In our review of the Nikon D800, we said that "it would be no exaggeration to call the Nikon D800 a quantum leap forward." The 36MP DSLR camera delivered high resolution images full of detail, easily surpassing any other DSLR today in terms of richness and clarity. Which is why we were really interested to see what its nearly identical twin, the D800E, could do.
The D800 and D800E are almost the same camera, with one important difference. Like almost every other digital camera today, the D800 has an optical low-pass filter (also known as an 'anti-aliasing' or AA filter) which helps reduce the appearance of moiré artifacts appearing in the images taken. Unfortunately, the cost of having this low-pass filter is that small details are smudged, reducing the overall fidelity of the photograph.
Here's where the D800E comes in. The camera comes with a different physical filter than the low-pass filter found in the D800 and allows light to pass straight through to the D800E's sensor to capture even greater resolution. The flip-side is, you guessed it, moiré patterns can sometimes be seen in subjects with repeating patterns. So when we had the opportunity to have both the D800 and D800E for a weekend, we set out to find the answers to two questions: How much more detailed are the D800E's images compared to the D800, and how much of a problem is moiré likely to be?
One quick note: This isn't meant to be an in-depth comparison, but a quick look at how the two cameras measure up to each other. We used the same Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on both cameras, and images on this page were taken using a tripod. Aperture and ISO speeds were set similarly, as were focal points. There's a little bit of tripod shift in-between shots, due entirely to the carelessness of this reviewer. Images were shot in RAW and exported through Lightroom 4 with no post-processing or sharpening applied. 100% crops were applied on the RAW files using Photoshop CS5 and saved to maximum quality JPEGs with no post-processing (only the 100% crop of the tree had its exposure brightened for a clearer comparison). Because of the images' large file sizes, we are unable to offer downloads of the original files.
When looking at the 100% crops, the D800E's images make the D800's look almost blurry in comparison. That's amazing when you consider how full of detail the D800's photographs already are. At the same time, you can hardly see the difference when looking at the uncropped and down-sized images. This brings up an important point; while the D800E can capture more detail than the D800, whether you can see that extra detail or not depends on how the photograph finally ends up.
When we were first shown the D800 and D800E in Tokyo, we were also shown prints of similar subjects taken with both the D800 and D800E. We could clearly see the difference in detail in the A3-sized prints, but only when standing fairly close (about an arm's length away). We doubt we'd be able to discern the difference as easily if the prints had been A4-sized and smaller. The D800 is a boon for any photographer who needs to print large, and it looks like the D800E is an even bigger asset, but for one weakness - the risk of having moiré artifacts appear in images, which is what we're going to take a closer look on the next page.