As you may already know, the difference between the Nikon D800E and D800 is their filter stacks – the D800E has the same size stack as the D800, but its third filter reverses the effect of the first one, essentially cancelling out the effect of the optical low pass filter. This is clearly illustrated in the below image, which compares the two filter stacks side by side:
In comparison to the above, Nikon completely removed the OLPF filter on the D810. Contrary to what some people think, although there is no low pass filter on the D810, it does not mean that there is no filter stack at all – the D810 still has a filter to cut off UV and IR. The big question that comes up, is whether the omission of the low pass filter actually results in increased sharpness. Shortly put, is the D810 sharper than the D800E? To answer this question, I ran numerous lab tests and measured the performance of both cameras with the same lens, the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II. I mounted the lens on a very sturdy tripod setup, acquired precise focus using Live View, then simply changed camera bodies without touching the focus ring. The results were quite interesting:
Whoa, that’s a difference of 9% in the center frame. I wondered if camera differences could be that dramatic, as I remember when testing sharpness between the Nikon D800 and D800E, I was getting between 10-14% sharpness difference, obviously in favor of the D800E. Something did not seem right about this test. I suspected that there might have been a slight variation in the flange distance between the two cameras, which would obviously result in differences when the lens focal length and focusing distance remained constant.
My next test was to adjust sharpness on both cameras very carefully, with the help of Live View. The next test gave me completely different results:
As I suspected, the slight difference in flange difference (a normal fact, since tolerance can be +/- 0.015 on 46.67mm flange distance for the Nikon F mount) was the reason why the numbers were so drastically different. This time, the delta was only 1.5%, which is fairly close.
However, one interesting phenomenon I observed during testing, was that the 70-200mm lens was continuously showing better mid-frame and corner performance on the D810. This can be seen in the above chart, where the corners of the same lens on the D810 are noticeably better.
Mid-Frame and Corner Performance Tests
Some of our readers requested me to perform additional tests using a prime lens, such as the Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G. My next 10 hours in the lab were spent going back and forth between the D810 and the D800E, running very time-consuming tests, measuring center, mid-frame and corner performance between the two cameras, to see if the above-mentioned off-center performance anomalies could also be spotted on the 85mm lens.
A total of approximately 30 different tests were performed. Here are my findings:
- In the center of the frame, the Nikon D810 mostly performed slightly better than the D800E. However, this difference, as can be seen below is very minor and amounts to less than 3% difference – not something one would ever be able to visually notice.
- Mid-frame performance varied by approximately 5%, with the D810 continuously showing advantage over the D800E.
- Corner performance varied greatly, somewhere between 8% and 10% in improved sharpness on behalf of the D810.
The above can be best seen in the below Imatest graph, where I am presenting the best case scenario for both cameras at f/5.6 (the sweet spot of the 85mm f/1.4G lens):
The same behavior was observed when I tested the Nikkor 85mm f/1.8G lens. However, when testing the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G, mid-frame and corner discrepancies were minimal.
Originally, I stated that there was no sharpness difference between the Nikon D810 and D800E cameras. I based my assumption on the center performance only and did not look further into potential differences in performance in the mid-frame and the corners. While differences in the center are indeed very minor, subsequent testing revealed that lenses perform differently in the mid-frame and the corners, with the D810 continuously producing sharper results on some lenses. This was especially noticeable in the corners, where I saw increased sharpness up to 10% on the D810. I do not yet know why this happens, but my theory is that lenses react differently to the new filter stack on the D810. If I find lenses with reduced performance when compared to the D800E, I will report my findings.