Having just suffered through the Avengers movie, and recalling a lovely little short called Bambi vs. Godzilla, it’s with some trepidation I embark on this non-scientific comparison. You’ll enjoy the movie.
In some regards, the Nikon is Godzilla, but not in all of them. Let me start by saying I love my new Nikon D800e—once it finally showed up. My purpose in buying it was to get to medium format quality for a price I could afford – roughly 20% of the cost to upgrade my Mamiya 645 AFD and glass. I wanted to downsize and simplify the load I carry when traveling, but I wanted to maintain a camera that would give me comparable image quality, including dynamic range, smooth tonal transitions, and excellent color.
I’ve had just a week with my D800e, and last night I took a set of photos of the Cincinnati night skyline deliberately for comparison with similar shots taken one year ago with the Mamiya / PhaseOne P25 combination (22 megapixels)
D800e (Zeiss f2.8 25 mm)
Bottom line: you can easily get good shots with the D800e. Great shots require absolutely the best glass and technique you can muster.
All other things being equal, which they rarely are, I’ll put forward my own very preliminary conclusions.
That said, I am UNIMPRESSED with the sharpness of the pix shot with the 28-300 lens. None of the pictures had the razor-sharp quality one can expect. Part of the reason is that it’s a slow lens (f3.5-5.6) and requires a longer exposure time at a given ISO setting and aperture… which tends to soften edges.
But it may be that by using the remote shutter release I wasn’t giving the camera time to get truly focused … no half-press position available. It might have been different if I’d used manual focus instead of AF! We’re not talking gross focus problems, but you can’t sacrifice ANYTHING when you’re out to take the best possible photo.
Here’s an example. The two panoramic shots above show the importance of great glass. The first picture was shot with the Mamiya, and the second was shot with a Zeiss f2.8z2 25 mm lens on loan from buddy Ken Brown. The Mamiya shot was somewhat sharpened. The Zeiss shot was not sharpened at all. It is noisy because the exposure got bumped, but the sharpness is there – as it is in the Mamiya lens. Tie on this one.
False comparison? Maybe. But the Zeiss lens seemed to gather far more light than the Nikon lens in addition to all that sharpness.
In terms of the abilities of the camera, they're marvelous. I need to learn much more about the beast. For instance, it turns out I can reverse the + and - exposure indicators, which are not the same as in the D700 -- so I can make 'em the same, and save my sanity.
In fact, the camera can probably do too much, thus necessitating a 400 page user’s manual which tells you what everything is, but not why and when it’s best to use a particular setting.
Bottom line: you can get really good shots from the D800e without doing anything exceptional, but great shots require your best effort.
In comparison to the Mamiya --
Ease of use goes to Nikon -- for straightforward photography. But it does so much in terms of fine-tuning focus, exposure, image analysis, and in-camera retouching that there's no comparison. Menus on menus make life difficult. Plus, it does movies, not that I care.
ISO range goes to Nikon, BUT the more modern digital backs are just as good or better ... mine is obsolete that way. The Nikon does get noisier during night shots, even at ISO 1000, than I like.
Dynamic range, on the other hand, goes to Mamiya, which offers smoother gradients from light to dark… just more subtle.
Autofocus—Nikon. Faster and far more sophisticated.
Physical weight – Nikon
Feel in hand – Nikon
Color rendition -- Nikon (by a whisker). Nikon has greatly improved the auto white balance function in this camera.
Rugged construction -- Mamiya. It's a tank. But the Nikon is no slouch either.
Lenses in general: Mamiya glass is slower than comparable Nikon lenses, but it is sharp, accurate, with little in the way of fringing or color problems. It is crisp but not edgy. Nikon can run from less crisp to more edgy … but I need to do a lot more experimentation before I can stand and declare on this subject.
The new crop of Nikon lenses seems to be very good. I’m just starting to experiment with them. BUT they are all G lenses, with no aperture ring … and heaven help us when technology takes a turn for something else.
I have used my f2.8 Nikon micro 60mm to good effect; it seems to be very happy working with the D800e, as in this stacked-focus example:
So – have I made the right choice in trying to replace my medium format gear with the D800e and new glass? Well, sort of. But it’s for sure I can carry fewer lenses, with less weight, better battery life, and less hassle than shooting with my steadfast old Mamiya AFD. I may trade a bit of subtlety, but it’s within livable limits.