Why the Nikon D800 is almost perfect for HDR

Highslide JS

As reward for finishing The HDRI Handbook 2.0, I treated myself with a shiny new Nikon D800E. First off, it's an amazing camera. I immediately fell in love with it.

There is a dedicated BKT button on the top, which makes switching to exposure bracketing just as quick as changing ISO or white balance. This prominent button position gives the exposure bracketing feature also the same level of importance as ISO, white balance and quality setting. I can only applaud this decision.

The lab tests at DxO Mark have shown that the sensor is the reigning champion in dynamic range coverage with over 14 EVs. My first shots have confirmed that this camera records an amazing amount detail in the RAW headroom.

The D800 also inherited the autobracketing mode from the other Nikons, which is a blessing and a curse.

Yes indeed, zipping through 9 frame bursts with the push of a button is awesome. But the maximum interval of 1 EV is just silly. Why, oh Nikon, why? I don't know anyone who ever shot with a smaller EV interval, so the maximum setting is also the only (barely) usable one.

If a firmware upgrade would unlock a max bracketing interval of 3 EVs this would be the perfect camera!

See, the trouble is that the D800 is much slower than my previous D300. Significantly slower. Half the frame rate!

That's why increasing the EV interval is no longer a "would be nice" feature–it's now downright critical. We don't have time to waste. Shooting in 2 EV intervals would cover the same total dynamic range with half the number of frames. So 2 EV would be the optimum setting for everyday use. It brings the effective shooting speed back to what we're used to. But why stop there? I believe this wonderful FX sensor is tough enough to deliver clean pixel data for each exposure slice taken in 3 EV intervals. I may need to go that high only once a month, but it would be comforting to have the option.

Please Nikon, lift this silly 1 EV limit! Give me options, give me 3!

Why would you build a Ferrari with a single gear? This camera deserves to be freed from a firmware limitation that was based on the technology we had 10 years ago. Canon always allowed 2 EV intervals, and I'm tired of my Canon buddies rubbing this fact under my nose. Please Nikon, jump ahead to 3 EV intervals and give me another reason to be a proud Nikon shooter. I beg you, please!

Why am I so passionate about it?

Because in every other regard this camera is absolutely amazing. The resolution of 36 MP sounds like overkill, but it is a heaven's gift for panorama shooting.

Monthly sIBL now in Ultra-HighRes

Suddenly my panoramas are 20.000 pixel wide (that's an OpenEXR file of 560 MB, taxing 1.2 GB of memory when loaded)–with the same shooting method that I used for years: 6 Fisheye shots around. Check it out, now you can zoom way into the picture!

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