It was over two years ago now when I pre-ordered my Nikon D800, the revolutionary 36 megapixel DSLR everyone in the serious amateur/professional photography community was talking about with much excitement at the time. The buzz was positively electric and I, like many others, couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. I had to wait for about a month after the first UK shipments to receive mine. After the first few test shoots, I marvelled at the level of detail in the images. The ability to crop so extensively and retain resolution was awesome. Then came the steady trickle of complaints about issues with the left focus points on the forums which turned into a veritable flood and I decided to test mine out. Conducting an accurate test of this kind of thing is difficult to do as there are so many different parameters one has to consider so, the tests were not 100% conclusive but, over time, I became convinced my camera did have the problem. I hardly moved the focus points in my general photography away from the central position, preferring to focus from the centre then pan the camera accordingly when the composition dictated so I didn’t see it as a major problem. I, therefore decided against the hassle of sending the camera off to a Nikon UK Service Centre to be repaired, especially with many negative reports from owners having done so.
Over the last two years I have, for the most part, been reasonably happy with the results from the D800 but sharpening of the images became standard routine within post processing. An Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Fujifilm X100S have since joined the fold. The E-M5 replacing my D7000 and DX lenses as my preferred travel kit and the X100S as my “Walkaround/Street” camera. It was only recently when I did a couple of gig shoots with all three cameras that I noticed that the results I got from the Oly and Fuji seemed just as good as from the D800. In fact the images from these camera seemed, if anything, sharper than the D800. On closer inspection of the images from the D800, none of them looked bang on focus and had a soft look to them even at the plane of focus. At the time I just put it down to lens characteristics as they were being shot wide open at f1.4. However, shortly after, I decided on another not-too-scientific test directly comparing a RAW image from each camera at the same settings and similar focal length at an aperture of f2. Again, the E-M5 and X100S images were pin sharp but, to my huge disappointment, the D800 image was horrendously out of focus in comparison when viewed at 100%. Fine-tuning the AF showed no improvement and I just thought this can’t be right.
Hence, I decided to trade the camera in for a Nikon D800E. It would have been impossible for me to say for definite whether the D800 was. in fact, defective. Everything else on the camera functioned perfectly and I have more than a few photos that do look sharp and in focus but I wasn’t happy. A £4000 camera system should be producing consistent results equally as good, if not better, than a £1500 one and this simply wasn’t. I was totally convinced it had a focussing issue almost certainly as a result of an initial flawed manufacturing process that Nikon never acknowledged to but many are convinced was the case for early adopters of this camera. Again, many presume that Nikon have quietly addressed this issue as any complaints from recent purchasers are almost non-existent.
The results from a new D800E should conclusively either prove or disprove my theories on this one. The D800 was subsequently part-exchanged for a D800E. I had no qualms about doing this as the supplier thoroughly checks the equipment out before issuing a credit note. They were happy enough, a credit was issued and the D800E arrived the following day.
So, you can guess what the first thing I did was. Took a very similar shot to the previous test ones with the same settings. A slight difference in lighting conditions but that wouldn’t affect sharpness of the image. The resulting 100% crops from the two cameras follow;
Now, the D800E is supposed to be subtly sharper than the D800 anyway but, by this much? I don’t think so. Whatever, I am now considerably happier in the knowledge that my D800E does not appear to have any hint of a focusing issue and should produce consistently astounding results.
I am looking forward to producing and seeing those results over the next few weeks.