It was an early start yesterday. Up at 4:30 in the morning in order to make the 2 hour journey to Ullswater in the Lake District for a dawn shoot. Despite the early morning start it was without question one of the most enjoyable days photography that I have ever had.
Overnight the temperature had dropped like a stone and there was a thick haw frost on the ground. Most waters in the Lakes had a thin layer of ice starting to form around their edges but because the temperature had dropped rapidly the deeper water was still cooling. Instead of ice covering their surface they had a wonderful mist and the conditions just got better as the day went on. The image you see above is of the boat jetty near Pooley Bridge, at dawn. Captured on the Olympus OMD EM5 with Olympus 12-40mm lens and a 0.3 ND Grad on the sky. Aperture was f/9.0 (a mistake as I would have shot this at f/7.1 usually). ISO200 and shutter speed 1/125″.
So you might ask, what is the important decision? The answer is, that I have decided to sell the Nikon D800; but I want to explain and share my reasoning.
Firstly, this is the third trip I have made where I can’t bring myself to carry the extra weight. When I returned from Bolivia I suffered a prolapsed disk at the base of my neck and for a while it looked like I might need major surgery. Fortunately, this is looking less likely now but the pain over the past couple of months has been unbearable at times – and pain killers just didn’t have an effect on it. I was finding that even trying to lift and support the heavier equipment was aggravating the pain.
OK, so this might be a temporary condition (I certainly hope it is) but other things are more permanent and important. One of the reasons I bought the D800 was that a lot of people were claiming how the image quality is exceptional with the right lenses and I would agree, yes it is. The camera would perform very well even with lesser quality lenses but needed a little more adjustment to really bring this out. But the important point is, the image performance is no better at low ISO (which I use almost exclusively) than the EM5. In fact, the corner and edge sharpness of the EM5 images beats the D800 even with high quality lenses.
All I really get with the D800 is an image file that produces a 24.5″ inch image rather than 15.36″ at 300dpi. Does this additional image size matter? Well, unless I am going to be making a print larger than 30″ and look at this with my nose pressed against it. You really need to be doubling the print size to notice the difference in output quality due to the way inkjet printers work. If you print on Matt paper then you might even need to go larger than this. As for output to the Internet, there is no benefit to having more pixels and then throwing most of these away by downsizing the image.
Where the D800 does score well over the EM5 is in the RAW files. I seem to be able to push these all over the place in editing and see almost no noise, even in shadow areas. This is very nice but again it comes with a downside. The RAW files from the D800 do seem to need much more processing in comparison to the EM5 RAW files. It’s almost as if the D800 RAW files are a little flat, possibly to the additional dynamic range the camera has. Whatever the reason, it feels like I am having to relearn how to get the most out of the camera and I don’t really have time for that at the moment.
The final and most important problem is that the D800 really doesn’t suit my style of shooting. What I don’t like to do is pop the camera on a tripod, spend a lot of time getting into position, check everything and then make one or two good exposures. This just doesn’t work for me. My approach is to move around and into the subject, taking lots of pictures and checking them regularly. As I work I find images that I like or things I like about an image that I work with to incorporate. The shots gradually get better until I arrive at the image I want. This style of working isn’t for everyone but if it’s your style, you will find it hard working with a large DSLR.
I do have to admit though that I didn’t always recognise this. It was only when I moved to the EM5 that my shooting style really started to develop in this way and that I started to feel free. Now when I try to go back it’s as though I am constrained and I have lost that feeling of freedom and spontaneity.
So, this is my reasoning but I will caveat it with a final thought. I reserve the right to change my mind. As I was writing this I was looking back at some of my RAW files from the D800 and they do have a quality that I really like. I’m just not sure it’s enough to make me want to keep the camera.
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.
Here’s a recent one from the Nikon D800. After a few trips I finally seem to be working better with the D800 and more of my images are in focus and sharp. I’m shooting with the camera set to 14bit mode rather than the usual 12bit and the colours seem to be responding well during the RAW file conversions. I will of course have more to say in the near future on the D800 and will be comparing it to the Olympus EM5 and Sony RX10.
Now over the next couple of weeks I’m going to go a little silent on you all and won’t be posting. I need to dedicate some time to getting the new Lenscraft website up and running. I hope to have this finished by the end of October but I need to spend some dedicated time. This isn’t just a new website but an entire move of platform.
I hope you like the image, have a great weekend and I’ll be back online around the end of the month.
Big and heavy. It’s a Nikon D800.
But don’t hit the unsubscribe button just yet, there are some valid reasons for this and some really interesting results.
Firstly, this was an absolute bargain. It’s like new and was a fraction of the cost of the new camera. I don’t know about you but I just can’t resist a bargain.
Secondly I was curious. Not a little but a lot. You see I keep hearing that Micro 43 is not a real camera and that you can’t shoot serious landscapes with it. If you want to shoot landscapes you need a great camera with lots of high quality pixels in full frame. In short you need something like a D800.
So I bought one and want to use it as a benchmark against which to compare and judge my Olympus EM5 and the even smaller sensor of the RX10. Whilst I have only had two outings with the D800 I promise you the results are interesting and will surprise. I will also own up that I am struggling a little with the D800. I think shooting with Micro 43 has made me a little lazy; but more on that in future posts.
So now you know, I will be posting some interesting comparisons over the coming months.