Busting Nikon D800 Myths: Is Abject Fear Stifling Your Creativity?

Sweeping skies over Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Nikon D800e with 16-35mm Nikkor lens, 74s@ f/22, ISO 100.
Sweeping skies over Badlands National Park, South Dakota. Nikon D800e with 16-35mm Nikkor lens and Singh-Ray 10-stop solid ND filter; 74s@ f/22, ISO 100. According to the Internet, I should not have used these settings with this camera (Click for a larger view).

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.

Elk captured at ISO 2500 with a Nikon D800e. The noise just ruins this shot, right?
Elk captured at ISO 2500 with a Nikon D800e. At web size, the noise just ruins this shot, right? Click to see an even larger, noisier view!

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.

Conclusion

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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13 thoughts on “Busting Nikon D800 Myths: Is Abject Fear Stifling Your Creativity?”

  1. Great points. I might add on Myth 3, I would rather have a bit of noise to remove than have used to slow a shutter speed to prevent motion blur.

  2. hi Jason,

    Great article!

    Have you noted white spots on really long exposures ( in minutes) using D800? Is there a workaround for it without using LENR?

  3. Jason, thanks for your voice of sanity in a pixel obsessed world! If I could presume to add a myth to your list it would be: Myth #0 – no number of perfect pixels can save a uninteresting, poorly composed shot!

  4. Actually I worded that myth incorrectly. to be a Myth, perhaps is should be: Myth #0 – Perfect pixels can save a uninteresting, poorly composed shot… Is that better? :-)

  5. Great post Jason. Thanks for pointing out these myths. Unless you are going to print huge you can bust a lot of D800 myths. Can we add one more?

    “Thou shalt not take any photos with the D800 without using a tripod and cable release”

    I do use a tripod often with my D800 but I also shoot handheld at times (when light allows).

  6. Jason, I didn’t realize that those photographs you used to illustrate your points were terrible until you told me so. I thought they were damn good. I’m glad I now know better. LOL

    I, too, have an 800E. I recently took a 23 day coast to coast, via Historic Route 66, road trip and only took my 16-35 and 28-300. Both performed superbly, contrary to conventional wisdom. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I had no complaints about my images.

    Thanks for dispelling these myths.

  7. I have seen them, and it’s normal unless you use LENR. No workaround other than cloning them out as far as I know.

  8. Hi,

    In my opinion the D800E is the best fullframe DSLR. I’m not an action shooter nor a wedding shooter. I shoot landscapes, structures, architecture – oh here’s a myth: “You cant’shoot architecture with the D800E, because of moiré”
    Guys I tell you, I have no images with moirés at the moment! And if? Slightly change the position of the camera an moiré is eliminated.
    In the most cases you have significantly sharper images with the D800E as with the D800. O.K for the last tack of sharpness you have to use a tripod, realy good lenses like 24-70/2.8 and slightly sharper with very good prime lenses, i.e the inexpensive Nikkor micro 60mm prime lens.

    In controlled situations in the studio the D800E has middle-format quality for a very good price, with so much details, that it is an new quality.

    One more myth: You could not shoot handheld.
    I shoot 60-70% of my photos handheld and I have photos with very good sharpness, also protraits, maybe some micro sharpness at 1000% views are lost.
    But if you are a pixelpeeper, maybe you won’t buy a D800E ;-)
    O.K. the camera is for handheld shooting a little bit special. But test it, shoot, i.e. at 85mm and don’t take 1/85s, take 1/160 or 1/200 and you get sharp photos.

    And if you print and you see a 24″x36″ sized photo hanging on your wall and you see details you have never seen before, than…you see…that this camera is an evolutionary step in digital imaging.

    Cheers
    Ishan

  9. Great article. I own the D800 and I love it greatly. It has it’s flaws but no more than any other body out there.

    Just a quick tip for the person with the hot pixels on long exposures, RAW Therapee (free software) has a tool specifically for dealing with long exposure hot spots and it does an excellent job of it.

  10. I have used a D800 in my London studio. It is fast and the quality is excellent. However, when are Nikon going to change the way they tether their cameras? I have a phase one back on a hasselblad – it uses the old style firewire. The way the firewire socket in the back makes it impossible to damage the camera by tugging the cable – It is seated right in to the back. Really clever. I’ve had it for nearly ten years and it’s going strong. My nikon however is another story. Please Nikon…make your cameras stronger for the professionals out there. When I shoot in the studio or on location I need a strong camera. Many thanks for the blog – Gideon Hart www.gideonhart.com

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