Improving the D800


14-12-01 RWhalley_D800_2014_11__RNW0431

As regular readers of this blog will know I purchased a Nikon D800 a few months back in order to do a real hand on comparison with the Olympus EM5. The first few months of usage have been somewhat mixed and I have found myself reaching for the EM5 on more than one occasion, not least recently when I have suffered a very painful prolapsed disk in my neck.

Anyway, I digress from the point that I wanted to make in this blog and that is one of the most irritating things I have found in using the D800 is the image quality. When I look at a RAW file from the EM5 its crisp and has a lovely level of contrast, especially in the mid tones. The D800 is not as good in this respect and lacks the bite that I see in the EM5 files. I have thought that it might be the lenses but then when I have tried out some pro lenses, I still have the same disappointed feeling. I can see the image is sharp but it just doesn’t seem to reveal the level of detail I had hoped for.

Then recently someone shared the details of a software program that I hadn’t come across that is designed to correct optical limitations in lenses. It’s called Piccure+ and you can get a free trial download from their website. Here is a comparison of a section of the foreground from the D800 image above, shown at 100% magnification (click the images to see the full enlargement). The image below is prior to processing Piccure+. It has been converted from RAW in Lightroom with full adjustment including sharpening.

Before Processing
Before Processing

The next image is following processing in Piccure+. This now feels much more like the quality of image I achieve in the EM5. This is a clear improvement.

After Piccure+
After Piccure+

Now to confuse matters I thought I would also run the image through Topaz Detail which I used to use a lot. Not sure why I stopped using it but I think it’s about the time I switched to Micro 43.

After Topaz Detail
After Topaz Detail

So, what I can deduce from this is that the detail is there in the image but it needs some good processing to bring out the best. Piccure does a great and very natual job. Topaz Detail seems to bring out more detail but it also lightens the shadows a little too much. Personally I prefer the Piccure+ restul better but then I have more control with Topaz (I just need to take more care).

If you haven’t tried either of these products before they are well worth it. You might just find that lens you were struggling with isn’t as poor as you think.

10 thoughts on “Improving the D800

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    1. Hi Sergio, when I use Piccure+ on the EM5 it does make a difference although it’s not as marked a difference as with the D800. The only problem I have is that the EM5 looks almost unreal in terms of how sharp the images are when I use the 12-40 lens so unless I am going to make a very large print I am concerned it that it could make the image quality look almost too good. I will look to post a comparison when I have a little time. Thanks for your concern about my neck.

  1. Robin,

    I’m surprised by your results. Have you tried Capture One? I haven’t seen what you describe. Ther’s no doubt that the Nikon files need more work to make them sing. The Oly files are lovely straight out of the camera and the good lenses are great. I jusrt wonder if there is something else happening.

    1. Hi Jeff,

      Yes I have used Capture One also although this was a Lightroom example. Capture One does a better job of the midtone contrast than lightroom. Now don’t get me wrong, the D800 images do look good but the difference these two programs make seems very dramatic. I also checked with a friend who has a D800 and there were similar results. I did’nt do much sharpening on the RAW file before I took it into Piccure+. It’s worth taking a look at with your own images to see if there is much difference.

  2. Almost any RAW file can benefit from subtle RAW presharpening as the first step in a 3-step sharpening workflow. I use Nik’s Sharpener Pro to apply presharpening, and it does a great job of sharpening edges while leaving noise alone. I’m not as happy with it for 3rd-stage output sharpening, so I use PhotoKit Sharpener for that.

    1. Hi Jaques, I also use Nik Sharpener Pro as well as Focal blade. I didn’t apply very much sharpening to the image prior to export but there was enough to make it look good and it would certainly have made a good print. Piccure+ isn’t really sharpening though. It bills itself as lens correction and from what I have seen its pretty good (as well as very simple). You can still sharpen the images after the corretion and it brings out even more detail. Its worth trying the trial program.

  3. Hello Robin.
    Very interesting looking at those 3 images you have processed in different software’s, Topaz certainly made an improvement to the image . I am going to have a look at Topaz Detail and see what results I get. Recently I have been trying out Capture One, And also DXO I have had the software for a few years but only used it on occasions.Some of my images I will still use NX2 I find that it renders the NEF files better and finish off with NIk Filters.

    John.

    1. From time to time I seem to work my way through all the RAW converters. I keep returning to Lightroom as I like the interface but it doesn’t produce the same high quality results as Capture One. I have never had much success with DXO. Let me kow how you get on with Topaz.

  4. I enjoy the Blog but was concerned by this comparison. I have owned a Nikon D800E, since it was released, and also a OM-D E-M1 for several months. The major difference, that I have found, is that the Olympus RAW images are processed automatically to remove the fairly large amount of distortion caused by the ‘modern’ (small but distorts) lens designs they use (and probably sharpened as well!). I usually correct and slightly sharpen my D800 images in Lightroom (LR). No corrections for the Olympus lenses appear in LR – it is always done automatically. I have found that, if you use the lenses recommended by Nikon for the D800 (http://d800.org/nikon-d800-and-d800e-recommended-lenses/) then they are very sharp and the RAWs are absolutely great when run through LR.

    1. Stuart, to pick up on your point about Olympus. Yes the lens distortion is automatically corrected in Lightroom as is the Panasonic but I understand there is no automatic sharpening. I can however achieve even better results using Capture One. Capture One also produces better results with the Nikon than LR with my RAW files. But the point of the post was not to criticise the D800 but to illustrate how much detail seems to be locked in the files and these software packages are a way to realise that without spending a fortune on lenses. The lens I was using was a Nikkor 18-35. Probably not a great lens in comparison to the Nikkor 16-35 but then its half the price. I am also trying to be honest about what I see in the results of my images using my equipment. The D800 images need more work to reach the level at which I am happy (interestingly both of these packages achieve that). But they also seem to stand more aggressive adjustment when compared to the EM5. For general all round photography I still find the EM5 is my go to camera of choice.

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