Nikon D800/D800E Autofocus Problems

There have been some discussions online about an autofocus problem with the new Nikon D800 and D800E bodies, and there’s been a fair amount of misinformation about this problem published as well. It’s not at all clear how many D800/D800Es have this problem, but I’ve confirmed that my D800E does. This post is to document the problem and to help others determine for themselves if their bodies suffer from this as well.

Here’s the problem: If you autofocus using the far-left autofocus point (and ONLY the far-left autofocus point) your image will be slightly out-of-focus. My tests are below.

First, here is the focus test pattern, shown as a scaled JPEG from the full-frame image. The patterns are placed carefully to align with the leftmost, center and rightmost autofocus points. This particular set of tests was done using Nikon’s 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom set at 48mm and f/2.8. I repeated the tests with a 24mm f/2.8 prime with virtually identical results, but not shown here.


The superimposed images below are crops of the center test pattern. For the “before” image, I focused on the center pattern manually using LiveView. For the “after” image I used regular (non-LiveView) autofocus selecting the center focus point. (It’s hard to see, but there’s a vertical line in the center of the image with a draggable handle near the middle of the chart. You can move the slider left and right to hide and reveal the images.) As you can see, the images are virtually identical. Autofocus using the center focus point is accurate.



The superimposed images below are crops of the left test pattern. For the “before” image, I focused on the left pattern manually using LiveView. For the “after” image I used regular (non-LiveView_ autofocus selecting the leftmost focus point. As you can see, autofocus using the leftmost autofocus point is off. This is 100% repeatable using a variety of lenses.




I called the Nikon Service Center about this. The representative was initially vague until I told him I’d run these tests and had the results available. He acknowledged the problem and told me it’s correctable. I asked him whether I should return the camera to the retailer from which I purchased it or send it to Nikon for  warranty service, and he recommended the latter. After all, there’s no guarantee a replacement wouldn’t have the same problem.

My new D800E is heading to Nikon tomorrow. Wish me luck!

Update 9/11/12: I didn’t get around to sending the D800E to Nikon in El Segundo, California, until 9/6/12, but Nikon’s online status page says Received 9/10/12. It’s now “In Shop” in Category B2: Moderate Repair: Major Parts Replace. The description of the problem includes “Optical Alignment”. It will be interesting to see what the actual fix turns out to be.

Update 9/17/12:  Got the D800E back from Nikon today, so 11 days door-to-door. The work order merely said “Adjusted Autofocus” so who knows what they did. I had to leave for a trip and didn’t have a chance to test it, but I’ll give a thorough report next week.

Update 10/4/12: The camera is back from Nikon. See Part 2 for the results.

Glossy and Lustre Papers for Color Images

Last year I posted a review of Labs and Papers for Black & White. At that time I was using outside labs for all my prints. Based on my ongoing frustration with the results, I decided to start making my own prints and purchased an Epson 3880 printer for the task. With advice from Martin Bailey and his great eBook, Making the Print, I focused on high-end fine-art matte papers. I’ll be posting reviews of many of these matte papers soon, but first I want to cover glossy papers.

Why am I using glossy papers, particularly after Martin convinced me to check out the matte papers? It started when I entered the above image into a local competition that was judged by printing guru Mark Lindsay. I entered a print on Breathing Color’s Optica One. Mark liked the image, but he bumped it down to second place because of the choice of paper. He noted it was a particularly sharp image with a fairly wide gamut, and that it really needed a high-gamut smooth glossy paper. He was absolutely right. My problem was that I had been so focused on matte papers, I’d been using them for everything. BC’s Optica One has a wide color gamut and  high d-max (ie, dense blacks), but as Mark explained, the range of what you can reproduce on glossy papers fundamentally exceeds what you can do with matte papers.

I ordered sample packages from five manufacturers. Yes, there are many others, and when I get a chance I intend to test a few more. But for now I used 19 gloss, satin and lustre papers from Breathing Color, Hahnemühle, Ilford, Red River and Epson. For these tests I printed two images, the one above and the one below. I chose the one below because it contains some extreme colors that are out-of-gamut for any paper.


For each paper I used the ICC profile provided by the paper manufacturer for my printer. I started with the full-gamut sRGB images, soft-proofed them in Lightroom 4, and adjusted the saturation to bring the images to be within gamut for each individual paper. In some cases I changed the exposure in order to best approximate the original.

Most important is that my judging of the results was entirely subjective. Yes, I checked for (but did not measure) the density of the blacks, detail in the highlights and shadows, and the accuracy of the colors. But I also just looked at the prints and decided which ones I liked best. Many of these papers are quite similar, particularly those from the same manufacturer. In an attempt to minimize arbitrary judgmental differences, I compared the papers blind (ie, unlabeled) four times, using each of the above images in two different lighting conditions. Luckily, when I was all done I discovered I’d been fairly consistent in my rankings. In all four comparison passes I chose the same papers as my favorites, although within the top four papers they were particularly close. Likewise, I was consistently disappointed with the bottom six or seven. In the middle of the rankings the order did change somewhat more from one judging pass to another. Of course these are my personal preferences and only for these two images, which are notably colorful, saturated, sharp and contrasty. What’s right for you and your images will likely be different, but I hope I can give you a good place to start in your search for the best glossy papers. Here are the results, in order of my preference.

  1. Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta ($81 per 50 8.5×11 sheets) is a gorgeous, heavy, very bright white paper with a fair amount of texture. The blacks are not the darkest, but the overall look is terrific. Visually, this is the best paper I tested. But it’s so expensive, I’m not likely to use it very often. (17×22 sheets cost $6.40 each.)
  2. Breathing Color Vibrance Gloss ($15) is a very close second, and is my favorite true glossy (ie, smooth) paper. It’s bright white and renders rich dark blacks. Best of all, it’s one of the least expensive papers I tested. This will likely become my most-used glossy paper. (17×22 sheets currently cost only $1.10 each, only 17% of Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta, a much heavier paper. It appears that BC is offering Vibrance Gloss for a discount. It’s not clear how long this will be the case or what the price will be after the discount period ends.)
  3. Ilford Gold Fibre Silk ($58) is a warm/ivory color with a smooth but not fully gloss surface. It has good (but not deep) blacks and reproduces warm colors (reds and yellows) particularly well. It’s reasonably expensive, but I expect to use this paper when I want a warmer look than what one normally expects from glossy papers. This paper is also terrific for b&w images, but that’s for another set of tests.
  4. Hahnemühle Baryta FB ($70) is a heavy paper with a light texture and appears to me to have an even wider color gamut than the first-place Hahnemühle Fine Art Baryta. Overall, however, I still prefer the other paper.
  5. Ilford Smooth Gloss ($27) is a lightweight paper with a classic smooth glossy finish and deep blacks. For my work, it’s just a notch below the BC Vibrance Gloss but nearly twice as expensive.
  6. Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta ($70) is a heavy paper with a light texture and good blacks. It has a warmer, more-ivory color than the Fine Art Baryta. By now you’ve probably figured out that the Hahnemühle Baryta papers are all pretty good. And expensive.
  7. Hahnemühle Fine Art Pearl ($81) is a wide-gamut medium-weight paper with a subdued lustre-like finish and a bright white color. The blacks aren’t particularly dark, however.
  8. Ilford Smooth Pearl ($25) is a lightweight lustre-finish paper with a very slightly warm/ivory color. I find its blacks to be a bit weak.
  9. Red River Arctic Polar Gloss ($28) is a bright white, lightweight glossy paper with deep blacks. The three Red River gloss papers are all quite similar, which is why they’re clumped together in my rankings. In fact, in one out of four passes I judged them in the reverse of this order. The color gamut of these papers appears to be narrower than BC’s Vibrance Gloss and nearly all the Hahnemühle papers.
  10. Red River Pecos River Gloss ($25) is very similar to RR’s Arctic Polar Gloss, just slightly warmer and less expensive.
  11. Red River Ultra Pro Gloss ($20) is again very similar to RR’s Arctic Polar Gloss but with a yet narrower gamut. It’s a good value, but still more expensive and (to my eye) not as nice as BC’s Vibrance Gloss.
  12. Breathing Color Vibrance Lustre ($15) has a typical lustre finish. Otherwise it’s virtually identical to BC’s Vibrance Gloss.
  13. Epson Ultra Premium Lustre ($28) is one of the most common papers. It’s lightweight, slightly warm, with strong blacks and a lustre finish.
  14. Hahnemühle Photo Rag Pearl ($86) is heavy with a slight warm/ivory color and a texture that’s smoother than lustre but not full glossy. It’s less contrasty and has lighter blacks than my preferred papers.
  15. Red River Arctic Polar Satin ($28) is a lightweight slightly warm paper with a finish that’s somewhere between gloss and lustre. The gamut isn’t as wide as most of the full-gloss papers, but the blacks are deep.
  16. Red River Ultrapro Satin ($20) is another lightweight RR satin paper. It’s the warmest of RR’s gloss-family papers, but still not as warm as, for example, BC’s Vibrance Rag. The color gamut is somewhat narrow and the blacks aren’t quite as deep as others.
  17. Epson Exhibition Fibre ($35) is a heavy paper with a lustre finish. To my eye, it’s a fairly low-contrast, bright white paper.
  18. Red River Arctic Polar Lustre ($42) is a bright-white medium-weight lustre paper. The color gamut is about as wide as RR’s Arctic Polar Gloss but the blacks are not quite as deep.
  19. Breathing Color Vibrance Rag ($57) is similar to BC’s Vibrance Lustre except that it’s a heavy paper with an ivory/warm color. The paper is not available in 8.5×11 but costs $111 for 25 sheets of 13×19 sheets.

Conclusions: I’ve settled on Breathing Color’s Vibrance Gloss as my everyday gloss paper. It’s one of my top picks regardless of price and is available now for nearly half the cost of Epson’s Ultra Premium Lustre, one of the most common papers. I’ve also purchased some large sheets of Hahnemühle’s Fine Art Baryta for situations that call for the very best.

If you’re interested in glossy, satin or lustre-finish papers I strongly suggest you buy sample packs from at least some of these manufacturers and run your own tests. My experiments are far from technically rigorous and my images probably don’t look anything like yours. Running your own tests is the only way to decide.

If you have the ability to make your own paper/printer ICC profiles rather than depend on those from the manufacturers, you may want to do so. For example, I found that using the profiles from Hahnemühle yielded prints consistently lighter than using manufacturer-supplied profiles for other papers. Although my monitor is calibrated, I don’t have a reflective spectrophotometer needed to read test charts on paper.

I also come at this with my own set of prejudices. For example, I just don’t like lustre papers. While they may be the most resistant to fingerprints (from which glossy papers suffer) and smudging (the curse of matte papers), I don’t like the way they scatter light. I prefer a smooth-finish matte paper or a smooth glossy. I was, however, impressed with some of the satin finishes. (If you do print on glossy or matte papers and expect your prints to be handled such as during competitions, I strongly recommend Hahnemühle Protective Spray.)

Finally, I found that the greatest variations are between the manufacturers. For example, within the Red River line of papers, I had a very difficult time reliably distinguishing Arctic Polar Gloss from Pecos River Gloss and Ultra Pro Gloss. The same is true among the Hahnemühle Baryta papers.

I hope this has been helpful as you explore the beauty of these great glossy papers.


Nikon D800E First Look

I’ve had the new Nikon D800E for less than a week, but already it’s proven to be everything I hoped for. Let’s begin by looking at a simple comparison to the also superb Nikon D3s. The following images were shot with a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 at 200mmm f/8 and 1/400 sec. The first image is scaled from the uncropped original from the D3s. Although the D800E’s sensor has more pixels, it’s the same size as the D3s (full 35mm frame equivalent) so both cameras have the same field of view. Yeah, I know it’s not an interesting shot. But I wanted to see how much detail I could capture a half-mile away.

The second split-screen image demonstrates the differences between the two sensors. (Click on the image to see it at 100%. You may need to maximize your browser window and perhaps zoom in. The image is 1920×1280 pixels.)

The first thing you’ll notice is that at 100% the D800E is simply larger, reflecting the difference between its 36.3mp sensor and the D3s’ 12.1mp. The result is a 73% larger image from the D800E assuming the same pixel density. How large? If you print an image from the D800E’s 7360×4912 sensor it will be larger than 30×20 inches at 240dpi, a standard density for prints. Put another way, you can crop to as small as 40% and still fill an 8×10 print at full scale.

Other than large prints and/or tight crops, what’s the benefit of the D800E? Take another look at the above image at full size. In the very center of each crop is some text in the shadows. At 100% you can nearly make out the name on the building in the D800E version. At 200% it’s easy to read. In the D3s version, you can’t read the name regardless of how much you enlarge the image. That’s the real difference between these cameras.

But this much detail does come at the cost of some very large files. For example, the RAW file (14-bit, lossless compression) from which the above D800E image was made is 48.1MB! When converted to a DNG file in Lightroom it shrinks slightly to 42.9MB. The uncompressed RAW files are a whopping 74.4MB. At that size, a 16GB CF card holds only 340 shots. (I just bought my first 64GB card.) When you start tweaking these images in Photoshop with layers and SmartObjects, your files get big quickly and certain compute-bound operations such as noise reduction are noticeably much slower than for the D3s’ far smaller files.

The two questions I’m asked most often are “Should I buy a D800?” and “Should I buy a D800 or a D800E?” I’ll start with the second question.

The only difference between them is that for an additional US$300 the “E” model doesn’t have the usual anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor. The advantage is a slight (and I mean really slight) improvement in detail. From other reviews I’ve studied, I wouldn’t expect to see any difference in the rather unscientific tests I performed above. The disadvantage is that you may see moire patterns when photographing images with fine repeating lines. I’ve already seen this when shooting through a screen door, for example. If you’re only shooting still images and using Lightroom 4, this isn’t really an issue since LR4 now includes a software moire filter. Where it would be a problem would be if you’re shooting video. In that case removing moire can be quite time consuming. Bottom line: Buy the “E” version only if you’re like me, (a) don’t shoot video, and (b) are likely to test your camera’s resolution before you take a normal photograph. Video on the D800 is gorgeous, so if you think you’d like to use it, stay away from the D800E.

Now to the first question: should you buy one at all?

I would not recommend this as your only DSLR or as a general-purpose camera. I think of the D800(E) as a tripod-only camera for carefully planned and executed shots. Sure, you can use it handheld and you can shoot your kids’ birthday parties with it. But for those tasks I’d rather use an older D700 or even the cropped-sensor D7000. Shooting casual pictures outdoors in daylight? I’d probably grab my Sony NEX-7 instead. Shooting action/sports or in low light, it’s the D3s without question. But for landscapes or other detailed images, particularly those I’m likely to print, the D800(E) is my camera of choice.

Now I just have to pay for it. The D700 and my few remaining DX (cropped-sensor only) lenses are going onto eBay. In addition to the D3s, I’m going to hang onto my D7000. It’s just perfect when I want a versatile camera that weighs less than a cinder block but is better in low light and has better glass than the NEX-7.