So, the intent here is to give some useful information for those of you who are using the Nikon D800 or D800E. A few assumptions: 1) You have some of either Nikon’s recommended list of lenses, or some Carl Zeiss lenses 2) You know your ISO, aperture, and speed from your elbow. The D800 is a great camera, but is unique from any other camera currently on the market. It’s a medium-format camera disguised as a 35mm, which means problems for lens selection and what settings you choose for manual mode.
1) A few basic photography guidelines change with the use of the D800. The minimum speed for lenses is a good example, remembering the old saw of the minimum requirement for sharpness being 1 over the length of your lens. As an example, let’s say you’re using the magnificent Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro-Planar. Normally you would try and get a minimum speed of 1/100. Give yourself at least a third of a stop more, a whole stop if you’ve got enough light. So, for our example, aim more towards 1/125, 1/200 if you can get it. Basically there’s so much resolution in the D800 that focus blur, even small amounts, become extremely obvious. Be prepared to reject a lot more photos, but you’ll be that much happier when you nail a shot. I’ve found that I get a lot of shots that look great until I get the loupe out, and then the swearing starts. Hopefully the next Nikon model will have even more resolution on the LCD so that you can reject images faster and not have to wait until you get home to the high-res monitor.
2) The dynamic range of the D800 is better than any other camera… at low ISOs. Depending on whose calculations you use (Thom Hogan’s D800 guide has a great explanation of all of this, we’ll use DxO Labs calculations) you’re looking at 13 EV at ISO 100, which decreases to 9 by the time you hit ISO 3200. Basically you can do pretty well up to ISO 800, but then you need to start to think about ways of decreasing your ISO if you’re going higher than that, or switching your thinking to an HDR-style image. If you’ve got a moving target, that won’t be an option. LO1 ISO isn’t an option, you’ll get clipped highlights.
3) Underexposing is always better than overexposing… if you shoot RAW. There’s enough data for you to be able to recover up to 5 EV of highlights (or perhaps more appropriately, lowlights). All things being equal, this means shooting in 14-bit RAW mode assuming you’ve got the storage space.
4) If you want tight focus and maximum sharpness, you’re going to need a tripod and to use Live View. If your lens has VR, shut it off, unless you’ve got a lens with a Tripod mode.
5) Stopping down is not going to get you maximum sharpness. In fact, going past f/11 is going to lose you sharpness because of diffraction. All things being equal, your maximum level of sharpness is probably going to happen around f/8 (this will vary with your lens). This comes straight out of the Nikon Technical Guide. What this means is that unless you’re shooting with a lens like the Zeiss Otis or Makro-Planar, you’re going to be shooting your lenses between f/4 and f/8 most of the time. With that little choice in aperture, you’re going to really have to think carefully about your shooting. You’re going to have to balance this with the fact that if you’re seeing colour artifacts and moire, you need to stop down more. f/8 is starting to look really good isn’t it?
The list of Nikon approved lenses I’ve used so far:
• AF-S NIKKOR 14–24mm f/2.8G ED
• AF-S NIKKOR 70–200mm f/2.8G IF-ED VR
• AF-S NIKKOR 24–120mm f/4G ED VR
Don’t knock the 24-120mm, I think it’s fantastic and some of my sharpest images have been taken with it.
I think any Zeiss lens will do the trick, but then I’m a Zeiss snob.
Start applying these concepts and watch your images sharpen up noticeably, and the amount of images you keep should improve as well.