Nikon D800 vs Nikon D800E – Choosing The Right One

In a strange twist for a camera manufacturer, Nikon announced two different models of the new Nikon D800 full-frame DSLR, much to the confusion of many. While it's common for other consumer electronics items like a television or phone to have options, the offering of two nearly identical products from a camera maker is a little unusual, especially right at the launch and for worldwide release.

Enter the Nikon D800 and it's evil twin brother, the slightly more brilliant but “high maintenance” Nikon D800E.

So, which model of the Nikon D800 is right for you? I'll give you the answer after the jump. 

The Difference Between the D800 and D800E

Almost all DSLRs feature what's called a low pass filter at the sensor level that effectively blurs very fine resolution. The only difference between the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D800E is the fact that the D800E effectively has its anti-aliasing filter removed*.

The reason for this blurring is that for one, the very small degree of blur is almost imperceptible, and two, this blurring reduces a phenomenon called moiré.

Camera manufacturers have generally decided that for consumers, a reduction in moiré is more beneficial than extra pixel-level sharpness.

* More specfically, the D800 does feature two low pass filters, but that these two filters effectively cancel each other out. Removing the low pass filter entirely would have required changing the sensor design, so this “double negative” effect is necessary for manufacturing purposes.

Moiré & Resolution

Nikon has released their own comparison images to show the differences in resolution and moiré. Here are two of the samples – click through these images for the full-res, 100% crops.

Of course, the display of the moiré shows a pretty extreme example, but it's important to note that the D800E sample is uncorrected. In other words, it's a worst-case scenario in terms of color moiré, but at the same time you can see the increased sharpness as the metallic threads on the red cloth are resolving into single-pixel details.

To learn more about moiré, read my article on Understanding Moiré in Digital Photography.

Why You Shouldn't Worry About Moiré With the D800E

If you're a photographer who shoots in RAW and individually processes your image files for maximum quality, you will love the D800E.

In the rare instances that moiré does show up, it's possible to greatly reduce the artifacts and effects with proper processing, if not eliminate them entirely. Adobe Lightroom 4's new moiré reduction setting via the adjustment brush works extremely well.

Moreover, the same applications and photographythat will benefit most from the advantage in resolution the D800E possesses are the same ones that will allow for the minimization of moiré to begin with. If you're shooting product, studio or architectural photography with the highest resolution lenses capable of producing horrible moiré, you should also be best equipped to eliminate artifacts through careful technique and processing.

Of course, if you already know how the D800E will benefit your photography, you're probably not worried about moiré or other weird artifacts anyway.

Who Should Get The Nikon D800E

If you shoot the following, I'd consider getting the Nikon D800E over the vanilla D800.

  • Nature & Landscape
  • Product
  • Studio Portrait & Fashion (with careful image review via tethering)
  • Pixel Peepers

In other words, if you're shooting stopped down and/or on a tripod and squeezing your lenses for everything they an deliver, the D800E is probably your kind of camera. If you're shooting with Nikon's own f/2.8 or new f/1.8 or f/1.8 primes and stopping down to f/8, the D800E is probably your kind of camera.

If you are a professional screen door photographer or shoot in JPG, the D800E is probably not your kind of camera.

Why You Should Probably Get The D800 Anyway

All that said advocating the D800E, it's not the camera for most photographers. The truth is that while it's almost mindbogglingly awesome that Nikon has given consumers the choice between the two models of the Nikon D800, it's also almost unnecessary.

Almost all users will be best served by going with the standard version of the Nikon D800. The D800E is a niche product with the appropriate price premium. While it will render higher resolution, the D800E doesn't do so without caveats – and the extra detail is at a point of diminishing returns.

Unless you're  making images under optimal shooting conditions (tripod, apertures sweet spot, etc) with very high quality glass, you're not likely to need to worry about the marginal increase in image detail that the D800E renders. Moreover, unless you're actually making large prints or making extreme crops (and not just looking at RAW files at 100% on your computer display), you're not really going to see any advantage in the D800E.

The higher image quality, while very real, only comes into practical effect in a limited range of applications and technical constraints. This true for any camera, but especially with a high resolution camera like the 36-megapixel D800.

Moreover, anyone who isn't shooting a Nikon D3x or similarly high-megapixel camera is going to be blown away by the resolution of the D800, anti-aliasing filter or not. And if you're not blown away, you should probably think about shooting digital medium format.

At the end of the day, the vast majority of photographers would be better served saving the $300 premium on the D800E and putting that money toward a great tripod or a plane ticket somewhere photogenic.

Summary

The stock D800's sharpness and resolution – which at 36mp is considerable – will serve 99% of all consumers, all at a lower price point. But here's the real test: If you even have to ask yourself if you'd put the D800E's special sauce to use, you should probably just get the D800.

Where to Buy The Nikon D800:

Where to Buy The Nikon D800E:
  • Nikon D800E at BHPhotoVideo.com
  • Nikon D800E at Amazon.com

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
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