Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Nikon D800 versus D800E – is the E version sharper?

Disclaimer: I am no expert on all things anti-aliasing, so take this with whatever truck-sized lump of salt you wish.

The D800 has been announced and looks to be a breath-taking entry in the full frame professional camera race. At 36Mp, it easily takes the resolution crown from Canon, and in fact it competes with some of the lesser medium format bodies out there.

And to top it off, Nikon went the extra mile and added a second model, designated the D800E, where the anti-aliasing (AA) filter has been removed. As most of you probably know, the AA filter is responsible for adding a slight blur in order to prevent artifacts such as unnecessary jaggies on diagonal edges and of course moiré, which introduces patterns and false color into an image where there is a repeating pattern that appoaches the Nyquist limits of resolution for the sensor.

Moire is easily adjusted for, of course, by changing the frequency of the pattern, which really just involves changing the magnification slightly. Of course, that might change perspective and so is a hassle. But, at these frequencies, I’ve seen speculation that the problem is going to be minimal with this camera.

So the real question is whether the extra acuity buys you anything.

Well, I’ve taken it upon myself to test this. has a side-by-side crop published that shows a scene with lots of small details in nature.

And I have a version of that with sharpening applied to both sides in order to try to equalize the details. I think I accomplished that, but there was a surprise in it for me …

Click on each to see the full-sized versions.

So the surprise … although I found that the detail was about the same, the actual sense of dimensionality on vertical the face of the rock is more pronounced. What this tells me is that the micro-contrast is superior for the D800E, which is exactly what we should be seeing I think.

Anyway, YMMV … but I am pretty sure that larger prints from the D800E of subjects with this sort of texture are going to give a stronger sense of “being there” and thus will be well worth the slight extra cost.

Note: I wonder if the D800E is internally different in any way other than the removal of the AA filter. Because technically, it should actually be cheaper since it has one less part Smile