Disclaimer – I don’t have one.
Today, Nikon released a D800-E, which has two interesting characteristics:
First, it’s 36 megapixels. That’s twice the pixel count of my Leica M9, and thrice that of my D3S – but on the same surface (24x36mm).
Second, no Anti-Aliasing filter in front of the sensor. That’s bold. I will not go into specifics, so if you never heard of that, all you need to know is that an AA filter is also sometimes referred to as a blur filter. Now that should ring an alarm bell somewhere down your cortex if you like detailed, rich images. Thing is, an AA filter does not really blur – but it does remove information, so you lose some sharpness and some resolution. Its purpose is to avoid moiré effects, which I do not care at all about because it does not happen very often. On the rare occasions it does, it can be dealt with in post-production anyway.
Q: do you really want a layer of glass in front of your expensive camera’s sensor that will – by default – remove some information from ALL your images ?
A: maybe you do, but I don’t. I want my camera to record everything it can, with as little junk in between me and the subject as possible. I don’t want a silly piece of glass that messes around with my photons. I want to get the most out of my sensor, and deal with what it produces. I don’t want to rely on the guy who designed the camera’s firmware or the junk in front of the camera’s sensor to decide what’s best for me. Which is one of the reason I got a Leica M9, by the way – no AA filter- it’s plain and simple, an excellent camera.
So for me, the lack of AA filter is indeed a most welcome thing in a Nikon.
Now, the funny thing is – a high pixel count AND no AA filter are two characteristics of top-notch MF cameras or digital backs. Thus one can imagine Nikon is trying to position this into the MF market. I have read a few raving articles today explaining how this was a breakthrough, and this would be a MF camera killer. Well, I think it ain’t.
Since I own a nice bunch of expensive Nikon lenses, I’d like to believe the hype, and I hate to be a party pooper, but… Good luck to this. As much as I’d really like a 3.200 USD Nikon to deliver the same as a 20.000 hasselblad in terms of image quality, I think it’s not going to happen, for at least two reasons :
1. those nice nikon pixels are on the same surface as before, the chip is still the same size. MF cameras and digital backs use sensors that are larger.
Higher pixel density (and thus smaller pixels) usually results in problems (higher noise, impaired low light performance, etc) that are usually fixed by the camera’s firmware doing extra work to fix things up. Thing is, they can be fixed up to a point. Thus, I’d expect only a marginal bonus from the absence of an AA filter.
2. let’s say you’re Nikon, and you just found some brilliant new technology that lets you venture into MF territory, and really challenge some of the biggies in the game. Your biggest competitor has an equivalent product for 20 grand. Why on earth would you market your new Nikon at 3 if you know that it would fly off the shelves at twice (or more) this price? Seriously?
Bottom line is – unless Nikon really has managed to squeeze some seriously groundbreaking technology in this D800E, I don’t think we’ll see MF image quality at Nikon prices this year. This said, if you don’t expect it to replace your hasselblad or phase one back with this camera and get the same results, it will probably will be a landmark DSLR capable of doing crazy things in the studio or for landscapes.
For the record and the curious, here is one example of what a medium format back can produce, straight out of camera. And that was with 7 year old technology, mind you. If this new D800E can match this, please Nikon send me one for a review
In the meantime, I’ll just stick to my Leica M9.