Accurate Reproduction of Details in Vast Landscapes with the D800E

Toshiya Hagihara

Nature [Japan]

Your specialty field is landscape. What are your activities as a landscape photographer?

Toshiya Hagihara

I love the grand landscape around Mt. Asama and moved to Tsumagoi Village several years ago. Since then I’ve been taking pictures mostly with the village as my base. I like photographing rivers, mountain streams and other water features. There is a beautiful waterfall near my home and I have been photographing various aspects of it, visiting very frequently. As for seasonal themes, I like plants in general that make you feel the fresh breath of life, such as the vigor of blooming, the fresh green of budding or the falling of colored leaves. What I always have in mind is how I can present subjects dynamically. For example, I think we feel something akin to the power of life in the dynamic flow of water at a waterfall and the dramatic expansion of cherry blossoms. I want to maintain a viewpoint that allows me to find such things. I feel I can express even the growth process of a tree, which may look quite ordinary when seen casually, by stepping closer to it and capturing it with a wide angle of view. Whether I can discover such a thing when I come face-to-face with a subject motivates me to shoot.

Does it mean that you interpret something behind landscapes or other subjects by taking a step further to achieve expression?

I think the words “express impression” convey the meaning more appropriately than “interpret something”. There are both active and passive aspects – the impression I bestow to scenery and the impression I receive from it. The former is when you have a definite direction you want to explore with a subject, for example, how you express “mysterious profundity” through the subject, and the latter is how you express in photographs the impression or something you feel for the first time upon seeing the subject. In either case, the vital point is photographing the dynamism of nature. It may include realism or atmosphere. Especially ever since I first used the D800E, I believe I can express these elements better than before. As you can see in the photo of colored leaves, fine depiction made possible by sharp definition of details gives a feeling of depth to the image. The camera photographed everything I felt and allowed me to express my impression the way I wanted.

Besides expression methods, what is indispensable in camera specifications for effective landscape photography?

To my mind, it is definition. The difference between a camera with high definition and one without is clearly apparent in landscape photography. This is because landscape photography requires the reproduction of reality and atmosphere. High enough resolution is necessary in order to achieve the high definition that gives you the impression you can actually grasp the subject if you reach out to the monitor screen or print. The difference between a 36.3-megapixel image and a 10-megapixel image is plainly obvious.

You said in a camera magazine after using the D800 and D800E for comparison that the D800E can express a feeling of depth and fine details. What are the things you think the D800E allows you to do for the first time?

It can minutely depict a vast landscape in great detail. I was surprised at the reality depicted and the atmosphere attained when I first saw pictures taken with the D800E. The picture that captures the silent winter mountain waiting patiently for the spring beautifully depicts each of the icy twigs in a vast landscape. These kinds of details could not be expressed by 35mm-format type digital SLR cameras up till now, and I can definitely say this matches the results of medium-format digital cameras. I was astonished by this most of all. It is troublesome to use 4x5 cameras. You may miss shutter opportunities and you have to wait to shoot because setting up these cameras takes time. The D800E has great mobility and you can change lenses at any moment to give variety to your expression. You can utilize its mobility and high definition to securely capture the precious moment with scenery. I think this camera will influence how you capture scenery in photos. It is raising my expectations that I can take pictures that will display intricate details amid a dynamic landscape.

Our general impression of landscape shooting is that a photographer should wait for sunset or dawn. How is mobility important in the field of landscape photography?

Toshiya Hagihara

Morning and evening light is momentary, so I set a time frame for shooting. But as I don’t shoot from only one direction, mobility is necessary for making different approaches by assessing the situation from various angles in order not to waste time. As the D800E is even lighter than the D700, its mobility is totally different from that of 4x5 or medium-format cameras. It is overwhelmingly different. But you can achieve that high definition despite its high mobility. This is immeasurably advantageous and changes how you approach the subject. If you are using a 4x5 camera, you might be able to photograph a tree only from a certain distance and you may hesitate to shoot it from another angle. But with the D800E, you can change lenses and make various approaches. By doing so, your viewpoint will change and you will discover other aspects of the subject you didn’t notice before.

What did you discover by using the D800 and D800E?

One of the features of the FX format is large, beautiful bokeh. In pictures using bokeh, I first noticed that finely detailed depiction of the focused area was excellent. I felt an advantage of the high pixel count in the smooth transition of focus to bokeh. The soft tone and gradation may have been realized by the high pixel count. Also, highlights resist being washed out easily and the details of the shadows provide a good tone range. I can sense progress. It has reached a level that makes me direct the camera toward the subject with absolutely no hesitation when shooting landscapes.
I also strongly believe that high pixel count cameras need good lenses. I compared the D800/D800E with a 40-megapixel-class medium-format digital SLR camera of a different make and it was clear that the lens design of the medium-format camera was weak. I took the pictures of the winter mountain with the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. I could really feel the high resolution of NIKKOR lenses. As for other NIKKOR lenses, the resolution of the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is really outstanding. The AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR resolves sharply to the four corners. I also realized the high resolution of prime lenses, including the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G, which can fully utilize 36.3 megapixels. When viewing landscape photos, it is an important point whether the image is resolved up to the four corners or not. You feel uncomfortable if the image is distorted or is not resolved in peripheral areas. To take advantage of a camera with a high pixel count, you need to choose good lenses.

What do you think are the respective advantages of the D800 and the D800E?

Toshiya Hagihara

I thought a big difference was made whether there is the effect of a low-pass filter or not. You may not feel a substantial difference at 100% display magnification, but you can see a difference in description of details when the image is magnified further. I think the D800E is better for landscape photography as it can reproduce intricate details and atmosphere more effectively. The D800 is good for general photographic enjoyment, but I feel that the D800E has the power to bring out the latent potential of 36.3 megapixels.
I think the difference between a focused area and an unfocused area of a highly detailed subject was a bit larger with the D800E, giving the impression that contrast was slightly high. I feel softness in images taken with the D800 because of this slight difference. Thus the D800 with a slight loss in sharpness that gives a soft touch to images is suitable for people who shoot portraits or close-ups of flowers, while I think the D800E is ideal for those who want to take landscape photos with sharpness of details or portraits with fine description of each hair.
I chose the D800E for its crisp images. The D800E is said to be more liable to be affected by moiré than the D800, but there are not so many regularly repeating fine patterns that produce moiré in natural landscapes. This time I only did straight processing with Capture NX 2 based on the default settings, but the results were satisfactory, reflecting the good characteristics of the image sensor. Using unsharp masking or high-pass processing would bring out the fineness further. In that case as well, the D800E will achieve higher definition easily. As resolution is this high, details should stand out further with a slight adjustment. I’m thrilled to be able to use the D800E from now on.

Toshiya Hagihara (Japan)

Born in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, in 1964. He was in charge of brochure production and event planning at an advertising agency. After leaving the company, he became a freelance photographer. His main genre is natural scenery in general, such as waterfalls and cherry blossoms, and he writes for photographic and other magazines. Several years ago, Mr. Hagihara moved to Tsumagoi Village in Gunma Prefecture, enchanted by the impressive scenery around the northern slopes of Mt. Asama. He is a member of the Society of Scientific Photography (SSP) and also sits on the selection committee of the Camera Grand Prix.