D800 vs D4s For Wildlife in Low Light & Long Lenses

For whatever reason most of the wildlife photography I do ends up being in less than desirable conditions. Its rare that I get that perfect light, with the animal perfectly posed and the weather just right and me in the right place and time to capture it. A lot of times I am in the right place, but all the other elements needed seem like they are on the extreme limits of what is needed for quality photography.  I recently had the opportunity to photograph black bears here in New Hampshire and one thing that a person not from NH must understand is that this is not like going to Yellowstone or some similar place where the bears are more receptive to humans. Here in NH they are the ghosts of the woods, the animal you never hear while hiking or rarely see unless its by accident and then its for seconds before they disappear. I was able to use both the D800 and D4s during this time and I found out some disappointing things about the D800 which has me regretting purchasing it.

Beautiful Wet Female Black Bear

NIKON D4S @ 800mm, ISO 2000, 1/800, f/5.6

This article is not about bashing the D800, its more about sharing some limitations and quality issues I have with the camera compared to a D4/D4s and how much more capable the D4s is in these extreme shooting conditions. I mistakenly thought I could use the D800 to crop my way to success, only to find out that I was actually not happy with the quality and I chose to rotate the D4s camera between the two long lenses I was using rather than use the D800. This is not a technical article, we lovingly have Nasim for that, this is an article from a photographer sharing his real life experience and readers taking that information, disseminating it and deciding what is useful and helpful to them. I know the D800 has had some glowing reviews and is supposed to be an exceptional camera, but for me it is not the right camera for what I do, and the conditions I shoot in, and long lenses I use.

The 1st image at the beginning of this article is one that I am extremely proud of and find to be of the quality level I need to be happy. It was taken with the D4s and the new Nikkor 800mm f5.6 lens attached, it had just rained and was overcast. It was taken at approximately 1pm in the afternoon. I have set some self imposed limits / target settings for the D4s in this shooting scenario and the two lenses I was using which were:

  • D4s and 800mm F5.6 – min shutter speed 800th sec, max ISO 3200
  • D4s and 600mm F4 – min shutter speed 500th sec, max ISO 3200

As you can see even though this was essentially shot in midday light, because of the overcast conditions to get the 800th of a sec I was looking for with the 800mm lens, 200o ISO was needed. What is remarkable is the quality of the image at 2000 ISO, it is sharp, clean, very little noise and will print beautifully. The conditions were what they were and I cannot change that, that is what I was given and I can tell you that is how it often works, but having a camera that produced a high quality image in those conditions adds a photo I am proud of to my portfolio that I may not have had with another camera. Below is a 100 percent crop from around the eye area of the bear so you can better gauge the end result.

Beautiful Wet Female Black Bear

NIKON D4S @ 800mm, ISO 2000, 1/800, f/5.6

I have only had the D4s for a relative short period of time and am still learning the cameras limits, I almost treat the D4 (my previous camera) the same as a D4s when talking ISO limits and noise levels. When I had the Nikon D3x I had more or less set myself an ISO limit of 1600 before I was unhappy with the noise in the photo. With the D4/D4s I have now changed that limit to 3200 ISO max when I have no other choice to get that photo.

Beautiful Black Bear Looking over Ledge

Above is a photo shot with the D4s at 3200 ISO, now my preference is definitely not to shoot at that high of an ISO, but the bears did not want to play nice and chose to mostly show themselves around the last hour before sunset and in the place where they were mostly in the shade right near the tree line. I am using the auto ISO feature of the D4s and have the max ISO set to 3200 and minimum shutter speed set to 500th of a sec. Because there was not enough light the camera couldn’t get the 500th of a sec speed I was asking for at 3200 max ISO set in the auto ISO setting, because the max ISO had been reached the camera adjusted the speed below the setting. 400th was ok in this instance because the bear paused and stood stationary for a few seconds. This photo is at the extreme shooting parameters I set for myself, but this photo at 3200 ISO is as good as the photos I was taking with my D3X at 1600 ISO and at noise levels I am ok with.

Beautiful Black Bear with Cub

NIKON D4S @ 600mm, ISO 2000, 1/200, f/8.0

The above phot0 was taken with the Nikkor 600mm F4 VR attached to the D4s, and I have always had extreme difficulty in getting two sharp sets of eyes using long lenses, luckily the eyes of the two bears are almost in the same plane but I pushed the f-stop to F8 to try and get both eyes sharp. I felt comfortable at 200th of a sec here to keep the ISO down to 2000th because the bears are almost not moving while pausing to stare in my direction.

OK, so we have established I love the D4/D4s at low light, high ISO and poor shooting conditions and that the camera performs amazingly, so what about the D800?

Well I only used the D800 on three nights, looked at the photos and was not happy with the result. Not willing to lose more precious photos to the D800 I stopped using it and chose to only use the D4s. Here are some things I learned about my D800.  Maybe these results are particular to my D800 and maybe I have a bad camera, I don’t know because I don’t have a second D800 to compare to.

  • the D800 does not focus as good in low light as the D4/D4s
  • where I am ok with 3200 ISO max D4/D4s, the D800 max would be 2000 ISO for me
  • the D800 seemed to produce a slightly slower shutter speed for same lens / light scenario
  • the D800 images are not as defined as the D4/ D4s images, they have a softer diffused look

I have seen great sharp images from the D800, so I don’t know if my experience is because of the lens / camera combination or my D800 has issues or it doesn’t perform as well in low light with long lenses. Let me try and show you what I mean with a couple of photo samples.

Beautiful Black Bear with Cub

So this photo is taken with the D800 and the Nikkor 200-400mm F4 VRII lens, which is a superb wildlife lens that has always given me prime lens like results. The reason I am throwing this 200-400mm example in here amongst the 600mm and 800mm images is to support my argument about not being able to crop your way to a high quality image. It is not to compare the 200-400mm against the 600mm / 800mm lenses, I do have a 600mm / D4s to 600mm / D800 comparison further down the article. The first things that I immediately notice is the noise in the image at 2000 ISO and the when I look at the bears eyes, they seem much softer and not as defined (sharp). I also notice the lack of detail in the fur and it seems softer and more blended. Here is a section of the D800 image at 100 percent.

Beautiful Black Bear with Cub

NIKON D800 @ 380mm, ISO 2000, 1/200, f/5.0

If you clicked on the images to see them large as you were progressing through the article you should have noticed that this last image taken with the D800 is much poorer quality compared to the D4/D4s images. You should notice it has more noise than say some of the D4s images taken at 3200 ISO and that the details just look soft. Let try and do a side by side un-processed comparison.

D4s versus D800 Sample

The above image is not a perfect example, but I didn’t have the ability to photograph the same bear in the same position with the same lens but different cameras, so this is two images taken on different days but close to same pose and light conditions. To me, the D4s image on the right has less noise and more defined details than the D800 image, even though the D4s image is at slightly higher ISO. Its hard to explain unless you have looked at a lot of images taken with the two cameras, because I do have some D4s image that have slightly more noise than I would like or not quite as sharp. Overall the D4/D4s produces better images that look sharper in poor light and less noisy and because I shoot a lot in poor light I don’t want to risk loosing images because of the D800.

D4s versus D800 Sample

Above is another un-processed comparison at same ISO.


I would summarize my findings this way:

The results I get from the D4s are superior to the photos I get from the D800 using similar long lenses and similar low light conditions and because of that I won’t be using the D800 in that scenario. Its hard enough to get wildlife in a great photographable situations without risking getting poorer quality photos because of my camera choice. I have a D4s and because of that its a no brainer for me to use it over the D800. The difficult thing to wrap your mind around is the 16.2MP of the D4/D4s have more quality value to me than having 36.3MP cropping power of the D800. One of my wishes is for a D4s with 24MP capability, that would make a perfect Nikon camera for me, so the D800 was my hope for cropping in closer at times when I need that crop ability. The ability to crop almost half the image out and still get a 300 dpi 8″ x 12″ image is amazing in the D800, but to me it comes at a price I cannot accept. Every pixel of a D4/D4s is a quality pixel and the camera really is an engineering marvel.

I would not use my article to make a camera choice on, rather I would use it as one source of additional information when doing research to choose your next wildlife camera. I said at the beginning that this was not a technical comparison and the reason I said that was because, how do you quantify/measure the look of a photo. I just prefer the look and quality of the images from the D4/D4s over the D800 and the secondary issue that I can’t overcome in my mind is I don’t trust the D800 to get me the kind of images I want.

Hope you find something useful in this article, thanks for reading and remember to get out there and get into it.




  1. 1) Susan
    May 30, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    Thank you Rob for this very insightful and helpful article. I have a D700 and though I have been extremely happy with this camera at some point after six years I will be needing a new camera. I started photographing wild horses and find my D700 even with my 70-300, or 70-200 w/ 1.4 tele convertor and 100-400 Nikon lens I rented my images are soft when there is a distance. And the action shots seem very lacking. I was thinking of replacing my D700 with the D800 but started researching that my love for wild horse photography the D800 was not the best choice. Portraits, landscapes, macro yes but it seems the D4 or D4s though much more expensive is the way I need to go. This article was the final straw that has convinced me to save up for the D4s and skip the D800. Now if I could win the lottery that would make it easier! I really appreciate what you said in this article and it has helped me to decide.

    So in your opinion is there a huge difference between the D4 and D4s? Besides the cost!

    Thank you!

    • May 31, 2014 at 8:26 am

      Hello Susan
      you are welcome, there might be other options other than a D4s for you, I know its an expensive camera, it was for us too. I am not a full time photographer either, we have a business we run that needs to be managed and that is mostly my day job. I love the D4s, it is just such a special camera for me, it does the job every time, handles everything, it is just an amazing camera worth considering. The D4s has a newer better focusing system and slightly better noise. From your perspective however (financially) a used D4 might be a great choice because you can pick one up for around $3000 and the D4 is a terrific camera.


    • 1.2) Paul
      June 1, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      I believe Nikon and Canon had to put too many pixels into their sensors competitively. If Nikon puts just 8 MP into their new entry FF cameras (let’s call it D400), I believe most issues of Nikon’s wildlife lovers would be solved.

    • 1.3) sceptical1
      June 6, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Hi Susan,

      I know you don’t know me from Adam, but the camera / lens combination you are using is not the reason for not getting sharp results. First, sharpness is overrated, except at the most important part of the subject (frequently the eyes in wildlife photography) The two best wildlife photographers I know use, respectively, the Nikon D700 with long professional lenses like 200-400 and 600 f4 and the other uses an Olympus MFT system with the best lenses he can get – which unfortunately means slow at the long end. They get unreal results and the reason is a superior understanding of their equipment, patience with waiting for the right opportunities, the willingness to get closer, high quality stabilization (they don’t skimp on tripods / plating / ballheads etc.) and excellent technique. They don’t need the latest and greatest equipment because they understand the limitations and deal with it.
      Personally, I had a D700 and a 200-400 VR (awesome lens) and I don’t believe I lost much when I switched to lighter gear – a D7100 and the new 80-400. I still use great stabilization, I try hard to get close, and I watch the atmospheric conditions – shooting fairly early and fairly late, but still in bright light. Any lack of sharpness was almost always my fault.
      Given that, I would not expect a D4s or D4 will improve your results much. Better glass would be a much better investment. For example, the 70-300 you mentioned (I love this lens BTW, but not because I expect sharpness wide open) is not sharp in general at the long end at f5.6. It is sharp at F-8 to F-11, limiting its usefulness in low light. The 70-200 (I assume f2.8) with TC looses a bit as well. As for the Nikon 80-400 you rented, the old one was very slow focusing and not very sharp wide open, in my experience (I had one years ago and got rid of it quickly in favor of the 300 F4 with a 1.4 TC) You would be much happier with the new 80-400 (not cheap at $2700… but a lot less expensive than a D4 or D4s) or something even higher end. Further, you won’t get good sharpness at distance without good stabilization. Save your money to get a better long lens and a good tripod / ball head / lens collar etc.
      That’s just my opinion – best of luck.

  2. 2) Steven Lawrence
    May 30, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Does not downsampling the file change the outcome a bit?

    • May 31, 2014 at 8:36 am

      It might, but one of the things I mentioned in the beginning of the article is I mistakenly thought I could crop my way to success. So the image taken at 400mm of the two bears has been cropped in, part of the reason for that was the two sets of eyes I was trying to get sharp. The 400m has more depth of field than the 600mm so I wanted to see if I could use the cropping power of the D800 and that is what I see a lot of photographers end up doing. Maybe if the original D800 image was un-cropped things would be different but then I would be dealing with huge file sizes and what would the benefits of the D800 be then other than to print extremely large.


      • 2.1.1) Bruce Photography
        May 31, 2014 at 1:17 pm

        Hi Robert,

        I know you said that your article would not be technical but I’d like to know a few things. Were these all hand-held shots or on a tripod? Shot in Raw? What raw converter did you use and to what extent did you do capture sharpening. In my working with the D800, I have found that to get what you are paying for with the sensor a tripod is really required to get the sharpness. If your prints are small you’ll never see the true details of the D800. I make prints that are 2×3 feet and only then can I see the real detail of the D800 and the D800E. Sharpening is required of raw images. Otherwise comparisons are not really useful. I use Adobe camera raw for capture sharpening and then photoshop sharpening for output sharpening as well as local sharpening. Thank you for your response.

        • Profile photo of Robert Andersen Robert Andersen
          May 31, 2014 at 8:28 pm

          Hello Bruce

          A lot of times I hand hold, but in this instance all images were shot on a Gitzo Carbon Fiber tripod with a Wimberley II gimbal. I used good long lens technique apart from the fact that I am pushing ISO levels and at times slightly slower shutter speed than desirable. I shoot in RAW NEF lossless compressed and process the raw files using Adobe Raw in Photoshop CC. I didn’t process or sharpen the “un-processed” photos at all.


  3. 3) Corey Hardcastle
    May 30, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    I can’t help but think your comparison might change if you were to print these images. The d800 although slightly softer at 100%, might actually print with a finer acuity than the d4s…. Not saying that is the case, but too much of today’s comparisons are done via the computer monitor when the end medium that really matters is still usually the print.

    • May 31, 2014 at 8:42 am

      But if I see a softness in the eyes, a softness will print, because I am not talking down sampling. I bought the D800 with the notion I could crop in and this is part of the mistake I made. 36mp files are huge and a pain to process, store and deal with. If my intention is not to crop in, then I may as well buy a more suitable camera with more realistic files sizes unless one of my requirements is to print at extra ordinary large sizes.


  4. 4) MartinG
    May 30, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    I have seen shots from a family member who owns the D3, D3s, D4, D4s. Shots from the D4s in very low light are significantly cleaner than the same shots from the D4. For one professional at least the D4s makes a huge difference. In her line of work she can take shots that would otherwise have been impossible.
    See http://www.bronwenhealy.com.au/

    • May 31, 2014 at 8:44 am

      I agree

      The D4 is amazing, the D4s is even more amazing. I wouldn’t have some of these bear photos if I could not push the ISO levels to 3200 ISO like I am and still get an extraordinary images that print beautifully.

      In reality a lot of my wildlife photography happens in low light.


  5. 5) Guy Geva
    May 30, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    Is the D4s will be good for macro and landscape in ISO100 or the 16.2MP is to small?

    I be happy if you can help me please

    • 5.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 12:43 pm

      Yes it is great at ISO 100 and macro, the question regarding the 16.2MP is relative to how large you want to be able to print natively without enlarging the image. We have successfully printed 24″x36″ with 16MP and have it look great.

      Hope that helps

  6. 6) Oscar
    May 30, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Another interesting article, Robert. I don’t have the D800 or D4s, but I have a close friend that does have the D800 and he has expressed similar concerns. Unfortunately, the D4s is an expensive camera, too much so for some of us (and especially our spouses) as we are only amateur photographers. I’ve actually been quite happy with my D7000 and have found the results quite pleasing. The close friend I mentioned often wishes he still had his.

    I’d love to see an article from you someday, Robert, about your thoughts on DX cameras and their merits (or lack thereof) for wildlife photography. Your expertise would offer us great insight.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!


    • 6.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm

      Thanks Oscar

      You don’t need a D4s, something like a D610 or D7000 are great cameras, 2nd hand D3 etc, there are many other choices. I will see what I can do on the DX format part of your Q.


  7. May 30, 2014 at 10:51 pm

    I think it all depends on how one looks at an image – if one were to take a 36 MP image and make it 16 MP, then the differences in noise performance would be minimal at smaller ISOs. As you push beyond ISO 3200, the D4s will take the lead and produce less noise.

    I think what Robert is trying to do here is see how the D800 compares to the D4s at pixel level, so that he can actually use the cropped image for extra “zoom”. If that’s the case, then pixel-level quality is indeed important and you will quickly realize that the noise levels on the D800 are far worse at pixel level than on the D4s…

    Conclusion: unless you use very low ISO levels below 800-1600, the D800 does not have the extra “crop” advantage compared to the D4s due to higher levels of noise. And since most wildlife photographers shoot at high ISO levels, the D800 is typically not the right tool for the job.

    • 7.1) EricBowles
      May 31, 2014 at 5:19 am

      I continue to be surprised that anyone would expect pixel level noise and detail to be the same for a 16 MP camera and a 35 MP camera. When you look at pixel level detail, the D800 image is much more magnified – near 200% – so of course you see more noise. And sharpening needs to be handled differently since the D800 can handle greater intensity and stronger sharpening since it will be downsized for final output (to an equivalent size).

      We already know that the large pixels of the D4 are best at minimizing noise at high ISO levels. We also know that the D800 has very small pixels, but reduces noise when images are downsized to equivalent output. The D4s is about a half stop better than the D800 in terms of ISO performance if you have a full size uncropped D800 image.

      The noise benefit from downsizing is about 1 stop. If you take away the ability to downsize by cropping to DX proportions or examine both at pixel level, you lose a stop of ISO performance. That makes a 100% view or equivalent pixel size image 1 1/2 stops worse on a D800 compared to a D4s. For an uncropped image with the same output size, the difference is 1/2 stop.

      Nasim is correct – in low light situations where you need to raise ISO, there is no “extra crop” advantage. But the advantage is you do have excellent detail uncropped and added sharpness with proper sharpening settings and an uncropped image. I do agree that the D4 has the edge in low light – but it is only a small edge. And in better light where noise is not the issue, the D800 has the edge.

      The one thing you can’t do is to thoughtlessly apply the same handling to both D4 and D800 files. Pixel level viewing is different. Sharpening is different. When you don’t account for the differences, you are comparing apples and oranges.

      • 7.1.1) JosephPalatinus
        May 31, 2014 at 6:46 am

        Thank you Mr. Bowles for the explanation. I concur. Being a D800 owner I am so very happy with the camera and the results that I am achieving. I do recommend reading Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby as well as The Creative Digital Darkroom by Sean Duggan and Katrin Eismann as a side note to achieving maximum results with any DSLR camera.

      • 7.1.2) jakes
        May 31, 2014 at 3:14 pm

        I agree, I have the D800 and use it with my 300 f2.8 plus TC’s all three. I shoot wildlife in Africa as I live here. We have a great number of professional wildlife photographers that has won international awards and who sell printed images to galleries around the world who use the D800 with great success. Most of them have the D3s/D4/D4s as a second body especially for action and low light. Stating that the D800 is not suited for Wildlife given its poor focus system is not correct. I also find the subject of cropping as stated above by Eric to be placed in context. Well stated Eric. I would then question why Nikon would build a 1.2 and 1.5 crop function into the camera? It is obvious that high mp sensors perform less effective in bad light than the 12 or 16 mp that put Nikon on top of the pile with the D3s and D4/D4s and Df. A review on helping people understand how to use the D800 at optimum level as a nature and wildlife camera would be more constructive than making what I view as a poor comparison between two camera’s that are build completely different and have two sensors that produce complete different results.

    • 7.2) Gromit44
      May 31, 2014 at 11:03 am


      What do you mean when you refer to “pixel level”?

      • 7.2.1) Lazy Gao
        June 1, 2014 at 11:55 pm

        hi Gromit44
        i think it means the 1:1 100% view.

        • Gromit44
          June 2, 2014 at 4:41 am

          Ah, thanks.

          I guessed that’s what it meant – I just wanted to make sure though. :)

    • 7.3) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Hey Nasim

      You are correct, I was in-fact seeing if you can use it for cropping power and I feel a lot of people buy the camera with that thought in mind, I know several who do it and I don’t like their final result. Unfortunately I saw that after learning for myself. That also why I mention I mistakenly thought I could crop my way to success, a thought I think many people have.


      • 7.3.1) Andy
        June 8, 2014 at 10:12 pm

        Robert, what you have to keep in mind is that if you are looking at D800 files at 100% versus D4S files at 100%, the magnification from sensor to screen of the D800 is larger. The D4S has the larger pixels and the advantage of being newer, so on screen at 100% pixel peeping the D4S should look at a lot better, especially as the ISO goes up.

        If you made prints the same size from the two cameras you’d see little or no difference.

  8. 8) copajaus
    May 30, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    I had a D800 for nearly 1 year. I have now a D4 since September 2013.
    I can tell you that with the same set of lenses I get better results with my D4.
    It seem to me that focusing on the D4 is more accurate?
    I may be should mention that I rarely use a tripod.
    Anyhow, I am planning to get a D800e for landscape as well as my D4. I still like the quality of the files I got from the D800 but in my opinion the D4 and the D4s are in a league of their own.
    If you need to take a shot in ANY condition, get a D4 or better a D4s, I am pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.

    • May 31, 2014 at 8:47 am

      I totally agree, and the D800 will become a landscape camera for me, but I was also hoping it could be a backup camera in case my D4s falters on a trip and now I don’t feel it can and will have to look for another backup camera instead.


  9. 9) Heikki Seppä
    May 30, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Thank you Robert !
    I have just acquired the 800mm f5.6 for use with the D4s, and have been pondering about getting the D800 for exactly the same reason that you mentioned, a better possibility to crop and still retain a significant pixel count. Obviously, it is not just the number pixels that count ;)

    • May 31, 2014 at 8:50 am

      So true!

      And just to let you know, I have not gotten any image I am happy with 800mm + D800 combo. The images taken at this combination have all been soft or poor quality which I have mentioned in previous articles. I don’t even try to attach the 800mm to the D800 anymore. This might be a one of deal ie: my camera but I don’t deal with it because I have a D4s that performs magnificently with the 800mm.


  10. 10) Alun
    May 30, 2014 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks very much for this article. I have the D800E and do wild life photography in Africa. I have noticed exactly the same thing and been considering getting the D4s for the last 3 months. I hesitated due to the cost and I wasn’t sure if the problems with the images were due to the lens or the camera. This article is at exactly the right time and has finally helped me make my decision. Good timing! Much appreciated.

  11. 11) Nuwan
    May 31, 2014 at 1:07 am

    This is an unfair comparison; In here D4S has been used with superior 600mm and 800mm and D800 is used with 200-400mm. How would you know whether it is sharpness difference of lenses? Even Nasim claimed in one of his articles that 200-400mm is not the sharpest when compare to 600mm and 800mm.

    • 11.1) Murray Foote
      May 31, 2014 at 1:35 am

      One of the comparison images is using the 600mm for both cameras

    • 11.2) AutofocusRoss
      May 31, 2014 at 1:48 am

      At first, I also missed the fact that the D800 was being used with a tele zoom while the D400s was on tele -prime… that being so, it is no surprise that some lens sharpness and autofocus troubles impacted the images. It is also fair to point out that the D400s was designed for pro & press photographers, with a low res sensor designed to yeild less noise at high ISO settings, while the D800 is (to my mind) designed to go to iso 400, 800 at a push, with a high resolution sensor designed to give high quality images at lower ISO settings.

      It’s a bit like comparing an Indy 500 race car to a Rolls Royce – designed for different things, and both do very well indeed within their design concept area of work. Like anything else, the wrong tool for the job is a disaster – you wouldnt race a Rolls Royce at the Brickyard, nor would you drive an Indy 500 race car on the New Jersey Turnpike – simple!

      I got involved on another recent thread recently, where I was emphasising the benefits of the new sensors (this past year or so on new models) giving high res, and not losing image quality in the range iso100 – 400. This is relevant to all models, save the D400s, since that one is a step backwards in resolution (dropping from 24 or 36 Mpix to just 16 Mpix) in order to improve noise / image quality when shot at higher iso.

      My comments on the other thread were in the context of… why buy expensive glass when new sensors now offer two stops more with no IQ falloff – so an expensive F2.8 can be replaced with a much more reasonably priced F5.6 and get the same image, at the same shutter speed, albeit at iso400.

      Of course, that’s not the full story, but it is a big consideration, given the price of good glass.

      Take a look at my comments here:


      Interesting article though, thanks for taking the time.


      • 11.2.1) Nuwan
        May 31, 2014 at 2:30 am

        I think you nailed it. D800 is not designed for wildlife where D4S certainly is. Even if you compare their speeds, it is evident–D800 at 4fps and D4S with 11fps.

      • 11.2.2) David M. Gyurko
        May 31, 2014 at 4:27 am

        Exactly, different tools for different purposes.
        I still can accept that the D4s has better focus system, but that is not the main point here.

    • May 31, 2014 at 8:57 am

      It is not unfair because I have shot the bear photos with a 600mm and both cameras and the D4s images are still better. I also mentioned at the beginning of the article I mistakenly thought I could crop my way to success. A lot of photographers buy the D800 to crop and use shorter lenses, I see it all the time. The mother bear with cub on log is one example of trying to use the crop factor and the image has been cropped to a 300-350 dpi image at 8×12″. I wanted the longer depth of field the 200-400mm has to try and get both eyes sharp and then crop in to 600mm like length, and that is what I was trying to highlight.

      I have not gotten any image I like with the 800mm attached to D800 and have stopped trying, it has been mentioned in previous articles I wrote that I am having quality issues with that combo. The 600mm shots I take with the D4s look much better than those taken with the D800, in low light high ISO.


  12. 12) Ertan
    May 31, 2014 at 1:39 am

    Maybe I’ve not understood right, but you used longer lenses with D4s? Then how can you compare both? If D800 gives similar details with shorter lenses, then isn’t D800 more favorable?

    • May 31, 2014 at 9:05 am

      You missed the comparison images with the of both cameras and the 600mm attached and also one of my opening statements where I said I mistakenly thought I could crop my way to success. I am not trying to make a technically perfect comparison, this is in field practical comparison. It also highlights what a lot photographers think they can do and that is use the D800 with shorter focal length lenses and crop their way in close. That was part of what I was trying to highlight. I have mentioned previously that I have gotten poor quality images with the D800 and 800mm attached and have stopped trying. The 600mm and D800 perform ok together but the D4s images taken with the 600mm are still superior at high IOS low light, its night and day for me.


      • 12.1.1) Ertan
        June 2, 2014 at 6:41 am

        OK :) I still disagree to some extent but you have received so many questions that I’ll leave you with other questions :)

  13. 13) Murray Foote
    May 31, 2014 at 1:44 am

    An interesting post. I’ll have to see whether these considerations apply when I come to process some images from Greenland with a D800 and a D3.

    I presume you weren’t using a tripod at those minimum shutter speeds. Were you shooting hand-held or using a monopod?

    • May 31, 2014 at 9:06 am

      Tripod and Wimberley II gimbal head, not hand held this time :)


      • 13.1.1) sceptical1
        June 6, 2014 at 8:46 pm

        Well Robert,

        I gotta say one thing – I love your choice of head – the Wimberley II is the best head I have seen for long lenses, so no doubt about the stability!

  14. 14) Quazi Ahmed Hussain
    May 31, 2014 at 1:57 am

    As always, sensors with high pixel density have produced more noise compared to standard densities like 10 mp for 1.6 crop versions and 20 mp for full-frames.

    Manufacturers have been courting the photogs with claims of better noise management and packing insane high ISO ranges on crop bodies. However, the reality remains the same.

    We cannot expect crop DSLRs appearing with reduced mps now or in the future because that will validate blames of this gimmick. Therefore, the only option for better IQ is full-frame DSLRs with around 20 mp resolution.

    • May 31, 2014 at 9:08 am

      Thank you and agree, now there you go a dream camera for me :) a D4s with 20mp would be exciting.


      • 14.1.1) Peter Allinson
        June 1, 2014 at 6:15 am

        I have both a D800E and D4s and agree with your findings.
        The 20mp plus next generation D4s is the D5, one to two year wait
        However a D800s is being announced this month with an “improved” 36mp sensor and the expeed 4 processor, so if true should be closer to the d4s in image quality and iso performance

  15. 15) Tom D
    May 31, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Hi Robert

    I really like your articles and the photos of the bears are wonderful. It does seem like the D800 is not for you or your shooting conditions, but I think there are some points in the article where the conclusions might not follow for others.

    First of all you compare a 200-400 lens against a 600/800, which just adds another variable into the mix and one where internet forums suggest the 200-400 is weak at distance.
    You compare at 100% view, not down sampled to equal resolution.
    The D800 is very demanding to get pixel level sharpness. Have you fine tuned your lenses for the D800? I would be interested to hear, as I find this difficult and the process is limited to one zoom setting and focus distance. Perhaps it would make the difference, perhaps not.
    The demanding pixels may put more strain on the focusing system and some suspect the focus algorithms in the D800 and D4/4S are tuned for different priorities.
    Many find the D800 cannot be used at the same shutter speeds as lower resolution cameras without risking blurred images.
    Would it not be fairer to compare to the D4 which has a more similar focus system? Perhaps the rumored D800S will have the group focusing of the D4S.
    Your photography might be more demanding on depth of field (noting the comment about bear eyes), where again the extra resolution of the D800 is more demanding.
    If you are intending to crop from further away, you bring into play many other variables such as air quality, heat haze, atmospheric conditions.
    Noting the above, surely the D800 would be better if you used the same 800mm lens on a very distant and small subject? That would be one extreme where it should have the advantage.
    You are an amazing photographer who can handhold a D4S and 800mm lens, which many of us mortals could never dream of! Sadly many of us could never shoot that way even with the same kit.
    You contrast the experience with the D3X too, but note that you set a lower ISO limit for that camera. Would it be fair to say the D800 is being used in scenarios you would not have used the D4S despite it being a higher resolution camera?

    I have no doubt that the demanding conditions you photograph in favour the D4S, even before frames per second, build quality and battery life are factored in. I have read from others who use a D800 up to ISO 800-1600 and D4(S) for all ISOs beyond. For those who shoot at lower ISOs though the extra detail and dynamic range of the D800 may be better. If the D4S were universally better at pixel level then other types of photographer (e.g. studio, macro, landscape) would gravitate to it too.

    If you stick with the D800 I would like to hear how you get on with if for bird photography. Your articles and photos on this were excellent and sometimes this is not as demanding on ISO performance. I would love to see what you could do with a D800 / 800mm on birds of prey in more favorable conditions.

    • May 31, 2014 at 9:13 am

      Hi Tom

      I am not comparing the 200-400mm against the 600mm or 800mm. There is a point in the article that seems to be missed by some readers and maybe its my writing style. A lot of photographers buy a 36mp camera so they can crop in and bring the subject closer without buying long lenses. I have given up trying to shoot the 800mm with my D800 because I have lost many shots to poor quality with that combination. The 600mm comparison is in the article for both cameras but after looking at hundreds of images taken with the same lenses on both cameras (800mm excluded), the D4s is superior in low light high ISO situations.

      I have tuned all my lenses using lens align and focus tune. So far I have still not gotten images I like with the D800 / 800mm combo. I have stopped trying because the 800mm works exceptionally with the D4s I have, so I have no reason to torture myself constantly with missed shots (D800/800mm).

      I understand all you are saying about cropping (heat haze etc) but part of my article is to point out that it might be a mistake a lot of photographers make and that is to think they can use the mega pixels of the D800 to crop their way in with no cost in image quality.

      I will be going out in the next few weeks to photograph bald eagles with the 800mm and better light and I will try both the D800 and D4s on the 600mm and 800mm lenses at a more reasonable 200-800 ISO setting in better light. I too look forward to the comparison.

      Thanks for the compliment – I appreciate it.

      I think when I was mentioning ISO limits, I was trying to share where I felt noise levels stopped being acceptable for me on different cameras, however that changes depending on light and this article was focused on low light high ISO. I am sure the D800 can perform better in better conditions. I have a few professional photographer friends who use the D800 like a cheap D4/D4s and think they just crop their way in without a cost to quality. I saw the softness in many of their printed photos but did not say anything, because they were happy with them. My wife and I are about photos that print sharp and beautiful and so far we have had very little success in that compartment with the D800. Why beat a dead horse to death when I am getting much better images with the D4s.


      • 15.1.1) Tom D
        May 31, 2014 at 11:41 am

        Thanks for the reply Robert.

        You make lots of good points and sorry I misunderstood the lens comparison. Having read the other replies I understand now. Alas there is always a penalty in photography and you points prove you cannot crop your way to success. I really like how this website demonstrates these points and puts the photos up to prove it.

        I really hope you can get your D800 and 800mm to work together. I have seen one photographer with that pair in the UK, but they had a full tripod and gimbal head with static subjects.

  16. Profile photo of Deon Zeelie 16) Deon Zeelie
    May 31, 2014 at 2:18 am

    Good morning gents,

    First and foremost I have been following Mansorov for ages now. I appreciate every effort made in this comparison but not truly a comparison if not used with the exact same lenses. Now we all know what impact a lens has the quality of your images. I own a D800E ans must say the D800 images is not remotely a fair comparison.

    I almost certain that with a fair redo your opinion will change.

    • May 31, 2014 at 9:34 am

      There were two parts to this article – cropping your way to success, hence 200-400 mm cropped in to be roughly 600mm equivalent crop. Then there was lens for lens comparison and in both scenarios the D4s performs much better in low light and high ISO than the D800. remember also this is a low light high ISO comparison.

      I have taken / seen 800mm photos (hundreds of photos) on D800/D4s – D4s wins
      I have taken / seen 600mm photos (many) on D800/D4s – D4s wins
      Not so many with the 200-400mm on both cameras yet, but the 200-400mm is an extraordinarily sharp lens that produces prime lens like results.


  17. 17) Allan
    May 31, 2014 at 2:54 am

    I love my d800 for what I do, but to a good level of pixel sharpness you need to at least double your shutterspeed when comparing to d4s. Smaller pixels need less movements to get blurry. Also it need the better glass to get comparable. Thats what make the d800 unfit for the task.

    • May 31, 2014 at 9:37 am

      Thank You, doubling my shutter speed at low light shooting condition would be an impossible feat with using even higher ISO (higher noise levels). I am already pushing the shooting limits for these bear photos. 3200 ISO less than 500th sec for moving bears.

      • 17.1.1) Allan
        May 31, 2014 at 10:58 am

        Yes, you can’t do that. A 400 f.2.8 might help a bit, but it’s heavy. The D800 need more light for moving objects.

  18. 18) Billy
    May 31, 2014 at 4:01 am

    This test is pretty meaningless as the parameters were not matched.
    It is little more than an ad hoc opinion piece.
    I am a wildlife photographer and use two Nikon D800Es and compared to my previous set up, the results are spectacularly better – but again that is just an empirical view based on my comparing my own images against each other.
    One other thing I did was get rid of my Nikkor 200-400mm and went back to a Nikkor 500mm.You can do stunning razor sharp crops which leave most other combos standing. The 200-400mm is in my view overrated for wildlife. Much of the time it is too short which makes one resort to tele converters – and, (with the possible exception of the 1.4x), bang goes your quality, speed and ISO noise advantage. A trip to Alaska last year was spoiled with soft images using the 200-400mm with converters. Never again.
    I admit the slower shutter cycling of the D800 is an issue though but inmho worth the trade off and can be compensated for by good timing – too many photographers ‘machine gun’ everything in the field of view hoping to cull out something worthwhile. It doesn’t require much of a skill set does it?
    As another contributor noted the D800E is much more unforgiving of poor technique and will punish hand holding and low shutter speeds without mercy.

    • May 31, 2014 at 9:48 am

      I appreciate your reply but disagree with you. If I thought it was a meaningless post, I definitely would not have bothered spending 4hours to put it together. Photography life is about sharing and learning together, some lessons can be expensive and some cheap. I am glad you like your D800E images and I hope someone reading these comments sees that and takes it into consideration.

      The new 200-400mm is an exceptional lens and there are plenty of times that focal range is needed for wildlife photography and it produces exceptional results.

      I DONT USE teleconverters ever, I don’t like the loss of quality, they are not for me.

      Getting back to why I think the article has merit, it shares information that people can disseminate and extract value or no value from. I mention that in the article. There is a lens for lens comparison and supporting images supplied in the article (600mm). Regardless of that fact, I have taken thousands of images with the D4/D4s and D800 and for whatever reason the D800 images taken in low light high ISO and long lenses do not meet my own private quality standards whereas the D4s does.

      You mention about punishing poor technique and all these images were taken on a tripod and Wimberley II gimbal and short bursts. But you highlight some additional problems with the D800 that readers might want to know and that would seem to be that it can be more difficult to get quality images unless your technique is perfect. Handholding and slow shutter speeds are not poor technique, I will guarantee you I have some extremely high quality and sharp images I am very proud of taken hand held that I would never had the time to use or setup a tripod for. Can you imagine me fumbling with a gimbal and tripod while a herd of elk is charging at me in Yellowstone or a bald eagle swooping in to grab a fish while I am standing in a swaying 17ft dingy on the water, now I can tell you I got those images because I was able to hand hold.

      The emphasis on the above paragraph is there are times for hand holding and times for tripods and both are valid techniques in the field.


      • 18.1.1) Billy
        June 1, 2014 at 9:43 am

        That’s OK, you are allowed to disagree with me.

        However, I think you have misunderstood much of what I said.

        I did not say your post was meaningless, I said the test was scientifically meaningless.
        The point I was making is that the test was empirical and largely did not compare like with like and so amounts to no more than a personal opinion supported with some photos. Again there’s nothing wrong with that – as long as it is not dressed up as a valid scientific test. That is not to say that people cannot draw valuable insights from a knowledgable photographer’s field experience.

        I agree that the Nikon 200-400mm is an exceptional lens. I bought and used one for three years.
        Used on its own it is optically a brilliant performer.
        In practice however, while it is OK for larger animals, it falls short (literally) for smaller wildlife and most birds. It also does not work well with converters both as regards image quality and focussing accuracy. This, in my view, severely limits its use for serious wildlife photography where focal lengths above 400mm are virtually the norm.

        I did not imply that you used converters. Neither do I – if it can be avoided, which is why, if you need focal lengths above 400mm, you should steer clear of using the 200-400mm (with converters). Get a 500mm, 600mm or 800mm which are not only longer and better than the 200-400mm but also work pretty well with teleconverters.

        I did not say handholding and using slow shutter speeds are poor technique or indeed that your technique is poor. I said the D800E punishes poor technique – because of the extremely high resolution sensor – nothing more and nothing less.

        I am sure you have some excellent images taken hand held, as do I. I have been shooting wildlife in Africa for fifteen years. However, the point I was making is that not everyone has the ability or is practised enough, to achieve consistently good results shooting action with a 600mm lens handheld. It is difficult and requires practice. I did not imply that you are not capable of handholding long lenses or that long lens photography is impossible without a gimbal or tripod.


        • Jdalton
          June 1, 2014 at 9:51 am

          Hi Billy,

          I thought the post both was meaningful and useful. I find the empirical tests very useful. How the equipment works in real world conditions used by real people much is more important than how it works in a sterile laboratory test. Those laboratory tests are for the engineers who design the products. People who buy the products want to know how they work in real life.

          • Profile photo of Robert Andersen Robert Andersen
            June 1, 2014 at 10:01 am

            Hey Jdalton

            You managed to sum up how I feel about this post and why I posted it in the first place, in one short sweet to the point paragraph. I wish I could have managed to say that myself. May the light be with you :)


        • Profile photo of Robert Andersen Robert Andersen
          June 1, 2014 at 9:57 am

          Thanks for the clarification, I appreciate it. Yes you are right, this is not a scientific comparison or as I said in the article “this is not a technical comparison”. The results I posted though are however valid “in the field” results for my setup, even though some of the comments are not pleasing for me to read, I am happy they were posted and thus led to this discussion which will further educate the readers. Something we could all use.


      • 18.1.2) David
        July 3, 2014 at 3:33 am

        Thanks Rob for a useful analysis of the D800 and D4s. I have the former, and am thinking of getting the latter.

        I also have the 200-400mm lens, but in my experience I have to agree with others who have noticed that that lens does not perform well at distance. I use it mainly for bird photos, where the birds are not more than about 100ft away. Further than that, I get better results with my 300mm plus 2xTC.

        I wonder if you have had the same experience with the 200-400, because it could be that, rather than the D800/D4S that accounts for the some of your fuzzier images.

        That said, I’m waiting for the new 400mm f2.8, which I hope will be just as good as the 300mm f2.8, as that would really open up some great combinations with the TCs.

        Thanks again.


  19. 19) vegard fjalestad pedersen
    May 31, 2014 at 4:05 am


    First of the D4S is the low light king, both when it comes to focusing, and having as little noise as possible, and if you actually work as a professional and shoot Nikon, you should know that the D800 wont come close. The other thing is that the D800 has a 36mp sensor meaning that where there is camerashake, or you miss focus by a little bit it is going to be really obvious. That means that you should keep your shutter at 1/120 when you on the D4S would use 1/70 to avoid getting blurry images.

    I did a really shitty job at explaining this, but I do recommend that you guys read up on this!

    • May 31, 2014 at 10:00 am

      You didn’t do that shitty of a job – I like it – thanks

      And I will read up on it, maybe I should have done that before I traded my D3X for a D800 – Thanks again


  20. 20) Senthil Palaniappun
    May 31, 2014 at 4:34 am

    Hello Robert,

    Thanks for taking time to write this article.

    I have a D4 and D800E and shoot almost exclusively wildlife, mostly African and have used these 2 bodies in Alaska and Ranthambhore (for tigers), India. Have another prof wildlife photog friend who lives in Kenya and shoots with 2 D800’s and a D3s. We almost always use only upto 200mm on D800/E and our 200-400 or 600mm stays on D4 for exactly the same reasons as you have mentioned. A lot of times we have 24-70mm on D800/E and swap 70-200mm when needed. These days ‘m more and more going wide or moderate tele for wildlife and my usage for 600mm has relatively come down.

    IMHO, D800/E is wonderful even for wildlife provided we don’t use long lenses in less than optimum conditions, and stay below 3200 ISO. And of course, D4 is wonderful in every aspect.


    • 20.1) Senthil Palaniappun
      May 31, 2014 at 4:40 am

      And BTW – we have hardly been using 200-400mm, as the sharpness and AF speed are not as good as with 600mm, which is what we mostly use for long lens. In addition, 400mm is many times a little short for us even for large African wildlife as we like to keep a decent distance from them (unless they decide to get closer to us)

      • May 31, 2014 at 9:39 am

        but there is a 600mm to 600mm comparison. I also disagree, I have the latest version of the 200-400mm lens and it produces images as sharp as a prime lens and compares to my 600mm


    • 20.2) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 1:26 pm


      I also have good images with the D800 and shorter lenses in better light. Unfortunately a lot of the wildlife I photograph (moose, deer, bears to name some) are much more active in the early morning hours or late evenings. Some get a lot more active on heavy cloudy rainy kind of days but all that ends up amounting to low light high ISO.

      But I would love to joining you for an African trip sometime, now that would be awesome !!


    • 20.3) Billy
      June 1, 2014 at 10:17 am

      I have to agree 100% with Senthil.

      For me, the low light performance of the D800E up to 3200 ISO is just fine and with a little post processing noise reduction with dedicated software, it can be excellent quite a way beyond that.

      Where the D800E really wins is in making big prints. By big I mean A3 and A2. There you will undoubtedly see a marked difference between the D800E and virtually anything else short of medium format.

      However, for web use, or on a PC, or for magazine publication, by the time you have downsized and resharpened down to about 800 pixels, there is little or no discernible difference between the D4S and the D800E. In fact you can comfortably stay with a crop sensor camera and stop agonising over every last pixel.

      Now if Nikon would bring out a D800 successor with 8-10 fps cycling…….

  21. 21) Hugh Maaskant
    May 31, 2014 at 4:54 am


    First of all: great photos. no arguing that :-)

    Then, as pointed out before I think the comparison is flawed and may confuse some people. The main objections (in order of decreasing importance I would think)

    1. You do need to compare the images at the output resolution, not at the input pixel level because, all else being equal, bigger pixels will always win in per pixel quality. So either resample the D800 to 16 Mpix for on-screen comparison or print both (with the same crop) at the same size.

    2. Handholding the D800(E) is very, very difficult because it needs only a very small movement to put a pixel where its neighbor used to be earlier during the shutter release. Just a small arc is enough and the 1/focal length rule is closer to 1/2*focal length for such high resolution cameras. In the single comparison where you used the same lens (600mm) the D800 was shot at 1/500, you will get motion blur, no doubt about it.

    3. Some comparisons were done with incomparable lenses, while I would love to have the 200-400 :-) its reputation is that it is excellent for close-by but soft at longer distances. Also it is comparing a zoom to a prime and finally the zoom was full open while the prime was stopped down (last comparison).

    All that does not mean that the conclusion is necessarily wrong though. The D4(S) was designed for this shooting envelope, the D800 for another. Also the D4S is more than 2.5 times more money than the D800 (you get what you pay for) and, still important, some 2 years newer technology (probably between 0.5 to 1.0 stop advantage).

    So please, continue enjoying your D4 and D4S, I’m pretty confident they are fantastic cameras (though I did never use one, alas) and most of all continue shooting those great shots. But please, do not confuse readers with wrong arguments, the D800 too is a fantastic camera (I know, I have one) but for a different purposes and for different reasons.

    • May 31, 2014 at 10:12 am

      What you are suggesting is a lab like technical comparison which is not what this article was about. While I may read those comparisons, they don’t interest me that much because shooting stationary object in ideal lightning conditions is hardly ever the case for me in wildlife photography.

      I am not hand holding any camera here, all photos for these bear sessions were on a Gitzo tripod with Wimberley Gimbal and good long lens technique.

      There is a lens to lens comparison, but also the article highlight how great the D4s handles poor shooting conditions and low light. Some of the images were posted and shared with that in mind, to share the possibility of grabbing a great image at 2500 ISO, that is an ISO level I would never have attempted to shoot at before because it would not have met my quality requirements. However with the D4s it is now possible to push that to 3200 ISO. I have not gotten any image with the D800 on any lens I am happy with at 3200 ISO.

      If there is one thing you can trust my wife and I for, is producing high quality wildlife prints and we are both super critical when it comes to print quality. Having said that, I can tell you that neither me nor her can accept the images we have gotten from the D800 at low light high ISO whether compared to the D4s or not. They are just not up to our standard.



  22. 22) Pravin
    May 31, 2014 at 5:34 am

    Many reviewers of the D800 and D800e recommended that these cameras not be used hand-held (though the article does not mention whether the shots were hand-held or taken on a tripod or monopod) and also that the high resolution sensor out-resolved many non-pro lenses (not sure I’d call the nikkor 200–400 f4 $6.7k lens non-pro however). They also noted the relatively low light-gathering capability of the densely-packed sensor on the D800 (4.88 µm pixel size), which is significantly inferior to the (also) newer sensor on the D4S (7.3 µm pixel size) and translates to increased noise in low-light situations.

    In sum the recommendations for the D800 are: use the best lenses available and expect resolution issues if you don’t; don’t use at high ISO if you can avoid it, otherwise noise will result. If you are a wild-life shooter, save up as both the D4s and long primes are darn expensive. I agree a D4s or better still a well-speced but cheaper FX camera at 24Mb/s would be a fine thing.

    • 22.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      I would agree and I too look forward to a cheaper camera at around 24mp. I would have no problem buying one and there is definitely room for it in Nikons lineup.


  23. 23) Carlo
    May 31, 2014 at 5:46 am

    Hi Robert have you tried the AF fine tuning to adjust the AF best spot between that D800 and the specific lens? Usually it works because 36MP let you see any defect from your gear!

    • 23.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 1:32 pm

      Hey Carlo

      Yes I bought lens align and focus tune, still didn’t make my 800mm D800 combo give me images I like. Something wrong with that combo for me.


  24. 24) Guy Geva
    May 31, 2014 at 7:38 am

    If the D4s in low ISO is good the same at the D800 and the D4s… why to buy the D800 and not the D4s?
    I be happy if you can help me please

    • Profile photo of Eric Bowles 24.1) Eric Bowles
      May 31, 2014 at 7:48 am

      It depends on how often you need fast shutter speeds in low light. The D4/D4s is a great camera. It’s strengths are great AF, fast frame rates, and great low light performance. The D800E is the top camera for resolution and sharpness and is a very capable camera for other uses. It’s half the price of a D4.

      For wildlife, it depends on the subject. Some subjects are typically photographed in low light while others have better light and need more detail. Some subjects need fast frame rates while others don’t. You choose the camera that best matches your needs.

      Keep in mind that the D7100 and even the V3 each have advantages over the D4 for specific situations.

      • 24.1.1) Guy Geva
        May 31, 2014 at 8:40 am

        Hi Eric
        Thank you for your time and help (:
        Do you think the D4s is good and better for landscape (night and day landscape) and macro? in ISO 100?

        • Profile photo of Eric Bowles Eric Bowles
          May 31, 2014 at 9:01 am

          No – the D800E is probably the top camera for most landscapes. They be photographed at low ISO levels and the detail you get from the D800/E is a real plus. In addition, landscapes tend to be printed larger.

          Night images will depend a bit on the type of night photography. High ISO images benefit from the lower noise of the D4 and D3s, but the D800E is still pretty good. Long exposure star trails are probably fine with a D800E. Low light city scenes – like stars – typically are going to be high ISO situations favoring the D4.

          Macro is a bit mixed. Generally I think the detail of the D800E makes it the best camera. But there are situations where shutter speed is a challenge, and that might mean a D4s is better. Frame rate and AF speed would not be advantages for most macro.

          All of these cameras are great. You’re just talking about the small differences among the top 2-3 cameras made by any company. If you understand the limitations of your gear and use it properly, any of these cameras can produce great images.

          • Guy Geva
            May 31, 2014 at 9:08 am

            Hi Eric
            Thank you for your time and help (:

    • 24.2) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 1:36 pm

      I think Eric did a wonderful job answering the Q, thanks Eric.

      I bought the D800 because I always travel with 2 camera bodies, I knew the D800 would be great for landscapes, which we also love to photograph. I also thought I could use it as a wildlife backup camera and maybe get huge cropping power if I needed it, I think that’s where I made a huge mistake.


  25. 25) Mark
    May 31, 2014 at 7:43 am

    Is it really so surprising that the top model Nikon D4s – twice the price of the lower model D800 is better? It is obvious. I know many people who have sold their lower model D800 to get a D4 or D4s.

    The D4s is the absolute best that Nikon makes. Period.

    • 25.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      I agree, the D4s is King.

      But I think many people think they get use the D800 to crop replacing the need for longer lenses, I wanted to highlight some problems with that method of thinking.


  26. 26) Guy Geva
    May 31, 2014 at 7:56 am

    Hi to all
    Do you think the D4s is good and beter for landscape and macro? in ISO 100?

  27. 27) Costi
    May 31, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Doesn’t mater if it’s wild photography or other type of photography, it’s only a comparison of low-light capabilities of the two diferent camera. I don’t expect than NIKON D800 ( 36 MP ) to have a better noise ratio in low light, but finally every camera has a different purpose. Do you think that NIKON D4s it’s better in normal light condition or studio ? I have NIKON D3s and NIKON D800. I expect a NIKON D4x/5/ . . . with a D4 body, but with 20 – 24 MP, to trade my NIKON D3s. But will not replace NIKON D800.

  28. Profile photo of Eric Bowles 28) Eric Bowles
    May 31, 2014 at 9:18 am

    For most pixels on the subject, the Nikon D7100 or the Nikon One V3 are the winners. Both of these cameras have crop sensors and maximize small pixels on a subject. The D7100 has a DX sensor, less than half the size of the FX sensor. It provides the equivalent density of 54 Mp if applied to an FX sized sensor. The V3 has 16 megapixels and a 2.7 crop factor. If applied to an FX sensor, you would have 118 MP – more than twice as many as the D7100 and more than 7 times as many as the D4.

    Of course, these come with a cost. Smaller pixels are noisier at all levels of ISO. But if the intent is to crop – such as for small birds – a crop sensor does have some merit.

    From my perspective, I’d much rather use a longer lens and have better subject isolation with low noise – until I need to heavily crop. Then the answer changes. You can carry a second camera for just this type of situation. There was a recent discussion about using the Nikon One camera for high magnification macro and it performed remarkably well.

    Cropping is always a trade off – you just need to know when to trade and by how much.

    • 28.1) Costi
      June 2, 2014 at 11:01 am

      Following your logic the best camera is . . . Nokia Lumia 1020 – 41MP Smartphone Camera :)

  29. 29) Michael Rogers
    May 31, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    This article is so bad it laughable. Obviously he should have done his homework before buying a D800. It’s a Landscape/studio/portrait camera not designed for action. That not withstanding He should have taken his D800 into Nikon repair and have it checked to eliminate the camera as his problem before doing anything else. It could be a misaligned mirror box or warped lens mount. If he was seriously wanting to use the 800mm he should have taken that in too and have Nikon calibrate the two together. He goes on to compare a D800 image taken with a 200-400 at a slower shutter speed to an image image taken on a D4s with a 600mm lens at a faster shutter speed. Come on, no comparison for sharpness between the prime 600 and the zoom 200-400. Yes he did compare them on a 600, but at different f stops. To add insult to injury they were taken on different days for Christ Sakes. What happened to the scientific method here???????? Also he never down sampled the D800 image to 16 MP.. He also is operating under the assumption that “ A lot of photographers buy the D800 to crop and use shorter lenses…” Well that’s the first time I have ever heard that . Most people buy the D800 to use as was intended, i.e. landscape/studio ect… not low light wildlife action. Bottom line no camera is going to beat the D4s in low light period ( POP Photography June 2014 issue..front page..D4s low light champ.). If he wanted a backup to his D4s he should sell his D800 and buy another D4s and be done with it instead of crying about how the D800 doesn’t do what it wasn’t designed to do. I’m surprised and disappointed that Nasim accepted this article.

    • 29.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm

      Wow, go straight for the jugular !!

      I bought the D800 as a backup camera and landscape camera. (we are good so far right ?)

      Lets talk the comparison photos, a misunderstanding many have made. The 200-400 photo is in there to show about trying to crop your ways to success and the flaws that theory produces. There are many photographers and/or amateurs thinking they can crop as much as they want without a cost. I was trying to highlight there is a cost.

      I don’t want to go tit for tat on all your negative, seems like a pointless exercise. But I think there are many readers in Photography life who buy a camera and get misled that more MP is king. There are sales people all over pushing the more MP is better thing just to sell a camera.

      I’ll leave the reply on this note, that while the article may not have value for you, I believe there are many others who will gain from it.


  30. 30) Guest
    May 31, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    This ad nauseam talk about sensors, pixels, and noise is giving me indigestion.

    • 30.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 2:00 pm

      what pixels, what noise, lets go grab a beer :)

  31. 31) Rob
    May 31, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    While I’m sure the D4/D4s have much better AF, I don’t think that is the real issue here. Three days is simply not enough to get used to a camera and how if handles. Having shot wildlife with the D300 and D700 before it, the D800 is more than capable. Would it be nicer if it was faster? Sure. Does that lack of speed make it impossible to get quality results. Hardly. Does the D4/D4s have better noise performance, yeah that’s kind of given considering the pixel pitch of the sensor.

    As for metering, if you don’t like the way one camera handles vs another, use exposure compensation or over/underexpose as needed.

    • 31.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 1:53 pm


      It was only three days on the bear photography :) – I have had the D800 for much longer than that but had already had some bad experiences with it, so that’s why I stopped using it while shooting the bears. I had seen all I needed to see and the D4s was king already, so no need to shoot with the D800. However as I said above I believe a lot of people think they can crop like hell and not pay a penalty, I was kind of trying to highlight that is not true.


  32. 32) Bob Anderson
    May 31, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Hi Robert,

    I have have been enjoying your wildlife photography since you joined the photography life website. You are a talented wildlife photographer.

    In 2012 I went to Africa with a D700 because Nikon was six months behind their scheduled D4 delivery dates. Since then I have used the D4 and D800E with most of the Nikon lens lineup including their 300mm, 500mm, and 800mm lenses. All of these large primes are used on a realy right stuff tripod with a Wimberely gimbal head.

    The D4 body blows away the D800E body in every way. Control layout, viewfinder, focus speed, and quaility of construction. Unfortunately there are times when you have to crop when photographing wildlife. The 16 megapixel sensor just doesn’t work out well enough for this.

    I was photographing chipmunks in good lighting with the Nikon 500mm. I used both the D4 and D800E on a tripod with the Wimberely head. The D800E pictures were much better than the D4 pictures after cropping both images. When you have good light, a tripod, and a relatively static subject the D800E’s sensor can allow you to crop. On landscapes shot with a tripod the D800E blows away the D4.

    I would like to see a D800E sensor in a D4 body for landscape work. Hopefully the D4s replacement, a D5, will have a 24 megapixel sensor with all of the other features of the D4s. A D400 crop sensor replacement for the D300 would be a great backup camera for a D4/D4s for wildlife purposes.

    Did you custom adjust the autofocus on the D800 for each lens you were using? Is some of the softness in the D800 pictures actually a focusing issue? I have not yet tried the 800mm on the D800E body. The 500mm worked well if all the conditions were right.

    Keep up the good work.

    • 32.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 1:58 pm

      HI and Thanks

      I also have great D800 images in better light and shorter lenses, stunning landscape stuff especially with the 24-70mm. The only real problem I have not been able to resolve is my results with the 800mm attached to the D800. For whatever reason that combo is not working for me and I have no need to send it out because I have the D4s which is perfect with the 800mm.

      Yes I bought Lens Align and Focus tune and tune all the lenses to the bodies.

      Thanks again, I appreciate the positive feedback.


  33. May 31, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Hi Robert,

    When it comes to cropping your way to glory there is no better method than cropping with one’s feet. Better yet, crop with the subjects’ feet/paws. For the cost of a Nikkor 200-400 you could buy 1000 footlongs from Subway. These could be stacked into a handy blind and the bears would come right up to your D800 with 14-24 attached, which we all know would give fabulously sharp detailed results. If you think you might shake with the bruins that close, then switch to the 16-35 with the VR on, also a very sharp lens. I hope this solves your dilemma.


    • 33.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Hey Verm

      Now there is a comment I can handle, you are the funniest and best :)

      Thanks Mate, you put a smile back on my face.


    • 33.2) Guest
      May 31, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      Live long and prosper.

  34. 34) jdalton
    May 31, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Well there is a considerable difference in price. The D4s is almost 3x the cost of the d800, so one would hope that the D4s would yield better quality images in low light. For pixel quality and low noise performance, given the same generation sensors, It’s not the number of pixels that matters so much as the size of those pixels.

    • 34.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      I know, was hoping to help visualize that for others.

      Thanks on the photo compliment


  35. 35) jdalton
    May 31, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Great shots by the way!

  36. 36) Steve Hughes
    May 31, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Fully agree with Rob. I use D4 and D800. When the conditions are right the clarity of D800 is incredible but it’s just too temperamental for normal field work. I’ve had my D800 back to Nikon twice; the last time accompanied by the 70/200 lens in the hope of getting decent repetitive results. I still live in hope, otherwise it will only get used at silly high speeds, low ISO and where narrow depth of field is required.

    • 36.1) Robert Andersen
      May 31, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks Steve

      I appreciate the supporting argument, and I am all about field tests, labs and technical are nice but ultimately what you get in the field counts. It’s just with those limitations, it doesn’t qualify as a backup camera for me.


  37. 37) James
    May 31, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    With all due respect, I would not publish an article like this based on the limited insight and comparison. I have the D4 and D800 and have used it the past 18 months on the same lenses swapping around and discovering the pro’s and cons of each camera. Having taken over 10 000 images with both in bright sunlight, almost dark, early morning, late afternoon, any possible conditions. They are 2 completely different cameras and produce great results used in the right conditions with the correct settings. The D800 is slower in focusing especially if you have busy backgrounds or grass in front of the animals using the incorrect focus settings. Using back button focus AF-C Single point produce fantastic results, as sharp as the camera is capable of doing, using 21 is a problem. For Birds in flight 21 points is fantastic and sharp. even on my 300mm f2.8 with TC 2.0 shot at f5.6. My experience is that the D800 needs optimum glass, like we all know and using the 200-400f4 and compare it with the results of a prime is a joke, given that the 200-400 f4 is in fact slow in focus and soft at longer distances. So unless you have spend time working out the optimum settings for the camera, don’t bash you clear lack of experience on a forum like this. The D4/D4s focus system was designed for sport and action but in still conditions in not superior to the D800. I recently shot a hunting Cheetah running at full speed first towards me and then across me, I took 27 images and 26 were in perfect focus, but the images does not have the same detail as that of the D800. I my instance I do shoot the D800 in the 1.2 crop mode and on 1 or 2 occasions in 1.5 mode due to the fact that I only use the 300 and 400 f2.8 lenses and don’t have the reach of the 600 and 800. I suggest you spend a bit more time with the D800 and and try different focus settings, exposure modes, EV compensations etc that would all contribute to better focus, optimal exposure etc.

    • May 31, 2014 at 3:43 pm

      as I mentioned in the article – quote: “The reason I am throwing this 200-400mm example in here amongst the 600mm and 800mm images is to support my argument about not being able to crop your way to a high quality image.”

      I also get awesome D800 photos with shorter lenses and better light. The 200-400mm is a very sharp lens and I am sure the quality from it beats any lens with a 2.0TC attached.


    • 37.2) Billy
      June 1, 2014 at 10:36 am

      I agree with virtually all of what you say as my experience is very similar. I use two D800E bodies with 500mm, 70-200mm and 1.4x and 2x aspheric teleconverters (when pushed). I got rid of my 200-400mm for all the reasons you outline.

      I am sorry to go off thread a bit but, apart from a 1fps increase in shutter cycling and slightly shorter buffering time, why would you crop to 1.2 or 1.5 in camera?
      It seems to me that just increases the chances of cropping off the tail or head of your running cheetah with very minimal practical gains that I can see.
      Why not crop in the computer in post process?
      Am I missing something here?

  38. 38) Andrew Kandel
    May 31, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Often photography is about making trade-offs and compromises. The D4/D4s is built for extreme situations (extreme low light, extreme action, extreme conditions) and it excels in those facets of wildlife photography. But it doesn’t excel in reach, which is also an important facet of wildlife photography. Assuming all the equipment mentioned in the post is owned by the author, he made a huge compromise, for most people at least, by spending $18,000 to gain more reach over a 600mm.

    In comparison, the D800 is half the price of the D4/D4s. The D800 doesn’t excel in extreme lowlight or in fast action. However, it does excel in reach. I use the in camera crop modes like I would use a built in teleconverter, quickly toggling to 1.2 or 1.5 crop mode when I want to get tighter. But I make a compromise in that I keep my ISO at or below 1600 in the 1.2 mode and at or below ISO 800 in the 1.5 crop mode. On my 600mm that means I can quickly switch between equivalent field of views of 600mm, 720mm and 900mm. And I can do so without losing depth of field. You lose about half your depth of field going to 800mm from 600mm at f/5.6

    Likewise, with my 200-400 attached, I can move around between 200mm FoV all the way to 600mm FoV. Add a 1.4 teleconverter, and stop down to f/8, and it becomes a 280-840mm zoom. That’s a powerful tool for the wildlife photographer. Somebody mentioned up thread that the best zoom is moving your feet, but my experience is that even the most mellow wild animal doesn’t like a lot of movement.

    Am I compromising my quality? No, as long as I stay within my ISO caveats and use good technique when shooting with those added magnifications. And my ISO caveats are probably a bit too conservative. The thing that people have to get over is judging your images with a D800 in the same way that you judged your 12MP D3/D700 or even 16MP D4/D4s. When looking at 100% view every imperfection shows up, whether it be your long lens technique or the quality of the lens. The corners on my 24-70mm look like crap at 36MP, yet I printed fairly large images with that lens attached to my D700 and never noticed the softness. With the D800 you can easily fret over things that never show up in a print, like noise, corner sharpness, or slight motion blur. The latter two certainly exist on images from a D4, and you would notice them sooner as you increase in print size than you would with a D800.

    Is the D800 the perfect wildlife camera? It’s not. My biggest knock on it is that it doesn’t appear to be made as well as the D700. I have had to send mine in multiple times due to mount/mechanical aperture issues. And there are times when I wished I could shoot faster or in lower light (or faster in lower light), but nothing on the market beats its versatility.

    The best of both worlds is to have both cameras. The author is fortunate to have them both. He should reconsider ignoring a valuable wildlife photography tool.

    • May 31, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Hello Andrew

      A very informative and comprehensive reply, I learned from that reply and I appreciate it. I do use and continue to use both cameras. I even intend to use the D800 for wildlife when the light and situation is appropriate. I have had a high ISO limit for each camera I have had and I learned what those limits were from the prints we produced. I suppose I was hoping for a little bit better performance in low light / high ISO conditions.

      Thanks for your comment, it has great value to everybody.

      • 38.1.1) James
        June 1, 2014 at 6:59 am

        Robert. May I also suggest you look at the websites and work of people such as David Lloyd, Elliott Neep Lou Coetzer and many other wildlife photographers that use the D800/e as their main or second body. These are all photographers who’s work has achieved international recognition and who sell images worldwide, who run top end photographic training and tour throughout Africa, South America, Alaska etc. They shoot their D800/e with super teles, use higher ISO settings and work in the most extreme conditions possible, and yet they only have the highest praise for the equipment. On a recent trip I spend time with Nick Dyer who is a full time wildlife photographer, publishing and documentation on contract and who travel through the most remote areas in Africa using 2 D800’s and a D4 using a 200-400, 400 f2.8 and 600f4. As per Andrew above, we all learn from each other. I do wildlife and do at least 6 dedicated trips per year, have used from the D200, D2x, D3,D3s, D700 and now D800e and D4, after 20 months of use of the D800, I am still amazed by its capabilities, if used correctly and I have no problem using it up to ISO 3600 with careful noise reduction in post processing. Try Nik software. The D4/s is a master in all conditions but lacks the detail of the D800 and even the D610. Yes we have one of the top up and coming wildlife photographers using a D600 who won 2 international awards in 2013 using the D600 with the 400 f2.8. Know your tools before you try and contradict what others have already proven in the field, they might have 20 yrs experience on you..

        • Profile photo of Robert Andersen Robert Andersen
          June 1, 2014 at 8:47 am

          Hi James

          As always I take all replies seriously and try to learn from them and will look at the sites suggested. I do use NIK software.

          It seems that what you are saying contradicts the experiences of a lot of other D800 owners and I would love to have a D800 camera that can do what you say. The sharing of information here is a learning tool for all and what I am sharing are valid results from my D800. That does not make those results any less valid or the results of the pros you are talking about any more valid. Just from the comments to this article I can deduce the D800 can be rather temperamental depending on the shooting conditions and lenses you use. This was also one of the reasons, I stated “do not use this article as a reason to make a camera purchase from, but rather disseminate the information and disregard what doesn’t apply to you”. Hopefully anybody interested in the D800, will also read these additional comments and have even more information before they make purchase decisions.


          • Billy
            June 1, 2014 at 10:49 am

            Right on.
            Nikon made it clear from the outset at the launch of the D800 that it was not a camera for everyman.
            It is not ‘temperamental depending on shooting conditions and lenses you use’.
            It is an exacting, precision instrument which demands the very best lenses and the very best photographic technique to achieve the results of which it is capable. Nikon went out of their way to tell potential buyers that this was not a camera for the inexperienced photographer or indeed for the photographer who could not afford the glass to go with it.
            I wish people would stop bleating when they ‘cannot get it to work for them’.

  39. 39) HF
    May 31, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Interesting article.
    Cropping doesn’t make sense at low light, as you show, since you loose the advantage of downsizing to increase DR and reduce noise. However, I wouldn’t have expected to get better shots with the D800 with the same 600mm lens at 100% resolution. If you have the slightest shake, pictures with a 600mm lens will lack sharpness with a 36MP sensor. The question is, is this blur around the pixel level? If so, downsizing all pictures to 16MP should give you comparable resolution and almost no blur. Then you could use the full resolution with shorter lenses and lower ISOs and downsize with longer lenses at higher ISOs to get the best of both worlds. I just think the D800 at its NATIVE resolution is not that much suitable for wildlife if you watch at 100%.

  40. 40) Bill Slattery Jr
    May 31, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    Your results are very different than mine. A couple months back I set up the newest Nikon 80-400 on a big heavy tripod 390 feet away in right center field at a local university for a multiple shot test of my D800, D4 and V1 with FT1 attached during a baseball game. Here’s some of the RAW files:


    After cropping away to the same acceptable FOVs of the batter, catcher and umpire the D4 results were noticeably worse than either of the other setups with the D800 results the best after post processing in Lightroom. I also do photograph a good amount of backyard birds and all but twice, once by mistake, take the D800 out to the blinds and even prefer the D800 for covering running events like 5K+ road and bike races. I recently picked up the Sigma 120-300 Sport with TCs and while they haven’t been tested yet my expectation is that they’ll be no different. If I wasn’t shooting so much sports with the need for FPSs, I’d never pay twice as much to lose the D800’s detail just for the slight gain in noise or focus speed and accuracy the D4 gives me. Really surprised that you came to a different conclusion.

    • June 1, 2014 at 6:44 am

      IHI bill

      I am noticing in your photos that you had a lot more light and much lower ISO, that will change the results quite a bit. My D800 performs great at lower ISO.


  41. 41) jdalton
    May 31, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Couldn’t help but notice, Bill Slattery Jr, your comment referred to a D4 whereas the article referred to the D4s. Digital technology is advancing by leaps and bounds. Is it possible that the newer generation D800 can hold it’s own against the older generation D4s?

  42. 42) Denni Raubenheimer
    June 1, 2014 at 12:22 am

    Hi Mark,

    Nice article. Thanks for all the effort in writing it.
    I agree that for wildlife photographers able to purchase a D4/D4s these are superior choices over the D800.
    Here is my critique of the article. I’m basically arguing that your comparing apples to pears.
    The D800 will pick up camera shake and subject movement much more easily than a 16 MP sensor. The noise levels of the D800 can also only be compared when down-sampling to 16 MP. Here lies a conflict. If a D800 photo had minor camera shake/motion blur and high noise, then down-sampling would decrease the noise, but propagate (increase) the blur (a down-sampled image is sharper only where the image was crisp). It is thus not sensible to use the same shutter limitations to avoid camera shake with a D800 than with a D4/D4s.
    So, in sense what I’m saying is in agreement with the D800 not being the best choice than the D4/4s for your purposes. But, I would argue that is a D800 has no focus errors and one avoids camera shake and motion blur completely than at the same ISO and after down-sampling the image quality should be near to identical to that from a D4. This would however only be likely in sufficient light. Furthermore, if the light was more than sufficient and one didn’t have issues with the noise levels in a 36 MP image, then very big prints, or significant crops, become great possibilities.

    My baby daughter is demanding my attention now, so I have to leave this post as is.

    Best regards,
    Denni Raubenheimer

    • June 1, 2014 at 6:52 am

      I understand your point of view, this wasn’t really about comparing the cameras as if they are in the same league. A lot of people set a budget, then go buy a camera. A lot of camera stores push the mega pixel thing and for years that has been a successful selling tactic. Just by the comment section a lot of potential D800 buyers would learn a lot. When I was researching the D800 before buying it, the information got from various reviews was how good low noise it had and the ability to zoom in so to speak by cropping. Now admittedly most of theses reviews we people photos in better light. The point I tried to make in my article was the low light and high ISO combination was not handled as well by the D800 as I had hoped and that you can not always just crop in like many potential buyers would think.


  43. 43) Denni Raubenheimer
    June 1, 2014 at 12:59 am

    Sorry, Robert, got your name wrong. Bad style. Had no time to proof-read.

  44. 44) Elvis
    June 1, 2014 at 2:14 am

    I always enjoy reading articles regarding camera experiences and comparisons. Naturally the D4s is going to work better in low light as that is one of it’s key features.

    I think you’d also have gotten much better results if you’d bought the D800e rather than the D800. The D800e has the optical low pass filter removed which will give you much sharper photos. I’ve used my D800e in extremely low light conditions and received fantastic results.

    • June 1, 2014 at 6:54 am

      Thanks and its awesome the D800E is working for you, it’s always great when a camera performs to your expectations


  45. 45) Gromit44
    June 1, 2014 at 6:34 am


    You say you don’t know if your experience is because of a) the lens/camera combination, b) issues with the D800, or c) poorer low light performance with long lenses.

    Did you have Auto Distortion Control switched on in the D800? I’ve found that leaving this on can cause a lack of sharpness with some lenses.

    Also, why not test both cameras again on a static subject – e.g. indoors, fixed lighting, tripod, lens chart.

    • June 1, 2014 at 7:02 am


      Essentially I am getting great results with shorter lenses and brighter light. The only lens this has not been true for is the 800mm / D800 combo. One reader suggested I should send that combo off to get tuned and tested, but the reason I don’t do that is because I have a D4s that works perfectly with that lens and the D800 was always bought as a landscape camera with big size printability but with the hope it could also act as a backup wildlife camera. Auto Distortion control was OFF.


  46. 46) joaocs
    June 1, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Nice article. I own a D800 and I use it for all types of photography. When I do wildlife, my body, with the 70-200 f2.8, 300 f4 and TC 14, let me get all focal lengths between 200 and 630 mm (DX mode). It’s good enough for me (and my budget).

    Would I buy a D4s, if I could? Of course, but I love my D800 (and I think I´ll pass the D900).

    • June 1, 2014 at 8:56 am

      Thanks and ultimately your happiness with your camera is what matters, its about the joy of photography and the camera is just a tool to bring it to you.


  47. 47) Abhijit K
    June 1, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    The crop ability comparison would be more meaningful if its compared against teleconverter or a longer but slower lens with D4/D4s. The D800 in the 1.5x crop mode is ~15 megapixel (similar to D4/s). So a good comparison would be D800/D800E (bare lens) files cropped to around D4/D4s resolution vs D4/D4s with a 1.4 TC. Alternately a shorter but faster lens vs a longer but slower lens. In that case the extra stop advantage of D4/D4s disappears. Also may be the autofocus system of the D800 gets an extra stop of light to be slightly more accurate.

    Examples of what I am talking about:
    1) D800E cropped to ~1.4 crop size with 500mm f/4 @ f/4 vs D4 with 500mm f/4 w/ 1.4x @ effective f/5.6
    2) D800E cropped to ~DX size with 400mm f/2.8 @f/2.8 vs D4 with 600mm f/4 @f/4
    3) D800E cropped to ~1.3 crop size with 600mm f/4 @f/4 vs D4 with 800mm f/5.6 @f/5.6

    It will be also more useful to keep the generation of comparisons identical. e.g. compare D4 with D800/D800E but compare D4s with D800/E replacement. Also the 800mm f/5.6 is likely a superior lens to the current 600mm f/4 lens – so more appropriate would be the 600mm f/4 replacement with fluorite elements when it comes along. But since we don’t have newer generation D800, 600mm – tests will just need to be done with that I guess.

    With this methodology – the performances may not be so different.

    Also you would have the following flexibilities:
    1) in good light you have the flexibility to use the 1.4x teleconverter with the D800/D800E in addition to cropping.
    2) you can choose whether to crop or not to crop. Especially useful if the bird/animal gets too close – as you are using the shorter lens you may still be able to take the picture as you have a wider angle of view
    3) Work with shorter minimum focus distance due to using a shorter lens (400mm vs 600mm).

    These things have so many variables – one can make a case for either D4/s or D800/E. So probably best to choose as per the budget and other shooting requirements (use for landscape or not, fps).

  48. 48) Michael
    June 1, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    Hey Robert

    I think the results might depend strongly on the lens/camera combination. I don’t know why your D800 performs so poorly – I use a D800 with a 500mm/f4, mainly for birds. I get excellent and sharp results up to 1600 ISO (printable 100% crops), although I take most pictures with <400 ISO.
    Personally, I would NEVER trade the D800 for a D4s or any other Camera with significantly less than 36 MP. Distance is almost always the main problem with birds, so cropping ist cruical for me. I think more than half of my best pictures taken with the D800 would be useless if I had taken them with a D4s.

  49. 49) OC Mike
    June 1, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    Robert, thank you for writing this article. I hadn’t realized that it took such bravery and courage to withstand the battering from responses. I think that everyone would agree that Nikon marketed the D800 as the D700 replacement with a quantum jump improvement in sensor pixel numbers. And I think that everyone would agree that Nikon courted D700 owners that the D800 was better and just as easy to use. The number and earnestness of the responses attests to a highly opinionated and well informed set of readers. What more could a blog ask for? Certainly, folks with one or more mega tele primes have more discretionary income than the other 95% of the readers. You mention the basic no do-over aspect of photographing outside of a studio or anything within a twenty foot vicinity of the camera. I believe it is to your credit that you wrote this in an envirnment (in this entire Internet world) where few before you have written your words. Your primary point is well taken. The basic details hold true that it takes a higher level of skill to use the D800 and some of your respondees appear to have these or know someone who has these skills. Speaking for the 95% of us readers who do not, thanks!

    • June 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      Hello OC Mike

      thanks you and its the 95% who can be helped by such articles and even the included comments, good or bad. They all sum up to a better educated public on the D800. Thanks Mate :)


      • 49.1.1) Sourav Dutta
        June 14, 2014 at 12:36 pm

        Hi Robert,

        One thing I would like to share that during last two years I found picturs taken with D800E+Nikon 300mm f4 IF ED+1.4 TC converter (up to ISO 4000) gives good print (up to 2×3 ft) . Only thing is shutter speed should be 2000+
        I bascially found above result during photography of small birds.

  50. 50) LRuseva
    June 1, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Hello Robert,

    I first read your article and all the comments ( which are twice as long ) and did a bit of thinking. Than came back and read it all again. So here are my two cents.
    I also have the D4s and the D800 and I do use them with long lenses. If using same lenses in my experience what matters the most is the brightness of the environment e.g. the amount of direct and ambient light when it comes to noise and sharpness. I don’t subscribe to the notion mentioned in a comment earlier that the D800 somehow requires “best” of glass or “perfect” shooting techniques. Of course high quality glass in front of your sensor will always result in better photo. What it does require however is high shutter speeds and lots of light. In these conditions one could push a higher ISO setting and still get an excellent result because the really fast shutter speed will ensure sharpness and plenty of light will keep the noise down.
    To your point however wild life subjects are not necessarily cooperative ( most of the time :) ). So they like the low light dawn and dusk times of the day to show up and be active. And this is where the dilemma lays that you are describing. In my experience also the D800 is not reliable in low light and low shutter speeds on long telephoto lenses. The speed of the autofocus is also a problem with the D800 in low light. And thus I have also learned to use my D4s in light challenging situations.
    So in summary I do agree with you in the premise of your article – low light and long telephoto lenses are where the D4 is on its own.

    • June 1, 2014 at 8:13 pm

      Thank You
      I don’t mind taking the heat, I just didn’t think what I was posting was that controversial. I just try to highlight things I think many readers would benefit from and I thought this subject was one. But I appreciate your comments.


    • 50.2) OC Mike
      June 2, 2014 at 9:00 am

      LRuseva, you have the most well reasoned, D4S/D800 owner response in the entire lot. Your attention to detail by reading all (whew) of the comments twice with time to contemplate the wheat from the chaff is admirable. Clearly, none of the comments were really intended to be more than ferretting out “the real truth.” I honestly believe that all of the comments were fully “intended” to be helpful. I am compelled to give you ***** five stars for “best comment.” Thank you. [Perhaps, I could impose on you to answer this question: is your D4S video with your best lens…a better video than the new 4K Sony FDR AX100 in 4K (with its cheaper zoom lens) downsampled to 1080p shown on a 1080p tv??? ]

  51. 51) Guest
    June 1, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    In response to the vociferous, arrogant, and obnoxious commentators here who have bashed Mr. Robert Anderson and harangued about pixels, sensors, and noise and without backing it up, I have selected this a propos article (written not too long ago) especially for you. Please, enjoy!


    • June 1, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks for the support :)

    • 51.2) joaocs
      June 2, 2014 at 7:26 am

      I think this comment is not a fair one – and I do think Ken Rockwell is a nice guy whose opinions are sometimes funny, to say the least.

      Photography is very technical nowadays and you can´t explore the possibilities of modern DSLR camera if you not a little technical.

  52. 52) DB
    June 1, 2014 at 10:22 pm


    You have the patience of a saint to keep explaining your points again and again — to folks who may not have understood your post or did not bother to read the previous comments and your response.

    My takeaway from your article is that there is a place for both the D800 and the D4s and you clearly explained your personal experience. I don’t see what is so controversial about that.

    It actually helps that I don’t have large sums of disposable income so I will not be upgrading my Nikon D700 anytime soon. It’s only the second D/SLR I have owned — the first was a Nikon FM.

    And now I’m headed outside to take some low light, high ISO, long exposure images with my D700 in all of its 12 MP glory!


    • June 2, 2014 at 7:16 am

      Hey DB

      Thanks ! Hey I took a lot of photos with my 12mp D2X that I am proud of, MP is not always king :)

  53. 53) Rob (another one)
    June 2, 2014 at 1:43 am

    Something is degrading these D800 images. They are indeed unacceptable. I’ve not read all (124!) posts in this thread closely, so this may have been raised already; but were you using VR? An old foe may be rearing it’s head.

  54. 54) Steve
    June 2, 2014 at 1:50 am

    Please correct me if I’m wrong but I understood the D4 and current D800 have the same engine; the only difference being either the 16meg or 36Meg sensor respectively. So for other than when a high firing rate is required I struggle to understand why the 800 often suffers softer Images too often.

    • June 2, 2014 at 7:12 am

      They are very different cameras, the 36mp versus 16mp plays a big role in the discussion here, there are many comments above that help explain the technical and I refer you to those. Thanks

  55. 55) Randle P. McMurphy
    June 2, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Jesus Christ – I don´t understand such comparisons what is the real tenor ?
    The D4 is a press machine no one would use it for advertising, fashion or catalog productions.
    What would be the result if you had taken these subjects – sure the D800 had won !

    The D4 is universal – the D800 not because this bunch of pixels let you see every misstake.
    So I use a tripod – even in my studio and take care to use the best or critical apperature
    with the best lenses (I own).

    In analoge times no one would have the idea to compare a Leica to a Hasselblad
    so why should we do this today ?

    • June 2, 2014 at 8:16 am

      I am not sure I understand the reaction, there are plenty of reviews that praise the D800 for its low light and ISO capabilities. There are also plenty of users who have been conditioned over the years that the more mega pixels the merrier by camera sales people. Many people buy a single camera and also many people are using the D800 for wildlife and using it to give themselves more cropping power. Not all end users understand that the large mega pixel count of the camera will punish imperfect technique, and are they to learn this after their purchase ?

  56. 56) Vern
    June 2, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I read the fine article and all of the responses. What I come away with is that there are too many D800 owners who feel insulted that anyone would think their prize isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread! No one is knocking the D800, fellas! It is a fine camera, for the purpose Nikon intended it for. They did NOT intend it to be competition for the D4s, their top model. Everything Robert says with regard to the two cameras in his situation is true. It isn’t a situation that best fits the D800, what on earth is wrong with saying that? There is no criticism for you choosing a D800. And no one doubts that you get fine results with it.

    For one, I appreciate Robert’s honesty. And my conclusions mirror his. Is that reason to criticize or belittle? Wildlife photography is not the forte of the D800. Even Nikon will tell you that! Is that an insult to the fine D800? Not in my book! It is being realistic. The D4s is Nikon’s top model. That surely means it has a lot going for it. One thing, for example, is its build. It is built like a tank

    Thanks again, Robert! And I also appreciate the other thoughtful and helpful comments. I just didn’t care for the needless criticism and jumping to erroneous conclusions.


    • June 3, 2014 at 6:57 am

      Thanks and I think there is room to share and discuss such matters here, everybody learns from it.


  57. 57) Art
    June 2, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks for a very interesting and informative article. It is funny that your article was posted at this time because our photo club was just having a discussion about the same topic. I lot of people in our club bought the D800 for the purpose of being able to super crop. And with that expectation of the D800 there are a lot of unhappy campers in our club when they find out the results are less than desirable after spending all that money
    The biggest problems we see in our photo club when it comes to using the D800 when super cropping with long lenses is poor long lens technique , poor noise control at the pixel level at high ISO’s, and diffraction. At the visible level diffraction starts to impact sharpness at around F5.6 with the D800, at least with my eyes. When diffraction is combined with super cropping and high ISO’s the results are usually less than desirable. Also if you add poor long lens technique (i.e. stabbing the shutter button, not placing your hand on the lens barrel when using a tripod, using a fast enough shutter speed, etc. etc.) to the equation, the results can be disastrous.
    Even when using proper long lens technique our club members have experienced results similar to yours when it comes to super cropping with long lenses. This not only happens at high ISO’s but also when using small apertures. So I think you have explained part of the problem about poor high ISO noise control, but IMHO I think that diffraction can also play a role in reducing image quality when the image is cropped.
    So again IMHO if the reason for buying the D800 is so that the photographer can super crop, the photographer could have saved a lot of money and done a lot better if you bought a D7100 instead, which has a greater pixel density and at least in my opinion better noise control at the pixel level at high ISO’s. The D800 is an unforgiving camera and at least for me took a lot of time and patience to consistently get good results, but on the upside it did make me reevaluate and refine my shooting technique which has greatly improved my overall photography no matter what camera I use.
    Our photography club always recommends using the best lenses you can afford to avoid super cropping. But since you already own the longest and the best lens Nikon produces; I guess the only thing you can do is move closer without getting eaten by the large critters.

    • 57.1) Art
      June 2, 2014 at 5:46 pm

      This is probably a silly question and please do not take it as an insult, but have you updated your D800 firmware to the latest version? One of our club members was having a similar problem with his 800mm and D800 until he updated his firmware. Once he updated his firmware all was right with world once again.


      • June 3, 2014 at 6:58 am

        I did update the firmware and will again with the new release just announced.


        • Gromit44
          June 3, 2014 at 7:57 am

          The last one was A1.10 / B1.10 released in mid-May – is there a newer one?

  58. 58) Willix
    June 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Part of the confusion comes from discussing different aspects of the camera in a seamless flowing article. Eg sharpness and auto focus ability. Etc

    Too little has been said about the auto focus and tracking ability of a camera. We all know the theory but perhaps not enough of how to maximize them, as in to realize its full potential and when does D800 lose out. Save the obvious, in low light, d4s is better: can someone write an article about cost of implementing one vs other focus system or is it corporate greed thats holding them back.

    Sharpness wise, u can take it from the d800 perspective. I know its been said many times. Take a same lens, mount it on both cam. You will see the reflection in the bears eyes maybe. Is that not sharper. So yes, I will still get d800 for cropping ability cause it is sharper.

    But the point of the article may be that dont expect d800 to be your backup cam, using a shorter lens and expect the high mega pix to compensate.

  59. 59) Muhammad Omer
    June 3, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Hello Robert,
    It is great to know you like to shoot wildlife from long distances. In this respect have you ever thought about digiscoping? It is a budget long distance shooting option for beginner level photographers.

    • 59.1) sceptical1
      June 6, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      His budget doesn’t sound too limited to be given that he owns lenses (the 200-400 is about 6k, the 600mm is just under 10k, the 800mm is nearly 18k (looked at B&H Photo) and he has a D4s and D800. I have been shooting for years professionally and my budget is more limited than this (although that is partly because I would like to retire some day :)

  60. 60) Andreas
    June 3, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    After reading about half of the approx. 150 comments now dealing with sharpness and noise – at pixel level or not – I still can’t help myself and I dare to say it: the images are – in my own and very personal opinion – not even close to portfolio images – regardless of how much noise is visible on screen or in prints…

    Best Regards, Andreas

  61. 61) Tim
    June 4, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Nice article / good discussion

    I had very good results shooting in Yellowstone at the beginning of May with my DF.
    The DF for me is a D4 on a budget. I don’t want to unleash the criticisms of this model, rather that since it has the same sensor as the D4, it might be a good choice for some.


    • June 6, 2014 at 7:11 am

      The DF is a great camera, My problem is I am so used to the PRO body (D2X, D3X, D4 etc) that when I hold a camera not in a pro body, my fingers fumble with all the wrong dials and places :)

      • 61.1.1) Paul
        June 22, 2014 at 11:32 pm

        Would the DF’s 39 point focus be a real liability in a shoot out under these conditions against a D800 ands a D4? I’m attracted to it’s lighter weight, lack of video, and more basic controls, but wish it had the 51 point matrix focus of the others.

        • EricBowles
          June 23, 2014 at 7:30 am

          The 51 point AF system really has its big advantage in auto modes where a subject is tracked across the frame, so it depends on your style and subject matter. You will notice the top and bottom 3 sensors on each side are missing – especially with the large FX image. But the missing sensors are less accurate and are not cross sensors, so the loss may not be important. In addition, if you separate focus and shutter release like many of us, you probably won’t notice the missing sensors at all. Personally, I don’t care for the DF, but many people like the form factor and controls.

  62. 62) Marcel
    June 5, 2014 at 8:13 am

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for a good article.

    A while ago I was one of those considering the D800 as a replacement for my aging D90 with the idea of being able to use shorter lenses and then crop to achieve the same view as with the crop sensor.

    I ended up getting the D7100 with a ultra wide zoom lens, because I can save myself the cropping and the challenges on my technique are similar to the D800. And as a bonus I now have a nice landscape lens with which I am very happy at less then the D800 body. I recently also got a Minolta Dynax 7D to play around with my old Minolta MD manual lenses and have to say now that in reality I would be very happy with a 6 – 10 mega pixel crop sensor that has really good high ISO capability (not what I can say about the Minolta) as me too I am quite often in situations where there is not that much light available. A lot of my photography is wildlife and horses, so a crop sensor with the ISO capability of the D4s would be my dream camera!


    • June 6, 2014 at 7:01 am

      You are welcome

      Photography is also an art and the camera sometimes nothing more than paintbrush, its about the joy you receive and share. The tool is not as important as the result, but what I find very amazing about the D4s is its ability to help you get those shots in the most challenging situations, that’s what makes it worth it for me.

      We have had many Nikon cameras over the years, progressing and upgrading slowly. Ultimately as long as you are happy with the photos you are getting, that is all that really matters and no-one else can tell you differently :) I had a D7100 and it was a fine camera. My wife and I don’t have kids, so that money goes towards toys (like camera gear) instead. It is our form of relaxing and enjoying life.

      BTW at lower ISO, I get great results with the D800 and can crop pretty good. The problem for me is I tend to shoot at higher ISO a lot (lol – not by choice, by subject and their eating habits)

      Regards and remember to have fun

  63. 63) Dominic
    June 6, 2014 at 12:12 am

    Robert, you’re disappointed when comparing cropped D800 shots at pixel level because the noise looks worse than the D4s at high ISO? There is nothing wrong with sharing your practical experiences but it would have been a better article if you commented on the limitations of sensor design.

    Of course with smaller pixels there will be more noise at high ISO.

    The D800 is a vastly superior camera to the D4s at low ISO and up to ISO 6400 uncropped 36mp D800 files scaled down to 16mp stack up well against it. That’s where it ends.

    At high ISO you can’t use a shorter lens (i.e. 400mm), crop the image to fill the frame with the subject and expect it will look as good as the D4s with a longer lens (i.e. 600mm) filling the frame with the subject.

    A fair comparison can only be made across its native ISO range when files are scaled down — not cropped.


    • 63.1) Marcel
      June 6, 2014 at 12:39 am


      What Robert tried to do is to make people think twice when considering to buy a D800 thinking that they can crop the image when using shorter lenses and achieve something reasonable compared to a D4s.

      While on a purely technical and scientific level his comparison is not valid, it should get people to think about what their aim in photography is and whether the D800(e) would suit their needs. For Robert it obviously does not meet his needs for a backup body for wildlife photography.


    • June 6, 2014 at 7:08 am

      HI Dominic

      I wasn’t really trying to be technical throughout the article, I was trying to see if the D800 could perform at the extreme ends of shooting parameters I sometimes need to shoot at. I know there is a 200-400 photo in there but that was more of a cropping sample at HIGH ISO, low light. There are also fair 600mm to 600mm comparison and while the 600mm on the D800 performs better, the result was still not what I had hoped for when comparing to the D4S results.

      The photos were a taken on the limits of what I allow, the location is darker at that time of night, the animal is dark, very low light (30 min before sunset) and busy backdrop. Its actually a good test environment for what I intended it, the D4s exceeded my expectations, but the D800 did not do as well. Yet when I took some photos at around 1200 ISO and below the D800 was great.


  64. 64) Simon
    June 7, 2014 at 5:21 am

    I have one question for you Robert.
    Have you calibrated the AF fine tune on the D800 for all your lenses. This is possibly why you are getting slightly soft images. It made a BIG difference to my images. Also for some reason my camera mount ended up being buckled (I am not convinced it wasn’t buckled from day one actually). Anyway after having it replaced and recalibrating the camera with the lenses I am getting super sharp images!!

  65. 65) dralph
    June 7, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    36Mpix vs 16Mpix? We have known for a long time that if a large megapixel image is downsized, rather than cropped, the noise seen at the higher Mpix number will actually be less apparent than that of the lesser, 16Mpix, sensor. All tests of the D800/e have shown actually that it can yield superior image quality for low light conditions to D4/s when downsized to 16Mpix size.

    Focus may be another issue. There is some indication that the high Mpix sensor is, so to speak, outresolving the resolution of the Nikon autofocus system. That is that the autofocus system is not up to the tolerance issues which 36Mpix can reveal. Still, downsizing will improve apparent sharpness. Focus is more critical with the larger sensor D800e than any camera I have ever owned before.

    Finally, you have D800 which has anti-aliasing (AA) filter and the D4s which does not. While both sensors require sharpening, D800 will require more sharpening than a sensor without an AA. I cannot speak to the D4/s, but I do have the D800e. At times, D800e images seems so detailed and sharp already, I hesitate to apply further sharpening. For images reduced in resolution, sharpening is virtually an unneeded step. In D800 vs D800e comparisons, the claim is that a sharpened D800 image is in most instances almost impossible to distinguish from the D800e image. However, you have presented us unsharpened images for comparison. That is not a useful comparison since nobody presents their best captures for review or appreciation without first applying appropriate sharpening. Lower Mpix sensor cameras will appear “sharper” than a higher Mpix scene, at least natively, because the sensor is actually resolving less detail. The limit is in print size. The low rez image will have to artificially up-rez’d, which cannot reveal detail which is not present. The large sensor will allow larger print size, and in some cases to permit superprinting. I.e., using the highest resolution possible on the printer, rather than an acceptable limit popularly held as all that is needed for the human eye. The former will be clearer than the just good enough print.

    The D4/s is great for very high speed burst rate, low light and where print size is not going to very large. The D800/e will yield similar or better noise in low light when downsized to D4/s size, and it will not be print limited.

    • 65.1) Gromit44
      June 8, 2014 at 7:41 am

      Are you sure the D4s has no anti-aliasing filter?

      • 65.1.1) dralph
        June 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm

        Actually, the D4s does have an antialiasing filter.

        • Gromit44
          June 8, 2014 at 4:09 pm

          That’s what I thought.

  66. 66) John Lord
    June 11, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    I also have a D4s and a D800 and I agree with Robert and what most people have said regarding the two cameras. I think what is clear is the clowns in Nikon’s marketing and product departments have failed to recognise the need for a true D700 replacement. I previously had a D3s and a D700 and the results were pretty much the same with the D3s having a slight edge on noise. I traded the D700 in for the D800 when the D800 first came out and obviously did not do my homework, but at that time nobody had any experienced of the D800. Like Robert I would really like to see a pro body full frame body with say 24 mega pixels maximum, a backup to the D4s that D800 is certainly not. Three years ago I sold a D300 in the expectation of a D400, but that another story. We can but live in hope that Nikon will eventually learn the errors of their ways.

  67. 67) Hugh Maaskant
    June 12, 2014 at 5:51 am


    I absolutely agree; I moved from D300 to D800, but while I am happy with the move and the camera I would have preferred a “mini D4”, with some restrictions on the framerate of course. I just do not understand why Nikon does not make these things modular: D4 body with 16, 24, and 36 Mpix sensor, D800 body with 16, 24, and 36 Mpix sensor. Obviously some limitations in the D800 body with respect to the D4. Heck, they even could do a D600 with 16 and 24 Mpix sensors.

    From an engineering point this cannot be hard; marketing should also be easier as you have good stories for each and every type of customer.

    Beets me – and then they spend effort on a Df – wasted, imho, as so much more could have been done with that.

  68. 68) Connor Katz
    August 22, 2014 at 7:02 pm

    Have you had a chance to try the d810 yet? Curious if you see an improvement.

  69. 69) Eriks Saulitis
    November 7, 2014 at 7:23 am

    Thank you for real world test, very interesting and I am with you on this, d4s with 200-400 makes a good combo (for wedding on distance) d800 falls short apart just in speed (focus and shutter) and iso and using it then to crop takes lot of time + hard to remember after you shoot 1000+ photos.

    As you said you wanted to try if d800 works on crop it didn’t, I don’t know if you knew but pixel pitch between these cameras is different (d4s much more) which at first place ruined this test on high ISO’s you used.

    Just my 2 cents.

  70. 70) Patty Hertogh
    November 25, 2014 at 2:17 am

    Thank you for the review Robert. I found it very enlightening. I have a D800. While I love the shots the camera takes with my wide angle and macro lens, I have experienced the same issues as you did with the longer lenses. I was beginning to wonder if the diffused quality on the longer lenses, (and higher ISO), was something I was doing incorrectly. It has been driving me crazy because my macro and wide angle shots are fabulous! Thank you for helping to clear that up.

  71. 71) Felix
    January 13, 2015 at 6:56 am

    Hi there, I own a D4 and a D810. I have never made any serious comparison of the two. Despite of this I think I could pretty much confirm your findings.
    I might like to add that the pics of the D4 tend to appear slightly more “natural” than those of the D810.


  72. 72) DIZEMAN
    March 26, 2015 at 5:43 am

    I am surprised you are getting the results you are, since you are not following one of the most basic rules and that is the minimum shutter speed/focal length rule. You’re shooting a 600mm lens at 1/500th of a second. There is going to be some degree of motion blur, unless you were on a solid tripod and nothing in your frame is moving. A 600 mm lens should never be used hand held below 1/600th of a second, preferably up around 1/800th to 1/1000th. Even on a small tripod, your shutter speed should equal or exceed your focal length. On the D4s two bear shot, you are shooting with a 600 mm at 1/200th of a second. That just begs for soft images. BUT you are right about the D800, I have owned three and all three of them were so noisy and slow to lock a tight focus, I had to get rid of them. All brand new, two weeks is all I could tolerate them. I now have a D810 which is faster to focus, noticeably sharper, but still has that noise. I will be getting the D4s next week and hope it does not have the issues the 800 series cameras have had. Then there is the issue of auto focus alignment on the D800/810 series cameras… all four of my 800 cameras had focus on the film/sensor plane issues and required from -8 to +10 adjustments to get sharp focus. I guess all of the Nikon ELDERS died off, because back in the film days, they knew how to focus lenses on the film plane.

    • 72.1) Peter
      May 13, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      … and how is the D4s working out for you?

  73. 73) Quazi Ahmed Hussain
    May 13, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    The results were obvious Robert. I’m sure you know D4s possesses bigger pixels on the sensor surface that captures more light and produces less noise. This is basic physics that manufacturers were unable to reverse. D800 packs more than double the amount of pixels than D4s on the same surface area of the sensor therefore, the pixels are significantly smaller. So, they capture less light and produce noise while struggling to create the image. I’m a Canon user and enthusiast nature & wildlife photographer. Seen it myself that Canon EOS 6D produces far cleaner images than crop bodies (having smaller pixels) with much less noise. I can easily go upto ISO 3200 without worrying about noise. A more interesting side of bigger pixels is; it seems to produce more vibrant colors as well, a fact that I’m unable to explain why. Crop bodies are thought to be helpful for cropping our way out in case it’s difficult to get close to the subject however, IQ takes a severe hit in these cases. So, I’ve decided to get close and capture got shots or else, don’t have a shot at all.

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