D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?

Started Jul 19, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Rick Knepper
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D800E vs. 5D3: Diminishing Returns or Reversal of Returns?
Jul 19, 2013

Subtitle: Cropping, downsizing and other table scraps

This thread refers to a recent thread comparing the resolution of the D800E to the 5D3:

http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/51783059

Additional images and comparisons below if you wish to skip the set-up.

This will be my take on the comparison. There was some lively conversations still active in original thread on the Canon forum and it was getting full so I didn’t want to use up the remaining “bandwidth” so I posted a separate thread. Though the discussion was quite limited on the Nikon forum I want to thank you all very much for your examples and commentary (even those fanbois of both brands who tried to discredit the comparison).

I was criticized for providing a down-sized version of the D800E file which I rectified later (not to mention the fact that I had provided the RAWs with the initial post from which anyone could do anything they wished with the files).

The criticism came mainly from those whose applications apparently call for enlargement. I mean, do we even need to see such a comparison? Can’t we just stipulate that more MPs will always help in Printing Large.

It is that other 95% of photographers and their applications (myself included) which involve reductions that need some special illumination. I am sure this percentage could be hotly debated but for example, 100% of my applications involve reductions.

My primary application: create 1800x1200 images for display on my NEC 2690 monitor. There are future applications I am consideing but I will save that discussion for the end of this post. 1800x1200 isn’t a typical web-sized image, it’s nearly as physically large as a 13x19 print when viewed on my monitor though the dimensions are significantly reduced from its originals. I don’t know what pixel pitch folks are viewing with or how DPI factors into how others view these files.

So, we know information is being thrown away as we down-size, but what is the point at which too much information has been thrown away? I read an estimate in one of the threads that a 2x reduction does not harm IQ. Back in the day, when I compared my newly acquired 5D2 (21 MP) to my 5D (12 MP), I was able to discern additional detail in the 5D2 capture when both RAWs were reduced to 1800x1200 without the overall IQ being harmed.

The burning question for me and anyone doing reductions particularly if they are thinking of upgrading from 21/24 MPs to 36 MPs is: is there a law of diminishing return at play for my specific application?I am on record in the past as having asked this question at least rhetorically, and it only cost me $3k to find out definitively.

The following images are the same images from the original post, only processed and down-sized to the aforementioned dimensions. I processed the images without thought to matching anything. I made processing choices that looked good to me for the given file as if I were processing it as a keeper. Bear in mind that I am processing these files primarily for display pn my uncalibrated monitor so comments regarding color will probably be irrelevant. We are here to discuss resolution.

5D3 downsized to 1800x1200

View: original size

D800E downsized to 1800x1200

View: original size

Is there a diminishing return for 1800x1200 images when stepping up to 36 MP captures from 21 MP captures? Or even a reversal of return? Simple math makes it clear the total reduction is larger for the 36 MP image in this particular case and much more information is being thrown away. What about visually? Information can be thrown away without making a visible impact. What is the ultimate reduction size of your application? Use the RAWs from the original post to find your own point of diminishing return.

What about cropping?

The following crops were executed as follows: Loaded both images in ACR and neutralized the settings for both images (all settings turned to zero). Made a crop in the 5D3 file of an area I wanted to feature, then synchronized that crop with the D800E (since the D800E crop ends up in a slightly different position, I manually re-positioned the crop by eye). The resulting file sizes were:

5D3 = 2697x1798

D800E = 3446x2297

I converted both RAWs to the highest quality jpeg along with a down-sizing to 1800x1200 (my personal target dimension).

5D3 cropped & downsized to 1800x1200

View: original size

D800E cropped & downsized to 1800x1200

View: original size

Some might criticize the methodology and some might criticize the extreme nature of the crop but I can assure everyone that no matter the conditions, comparing an equal crop from these two systems will produce visible differences unless the crops are very minor.

Based on this overall comparison (previous thread included), I believe the return on IQ may have been reversed slightly for my intended application. However, anyone that has made it through the higher grades of high school and/or a few years in college know that one test doesn't prove anything and I will continue to observe the differences since I use both brands. The answer for each individual is dependent on their own applications.The D800E images will stand up for the time being as long as I don't lean too close to the monitor.

Luckily for me and my investment in the D800E, I have near-future intentions to move to a larger editing and viewing display thereby reducing the reductions so to speak. I am also investigating the use of a 4k TV as a "picture frame" for my images. In 4k TV's infancy, there is already a 4k TV at Amazon selling for $1200.

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Rick Knepper, photographer, non-professional, shooting for pleasure, check my profile for gear list and philosophy. TJ said, "Every generation needs a new revolution".

 Rick Knepper's gear list:Rick Knepper's gear list
Nikon D3X Nikon D800E Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS 6D Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L +17 more
Canon EOS 5D Canon EOS 5D Mark II Canon EOS 5D Mark III Nikon D800E
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