One of the tests that we will be including in our upcoming Nikon D810 review is a dynamic range comparison between the D810 and the D800E. Instead of making our readers wait for this comparison, we decided to publish it in a separate article. Whether one shoots landscapes or portraits, dynamic range is important, because it allows recovering of both shadow and highlight details in RAW images. With the release of the Nikon D810, one might wonder if it is any better than the D800 / D800E cameras in dynamic range performance. Since the D810 has a base ISO of 64, we decided to provide ISO 64 and ISO 100 samples to see if there is any discernible difference between the two. We also provided ISO 3200 samples to show differences in dynamic range at high ISOs between these cameras.
First, let’s take a look at how ISO 64 compares to ISO 100 on the D810. For the below comparisons, we specifically overexposed and underexposed X-Rite’s ColorChecker by up to five stops, then recovered details in software. Here is a normally exposed image of the ColorChecker:
The top portion of the first row of colors was slightly underexposed on purpose.
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Nikon D810 ISO 64 vs ISO 100
First, let’s take a look at how ISO 64 compares to ISO 100 on the D810 when an image is overexposed by 4 stops, then recovered in post (Left: Nikon D810, Right: Nikon D800E):
I cannot see any differences between the two – looks like colors are equally lost on both and there is no advantage of ISO 64 when compared to ISO 100.
Here is a comparison of ISO 64 and 100 when an image is underexposed by 5 stops, then recovered:
In the above case, we can see that there is a slight difference in performance between ISO 64 and 100 when recovering an image. It looks like ISO 64 looks a bit cleaner in comparison to ISO 100, which translates to slightly higher dynamic range.
Nikon D810 ISO 64 vs Nikon D800 / D800E ISO 100
Now let’s see how the D810 compares to the D800 / D800E at base ISO. Here is a set of underexposed images, recovered by four stops:
Again, hard to say which one looks better. Let’s push both by +5 stops:
The Nikon D810 appears better in my opinion, with less visible noise and more accurate colors – an indication of superior dynamic range.
Nikon D810 ISO 3200 vs Nikon D800 / D800E ISO 3200
Let’s push both cameras to ISO 3200 and see what happens. Here is Nikon D810 and D800E at ISO 3200, pushed by -4 stops:
The situation is a bit different at ISO 3200, with the D800 / D800E preserving colors a little bit better. And here are both cameras underexposed by five stops, then recovered in post:
The Nikon D810 seems to have a bit more artificial color and a different noise pattern. In my opinion, the D800 / D800E appears a little better here.
After going back and forth looking at images from D810 and D800 / D800E, I honestly cannot say that one is clearly superior than the other – looks like the dynamic range performance is very similar overall at the same ISO settings. The D810 appears a little better at base ISO 64 than the D800 / D800E at ISO 100, but seems to be a bit worse at high ISOs. Although the above image crops were extracted from Lightroom 5.6, I also compared both at ISO 3200 on Nikon’s Capture NX-D and it showed similar results.