Comparing the Nikon D800

Nikon D800, Nikkor 18-35 lens at f/14 for 15 seconds. Lee 10 stop ND filter.
Nikon D800, Nikkor 18-35 lens at f/14 for 15 seconds. Lee 10 stop ND filter.

I would like to start this blog post with an apology. It’s taken me far too long to publish my first thoughts about the D800 and how it compares to the Olympus EM5. But there is a reason for this in that I have wanted to get used to the D800 given that it’s a new camera. It usually takes me a number of outings to begin to understand a camera and then quite a few more to start producing work that I am pleased with.

I have now had exactly three outings with the D800 and I feel that I am starting to understand it and get “the feel of the camera”. Despite this I c

an’t keep you all waiting any longer so I will start to discuss my findings. First though I should outline the equipment that I have been using and the technique I have adopted when using the D800.

As you may be aware I purchased the D800 used as it was an absolute bargain. I also purchased two lenses to use with the camera:

  • Nikkor 24-85 f/2.8-4D IF
  • Nikkor 18-35 f3.5-4.5G ED

Neither of these lenses are the top rated in their category but they are more reasonably priced than the pro lenses. Price wise they compare with the lenses I use on my Olympus EM5 for similar focal lengths although the 12-40mm Olympus is a little more costly than the Nikkor 24-85. Of the two Nikkor lenses the 18-35 is sharper and produces better results although you do need to be peeping at those pixels in 100% magnification to notice.

In terms of using the D800, I have been shooting almost entirely with the camera mounted on a heavy Manfrotto 055CL which is one hell of a sturdy and robust tripod. I have also been using a cable release to minimise vibration. When shooting landscapes I have been using 100mm Lee ND Grad filters.

My mode of operation with the D800 on the tripod is to shoot in Live View and with the lens set to manual focus. Using this I will select the point of focus, zoom in to 100% magnification then focus the lens manually. I have found this will provide a better and more reliable result than relying on the camera’s auto focus system. A couple of observations I would make here are:

  • You need to use Live View in order to gain the flexibility of the focus point positioning. Only in live view can you position this anywhere in the frame. If you are using the optical viewfinder you will be limited by the cameras autofocus points. This is rather annoying as these points don’t extend sufficiently into the frame to obtain the best focussing.
  • When shooting in this way you need to remember to close the rear curtain on the viewfinder or you will get exposure problems as you can see from the image here. The light leak look is quite appealing but I don’t want it on every frame.
Nikon D800 showing light leak caused by not closing the rear curtain on the viewfinder
Nikon D800 showing light leak caused by not closing the rear curtain on the viewfinder

So now you know a little about how I am working with the D800, my next post on the subject will start to compare some of the factors such as image quality. I would also like to make this quite interactive so if anyone reading this has a comparison characteristic they would like to know about, just ask.

As a parting comment, I would like to point out that the EM5 is far more forgiving as a camera than the D800. I can use it hand held at ridiculously slow shutter speeds and still achieve a very sharp image. I can also work with it in very flexible and creative ways where with the D800 I am fighting with the tripod for most of the time. This has cut my shooting rate to about 1/10 of the EM5.

12 thoughts on “Comparing the Nikon D800

  1. Viewfinder (rear) curtain is one reason I have not updated my d700 yet. I use an old manual focus 20mm f4 nikkor which makes for a much lighter setup and also means I an use the seven5 filters and actually makes the d700 almost portable. Brilliant blog.

  2. Hello Robin.
    Glad to see that you have been out with the D800, when I have used live view and forgot to close the rear curtain I have never had a light leak problem with exposure, and regards focusing points one can even go up to 52 with wraparound which is a fair few to choose from. There is built into the camera a system where you can fine tune the focusing of each focal setting of a lens whether it is front or back focusing, I did purchase a couple of these sort of jigs but found them not very good to set up or use, in the end I printed out a test target and stuck it on a window and done it that way but I couldn’t perceive any error so I left things as they are.
    Most of my photography is done with camera on a mono pod because there are to many people at times in the way, and have to be quick grab shots.I took some shots at Whitley Court last week some in live view without the curtain closed and the came out good.
    When the D800 came out there was talk on it by a regarded photographer in the USA, done by Greys of Westminster, thee Nikon agent, but unfortunately I have been unable to find it as I would pass it on to you

    1. Hi John,
      Perhaps I should expand a little on my comments. I like to do focus stacking from time to time and also like to focus quite near to me. I know the D800 has 52 focus points but I just found them to be in the wrong location for the way I like to work. Manual focus in live view works a treat though. I suspect the light leak problem is due to the long exposures I was doing in quite bright conditions. It was the middle of the day and the exposure time was running at around 15-30 seconds. I will have to experiment a little further on this.

      The other thing I didn’t mention in my post was that I was using the mirror lock. I don’t know if this makes a difference in Live View but I did it anyway. The mirror must be up in order to use live view but I don’t know if it flips down again before making the exposure. DO you have any ideas?


      1. Hi Robin,

        Have just sent some information via email on the D800 that I have photo stated for you from the Nikon manual.



      2. Thanks John, just read it. Not sure I could see the answer to my question but there was some helpful information here regarding the preview that I wasn’t aware of. I did purchase a D800 guide but I think the manual seems easier to understand and is more relevant. Really appreciate you going to this trouble.

  3. Hello Mr Robin, first I would like to know your mode of operation with the EM5 when you shoot landscape, second you went from MF and FF     to M43  “togheter” with us. Are all we close to fall down from this wonderful blog? Thanks Sergio

    1. Hi Sergio,
      To answer your question about the EM5 mode of operation, I tend to use it hand held most of the time. It’s only when I am shooting at sunset/sunrise or at night when I use a tripod. Most of the time I can achieve full depth of field at f/7.1 or less. As the lowest ISO for the EM5 is 200 it means I can hand hold the camera in most situations. This allows me to be free from the tripod and position the camera with ease. The flip screen on the rear of the EM5 also helps with this.

      In terms of the blog, don’t worry. I am totally committed to the Micro 43 system and expect to be for some time. Whilst I sold the Pentax 67 MKII a couple of years back I was hardly using it. I also sold the Canon 5D a couple of year back as I decided the EM5 was more suitable and produced results that were just as good. My latest purchase of the D800 is partly an experiment to judge how good the EM5 really is and I do have a few projects planned where I might need to produce huge prints.

      All the best

  4. “with the D800 I am fighting with the tripod for most of the time. This has cut my shooting rate to about 1/10 of the EM5”

    One does not have to use a tripod all the time with the D800. I shoot it hand held the majority of the time …

    One example – 1/80 @F11, ISO 250

    I find that the system is portable enough if one shoots with the 1.8 prime lenses (I’ll use the 28 & 85 or 28 & 50 mm) I’ll get the new 20mm when available,

    I also carry a lightweight hiking tripod ( < 1kg ) when I anticipate a need for long exposures. Don't use it much tho.


    1. That’s true Jeff but I found when I hand held the camera I had two problems. Firstly the shots that didn’t exhibit some camera shake were around 70%. I like my hit rate to be up in the high 90% region. Secondly the weight aggravates a problem with my left arm which can be very painful. I have also been doing quite a few long exposures with the camera and hence probably why I have naturally ended up on a tripod. Having said that I worked in exactly the same way when I had the Canon 5D MKII.

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