Nikon D800 - Depth of field and "Cropability"

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens
All images - NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens


Using a 35mm film sized sensor (the misleadingly named "full-frame") means that I get less depth at my usual apertures than I do with m4/3 and to a lesser extent APS-C. This can be a problem for the landscape / location / outdoors pictures that are by far the largest part of what I shoot.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens

The picture above may look as if everything is in focus, but in fact only the front row of the crops are in sharp focus and the track and field at the rear of the image are defocused.

This is at f/11. And whereas f/8 or even f/5.6 on a m4/3 camera with the right lens would render all of this as in focus, this is different. However, this can be made to work, and there is no denying that it can to some extent make things appear to "stand out" more. Its a common thing in large and medium-format photography anyway and was certainly something that I'm used to from my 6x6, 6x4.5 and 35mm film days.

It does however require an adjustment in how I compose, and I have to take this into account when I decide what to include in the frame. In the past the pictures I took with my Nikon D3X and Leica M9 were somewhat different to those that I took with m4/3 and APS-C cameras and using a 35mm sized sensor does require a little more thought than the smaller formats. Certainly the kind of images I produce for sale would generally be expected to have a lot of depth-of-field. There isn't a great demand for sweeping landscapes with differential focus shot at wide apertures.

It may seem a somewhat obvious point but this does make a difference to landscape photographers and while the larger formats certainly produce a higher level of image quality and detail, to get an acceptable level of depth of field small apertures are often required. If this is combined with low ISO settings, then it is often the case that a tripod is required. Since this is yet another thing to carry, that is an option I'm not that keen on, and I have developed ways of dealing with this over the years.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens

On the issue of carrying things around, the picture above shows my back pain avoiding method of carrying the D800 long distances. Its called a bicycle!! This is my iXi bike which has basically been a piece of sculpture in my kitchen for a couple of years, but has recently been pressed into service because of the large basket on the back. Far from my best performing bike and with its front disk brake only and small wheels its something of a death-trap and not the easiest and most reassuring to ride. Definately not a bicycle for fast downhill descents! However along the flat cycleway that is pictured in the headline picture it works fine.


After just a couple of days, I'm resolved to keep the D800. What else will give me this spectacular image quality? With this in mind I'm keen to make it work and am certainly not rushing out to buy heavy zoom lenses that will mean that its most likely to sit on the shelf as I go for something lighter. The D800 / 50mm f/1.8 combination certainly works fine in terms of weight and should be relatively comfortable when I'm unable to use my carrying system above and have to use my legs for several miles.

Regular readers will know that going out with just a standard lens is something I do a lot, and indeed that was my preferred way of working with my M9.

There are a couple of ways that this can be made to work and offer a certain amount of versatilty.

In terms of providing a wide-angle option, since I mostly shoot non-moving subjects, I can use my multi-image / stitching techniques.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens

In terms of a telephoto option this becomes somewhat more difficult.

The large amount of pixels does however allow for cropping options. The D800, like other "big Nikons" does offer some interesting in-camera cropping options.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens
This is the full 35mm film sized frame.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens
This is a newly-intoduced 1.2x crop. Its been suggested that since some of the DX lenses vignette less than others on FX sensors, this might be a way of being able to use them without going to the full DX crop. Its also a useful way of handling lenses that do have a certain amount of corner vignetting or softness.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens
This is the 5x4 crop. On my D3X I used this with a couple of DX lenses and it works pretty well. Certainly the 35mm f/1.8 lens works with this crop, leaving only a small amount of corner shading, which can be easily removed in Photoshop.

NIKON D800 50mm f/1.8D lens
Finally this is the DX crop itself, which you can select as an image size option. It can be seen as kind of an in-camera digital zoom.This produces a 15MP 44MB file, which is still large enough for A3 reproduction.

Of course there is no real need to do this in-camera and the images can be cropped later but it does certainly help with the on-the-spot composition.

So a 50mm lens does have some options. I haven't decided what to do as yet and am exploring a couple of light medium telephoto alternatives, but I am keen to keep the weight I have to carry down to the absolute minimum. Because if I put together a heavy outfit then I simply just won't use it.

Incidentally, those multi-image stitches which weigh in at around 300-400MB are things of wonder. I'm uploading some to picture libraries today. However I'm having to reduce them in size as most libraries have an upper as well as a lower size limit. Never been in a situation before where my images are too big!

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.
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