I have a Nikon D800e. It’s an amazing camera and I love using it. Maybe you have one, too. But if you handle the camera based on some of the sage advice offered up around the interwebs, you might be missing out. While the advice, from a pure technical standpoint, might be valid, it might also be causing you unnecessary stress. Let’s take a look at three common technical warnings for D800 users.
Myth #1: You can only use the best lenses with the Nikon D800, otherwise your images will show optical flaws.
While it is true that a 36-megapixel camera has the potential to showcase optical aberrations in your glass, it is also true that you ought to use the best lens for the job at hand. For example, I own both the 14-24mm f/2.8 AFS G and 16-35mm f/4 AFS G VRII zoom Nikkors. Optically, the 14-24mm is the superior lens, hands-down. I love the contrast, sharpness, and overall performance of the 14-24mm. It’s a legend in its own time. Yet, when I pack my bag for a landscape photo safari, it’s the 16-35mm that goes into the bag nearly every time.
Why choose the “inferior” lens? Well, optically, it’s still damn good at f/5.6 and higher (which is what I use for landscapes). It also takes front filters, meaning I can easily use grads or solid ND filters with it. It’s also lighter to pack and has VR for when I need to hand-hold it. Moreover, the 16-35mm is far less prone to lens flare than the 14-24mm. I’ve gotten lots of shots with the 14-24mm that had flare in them that I hadn’t noticed in the viewfinder. If I’m shooting indoor HDR, then the 14-24mm is my choice. Otherwise, the 16-35mm wins out.
As for other optical “defects,” like chromatic aberration and distortion, most good RAW processors automatically correct for them. So shoot RAW and don’t worry.
Datapoint that may only be of interest to me: Since 2010, I have nearly five times as many “keepers” with the 16-35mm as I do with the 14-24mm (based on a quick glance through my Lightroom catalog).
Myth #2: You should never go beyond f/8 with the D800 because diffraction will spoil the detail in your images.
The truth is, diffraction softness is real. Fine details start to get mushy when you use the D800 above f/11. But while this is true on paper, there are other mitigating factors you should consider.
First, if you limit yourself to f/11 (or less), then you’ve just thrown away the ability to get extra depth of field. The creative use of depth of field, in my work, trumps fine detail 99% of the time. Second, sometimes you need to use a small aperture to get a slow shutter speed. Even with a 10-stop ND filter, those two or three extra stops can be the difference between a semi-interesting shot and an epic one.
And as I mentioned earlier, if you shoot RAW and know how to properly use sharpening tools with your RAW editor, you can still get damn sharp images. So unless your client is demanding a wall-sized print with the tiniest of details, don’t be afraid to choose your aperture based on your creative needs.
Myth #3: You should never use high ISOs with the D800 as it will make your images noisy.
As I have shown before on this blog, the Nikon D800 is certainly not the high-ISO champions that the D4 and D3s cameras are. But it’s also got three times as many pixels to play with compared to those cameras. What that means is that noise becomes less obvious as you downsample D800 images into “normal” print sizes. What’s normal, you ask? For a lot of people, it’s nothing more than the occasional 12×18″ print, if the image is printed at all. At those sizes, the D800 files hold up remarkably well even if you don’t employ software noise reduction. And if you do need to do NR, the modern noise-removal tools can do an excellent job.
At the end of the day, our job as photographers should be to capture shots that make us and our clients happy. While it is certainly important to have an awareness of technical limitations like diffraction and chromatic aberration, it’s even more important to know when not to impose hard limits to our creativity. Whether you use a Nikon D800 or any other DSLR, you shouldn’t let some technical spec create a hard limit on how you use your camera, unless you’ve got a darn good reason for it.
Shoot more, worry less!
Photography Software Guides by Jason P. Odell, Ph.D at Luminescence of Nature Press
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