While I had talked about my plan to use the Nikon D800 / D800E for wedding photography on our site a few times before, I never had a chance to post sample images and talk about my experience. Part of the reason, was that I wanted to give it some time and get a good feel for the cameras, rather than making hasty conclusions. It has been over a year since the D800 was announced and about 10 months since my D800E was finally shipped to me. As you may already know, I decided to go for the D800E instead of the D800, because I wanted to use it primarily for landscape photography and occasionally for weddings, when helping Lola out as a second shooter. Due to a busy 2012 wedding season, I ended up using the D800E for weddings a lot more than I expected. So I gathered some thoughts from my experience with the camera and decided to share them with our readers today.
Before purchasing the Nikon D800E, Lola and I heavily relied on Nikon D700 and D3s camera bodies for any professional work we do. Coupled with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G (and later the 50mm f/1.8G), the D700 was Lola’s favorite DSLR for a long time – she typically preferred it over the D3s due to its smaller size and lower weight. During weddings, she would alternate between 24mm, 50mm and 105mm (macro) primes on the D700, while I mostly shot with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and 85mm f/1.4G on the D3s. These lens combinations turned out to be great when working as a team, because we would capture those precious moments of the wedding day with different perspectives.
With the addition of the D800E to our arsenal, the question of “to use or not to use” came up. After the first wedding, we decided to downgrade the D700 to a secondary / backup camera and give the D800E a try, despite the potential issues with moire (read on below).
2) Colors and Skin Tones
One thing that surprised both Lola and I, was the color reproduction of the D800E for portraiture and the skin tones it produced. While this topic is always a matter of debate, especially when it comes to Canon vs Nikon colors and skin tone comparisons, we both agree that the D800E by far had the best colors compared to previous generation Nikon DSLRs, including the D3s. I have praised the sensor of the D800 quite a bit before for landscape photography, because colors just looked so good straight out of the camera. After our first wedding with the D800E, Lola opened up images in Lightroom and she was blown away by the richness of colors and beautiful skin tones the camera produced. And with the much better 91K RGB metering system, the D800E seemed to require a lot less exposure adjustments than previous generation DSLRs when photographing people.
3) Details and Resolution
Another “wow” factor of the D800 is its insane 36 MP resolution that is capable of providing incredible detail in photographs. Take a look at this photo, which I cropped by about 20-25% in Lightroom:
Now take a look at this crop of a crop that shows 100% view at pixel level of the subject’s eye:
This level of detail is a huge change for someone that is used to seeing 10-12 MP images. With such high resolution, you have a lot more cropping options when processing images. Taking a horizontal image and making a vertical out of it is not a problem, since you have so many pixels to play with. And if your technique is good and your subject is sharp, you can crop even more aggressively, with plenty of detail for album and regular sized prints.
4) Nikon D800E: Moire Concerns
Since the Nikon D800E has a self-canceling anti-aliasing filter, it is prone to moire issues. While this was certainly a concern for us, as we did not want to deal with possible moire occurrences during weddings, it turned out to be a rather rare occurrence. After taking thousands of wedding and portrait pictures, I simply got tired of looking for it in images. To date, I have yet to find a photo that shows nasty moire problems. So for those of our readers that want to buy a D800E for landscape work and occasional portraits, do not worry – moire seems to be a very rare occurrence. This also means that potential and current Nikon D7100 owners should not worry too much about seeing moire in their portraits.
An important factor to note about the use of the D800 / D800E for weddings, is the large RAW files the cameras produce. The 36 MP sensor of the D800 produces images with 7360 x 4912 pixel resolution, which is about 73% more than Nikon D700’s 12 MP sensor (4256 x 2832). That 73% certainly takes its toll on processing power of your computer and the slower speed is quite noticeable, even if you have a fast PC. If a Nikon D700 RAW file takes roughly 1-2 seconds to render at 100%, the D800 usually takes twice longer. And since Lola does all post-processing herself, she was not very excited about going through and editing hundreds of D800E images. To accommodate such large files, I came up with a solution to modify our workflow. If you render 1:1 previews while importing images to Lightroom (or do it separately afterwards), you do not have to worry about waiting while opening each RAW file. I wrote a detailed “Lightroom workflow for high resolution images” as a result.
Hence, while speed issues are certainly there, there are ways to improve the speed of your workflow with a couple of simple tricks.
6) Autofocus Issues
By now, everybody has probably already heard of the dreaded D800 autofocus issues. Our team has covered those extensively on this site, since we simply could not ignore such serious problems. It has now been over a year since the D800 was announced and I am still getting a lot of questions from our readers. Did Nikon take care of all the D800 issues by now? It seems like most of the new D800 units that are being shipped today are free of the AF issues. That’s not to say that all units are completely problem-free – I still get occasional reports from our readers about bad units that were purchased from big retailers. One of our readers reported as recently as 2-3 weeks ago, that Amazon shipped two brand new Nikon D800E, both of which had the same old left AF problem. It is hard to say if some of those units are from the original stock of faulty cameras – I hope they were. I will be getting another brand new D800E unit this Friday, so I will do some tests and update this article with my findings.
Without a doubt, the Nikon D800 has been a game changer ever since it was released. I have been heavily relying on it for my landscape (and even occasional wildlife) work and I am very impressed by what it can do for portraiture, having used it for over a year now. If you are wondering about the use of the D800 or D800E for portraiture and wedding work, I hope you found this article helpful.
I will update my existing Nikon D800 review with some of the information and images provided in this article.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, where I talk about the use of the cheap Nikon 50mm f/1.8G for wedding photography.
8) More Image Samples
By the way, although many of the recent Nikon rebates are now over, the Nikon D800 is still discounted by $200 in the US, with additional 2% in rewards. The Nikon D800E rebate program has not been extended.