D800E Packed with Unknown Potential

Shinichi Sato

Fine art/interior/architecture [Japan]

Could you tell us about yourself as a professional photographer?

Shinichi Sato

My field of specialty is mainly large commercial buildings like hotels, restaurants and airport terminals, both interiors and exteriors. Those shoots are at the request of either the architects who designed the buildings, or publishing houses that want to use the pictures in architectural magazines or books. Advertisement photos are also included in the case of hotels and restaurants. I also take pictures of cultural assets and artifacts at the request of magazine publishers. Apart from that, I’m pursuing personal works - everyday urban scenes using large-format film like 4x5 and 8x10. My subjects are things you see in your everyday life, but I want to capture a world that becomes visible only at the high resolutions of 4x5 and 8x10.

What kind of photographic equipment do architectural photographers use?

In the era of film, many photographers used 4x5 or the slightly smaller 6x9 format that requires a film roll holder. Now the mainstream is shooting with either a technical camera with a tilting mechanism fitted with a medium-format digital back, or a 35mm-format digital SLR camera. My main camera is the D3X, but I have also started using a medium-format digital back. I also employ classic 4x5 film as occasion demands. As far as settings are concerned, 35mm-format digital SLRs need the shortest time, but when it comes to picture quality, 4x5 film is superb and medium-format digital backs are good as well. Therefore, I use them when the primary concern is picture quality and take advantage of 35mm-format digital SLRs’ mobility when I have to shoot many pictures in a short time.

Are you most concerned with high resolution and high definition? Does this still apply when the shooting genre or subject changes?

It doesn’t change. When I think of what I want to shoot, the first thing I want to express is the sense of presence. For example, when I take pictures in a convenience store, I want them to project a reality that makes you feel you are actually standing in the store and viewing each item of merchandise on the shelves. The same holds true when I shoot pottery like this time, moss in the gardens of Tofukuji Temple, mountains, or women as subjects. It’s to what extent I can make my photographs closer to my subjective view. Resolution is important because the human eye sees details, although we naturally notice some and miss others.
My interest, as the theme of my works, is today’s atmosphere. I live in Tokyo and lead a casual life every day. But there are sudden, sparkling moments when I find a beautiful scene, feel relaxed or discover with a surprise something I usually overlook. I capture and represent these special moments in my images. I want to capture in high definition, scenes that many people usually take no notice of and present them to people anew for their stimulation.

What are the requirements of the equipment necessary to pursue reality and a sense of presence?

Shinichi Sato

High picture quality and a high pixel count, above all. In the era of film, a larger film size produced the same result as a higher pixel count does today. That’s why I opted for the medium format rather than 35mm and the large format rather than the medium format. The same applies to the digital age. When a new model comes onto the market with a higher pixel count, I choose it just as I opted for a larger film format.
For shooting everyday urban life, I have been using 4x5 and 8x10 film only because of the higher definition. In the case of film, not only does resolution become higher but also the color gradation gets richer as the format becomes larger. I also like larger film sizes because the feeling of transparency increases. When the size goes up to 8x10, mellowness rather than definition is the word to describe the impression of the photos. It’s wonderful that the format produces something different from 4x5 with a richer color gradation. To tell the truth, I was worried that the D800 and D800E with a high pixel count might have hard gradation, because it is generally said that when the pixel count increases with the sensor size unchanged, the pixel pitch becomes smaller to make the dynamic range narrower, resulting in hard gradation. But when I used them, I was impressed more by their rich color gradation than their high definition.

What difference did you feel between the D800/D800E and the D3X you have been using?

I have an impression that the picture quality has improved a step further. But I don’t feel a big difference from an artistic point of view because magnified prints are also possible with the D3X after pixel interpolation. However, as the D800 and D800E have the luxury of 36.3 megapixels, you can make more beautiful large prints.
As for the mechanism, I felt that many improvements have been made so as to fully utilize the high pixel count. First, the D3X has a 3-in. LCD monitor and the D800/D800E has a slightly larger 3.2-in. monitor. As I shoot in live view mode, even a slight increase in size is a great advantage. I think you can actually feel the size difference. This proves remarkable when focusing. I use live view mode with a tripod because I want to focus precisely. But the PC-E lenses I often use are manual focus lenses and I have to focus using the monitor screen. So the difference is not size alone. Response to the turning of the focusing ring for linear changes in the image has also sharply improved for better focusing.
Shinichi Sato Along with focusing, the prevention of camera vibration caused by the releasing of the shutter is a factor for fully utilizing the high pixel count. It is necessary to eliminate hand movement and vibrations from mirror movement as far as possible, in order to improve resolution. The mirror is locked up in live view mode, but with the D3X, the mirror comes down once when the shutter is released and is locked up again before the shutter curtain runs. As the shutter curtain runs with the mirror locked up throughout with the D800 and D800E, the camera is not shaken by mirror movement. Moreover, exposure delay - a delay in shutter release to wait for vibrations from the pressing down of the shutter button to die down - was one second only with the D3X, but two and three seconds can also be selected with the D800 and D800E, making it possible to reduce camera shake sharply by extending the delay time. This feature proves extremely convenient if I feel insecure about using a tripod in a room fitted with tatami mats or a fluffy carpet, for example.

Did you feel any difference between the D800 and the D800E?

The D800E with its higher resolution is similar to a 40-megapixel-class medium-format SLR, but it seems different from a camera without a low-pass filter or a camera with a regular low-pass filter and I felt more like it is a camera of a third category. Resolution is better when there is no low-pass filter, but moiré tends to appear more easily. I think the D800E’s resolution is higher than that of a camera with a regular low-pass filter and moiré is overwhelmingly less likely to appear.

What subjects do you think are suitable for the D800E?

When doing comparison shooting with the D800 and D800E, I carefully selected subjects with textures that should be better handled by the D800E’s high pixel count. I saw an Aiiro Shino vase made by Mr. Hiroshi Sakai, a ceramic artist in Mino, Gifu Prefecture, at an exhibition of traditional art works. I was very impressed by its details and asked him to allow me to take photos of it. Cracks on the vase were created by spraying a glaze onto it, and the surface was melted to give a unique texture like the enamel of a human tooth. I think pictures taken with the D800E reproduce the texture more faithfully. I took the moss pictures when I visited Tofukuji Temple for architectural photography and found some very beautiful moss in the gardens. It was early in the morning and I think the D800E was ideal for reproducing the moss wet with morning dew and sparkling in the light coming through the trees.

You shot the round vase by setting Picture Control to Portrait and Contrast to +1. Why did you use Portrait?

I thought contrast was a little too strong at the Standard setting. After trying various Picture Control settings, I judged that the Portrait and Contrast [+1] setting gave a sense of depth to highlights and did not black out shadows too much, to produce suitable detail. The Portrait setting does not tighten the shadows too much so they won’t be blacked out. That’s why women’s skin won’t look harsh. Setting the Contrast to [+1] slightly tightens the shadows. But compared with Standard, shadows may still not be tightened up enough sometimes. In such cases, I tighten them up at the time of RAW processing. You have to vary Picture Controls in many ways to know their effects, but these procedures reproduced the impression I received when I saw the vase. I should add that I set color noise reduction to [0] at the time of processing to increase definition further. I believe the D800E gives more room to pursue even better results by refining image creation.

Is refining image creation achieved using RAW processing software, such as Capture NX 2?

In my case, yes. I shoot 100% in RAW and refine image creation bit by bit through RAW processing. The process may vary depending on subject and genre. I sometimes deliver my photos in JPEG as they are. When shooting is done in an environment with completely controlled lighting using a flash that allows colors to come out fully, such as portrait shooting in a studio, pictures can be delivered straight after shooting in some cases. But as I have to shoot in mixed lights of natural light, fluorescent lamps and others, I never complete my work with a single shot, relying totally on auto white balance. I need to adjust colors by myself.

To conclude our interview, could you give advice to people who find it difficult to choose between the D800 and D800E?

For people who complete image creation in post-production, I recommend the D800E in that it can deliver material of better quality. Some people may think that they have to do troublesome processing after paying an additional amount of money for the D800E, but that’s part of the pleasure. As I have to have a backup body, I will use one each of them. But if I had to select one, I’d go for the D800E. If you want to easily obtain images with high resolution, the D800 should be fine. I’m impressed by the high perfection of the D800 judged by current parameters. But it may not be as much fun if the result is known beforehand. I think the D800E has potential you cannot imagine. I’m attracted to, and expect much of, the D800E’s unknown areas that I want to explore.

Shinichi Sato (Japan)

Born in Oita City, in 1966. After graduating from the Photography Course of Nihon University’s College of Art in 1988, he became a photographer at a company specializing in designing and constructing commercial building complexes. In 1995, he turned freelance. His specialties are interiors and architectural photography, and reportage using detailed depiction and the feeling of transparency inherent to large-format cameras. He publishes his works in documentary media in addition to design and architectural magazines. He takes pictures of everyday urban life as his lifework.

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