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Nikon D810 vs Pentax 645Z: Visual Impact Out in the Field with a Real Image (Comparison)

I’m working on an interesting comparison between the Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon and the Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 macro on this scene, a challenge in extreme dynamic range (major contrast control used here).

Now published:

Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55/1.4 APO vs Pentax 645Z (Pine Creek Sunflowers)

Includes RawDigger histogram and info for both images as well as Adobe Camera Raw Conversion settings for both.

Both are impressive cameras and this comparison cannot be “scientific” due to different aspect ratios and mismatched focal lengths and varying light (second by second), but I deem it interesting and instructive to see how both cameras fare out in the real world in many aspects: depth of field, color and contrast, noise, etc: in short just how does the image feel from both? Because in the end, an image is a sum total visual impact having little to do with measurements or a rating scale. I shot other comparisons also, but this one seems like a good place to start.

  Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon
Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers
Nikon D810 + Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 APO-Distagon
  Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 Macro
Sun Over Pine Creek Illuminates Field of Sunflowers
Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 Macro

Nikon D810: Highlight-Weighed Metering Compatibility Issues, Especially with Zeiss ZF.2 Lenses

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

Side-note context: the Nikon D810 also has autofocus compatibility issues with Sigma autofocus lenses, reportedly the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A and in my personal experience, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 macro. It’s unclear why an incremental camera update (over the D800/D800E) should have such issues.

While 90% of the time I shoot on full manual, the new Nikon D810 Highlight-weighted metering option sounded promising for fast-changing lighting situations. But this new metering option is not straightforward for anyone using a mix of lenses.

The Nikon D810 downgrades to Center-weighted metering with certain lenses when Highlight-weighted metering is used, even CPU lenses, such as Zeiss ZF.2. Even if the lens supports Matrix metering.

The metering downgrade behavior seems an ill-considered choice on Nikon’s part: Center-weighted hardly ever gives me the right exposure for my shooting. At the least a custom camera setting ought to allow the preferred fallback option: I want the camera to fall back to Matrix metering if Highlight-weighted cannot be used. The last thing I want is for my Zeiss ZF.2 lenses to meter with Center-weighted metering if I happen to have the camera set to Highlight-weighted.

Planning to explore the new metering option, I had shot a variety of comparisons using Matrix metering vs Highlight-weighted metering using Zeiss ZF.2 lenses, which have a CPU chip. These A/B shots now turn out to be useless for that purpose.

Highlight-weighted metering compatibility matrix

It is unclear why the Nikon 45/2.8P and Voigtlander 40/2 Ultra should support Highlight-weighted metering, but Zeiss ZF.2 lenses do not (all have a CPU chip). It could be a licensing issue; an inquiry to Zeiss is open at this time.

It is also unclear why in the age of digital, metering can’t be done properly the right way, at least in Live View, where the camera is fully informed of exactly what is striking the sensor—innovative design lags available capabilities.

Lens type Supports Highlight-weighted metering?
Nikon AF-S YES
Nikon 45/2.8P (older Nikon chipped lens) YES
Voigtlander Ultron 40mm f/2 YES
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A YES
Zeiss ZF.2 lenses (all) NO, reverts to Center-weighted
Coastal Optics 60mm f/4 UV-VIS-IR APO Macro NO, reverts to Center-weighted
Nikon AI-S NO, reverts to Center-weighted
Unchipped lens NO, reverts to Center-weighted

A compatible lens supports Matrix or Highlight-weighted metering:

  Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center   Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center
Nikon 45mm f/2.8P: Matrix and Highlight-weighted metering both work on Nikon D810

A chipped (CPU) lens might not support Highlight-weighted metering even if it supports Matrix metering. All Zeiss ZF.2 and Zeiss Otus lenses revert to Center-weighted when Highlight-weighted is chosen.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center   Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center
Zeiss ZF.2 15mm f/2.8 Distagon: Highlight-weighted metering unsupported on Nikon D810

The user manual

Page 114 of the Nikon D810 user manual is confusing in its vagueness, at least to me. All Zeiss ZF.2 lenses have a CPU chip that supports matrix metering. The description does not seem to cover the ZF.2 lenses (CPU-chipped manual focus lenses, just like the Voigtlander 40/2 Ultra noted above).

Highlight-weighted: Camera assigns greatest weight to highlights. Use to reduce loss of detail in highlights, for example when photographing spotlit performers on a stage.

...
Center-weighted metering will be used if highlight-weighted metering is selected with non-CPU lenses or if matrix metering is selected with non-CPU lenses for which lens data have not been supplied.

Note that center-weighted metering may also be used if highlight-weighted metering is selected with certain CPU lenses (AI-P NIKKOR lenses and AF lenses that are not of type G, E, or D).

 

Going Over Material, Updates Soon

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

I finished my catch-up work today (always a chore after being gone ~11 days), and now I’m going through my trip material with a lot of stuff to come soon on the Nikon D810 and Pentax 645Z.

Nikon Capture NX-D: DOA

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

I did a previous piece on Nikon Capture NX-D versus ACR. But today, to verify some shooting settings, I wanted to open some D810 NEF files in NX-D. For whatever reason, every NEF file is refused by NX-D now (and on both my desktop and laptop, this is not machine specific). There are no updates and the current version of NX-D is installed. OS X 10.9.4.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: every Nikon D810 file fails
Nikon Capture NX-D: no Nikon D810 file can be opened

Are the Capture NX-D and Sigma Photo Pro software development teams secretly trading notes on worst practices? Given the existentially threatening 26% drop in Nikon revenues, one wonders if the issues are company-wide at every level and type of function. It’s a scary thought. Readers know that I appreciate the Nikon D810 image quality (a new high bar in the industry). But how such basic software flaws can go undetected for weeks is a stunning indictment of quality control practices. And then there is the white spot recall at the outset. Taken as a whole, the picture looks indicative of Something Generally Amiss in Nikon land.

It’s bizarre that NX-D cannot open NEF files, since that is its raison d^etre. I used “Open With” and chose Capture NX-D (this is a workaround and should never be necessary): from the start, Nikon Capture NX-D would not associate NEF files with itself (the system does not recognize that NX-D is for opening NEF files, the file type association is not there). Nikon adds the NX-D icon to the OS X Dock, but one cannot drag a NEF file tot he icon. This is such a basic operation that it’s inconceivable that the program was even tested even once for core operations.

Update: see workaround that I had forgotten, below as per Peter K.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: does not associate with NEF files!
Nikon Capture NX-D: does not associate with NEF files!

Pieter K writes:

I just discovered NXD works…. but only if you use the file browser of NXD… Find the folder in the filebrowser of NXD, select the miniature … open that. it works

But go to the file in the Finder - you cannot open it… this software is not well made.

It works but very sloooow. I do not lijke the interface and I miss something like shadow highlight. The details in ACR are better - colors are different too but ACR gives far too much moiré.

DIGLLOYD: confirmed, the file browser within NX-D works on NEF files. NX-D does have Shadow/Highlight style features also.

Uinstall/reinstall did not fix the problems discussed above. The app is unsigned also.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: application is not signed
Nikon Capture NX-D: application is not signed

The user might want to uninstall the Nikon Message Center crapware: it is installed as an entirely unnecessary background process; updates can be checked for when desired, no need to run this thing all the time—the cleaner the system, the fewer the issues (general principle). Go to Preferences => Users and Groups, then Login Items to delete it from the list, this keeps it from auto launching when logging in.

  Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center
Nikon Capture NX-D: disable auto-launch of Nikon Message Center

Nikon D810 Service Advisory for White Spots During Long Exposures, and 1.2X Crop

Get Nikon D810 at B&H Photo.

  Nikon D810
Nikon D810

After the Nikon D600 dust/oil fiasco, this is another black eye for Nikon. But this time the recall/fix is immediate, and that is a far smarter move than the defensive and prolonged pushback with the D600 oil/dust issue.

Nikon has issued a service advisory for the D810:

We have received a few reports from some users of the Nikon D810 digital SLR camera indicating that noise (bright spots) are sometimes noticeable in long exposures, and in some images captured at an Image area setting of 1.2× (30×20).

After looking into the matter, we have determined that some noise (bright spots) may on occasion be noticeable when shooting long exposures, and in images captured at an Image area setting of 1.2× (30×20).

Nikon service centers will service these cameras that have already been purchased as needed free of charge to the customer. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this issue may have caused.

Identifying affected products

To check whether or not your camera is one of those affected by this issue, please click the Affected Product Serial Numbers link below and enter your D810’s serial number as instructed. Your camera’s serial number will be checked against those of affected products. If your camera is one of those affected, you will be forwarded to additional instructions. If your camera is not one of those affected, you may continue using your camera without concern for this issue.

DIGLLOYD: In my testing of the D810 I observed no white spots, so I thought that the camera I am using is fine. But I have always used long exposure noise reduction with the D810 (and all cameras I test). LENR differs in nature from regular noise reduction; LENR is a dark-frame subtraction. Nikon does not speak to LENR or not.

The loaner camera from B&H that I have been using is included in the recall (I entered its serial number). Now I have to decide wether to buy/repair or just get a replacement. I just hope that my trip photos are unaffected. But it’s an issue: I cannot let go the D810 at this critical time for some unspecified turnaround period. And while UPS ground shipping to and from the Los Angeles service center is fast for me, for a working professional that is more remote it is offensively slow (no option offered).

It’s also troublesome that one has to log in to check the serial number: how to know if a camera at a store has the issue or not? The Nikon site is also a shambles; it continually gives me “unspecified error” when I try to access my account settings to correct my email address as well as other errors in various places. I had to reconfigure my mail server to use an old email just to get the *#*$#*$* password reset email required by Nikon due to “system changes”.

Miguel B writes that “Apparently the cameras known not to have the issue, or recalibrated (whatever the solution may be) have a black dot inside the tripod screw.”.

Update: I called Nikon and was told that turnaround time is 7-10 days and that the fix is a firmware update. I was promised a Level III tech support return call (I have various questions about the circumstances under which the issue occurs), but this did not happen.

  Nikon D810 recall for white spot issues
Nikon D810 recall for white spot issues

Understanding the Pentax 645Z Histogram (useful for any brand camera)

This is a shot discipline and technical execution article that should be assimilated by anyone shooting raw on any brand camera.

This discussion of post-shot and Play histograms on the Pentax 645Z also incorporates the RawDigger histogram and a discussion of color space and gamut and recommended practices for raw shooters.

Interpreting the 645Z Histogram

While this is a Pentax 645Z image, the discussion is useful for any digital camera. And while it is not a field image (landscape or similar), the genesis for this page was observing histogram variances during field shooting; this histogram variance is discussed and shown for this image, but occurs with all images.

The image shown below is perfectly exposed yet the histogram suggests that the red channel is slightly blown; in fact the green channel is most at risk by about half a stop. The discussion explains the reasons and the fundamental algorithmic flaws in virtually all camera implementations of the histogram (for the raw shooter).

  Rain-streaked Aspen Trunk Pentax 645Z + 90mm f/2.8 @ ƒ/8
Pentax 645Z histogram

Lawrence B writes:

Thank you for your extremely useful article ‘Interpreting the 645Z Histogram’. I believe this is the first time I have ever seen in print reference to this most disturbing discrepancy between the ‘before and after’ histograms as displayed on most digital cameras.

Though I do not own the Pentax 645Z (I use a Nikon D800E), the differences observed have been most confusing, and though one can always check later (via RawDigger) histograms based on the RAW data, this helps one little when out ‘in the field’.

Unfortunately, you didn’t offer an explanation as to why the post-shot histogram differs from the one shown during live view (the ‘play’ version). Both are regrettably based on the camera’s JPEG settings. Shouldn’t their ‘inaccuracy’ compared to the RAW data based histogram be identical? Why is the live view histogram somewhat less inaccurate than the post-shot histogram?

I don’t understand why the industry has been so reluctant in offering a histogram based on RAW data. Photographers have been requesting such an option for as long as I’ve been shooting digital (probably longer). In any case, I am most appreciative that you tackled this disturbing phenomenon of the differing histograms. The tips you offered are indubitably the best one can do under the given circumstances. Many thanks!

DIGLLOYD: Yes, other cameras exhibit similar behavior.

As with science, an observation must come first, but an observation does not produce an explanation. Saying “I don’t know” is often the reality. It’s on my “why” to-do list.

The 645Z was configured to shoot DNG only (not DNG + JPEG), so it cannot be the result of the embedded (within the DNG) JPEG versus a full size companion JPEG.

That leaves a camera processing algorithm, and only Pentax can say for certainty, but a reader out there might have a credible explanation. My speculation is that the Play variant is based on the JPEG embedded in the DNG (since it is clearly in the color space with which the camera is configured, AdobeRGB), and that the quickie post-shot variant is based somehow on the image processing pipeline as it “flows through” and/or on every other sensor line, or some other efficiency optimization.

See also true raw histogram.

Back from Trip

Back home, unpacking, downloading, etc.

  Shooting the Pentax 645Z near the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine iPhone
Shooting the Pentax 645Z near the Pine Creek Tungsten Mine
iPhone

Wrapping up Field Shooting

Up in the mountains field shooting.

Just about done and heading home tomorrow. Long days were productive, now it’s computer time with all the material I’ve shot.

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