*Or, How I Spent My Weekend Vacation
So I didn't actually get a lot of work done on the weekend. I spent my extra time happily playing with Raw converters and B&W conversions. (My current take on D800 black-and-white in a nutshell, for you current or former Dektol-breathers: the D800 is a 4x5 in an F100 body. I might be honeymooning a little.)
I've both been doing more experimenting with (and a bit more purchasing for—gak!—) the D800. Following the advice of several commenters, I bought both ACR 7, with the all-important Process Version 2012 RAW converter, as well as PictureCode's Photo Ninja. (Note: Process Version 2012 is included in Photoshop Elements 11, but the version of ACR in Elements is severely crippled. That sentence cost me $89 to write, so I hope you appreciate it.) And I've also been reading Thom Hogan's Complete Guide to the Nikon D800 and D800E, and, following his advice to buy fast UDMA cards, I also bought two SanDisk UDMA-6 cards.
As for a thumbnail review of the Guide itself...well, Thom Hogan is the best independent brand-specific technical analyst in the photographic cyberuniverse. Not only is Nikon lucky he exists, but his existence is among the
good reasons to shoot Nikon. However, if this weekend is any indication, this particular 851(!)-page tome might be defeating me.
It's superb, but suffers a bit from Tolstoy syndrome. I'm fascinated by insights into why Nikon sources its sensors from different fabricators and which subcategory of noise it is up with which astrophotographers must put, but I'm a slow reader and I just want to know how to get the bad boy off AF-C, which is how it came out of the box, and into AF-S....
(Answer: there's a command button hiding in plain sight. D'oh!) So I switched to Ben Long's "Shooting With the Nikon D800" video tutorial set on Lynda.com. More my speed; no offense to Thom. I'll study his [extremely] Complete Guide with pleasure, but at greater leisure.
Photo Ninja (hereafter, PN—a Raw converter and photo editor) is awesome. I like the way you toggle back and forth from the Browser to the Editor, and, in the Editor, from whole image view to 100%. And the quality of the conversions is fantastic. Especially in color.
Supposedly PN is somewhat Nikon-centric, in that it reputedly does a particularly good job with Nikon cameras (although I don't know that it does any worse with any other brand). It's becoming known as something of a standard for the D800, anyway. I can see why.
But I'm pretty sure I'll end up using good old ACR. Confession: I love ACR. I consider "ACR for global, Photoshop for local" my home of homes in editing software. (Anyone remember who originated that mantra? 'Twasn't me.) All the controls make so much sense to me, and I like everything it does and the relatively simple way it does it, too. It doesn't hurt that two of the lead Adobe engineers for ACR are at least occasional readers of TOP, too.
Everyone who urged me to get the latest version with the Process Version 2012 converter was right, though: it's distinctly superior, more natural-looking and more capable. Worth seeking out. It's available in both Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS6.
I identified the answers to a few more mysteries over the weekend, too: the origin of the idea that you have to use a tripod and good lenses with the D800/E, for one. It comes from Nikon itself, in its "D800 Technical Guide" PDF. And, reading Thom's Guide, I think I've identified an important conceptual split:
Some people feel that the better their equipment, the more obligated they are to optimize their result. My approach tends to be the opposite: I feel it's more necessary to optimize my results when I'm using inferior equipment...to overcome its deficiencies. (For instance, I know how to get the best out of bad lenses. With great lenses I'm much more casual—why? Because they free me of the responsibility and the restrictions of being so careful.) The D800 is such overkill to begin with that there's no need to be terribly careful, in my view. It's going to bring home the bacon if you simply use it halfway conscientiously. I'd rather have the freedom that affords, than further burden myself with restrictions in the service of perfection.
In other words: just because that mountain is there doesn't mean I have to climb it.
Thom's approach is the opposite: as he says in his Guide, "I'm pretty anal about getting 'optimal results' from my equipment." Not me—which is why, c. 1980–2000, I shot 35mm instead of medium or large format, and Tri-X instead of Pan-X (or Tech Pan). I like getting good, consistent, repeatable, controllable results robustly, and good craftsmanship is very satisfying, but I've never been terribly interested in optimizing everything out to the nth degree. The test shot at the top of this post is a good example. (Keep in mind you're looking at a tiny, barely representational JPEG of a much larger file.) It's shot without a tripod and with Nikon's "prosumer" 28mm ƒ/1.8G—explicitly not on Nikon's list of D800-safe lenses**. Is it "optimized"? No. It doesn't show the quality of which the D800 is capable...
...But I'm not worried. It's going to look more than fine in the prints on 13x19" paper that I'm going to use the D800 for.
Same deal with the notion that you "can't" use the D800 with your lens stopped down past ƒ/8, a bromide whose arteries are hardening already on the 'Net. It is not optimal, doncha know. Dare to delve past ƒ/8 and all definition will be dashed to death on the rocks of diffraction. But have you seen the difference between ƒ/8 and ƒ/11?
(To eliminate variables, I shot these much more carefully for you. Here, I did use a sturdy tripod, all locked down, with the camera on manual focus, mirror locked up, and with the lights exactly in the center of the frame. These are screen shots of the Raw files as they opened in ACR, converted to sRGB because that's all I can publish. They should be 100% after you click on them, or in your feed reader. ISO 100. I set the aperture, with the camera in aperture-priority [A mode], and let the camera set the exposure. I adjust the exposure of one slightly to get them to match.)
If you look carefully, you'll see that there is a difference. The people who claim there is aren't making it up.
But then consider that you're looking at this detail unsharpened and unprepared for printing, and about eight times larger than the maximum size I'd print it.
So is it really true that you can't use ƒ/11? I think I'd chance it. Suboptimal though it may be. Bring that bacon home to Papa, Dragoon.
An actual Colt Dragoon, c. 1860. Photo courtesy J. Christopher Mitchell.
And that's also why I've generally been happy to use ACR and not go questing after the absolute ideal Raw converter for every single camera I use. (Although as usual I have no objection at all to anyone who enjoys that or sees an advantage in it.) Even if something else out there is a tad better for a particular camera, ACR is very, very good, and—well, as I said, I love it.
But although I'm staying loyal to ACR, I was delighted by Photo Ninja. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Ctein will try it out and write about it for you. I kept gravitating to it; can't keep my hands off it. It was like I was having a Photo Ninja attack. (Heh.) It's just too cool. To anyone with a technical or scientific cast of mind who has a sufficiently turbocharged computer, I heartily recommend giving it a careful tryout.
Especially if you own a D800 or D600.
Our other posts on the D800/E can be found here.
**Nikon's own list of D800/E-approved lenses:
AF-S Nikkor 14–24mm ƒ/2.8G ED
AF-S Nikkor 24–70mm ƒ/2.8G ED
AF-S Nikkor 70–200mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S Nikkor 16–35mm ƒ/4G ED VR
AF-S Nikkor 24–120mm ƒ/4G ED VR
AF-S Nikkor 200–400mm ƒ/4G ED VR II
AF-S Nikkor 24mm ƒ/1.4G ED
AF-S Nikkor 35mm ƒ/1.4G
AF-S Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.4G
AF-S Nikkor 200mm ƒ/2G ED VR II
AF-S Nikkor 300mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR II
AF-S Nikkor 400mm ƒ/2.8G ED VR
AF-S Nikkor 500mm ƒ/4G ED VR
AF-S Nikkor 600mm ƒ/4G ED VR
AF-S Micro Nikkor 60mm ƒ/2.8G ED
AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm ƒ/2.8G IF-ED
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
David Dyer-Bennet (partial comment): "I handled a D800 for the first time Saturday (a local friend has one now), and went through exactly the same thing you did with the AF controls. My D700 has a three-position AF control on the front plus another three-position AF control on the back, plus several menu entries; the D800 does this IMHO better, by having a control only for AF vs. MF, plus a button that enable the wheels to quickly cycle through the AF choices. Not what I'm used to, but better. But my friend had to point out the center button in the AF control to me."
Mike Anderson: "Nikon recommends no lens for the D800 for less than $1000? Hmm."
A. Dias: "Photo Ninja (PN) is a breakthrough in many areas. Well worth the small effort to learn its GUI and editing controls. I use it with Canon DSLRs and the images look real. B&W is easy to use with its simple-to-control color filters."
Ctein (partial comment): I see exactly where Nikon's recommendations for equipment and practices come from. There's no doubt in my mind that they got many critical comments from photographers who bought these new cameras and then complained that their photographs weren't pixel-sharp. They weren't sharp for all the known usual reasons: they didn't know how to pick a decent lens, they didn't know how to hold the camera steady, they didn't know how to use a short enough shutter speed, it never occurred to them to use a tripod…the usual stuff. None of which is the camera's fault, it's the photographer's fault.
"So, Nikon did exactly what I would've done: wrote up some webpages describing best practices and suitable hardware. It's good to educate photographers, and it preempts a zillion more damning e-mails.
"But no good deed goes unpunished, so a bunch of binary thinkers decided that if this is what Nikon considered recommended practices and gear, it was the only way. Which, of course, it ain't. And Nikon never suggested it was."
robert harshman: "I think the reason Mike keeps coming back to Photo Ninja is that it just gets it right with one click most of the time. It is the best Raw converter today, bar none. I've recently tested its smart lighting vs. DXO vs. ACR, all current versions as of November 12, 2012, and neither product comes close with one click.
"I tend to buy a lot of software and believe in supporting what I think are good developers. Hence I buy products I might only review and not even use much. It's an old habit, I've alpha/beta tested and purchased thousands of imaging products over the years and now have a iCloud license with Adobe—one of the best deals around. And yet today for standard commercial work I still use ACR, as PN does not yet have a batch mode, and I sometimes need to convert thousands of images for a single project.
"ACR is a great converter, but one of the biggest issues with it today for computational photographers like me is the per image adjustment. All of the adjustments that you make in ACR are relative to each image. So if you are stitching or focus stacking or bracketing, or doing lenticular work, making any adjustment in ACR is perhaps an issue. When I discussed this issue with the developer of PN, he had a solution within a week: Absolute mode. (For those of you using PN for this type of work, yeah, you can thank me for the benefit of Absolute mode. :-) And batch mode is coming at some point for PN. Once it's here, goodbye ACR, for the most part. DXO may stay around for its wonderful FilmPack."