Now that both the Nikon D800 and Nikon D800E are available, many of our readers are wondering which one to get. In this Nikon D800 vs D800E article, I will explain differences between the two cameras and talk about which camera to buy for which situation. Both cameras are identical, except for one major difference, which is why there is a price difference: the Nikon D800 has an anti-aliasing filter, while the Nikon D800E does not. In short, an anti-aliasing filter effectively removes Moiré (see below on what Moiré is), so the Nikon D800 will not have any problems with it, while the Nikon D800E cannot deal with it, so you will have to deal with it in post-processing.
What is Moiré?
Moiré pattern occurs when a scene or an object that is being photographed contains repetitive details (such as lines, dots, etc) that exceed the sensor resolution. As a result, the camera produces a strange-looking wavy pattern as seen below:
(Image courtesy of photo.net)
See how noticeable the moiré pattern is on the jacket? That’s moiré for you, at its worst. Moiré is almost never seen in nature, but is very common in everyday objects and items around us – you might see it in all kinds of fabric, straight hair, architecture, etc. You might have even seen it on your television. In photography, moiré happens mostly because of the way light reaches the sensor and how the sensor interprets the light through the bayer interpolation filter.
While there are methods to effectively reduce moiré, there is no easy way to completely remove it in post-processing software. Lightroom 4 will ship with a moiré reduction tool and Nikon will also ship its next version of Capture NX with built-in moiré reduction functionality, but neither one will be able to fully get rid of the worst moiré pattern occurrences.
What is an anti-aliasing filter?
An anti-aliasing filter, also known as a “low-pass” or “blur” filter, was designed by camera manufacturers to eliminate the problem of moiré by blurring what actually reaches the sensor. While extreme details are lost in the process, the problem of moiré is completely resolved. Since most cameras are designed to be used for day-to-day photography, where moiré pattern is very common, most cameras on the market today use an anti-aliasing filter. While this surely benefits most photographers out there, it is a big blow on landscape photographers that never see moiré and yet end up with blurred details. Because of this problem, some companies on the market started specializing in removing the AA filter from modern DSLR cameras, specifically targeting landscape photographers. Most digital medium-format and some high-end cameras do not have an AA filter, because they want to deliver the best performance from their sensors. While those cameras are affected by moiré, manufacturers leave it up to the photographer to decide on how to avoid it or deal with it in post-processing.
Both the D800 and the D800E have low-pass filters, but they behave differently. Typical Nikon low-pass filters actually contain of 3 different layers, as shown on the top illustration below:
As light rays reach the first “horizontal low-pass filter”, they get split in two, horizontally. Next, they go through an infrared absorption filter (illustrated in green color). After that, the light rays go through the “second vertical low-pass filter”, which further splits the light rays vertically. This light ray conversion process essentially causes blurring of the details.
Now with the Nikon D800E model, Nikon took an interesting approach. We know that the full low-pass filter cannot be completely removed, because it would cause the focal plane to move; plus, the camera still needs to be able to reflect infrared light rays. Instead of making a single filter with one layer, Nikon decided to still use three layers, but with two layers canceling each other out. As light rays get split into two with a vertical low-pass filter, then through the IR absorption filter, those same light rays get converged back when passing through a reversed vertical low-pass filter. Hence, instead of getting blurred details as in the first illustration, we get the full resolution.
I am not sure if the above method is the best way to deal with the issue, but I suspect that Nikon decided to take this route for cost reasons. It would probably be more expensive to produce a single IR absorption filter layer coated on both sides, than continue to use the same layers, but in a different configuration.
Nikon D800 vs D800E – which one to get
Nikon is now giving us the option to choose between two versions of the Nikon D800 camera – the regular model, D800, which has an AA filter, and the D800E that has no AA filter. So, which one should you buy? If you are a portrait/fashion/studio/architectural/bird photographer, then get the Nikon D800 – you would be better off with an AA filter. If you are a landscape or a macro photographer, then you should get the Nikon D800E to get the maximum detail out of the high-quality 36.3 MP sensor.