I just finished up a big fine art print job for a local client here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This order included both Limited Edition and Open Edition prints, which were printed at 16×24 inches all the way up to 40×60 inches. In the process of printing the larger prints, I was blown away by the image quality of the Nikon D800 and how well it responded to enlargement. For the 40×60-inch prints, I only had to enlarge the Nikon D800 images 147% to get up to 40×60-inches at 180 dpi, which is the resolution I use to print huge prints on my Epson 9880 44-inch printer, as seen above.
As this is the first time I have printed my images at such a large size, it was both an educational experience and a jaw-dropping astonishing experience. The 40×60-inch D800 image shown above looked very similar to the 13×19-inch print of this same image. When I saw the print above roll off the printer I was so blown away it took me a full hour to pick my jaw up off the floor. Honestly, if the D800 could shoot at 8 fps I would never shoot with any other camera. Making such huge prints makes you aware of how careful you need to be with your camera technique. Any tiny error in camera handling results in less than wicked-sharp prints, especially when printing this big. Seeing my images this big is going to help make my images that much better technically.
Also of note, I also printed a 35mm film image at 40×60 inches. I fully expected it to look pretty rough, but because I had a huge resolution film scan it looked quite good. Indeed, it had a lot of grain up close, but overall it looked pretty incredible. It wasn’t anywhere near the quality of the Nikon D800 image up close but overall I was pretty impressed.
All of the image processing, including the enlargement and sharpening, was done in Photoshop. Before printing this job, I did a test between Photoshop and Lightroom to see which software would lead to better overall image quality. The results were that while Lightroom had excellent sharpening techniques it also added quite a bit of noise to the images when they were enlarged. Using Photoshop allowed me to get better overall image quality with less noise and the same dead on sharpening.
For all of these prints I used Ilford Gold Fibre Silk, which is one of my favorite papers. Look for a review of the Ilford papers in the next issue of my Newsletter along with an article on this Fine Art Print job.
Michael, thank you so much for sharing your experience. I bought a d800e and am planning to get a 44 inch printer and will probably go with the Epson 9880. One question is, the RAW file from the camera is 7360 pixels wide. If I divide that by 60 inches, I get 122 pixels per inch. How do you manage to get 180 pixels per inch?
And thanks for the info on paper selection and comparing PS and LR! I look forward to getting into my own learning curve!
So far, I haven’t had the need to print anything that large, but I am so glad to hear the good news about the quality! I am still a beginner with the D800, but really am enjoying it. (I went from the D7000 to the D800.)
Even though I know the basic elements to sharp photos, I was wondering if you could offer any other advice to ensure the sharpest photo possible.
Mark – To get to 180 pip, I upres the image in Photoshop using Bicubic Smoother (Enlargement). This up samples the image to 60 inches. And that is why I say in the post that I only had to upres the image 147%. I use 180 pixels because the Epson printers produce the best possible image quality at 360 ppi or 180 ppi.The difference between these two resolutions is extremely small and you would need a loupe to really see it. I don’t print at resolutions lower than 180 ppi. Hope this answers the question.
Patricia – To get the sharpest photos possible with the D800, concentrate on holding the camera steady or use a tripod. Also, crank the ISO up and use higher than normal shutter speeds to assure crisper images. There is a whole lot that goes into this and I teach a workshop on getting the best image quality out of the D800 so you might look into that if you really want to squeak out all that the D800 has to offer. Here is a link to that workshop:
Thank you, Michael. I’ll take a look.
Hi Michel, firt, thanks a lot for this. It might help me a lot! I know this post was written about 3 years ago, but, if you are still online here, I would like to ask if you have any idea about comparing an enlargment from a 6×6 scanned film image, lets say, from an Hasselblad to the Nikon 800D? I will need about 40×40′ prints. Thanks.
Yoram – Glad to hear that was useful. as for the prints from he D800 vs. the Hasselblad that will depend mostly on your film scanner. The D800 will look incredible if you use good camera technique and the image is sharp. The Hasselblad film scan will look great as well but will have a lot more grain since at that size you will see the film grain and it will depend on what type of film it was shot on and how much post-processing was done to the film scan afterwards as to how these will compare. No way to tell until you make two prints and see for yourself really. My guess is the D800 will look cleaner and possibly sharper as film was never really tack sharp (if you scan it as a high enough resolution you will find this out).