Monday, April 9, 2012

Testing the Nikon D800 -- Sensor crop modes

I have begun putting the Nikon D800 through its paces and will be sharing some of my observances on it and the D4 on this blog, and more extensively on my other blog.

The D800 is a full-frame (FX in Nikon lingo) 36 megapixel sensor.  Until now a resolution that high had been reserved for medium format cameras.  For traditional stock shooters who only need to supply a 50mb file, 36mp with its 100mb file may seem like overkill.  However, there are a number of reasons why a camera like this makes a lot of sense.

We really need to think about it as a new breed of camera.  In many respects it is many cameras in one depending upon how you use it.  Nikon has built into its menu system the ability to select various crop modes.  There is the full-frame FX mode of 36x24mm, a slightly smaller mode of 30x20mm with 1.2x magnification and 25.1mp, a DX crop mode that corresponds to the size of an APS sensor with a 15.4mp resolution and 1.5x magnification, and a 5:4 (30x24mm) mode that renders a popular proportion at 30.2mp for photographers producing images for the proportions of the printed page.

What is interesting is that all of these crop modes still yield acceptably high megapixel ranges to produce traditional stock photographs.  Being able to switch from one mode to another is similar to adding a telextender to your camera.  Look at the photos below to see how the magnification increases with each crop size. 

By switching the camera into DX mode you can use DX lenses.  DX lenses are smaller and lighter, but they also provide some focal lengths that are not available in full frame -- the Sigma 8-16mm zoom comes immediately to mind.

Another advantage of switching to cropped modes is that they speed up the camera because there is less information for it to process. If you add the auxilary battery pack and switch to DX mode you have a camera with a faster frame rate and a 1.5x lens magnification making it better for wildlife and sports.

I can tell you from experience that the resolution of this camera in any of its crop modes is exceptional.  I found that using the D800 in DX mode to be equally as good -- if not better -- than using an actual DX camera like the D7000.

In later posts I will discuss the high ISO ranges of the D800, which are impressive and also lead me to say this is a new breed of camera, and may be the only one you ever need. 

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