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Nikon D3x Gordon Laing, July 2009

In this article we’re only reporting on the Nikon D3x’s image quality and how it compares to the best of its rivals; we’re not considering build quality, handling, features or price. As such we selected the Canon EOS 5D Mark II for direct comparison because Canon describes it as having the best image quality in its current range. Sony was unable to supply an A900 for comparison. Across these three results pages you’ll see how the D3x and 5D Mark II compare in terms of image quality using a variety of lenses and with their RAW files processed using each manufacturer’s supplied software.

Nikon D3x RAW results : Real-life resolution / Studio resolution / High ISO Noise

Real-life RAW resolution - Nikon D3x vs Canon EOS 5D Mark II


To compare real-life performance we shot the same scene with the Nikon D3x and Canon EOS 5D Mark II and EOS 5D within a few moments of each other using their RAW modes and base sensitivities.

This scene required wide-angle coverage, so we selected high quality lenses for each system which included the 24mm focal length: the Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f2.8 and the Canon EF 24-105mm f4L, both set to 24mm f8. To see how the bodies compare with similar prime lenses, check our High ISO results page where 50mm f1.4 models were fitted.

High ISO Noise Reduction was set to the default Normal and Standard settings on the D3x and 5D Mark II respectively. Active D-Lighting and the Auto Lighting Optimiser were both disabled for this test. Both cameras were set to their RAW modes, with the supplied software used to perform conversions: Nikon’s Capture NX 2.2.0 and Canon’s Digital Photo Professional 3.6, both using their default settings with Chromatic Aberration reduction enabled. Note: Sony was unable to supply an Alpha A900 for comparison here, but you can see results for it taken with the Carl Zeiss 24-70mm f2.8 lens from the same position in our Sony Alpha A900 review. The images were taken on a different day, but still give an indication of respective detail; the RAW sample for the A900 is at the bottom of its first results page.

At first glance, crops from the Nikon D3x’s processed RAW file look noticeably softer than those from the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The Canon crops look much crisper and sharper. Some of this is due to the difference in lenses used for this particular test, so to level the playing field we fitted similar 50mm f1.4 primes for our High ISO results page. But when viewing that page, you’ll see the Canon samples are still noticeably punchier.

This difference seen throughout our results pages is partly due to their respective sensor designs and anti-aliasing filters, but greatly influenced by image processing and the default settings in their supplied RAW converters. By default Nikon is opting for a less processed approach, allowing you to stamp your own preferences later, while Canon is going for a more ‘cooked’ image that’s ready for action without modification.

By increasing the sharpness and contrast on the D3x or reducing them on the 5D Mark II, you can bring both images to a similar appearance, but it certainly confirms the target markets of each camera: the D3x is a top-end professional body which expects a certain amount of tweaking by its owner, whereas the EOS 5D Mark II is more consumer-focused with crisper images by default. Coincidentally, this approach is also reflected in each model’s in-camera JPEG processing.

Looking beyond the processing and optical differences though, there’s little between them in terms of recorded detail in a real-life example like this. The D3x may sport a few extra Megapixels and deliver a tighter crop as a result, but there’s no greater detail in there on this particular sample. The D3x does have a genuine resolution benefit, but to see it you’ll need to photograph technical charts in a controlled environment – which is what we’ve done on our D3x Studio Resolution page. Check it out to see the technical differences between each sensor before then comparing their respective performance at high sensitivities.

Nikon D3x
with Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f2.8
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
with Canon EF 24-105mm f4.0L IS
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO
f8, 100 ISO

Nikon D3x RAW results : Real-life resolution / Studio resolution / High ISO Noise

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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