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Wetpixel D800 review

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Alex,

These are outstanding. Shows two things, a great photographer can probably take great photographs with any camera, and a great photographer can really show how awesome this camera really is.

What lens / dome setup did you shoot the over under with; can you tell us a bit about exposure etc?

Edited by loftus

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To finish on pixel sharpness. I made the point that our use of strobes is a major boon for getting the full 36MP worth of resolution out of the D800. But it does not mean that we can't get great resolution with available light too, with care.

 

This is a fire coral detail, no strobe, backlit by the sun:

post-713-0-84386300-1342870387_thumb.jpg

 

And here is a 100% crop, which shows good pixel level detail:

post-713-0-51768100-1342870420_thumb.jpg

 

To achieve its resolution the D800 has smaller pixels than other full frame cameras, yet tests on land show excellent noise performance. However one of the first things everyone said about the D800 files when they saw them on board is - "they are a bit noisy".

 

This is because we're used to judging noise in files by looking at them at 100% and quantifying the amount of speckles! But the 36MP has so much more resolution than other cameras that it does not make sense to look for noise at the pixel level - because most printing won't be using this pixel detail and the noise will disappear when the image is downsized (either by you or by the printer when it tries to put it on the paper).

 

I felt that the D800 showed a similar level of pixel noise underwater to the D7000 and therefore looks much worse than a D3 or D700. But this is not the fair test - because when down sampled to the resolution of the D3 or D700 it is actually better. I hope that makes sense.

 

One consequence of this as a D800 shooter is that by downsizing to hide noise you loose the crop-ability of the 36MP. But the plus is that you have the choice in post, which to sacrifice. And of course, you can do a bit of both. But you can't have low noise at high ISO and a full 36MP of goodness for crop-ability.

 

Detail and Noise

 

Here is an available light/Magic filter shot of the Giannis D wreck (Note that this is one of the few pictures here that I have done a bit of post on - although I have not applied noise reduction):

post-713-0-88765100-1342870148_thumb.jpg

 

Here are some crops - I am very impressed with the detail for an available light shot - where there is no strobe to help ensure the pixel level sharpness:

post-713-0-61160200-1342870187_thumb.jpg

 

But there is also plenty of noise in shadow areas:

post-713-0-64113700-1342870254_thumb.jpg

 

These are at ISO 320.

 

More to follow...

 

Alex

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To add to your point about pixel level sharpness; as I think many people have a hard time with this. The easiest way to demonstrate this is to compare what a 100% crop means when applied to images from cameras with different megapixels. If I take a picture with my D800 and then apply a 100% crop in photoshop, Aperture or Lightroom, the resulting small rectangle of the image is much smaller (about half the size) of the resulting rectangle if I take the identical picture with my D700. So a 100% crop with a a 36MP camera, you are magnifying the image much more than with a 12MP camera. To compare the actual identical part of the image the 36MP camera only has to be set to about a 50% crop. To use the film analogy, the 36MP camera is giving you much finer grain in any given image.

Here is what I mean: First a D800 100% crop in Aperture - look at the little window to the right that shows the proportion of the crop to the whole image, then the D700, see how much bigger the 100% crop is.

South%2520Africa%25201.jpg

 

South%2520Africa%25202.jpg

Edited by loftus

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Shadow Detail

 

A feature of the new Nikon files (both D800 and D4) than has attracted a lot of excitement is the amount of detail that can be lifted from shadows in post production. This is indeed very impressive, however I think enthusiasm needs to be constrained slightly for underwater pictures.

 

I know Adam and Keri have both posted very impressive examples of shadow lifting in underwater images - but both of their examples are available light shots. I am sure most people get this point - but someone asked me about this by email - so I think it is worth clarifying. I know Adam agrees on this.

 

Yes, you can open up shadows extensively on the D800. But in an underwater photo, if you didn't light the shadows with your strobe (hence why it is a shadow) then when you open it up you will get detail, but not much colour. In other words, this feature is great for available light shots, but doesn't mean you should go around under exposing everything with the D800!

 

The second problem I have found with the technique is that with an underwater picture if you colour correct and open up shadows on the same file it gets very noisy, very quickly.

 

This is an unprocessed shot of a dark, high dynamic range scene, inside the same wreck as above:

post-713-0-80318000-1342871103_thumb.jpg

 

This is the same scene, different file, with the shadows opened up extensively and some colour correction:

post-713-0-91669500-1342871181_thumb.jpg

 

Viewed at 100% it is pretty ugly (ISO 320):

post-713-0-57006600-1342871231_thumb.jpg

 

For this reason I still think there is a need for shooting HDR for these scenes. This is a post processed HDR (just a quick one with JPGs), but produces a much cleaner result (I don't have a 100% crop of this):

post-713-0-85945400-1342871309_thumb.jpg

 

OK, final bit on pixel peeping. Resolution and Diffraction.

 

I have never felt that diffraction has been significant in underwater pictures before, but I do with the D800. AFAI understand, the D7000 and 7D should show more as they have more densely packed pixels, but I see it in the D800 files, but not in the other cameras. I am not sure why.

 

Here is an example shooting a macro coral detail. This type of shot needs the lens stopped down so that everything is sharp. Even at this low resolution, f/13 is too open and you can see the top of the frame is out of focus - f/25 looks great - plenty of depth of field:

post-713-0-36835100-1342871552_thumb.jpg

 

However, stopping the lens down does loose us detail due to diffraction (note this is a real world test, not controlled conditions) - at 100% I definitely see a fall off of detail above f/16-f/20, f/29 and f/45 definitely soft:

post-713-0-45908000-1342871748_thumb.jpg

 

These were shot with 105mm. No dioptres.

 

So for macro you do have to be very careful on stopping down if you want to achieve ultimate resolution. Going above f/22 is clearly softening the detail at 36MP.

 

Alex

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As a fun aside - I need a break from all this thinking and typing.

 

When shooting the backlit fire coral (backlit by the sun) I decided I wanted a black background. But there wasn't one I could frame against. So I took off my fin and held that behind the coral! However my arms weren't long enough to back away and get the composition I used before - so in the end it didn't work. It must have looked funny, though.

 

post-713-0-17157800-1342871987_thumb.jpg

 

Alex

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Alex,

It will be interesting to compare diffraction quality drop off looking at equivalent magnification as I just mentioned above. 100% with 12 or 16MP is not enlarged as much as 100% with 36MP

Edited by loftus

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Sunbursts.

 

Or the white ball of death, as they are know to some photographers. The D800 is the best digital camera I have used for shooting sunbursts. But in all honesty I found it only a small improvement over the D7000. In fact on some of the dives, photographers on the workshop shooting with D7000s, as it happens, were definitely getting equal or better sunbursts than I was with the D800.

 

I think in controlled conditions the D800 would always win. But the sea isn't controlled conditions and my point is that I don't think the D800 is revolution in this regard. I think conditions (and more importantly photographers making the most of them) still play the dominant role in capturing a great digital sunburst and this is a much bigger differentiator than the difference between the modern Nikons.

 

Here is a lovely sun taken with the D800:

post-713-0-27621900-1342873127_thumb.jpg

 

And with a green turtle:

post-713-0-09978200-1342873164_thumb.jpg

 

And here are some when you (me) don't get it right. Not particularly ugly, just detracting from the picture, rather than enhancing (and if it not enhancing, then why is it in the frame?):

post-713-0-11971700-1342873241_thumb.jpg

 

And other poorly put together shot results in an ugly sun - showing you (I) still need discipline to get a good sunburst with the D800:

post-713-0-46507700-1342873287_thumb.jpg

 

More to follow - I want to talk about the NA-D800 and domes and wide angle with D800/FX

 

Alex

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To have a break from the tech-talk, I'll talk a bit about the Nauticam NA-D800, which Adam also lent me. But I should thank Nauticam UK for fitting an additional bulkhead so that I could use my electronically synched strobes. I actually used both Subtronic Alphas (electronic synch) and Inon Z240s (fibre synch) with the D800 in the Red Sea.

 

I've not seen any other brand of housings yet for the D800 in the flesh. But I see from Wetpixel and other places that Ikelite, Nexus, Seacam, Aquatica, Isotta, Sea & Sea and Hugyfot housings are out there now, and I hear the Subal is due this coming week or the one after. But a month ago the Nauticam was the only option open to me.

 

And I have to say I was very, very impressed. Ergonomically this is one the best housings I have ever used for any camera - we'll have to wait to try more of its direct competitors to see how it stacks up against the latest offerings from the manufacturer's listed above.

 

post-713-0-84647900-1342881544_thumb.jpg

 

Nauticam have put so much effort into the design and it really shows underwater. The primary controls of shutter, shutter speed and aperture (these front and rear command dials are also used for scrolling through). The aperture (above) and shutter speed controls (below) fall right under your fingers/thumb and the design of the dials mean that they can be easily adjusted with a single finger and without taking your eye from the viewfinder. Few housings get them as right as this.

 

post-713-0-24026800-1342881582_thumb.jpg

 

The ease of access to these controls makes all the difference when shooting, allowing fast changes to be made to the settings so that no opportunities are missed. I inadvertently took a perfect example to show this, which I only discovered when talking about the settings I was using during the workshop.

 

Below are three consecutive photos of schooling snappers that I took as I drifted under the school in the current. As an almost automatic/instinctive reaction I shut down my aperture as I drifted closer and closer to the school to compensate for the shorter strobe to subject distance and also the more upward camera angle that I was now using, thus getting in more of the bright surface. I certainly didn't think about this before hand, it was just a trained response, I suppose. Just 5 seconds elapsed between the first shot and the third.

But the important point is that the design of the Nauticam housing allowed me to do this without having to stop or take my eye from the viewfinder. To achieve this, a housing needs shutter speed and aperture dials that can be rotated easily with a single finger (not ones that need a thumb and finger - which mean taking your hand off the shutter release). For me this is the mark of a very well designed housing.

 

post-713-0-00043800-1342881973_thumb.jpg

post-713-0-78030500-1342881997_thumb.jpg

post-713-0-07646600-1342882037_thumb.jpg

 

The feature that impressed me most on the NA-D800, though, is the new multi-selector - used for positioning the focus point in the frame and for navigating menus etc. This feature is incredibly intuitive and easy to use, indeed it is just a scaled up version of the one on the back of the camera and can be easily reached from the handle.

 

post-713-0-34999200-1342882296_thumb.jpg

 

This is rte ally great for macro and the ease of use of this feature on the NA-D800 meant I found myself encouraged to move the focus point around the frame, much more than I would always be bothered to before. Giving me exactly the composition I wanted, with the focus precisely where it needed to be. Here I moved the focus point to be exactly on the left-side (as we look) rhinophore.

 

post-713-0-18997000-1342882857_thumb.jpg

 

As with the NA-D4 I reviewed, I also really like the ears - the pair of paddles on the top corners of the back of the housing, where important controls are placed and are easily reached with your thumbs.

 

post-713-0-20430700-1342882446_thumb.jpg

 

Perhaps the one change I would make is not to have the ISO here on the D800, as I certainly didn't feel as inclined to want to change ISO as freely on the D800 as I do on the D4. Although that may just be me needing to get used to the fact that although the D800 clearly shows noise as ISO is increased, it is not significant when you think of print sizes rather than viewing the file at 100%. Anyway I would prefer to see the INFO on one of these levers. The INFO button is hard to locate on the back of the DN-D800 without looking, and it is easy to press the live view button instead. The INFO button is important on Nauticams because they typically do not have a screen for the top LCD panel, and you cannot over turn the on/off switch to bring up INFO that way.

 

post-713-0-96773200-1342882724_thumb.jpg

 

However, when discussing this with Adam, he pointed out that as a video shooting you are much more likely to change ISO all the time (often as your main exposure control, to avoid changing depth of field or loosing that all important rolling shutter look) and therefore Nauticam choosing to prioritise the ISO control does make a lot of sense.

 

I am wracking my brains for some negatives on this really well designed housing. Drew's post earlier in this thread pointed out some minor rusting issues, although Adam's housing, although scuffed, showed no signs of this. And I guess, much as a praise the ergonomic quality of the Nauticam, they do have a complex engineering style (compare the insides with the Seacam D800, Steve Frink has posted pictures of), and this does make me a little nervous for reliability. That said Nauticam dealers have a very strong reputation for immediately fixing any problems that come up. And not that I had any problems at all on my trip.

 

Complex doesn't equal less reliable and running workshops I have seen every single housing brand there is go wrong or break in one way or another.

 

The housing performed faultless for me. For a week! Of course most users plan a rather longer ownership. And it was in fact that D800 that was a little buggy. I did have a recurring problem with the camera. From time to time, after taking a picture, it would take 20-30 seconds for the D800 to show the picture on the LCD screen. It would occur when taking the first picture after the camera had been in active for a while. It could be a bit annoying when you wanted to check exposures/lighting on the first shot in a sequence. But was not of serious consequence. One other D800 owner on board said his camera did this too. Maybe the latest firmware fixes this problem.

 

Alex

 

OK, I'll do the dome bit now...

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Long lunch.......

 

I had to cook and eat it. Plus I didn't even watch the F1 qualifying from Germany!

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Domes And Lenses For FX

For the last couple of months I have invariably had at least one email or Facebook message each day asking me one or two questions. Should I get a D800 and what wide angle lenses do I need. In fact I have had two today. One while writing this. The short answers are:

 

Yes, probably. And Sigma 15mm and Nikon 16-35mm.

 

Just for completeness, the lenses I used in the Red Sea were:

Sigma 15mm, Nikon 16mm, Nikon 16-35mm, Nikon 105mm and Nikon 105mm with Nikon AF-S TC 2 III.

 

Don't think about using Kenko teleconverters and 10-17mm on the D800. Of course they will work - and the pictures will look great on the web, but you'll be a long way from realising those 36MP and you might as well have stuck with your old camera in that case.

 

To get the most out of the D800 you need to invest in quality lenses and quality domes. Fail to do so will again mean that your pictures will still come out, they will still look great on the web, but you won't realise the full potential of the 36MP and you might as well have stuck with your old camera.

 

The downside of this is that it probably means a big heavy dome, which is expensive and a pain to travel with. I used the Zen 230 on this trip and I recommend this dome - or a close to identical one from your manufacturer.

 

If you only plan to shoot fisheye, you can get away with a smaller dome, but not too small.

 

Here are some fisheye examples from the D800. The first shot at f/8 of a wide scene with a fisheye and Zen 230 dome:

post-713-0-61160100-1342884138_thumb.jpg

 

It is not a memorable photo ( I mainly shot the schools at f/10-f/13, but this effect is more clearly demonstrated in shots at f/8), but it is sharp across the frame and detail is preserved in the corners - here is crop of the corner (not 100% at all), which again shows details:

post-713-0-24119600-1342884337_thumb.jpg

 

Now lets look at the mini dome (Zen 100) with the fisheye. Here is the same % of the frame crop showing the corner detail at f/8 - not how detail gets smudged out:

post-713-0-52991800-1342884437_thumb.jpg

 

Yes, I know this dome is brilliant on DX - and you sold your big dome - but if you want to get the most out of FX you need the big dome back!

 

There is more detail about this in the video below. But the take home message is if you want to get the most out of the D800 - invest in a large, quality dome. For more background on this watch my talk from DEMA last year:

[vimeo]32130591[/vimeo]

 

With a big dome you can shoot those big fisheye scenes without the need to stop down, such as when light is limited, on an early morning dive on the Thistlegorm, when the sun is on the stern:

post-713-0-17222400-1342884720_thumb.jpg

 

Alex

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Alex, I took a picture of the front of my house to compare D700 and D800. Alas, the weather changed the moment I took the first shot (D800). However, tell me if this amount of noise at ISO400 is what you would expect from the crop. I know it's difficult to make these judgements from compressed jpegs over the Internet. If the clouds clear, I'll do it on the D700. (15mm Sigma - my house has straight walls!)

 

Edit: I rushed out later and took another with the D700 while the lighting was similar although the sun had moved round. EBC files are on the D700.

 

 

Well, I think that proves it!

post-4197-0-48246800-1342884737_thumb.jpg

post-4197-0-12991500-1342884750_thumb.jpg

post-4197-0-00744800-1342886612_thumb.jpg

post-4197-0-93585800-1342886895_thumb.jpg

Edited by John Bantin
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That f/8 shot with the mini dome does not show the smudging that clearly. Here is another example, this time at f/9 - so should be less critical, but shows that smudging of corners is visible with mini dome even when viewing the whole frame:

 

post-713-0-48388000-1342884909_thumb.jpg

 

And a crop at the same scale as the others:

 

post-713-0-60789600-1342884926_thumb.jpg

 

And here is the f/8 corner crop from the big dome, which should be slightly worse from a lens point of view, but ends up better in the corners because of the big dome:

 

post-713-0-18840700-1342885200_thumb.jpg

 

I should make two further points on this.

1) this is a not a D800 issue but a FX/FF issue.

2) this does not mean that a mini-dome does not have a role. It does for certain types of shot, particularly when you are close to the subject and the lens can be stopped down. The spawning coral I posted earlier was an example.

 

But the important point, I think, is that unlike on a DX camera with the 10-17mm, you cannot use a mini-dome as your only dome on FX. Especially if you want to get the most out of the D800.

 

Alex

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Alex, I took a picture of the front of my house to compare D700 and D800. Alas, the weather changed the moment I took the first shot (D800). However, tell me if this amount of noise at ISO400 is what you would expect from the crop. I know it's difficult to make these judgements from compressed jpegs over the Internet. If the clouds clear, I'll do it on the D700. (15mm Sigma - my house has straight walls!)

 

Hi John,

 

Yep, that is about what I'd expect. Visible noise, but unintrusive. Both the new Nikon's I have tried D4 and D800 give noticeably more noise in underwater shots.

 

I'd expect your D700 to have much less detail but to be clean from speckles at ISO 400 and ISO 800 at a 100% crop.

 

But, of course, on the final printed page the D800 will throw away some of its detail and most of this noise and actually end up looking marginally better than the D700.

 

Alex

 

p.s. You have the Top Gear hard grad on!

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A quicky on autofocus. The D800 has great AF. I have shot 4 different D800s now and I don't feel that the AF is a good as the D4. I know that they are identical, but they don't seem so when I used them. I'd love to know what others think (Predrag - I hope you read this).

 

But before a mountain is made from a molehill, the D800 has great AF, at least as good as the D3.

 

And it is very hard to find a situation underwater where it won't simply take everything in its stride. I see the difference shooting with telephotos on land. Here is a shot I took in Egypt with the D800 - in bright conditions and with a bird slowly flying alongside the live aboard - which was totally stationary and not moving. I got shots in the end, but I clearly felt the D800 didn't lock and track the birds anywhere near as easily as the D4. In fact I binned about half the pictures I shot immediately.

 

post-713-0-74416400-1342885951_thumb.jpg

 

Below are some more birds shot from a dive boat, this time a rib, bobbing about in the North Sea in England. Much less light for focusing, birds flying straight at the camera and with the D4 I just pointed and fired and it gobbled them all up.

 

post-713-0-98598700-1342886040_thumb.jpg

 

post-713-0-87464600-1342886058_thumb.jpg

 

But I would re-stress the point that you have to search far and wide to find a differentiating conditions underwater.

 

Like the D4 it is very good in low light and this allows us to use teleconverters easily with macro lenses. Good AF-S teleconverters, mind! The nudi further up was taken with the 105mm VR and AF-S 2x TC III.

It is worth noting that with big TCs you will loose some AF functions, such as 3D tracking when the fastest aperture is more than f5.6.

 

That said I still used fixed focus (AF-ON controlled) when shooting deep inside the wrecks as a focus light always shows up in the photos.

post-713-0-61238000-1342886269_thumb.jpg

 

Alex

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I had to cook and eat it. Plus I didn't even watch the F1 qualifying from Germany!

 

Dear Alex,

 

You missed the most thrilling and amazing 'wet' F1 qualifying in this season.

 

Edward

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I am off out now. Going to go and take some underwater pictures (with a D7000) rather than write about them!

 

Would like to say more about the 16-35mm versus the fisheye. Although the 16-35mm is arguably the worst of Nikon's three wide angle zooms (17-35mm, 14-24mm) it is, for me, clearly the best underwater behind a dome port. But with the resolution of the D800, you could just shoot fisheye and crop and distortion correct.

 

These are done the old fashioned way as straight shots - top one is 16-35mm, bottom one is fisheye (Nikon 16mm):

 

post-713-0-03775800-1342886542_thumb.jpg

 

post-713-0-98478600-1342886564_thumb.jpg

 

Alex

 

Dear Alex,

 

You missed the most thrilling and amazing 'wet' F1 qualifying in this season.

 

Edward

 

I know. But I am sure it will be on all the news here - with Ferrari and Fernando on pole - it might just come up once or twice on Italian TV.

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p.s. You have the Top Gear hard grad on!

 

I wasn't attempting to take an award-winning picture. (Do I ever?) I just cropped a bit of sky to reduce lens flare!

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I think with noise and the D800 we just have to re-calibrate what we consider acceptable. With a 12MP Nikon if there was noise visible at 100% in the file, it would be visible in a big (double page) print. In the D800 this is not the case. There has to be a lot of noise present at a 100% before it becomes relevant for the quality of the final product (the print).

 

Alex

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I think the Nauticam looks more complex than it really is. Particularly the back plate looks pretty complex at first glance, but then you realize all those connecting bars are really a simple and elegant way of transferring the position of the controls on the camera to a position that is more ergonomic on the housing, so yes there may be a few more parts, but it translates to a 'no compromise' approach to placement of the housing controls. Unfortunately I had limited use in South Africa, but I have been playing now in the pool, with a few shoots over the next month or two and I'm very pleased so far. My only complaint is the lack of bulkheads; I personally have little use for the fibre optic connections so would prefer to see these changed out or at least easily convertible to bulkheads for electronic connections.

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Unfortunately I had limited use in South Africa,

 

Yes well don't you wish you had 6-14fps on that fateful day! :)

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Sorry I've been diving all day. Amazing follow-up Alex and co. Love all of the images... the Grouper crop is unreal. Love it.

 

I'll keep thinking on my camera choice. I might go D7000 or just stick with the D700 and use my GoPro for video. Too many options.

 

Alexis

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I get a D800 and what wide angle lenses do I need? The short answers are:

 

Yes, probably. And Sigma 15mm and Nikon 16-35mm.

 

Phew!

 

And I've got the images to prove that the D800 is a mean 2.5 Megapixel camera with a teleconverter and a fisheye lens...

 

 

Tim

Edited by tdpriest

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