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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Megapixel Madness - Thoughts on the D800

A number of students have asked me my opinion of the long rumored and finally announced (two weeks ago) Nikon D800. So here are some of thoughts, keystroke to screen so to speak.

First off, let me get this off my chest. I think I love the camera, on paper at any rate, as precious few people have actually seen it in the metal. Will I rush off and pre-order the new megapixel champion. No! The D800 is a fabulous upgrade to the D700 and makes a mockery of the resolving power of the D3x. Better yet, it probably has the same low-light abilities of the D7000 (which are pretty darn good - not D3s quality, but good and way above average nonetheless). This is still better than the D3x which has appalling low light capabilities. It even has a faster frame rate than the D3x, better metering and faster autofocus (not to mention a pop-up-flash). All this for substantially less than half the price of Nikon's aging flagship (maybe that moniker should pass on to the D4, but the D3x is currently still being sold and has not been discontinued). So why not rush out and buy it as soon as it hits the shelves. For a start, and to be honest, I simply don't have the money that some internet writers seem to have to be able to afford every new toy. More importantly though, I don't need it. If the average photographer who is yearning for this camera admits it to themselves, they don't need it either.

This is not to say that people shouldn't go and buy the D800 (more sales means more R and D, which means more and better cameras for lower prices down the line). But evaluate the reasoning first. The D700 is still an amazing camera. The D3x is still phenomenal. The equipment we had last year is so good that the camera is no longer the weakest link in the image capture process (neither is it the lens, the software, or the tripod...so what does that leave us with?)

Let's think about all those megapixels. Having more is not necessarily a bad thing, but why do we need them. If it's to have more room to crop, then we either have the wrong lens or are being lazy in the image capture process (it was Robert Capa who said, "if it's not good enough - you are not close enough"....being able to crop doesn't change that).  If you are going to dish out for all those megapixels be prepared to buy more cards and a new computer. When I moved from the D700 to the D3x my entire workflow had to be reevaluated due to the size of the files and sluggishness of my computer. I've only just caught up and I've had the D3x since 2010.

Will I lust after the D800. Most certainly. Will I own one? More than likely, but only after my current equipment gives up the ghost by hurtling down a mountain, drowning in a river, or simply dying from overuse. I know pros who are still shooing on D2x's and Canon EOS 1Ds (the original 11mp ones). their work still looks great. A number of professional landscape photographers are still using the original Canon 5D (and we are now waiting for the mkIII to emerge). New kit is not going to make a better photographer out of anybody. Leran to use your current kit to it's optimum, and if it still hold you back, then and only then buy a newer body. As it is, my suspicion if anybody was being held back by the D3x they would have bought a medium format digital.

But, what the D800 does offer is D3x quality for a lower price. If I didn't own a D3x I would no doubt be checking my bank statements very carefully and working out whether I could afford a D800. Having owned the D3x (which I adore) and with the wonderful gift of hindsight that it has afforded, I wouldn't be as excited about the prospect of more megapixels. But that's because I have owned the D3x. If I hadn't I would still believe that I needed more resolving power (don't get me wrong, I really appreciate the extra resolution of the D3x to the D700, I just know now that I didn't actually 'NEED' it).

If you have US$3000 knocking about and you already own a beautiful set of the very best lenses and can afford to travel on top of the cost of the camera, then definitely, pre-order one and smile. You will be happy with this new camera. You'll love it. I'm sure that I will be recommending it to every well-heeled photographer I come across (after I have actually seen it and played with it that is). But $3000 goes a long way to improving your kit in other ways. Lenses, that tripod that you know you really should be thinking about getting, a better flash system, or how about actually going somewhere to use that lovely gear that you own.

In a nutshell, Nikon have brought out a superb set of cameras in the last few months (the D4 is by accounts astounding and the new 1 system is proving to be just what the financial doctor ordered for Nikon), and there apparently more to come. The D800 is going to be stellar camera. I look forward to owning one someday, but it won't be next month.

Update - 1st July 2013

A year and a half after originally writing this article, I have now become the owner of a D800. To put it in a nutshell, I am extraordinarily impressed with the camera. The resolution is phenomenal, although it has taken me a little longer to get used to the very different colour rendition to that of my D3x. User Interface is also a little different with the movie record button in the most idiotic position possible (exactly the same spot as hte previous generation Mode button).

However, as amazing as the camera is, I still hold with what I wrote originally. Unless, you really need it, the difference in the majority of images one creates is going to be hard to notice. I'm fairly sure that if I were to present an A3 image created by my D3x and one created by the D800, only the most critical of viewers would discern any difference (and no, this wouldn't be from shoddy technique, it would be from knowing the D3x intimately). Larger than A3 and the D800 will probably hold its own...I think. It's something I'll no doubt be testing soon.

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