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Nikon D800 Gordon Laing, August 2012
 
 

Nikon D800 vs Canon EOS 5D Mark III RAW quality

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To compare real-life quality in RAW I shot this scene with the Nikon D800 and Canon EOS 5D Mark III within a few moments of each other using their RAW modes.

The D800 was fitted with the Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED and the Mark III with the Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM, both with the aperture set to f8. Both were using their standard processing styles and White Balance was set to Daylight.

I shot this sequence in RAW+JPEG mode and you can find the JPEG comparison on the previous page; see the contents list above right for all my results pages.

  Nikon D800 results
1 Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D3 Quality JPEG
2 Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D3 Quality RAW
3 Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D3 Noise JPEG
4 Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D3 Noise downsampled JPEG
5 Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D3 Noise RAW
6 Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D3 Noise downsampled RAW
7 Nikon D800 vs Medium Format RAW
8 Nikon D800 Sample images

The image above right was taken with the Nikon D800 with the AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED lens set to 36mm and the aperture set to f8 in Aperture Priority mode. At its base sensitivity of 100 ISO, the D800 metered an exposure of 1/320 for this composition. The Mark III metered an identical exposure.

I processed both files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile. These settings were chosen to reveal the differences in sensor quality and isolate them from in-camera processing. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts, while the zero noise reduction unveils what's really going on behind the scenes.

If you're viewing this page in isolation I'd urge you to have a copy of my Nikon D800 JPEG quality results open at the same time - and just to be extra helpful, you can click this link to open them in a new window. Image processing can be a very personal thing, but I'd say both the D800 and 5D Mark III benefit from the RAW workflow described above. Both are displaying very crisp fine details without any undesirable haloing artefacts.

The Nikon D800 JPEGs already looked pretty good in my opinion, but now enjoy a slight boost in crispness for a preferable overall result. But it's the 5D Mark III which really benefits from this approach RAW processing, losing their over-contrasty and slightly artificial-looking default style in favour of something much crisper and cleaner.

Of course by processing them with the same settings and choosing Adobe's profile rather than the camera's own, the image style is unsurprisingly very similar on this page, and thanks to that you can really concentrate on differences in detail. As you might expect, the 50% greater pixel count of the D800 has allowed finer details to be resolved, most noticeably in the distant buildings, although it may not be as significant a difference as you'd expect.

So it's another win for the D800 in terms of detail, but the 5D Mark III isn't far behind and I hope you'll agree the Canon image really benefits from the RAW workflow described here. For completeness, you can scroll down to see a comparison of the D800's RAW file down-sampled to its Medium resolution setting to roughly match the pixel count of the 5D3. Alternatively you can dive straight into my high ISO comparisons with the first of my Nikon D800 noise pages, starting with a JPEG comparison with the Canon. I'll also include RAW and down-sampled versions later on and if you'd prefer to jump straight to these, just scroll up to the results contents box.

 


Canon EOS 5D Mark III (RAW using Adobe Camera RAW)
Using EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM
 
Nikon D800 (36MP RAW using Adobe Camera RAW)
Using Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED

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 D800 vs Canon EOS 5D Mark III RAW quality, (D800 down-sampled to 20 Megapixels)
 
Below you'll see crops from the EOS 5D Mark III at its maximum resolution compared to the D800's image down-sampled to 20 Megapixels to match the camera's medium resolution setting. I down-sampled the image in Photoshop as the RAW+JPEG option for the Medium resolution records the RAW file in the full 36 Megapixels. So on the previous page you can see a 20 Megapixel JPEG generated in-camera, while on this page it's a 36 Megapixel RAW image down-sampled to 20 Megapixels in Photoshop.

The down-sampling process has applied a little extra sharpening, so the Nikon crops look crisper than those from the Canon. I'd say they look a little better too, although are arguably on the edge of the sharpening becoming a little too high.

What this extra set of results show though is the D800 can essentially equal the 5D3's performance with its medium resolution mode, thereby generating smaller files than the full 36 Megapixel mode if desired.

Now it's time to examine their high ISO performance with the first of my Nikon D800 noise pages, starting with a JPEG comparison with the Canon. I'll also include RAW and down-sampled versions later on and if you'd prefer to jump straight to these, just scroll up to the results contents box.


Canon EOS 5D Mark III (RAW using Adobe Camera RAW)
Using EF 24-105mm f4L IS USM
 
Nikon D800 (20MP RAW using Adobe Camera RAW)
Using Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f2.8G ED

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 D800 results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise
/ Noise Downsampled / RAW Noise / Vs Medium format


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