Over the weekend of 26th and 27th May, 2012, we did a test in which we compared a Nikon D800 and D800E with a Phase One IQ180 back.
It was a real David vs Goliath test. So much so, we there was a real chance that the results would be ridiculously skewed in favour of the medium format camera. They weren’t. Incredibly, the D800E was able to run the IQ180 very close. So close, in fact, that we initially mistook a 60×40 inch print from the D800E as one from the IQ180 file. David almost beat the odds again.
But let’s not forget we are comparing a €3,500 36MP camera with a €30,000+ 80MP medium format back.
“Almost” shouldn’t have come into it.
For those who would like to know, here are the technical details of the equipment tested.
Nikon D800, Nikon PC-E 24mm tilt/shift lens (courtesy of Aeden Coffey and Dr. John Cuddihy)
Nikon D800E, Zeiss 21mm lens (courtesy of Javier Leite)
Phase One IQ180 back on an Arca Swiss Rm3d with a Schneider 35mm APO-Digitar XL (courtesy of Peter Cox)
We had wanted to include a Canon 5DIII in the test but were unable to source one.
We had also planned to test the IQ180 on a Phase One 645AF camera with a Phase One 35mm f/3.5 lens. No such luck. The camera broke down during the first test.
We tested for sharpness at an optimum aperture (determined for each camera/lens combination) focused at infinity; sharpness at the relevant optimal apertures’ hyperfocal distance (calculated using 2x pixel pitch); sharpness achieved using tilt and shift, and dynamic range.
Real world conclusions
Our real world conclusions were simple.
The D800, while an amazing camera, quickly became the bronze medalist. It’s E-sibling is subtly but perceptibly better. That didn’t mean it was merely the runner up. Oh no.
The Phase One IQ180 back on an Arca Swiss Rm3d with a Schneider 35mm APO-Digitar XL produces stunning results. Absolutely gorgeous at 30×20 inches and 60×40 inches. Knock out.
At 30×20 inches, you can see subtle but clear differences between the IQ180 and the D800E. Not all of them weighted in favour of the medium format camera, though. For instance, the D800E produced much more pleasing shadow areas on the prints of the photographs produced to test dynamic range.
Resolution and detail of the IQ180 prints was better than that of the D800E prints – but not massively. Again, the difference was there, but it wasn’t huge. Certainly not €30,000 huge.
And we were stunned just how close the D800E ran the IQ180 when the files were printed at 60×40 inches, which is bigger than many dining room tables.
Put simply, Nikon has produced a phenomenal camera.
Medium format camera manufacturers have cause for concern.
Pixel peepers enjoy straining their eyeballs out of their heads, and who are we to deny them the pleasure?
Here are some sample sections from the files we produced during our D800 and D800E vs Phase One IQ180 comparison test.
No sharpening has been applied to any of the images.
What are your thoughts?