The Nikon D800 has to be one of the best DSLRs we ve seen here at What Digital Camera, thanks to its great biend of handling, build quality, performance and, of course, its stellar image quality.

With a resolution of 36.3MP, it s the highest pixel count yet we ve seen from a DSLR, and, with that kind of resolving power, it naturally finds itself compared to much pricier medium format cameras. with D800E

One of the things which gives medium format cameras the edge, however, is the absence of an optical low-pass filter in front of the sensor. Optical low-pass filters (often referred to as an anti-aliasing or AA filters) feature on practically every DSLR, and they re necessary to eliminate aliasing artefacts such as moire patterning-the most frequently-witnessed artefact-from your images.

The elimination of such artefacts does come at a small price, however, as the AA filter works by blurring the image ever so slightly to avoid this phenomenon, which results in a slight loss in critical sharpness. This is not really an issue for general photography though as the image can be sharpened, either in-camera if you re shooting JPEGs, or in an image-editing program such as Photoshop.

AA filters don t just prevent artefacts such as moire from occurring, but also double as a protective layer in front of the sensor, preventing dust and dirt from reaching it.

So, in an effort to tempt medium format users away from their kit, and those who are looking for the ultimate in sharpness from a DSLR, we have the D800E. The D800E is identical in every single way to the D800, though the optical low-pass filter has had its anti-aliasing properties removed. So while the D800E will be more susceptible to these artefacts, photographers should benefit from a slight increase in resolution and sharpness over the standard D800.

Which one s the right camera for you? Let s find out...



Thanks to the randomly distributed grain in film emulsions, moire wasn t a problem in the analogue era. With digital, the scene is sampled at regularly-spaced intervals (determined by the sensor s pixel pitch). When the frequencies in the scene are too high in an area of repeating pattern-i.e. when the sensor cannot resolve them correctly-they are incorrectly sampled at a lower rate, which creates moire.


If you opt for the D800E over the D800, moire-free shots are still possible. Here are a few tricks and techniques that medium format photographers use:

Alter the angle of the camera slightly-by moving left or right, up or down, moire can disappear.

Different lenses or focal lengths used can alter the effect of moire. If using a zoom lens, try zooming in or out a touch.

Vary the aperture used-stopping down below f/16 can eliminate moire due to diffraction limiting, though as you re not shooting at the lens s optimum setting, sharpness can suffer (in which case, you might as well be using a D800).

While it is best to try to remove moire at the time of shooting, it is possible to reduce its effect in post-production.


 both cameras

To really see how the D800E fared, we tested it side-by-side alongside a standard D800, with a selection of high-quality Nikon lenses. We shot a variety of portraits with both the cameras, with a mix of available light and flash. Shooting at relatively wide apertures (f/2.8-4) on location to isolate our subject and to achieve a pleasing defocused background, the D800E delivered the ever-so-slightly sharper images of the two, though the D800 images in isolation still did look mightily impressive.

With our studio shots, it was less apparent. With both cameras mounted on a tripod and with an exposure of f/16 at 1/125sec, there was hardly anything to separate them, with both cameras delivering virtually identical results.

It was a similar story with our highly detailed cityscape shot. Images from the D800E displayed a greater level of detail and sharpness over the D800 at wider apertures, before becoming indistinguishable once stopped down about f/11.

As it happened, we didn t experience any moire in our shots captured with the D800E. This is not to say that it isn t susceptible to it, just that it can be a relatively rare issue unless you re shooting finely textured fabric for a living.

D800 OR D800E?

There s no question that the D800E is capable of delivering marginally sharper results out of the two cameras thanks to the modified optical low-pass filter. That s not to say everyone should opt for the D800E over the standard D800, however, as it really doe. depend on how and what you shoot to determine whether you ll see a benefit when shooting with the D800E.

For a start, a tripod is recommended when shooting with the D800E, in order to ensure no hint of camera shake counteracts any advantage gained. But using a tripod just won t be practical all the time for the way some people like to take pictures.

This won t be an issue for landscape photographers, and at first glance, the D800E may appear to be the perfect landscape photographer s camera as the risk of moire in the natural world is minimal, while for most shots the camera will be firmly planted on a tripod. But the fact that you re likely to be shooting at f/11 or f/16 to achieve a large depth-of-field in your shot means that the difference in sharpness between the D800 and D800E won t be quite so noticeable at these apertures. For those who tend to shoot at the wider apertures though-such as portrait and lifestyle photographers-they ll see the benefit of shooting with the D800E over the standard D800.

There s no doubt that the D800E is a slightly specialist offering, but if you think that you ll be able to take full advantage of the potential of the D800E, then the extra investment is worth it. This is why it s likely to appeal to existing medium format owners who already know and understand the pitfalls of moire and how to get the best from a sensor without the effect of an optical low-pass filter. For the majority of users though, the D800 is still the one to go for.

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