Image of multicolored corn from Cuzco, Peru

How to get the image quality of the Nikon D810 in other camera’s photos

Many reviewers have commented on the superb image quality of the Nikon D810, even when compared with excellent cameras like the D800E. After taking many images with the D810 I have to say that indeed you get really good photos, even as out-of-camera jpegs. The surprising thing to me was that I could get comparable image quality from earlier and cheaper cameras just by doing a simple adjustment in Lightroom.

Many people describe the photos from the D810 as if a veil has been lifted from the image and the detail you see in the 100 % screen view is crisper and cleaner than ever before. It didn’t take me long to see that the default settings of the D810 include a new “Clarity” adjustment and wondered if this was making the difference.

Naturally, you cannot get 36 megapixels out of 6 megapixels, and modern sensors have a much improved dynamic range; but when applying Clarity to well-exposed, low-ISO photos I was able to get the same crisp and clean look, even from the old jpegs of my lowly Nikon D70.

If you don’t believe me, check the Adobe Lightroom screen captures but remember: this is a subtle effect you can only see at 100 % screen magnification. Take your time as the large image compression in web pages makes it hard to show small details.

Do your own tests later and, please, let me know your results.

Photo showing the effect of a Lightroom Clarity adjusment on a Nikon D810 photograph
On the left, a NEF image from the Nikon D810 imported into Adobe Lightroom 5 at default settings (the onions have just been harvested and don’t look as those in the supermarket!). On the right the Clarity slider is set to 40 giving better detail. This is comparable to the in-camera Clarity adjustment you get in the NEF+jpeg files. Click to enlarge.
Image showing the effect of a Lightroom Clarity adjustment on a Nikon D70 photograph
Now, on the left, a jpg image from the Nikon D70 imported into Adobe Lightroom 5 at default settings. The Clarity slider set to 40 gives the same detail improvement as in the onions photo. Click to enlarge.
Nikon D810 picture of maple leaves showing the effect of a Clarity adjustment in Lightroom
Another Nikon D810 example as before. When importing NEF photos into Lightroom it doesn’t apply the Clarity adjustment set in the D810 (or any other settings) so I have applied enough Clarity to match closely what the in-camera setting does and you can see in the NEF+jpeg files.
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9 thoughts on “How to get the image quality of the Nikon D810 in other camera’s photos”

  1. Agree the Clarity slider is a most useful tool and every photo I import to LR starts with a default of +10 on Clarity. I then tweak further as I optimally adjust black and white levels on an image by image basis.

    I understand that an Unsharp Mask of 50 or so pixels radius used in Photoshop has the same broad effect which is to improve local mid level contrast.

    Clarity can be overdone and detail then lost, so its use needs to be sympathetic to the original image. Heavier applications work well when the original image has rather flat lighting like it would appear has been the case with your examples.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent comment! Clarity is the new name for “Local Contrast Enhancement” and “High Radius Low Amount” applications of Unsharp Masking and should be used with the same caution. The right amount will depend on the image pixel size and, as you indicate, its microcontrast.

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  2. I’ve been telling people for years that “megapixels” aren’t your friend so much as image quality is. I’d rather have 10 large megapixels than 20 small megapixels on the same size sensor, because the quality you can squeeze out of those 10 megapixels are usually better and nearly always have far less noise at higher ISOs.

    Alas, megapixels always win in the marketing campaign and true, measurable image quality gets neglected except by those of us who know better. Great post.

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  3. I am probably guilty of overkill with ‘clarity’ in Photoshop. Will now work with a default of ‘+10 and tweak as required’. Thanks for the tip.

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    1. Although there is nothing written in stone about processing an image –each image: one adventure– I believe the general guidelines are that subjects with defined borders are better sharpened normally, and subjects with subtle detail benefit from clarity sharpening. This is what @aussiesouthlander points out above. Sometimes a combination of the two can be fine. Based on very interesting comments to this post I am writing a new one about that subject.

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