Tag Archives: D300

Q&A: Thoughts about Bodies and Lenses

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Since I have not been shooting anything for months,  a buddy of mine who still shoots sports has offered to trade D800 (used to be mine) and Nikon 105 2.8 and $3,000 for my D3, 24-70, and 70-200 VR II.  Value seems close but these lenses of mine are like new.  I probably would use D800 more, but wanted to get your thoughts if you have time.

A:  Not sure about the dollars – that’s your deal – but I think the D800 is a more flexible camera for someone not needing scary FPS.  You’ve had / used a D800, so you’ll know how it fits your shooting style.  Honestly most of what I shoot these days is with my D700, which is the same sensor as the D3.  I have gotten along very well, though, with the “enthusiast” bodies versus the pro bodies because I’ve never needed more than the 6 or 7 FPS they can give me (D700 / D300) and I can pull the battery pack off and have a more reasonable size / weight.

I do love the fact that I can I can easily switch the D800 to DX mode and have a 15+MP 1.5x crop factor body for birding, and still be able to see the view around the cropped frame in the viewfinder.  Sometimes I wish it were more than 4FPS, though, when shooting birds.

The video capabilities are good on the D800, though I have only shot maybe two clips since I’ve had it, and only then so I wouldn’t feel bad about never using a major feature.

I only have two issues with the D800.  One is the 4FPS I mentioned earlier.  The other is that for 95% of what I shoot these days, 36MP is way too much.  I’ve tried shooting it at the lowest JPG setting, but at that point I might as well use the D700, since it’s faster and a little better in low light noise-wise.  That’s why I usually end up shooting the D700 for most family stuff.  I constantly fight with the amount of space all of my pictures take, and also how slow Aperture is when messing with 36MP RAW = 42MB files, especially when I might do a 3 or 5 frame exposure bracket for HDR and then may use a plug-in or Photoshop, which will end up taking up around 220MB per frame as a TIFF file.  A single shot can end up 1.5GB.  That’s completely out of hand.

If I had time to actually shoot fun stuff like landscapes / travel / etc., then I would use the D800 every time regardless of the file size. It’s just too awesome to have that kind of file size / quality / flexibility.  But most of what I shoot these days is perfectly fine in a 12MP JPG.  You may be in the same situation.

My bigger thought about your decision would be about the lenses.  Since lenses are much more enduring than bodies, and more important for the overall image, I’d pay much more attention there.  If I were to list the most important really good lenses someone should have for Nikon full frame, the 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 II would definitely be on the list.  If I already had those, then I wouldn’t get rid of them.  And unless you’re a macro shooter or shoot stills or portraits of people with very good skin, the 105/2.8 isn’t that useful a lens, regardless of how good a lens it is.

If I were me, I would hang onto the 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 II, regardless of what I did with other lenses and the bodies.

Currently my list of best mainstream lenses for the ultimate kit is:  14-24/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8 II.  I add the 16-35/4 since you can use filters with it.  If you’re into primes, then you add the 24/1.4, 35/1.4, 50/1.4, and 85/1.4 AFS lenses.  And I add the 300/2.8VR with the TC-14EII and TC-20EIII for birding.  The only question is for the 35/1.4, since the Sigma lens (amazingly) is purported to be even better.

So, I have worked toward getting all of those lenses, and once I’ve added them to the kit, I’ll keep them.  Regardless of the body I have at the time.

I know this is far more than you were looking for, but it was a chance to jot down my thoughts about body and lens choices.

Let me know what you decide to do!

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Q&A: Thoughts about D800 File Size

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  I know you mentioned that you were not using your D800 much due to file size, so I am curious what you think about what you have read on the D600 to date.  Due to work consuming a ton of time I have probably not taken 200 pictures with my D800, and since I do not see this changing anytime soon, I need to rethink how many cameras I need at this point so any thoughts would be appreciated.

A:  Are you considering replacing the D800 or augmenting it?

I’ve realized that I probably will keep my D700 for the reason you mention.  For family pictures around the house, the D700 is completely adequate and gives me 1/3 or less data to mess with, but still with great quality images.  Do you still have your D3?  Of course it’s faster, but otherwise similar file sizes, etc., to the D700.  Though I don’t love 50MB files, I do love knowing I’m sucking every bit of detail possible out of a scene, so I like the D800 where appropriate, and then use the D700 for other pics where I don’t need/want all the detail.

I’m going to get rid of my D300 whenever I have time.  At some point I’d like to replace my D200 IR body with a D700 converted to IR.  That would make me full frame across the board, and would allow me to get rid of a number of lenses.

I think the D600 is fine, but there’s not a whole lot of difference between 24MP and 36.  It would be nice to have a bit smaller body, and it does give you a slightly faster frame rate.  Otherwise, its interface isn’t quite as configurable button-wise, so I’m not sure I’d love it like I do the D800 and D700.

If you’re wanting to back down from leading edge capabilities, then a D600 would be a good general-purpose full-frame body.  Is that the direction you’re considering?

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D800 First Impressions Follow-up 2

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Jonathan — how are you liking the D800? Everything it’s cracked up to be?

A:  Really love it.  Up ’til now I didn’t think anything could outdo my D700.  But in most ways the D800 is substantially better.  There are four things I can think of that are negatives:

  • 36MP / 50MB file sizes (RAW) put a strain on every aspect of shooting.  Most lenses aren’t up for it.  1/3 the number of pics per CF card.  Three times the storage required.  And wow, Aperture takes forever to render the D800 frames, and doesn’t seem to have the right cache setup or something for such large images because going from frame to frame and then back again requires re-rendering every time.  And it can’t even have three frames viewed side-by-side and keep them all rendered.  It’s a real pain.
  • Battery life is lower.  Substantially fewer shots per charge than the D700 and D300.
  • Slower frame rate.  I really have gotten used to the faster frame rates of the D300 and D700 with the D3 battery in the grip.  The D800 feels very slow compared to them.  But on the other hand, the first issue above has caused me to take FAR fewer pictures.  A little like shooting film again…
  • Accessory cost.  For some reason Nikon is charging double for all the D800 accessories compared to all the previous models.  E.g., setting up a grip for the D800 with the premium battery / charger setup is over $1K!  D700 was half that.  Ridiculous.

My original thought was that it will easily replace both my D300 (birding, taking advantage of the crop factor for telephoto) and the D700 (everything else).  And it clearly does everything they do (with the above exceptions) and then some.  So pretty quickly I decided I should get a second body and ditch the others.  But  after living with it for a few more weeks, I’ve decided that 36MP makes it harder than expected to be an every day camera.  The sensor makes it unlikely that you could find a one lens kit that would make sense.  You end up having to carry multiple  larger, heavier lenses.  I’m going to Nepal in a few months and have a 7.5Kg limit for my entire pack, and I have yet to figure out a D800-based kit that will allow me to also take clothes.

Other than that, it’s a great, great camera.  The noise is great, the dynamic range is INCREDIBLE, AF seems very good, 2-axis level is much more useful, and the controls are much better.  I especially like the Liveview button and function on the D800.  As far as video goes, I have no idea.  Haven’t tried it yet.
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D800 First Impressions Follow-up

(This post is from an email conversation with a coworker. I thought the content might be useful for others.)

Q:  Are you shooting everything at the full 36.2 Mp or have you played with DX crop.  Im thinking with the DX crop you still get 15.3 Mp (more than the D3 or D700) and you get that effective 1.5x from the crop.

I guess you could just crop it in post, but seeing the frame full from the camera image also seems to make some sense, not to mention that it will significantly cut down on storage.

A:  Definitely using the DX crop often.  I have a button assigned to give me the option so I press that and rotate the dial between DX and FX (easily, w/o removing my eye from the viewfinder).  The screen shows a box around the DX image area when DX is selected.

That ability to switch easily and minimize the file size where appropriate is one of the big positives for me.  It has been available in the D700, etc., before, but only now does the resolution make it a viable option.  (Well, I guess it would have been OK with the D3X, but that’s a bit pricey.)  The D800 can be a souped up D700 for normal shooting, but also instantly become a replacement for the D300 (w/better resolution and noise) for birding, etc.

The sample image of the Warbler was in FX mode only because the thing was too close to get in the frame of the DX crop, so I quickly switched to FX and fit her in perfectly.  BTW, that’s a real improvement over the D300 for me.  And shooting in DX mode, you have the area around the crop indicator to help you know what’s just outside the frame and what may be on its way into the frame.  It’s a little like having the 200-400 zoom.  I can see a larger area to help with quick framing, and I can zoom out if need be by switching to FX.  (I remember shooting whales with you wishing I had your zoom’s flexibility to help quickly acquire the subject and then get tighter once I had it in the VF.  This gives me something close to that, at least to help get the subject in the VF more quickly.)

And the 15+MP is definitely a step up from the D300, both in resolution and quality of pixels.

I’m really concerned about the storage thing getting out of hand, so the DX option really helps there when I’m birding.

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D800 First Impressions – Part 1

I finally had a chance to shoot with my new D800 on Tuesday. (I decided to delay travel into the night so I could have some daylight.)  I was just glancing at some of the pics while on a call and found one that illustrates some characteristics of the D800.  I’ll post more next time about my general impressions of the camera, but this pic will answer a couple of important questions – at least for me.

This is a (female or juvenile) Black-Throated Green Warbler:

2012-04-03-14-44-12

The technical details are:

JPG – Fine – L, FX crop (36.2MP).  300mm/2.8 AF-S VR, TC-20E III (600mm), F11, 1/200, ISO 3200, Distance 7.25’
LE NR – Norm, Picture Control – Standard, Active D-Lighting – Auto, JPG Comp. – Optimal Quality
Processing in Aperture:  Mild sharpening, added Definition and Vibrancy, slight White Balance, Exposure +0.5

There are two important things to notice here.  First is the incredible detail possible with this body.  The Warbler was quite gregarious and often came closer to me than I could focus!  I had to keep moving away from her, and had to switch from DX (my default birding configuration) to FX to fit her in the frame.  (What a great option to have available vs. the D300!)  BTW, the DOF at that distance is about 0.2”, or less than a quarter of an inch.  Check out the area around the eye.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.01 PM

Screen grab of 100% view in Aperture.

Another note:  The 300/2.8 VR I w/TC-20E III would not be considered a super sharp combination.  After realizing how poor it is wide open (F/5.6), I’ve started shooting at F/11 to at least get acceptable sharpness.  Still it’s nothing close to the 500/4 (on my wish list) or the 600/4.  Bottom line, this is not the best you can get out of the D800!

Second, notice the noise.  This is an ISO 3200 shot, with exposure pushed another 1/2 stop in post!  There was no noise reduction except for what may have been done in camera.  (Not sure if there was any…)

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 9.31.28 PM

This is much cleaner than my D300 at 1600, and as good or better than my D700 at 3200!  Wow!  I may have found a replacement for both.  Unfortunately, that means I’ll likely end up buying another one so I can continue to have two bodies.

As I said, I’ll try to do another post ASAP to present other thoughts about the D800, including overall feel, battery life, frame rate, focusing speed, controls, and accessory costs.

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Shoot RAW, Reduce Noise?

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Shoot RAW and you’ll have less noise.  OK, you and I both know that among RAW’s many benefits over JPEG, lower noise isn’t one of them.  Or is it?  Well, yes and no.

Technically, the level of noise you see in a JPEG can (should) be exactly the same as RAW, depending on the RAW conversion, not on JPEG’s inherent noise.  But look at the following pictures, noticing specifically the decreasing noise levels between them:  (These are screen shots pulled out of Aperture, thus the red highlighting in a few places.)

Two stop underexposed, adjusted in post

Two stop underexposed, adjusted in post

One stop underexposed, adjusted in post

One stop underexposed, adjusted in post

Correct exposure

Indicated exposure, adjusted in post

(Technical note:  All three shots are identical in camera except for exposure.  All three RAW files were adjusted identically except for exposure and recovery.  D300 @ ISO 400.  1/2500@f/5.6, 1/1250@f/5.6, 1/640@f/5.6)

Due to the Heron’s bright white feathers, the first shot is the greatest exposure I could get by with without blowing them out.  It’s actually a 2 stop underexposure compared to what the meter suggested.  Then in Aperture I gave it one stop boost and brought back the highlights with recovery.  In effect, this is the best I could have done with a JPEG.  (In fact the shadows are better due to the greater dynamic range maintained in the RAW file.  JPEG would not have had the same amount of data available.)  Note the very noticeable noise in the background.  Also, note in the pupils (and in many of the other background areas not visible in the crop) you can see a lot of dark areas that are pure black.

The second shot was given an additional stop in the camera.  This is the correct exposure for most of the scene, with the white feathers being the major exception.  So, in Aperture I left the exposure flat and just dialed in the same amount of recovery as the first one to regain detail in the white feathers.  That couldn’t have been done with a JPEG, as there would have been no data available to help out the feathers.  Note the much lower noise levels.  Also, all of the dark areas have detail in them.

Finally, the third shot was exposed as the camera meter suggested, giving a one stop overexposure to the scene.  In Aperture I pulled back the exposure by one full stop and matched the same recovery setting of the other two pictures.  As expected this gives a near exact exposure match for the other two.  The 14-bit RAW file from the D300 sensor has plenty of headroom to handle the highlights which are blown out by 1.75 stops, so I am able to bring them back to be basically the same as in the other two exposures.  The real benefit here, though, is the further reduction in noise.  It looks pretty good!

So does RAW have less noise than JPEG?  No.  But it does give you the headroom to overexpose by one, one and a half, maybe even 2 stops and then pull the exposure back in post, effectively reducing the noise levels and increasing the amount and quality of the detail in your shadow areas.

Had I thought of it at the time I would have also shot this at ISO 200 to determine if the overexposed shot (final shot above) had lower noise than I would have gotten simply by reducing the ISO.  The difference seems more dramatic than the nearly invisible difference between ISO 200 and 400, so I think this is better, but I’ll have to try it out to be sure.

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