D800 Live View Pain


Nikon D800, ISO100, f/14.0 for 1.6". 0.5ND graduated filter

As I mentioned on the blog last week I have been over the Wales at the weekend doing some photography in the Landscape. Whilst the weather was quite mixed it was a great opportunity to work with the D800 again and try to compare it to my Olympus EM5.

To best appreciate my position on this post you need to understand that I like to pick my point of focus when taking pictures. In fact I place great store by this capability and see it as essential to being able to achieve the best mix of depth of field and image sharpness. With the EM5 I have a grid of focus points that very nearly covers the entire frame and which I can easily select.

The D800 also has a lot of focus points but the coverage is nowhere near as good as the EM5 and I am often left in a position where I can’t select the point of focus I want using autofocus. I used to have a similar problem with the Canon 5D MKII and on that camera I resorted to using Live View. This was an easy and effective way of working. I would mount the camera on a tripod, operate live view, select my point of focus, zoom in to 100% magnification, focus manually then take the shot.

This resulted in some great shots with excellent focus and sharpness. I decided therefore that I would do the same with the D800. All worked well until the light levels started to drop, at which point the live view started to become noisy. This happened quite quickly and it wasn’t long before the noise prevented me from being able to focus. When I tried to do some long exposure work with a 6 stop filter, live view would just black; I couldn’t see anything.

Lets contrast the above experience with the Canon 5D that I previously used. I was able to place a 10 stop filter over the lens and still see sufficient to compose the image (although focussing was a struggle). Using the Olympus EM5 with a 6 stop filter is no problem and I can compose and focus through this quite easily.

Overall you might think I am being picky but this experience only serves to make the camera difficult to work with. Whilst I did persevere, I found the D800 difficult to work with and it was nice when I switched back to the EM5. Given the D800 is such a recent flagship camera for Nikon, I can’t believe they couldn’t have done more with the Live View. How you are able to work with a camera is more important that features. When you are able to work easily with the camera your results improve. Unfortunately my hit rate dropped off significantly.

10 thoughts on “D800 Live View Pain

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  1. I have been doing a bit of reading on focus and composition, and one thing that keeps cropping up is that the center point is always the sharpest and you should use that. But the center isnt usually the place where I want to set my focus!!

    And it also came up that doing the focus and recompose is a bad idea because your recomposition point may not be the same distance or angle as the original focus point.

    Add in the difficulty of filters (which I havent ventured into yet but am seriously considering) and it all seems a bit hard really.

    Does seem a shame that such a high end camera is as limited as it appears to be, but then we are at the mercy of the manufacturers who design them to be used in certain ways and if you work outside that, not always as easy as you might want it to be.

    1. Its true that the centre of the lens is sharper than the corners but if you have a high quality lens it will still be sharp into the corners. Micro 43 lenses in particular display this charactoristic. You are also right that you shouldn’t just focus in the centre. For something like a landscape you need to focus on something in the foreground as foreground items should be sharper than distant objects – laws of physics. IN a portrait you will most probably want to focus on the subjects eyes. We need more flexibility in our cameras than the usual few focus points in the centre of the viewfinder. As you say you don’t want to focus and then recompose. I think this all comes down to camera ergonomics and that manufacturers get locked into certain features and designs. I used to have a Canon EOS3 film camera. It had eye controlled focus selection. All I needed to do was look at something in the frame and the camera would select that as the point of focus. It was brilliant and on a camera that was around in the early 2000. Why havent features such as this made their way into the latest designs.

      If you are considering buying filters there is a tutorial on my lenscraft site (http://www.lenscraft.co.uk/resource-hub/tutorials/). If you haven’t seen it you might find it useful. You can also email me if you have any questions. I am still a huge fan and regular user of filters.

      1. Thanks Robin, I did check out your filter tutorial a while ago, and I need to refresh it. Part of the problem is the cost, I want to invest my monely wisely and go with Lee Filters, but to get everything I want ie the hard and soft grads, kit and holder and a big stopper, is nearly $2000 NZD by the time you add in exchange rates and shipping.

        Trying to decide where to compromise, I can get some now and some later but hard to decide what I really NEED to get started!

        Love that concept of the eye focus on your old film camera, that totally makes sense to me. Why dont we have it now? Its one of the reasons I am considering an upgrade to the new 7D Mk II, it has loads more focus points and better focussing technology now.

        Thanks for taking the time to help out, I really enjoy your blog and philosophy, its similar to how I feel about life and photography too 🙂 And your Nik ebooks have been so helpful, I rave about them to anyone who will listen!

      2. No problem and thanks for letting me know you find what I do helpful.

        Lee are certainly the best filers in my experience to invest in but there are probably other options to keep the price down. Personally I would not worry about the soft grads if you have a crop sensor camera. They can be useful when there are ojects (such as mountains) jutting above the horizon. Their effect though is relatively weak and they are harder to line up when compared to the hard grads. Most of the time I use hard grads and with Micro 43 I only have hard grads. The big stopper is good but it does have a blue colour cast. Last weekend my friend showed me a 10 stop filter that cost him a fraction of the price on eBay and it doesn’t have any real colour cast. The downside is that this is a screw in filter so you might need a number of these depending on your lens diameter. Even then it would be a lot cheaper than the Lee 10 stop (which I do have and like in case people think I am down on Lee filters). If you are interested I will find out the make.

        Hope this gives you some more ideas.

  2. When working in macro I nearly always us the live view to make use I have got what i want in focus, I have found with the 60d its focus is quite accurate and never had a problem with live view. When using my ND filter I usually focus first and then add the filter and adjust the exposure.

    Since the 5d and D800 are design primarily to be used with the view finder and not live view, unlike the EM5 designed with an electronic view finder it should be expected to perform better in live view as it is essentially a bigger version of the view finder.

    1. You do make a good point but my 5D was miles ahead of the D800 in terms of Live View. And besides, if manufacturers include these features they need to ensure they work well under more extreme conditions and not just perfect ones. Sorry. I’m having a bit of a rant about the things I don’t like.

      1. I think it is that time of year, everyone needs to get it out of their system before Christmas.
        I have never used the nikon system but canon’s has always been quite good maybe it is that they have to poet it from the Gx series anf eos m.

  3. I’m struggling to see why you bothered buying the Nikon, yeah I guess the price tempted you but why? were you unhappy with the end product from the olympus or other micro four thirds gear? Did any of your end users tell you they were unhappy that the quality just wasn’t cutting it. I would hazard a guess at no on both counts, I have always wondered about the race to acquire the latest and the shiniest because it’s promising even more pixels, especially when most of the time the end product is the web, where that matters not.

    I can honestly say it would not matter to me what I got offered I would not stray from the micro four thirds area it is a perfect system in every sense of the word, my only reason to ever contemplate buying other manufacturers kit would be to sell it immediately and make some dollar from the sale always assuming that the profit was there to be had of course, if not I would not buy it.

    I have used most of the main players kit during my photography affair and have no regrets at settling on micro four thirds. I also shoot film still but it is only with my hasselblad and pinhole which gives me a completely different feeling entirely to digital. I would never part with either of them, admittedly they are a little more weighty but hey they’re worth it.

    I don’t wish to upset you Robin, I’m curious what your thinking behind this was, as whichever way I cut it, it seems to have a GAS element attached to it.

    1. Hi, no way will you upset me by asking sensible questions; and this is a good one.

      The truth is that I was curious about the quality of the D800 and how the EM5 would compare. I take your point about the web but with my work the intention is always to be able to print with the target size being A2. I have encountered a lot of people who say Micro 43 can’t compete with DSLRs and in particular the D800. When the opportunity to buy one of these arose at a very good price I thought I would find out for myself. After all, if I decide I don’t like it and the quality isn’t much better there will always be a market for good used kit – it’s a bit like renting equipment. But it does give me the opportunity to do a good user comparison between the 2. If I haven’t tried what a lot of people think is the best, how can I give an honest opinion. I realise I haven’t posted too much yet on the comparison but work other demands are getting in the way. Hopefully I will be back on top of my workload soon.

      I hope that makes a little more sense now.

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