My Nikon D800 vs D800E Comparison


Last week I got a D800E from LensProToGo.com for my photo trip out west. I wanted to put it up against a Nikon D800 to see if I’d really notice the extra sharpness you get because the 800E doesn’t have the anti-aliasing filter. Now, going into the test I have to say I expected to like the D800E better. It’s a little niche, and isn’t the norm, so it just seemed like it would be cool to have the D800E in my bag.

Why The Comparison?
I’ve pretty much settled on the fact that I’m going to buy a Nikon D800. I’ve borrowed one enough by now to know that I like it. I love to shoot landscape and outdoor photos and that’s primarily what I intend to shoot with it. I think the D800 is perfect for it. It’s sharp as heck and produces huge files with incredible resolution. Since you’re typically on a tripod for landscape and outdoors, you really get to enjoy the sharpness in those files for some amazing prints. So at this point, I’m sold on the D800, but before I pulled the trigger I wanted to test out the D800E (without the anti-aliasing filter) to see if it would be noticeably sharper.

Another Reason For The Test
I’ve done my research on the D800E to know it was indeed going to produce sharper photos than the regular D800. But another reason I wanted to do the comparison, was because everything I’ve read on this to date didn’t really show examples with the type of photos that I take. Some tests were fairly simple images people took in their backyards or what seemed like some place local to where they already were. Since I was buying this for landscape photography, I wanted to get it out in the type of conditions that I’d actually be shooting in.

By The Way – We Already Know The D800E Will Produce Sharper Photos
This isn’t a technical review and, before we get too far, you should know this. The D800E will indeed produce sharper photos than the D800 will. Because it doesn’t have an anti-aliasing filter it will be sharper (although the lack of filter can cause moiré when taking photos of repeating patterns). No doubt about it. I’ve already read several reviews/articles on it. Ken Rockwell has a good one as well as the Luminous Landscape. So my point wasn’t whether or not to prove that they were right or wrong. I trust those guys and knew going into this that the D800E would produce a sharper photo than the D800.

But just how sharp? My goal here was to see whether or not I’d really notice the additional sharpness in the real world.

What I Consider The Real World?
So what’s this “real world” I speak of? I consider the real world the following:
• My online web portfolio (and image the size of something you’d see on the web)
• Facebook and Google+ (the primary social media websites in which I share my photos)
• On screen for when I’m demo’ing Lightroom or Photoshop (I zoom in to my photos quite a bit when teaching so super sharp photos is a plus!)
• And of course, the Print which is where I thought I’d really see the difference if there was one.

How I Did The Comparison
I recently took a trip to Jackson Hole, WY to photography Grand Teton National Park. I got a D800E for the week from LensProToGo.com (where I get all my rentals from) and my friends over at The Digital Photo Workshops had a D800 for me to put it up against. Every comparison I’d seen to date didn’t have the scenery I wanted so I figured this would be a great place to test it out.

The Results (the short version)
Okay time for the results… first I’ll give you the short version… really short. I’m not buying a D800E. I didn’t notice enough extra sharpness to warrant the possible downside (increased risk of moiré, false color and not to mention an extra $300).

The Results (slightly longer version)
Okay, I figure if you’re still reading you want to know a little more. For starters, I did the test with the setup that I usually use for landscapes. A solid tripod (Really Right Stuff TVC-33 in this case) and my Nikon 16-35mm lens. I switched out cameras on the tripod and took the test photos within about 30 seconds of each other. So conditions were about as identical as possible. There wasn’t really much wind and the light was barely changing at the time.

When I got the photos on the computer to compare I could definitely see a difference. Now, it wasn’t a huge difference but it was about what I’d expected from reading the other articles. You’ll have to stare at it a few times to really see the difference.

Here’s a Before/After zoomed in way further than anyone would ever see my photos at

And here’s the full image so you can get an idea of how far zoomed in I am and how much of the original you’re actually seeing (little box in the lower left corner).

So there’s definitely a difference. But is it a difference anyone will ever see? Maybe if I printed it at a 30×40 or something large. But I printed it out at something I think is more typical (a 13×19) and let me tell ya… you can barely (and I mean barely) see a difference. It’s so subtle you wonder if your eyes are just playing tricks on you. And once you run just the slightest bit of Unsharp Mask on the photo (around 50%) in Photoshop, all bets are off and you’d never know the difference.

As for screen size images, absolutely not. Below are two images (you should click to see them larger). I saved them at a size which is about the largest I’d display on screen and I can’t see the difference.

D800:

D800E:

What About Moiré?
Nope. Nada. Zilch. Nothing I shot with the D800E produce a moiré pattern.

What About Auto-Focus Problems?
Oh yeah, I’ve heard about people having auto-focus problems with the D800. Doug Kaye wrote about it on his website. Personally, I haven’t had these problems so there’s not much I can say about ‘em other than I know people that have had issues.

Final Thoughts?
My final thoughts are much like Ken Rockwell’s. If you’re a pixel peeper. If you’re the kind that loves to talk histograms, bit-depth, diffraction on lenses and all that fun stuff ;), then you may appreciate the slightly sharper image the D800E gives you. But in my tests, shooting what I actually shoot, I’ll probably pass on the D800E and go with the D800. I know I never had any moiré problems, but there is the risk that I may shooting something where it does. The little sharpness gain from the 800E just wasn’t worth it to me. That said, if you already have an 800E or you decide to buy one I think you’re just fine. They’re both EXCELLENT cameras and I don’t think you could go wrong either way. I just figured I’d at least share my personal experiences on the whole thing.

Thanks for stopping by. Let me know if you have any questions :)

  • http://www.eyenology.net Fuad Babayev

    Thanks for the article, Matt! I’m now in the process of switching from my trusty D700 to D800 and the question what to buy, D800 or D800E was the one of the main questions. Now, thanks to you, I know what to do! Thank you once again!

  • Mike

    Thanks for the real world test. Very informative

  • http://www.goodsmithstudio.com/denver-engagement-photographer/ Matt

    Thanks for the info. Always good to see realistic comparisons!!

  • http://robertqvist.se/ Robert Qvist

    Nice reading! It is always fun to read this kind of real world tests!

  • Val

    I sent my D800 to Nikon USA, NY to fix the Focus problem that I have been having since this past March. They did NOT fix the problem. I am waiting to read that Nikon USA has the official fix as the Internet indicates the fix may not have been implemented yet in the US.

  • http://www.jonashellsen.com jonashellsen

    Thank’s for a brilliant article! I’m just about to buy one of these models and couldn’t decide. I’m even thinking of buying a used D3x. I’m the biggest nerd when it comes to sharp images. But if it is like this that you can fix it in photoshop with some extra sharpness, than I would say as you do. Buy the D800, and save the money to buy a battery-grip instead. :-)

  • http://www.stephenfell.net Stephen Fell

    I’ve just bought a D800, then wondered if I should have bought the ‘E’. The thought of shooting a wedding and have moiré in all the bridesmaids silk dresses terrifies me. I’ll stick with D800. :)

  • Ralph Peterson

    Ken Rockwell? Come on! Really?

  • Gordon Gurray

    great as usual. thanks

  • http://www.nikonfanboy.com/ Wesley Varela

    I agree with Ralph, Ken’s untrustworthy, he is only interested in selling camera’s. Who else would say the D4, D800 and D600 are all the same camera?

    Personally i own both the D800 and D800e, and prefer the “e” over the D800. You can tell the difference. An Moire, isnt really a problem and easily solved.
    http://www.nikonfanboy.com/2012-05-30/dealing-with-nikon-d800e-moire-in-lightroom-4

    • http://mattk.com Matt Kloskowski

      So did I say that Ken sold me on buying a camera (which by the way, I don’t think is a bad thing)? If you read through the post I said I was already buying a D800. I actually read and ended up agreeing with some of Ken’s views on the D800E.

  • http://gravatar.com/mattrupp mattrupp

    Did you have to pay to rent the D800E? If not, would you still have spent the $195 to rent it for four days from LensProToGo to determine if you wanted to spend the $300 difference on the E?

    The published D800E rental rates from LensProToGo are:

    4-Day Rate ($195.00)
    1-Week Rate ($258.00)
    10-Day Rate ($321.00)

    For my testing, I would have had to rent both the D800 and the D800E. I made a judgement call based on the existing reviews, the cost of renting both bodies and the $300 difference. I chose the D800E.

    • http://mattk.com Matt Kloskowski

      I don’t think you made a bad choice. It’s one of those things where I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the 800E – just knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t sweat it too much either way.
      As for LensProToGo, I definitely have a friend there that makes it easier on me when I need something. That said, I didn’t rent the D800E to simply do a comparison. I don’t have an 800 or 800E yet so I would have had to rent one for the trip either way. So it wasn’t like I was spending money just to try it out. I needed a camera. Figured since I had to, I’d get the 800E and do some research while I was at it.

  • http://www.rwcfoto.com Richard

    What’s the wordpress widget you used to show the 2 up-close-detail images? I’ve been searching for exactly that for my own blog! (How’s that for an off-topic comment?)

    • http://mattk.com Matt Kloskowski

      It’s a shortcode that comes with the theme I use from Elegantthemes.com. You should check ‘em out. They’re awesome!

      • http://www.rwcfoto.com Richard

        I use one of their themes too and love them. Which shortcode is it? I’m wondering if I got it in one of my updates and failed to notice it in the change log…

      • http://www.louisdallaraphotography.com/ Louis Dallara

        I use a wordpress plugin called GPP Improve Image quality. This plugin doesn’t contain any settings. Simply upload it into your wp-content/plugins/ folder and activate it from your Plugins page in WordPress to improve your image qualtiy from 60% to 100%. Please note: You will be sacrificing speed for improved image quality. I use graph paper press from my WP theme
        http://graphpaperpress.com/plugins/gpp-improve-image-quality/
        FYI: Speed can be made up by putting your images in the cloud. Amazon S3 is great
        Check out my blog
        http://www.louisdallaraphotography.com/

  • http://gravatar.com/azkober azkober

    Wow, can’t believe you actually give any weight to what KR says.
    I’ve had my D800 for a few months now and was wondering if I gave up anything by not taking a chance on the E. Thanks for the report.

  • KC

    Nikon reps at Photokina discussed the left-focus issue (via NikonRumors): http://nikonrumors.com/2012/09/25/update-on-the-nikon-d800-left-focusing-issue.aspx/

  • KC
  • Stephen Foster

    Thanks Matthew! Enjoyed the story and info. As always well done.

  • http://twitter.com/KevinOtolski Kevin Otolski (@KevinOtolski)

    Keep up the good work, good info. Thanks

  • http://photoopolis.com susan

    Nice comparison and thoughts.

  • Marc

    The D800 loooooooooooooves unsharp mask, it can really take on a lot of extra sharpness. And post-processing your photos with the D800E would neek a sharpness step anyway.
    I own a D800 and a 16-35, my end step in LR for a landscape shot is to add sharpness (60, radius 1.0). when i export to jpeg a large web size (say 1600px wide) I DO NOT TICK “sharpen for screen” whatever the intensity or it’ll end up oversharpenened.
    Moiré is not a real concern it only happens at times and can be removed fairly easily (but not in video). To me the D800E is not worth the extra $300, i’d rather spend this on a 50 1.4.
    Had both cameras been the same price, i could have bought the D800E no problem

    • http://www.louisdallaraphotography.com/ Louis Dallara

      Thanks for the sharpness tip.

  • http://www.tlinn.com Tim L

    Interesting post. The difference between the two models was actually much easier to see than I had expected. If I were a Nikon guy, this would be a tough call.

  • http://nocturnography.com Howard Ignatius

    I came to the exact same conclusion Matt and got the D800. Enjoy your new camera!

  • http://www.gavinbakerphotography.com Gavin Baker

    I got my D800 about a month ago and I struggled with the “to E or not to E” question myself. Thanks for doing the comparison. I think I made the right choice.

  • http://blogarithms.com Doug Kaye

    And my D800E is back from the Nikon Service Center after an “autofocus adjustment”. I a word: Unchanged. I’ve posted the results on my blog: http://www.blogarithms.com/index.php/archives/2012/10/04/d800-autofocus-2/

    Read the comments to the original post to see that others are reporting the same issue.

  • Pingback: Photography Takes A Bit Of Self-Confidence … But You Have It. And Decision Time: D800 Or D800E? | Photos on the Go

  • http://www.iterlux.com Kevin Williams

    Very logical. Your gear lust is very well controlled. :) I look forward to your thoughts on the D600, which I just picked up.

  • Jose luis RGUEZ

    Es una magnifica camara no pensé nunca tener unos resultados tan buenos

  • http://JohnNolan'sPhotography Nolan

    Love the caparison that you made for us Matt! Been thinking of the differences in both cameras since both models having the D800 in front, except the E of course. Working in the printing business for 37 years and been shooting for awhile now, I could barley make out the deference in the two samples! Still keep my D300s/D90 for a little longer. Great Article!

  • Pingback: One More Reason I Chose the D800 Over the D800E | Matt Kloskowski

  • http://www.louisdallaraphotography.com/ Louis Dallara

    I think the bottom line is the statement “The type of photography I shot”
    and we all think every body in the world shots like us.
    and the cost WOW if you that tight on your photography budget you
    should be in even this game and go buy a D600.

  • http://gravatar.com/naveedawan naveedawanNaveed awan

    hi mark i habe d800 my normal photo´s are not sharp what can i do.

  • terje herigstad

    pros and cons about d800 vs d800e the d800e can give you sharper images but can produs more the d800 dosent produce more but can guarantee you more blury images

  • Pingback: Nikon D800 12-Month Review (Would I Buy It Again?) | Matt Kloskowski

  • Loretta Smith

    Thanks, Matt, on the great review.

  • Michael Clark

    Anytime you’re talking about differences in sharpness that fine, wouldn’t the comparison be better made using a really sharp prime lens? The 16-35 is an excellent zoom lens – but it is a zoom. Even at f/8 which is well past the DLA of either version of the D800, something like the Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED maintains higher sharpness all the way from the center through the mid-frame to the edges better than the 16-35 does.

    • Mike

      Michael, I believe this article was centered around technical comparison of the image with respect to his usage patterns. Shooting with lenses that he may not use would deviate from the core purpose of the article.

      This article is not “Is the d800/d800e right for you?”, it’s “Is the d800/d800e right for Me (Matt Kloskowski)” and we’re welcome to view his thoughts that went into his decision.

  • Mike

    Matt, thank you for your article. My one criticism is that the WP theme puts a softening on the image, so you would not see the differences as much as if they’re standalone. If this is how you would expect to use/share the image then it may be a non-factor, but if you plan on using it for background work, or sharing it on FB (as you said), then it’s something to consider when displaying the differences.

    When looking at the images outside of the theme, I notice a big difference. My subjective opinion is that the d800e is both better and worse. You can certainly notice the higher detail in what look like evergreens/junipers (bottom left). However, the overall image looks like it’s more green, has higher lightness, and is undersaturated — I’m curious if you could simply change the those settings and get the same exact image. If not, I’d fix the white balance and choose the d800e — especially knowing that someone created an AA filter that you could put in it.

    I’ve been reviewing cameras for a while now, mostly the 5DMark3, d800, and d800e. I’m actually just now coming across this article from a more recent blog post of yours (http://www.mattk.com/2013/04/30/nikon-d800-12-month-review/) — I figured I’d see what you said here first. I haven’t read that post yet, so I’m curious to hear what you think 1year later. Another thing I’m contemplating is if I can hold off altogether, since the next model may be here sometime next year. Like most photographers, I’m pretty impulsive, so I don’t know if I can wait that long :)

    Thanks again for an entertaining read!