Canon EOS 550D / Rebel T2i vs Nikon D90 High ISO Noise (RAW files matched)
To compare noise levels under real-life conditions we shot this scene with the Canon EOS 550D / T2i and Nikon D90 within a few moments of each other using their RAW modes and at each of their ISO settings.
Each camera was fitted with its respective kit lens: the EOS 550D / T2i with the EF-S 18-135mm IS and the D90 with the DX 18-105mm VR. Both lenses were set to f8 in Aperture Priority and adjusted to deliver the same field of view.
High ISO Noise reduction was set to the default Standard and Normal settings of the EOS 550D / T2i and D90 respectively, although we disabled each camera’s contrast-enhancing options as these can artificially introduce noise. As such, the Auto Lighting Optimizer on all the Canon EOS 550D / T2i and Active D-Lighting on the Nikon D90 were both disabled in this test.
The image above was taken with the Canon EOS 550D / T2i at 100 ISO with an exposure of 2.5 seconds and with the lens set to 26mm f8; the original RAW file measured 22.6MB. We matched the exposure on the D90, although this required -0.7 EV compensation over the metered value. This doesn’t mean one camera was more sensitive than the other, simply that each metered the scene differently; once again, the actual exposures used for each ISO setting below were identical. The crops below are taken from the area marked with a red square and presented here at 100%.
We photographed this scene using the RAW plus JPEG modes on each camera, allowing us to directly compare in-camera images against those processed using software later. On this page we’ve compared the RAW files and attempted to match their processing style. Rather than simply boosting the slightly restrained output of the Nikon to match the Canon though, we’ve toned-down the EOS 550D / T2i in order to meet the D90 halfway. So the Canon samples look a little softer than the in-camera defaults seen on the previous page and the Nikon samples a little sharper. In our view, both benefitted from this adjustment.
The Canon EOS 550D / T2i’s files were processed using Digital Photo Professional 3.8 with a sharpness of 3, while the D90’s files were processed using Capture NX 2 with a sharpness of 2. We found these settings delivered the closest match in terms of sharpness. To match the White Balance we took manual eye-dropper readings from the same grey-points on the 200 ISO samples and used that setting for all images. Fringing and vignetting lens corrections were also applied in both programs, although we left the noise reduction options at their default settings.
With the sharpness and White Balance roughly matched, both cameras look very similar in style, and while the Canon is recording slightly finer real-life detail, there’s not a great deal in it. Where these samples really differ from the in-camera JPEGs on the previous page though is in terms of noise.
Using the default noise reduction settings in their respective RAW converters, noise speckles have become much more apparent, albeit with the benefit of less smearing. This becomes most apparent from 400 ISO upwards, although the Canon enjoys slightly cleaner results between 200 and 800 ISO, no-doubt helped by lower sharpening coupled with higher sharpening on the D90.
At 1600 ISO, the noise textures are equally problematic on both samples, although the Canon’s artefacts look a little less natural than the Nikon. From here on, neither camera looks great, and as seen on the previous page the D90 suffers from a noticeable drop in saturation at its highest sensitivity of 6400 ISO.
Between 100 and 400 ISO, both cameras definitely benefit from the RAW settings applied, although beyond 800 ISO, they could arguably do with some more noise reduction than the defaults. Given the slightly higher recorded detail across the range and slightly lower noise at lower sensitivities though, we’d give the Canon the overall edge in this test. But as with the 7D and earlier Canon bodies, turning down the noise reduction at higher sensitivities reveals slightly unnatural-looking artefacts compared to their Nikon rivals.
Now let’s see more real-life images taken under a variety of conditions in our Canon EOS 550D / Rebel T2i sample images gallery.
Canon EOS 550D / Rebel T2i : RAW
with Canon EF-S 18-135mm IS
DPP with 3 Sharpening
Nikon D90: RAW
with Nikkor DX 18-105mm VR
Capture NX 2 with 2 Sharpening
L1.0 (100 ISO)
H1.0 (6400 ISO)
H (12800 ISO)
12800 ISO not available