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Sunday, 11 November 2012


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"Adequate. That's the exact term, and it alone is reason for excitement and celebration."

I can shrink those fourteen words down to just one: "Finally!"

That is my reaction to the D800E at least.


Oh how I want this sensor in an A-mount camera (it's a Sony sensor after all). First digital files that really remind me of a good frame of film in terms of tone and resolution.

I can't afford it, of course, but... well, my dreams have been kinda boring lately anyway.

Mike if Nikon don't gift you this camera and lens for all the positive publicity they have gained [I know this is not your intention and probably would go against your principles but nevertheless they would pay big bucks to get this type of genuine worldwide exposure,just sayin!!!.]they will have missed a trick.

Great to see you out shooting and letting us see the results.

I hope you get the camera because I'm certain you'll love the results. But I do wonder something. If exposure range is what you've been missing, how well would the nearly as good Pentax K5 fare?

Or is it the combination of ER, resolution, and the full frame look that give you what you want?

They're not stupid shots Michael. Admit it, that's just you enjoying photography with a camera that you like, whether you admit it to yourself or not

Not bad at all. Especially for a Nikon.

"adequate" That's how Rolls Royce used to describe the engines in the cars, so you are in good company.

Those have a nice Verichrome Pan quality to them, and I quite like the loudspeaker with birds and the video camera pictures. Apparently God's eye is not only on the sparrow but the traffic in Waukesha.

Adequate is good. Reminds me of an article in Car and Driver, or Road and Track magazine back in the 1970's (can't remember which) where the writer asked the Rolls Royce representative he was interviewing about a new RR model how much horsepower the engine had (RR didn't really talk about such lowbrow things back then). His single word reply, "adequate."

It seems that the newer Sony sensors are amazing in the amount of contrast they can handle. The D800 shows that, and also the D600 and the Sony a99. The aps-c sensor that is used by Pentax and also by Nikon for the d7k. And the small NEX-7 could also do what you show with the D800 files. The 7 will show slightly more noise, but this will be of little consequence for web use or most print sizes. And for your use you could combine it with the Zeiss 24mm f1.8. Also a lovely lens.

Resolution [tick]
Dynamic range [tick]
B&W quality [?]

Out of curiosity I checked one of the few UK places you can hire an 800E from. For the body alone, it costs about as much for a 1 day UK hire as it does for a 5 day hire from lensrental.com (£110+20%vat : $175, shipping extra). I didn't bother looking at lens prices.

Pretty impressive, of course, and I salivate like Pavlov's puppy whenever I hear or read «800E», though I can do no more than keeping what-if-I-won-the-lottery fantasies about it for now. That said there's no way to hide the massive moiré and the frightening levels of chromatic aberration (as seen in the bush picture) this camera outputs. It needs the best editing software available to correct the latter, and top-drawer lenses to keep it to a minimum. I'd expect to spend at least twice as much as the body itself just to buy the basic lenses. (In my case that would be two primes - a wide-angle and a standard - and maybe a 70-200 telephoto.) This is not the camera for those who think of lenses as mere accessories. You can't just mount a 18-55 kit lens on this baby.

Congratulations Mike. You got some very good shots with this "test camera". Great sensor, great 35mm lens - shooting black and white. Seems like Johnston heaven. Tell us, how did you process these for black and white? Nik Silver Effects? Really like the skies you got in B&W. I think it would be extremely good for your mental health to continue in this vein - living one's dream and getting such good results is good for you !!!!!! Cheers, Alex.

I really hope the Sony RX-1 can get results similar to this combination. It will be a lot easier on our posture not having to shlep such a heavy camera.

The church photo is beautiful, on the other hand, in the park and the "antiques" shots, the tonality is a typical digital crap. If you really want to see if this camera delivers for B&W, take many portraits in open shade, and take a careful look at the way the light plays with the skin.Possibly shoot the same subjects with the good old Tri X for a comparison. Good luck.

Very nice photographs Mike. Being from a different area of the country they certainly held my interest. The black and white shots are painterly delicious.

The clouds! They are magical in the photo of the church.

Still not convince about 800E as there are too many pixels.

I think though 600E is something better. Of coures IBIS would be nice but it is never will happen in this system. BTW, I think very hard about all those F4 lens (16-35, 70-200, ... etc.) Still, Nikon still need more prime lens update as I do not think that F4 is good enough.

The only system I think need to evaluate is the Fuji one. (Well if I were the top 1%, Leica M system is very attractive now. Unfortunately or may be fortunate, I am not.)

So a question: with regard to "exposure range" does this sensor have some magic sauce that isn't present in Sony's latest 24mp sensor (the one in the D600 and a99)? I'm just curious. I know there's the extra resolution and lack of an aliasing filter in the D800's but could the same performance be seen in those other cameras?

Do you plan to do a similar comparative with the Pentax K5 IIs (I think that's what the K5 II variant without the AA filter is called)?

I kinda like your "stupid speaker" picture - if you had shot it vertical it would've been even better.

This is more of a question - why is it that so many Digital B&W presentations turn out with what looks like "excesses of gray"? I'm noticing that here, especially with the Baptist church pic. I also notice it with what Steve Huff has been doing lately with the Monochrom. Is it just me? I tend to look for a lot more brightness and contrast in B&W, whether with film or traditional digital conversion techniques.

I'm glad to see that you used NX2 as I had suggested in an earlier post.

Another suggestion - on the image you cranked the highlight slider to maximum and set exposure to -2 try this instead (or at least first)
.... Try Adjust>Lighting>Quality from the NX2 menu and then adjust Shadows and Highlights in the resulting adjustment window.

There are many other NX2 features (like setting proper black & white points) that can improve your "beginner ;-)" processing even more. At this point though, since you seem to feel that the D800E + lens combo is "decent", you should delight in knowing that you've barely scratched the surface when it comes to seeing everything that's been captured.

How about some shots inside. A few table lamps and plenty of deep shadows. That should exercise the DR.

"on the other hand, in the park and the "antiques" shots, the tonality is a typical digital crap."

As I tried to explain in the text of the post, I didn't take either of those as I would have if they were going to be pictures, nor did I process them as such. The intent in both those shots was just to throw a challenge at the sensor and stress it out a bit. In that context, the files are much more than (and much better than) "typical digital crap." You shouldn't demand that either of those look decent as pictures; that's not the intent with those. I provided other examples for that.


".... Try Adjust>Lighting>Quality from the NX2 menu and then adjust Shadows and Highlights in the resulting adjustment window."

There are no such commands under "Adjust" in the version of NX2 I'm using (2.3.0). There's a sub-item called "Light" but nothing like "Quality" past that. Could it be I have just a partially enabled version? I'm just using the trial version downloaded from the Nikon site. I don't know the program.


"Adequate..." "Fantastic..." ...GREAT, but is it "Fun"?

"...GREAT, but is it 'Fun'?"

This is Day 5, and the camera goes back tomorrow (Day 6), meaning I can use it for part of the day. So you'll probably have to wait until Day 7 for a summary review and probably till Day 8 for the overall "Verdict." Sorry, but I'm hurrying as fast as I can here.


Looks like you're building quite a post-Apocalyptic portfolio of Waukesha, Mike!

Good to see you enjoying a camera. One tip: the best way to "test" a camera is just to get into the swing of shooting. News: nearly all contemporary cameras have more than adequate specs for nearly anything. Just shoot.

Thanks for mentioning your conversion technique, and thanks for mentioning From OZ to Kansas. I'm deciding to commit to only portraits and only black & white for the next _ _ months or maybe the entire year. As part of that I want to explore as many of the conversion methods as possible. From Oz to KS should be useful - thanks again for mentioning it.
Please consider looking at some of your new files in CS6's ACR.

oh, yeah... I got that Karsh book you mentioned - - very nice.

This camera exhibits the same problem you found when testing the D700. It completely fails to reproduce the leaves on the trees.

[D3, not D700. Just so others know what fjf is talking about, it's a reference to the two captions of the tree pictures in this post. It was a joke. --MJ

"nearly all contemporary cameras have more than adequate specs for nearly anything"

Hmm. Well, since this directly contradicts my own conclusion, I guess I'll just note that we disagree. Which is certainly okay, of course.


Paddy and Kumanan,
I can only talk about the cameras I've used. Which is not very many, I admit.


"Mike if Nikon don't gift you this camera and lens for all the positive publicity they have gained...they will have missed a trick."

Nikon was very nice and polite to me, but they said they don't anything to send me to try out because their review units in high demand right now. (And I'm not in the queue. Reviewers have to take turns when it comes to popular equipment.)

I wouldn't take a free camera from them, because that's a conflict of interest. When I bought the Pentax I have, I paid for it. Reviewers pay an "accommodation price" (at best--it's not always available to everybody; I doubt I would rate an accommodation price from Nikon) which is essentially wholesale, or what the company's employees would (usually) pay.


"Adequate" is a bit harsh I think, I would rather say that with the D800, it's effortless to produce high quality results in tricky light. so "effortless" is my choice of word. Let's face it: this camera blows Tri-X out of the water in terms of how the results can look. Sure, Tri-X looks like Tri-X, but the D800 files have a lot of flexibility and one can really shoot "impossible" scenes and come out with something good. To me, that's the single most valuable property of the camera.

"That said there's no way to hide the massive moiré and the frightening levels of chromatic aberration (as seen in the bush picture)"

I kind of have to wonder what you think those things mean. There's no evidence of either of those qualities in the bush detail (it's not a picture--it's a small section of the much larger picture above it). There's no moiré at all, and if the chromaticism is aberrant in any way, it's because of the weird processing I subjected it to. I was just trying to show what the camera recorded, not what the image should look like as an image. I tried to explain that. Obviously not well enough.


The black and white photos exhibit excellent tonality. The church photo is particularly juicy. I'm really curious to hear your thoughts on how responsive (fast and accurate) the autofocus is on objects moving towards the camera. I am hoping Sony will offer this chip encased a body with an optical viewfinder along with good tethering capabilities. I just can't buy into the SLT concept. To me it seems like having a pane of glass beween situated between the cornea and the retina.

I process D700 RAWs in NX2. These files still seem to me to have a remarkable range of "malleability" too, similar, I'd say, to the examples you've posted. No doubt the D800s are better (ignoring resolution for the moment) but are they significantly better with regard to DR/ER?

To me, the first shot did not seem stupid at all. I think it has a beautiful simplicity, and is elegant and evocative.

I got some very good B&W out of the D700 too but I didn't investigate it far enough to come to any conclusions. That was about at the time the HP B9180 was beginning to enter its devil incarnate phase, and I got terminally distracted by printer problems, which culminated in me throwing the printer through the window in a rage. Figuratively speaking, of course. So I can't say anything meaningful comparatively.


Mike, just shoot *anything* and have fun. Wasn't it you who reassured us that our contact sheets sucked???

With best regards.


dear Mike, I believe you should really also try out the Sigma DP2m. Here are some b&w shots from flickr:


I've always wondered about this mystery of gray scale conversion.
It seems every version of Photoshop I've ever had from 4.0 and CS, both on a Mac, had a option in the pull down menu bar (forgive me if I'm saying this wrong; I'm working from memory) that allowed you to save a file as gray scale. There were other options too of course, like Lab color and CMYK.
Why is this not the preferred way to create a gray scale or black and white image from a color image?

Adequate, a word I have always loved using. When my wife and I wanted to give each other a compliment which we both understood to really mean superlative, we would say, "You're adequate for my needs."

Mike, how about linking up some unconverted RAW files for us to play with in our converter of choice? You know, absorbing that rental cost for us... :)

That's a simple desaturation option--you're merely discarding the color information. It looks pretty good in a lot of cases, and it's an option if you want a simple set-and-forget method. But it doesn't allow you any control of the spectral response (how a color is rendered as a tone). To give you a simple example of this, a clear blue sky can be rendered as anything from near-black to a very light gray just by moving the blue slider. With desaturation, you get what you get and that's it. That might be okay with you and it might not be.

A B&W-only camera would also have a single, set conversion (I presume--I don't really know), but in that case at least the spectral response of the sensor would be carefully chosen by the manufacturer to be pleasing. That would be more like using a single type of film with a characteristic look.


Like that 2012 FSA election photo...

That's a pretty impressive set of photos posted there Mike. Rumour on the web was that the D800's sensor was a scaled up 16Mp version from Sony (used in the K-5, D7000, etc.), given their similarities in performance... so for me it's the Nikon glass here that really shines.

These photos kind of bug me because I'm starting to realise that my glass just doesn't cut it really anymore. *sigh*


Since the subject of moire came up, did you see any at all in any of your shooting. The absence of the antialiasing filter as been raised as a possible problem, but this is the first real shooting test I've seen. Also, what white balance setting did you use for the "antiques" shot?

Mike, there's no question that the D800E has more of everything, but really you should be evaluating it with the latest tools. Lightroom 4 is a great front end for RAW processing (and gets you off the CS upgrade treadmill). You should also be comparing with other cameras in like situations. Maybe in many situations they'd also be "adequate".

I think when Rolls Royce are asked what horsepower their engines have, their reply is"sufficient". You're obviously enjoying the Nikon, I've used the musical-instrument-analogy before. So looks like you've found your camera to make your pictures....I look forward to more comments! I'm using Micro 4/3 stuff simply because of physical limitations, and still look at my old Nikon lenses....envy you, I hope Nikon give you the camera!

Rather than saying your photos are crap, either by subject matter or that they have color in them, rest them for a few months. I remember a David Vestal article where he went through some old negatives and found images he had originally dismissed. So he printed some of them and was pleased. How you view these images will change. You may like the color versions later. And some of those photos might be historically important years from now. I came to ACR in CS5 last year and my photos from 2006 have never looked this nice before. Happiness can be found in all of those archived RAW files.

I'm loving this. I second the comment about CS6 (or Lightoom 4 – same engine). The 2012 process is an eye-opener and will, I think, tempt you to revisit some of the raw files you've been dissatisfied with in the past.

Hi Mike, also having fun playing with my D600 files in LR 4.2 which is my standard RAW converter (can't be bothered upgrading PS every time I get a new cam, but LR is much cheaper and I can still use "Ctrl-E" to edit the result in CS5 afterwards...)

Same B&W conversion and controls as the new ACR, which is to say pretty good, with a few rather smart zone controls.

DXO marks the D600 as near equal for DR, so I can probably appreciate what you are seeing. The real advantage over the older D700 (and older cams in general) seems to come from the highlight end and the native ISO 100.

The default ACR RAW tone curve actually leaves at least a stop more highlight headroom esp. in B&W, so you don't have to protect them quite so much and can leave a little more tonal range in the shadows.

In fact there is so much room at both ends I can use contrast and tone controls in LR to creative effect and exploit this during the initial exposure.

Great post especially the conversion techniques.

First Baptist Church...
Is there lightning arrestors on that steeple?

And why the camera mounted on the top of the illumination pole at the street intersection?
It appears to be not a steep enough angle for
what is termed a "red-traffic light" camera.

Mind a red-trafffic light camera is better than
a proper red-light district esepcially beside
the local Baptist church...

Damn cameras, everywhere spying on us.And then there's that guy who is playing with a new Nickon
800 series computer with camera attachment...

Tsk tsk

I'm curious about how you were metering the pictures? Spot? Matrix? And were you using any in camera exposure compensation?

While I am a fan of the most recent generation of Adobe raw converter (I use it in Lightroom, but if I'm not mistaken, it's functionally identical to ACR), I do like Nik for B&W conversion. And it's a lot cheaper than CS6...

The photo of the church is killing me; I can see exactly where I would stand (a couple of hundred feet to your front-right) to take an abstract that includes only the roof, the windows, and the tree shadow. I bet I'd love that photo if I were there to take it. (Not to criticize your photo, which I like just fine; it's just not the photo I'd take. Of course, you're better than me, so maybe I shoud shut the hell up...)

Have you considered the D600? All the sensor goodness of the D800 (according to DxO) for $900 less. Of course, you'd be giving up some pixels.

3rded on Lightroom 4 / PS6. Very good for B&W film scans too!

As much as I always fight with DR, these pictures tell me nothing. I think I must experience the DR of a camera myself to form an opinion about it.

But I *do* love the "Nobama" picture, both content-wise and visually. To somebody from Europe, this looks just prototypically American. Nobody around here would put up political signs in their front lawn, unless it is a very local issue, *directly* and strongly relevant to their personal lives.

Also, of course, reminds me of Walker Evans' sign pictures.

But the clouds were pretty this time

If you like clouds...


Some really nice B&W photos here, Mike. I especially like the last two.

For me, most modern cameras are suffificient for good B&W. For all intents and purposes other than absolute resolution, an OM-D E-M5 at ISO 200 will produce files of equal image quality - noise, dynamic range, tonal range, etc - to that of a D800E at ISO 800. DxOmark shows this, and I've observed it to be true.

My satisfaction with digital B&W took a big leap with Lightroom 4. Somehow the Adobe folks managed to put about a stop of highlight headroom out of the ether. It's well worth going back to some old favorite raw files to re-develop using the 2012 Adobe process.

I agree with Steve L. above who encourages you to experiment with Adobe Process 2012 which is in the new ACR as well as Lightroom 4. The new process version is a *dramatic* improvement. How dramatic? -- I stopped using Nik Silver Efex for B&W after Lightroom 4 came out. LR4 is (ahem) sufficient.

If you have saved your .NEF files you could download a trial version of Lightroom to make a comparison. It's also a lot cheaper than a new CS6.

I'd point out here that cameras may utilize the same sensor but use different processing software for reading an image from that sensor into a RAW file. I understand the D7000 and K5 use the same sensor but they are not interchangeable cameras. Same scenario here with the D800 cameras.

Also, the comment posted about these B&W shots looking Verichrome Pan-like caught my eye. Perhaps I now understand the goal many folks have for B&W digital in that they want a very controlled contrast range in RAW files so as to open up the greatest number of options for post processing. Granted, there are still real world limitations in sensor dynamic range but aren't we just talking about software at this point? I've thought for some time now that HDR will soon be done in camera with one shot, and there are some cameras now offering a pseudo-HDR option. It should certainly be easier to discard unwanted dynamic range in post processing than to add it.

"I'm curious about how you were metering the pictures? Spot? Matrix?"

Matrix, mostly. Spot a few times. This camera (either the D800E or this particular sample of it) has a distinct tendency to overexpose.


Zack Arias has some information (and a youtube video) about black-and-white conversions over at his Q&A blog:


Thanks for these test shots. You have a couple of really nice images here and the quality certainly is quite impressive.

As a regular reader, I know that you write a lot about tonality and have been generally dissatisfied with digital B&W conversions. Do you think you could do a comparison of these D800E shots that you find sufficient, and some conversions from other cameras with which you've been unhappy? As an educational exercise, it would be interesting to see examples of "sufficient" vs. "insufficient" tonalities and tonal gradations.


"I would do an instructional post about conversion, except that I feel I'm just not an expert and have no business explaining it to anyone."

I would like to read that post. Most b&w conversion tutorials seem pretty prescriptive, with little explanation of how the settings chosen work. An article from a smart guy who likes to fiddle with settings and can explain what effects he's trying to produce with the fiddling could be very educational.

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