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Nikon D4 & D800 are they game-changers? - part 6 of 1 2 3 4 5 6

by Mike McNamee Published 01/08/2012

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Although the same optimum settings apply for the D4 at both 200ISO and 6400ISO, the flexibility in the wedding shot is far higher. Go beyond the lower RAW pre-sharpening values in the 6400ISO shot and the image rapidly deteriorates; on the right the maximum settings destroy the image although it is difficult to predict how it will look in the printed magazine.

D4 Sharpening (Mike's bit!)

The D4 has a smaller pixel count than the D800 which delivers a better low light/high ISO performance. In practical use the sports pro is likely to push the ISO to levels that are normally avoided by social photographers. In this case though we had high ISO sports shots and low ISO wedding shots off the same camera with which to make comparisons.

Ian's rugby shot of the Dragons was taken under floodlighting at 6400 ISO.

Ordinarily, RAW files are a luxury he cannot afford, they are too slow for agency work, but he managed to get a few shots away in RAW for us to test.

The deterioration in image quality at 6400 ISO is obvious and sharpening requires a kid glove approach to avoid ugly artefacts. Once again the danger of using a monitor to judge sharpening was emphasised. The out-of-focus background deteriorated into square blocks but this was somewhat smoothed over by the screen view. The higher settings of the ring around trashed the file for all practical purposes and our judgement would be to not go above settings of 40 amount, 0.5 radius in conjunction with a high pass layer opacity of no more than 33%. The higher settings of 150/1.5 destroyed the image before any post sharpening was even applied.

For Ian's wedding shot, settings of 40 amount radius 0.5 and high pass opacity of 33% were judged to be on the mark although there was some flexibility in the opacity setting. There was far less flexibility in the RAW pre-sharpening and 80, 1.0 would not stand any high pass sharpening without introducing sharpening artefacts. We recognise that in most portraits involving female subjects, the masking function would be cranked up to about 70 points to protect the skin tones, this still applies.

Shooting here was at 200ISO, 1/125 at f8 using supplementary lighting.


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Among all this esoteric discussion of sharpening technique, never lose sight of the fact that the image content is the paramount feature. Here Roberto Di Mateo is given the heave-ho by the victorious Chelsea players at the FA Cup Final - the camera was Ian Cook's aging D3!

Overall Conclusions

One conclusion of this second round of sharpening testing with a larger population of cameras and images is this: very often the viewers struggle to decide between say 33% and 67% opacity, with equal votes being cast for both variations.

This suggests that when you are making adjustments to your sharpening (and hopefully making test prints!) it is not worth pussy-footing about in 5% increments, you will not detect them. A more reasonable shift will be 20% opacity. Similarly, for many images doubling the radius of pre-sharpening will barely be detectable although our experience with the high ISO shots is that things go pear-shaped very quickly and a lighter touch might be needed!

Sharpening remains complex and there are still many programs out there by third parties offering 'magic' improvements to your images. The basics remain true, though. Shots at optimum apertures, on prime lenses using heavy tripods will always be sharper and look sharper than those made using sloppier methods! The improvements in the camera technology, as championed by the D800, require even more attention to the detail of shooting and the precautions required to obtain full benefit from the additional quality on offer.

It is also worth reiterating the advice that prints must be used to assess the optimum sharpness of images that are intended to go for print output; the screen is a poor witness to what will actually happen. Experience will, nevertheless, get you close to the right ball-park in your experiments.


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1st Published 01/08/2012
last update 26/03/2020 16:04:55

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Updated 26/03/2020 16:04:55 Last Modified: Thursday, 26 March 2020