Nikon D800e - an experiment

Photo of a jungle trekker in Thailand

Every so often one has to undertake an experiment. One has to try something that goes against normal logic just to see if one is wrong. Or more correctly, if there is a better way to achieve something that you have not yet figured out.

I have done quite a lot of experimenting these past couple of years, especially with building DSLR camera traps. Experimenting is expensive! But you learn things, and you get to refine your experiments based on your results and hopefully that will lead, eventually, to getting a shot you are pleased with. A shot that took planning and perseverance but at the end of the day you get to think- that was worth it. It cost me an arm and a leg but it was worth it.

I am about to undertake just such an experiment. Standard macro photography logic states that if you shoot Nikon (note: Canon has the MP-E 65 lens which defeats all Nikon macro logic) then you need to use a cropped sensor (AP-C) camera to get that additional reach of approx 1.5x the full frame equivalent. I am a great believer in this logic. I use "cropped frame" cameras (currently the d7000) to get this additional "reach" in macro photography because I like to see macro shots at more than a 1:1 ratio. Macro shots above this ratio can be truely beautiful but I like to see shots that show me the micro detail in macro subjects (mainly insects for me). At the end of the day I am a nature lover rather than a photographer and seeing macro subjects in full "resolution" is my aim. Viewing sights that I cannot see with mine own eyes is what I aim to capture.

But I have suffered! Nikon's d7000 is a fantastic little camera and it came into my hands after the excesses of much more expensive machines such as the D2x and D3. The d7000 was a revelation as it offered great image quality, a very usable 400 ISO to aid exposure, leeway to crop with its 16 megapixel files and fantastic lightness for yomping around the forest with (try a 20 km yomp with a D3!). It was not without issues as I was attempting to use it in conditions, i.e. wet sub-tropical forests, that it was not designed to operate in. I lost two d7000 cameras in a year to those conditions but still purchased a third! I yearn for a "d7000/D300" replacement with a 24 MP AP-C sensor and a pro-semi pro body - but it has not come to pass. Yet? I still live in hope as I have so much invested in Nikon lens' that a change of camera manufacturer is not something I would consider. Even though the Canon MP-E 65 is a serious pull. 

So what has this to do with an experiment you ask? What have the ramblings of a frustrated aging macro photographer got to do with the title of the post? Well, Khun Suthida at Sunny Camera Silom (whom I buy all of my cameras and lens from because of their fantastic after sales service and support) has been able to get me one the new D800e units a few days early which is going to enable me to do my proposed experiment as I have a couple of days in the forest this week.

I am going to go against everything logic tells me as an insect macro photographer. I am going to ignore that the D800's 36 MP full frame pixel count gives me less, yes that is not a typo - LESS, effective MP than the d7000 for macro. A d800 will give me a tad less usable MP than the d7000 image, taking into account the crop sensor calculation (1.5 x 1.5 / 36 = 16 MP versus 16.2 MP). Against all macro logic I have bought the d800e body and a Nikon TC-20E III teleconvertor to see if I can use the D800e' superior ISO performance and 36 MP sensor to produce macro images of small subjects "better" than my preferred cropped sensor camera, with my existing lens selection (Nikon 105 Macro, Nikon 70-180 Macro, Nikon 200 Macro) 

It will, be a very expensive experiment. But its an experiment I need to make to see if I can improve my macro pictures on a technical level. What will I discover? Will I have made a very expensive error or will I have found a new avenue forward for my own macro photography? Check out the forum to find out my rambling thoughts. 


Photo of an insect nymph in Thailand

 Can the d800e match the macro photographic capabilities of the d7000?


Log in to comment

trekker's Avatar
trekker replied the topic: #564 03 Oct 2012 22:33
Here we go......

trekker's Avatar
trekker replied the topic: #566 09 Oct 2012 13:53
Well I did not pick a good time to try and spend a long weekend doing macro photography did I! Tropical storm Gaemi blew away the 3rd, 4th days and 5th of the five days testing with heavy cloud coverage and incessant rain making finding insects virtually impossible and insect photography a waste of time. Indeed I returned to Bangkok on day 4 as it was obvious at that point it was going to be a waste of time.

The conditions were not right. So my test is going to have to be over a few weekends and I will do the write up in a diary format with a conclusion at the end.
trekker's Avatar
trekker replied the topic: #567 09 Oct 2012 14:12
Note : this is not a general photography technical test for the D800e (the internet is full of those), this is a test based on my own methods for conducting field macro insect photography - only field macro insect photography nothing else. Therefore the results and what will be my ultimate conclusions are in direct relation to comparing the use of the D7000 and the D800e for field insect macro photography.

Day 1 Field

Day 1 was taken up on a picturesque forest river stream on a limestone base in Suphanburi. Insects were in short supply but the weather was good.

To start the testing I decided to start safely and used the 105 macro with a 1.4 tele convertor. This would give me the same magnification (more or less) as the D7000 with the Nikon 105 and therefore allow me to draw some quick conclusions.

The camera was used handheld, no tripod. The ISO was set at 400 throughout.

1) The D800e, 105, 1.4x setup was, obviously, heavier than the equivalent D7000 plus 105 macro setup but it was not a hindrance and the setup felt good in the hands. (draw)

2) The autofocus was quick and responsive but did not yield any great advantages over the d7000 setup. (draw)

3) Viewfinder is bigger and brighter on the d800 (d800 winner)

4) Reviewing the shots on the D800 camera LCD brought a big grin to my face. Sharper and clearer (d800 winner)

5) By the end of the day the added weight was causing a little bit of shake. (D7000 winner)

Day 1 On a computer

Back at the hotel and downloaded the files to a laptop and am viewing them full screen in Aperture.

1) Wow, takes a lot longer to download the files to the computer, but we knew that anyway. Indeed when back home and putting the files into my iMAC to review, I was saddened to discover my 2008 iMAC cannot really handle the load well and will need to be replaced as soon as apple release a new model.

2) The difference in the DOF (depth of field) by adding in the 1.4x extender is marked. There is a much higher percentage of shots that don't work due to limited depth of field. (winner D7000)

3) Many shots that looked very sharp (zoomed in to the max on the screen) in the field on the cameras preview screen are not sharp. This is not a sharpness issue but a point of focus issue. It is more difficult to attain an accurate point of focus in the field. (winner D7000)

4) Reviewing all the results it is clear that the "keepers" ratio is seriously down. This is not in anyway due to poor performance of the D800e but due to the need to have excellent "technique" when using the camera as it will show up the smallest of flaws in your current technique. The D7000 is a much more forgiving camera on technique flaws. As this review is about field photography then the D7000 is a clear winner in this area because exceptional technique under field conditions in a tropical forest is not easy at best and is impractical in many situations. At the end of the day its about the photographs you succeed with not the ones you fail at. (D7000 winner)

5) Cropping in post-processing. Obviously a marked improvement is achieved in this area. My personal minimum for cropping is to have a resultant file that has a MINIMUM of 9 MP. Its quite shocking how much you can crop away on the D800 image and still have over 9MP left. (D800 winner)

6) The review screen on the D7000 is nearer the truth for focus accuracy, when viewed in the field, than that the D800. (winner D7000)

"Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius." > Edward O. Wilson

"An understanding of the Natural World and whats in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfillment." > Sir David Attenborough

“Climb up on some hill at sunrise.  Everybody needs perspective once in a while, and you’ll find it there.” > Robb Sagendorph


Please publish modules in offcanvas position.