Nikon D810 vs D800 / D800E Dynamic Range Comparison

One of the tests that we will be including in our upcoming Nikon D810 review is a dynamic range comparison between the D810 and the D800E. Instead of making our readers wait for this comparison, we decided to publish it in a separate article. Whether one shoots landscapes or portraits, dynamic range is important, because it allows recovering of both shadow and highlight details in RAW images. With the release of the Nikon D810, one might wonder if it is any better than the D800 / D800E cameras in dynamic range performance. Since the D810 has a base ISO of 64, we decided to provide ISO 64 and ISO 100 samples to see if there is any discernible difference between the two. We also provided ISO 3200 samples to show differences in dynamic range at high ISOs between these cameras.

Nikon D810 vs D800 / D800E

First, let’s take a look at how ISO 64 compares to ISO 100 on the D810. For the below comparisons, we specifically overexposed and underexposed X-Rite’s ColorChecker by up to five stops, then recovered details in software. Here is a normally exposed image of the ColorChecker:

Nikon D800E ISO 100

The top portion of the first row of colors was slightly underexposed on purpose.

Nikon D810 ISO 64 vs ISO 100

First, let’s take a look at how ISO 64 compares to ISO 100 on the D810 when an image is overexposed by 4 stops, then recovered in post (Left: Nikon D810, Right: Nikon D800E):

Nikon D810 ISO 64 -4 EV Nikon D810 ISO 100 -4 EV

I cannot see any differences between the two – looks like colors are equally lost on both and there is no advantage of ISO 64 when compared to ISO 100.

Here is a comparison of ISO 64 and 100 when an image is underexposed by 5 stops, then recovered:

Nikon D810 ISO 64 +5 EV Nikon D810 ISO 100 +5 EV

In the above case, we can see that there is a slight difference in performance between ISO 64 and 100 when recovering an image. It looks like ISO 64 looks a bit cleaner in comparison to ISO 100, which translates to slightly higher dynamic range.

Nikon D810 ISO 64 vs Nikon D800 / D800E ISO 100

Now let’s see how the D810 compares to the D800 / D800E at base ISO. Here is a set of underexposed images, recovered by four stops:

Nikon D810 ISO 64 -4 EV Nikon D800E ISO 100 -4 EV

Again, hard to say which one looks better. Let’s push both by +5 stops:

Nikon D810 ISO 64 +5 EV Nikon D800E ISO 100 +5 EV

The Nikon D810 appears better in my opinion, with less visible noise and more accurate colors – an indication of superior dynamic range.

Nikon D810 ISO 3200 vs Nikon D800 / D800E ISO 3200

Let’s push both cameras to ISO 3200 and see what happens. Here is Nikon D810 and D800E at ISO 3200, pushed by -4 stops:

Nikon D810 ISO 3200 -4 EV Nikon D800E ISO 3200 -4 EV

The situation is a bit different at ISO 3200, with the D800 / D800E preserving colors a little bit better. And here are both cameras underexposed by five stops, then recovered in post:

Nikon D810 ISO 3200 +5 EV Nikon D800E ISO 3200 +5 EV

The Nikon D810 seems to have a bit more artificial color and a different noise pattern. In my opinion, the D800 / D800E appears a little better here.

Summary

After going back and forth looking at images from D810 and D800 / D800E, I honestly cannot say that one is clearly superior than the other – looks like the dynamic range performance is very similar overall at the same ISO settings. The D810 appears a little better at base ISO 64 than the D800 / D800E at ISO 100, but seems to be a bit worse at high ISOs. Although the above image crops were extracted from Lightroom 5.6, I also compared both at ISO 3200 on Nikon’s Capture NX-D and it showed similar results.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) martinG
    August 1, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Thanks Nasim,
    A very practical way to compare dynamic range. Impressive. I look forward to your full test.
    While the D810 looks interesting I think I will save for lenses (300 F2.8 VRII) rather than upgrade the D800 to the 810. I am interested to see if the new shutter mechanism and focus set up really does dramatically improve the number of shots which provide great focus.
    Can you explain the settings you used in LR to adjust the images. Was it simply a matter of changing the exposure setting?

    • 2
      ) rauck
      August 1, 2014 at 10:33 pm

      Thanks Nasim. Great test.
      Now re your full review of the D810: when you test the AF system can you please test it with some wide angle Nikon f1.4G lenses at f/1.4, like the 24mm f/1.4G. So many reveiews never get to the sticky questions of performance with bleeding edge optics.

      • 3
        ) Guest
        August 1, 2014 at 11:02 pm

        As if that has anything to do with making a good picture.

        • 4
          ) Global
          August 1, 2014 at 11:19 pm

          “As if that has anything to do with making a good picture.”

          Why do these people read technology-review blogs? I find sites like this help keep the marketing honest & to set realistic expectations for new buyers. Its a damn good community service and no less important, in the digital age, than picking up and holding a camera in your hands. A good photographer could make good pictures with most any camera. But he’d still pick one up in his hands and choose the one he likes best. Same with dynamic range and digital.

        • 15
          ) APC
          August 2, 2014 at 12:09 pm

          Is that a joke? I don’t know about you, but I find that proper focus is very important in making a good picture.

      • 6
        ) MartinG
        August 2, 2014 at 2:25 am

        Rauck,
        Your point seems a little obscure. Are you are asking which lenses go well with the 810, or how Nikon 1.4 lenses perform as far as dynamic range is concerned?
        I was pleased to see how well the 16-35 F4 performed the D800. I was pleased with the way it works with colour, not just sharpness etc. It is a lens which is described as having good micro-contrast.

        • 11
          ) rauck
          August 2, 2014 at 6:29 am

          Sorry if I wasn’t clear. I was just picking up on what might be included in a future review of the D810 – just a request to Nasim.

          No my request had nothing to do with dynamic range, but with reviewing AF performance in a little more detail than some other reviews which just talk about the group AF and other things you can read in a spec sheet.

          John Bosley’s excellent review here has already hinted that it performs very well, but I’m hoping for some more insight into how it does with the 24mm f1.4G in terms of accuracy and repeatability.

      • 8
        ) Betty
        August 2, 2014 at 4:20 am

        @rauck
        I believe you are talking about focussing performance with extreme wide angle lenses in a future review of the D810?
        Focussing performance is not fully stretched with wide angle lenses.
        Compared with super telephotos, wide angles, even at wide open apertures, still have significant depth of field – and for these lenses I would contend that auto focus speed is not a prime concern.

        Try the test with a 400mm F2.8 or a 600mm F4 if you want to test focussing accuracy and speed.
        If a camera is good with those, it will be good with anything else.

        • 10
          ) rauck
          August 2, 2014 at 6:20 am

          Betty,
          It can be very difficult for a DSLR with phase detect AF to accurately focus a 24mm lens at f/1.4. There are many reasons for this which I won’t elaborate here, but the main one is the large depth of field you are talking about. The Nikon phase detect system works at an f/5.6 exit pupil distance even when an f1.4 lens is used. When shooting at f/1.4, even with a 24mm lens there is remarkably little depth of field on a 36MP sensor. The 24mm f1.4G is a fiend to focus with the D800. I can be very inconsistent. I have researched this problem on and off ever since I paired the two together myself. I have not heard or read any reports of people having problems with AF on telephotos – they are easy for the AF system to deal with precisely because of their limited DOF, and high contrast wide open.

          Suffice it to say here that AF performance with large aperture wides would be of interest to me in a review of the D810.

          • 21
            ) Betty
            August 3, 2014 at 3:46 am

            @rauck
            Thanks Rauck, I have learned something new today.
            I happily stand corrected.

      • August 3, 2014 at 1:21 pm

        Rauck, yes, the tests will show performance differences between the two cameras when using lenses like Nikon 24mm f/1.4G.

        • 32
          ) rauck
          August 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm

          Much appreciated.

        • 36
          ) Thomas
          August 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm

          It would great if you could compare the two with the 85mm 1.4 AFS lens as well. I find the phase detection autofocus, with the 1.4 lenses to be very inconsistent on my D800E in less than ideal conditions. An improvement there would be probably be enough to get me to upgrade. Thanks!

  2. 5
    ) James
    August 2, 2014 at 12:34 am

    Great early information. I have both and intend selling my D800e. I like the changes they made re the shutter, focus and slight speed increase. My own tests in real life, I do primarily nature and wildlife, show no real improvement in ISO performance. Images are slightly higher exposed but for me this is not a problem as I can increase SS by dropping EV to even -1.7 and also keep ISO lower. It is a great wildlife camera given the 1.2 and 1.5 with the sensor. My longest lens is the 300f2.8 vr2 and with the converters make it a fantastic relative light weight tool. I am fortunate to have a D4 that I bought used at a very good price. I use the D4 in very low light but mostly use it on the 70-200f2.8 for close range wildlife such as elephants, Rhino etc and when I have wider shots. Point the D810 upgrade is great. Don’t expect miricles from the ISO, but the soft shutter and focus is fantastic. Nikon really have fantastic products. Thanks for this great service

    • 9
      ) Betty
      August 2, 2014 at 4:22 am

      @James
      Are you saying the D810 overexposes by EV1.7?
      Really?

  3. 7
    ) Augusto
    August 2, 2014 at 4:06 am

    Thanks Nasim, great tests and information to share. Good job!

  4. 12
    ) Carlo
    August 2, 2014 at 7:08 am

    Nasim, are you sure that at ISO 3200 the image on the left belongs to D800e?
    You said that on the left there is D810!
    Just to understand which camera is better because at this high ISO I can see a lot of difference. Who knows what happen at ISO 6400….. (3200 is too low and usually 6400 is the limit to push the camera).

    • August 3, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      Carlo, please see my comment #27 below – unfortunately, I somehow managed to swap the thumbnails when publishing the article. The file name and the EXIF data was correct, as well as my statement, however, the D810 was supposed to be on the left, not the right…

  5. 13
    ) Duffy
    August 2, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Nice article. Thank you for your efforts.

    In the final test (ISO 3200 pushed 5 stops) the image on the left is clearly better. The noise is tighter and the color is maintained at a higher level. I assumed, because the 810 was on the left in your sub-title, that the images would be oriented the same. The your comment is the 800e was superior? Please clarify.

    • 24
      ) Mark
      August 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      The final set are indeed swapped around. And the first set are both D810 photos.

    • August 3, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      Duffy, that’s totally my fault, I apologize for that. Although the tag on the bottom stated which one is which, I did not place them thumbnails correctly. I have now switched them back.

  6. 14
    ) Bruce Photography
    August 2, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I think Carlo is right. The tagline on the last pair of photos should be 810 on the right and D800E on the left. This has been a helpful test but I’ve needed some landscape tests which I’ve done using the new Sigma 50mm 1.4 at all the F stops for the D800, D800E, and the new D810. What I’ve seen so far is that the D800 is only slightly less sharp than the D810 and D800E (which are really identical as far as sharpness). What I have noticed with the D810 is that once I’ve processed all the shots with the latest release of Adobe Camera Raw is a tone difference between the cameras. Both the D800 models look warmer to me than the D810. The somewhat colder look seems to increase apparent contrast and at lower magnification give the impression of greater sharpness but at 100% the sharpness looks the same between the D800E and the D810. Have you noticed this color temperature difference?

    • 17
      ) Alan
      August 2, 2014 at 6:52 pm

      Bruce, If you process the NEF image and view the image with a Nikon NX-D Raw converter, you will see a richer image and sightly better resolution at 100%. Either Nikon NX-D is over contrasting the image or ACR is under contrasting. It’s not a perfect world yet!

      Read more: http://photographylife.com/nikon-d810-vs-d800e-dynamic-range-comparison#ixzz39HmcWVg3

    • August 3, 2014 at 1:26 pm

      Bruce, you are right about tonal differences between the two. I have noticed it in both ACR and NX-D. The D810 yields images that look drastically different compared to the D800 / D800E – definitely less saturated on the D810 in comparison. The above image samples are a proof of that…

  7. 16
    ) Alan
    August 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    Bruce, If you process the NEF image and view the image with a Nikon NX-D Raw converter, you will see a richer image and sightly better resolution at 100%. Either Nikon NX-D is over contrasting the image or ACR is under contrasting. It’s not a perfect world yet!

    • 18
      ) Bruce Photography
      August 2, 2014 at 9:28 pm

      Thanks Alan I did read that article about the superior raw converting of NX-D and that Adobe was having color problems with high ISO. But what I was testing was low ISO like 100 and 64. Also that article was talking about the Adobe Labs beta release and not the full Adobe release for Lightroom and Photoshop 2014 CC. I agree that Adobe could have more to do but we probably won’t see any announcement. I assume they will just bury some future improvement in some future camera raw release. I just did an even that included over 1100 raw D810 photos and photoshop was working perfectly from what I could see.

    • 19
      ) Carlo
      August 2, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      Alan, when you compare NX-D and ACR, be sure that in NX-D the clarity slide is at zero and picture control is set to neutral. ACR doesn’t apply and read any picture control.
      Anyhow I’m still waiting for Nasim reply because tags below the last pictures are confusing …
      I did a personal test downloading original raw files from a well known web site http://www.imaging-resource.com/camera-reviews and D800 looks better in my opinion specially in the red channel where D810 is noiser.
      Just jpg from D810 camera looks better with less noise and better colour (new expeed processor helps for better algorithm).
      Thanks.

  8. 20
    ) Mr. T
    August 3, 2014 at 1:51 am

    Nasim, since a lot of color info is lost when overexposing heavily by 4 stops, I would be interested to hear your thoughts about the ETTR debate: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposing_to_the_right

    Some people insist that ETTR is the correct way to shoot digital, others say that you lose color accuracy: https://howgreenisyourgarden.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/shooting-to-the-right-and-why-it-can-be-a-bad-idea/

    Thanks

    • August 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm

      Mr. T, that’s a good point. In my experience, exposing to the right is not necessarily the best way to deal with recovering data. However, when shooting at higher ISOs, pushing the exposure to the right a little will result in less noise when an image is recovered, as shown in the second link that you have provided. However, also keep in mind that correctly exposing an image or even underexposing gives you at least a stop of an edge in recovery compared to overexposing. Instead of completely losing colors, at least you have a bit of noisy data, with better / more accurate colors to deal with.

      Judging from what I have seen from Nikon DSLRs, I would say that exposing to the right is not necessarily an ideal thing to do. If I have a lot of shadows and I am worried about noise, then perhaps ETTR would be a good thing to do. However, if I have both shadows and highlights, I would not push my luck with too much overexposure, as I know that I can recover more in the shadows than highlights…

      • 30
        ) Mr. T
        August 3, 2014 at 1:26 pm

        Nasim, thanks, I agree. If ETTR were such a great idea, I would also assume that the camera manufacturers would at least built an option into their cameras that automatically does ETTR.

  9. 22
    ) Dodgy Data
    August 3, 2014 at 5:07 am

    Neither ACR nor NX-D(!!) seem to be getting the best out of D810 RAW files yet.

    Anyway, this method does not really test dynamic range but rather highlight/shadow recovery. Not the same thing at all.

    • 23
      ) kamuran
      August 3, 2014 at 6:55 am

      Agreed

    • August 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      I agree about ACR and NX-D not being able to get the best out of the D810 data. In regards to testing dynamic range, I agree, this might not be the best method to test dynamic range, but I wanted to show something that our readers can actually see when exposures are pushed up and down. I have Kodak’s Q13 color separation guide and gray scale prints that I could use to actually measure dynamic range between the two cameras with Imatest Software. But aside from a couple of graphs, I would not be able to share the real, visible results as I have here…

    • 33
      ) Steve
      August 3, 2014 at 10:21 pm

      Has anyone heard any news regarding Capture One Pro’s support or upcoming support for the D810? I’ve grown weary of both Apple & Adobe as of late and from some limited testing, i think that Capture One may be the way I roll into the future!

      (BTW – I will laugh for days on end when Adobe jacks up the monthly ‘rental’ on LR/PP )

  10. 34
    ) rahul
    August 4, 2014 at 6:58 am

    would you be able to compare dynamic range test of nikon d4s with d810 at low and high ISO.

  11. 35
    ) Pieter Kers
    August 4, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Nasim, thank you for the testing- very useful als always..
    I have tried the d810 and have the d800e for two years now…
    I have to find out if the upgrade will be worth the extra costs..
    From my own experience and internet i think this useful upgrade is not much about improvement in the image-quality but in handling ; making it easier to get the image in the first place and at 36MP.
    The improved AF- the more silent (EFC) shutter- the larger buffer – the highlight priority mode etc…
    Could you test some of these handling features?
    In the few pictures i took the d810 images seemed a bit more transparent/clearer than the d800e, but the sharpness and moiré at 100 asa looked about the same ( Adobe ACR 5.6)

  12. 37
    ) Johny Wong
    August 5, 2014 at 11:05 pm

    Nasim, I don’t understand what you do in this test. You shoot underexposed image and then recover it by 4 stops. On the other test, you recover it by 5 stops. Please make separate article to explain how this test work and what to look for.

    Thank you.

    • August 5, 2014 at 11:07 pm

      Johny, there are two tests – one that heavily overexposes the scene (by 4 stops) and one that heavily underexposes (by 5 stops). The original images look almost completely white and almost completely dark. Then I recover the exposure by dialing -4 and +5 in Lightroom / NX-D – the result is what you see above.

  13. 39
    ) Rafael
    August 6, 2014 at 6:30 am

    Thanks, Nasim!

    I can’t get enough of this blog. There’s a very high quality standard in here.

    Congrats and thank you!

  14. 40
    ) Strobo
    August 8, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Have you tried any long exposure comparisons between the two? A friend did a comparison between the D800 and D810 with 2 minute exposures at ISO 400, and his results show that the D810 had a LOT more hot pixels. The difference was not subtle, the D810 was clearly worse in that regard.

  15. 42
    ) Robert
    October 9, 2014 at 12:47 am

    Hi Nasim,
    A very helpful and fantastic review as usual.
    Please refer to your point (21) battery life. Yesterday I bought another en-el15 (Li-ion20) for my D800 as a back up and in the hope to get more shots than the original battery of D800 after reading your review. I observed following differences between the two batteries.
    1-D800 battery marked as SONY E-ED next to PSE circle vs SDN on new battery.
    2-D800 battery marked as Li-ion01 vs Li-ion 20 (D810)
    3-D800 battery Li-ion01 weigh 88 grams and Li-ion20 weigh only 77 grams.

    Is D810 Li-ion20 weigh approx. 10 grams less then Li-ion01 and yield more ?
    I doubt it’s not the new battery but D810 that has longer battery life than D800/E. Any comment ?

Comment Policy: Although our team at Photography Life encourages all readers to actively participate in discussions, we reserve the right to delete / modify any content that does not comply with our Code of Conduct, or do not meet the high editorial standards of the published material.

Leave a Comment