Last week I got a D800E from LensProToGo.com for my photo trip out west. I wanted to put it up against a Nikon D800 to see if I’d really notice the extra sharpness you get because the 800E doesn’t have the anti-aliasing filter. Now, going into the test I have to say I expected to like the D800E better. It’s a little niche, and isn’t the norm, so it just seemed like it would be cool to have the D800E in my bag.
Why The Comparison?
I’ve pretty much settled on the fact that I’m going to buy a Nikon D800. I’ve borrowed one enough by now to know that I like it. I love to shoot landscape and outdoor photos and that’s primarily what I intend to shoot with it. I think the D800 is perfect for it. It’s sharp as heck and produces huge files with incredible resolution. Since you’re typically on a tripod for landscape and outdoors, you really get to enjoy the sharpness in those files for some amazing prints. So at this point, I’m sold on the D800, but before I pulled the trigger I wanted to test out the D800E (without the anti-aliasing filter) to see if it would be noticeably sharper.
Another Reason For The Test
I’ve done my research on the D800E to know it was indeed going to produce sharper photos than the regular D800. But another reason I wanted to do the comparison, was because everything I’ve read on this to date didn’t really show examples with the type of photos that I take. Some tests were fairly simple images people took in their backyards or what seemed like some place local to where they already were. Since I was buying this for landscape photography, I wanted to get it out in the type of conditions that I’d actually be shooting in.
By The Way – We Already Know The D800E Will Produce Sharper Photos
This isn’t a technical review and, before we get too far, you should know this. The D800E will indeed produce sharper photos than the D800 will. Because it doesn’t have an anti-aliasing filter it will be sharper (although the lack of filter can cause moiré when taking photos of repeating patterns). No doubt about it. I’ve already read several reviews/articles on it. Ken Rockwell has a good one as well as the Luminous Landscape. So my point wasn’t whether or not to prove that they were right or wrong. I trust those guys and knew going into this that the D800E would produce a sharper photo than the D800.
But just how sharp? My goal here was to see whether or not I’d really notice the additional sharpness in the real world.
What I Consider The Real World?
So what’s this “real world” I speak of? I consider the real world the following:
• My online web portfolio (and image the size of something you’d see on the web)
• Facebook and Google+ (the primary social media websites in which I share my photos)
• On screen for when I’m demo’ing Lightroom or Photoshop (I zoom in to my photos quite a bit when teaching so super sharp photos is a plus!)
• And of course, the Print which is where I thought I’d really see the difference if there was one.
How I Did The Comparison
I recently took a trip to Jackson Hole, WY to photography Grand Teton National Park. I got a D800E for the week from LensProToGo.com (where I get all my rentals from) and my friends over at The Digital Photo Workshops had a D800 for me to put it up against. Every comparison I’d seen to date didn’t have the scenery I wanted so I figured this would be a great place to test it out.
The Results (the short version)
Okay time for the results… first I’ll give you the short version… really short. I’m not buying a D800E. I didn’t notice enough extra sharpness to warrant the possible downside (increased risk of moiré, false color and not to mention an extra $300).
The Results (slightly longer version)
Okay, I figure if you’re still reading you want to know a little more. For starters, I did the test with the setup that I usually use for landscapes. A solid tripod (Really Right Stuff TVC-33 in this case) and my Nikon 16-35mm lens. I switched out cameras on the tripod and took the test photos within about 30 seconds of each other. So conditions were about as identical as possible. There wasn’t really much wind and the light was barely changing at the time.
When I got the photos on the computer to compare I could definitely see a difference. Now, it wasn’t a huge difference but it was about what I’d expected from reading the other articles. You’ll have to stare at it a few times to really see the difference.
Here’s a Before/After zoomed in way further than anyone would ever see my photos at
And here’s the full image so you can get an idea of how far zoomed in I am and how much of the original you’re actually seeing (little box in the lower left corner).
So there’s definitely a difference. But is it a difference anyone will ever see? Maybe if I printed it at a 30×40 or something large. But I printed it out at something I think is more typical (a 13×19) and let me tell ya… you can barely (and I mean barely) see a difference. It’s so subtle you wonder if your eyes are just playing tricks on you. And once you run just the slightest bit of Unsharp Mask on the photo (around 50%) in Photoshop, all bets are off and you’d never know the difference.
As for screen size images, absolutely not. Below are two images (you should click to see them larger). I saved them at a size which is about the largest I’d display on screen and I can’t see the difference.
What About Moiré?
Nope. Nada. Zilch. Nothing I shot with the D800E produce a moiré pattern.
What About Auto-Focus Problems?
Oh yeah, I’ve heard about people having auto-focus problems with the D800. Doug Kaye wrote about it on his website. Personally, I haven’t had these problems so there’s not much I can say about ’em other than I know people that have had issues.
My final thoughts are much like Ken Rockwell’s. If you’re a pixel peeper. If you’re the kind that loves to talk histograms, bit-depth, diffraction on lenses and all that fun stuff ;), then you may appreciate the slightly sharper image the D800E gives you. But in my tests, shooting what I actually shoot, I’ll probably pass on the D800E and go with the D800. I know I never had any moiré problems, but there is the risk that I may shooting something where it does. The little sharpness gain from the 800E just wasn’t worth it to me. That said, if you already have an 800E or you decide to buy one I think you’re just fine. They’re both EXCELLENT cameras and I don’t think you could go wrong either way. I just figured I’d at least share my personal experiences on the whole thing.
Thanks for stopping by. Let me know if you have any questions 🙂