Backscatter Home Backscatter HomeSearchHousing FinderContact
Backscatter Underwater Photo & Video
GalleriesArticlesTrips & ClassesBooks

Crop Sensor or Full Frame for Underwater Photography - A Review of the Nikon D800E in a Nauticam Housing

Articles » Photo Equipment » Crop Sensor or Full Frame for Underwater Photography - A Review of the Nikon D800E in a Nauticam Housing

Font Sizes:
Crop Sensor or Full Frame for Underwater Photography - A Review of the Nikon D800E in a Nauticam Housing

By: Jason Bradley

Backscatter's Pro Team Member, Jason Bradley, a crop sensor shooter,
see the benefits of shooting full frame.

"Ultimately, any reservations I had about moving up to a full frame camera for underwater work are gone."

Thus far, my underwater cameras of choice have been the NikonD7000 and NikonD7100. They perform just fine in low light and capture a great picture, and I've been happy shooting my cropped sensors for a few reasons. Reason one is my Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon lens; as many of you may know, the 10-17 is a GREAT lens for wide-angle underwater work. I've also enjoyed the extra depth of field inherent with cropped sensors. They aren't the fastest SLR's Nikon offers, not by a long shot, but they are just fine for what I do.

Needless to say, there is the consideration of whether or not moving to a full frame camera, and another housing, is worth the expense. The problem for me is the D800E. I've actually owned this camera for a while now, and the image quality is so much better with this camera, that "just fine" isn't cutting it any more.

The D800E replaced my D700 and I've been using it for landscapes and terrestrial wildlife, and am continually impressed with its capture quality. The D800E offers a significant increase in detail, a richer color palette, better low-light performance, and a surprising bump in dynamic range from my other Nikons, whether compared to cropped or full frame sensors. And yes, I am aware that the NikonD810 was recently released and housings are on the way for this camera-even better! Either way, I've been impressed enough with this camera that I've been considering leaving my cropped sensor underwater universe; but I needed to test it first. Luckily, I live a few blocks from Backscatter in Monterey, CA, and was able to get my hands on a Nauticam D800 housing before heading to Mexico to lead's annual Whale Shark Expedition in Isla Mujeres, this last August.

In short, I'm sold. Instead of using a Tokina 10-17 mm Nikon, I used the Nikkor 16mm fisheye lens on the whale sharks. Admittedly, shooting these animals in Mexico doesn't provide enough variation in subject matter to determine if how much I'll miss my Tokina, but it doesn't matter. The detail and dynamic range are just as impressive with this camera underwater as it is above. Duh! Whatever mental block I had, it was shattered as I began playing with these files. Below is an image with a window showing a 1:1 view of some of the detail. Beautiful! But there's something else I figured out in Mexico, and it wasn't something I was putting much thought into before the trip. I was impressed with the Nauticam D800 housing.

I've been playing with underwater cameras and housings for close to 15 years now and have seen many toys come and go from the market over the years. But, being as content as I've been in my cropped sensor universe, I've never taken a dip with Nauticam gear. I'm glad I did, because the housing was solid. It's just well engineered. The buttons are where they need to be, they feel like buttons should feel, the camera goes in and out of the housing well, the latches on the back of the housing are great, and the port lock is easily the best I've seen from any housing manufacturer.

Ultimately, any reservations I had about moving up to a full frame camera for underwater work are gone, and I've found a great new housing to work with. Of course, I'll be testing the NikonD810 now along with the Nauticam D810 housing, sigh! Either way, if you've been having a similar conversation about whether or not it's worth it, I now believe many full frame cameras have evolved enough, that it is worth the extra expense. Or at least, they are worth an extra look. Moreover, I suspect this is the case not only with Nikon gear, but with some of Canon's high-end full frame SLR's too. Naturally, if you are thick headed like me, you can try the gear first. Rent it. Ask Backscatter if they have rental gear for your target camera and system. Ask a Backscatter salesperson for details. Remember, better captures make better prints.

Thanks Backscatter!

Jason Bradley

Shoot with Us


EMAIL (please enter it twice)

ANTI-SPAM: (Please Type Verification Word)
verification image, type it in the box






Canon 1Dx Mark II Underwater Camera Review
Here at Backscatter we are fortunate to have a large customer base of professional underwater filmmakers. This year our conversations have revolved around three cameras: Red Weapon/EPIC Dragon, Sony a7R Mark II, and the new Canon 1DX II. We’ve had the chance to spend time in the water with all of the above, and each has their benefits and drawbacks. Here’s how the 1Dx Mark II stacks up...

Underwater TTL Reference Guide
TTL is an automatic strobe exposure system and a great tool for beginning underwater photographers. TTL systems will allow you to focus on strobe placement while it figures out the best strobe exposure. It’s not fail proof, but modern systems have become surprisingly accurate and help make underwater photography even more fun.

Nikon D500 Underwater Camera Review
The D500 is Nikon’s long awaited update to the D300. With blazing shooting speed and Nikon’s first dive into 4K video, see how this camera performs in the water in our full review with images and video.

10Bar Strobe Snoots - Underwater Snoot Review
Snoots are a great way to add more drama to your macro pictures and rekindle your love for all things small in the ocean. The 10Bar Snoot will narrow the beam of your strobe, concentrating the light on just the subject and not the surrounding reef. Aiming a snoot can be challenging so 10Bar added a laser pointer to see where the strobe light will land while you're framing your shot.

Sony a7R Mark II Underwater Review
The Sony A7R Mark II is a full frame mirrorless camera that shoots 42 MP stills, 4K video, and has low light capability that is second only to the best low light camera ever, the Sony A7S. Can the new A7R perform on all fronts as promised? Read on to see photos and 4K video from this revolutionary camera.

Olympus Tough TG-4 Underwater Test and Review
TG-4 now shoots RAW photos! We recently shot some amazing photos and video with the new Olympus TG-4. Read on for the full review.

More Articles »

Backscatter Home Search Housing Finder Contact
    CHECK US OUT ON:  Backscatter on Facebook FACEBOOK   |   Backscatter on Twitter TWITTER BACKSCATTER UNDERWATER VIDEO & PHOTO
225 Cannery Row, Monterey, California 93940 USA
PHONE: +1-831-645-1082
FAX: +1-831-375-1526
SKYPE: backscatter_west
Showroom Hours
16 Manning Street, Suite 103, Derry, NH 03038 USA
PHONE: +1-603-432-1997
SKYPE: backscatter_east
Showroom Hours


Products by category
Products by part number

Download Backscatter Logos


Visit Our Help Center