I went against my own word this week. I have been telling fellow photographers over the last year or so that I would never, ever, under any circumstances, get a Nikon D800. The file sizes are too big. I don’t need 36 megapixels. Etc.
Well, I was wrong. The files are still huge. But, and this is a very big but, they don’t really have to be. I was looking at the RAW file sizes from my D610 and they were running around 21-30mb each. I read that the D800 files are around 70mb each. Yes, they can be, but that is only if you shoot 14 bit uncompressed RAW. If you change the D800 to capture in 12 bit lossless compressed mode, you can cut the file size down to ~35mb, similar to a D610 in 14 bit mode. Ok, but 12 bit is not as “good” as 14 bit. Really? Maybe not. However, I would challenge anyone to take a RAW image in both 12 bit and 14 bit modes, process them in Lightroom, and then post or print those photos for others to see the difference. From all the research I have done, there is no substantial difference unless you are pixel-peeping the highlights at 500% zoom…and even then it is negligible.
Here is a great video comparing the D800 to a $20,000 Hasselblad with a 40 megapixel sensor. The Hassy is running in 16 bit mode and even then, these photographers were shocked at how well the D800 compared to the medium format camera.
Of course, there are advantages to a $20,000 medium format camera, but are those advantages worth $18,500 more? Not to mention the cost of a lens, which could run you another $5,000? I know I cannot justify that cost. Of course, I am also not shooting for Cosmo and getting paid $50,000 per session. The advantages of medium format are inflated in the digital world. They’re there, but as you can see in that video, they’re not as critical as in the film days.
So, back to me being wrong. The D800 is actually quite versatile. You can shoot RAW 12 or 14 bit files into card slot #1 (compact flash) and JPEG small basic files into card slot #2 (SDHC). For fun family photos you can shoot with this great camera and use small JPEGSs. When it comes time to put these massive 36 megapixels to work, you can use the big RAW files. When I shoot my next wedding, I will likely use 12 bit RAW compressed files, which will keep my workflow smooth. For family sessions and portraits, I will likely shoot 14 bit uncompressed files because I will only be taking about 50-100 photos.
Moving forward, I am thrilled to have the D800 in my bag. The D3 will remain my primary photojournalistic tool. I see no reason to upgrade to the D3s or D4 yet. The D3 is a tank and shoots 9 frames/sec with 12 megapixels and can easily produce usable images up to ISO 6400. The D3 is no-nonsense. No video. Nothing fancy. It just goes. It has been dropped, kicked, and run over by a car (yes, see my October 2012 post). The D800 will be my portrait camera. I see this as a great combo that covers everything from weddings, sports, family, and to formal portraits.
In the end, not many people “need” 36 megapixels, but it sure is nice to know they’re there if you want them.