Nikon D800E vs. Leaf Aptus 75

July 10, 2012  •  5 Comments

I received my Nikon D800E several weeks ago and have been ingesting the 400 plus page manual as time allows.  I've been shooting a Leaf Aptus 75 medium format digital back the last couple of years and have heard that the new D800E should come very close to the resolution produced by medium format digital.  Well fortunately, I now have both cameras to see if this is true or not.  The Nikon D800E has a 36mp sensor while the Leaf Aptus 75 has a much larger sensor with only 33mp. 

I took all test images within several minutes of each other.  On the Nikon, I used the Nikon 14-24mm lens set at 24mm, f-11, with a 2 stop graduated ND filter for the sky.  On the Leaf, I used the Mamiya 35mm lens, f-11, with a 2 stop graduated ND filter for the sky.  These focal lengths are virtually identical given the format size difference of the sensors.  I also used mirror lock-up before every shot to reduce vibration.  So, as you can see, we are going to be looking at basically an apples to apples comparison of sensor resolution and shadow detail.

Please note that this is not a scientific test in any way, shape, or form.  It's simply me testing my two cameras against each other. 

Here are the full view images from each camera.  First, the full image from the Nikon D800E:


And here is the full image from the Leaf Aptus 75:


As you can see, the Nikon has an overall "warmer" tone to it.  Now lets get into the details.  I'll let you make your own conclusions from the following portions blown up to "actual pixels" in photoshop and placed side by side for comparison.  Just an FYI, both cameras shoot at 240dpi native resolution (RAW).  There were absolutely no adjustments made to any of the images other than converting to jpg for the internet.





Conclusion:  In my opinion, the Leaf Aptus still holds a VERY slight edge over the Nikon D800E when it comes to resolution and shadow detail.  BUT, when you factor in the enormous price difference between the two setups, the Nikon is by far the clear winner given the fact that the resolution and shadow detail differences are so extremely minor.  Anyone in the market for a Leaf Aptus 75 digital back with a Mamiya AFDII body and lenses?????


Natures Finest Images
Hello "I started with 5x4" and thanks for your opinion from your testing. It looks like we agree that the MF holds a slight edge over the Nikon D800E. I also totally agree that each format has it's own "look" to it on the final output which as you mention is "subjective". I tell my students in landscape photography to first determine what their final product is going to be before purchasing a camera setup. This will help guide them in what they really need and not want. Your 5th paragraph leaves me with a question though - "do you really think your clients will notice any difference on your final product?". I did an experiment years ago when I had my gallery set up. A bunch of "pixel peepers" were debating camera formats and photo papers on a local forum. I chimed in and challenged them to stop in my gallery and see if they could tell which images were printed on different papers and shot with different formats. To make a long story short, not a single one of the over half dozen "experts" could discern the difference on the final product.

Yes, the price of used MF is coming down dramatically since the introduction of the D800E. But, when you compare new vs. new setups and used vs. used setups, the price difference is still extrememly dramatic and I still hold the opinion that the D800E is the winner when you factor in price in today's market. But again, it all comes back to what works best for each individual photographer and what your final product is going to be.

Also, after doing some research on actual scientific tests between the two camera sensors, there is no doubt the D800E is the better sensor overall. If you look at, you'll see the Aptus 75S had an overall score of 77 vs. the D800E at 96, the color depth for the Aptus 75S was 24.7 vs the D800E at 25.6, and finally the dynamic range for the Aptus 75S at 12.5 vs. the D800E at 14.3. If you or anyone else has a link to actual scientific tests between the two sensors, please post it here as I'd love to see it.

Great debate everyone!
I started with 5x4(non-registered)
This seems like a bit of an Apples/Oranges comparison to me. I would say that the 35mm lens on the Mamiya is not its best optic in my experience. My own tests compared the 80mm standard f2.8 on the Mamiya with the f1.4 50mm G on the Nikon 800E. This is fairer on MF. Keep in mind that the 80mm is a roughly 7 year old AF model and does not represent the current state of the art as available on medium format, such as the Schneider LS lenses now available.

In my testing I found that the Nikon was indeed very close to the Aptus, in fact when the Nikon image is cropped to the same aspect ratio as the Mamiya, it's nearly the same in pixel count. Doing this also crops the very edges of the image frame, meaning that very modest costing Nikon lenses can be used. Eg: the 35mm f2 which is excellent, cheap and tiny and very good resolution in all but the corners.

However, there was a definable image quality improvement by the Aptus over the D800E that frustratingly to an empiricist like myself can only be described subjectively. The Nikon images were good digital images, somehow though, the Aptus images were 'art'. Hard to say exactly why this is, the DR was a bit better, the resolution was a bit better and the colour was a bit better, nothing but a 'quantum' of difference. But the whole FEELING of the image was different. I wish I could boil it down to a formula but I can't because although the Aptus tipped the Nikon in resolution very clearly, it wasn't that as the quality revealed itself at normal viewing sizes.

Also keep in mind that while it may not be obvious from the sample images here, many different lenses, although ostensibly equivalent on different formats, don't look the same in reality, they 'draw' their images differently.

I was really hoping that I could replace my Aptus 75 for much of my work with the Nikon which is truly an excellent camera. But after 7 years with the Aptus and a year with the Nikon 800E and experimenting with a sizable kit of 10 prime lenses including the Zeiss 100 f2, I am still on that elusive search for a way to achieve the results with MF with the D800E.

Also keep in mind that for much precise work, with Wide Angles, I shoot with the Schneider digitar 35XL, 47XL and 72XL lenses on a technical camera. These results on the Aptus 75 are incredibly detailed, these are a good leap ahead of anything I can get out of the D800E.

So, be cautious and do your own tests. With incredible backs like the A75 available second hand at reasonable prices, and if you only need a couple of fantastic focal lengths, MF backs are available to pretty much any serious photographer or artist at a price probably less and at least no more than a decent 645 film outfit used to cost in inflation adjusted terms.
Natures Finest Images
"Blame", thanks for your comments. In my real world shooting at the different f-stops, I've noticed that there is virtually no noticable difference between f11 and f5.6 on the Nikon. Even when zoomed in at "actual pixels" I could hardly see any difference. Yes, when I went to f16 or f22, that's where the difference with diffraction was noticable at "actual pixels". Also, I disagree that the prime is sharper in this case. As mentioned, I was using the Nikon 14-24mm lens which at the time (and probably currently), is sharper than almost any prime lens on the market.

To sum it up, I'm guessing that doing this test with your parameters would yield no noticable difference to the viewer. I would love to try it but have since sold the medium format system.
Er, Hate to say it but you didn't set as even a playing field as you might think. First because you set a prime lens against a zoom. The prime is likely to be the sharper. But the really huge mistake is to set the lenses to the same aperture. The leaf aptus 75 sensor is twice the size of the Nikon D800E's. You can just drop the focal length to get equivalence. You also have to drop the aperture by one stop to give the same depth of field. At f/11 the Nikon is going to be more or less going to be diffraction limited while the Leaf with it's bigger pixels will be less so.

To show what both of these cameras can do you should use the Nikon at f/5.6 and the leaf at f/8 to avoid as much diffraction as possible . I would go lower but that is asking too much of the lenses. You should also use the sharpest of primes which are not going to be as wide as you used.
I read with attention your coment about Leaf and D800...
I have the oportunity to buy a used but in perfect condition(less than 5000 pictures made with it) LEAF AFI body + 90° prism + Aptus 75 + 80 mm + schneider Apo 90 macro + Zeiss Distagon 40 mm + Super Angulon PQS 50 mm + 4 batteries + suitcase for 9500 euros...
What do you think about this deal?
Could you answer me buy email, i'm Chritopher, french photographer based in Paris.
For the moment i work with a canon DS mark3, do you think the leaf will give me a big difference with my canon? I used to work a long time ago with a Rollei 6008 intégral....
Best regards,
[email protected]
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