Nikon D800 vs. Hasselblad HD4-40 vs. Leica S2 vs. Sigma SD1

Nikon D800 vs. Hasselblad HD4-40 vs. Leica S2 vs. Sigma SD1-

When Nikon announced their new D800 with 36.3 Megapixels, it was said to compete with digital medium format cameras. A bold claim to be sure. Could they back it up? How would it hold up against the formidable competition of the Leica S2, and Hasselblad HD4-40? I’m glad someone put them all to a test:

As you can see from the images, the Nikon D800 blows the others totally out of the water at ISO of 800 and above. Of course it is unlikely one would use a Hasselblad or Leica S2 digital camera for events requiring high ISOs like weddings, low light sporting events, etc.

In the studio or when using a low ISO setting, the medium format cameras do very well. That is to be expected. Their high price tags, and limited lens selection can be overlooked if you are looking for the very best image quality, under controlled lighting situations. The idea that Nikon and Canon are getting close to the same results, at a fraction of the cost, is wonderful for professional shooters who require high quality, large images, but don’t have $20,000+ to re-invest in a medium format system.

In the old days of film, a professional photographer could invest in a camera system and never upgrade their camera for over a decade or more. The investment in a camera was almost a one-time event as long as you treated your camera with care. Camera advancements were pretty much limited to an increase in frame rate. Such is no longer the case.

Today’s digital photographer replaces their camera at fairly regular intervals, sometimes every 3-4 years. Right now you can shop at your local “” and find high quality Nikon D90’s, D700’s and Nikon D3’s being sold for two reasons:

1. So that the photographer can get a decent price out of their used camera. (used camera prices drop quickly after that model is obsolete, and drop even more rapidly when they become two generations away from the current model)

2. Because photographers always see the value of the newer technology. More mega-pixels, less noise, better high ISO performance, video (or expanded video) capabilities, more robust body, etc; and normally at a reasonable price.

Imagine you are using a medium format camera and replacing your current and backup camera with newest from that manufacturer could cost you $37,000 US. Now imagine that you could attain 95% of the same image quality with two Nikon D800’s  for a mere $6,000.  Okay, the 95% number is my unscientific number, based on the images above, but I think it is very close, and doesn’t take into account any images created at ISO 800 or higher. Now consider replacing your cameras every 3-4 years! Ouch!

Anecdotally, I am aware of photographers who are not upgrading their medium format digital cameras and instead are making the switch to Nikon or Canon DSLR’s. Of course others are investing in the medium format digital cameras because their clients demand the very best.

If my clients could fund such investments, and I needed high quality large images, I would do more research than what is presented here. Images on a monitor are not printed images! The mega-pixel count on most cameras is ample for 16×20 inch and larger prints. For years photographers have had “enough” mega-pixels in even their mid-range cameras. A new complaint among professional photographers is that their digital photos are too large, requiring larger memory cards, more RAM, and more hard drive space.

I hope to be doing some of my own testing of the D800 in the near future, as well as giving you the best setting for portraits, weddings, scenic and general photography with your D800. Of course you know I will be testing the video capabilities as well.

By all accounts the Nikon D800 (and Nikon D4) put Nikon back into the leadership position for DSLR image quality. Since I have neither the time, nor the desire to test Nikon against Canon products, I will leave that to others. However, when I find some decent comparisons, by unbiased authors, using production model cameras, I will post those results.

If you happen to find such info before me, let me know, and I’ll post it here.

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