Nikon D800
Busting the Myth of Megapixels

Page 3

(June 2012)

     
 

Page 1 (Introduction, The test, Resolution, Chromatic aberration (CA))
Page 2 (Noise)

Page 4 (Diffraction and depth of field, Autofocus, White balance (WB) and monitor)
Page 5 (Nikon D800E, What do I find problematic with the D800?, Conclusion, Post Scriptum)

 
 
Picture Control
The Nikon D800 expanded preset modes for picture control. In addition to the standard four modes - Standard, Neutral, Vivid and Monochrome, two new modes have been added: Portrait and Landscape. Obviously this is no revolutionary change, since the portrait mode is just a slight modification of neutral mode, while landscape is a modification of vivid mode. What is of further interest, up to nine user-defined preset modes can be saved to the camera. These user-defined settings are achieved through modifying preset modes' settings of sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue in color modes or filter effects in the monochrome mode.
 
 
 
 

I decided not to pursue the picture control settings into too much detail. I mostly used the preset modes and only slightly raised the sharpness level (usually one or two steps higher than the default value), since I find the sharpness setting a tinge to conservative.

The neutral mode captures has the most natural colors that can possibly be captured with a camera or in other words it tries to faithfully reproduce reality. This mode ensures the highest picture quality and most of all the greatest dynamic range. Sadly a photo shot in this mood looks relatively "faded" in our eyes and is thus less interesting.

The vivid mode on the other hand portrays vivid and saturated colors that are more keen to the eye. However, these colors come with a high price to pay – the photos lose their dynamic range, especially in darker parts of the photo. Details seem to get lost in the dark. Parts of the picture that have clearer and more saturated colors are another weak spot where details seem to get lost. This mode is also very unsuitable for portraits, considering that the tone of skin is somehow unrealistic.

The standard mode is a good compromise, but it's just a middle path between both extremes.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The photos below show how the selection of a color mode influences different shots. In the photo with the cushions it becomes clear how saturated colors (Vivid and Landscape mode) make the details in darker parts disappear.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
ADL and HDR
 
The D800 provides two more mechanisms, which help us to rescue details from the brightest and darkest parts of the picture. First there's ADL - Active D-lightning, which had been introduced already with the D3 and is featured in all subsequent cameras. In this mode the camera overexposes the darkest parts of the photo or raises the contrast in the lighter parts of the picture, which obviously causes the loss of contrast in the majority of middle tones. This way we get more information in the picture, however we lose some of its clarity. In some cases when shooting very contrasting objects, the ADL can improve the quality of the final photo, but it's probably wiser to turn it off with average settings, especially considering that the D800 by itself covers a very broad dynamic range. The D800 offers four levels of ADL and an automatic mode, where the camera alone sets the optimal correction rate based on how contrasting the shot is.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

An even more effective tool against photos with excessive contrast is HDR - High dynamic range. This technique, where two or more pictures of the same composition taken with different exposures are combined into one in the computer is relatively old in digital photography, but including this feature in the camera itself is a fairly recent development. After turning the HDR setting on, once we press the shutter button, the camera does two shots with two different exposures (and the mirror is only raised once) and joins them into a single image. When using this feature, the use of a tripod is highly recommended. You can chose in the menu between 1, 2 or 3 EV steps difference between the shots or the Auto choice, where the camera decides by itself about the exposure difference based on how contrasting the scene is.

 
 
 
 
 
 
I find the HDR function to be extremely useful tool, especially with highly contrasting scenes, but unfortunately the D800 has one great flaw: HDR only works when picture quality is set to JPG! I can't find a sensible reason to why the HDR function doesn't work with the RAW (NEF) format. But then on the other hand, the "Image overlay" function that enables for two already shot and saved photos to be joined in the camera, only works with the RAW (NEF) format. Nikon claims that the picture quality after applying this function is notably higher than after picture editing in the computer. The HDR function is very similar in its functioning to the "Image overlay" setting, therefore I do not understand why it doesn't work in RAW (NEF) format. When shooting important photos, we want to save the RAW file in addition to the JPG, however when using the HDR function with the D800 this is simply not possible.
 
 

Vignetting control

 

There are three levels of lens vignetting control featured on the D800 – low, medium and high (and of course the off option). Seeing as vignetting is different from lens to lens and can be altered by different aperture values or even with zooming in and out, I gravely miss an automatic vignetting control setting.

 
 
 
Distortion control
 

The D800 has a built-in function to control lens distortion. You can choose between automatic or manual distortion controls, which are both used subsequently, after the picture has been shot. I highly welcomed the possibility of automatic distortion control during shooting.

There is apparent barrel distortion on the bottom left photo of an embroidered picture, which was taken with a AFS 16-35 mm f/4 lens at 16 mm. Automatic distortion control was set to off. The photo on the right was shot under identical conditions with the same lens, except that automatic distortion control has been turned on. Clearly the camera did a good job, yet not a perfect one, since signs of distortion are still present in the picture. Distortion control is ideal with architecture photography but also with landscapes, especially when the water level is close to the photo's edge. In underwater photography however, it's entirely useless, so it's better to keep this function turned off – with oversampling and cropping some sharpness of the photo gets lost.
 
 
 
Page 1 (Introduction, The test, Resolution, Chromatic aberration (CA))
Page 2 (Noise)

Page 4 (Diffraction and depth of field, Autofocus, White balance (WB) and monitor)
Page 5 (Nikon D800E, What do I find problematic with the D800?, Conclusion, Post Scriptum)