Nikon D800E vs. Pentax 645D

Image Quality: Field Tests

Now it's time to take our two high-res cameras outside!

Nikon D800E and Pentax 645D with lenses

General Image Quality

Our first test subject was a general store building, as seen below. Shooting parameters were as follows and we used center point autofocus to make sure that the cameras locked on the building:

  • Pentax 645D with the SMC Pentax-D FA 645 55mm F2.8 lens set to F9.5
  • Nikon D800E with the AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8 zoom set to 45mm and F8
  • ISO 100
  • RAW converted in Adobe Camera RAW, with no postprocessing other than unsharp mask 100%, radius 1, threshold 0

In order to get about the same depth of field from the two lenses the Pentax was closed down half a stop over the Nikon.

645D
D800E
full image
full-size JPG full-size JPG
100% crop 100% crop

Both cameras produced excellent images.  The 645D offers slightly more resolution, while it also exhibits more moiré in the fence on the right side of the photo.  We did our best to ensure that both cameras had the same angle of view when shooting.

Resolution

The following field test was shot in the Sonoran desert in Arizona. We used autofocus targeted at the big cactus in the center.

Shooting data was as follows:

  • Pentax 645D with the SMC Pentax-D FA 645 55mm F2.8 lens and SMC Pentax-FA 645 80-160mm F4.5 zoom
  • Nikon D800E with AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8 zoom
  • ISO 100 and 400, respectively
  • RAW converted in ACR, no postprocessing other than unsharp mask 100%, radius 1, threshold 0

As before, the 645D was stopped down half a stop more than the Nikon.  Links are provided below each image for downloading a full size unsharpened JPG version of the image.

645D
D800E
f=55mm, F13, ISO 100 f=45mm, F11, ISO 100
100% crop | full-size JPG 100% crop | full-size JPG
   
 f=55mm, F13, ISO 400  f=45mm, F11, ISO 400
 100% crop | full-size JPG  100% crop | full-size JPG
f=90mm, F13, ISO 100 f=70mm, F11, ISO 100
100% crop | Full-size JPG 100% crop | Full-size JPG

The 645D and the D800E perform practically identically in this scene. If you're really picky perhaps the 645D has a slight edge at ISO 100 with less noise in the sky and just a tiny bit more resolution. The 645D shows better resolution at the edges but that can be attributed to the lenses used, not the cameras.  Discernible moiré is present on one of the cacti on the right side in the first 55mm 645D photo, suggesting that the Pentax does exhibit slightly more moiré overall.

Contrast

The 645D unprocessed RAW images show a good deal more contrast then the D800E:

645D:

645D unprocessed

D800E:

D800E unprocessed

 

After applying the default processing in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and adding an unsharp mask the images from the two cameras become virtually identical, with the D800E having slightly more dynamic range:

645D:

645D processed rom RAW

D800E:D800E processed from RAW

The in-camera generated JPGs are not quite as good as the ones we got from the RAW files. For the unprocessed RAW files, the 645D image has more contrast. Both cameras had default settings. By tweaking the processing parameters we're convinced that one could achieve virtually-identical results from both cameras.

645D:

645D in-camera JPG

D800E:

D800E in-camera JPG

 

Daylight Performance over ISO Range

Our second example shows the ISO performance in the shade of a contrasty subject. Autofocus on the pillar in the center of the image.

  • Pentax 645D with SMC Pentax-D FA 645 55mm F2.8 lens
  • Nikon D800E with AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm F2.8 zoom set at 45mm
  • ISO 100 through 1600
  • RAW converted in ACR, no postprocessing and no sharpening

The scene:

Below we show 100% crops (1280 x 860) from the center of the image. We also provide links to the full-size JPGs as converted from RAW without any postprocessing:

645D
800E
ISO 100 ISO 100
100% crop | full-size JPG 100% crop | full-size JPG
ISO 200 ISO 200
100% crop | full-size JPG 100% crop | full-size JPG
ISO 400 ISO 400
100% crop | full-size JPG 100% crop | full-size JPG
ISO 800 ISO 800
100% crop | full-size JPG 100% crop | full-size JPG
ISO 1600 ISO 1600
100% crop | full-size JPG 100% crop | full-size JPG

At ISO 100 the 645 produces slightly cleaner images than the D800E, but both cameras produce excellent images up to and including ISO 400, then noise starts to appear, more so on the 645D. At ISO 800 the noise is modest and easily handled in postprocessing. ISO 1600 is outside the normal range for the 645D and it shows - the 645D generates much worse noise at ISO 1600 than does the D800E.

To illustrate noise removal, below we show the ISO 1600 images again, but in the form of in-camera processed JPGs, with sharpness and noise reduction settings at their factory default:

645D
D800E
ISO 1600, processed in camera ISO 1600, processed in camera
100% crop | full-size JPG 100% crop | full-size JPG

Verdict

Both cameras produce images of outstanding quality and the for all practical purposes the images are identical in resolution, contrast and color rendition in the ISO range 100 - 400. Above ISO 400 the 645D generates more noise that the D800E; the age of the CCD sensor in the 645D is showing.


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