I don’t often write about equipment, but in August I had a chance to test the Nikon D800E, and since it’s such a good camera for landscape photography I decided to share my thoughts about it. In terms of image quality, this camera is hard to beat unless you jump into the super-expensive realm of medium-format digital cameras.
There is, however, a new camera on the market that may prove to be a worthy competitor to the D800: the Sony A7r. This is a mirrorless camera with a 36-megapixel full-frame sensor. In fact it’s probably the exact same sensor that’s in the D800E, but in a smaller, lighter, and less-expensive package. DxO Mark rated the Sony sensor equal to the D800, and just a point below the D800E.
Unfortunately, hardly any lenses are available yet for this camera. As I write this I think only two lenses are shipping, a 35mm f/2.8, and a 55mm f/1.8, though more will be coming within the next six months or so. You can use Sony’s E-mount lenses for it’s NEX cameras with the A7r, but you’ll get serious vignetting. You can also buy adapters that will let you mount a variety of other lenses, including Zeiss, Nikon, Canon, and others. However, with most adapters you’ll lose the ability to autofocus (or if not, the performance will suffer), and possibly the automatic diaphragm as well. The D800 or D800E are still the best bets if you want a lot of megapixels with a great variety of fully-compatible lenses and accessories.
What about Canon? After two years, Canon has still not responded to the D800. We keep hearing rumors of a high-megapixel camera from Canon, but no actual announcements. Maybe Canon will never make a higher-resolution camera, as they seem to be focused on video performance rather than adding more megapixels. Most people don’t need 36 megapixels, but for landscape photographers who make big prints, resolution does matter, and it would be great to see a high-resolution camera from Canon soon.
— Michael Frye
Did you like this article? Click here to subscribe to this blog and get every new post delivered right to your inbox!
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom 5: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.
What about the Canon 5DIII?
Victor, the 5DIII is a great camera, but doesn’t have the resolution of the D800E, and the noise control is also better in the D800E. If you click the link and look at my D800E review you’ll see two noise comparisons between the D800E and 5DIII. As I say in that review, how much these pixel-peeping details matter to you depends on whether you make big prints, and how closely you look at them.
Thanks Michael, great article. I have a D800, and it’s a nice camera. However, just as I wouldn’t use just one wrench when working on a piece of machinery, I wouldn’t use one camera for all my photography. My primary camera remains my Chamonix 45-N1 (4×5), backed up my by my Nikon F6 and D800; I find each has advantages in specific circumstances (you would be surprised what you can pull out of 35mm Ektar).
Thanks Robert. I guess I would be very surprised at what you can pull out of 35mm Ektar. 🙂 Prints made from 35mm film look muddy, fuzzy, and grainy to me these days compared with prints from even 12 MP DSLRs.
Have you had a chance to check out the Nikon Df yet? I’m impressed so far but haven’t printed from it yet. Definitely not as many pixels but the resolution is nice.
Nancy, I haven’t had a chance to check out the Df, and probably won’t, as if I’m going to get another camera I’m looking at something with 30+ megapixels. Hope you like it.
I was torn between the D800 and D600, partially due to cost, but also working with RAW files from the D800 is going to chew up CPUs like candy 🙂 I don’t plan on blowing up images wall size so I went with D600. I figure tripoding the camera and using mirror lockup is going to produce some stunning detail from the D600.
Bob, the size of the D800 files is a consideration. On the other hand, you can see a difference in resolution between 20×24 prints made with a 20 MP camera and a 36 MP camera.
That’s only a problem for fellow photographers! We tend to get close to see the detail in photos where the general public view photos farther away 🙂
I have to believe that Canon will come up with a higher MP DSLR, but if they wait too long (or only make it available at a 1-series price point) they will eventually concede a part of the market that they previously owned.
The mirrorless Sony concept is very interesting, especially for landscape – since I virtually always shoot in live view mode when I do landscape on my Canon 5DII.
Dan, I think you’re right about Canon conceding a part of the market — they may have already done that. But maybe they’re not concerned about that small part of the market.
I’ll probably rent the A7r and try it out. I’ve never used a mirrorless camera, so I’m not sure how I would like it.
Michael, I got one of the first d800e’s when introduced. I love the camera and I wanted something close to medium format for landscape. It basically replaced my RB-67 gear. Three leaf shutter lenses and a tele-converter made for an aching back after being in the field for awhile. So, I’ve enjoyed the switch and carry a lot less weight.
However, just as a Ferrari is not a pick-up truck so to cameras fit different functions. I live in an urban environment (close to the countryside though) and find I like to do nature as well as street or urban photography and for this I much prefer a smaller unobtrusive camera that fits in your pocket. I’m currently using a Canon S100 (12mp) ISO of 80 and RAW capability and regularly make prints up to about 11×15 and they look great both in color and black and white.
I think as quality keeps improving in smaller cameras more and more photographers will opt for the smaller version in a lot of cases when they’re walking out the door, especially if mobility and weight are considerations.
Stephen, yes, a smaller camera is a great tool for street photography. A swiveling LCD screen is also a great asset when you want to be less intrusive. I’m sure that higher and higher quality sensors will be making their way into smaller and smaller cameras in the coming years. Now if they can just make the lenses smaller…
My wife and I have been Sony shooters for a long time and I love the EV. I can compose and focus, even with a 10-stop ND. And it’s great for reviewing shots as well. I don’t have to chimp anymore. That said, there is a real lack of lenses for the A7R. But Sony is going to come out with a new full-sized full frame camera (sounds like the same sensor) in Q1 that will use all of the Sony and Carl Zeiss lenses. And yes, everything I have read says that Sony is the maker of the Nikon’s sensor. Tough choices.
Kevin, I’ve never used an electronic viewfinder, but I’ll have to try one soon. I have a feeling I’ll miss an optical viewfinder though…