Camera choices

I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the last several months asking about the cameras I currently use, the Nikon D4 and D800E.  One specific question was why I switched from my previous D3s and D3x bodies.

Let me start with the D4.  I do believe this is ergonomically the best camera I’ve ever handled.  It fits my hands, and, for me, all the control buttons and dials fall in the right places.  I definitely like all the little tweaks Nikon did, compared to the D3 series of bodies, such as how the AF patterns are selected, or how auto-ISO is turned on and off, plus I’m happy to get the increase in megapixels.  But to be honest, part of my decision to get the D4 was an encounter I had late last year in the sub-Antarctic with an ill-tempered male southern fur seal.  Just let me say that salt water and electronic cameras do not go well together.  The bad news from Nikon repair:  the camera was beyond resuscitation.  OK, but then what to do?  I knew the D4 was going to be available shortly, as the internet was rife with rumors.  So…purchase a replacement D3s, or wait a few months and buy a D4 and get newer technology?  The price differential was not too great (hey, after the first several thousand dollars, what’s another $500 or so?) and yes, I purchase my cameras retail just like everyone else does.  My conclusion was to go for the latest and greatest.

But why get a D4 at all?  The answer lies in the subjects I photograph and where I photograph them.  I do enough wildlife work that I want a fast motor drive, and I often work in far off locations, including under some extreme weather conditions, that I need a rugged pro camera (and, given what happened, perhaps a fur seal repulsion unit also).

As to the D800E, it offered four features that I wanted:  a self-cleaning sensor (perhaps it was just me, but my D3x sensor always seemed to be a dust magnet), better high ISO performance, more dynamic range, and, yes, more megapixels yielding a larger file size.  For me, that last point becomes important for advertising photo use, and for sales of large prints.  I also liked the smaller size and less weight of the camera, compared to the D3x; consequently I was not interested in the add-on battery grip.  And, given the price of the D800E, I could sell my good condition D3x, purchase the D800E, and still have a few dollars left over.

You might note that video capability played no role in my choices.  I don’t do video.  I’m just not interested in shooting it.

In short, my camera choices can be summed up as “D4 action camera,” and “D800E landscape camera.”  Please note that this was a business decision for me, since I make my living with my cameras.  I’m certainly not suggesting that you ought to make these purchases.

Am I happy with the newer cameras?  Absolutely.  Any problems with either of them?  None whatsoever.  Anything I would like to change?  Sure, I wish they both took the same model battery so I didn’t have to carry two chargers.  Any advice for readers of this blog?  Be careful of southern fur seals, especially one really mean male who apparently doesn’t like photographers.


  1. Ash Varma September 14, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    Hi John, just wondering how you are finding the Live View in D800E as I have read a number of comments saying that it’s much inferior to D3x and also Canon 5DMK III? Have you done any tweaks to settings to enhance the Live View performance especially sharpness? Many thanks, Ash

    • John September 14, 2012 at 9:33 pm #

      Live View in the D800 is indeed not the greatest implementation of that feature. In my opinion it’s OK, but that’s about all. Two things to try: (1) Don’t view the image at the highest magnification; back off about two clicks on the “minus” button. (2) In Shooting Menu > Picture Control, select the option you like (I use Standard), use the control wheel to go to the right, and set Sharpening to +9, the highest possible setting. Do not do this if you’re shooting jpegs, as it will be applied not only to the LCD image but to the actual file also.

  2. Bill Pringle September 24, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Hi John, thanks for all of your great work over the years. I have been involved in doing wildlife photography for the past 4 four years using a D90 and 80-400mm lens from Nikon. I am now looking at getting a full frame body with either a 500mm or 600mm lens. Would you have a recommendation for the camera body and choice between the lens?
    Sincerely Bill

    • John September 24, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

      Two major questions you need to answer: (1) How much do you want to spend? (2) What subjects do you want to photograph?

      Of the current cameras I personally would go with a D4 and (a) a 600mm if you are primarily photographing birds, and not often traveling by air or hiking long distances; (b) a 500mm for general wildlife photography, much easier air travel, and a lot less bulk and weight. With either kit add the 1.4X TC. The D800 twins are more geared to landscape work, in my opinion, although they can certainly be used for wildlife photography. But they do not have the high ISO capability or motor drive rate of the D4. I have not seen a D600, and so have no comment about it.

      • Bill Pringle September 24, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

        Thank you so much for your reply John. I have been photographing birds as well as larger animals. I was hoping to obtain the D4 with the 600mm but with the cost of a new tripod I will be just out of my price range. I suppose I should wait a few more months and save enough to do it right.
        Thanks agian for your words of wisdom.


      • John September 24, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

        Just be aware of how large and heavy a 600mm f/4 lens + camera body really is: with a D4 we’re talking over 14 pounds, not counting your tripod or other gear. I would suggest renting a 600mm for a bit, if you’ve never actually used one before.

  3. Satish Menon September 27, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    In practice, do you feel that there is a difference between a D800 and a D800E? Is the additional sharpness due to the absence of the aliasing filter in D800E important to you? I am considering an upgrade from my D300.

    • John September 28, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

      I’ve only used the E version of the D800, so cannot directly comment on the differences. I wanted the E version specifically for its lack of the AA filter.

      • Satish Menon October 1, 2012 at 11:02 am #

        Thank you, John. I have made up my mind to buy the D800E, based on other research as well.

  4. Bill Pringle October 4, 2012 at 9:03 am #

    Hi John, I have listened to your advice and gone through as much extra research as I could find on the internet. I have choosen the D4 camera body and I have a 600mm lens ordered. I also picked up the 105 macro lens for when the sun is too high in the sky for wildlife. I may still go with the 500mm but for now have the 600mm on order. Thanks for your time in answering my question.
    I have had the D4 in my hand for a day now and it is truly an amazing camera.
    God Bless

  5. Jayne Menard October 7, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

    Hi John,

    What made you choose the 800e over the 800?

    Hope you are well,

  6. Stefan Christmann October 20, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    Hi John,

    firstly: Thank you for your images and this site. I always enjoy my visits.

    I just wanted to share with you, that you can indeed use the same battery for the D4 and D800. It’s the EN-EL18 model. You just need the BL-5 battery holder for the MB-D12 battery grip of the D800. In that case you can just have two EN-EL18 batteries for both cameras and use the MH-26 battery charger to charge both of them at the same time! 🙂

    Since you have helped me a thousand times with your books and tipps, hopefully this time I was able to help you!!

    Cheers from Antarctica (where I am currently stationed),

    Stefan Christmann

    • John November 10, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

      Yes, I know, but as I stated above, I don’t want to use a battery grip with my D800.


One Trackback

  1. By בוטוקס בבית השחי on September 18, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    בוטוקס בבית השחי…

    … הזרקת בוטוקס – בתי שחי, כפות הידיים, כפות הרגליים ואזור הפנים ומשתק את השריר האחראי לכיווץ בלוטות הזיעה. למי מתאים מילוי קמטים בתוך פרק זמן של מספר חודשים. לא מעט הורים בעידן בו ניתוחים פלסטיי… Camera choices ……