see it in prints and you can see it on the screen. If you want maximum resolution, the E model is the way to go.
Final recommendations:
The D800/D800E require flawless technique to extract all they can deliver. This means perfect focus (whenever possible using Live View at high magnification as opposed to autofocus. Yes, Live View manual is the most accurate of all focusing methods), mirror up, heavy tripod (no, a Series 2 Gitzo or equivalent won’t do the job), very careful exposure, etc. If you shoot handheld, you should use a shutter speed at least 2-3 times the inverse of the focal length, even with VR lenses. I recommend one divided by three times the focal length to be safe. I also recommend that you test each lens for focusing accuracy and calibrate the camera accordingly using a device such as LensAlign and the fine focus calibration adjustments in the camera.
If you are not willing to do all this, you will probably still be very happy with the camera and the lenses, but just know that you will most likely not be extracting the maximum quality the system is capable of.
For more information an the D800/800E please go to my most recent article in The Luminous Landscape.
I want to thank Mark Dubovoy for his generous contribution to our blog. -Jeff