Making the right choice……

6 years, 10 months ago 26


I just returned from CNPA (Carolina Nature Photographers Association) annual meeting.  this  is one of the largest gatherings of nature photographers in America, with over 450 were in attendance for this 3 and 1/2 day conference.  I worked the Nikon booth in the vendor area and talked with hundreds of folks and heard two specific questions over and over, and over!


Question One: Should I buy the D4 or the D800?  


Question Two: Should I buy the D800 or D800e?


Let me attempt to answer these two questions and keep in mind I can only make suggestions based on which camera is best for a certain kind of user or use, the final decision, of course, is up to you!


Question one, D4 or D800?  The D4 which cost $5,999.95 is twice as expensive as the D800, at $2,999.95.  So what does the extra $3000. get you?  The D4 is the fully armor plated, hockey puck tough, tried and true Pro DSLR for people that need speed and longevity!  The D800 is also very ruggedly built, but not up to the toughness of the D4.  The D4 has a shutter rated at 400,000 cycles, twice as long as the D800.  The D4 fires at from 10 to 11 frames per second, over twice as fast at the D800.  The D4 has 16 megapixels on a full 35mm film size FX CMOS Sensor vs the 36.3 megapixels on the same basic size sensor in the D800.  Because the individual pixels are approx. twice as large in the D4 as in the D800 the D4 will be better at delivering low noise in very high ISO shooting, vs the D800.  The D4 is larger and a little heavier than the D800 (*the D4 is lighter than the previous D3s).   The D4 has a number of additional connectivity opportunities not found in he D800 like Ethernet and a direct Wireless transmitter connection.  The D800 is a very high resolution camera, currently the highest resolution camera available in a 35mm camera body size camera in the world! (as of 2/13/12).  This means extraordinary detail in images taken with the camera if you are prepared to use a high resolution camera, to it’s full potential.


To get the most out of  the D800 you will need to do the following:


1.  Shoot with the very best glass Nikon makes:










Does this mean  that only these lenses will give excellent results with the D800?   No, but it does mean optical performance will be critical to getting all the 36 megapixel sensor is capable of delivering!  So get ready to acquire the very best lenses if you want all the performance this camera can deliver!  * When I get my production camera I will run a test with a large number of lenses, old and new, and report, but I suspect I will find that this information will hold up.  * This will be even more critical when using the D800e.


2.  Be prepared to shoot at optimum f stops to get the best optical performance.  The optimum aperture setting for most lenses is approx. three stops down from wide open, for example if you have a 24-70 AF-S  f2.8 Nikkor lens three stops down from f 2.8 would be f8.  Stopping down any further will cause de-fraction which will soften the image and will result in a loss of resolution, which is why you bought the D800  in the first place.  This happens in all lenses, but when we get to the extreme resolution in the D800’s 36 megapixel sensor the effect is greatly magnified, because the resolution is “greatly” magnified.  The result will be that if you often need to stop down to f 11, f 16 or even f 22 the de-fraction affects will be much greater than you have seen in the past with sensors of less resolution. Let’s take a real world example; If you are shooting a stream in the Smokies and need to stop down to f22 to get a long enough shutter speed to blur the water, you will definitely see a loss of sharpness, (resolution), if you stop down that far.  You might use a variable neutral density filter to keep from stopping down that far and shoot at f 8 but then you would loose depth-of-field!  Welcome to the cost of extreme high resolution.


3.  Keeping motion blur to a minimum.  With the advent of the very high resolution of the D8oo everything will be magnified, even camera movement!  It will be more important than ever to use a very sturdy tripod, lock up the mirror, focus using Live view,and take any other preventive measures you can to eliminate camera movement.   The pixel density in the camera acts like a long lens, magnifying any movement. I would say that anyone who shoots hand held will have to take extreme care to avoid soft images due to camera movement, much more so than in the past.  We saw some of this affect in the D3x, it will be 30% more likely now.There is no free lunch, high resolution sensors will require high attention to preventing movement.


4.  Focusing will have to be even more precise.  Once again extreme high resolution gives a great gift, and extracts a great price. Precise focusing will be crucial to getting the full potential of the D800.  Because the latest Pro cameras have the ability to adjust focus point, this should not be a problem, but it will have to be carefully monitored.


5.  Adjusting the High ISO NR setting will help with sharpness.  Once again because of the very high resolution of the D800/D800e the best balance to hold edge shrpness yet offer some noise reduction will be to set the High ISO Noise Reduction levels to Low or Off.  More aggresive noise reduction will result in a higher visable amount of softening of the image.


6. File Size.   The D800 will make files a little more  than double the size of the D4.  A RAW file right out of the D800 will be around 75 mb.  So a 16 gig card will hold around 213 images, a 16 gig card in a D4 will hold about twice that, around 430.  Your 1 TB hard drive would hold something like 1,300 D800 Raw files (no adjustments) and 2,750 D4 RAW files.  Your computer will take more effort to push around the larger files, depending on the speed of your processor and the amount of RAM you have.  Needless to say files from the D800 will require bigger hard drives, and more RAM.  This will really come into play if you shoot HDR.  A 7 stop bracket for HDR in RAW will yield over 500 mb of information for the final image.  That’s both good and not so good, depending on your computer.


Which would I buy for the kind of work I do?  Remember,  I do general nature, close-up, travel, fine art, some aviation and limited sports, and I shoot hand held images out of a moving ultralight airplane!   Most of my images are for LCD projection, or web use,  and I don’t make a great number of very large prints.  I do need to use the full range of  f stops on my lenses because in many of my images extreme depth of field is very important, especially nature landscape and close-up work. Considering all of that,  I’m leaning to the D4, however I will thoroughly test a D80o, when I get one  and will update these thoughts then.  I’m extremely excited about the D80o and can’t wait to wring it out on the kinds of subjects I shoot.  One thing is for sure, even if I love it, and I suspect I will, it will not be a camera I will use casually, it will require extremely good technique to get everything out of it,  that it offers in terms of detail and resolution!  Keep in mind that the D700o is a 16 megapixel camera  on a DX sensor which has much of the same issues, though to a lesser degree.  The D7000 has a pixel density equivalent to the resolution of the D3x which is a 24 megapixel camera!  Anyone who shoots and uses the D7000 has learned these same precautions are needed with it as well, though not to quite a high degree. I can imagine a D4 / D7000 system with the D7000 being the hi res camera!



Question Two, D800 or D800e?  This one is a lot easier to answer. for 98% of all photographers the D8o0 is the best choice.  The D800e is as very special application camera aimed at the very small percentage of studio users that have been using medium format studio digital camera.  They shoot in RAW, they have very tight control; of color and light, and they are very aware of when to expect moier’e patterns.  For general use in the field, the very small percentage of extra resoluton will likely not be worth the extreme extra care needed to get it!  Can it be used with a degree of success in the real world, sure, but trust me it will bring with it a whole host of new issues, you may, or may not be ready to deal with.  My advice stick, with the D800 it has more than enough resolution and sharpness!!!!!  Now having said all of that, if you are a medium format shooter, and know the drill on control of color temperature, and moier’e pattern issues, you will love it!  For all the test of us the D800 will be a much better choice!


* Editorial comment.  I have studied these choices carefully, first because I want to be very honest with you guys, my friends, brothers, and sisters, and fellow photoholics.  I have also been giving this a great deal of thought because the day that I am no longer working at Nikon is closer than ever.  I want to retire someday with at least one FX body and one DX body.   I’m having to make the same decisions you guys are!  When  I’m retired, I want this to be a place you feel safe coming to get the straight story on the latest gear, and I want to never mislead you, which of course, I won’t, I may not always be right, but I will always be honest.


That is an important part of my walk with Christ.  People come to me for advice and often make a buying decision because of my advice.  I not only want them to get the best lens or camera or accessory for them, I want to be sure I don’t destroy my witness of being a man of integrity and honesty in the process.  If  I am to walk in His shadow, I must conduct myself that way!


What a fun time to be a Nikon Tech Rep!


Thank you Father,


the pilgrim



26 Responses

  1. Ken Z says:

    Yes, some amazing technology by Nikon lately….drooling a little at that D4, but I will stick with my Canon 50D (its paid for). 🙂

    I just got caught up reading some of your recents posts! As always, good stuff! Thanks brother!
    We are in the States right now, on a medical leave. My wife is undergoing some tests to make sure things are ok. So far, praise the Lord, all tests have shown nothing major!! We have one more test this week, then if a clean bill of health, we will be heading back to Russia soon. It will be a very hard return, as we have decided to return without our two youngest children. We’ve decided that right now it is best for them to remain here in the States to complete their schooling (they are 16 and 17 and do their schooling through an online school). It will be a very hard transition to be separated now from all 4 of our children. We are trusting in God’s daily grace!!!

    We will be back and forth more often during the next year or so…Lord willing our family will even closer to one another and to Him as we communicate from long long distance during this time. Prayer is much appreciated!

    I have been trying to keep my blog going more often….faith and photography over at
    By grace alone!
    Ken Z

  2. Mike Daniel says:

    Thanks Bill for you insight on the D800 choices. This is good information that will help me help my customers. I especially like the information about shooting habits. It looks like I will need to educate alot of my customers on being more meticulous about there shooting habits if the D800 is there choice.

    • admin says:

      I think the D800 will be a great camera, I just think people should know going in that it will require working much more carefully to take advantage of it’s capabilities!

  3. Carl says:

    GREAT discussion Bill. Everyone is thanking you, I am sure!


  4. Carl says:

    Now compare the D3s vs the D4

    • admin says:

      The D4 is evolutionary as a still camera, improved in a number of ways, but then the D3s was and still is a wonderful camera as well. m The D4 bests it in still work by a reasonable margin, in Video it’s not contest, the video part is vastly improved!

  5. Lynn Rogers says:

    Awesome reviews, Bill. I’m wondering if the D4 has the same DX crop option as the D800.

  6. John W says:

    Thanks for the info, Bill. I’ve pre-ordered a D800. I really do not need 36mp, and I do a fair amount of low-light photography when I travel overseas, but I don’t have an extra 3 grand either. I’m doing more video now with a DSLR (currently a D300s) and think I will appreciate the smaller size for traveling and shooting in public market places in developing nations. I’ll look more like a tourist. I still have my D3 for when I need it.

  7. Paul says:

    Thank you for this most helpful guidance. I m surprised that the PC lenses are not on the list…bringing me to this question: if you want to photograph a landscape with everything from the flower 2 feet in front of the the lens to the mountaintops miles away in focus, a la David Meunch, how do you do it for highest resolution? – 14-24 at f 16 or 22 (diffraction and still not as good as choice #2), 24 PC (my choice, not on your list), 14 – 24 at f 8 with multiple exposures focused at different distances and combined in Helicon, etc.? (I wonder if combining 36 MP images in Photoshop, Helicon, etc. Will degrade them.)
    2012 His Light workshops?

    • admin says:

      I think the Tilt and Shift will work, they are very very sharp. Not sure why they did not make the list, and both the 26-35 and 14-24 are very very sharp. We will have to see how serious the diffraction is.
      The Helicon is and interesting thought, just might work. We will test it and see!

  8. Rodney McKnight says:

    Thanks Bill for an well written analysis of the two cameras. Your gift of writing and communicating info (photo world and Jesus world) is amazing!


  9. Mike says:

    While I can appreciate your post, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a person considering a D4 should already know “why” they want it. It is geared towards professional photojournalists, not hobby nature or landscape photographers. A comparison between the D800 and D4 is like comparing a D800 with a D5100. You already know why you want the D800 if you are considering it.

  10. admin says:

    I agree with part of your post, A person should definitely know why they want a D4, but I will gently and humbly take issue with the thought that the D4 not a hobby nature or landscape photographers camera.
    While it is quite true that the D4 is a built for sports and photojournalists primarily, the resolution, great build and speed can be a real value to those folks too. I imagine I will opt for a D4 myself and I am not a sports shooter or photojournalist anymore, but have been. Any camera in the right hands can yield great results if the photographer knows how to take advantage of it’s qualities. Just because a camera is designed to work well for one group of photographers doesn’t mean it is wasted in the hands of others.
    If you can afford it, want it, and will use it to it’s full capabilities, it’s a good fit for you.

  11. Jason says:

    How does a 36mp sensor lead to 75MB raw image? Will the image not be close to 36Mb? Also, assuming it is 75MB, what kind of SD or CF card speed will you recommend? 90mb/s or higher?

  12. Mats says:

    Hi Bill,

    I have done research on this with optics experts and pro photographers and I was quite set on the D800E. After reading your guide here I’m not sure I want any of them at all anymore. Problem is that no matter what is out there or what ever will be presented in the future, there will not be a camera that will do what I need it to do if you are correct.
    My main photography interests are BiF (Birds in flight) and nature macro. I thought I needed a lot of MP to be able to crop both BiF and macro shots. Crop BiF because birds are often quite far away both because that’s how it is in nature and because I don’t want to disturb them. Cropping these shots will still leave me with enought to be able to print up to A3 format. Macro because DoF is a major issue and being able to stand away from the subject both lets me take shots of skittish subjects and because it gives me a better DoF and then I can crop and still have enough for A3 prints. In especially macro and even more so when cropped, the non AA of D800E will give me sharper looking photos. I’ve always been dissapointed at the loss of the look of sharpness in my macro photos with my AA-filter kameras. I also almost always do hand held photography, even with my BiF lens Nikkor 500mm. Your guide has turned all my research into this and all my thoughts on using any D800 at all upside down. Now I’m left with no choices for a next camera. Anything less than around 22-24MP sensor just wont do it when cropping, ergo no camera out there for me.
    Your guide scares me but it does seem very technically, physically, and mathematically correct. But, a few experts and nature photographers have told me that for especially nature macro photography the D800E should be a perfect choice. Well, now I don’t know anymore. I’m a low wage individual so the 500mm and the rest of my equipment is a life time savings buy. I’m 46 and haven’t had money to buy this until now, after saving for 20 years. I can’t afford to make misstakes when buying equipment, especially not a camera body which loses money as fast as a car.
    I thank you for a very comprehensive and detailed explanation about the issues.

  13. Paul W. says:

    I just came back to this, reread it and actually picked up my D800 and tried a few of the things out that you spoke about here. I can now honestly say that my shots came out MUCH better than they had before. Now I am starting to learn some of things I was doing wrong. I am so glad that I happened up one of your training videos on Kelby a while back and that you mentioned your sites. The information you have given here, although I haven’t recognized it at first, has greatly helped me in finding some of the area I was lacking in. Thank you so much for your expertise and more importantly, your readiness to share it with those who are willing to read it and learn from it.

  14. Paul W. says:

    I do have one about lenses. I have been doing so more research and wanted to get your opinion. I have seen a few shops that still have some stock of the 17-35mm f2.8. How would you rank that lens against the 14-24mm f2.8 and the 16-35mm f4? Would it be a good choice to go with over either of those two? Keeping in mind that I would like to be able to use filters on it.

  15. I got this website from my buddy who shared with me regarding this web site and at
    the moment this time I am visiting this website and reading very informative content here.

  16. Damian says:

    Every weekend i used to pay a visit this website, for the reason that i want enjoyment,
    for the reason that this this website conations actually
    pleasant funny material too.

  17. Cristine says:

    You’re so awesome! I do not think I’ve truly read through a single thing like this before.
    So wonderful to discover somebody with some genuine thoughts on this subject.
    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is required on the internet, someone with a little originality!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *