Nikon D800e - an experiment

02 Oct 2012 05:00 - 01 Jan 2013 12:40 #563 by

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?


Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

03 Oct 2012 22:33 #564 by trekker
Replied by trekker on topic Re: Nikon D800e - an experiment
Here we go......


Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

09 Oct 2012 13:53 - 09 Oct 2012 15:31 #566 by trekker
Replied by trekker on topic Re: Nikon D800e - an experiment
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.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

09 Oct 2012 14:12 - 07 May 2013 09:37 #567 by trekker
Replied by trekker on topic Re: Nikon D800e - an experiment
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)

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

09 Oct 2012 15:16 - 09 Oct 2012 15:36 #568 by trekker
Replied by trekker on topic Re: Nikon D800e - an experiment
Day 2

Day 2 was a different situation and the camera was used in a very specific situation to photograph the famous Shocking Pink Dragon Millipede on the top of a limestone karst in Uthai Thani. As the millipede is about 1 inch long and therefore larger than my more usual macro subjects it would allow the usage of the Nikon 105 without the need for an extender and two R1C1s. It would also involves a hell of a hike/climb so reducing weight was deemed important.

The conditions were dark forest floor with very little light getting in and reliance on autofocus and flash was paramount.

1) The additional weight was minimal and therefore not an issue at all (draw)

2) The autofocus, in such conditions, was not markedly different from the D7000, both failed quite often and failed to fully live up to the needs (draw)

3) Delays between the Autofocus System, the Flash Commander Sender and R1C1 Receivers have not been improved with the D800's flash commander over that of the D7000, both cause the same amount of maddening and frustrating delays that allow the arthropods to "make their escape" whilst you curse and keep pushing the shutter button to no avail. (draw)

4) To overcome item 3 I pulled further back to allow a little more light into the frame and pushed to ISO to 800. Again the ability of the D800 to be cropped in post production shone and has yielded results. (Winner D800)

5) Even when pulling back the reduced DOF (Depth of Field) that FX yields compared to DX, under comparable conditions, is an issue and keepers based on DOF issues were reduced again. (winner D7000)

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

14 Oct 2012 12:10 - 07 May 2013 09:38 #578 by trekker
Replied by trekker on topic Re: Nikon D800e - an experiment
Day 3

Day 3 was a day to grapple with the Nikon 200 mm Macro and the Nikon D800. The 200 is a difficult lens to use in the field, it requires lots of sun for high shutter speeds and a tripod but delivers exceptional bokeh under the right conditions. It was interesting day and one that has now brought me to an early conclusion.

1) You can handhold the 200 with the D800. Wow! Which gives you the option to handy carry the lens in the field (winner d800)

2) Pushing the ISO on the d800 allows you to use the 200 with a 2x extender (not the nikon though) which was unthinkable with the d7000. (winner d800). You have to have a tripod of course.

3) The d800's still cannot match the the d7000 for DOF but at the longer focal lengths (because you are further back) it is not so much of an issue (winner d7000)

4) The d800s ability to crop in post processing (due to the size of the file) is just AMAZING. Jaw dropping! A game changer (winner d800)

5) ...........but you have to get your technique worked out and your lens choice right (winner d7000)

So Day 3 has led me a conclusion already, it a very simple conclusion really. One I should have realized earlier......

Which is the better camera? The d800 of course - that's why it costs more. Which is the better camera for field macro - neither!

Yes, neither.

Using the Nikon d800 over these last few days has been a great experience, it has matched the d7000 in some areas, beaten it solidly in others but lost in a few as well. Knowing what I know now would I choose to upgrade to the d800 or stay with the d7000 for field macro? I would stay with the d7000. That is because working with the d800 has shown me it is an incredibly capable camera BUT for field macro if you could combine its strengths of high MP output files, big viewfinder, better ISO capabilities with the d7000 you would have a fantastic field macro camera. We need the strengths of both cameras combined into one.

From the D800 - the incredible advantages such a large sensor gives you in post production.
From the D7000 - the reach and DOF advantages of the cropped frame sensor.

The rumoured Nikon D400 is the camera we need. A minimum of a 24MP DX camera with a more robust body than the d7000 and a better viewfinder. The only question is - will Nikon make such a camera in the next year? If they do not then as insect macro photographers we can survive, and possibly thrive, in the full frame world but the pictures we could get from a d400 (even a d7000 upgrade) will make macro photography an all the more interesting undertaking.

Side notes

D800 or D800e? The Nikon D800e offers field macro togs no advantages at the smaller aperture size so save a bit of money and stick with the d800 - at f11 there's really no difference.

Extender. The Nikon 2x extender was only compatible with the Nikon 105 from my macro lens bag. I reverted to a kenko 2x for the Nikon 200 mm Macro test.

My initial computer problems were easily resolved and I am now processing the D800 on my macbook air laptop with the picture files on a USB3 external drive without any problems. My old iMac was simply too old for the journey.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

14 Oct 2012 18:12 - 14 Oct 2012 18:12 #580 by trekker
Replied by trekker on topic Re: Nikon D800e - an experiment
As well as the Assassin bug pictures which are already posted, here are some the photos taken during this field macro test with the d800e:

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

14 Oct 2012 18:14 #581 by trekker
Replied by trekker on topic Re: Nikon D800e - an experiment


Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

14 Oct 2012 18:18 #582 by trekker
Replied by trekker on topic Re: Nikon D800e - an experiment
pls note that on the finished files, not one of these images is less than 14 MP, but none are 36 MP.

Please Log in or Create an account to join the conversation.

"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.