5D3 vs D800 - A Technical Analysis (UPDATED & EXTENDED) - With Samples

Started Mar 30, 2012 | Discussions
Legion5
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5D3 vs D800 - A Technical Analysis (UPDATED & EXTENDED) - With Samples
Mar 30, 2012

This is an update to a thread I made last week comparing the D800 and 5D3. I've tried to address a few of the responses on here and a provide a more complete and better overview.

I've been doing a lot of research on the D800 vs 5D3 and I thought I would post some of my findings with a few sample images. I'm choosing not to include labels on the images because it should be self explanatory. This comparison images are done with the same Sigma 70mm Macro lens which is one of the sharpest in the world shot at f/8.0, and maximized the advantage of the D800. This comparison is also done in RAW converted to 36 MP and cropped. All crops are 100% crops with the 5D3 resized to the D800 and color corrected to minimize differences in raw.

High ISO

Winner: 5D3

Above ISO 1600 the 5D3 just has both more detail and less noise than the D800. At 1600 ISO they are equal in both respects. At 3200 there is an edge to the 5D3 and at 6400 the 5D3 just pulls away and just keeps widening the gap.

ISO 6400 100% crop (@36 MP)

ISO 3200 100% crop (@36 MP)

Important note on test methodology:

Photographers have been taking notice that over the generations of cameras that some noise cleans up nicely without hurting detail better than other noise. The nature of the noise is part of what the raw image provides and part of what I am examining is the nature of the noise and how it responds to processing. My goal is to put out an unbiased view of real world results, because pictures aren't taken "in theory".

The way this test was done was to render both raw files @ 36MP and then adjust the noise sliders so there is 3% noise. Sharpening is equal, and is set to low, with more sharpening the difference becomes more exagerated. 3% noise @ 36MP and it's equivalents is a common standard for what is "acceptable noise" at screen resolution. PCMagazine and Consumer Reports among others use this standard and I find it widely agreeable. The results are very very similar when targeting both 1% noise (very low noise) and 7% noise (grainy).

6400 ISO 36 MP 100% crops of noise on gray card form same image for comparison, sharpened 500% to show detail:

3200 ISO (same as above)

Extended reading:

CNET Asia has come to the same conclusion regarding this:

http://asia.cnet.com/shootout-canon-eos-5d-mark-iii-vs-the-nikon-d800-62214094.htm

Color

Winner: Tie/Either

I did survey of a few fellow photographers with a set of test images. In general from this small analysis it was found that the D800 had more accurate color reproduction, but the 5D3 had better looking colors, especially with yellows, oranges and reds. After converting dozens of other raw files I've noticed this is a recurring theme. The D800's warmer colors look washed out but more detailed.

Autofocus

Winner: Inconclusive/Both

While the Canon has the edge with fast primes, the D800 does f/8.0, which the Canon does not. In reading various reviews and demoing both I've found that both have rare issues with consistency but both are very very good, you can't go wrong with either.

FPS

Winner: Tie/5d3

The D800 shoots 6 FPS in DX mode and 4 FPS in FX mode. The 5D3 has 6 FPS and has no crop mode. Both have nearly the exact same buffer size, so when shooting JPGs, RAWs, and sRAWs of equal size they will perform very similarly.

Pop-Up Flash

Winner: D800 (disclaimer)

Obviously the D800 wins, but it's worth mentioning how weak the flash actually is. In a test I conducted with the 7D flash (same power/guide number) in a dimly lit room with only a 20 watt bulb, the flash was only able to give a 0.7 stop improvement at 8 feet. What this means is unless you plan to use the flash only for aesthetics or in the pitch dark you'd actually be better off with the 5D3 due to it's high ISO advantage if you're trying to get clean shots indoors.

Dynamic Range Low ISO

Winner: D800

Obviously the D800 wins, but it's worth mentioning what the difference is. The 5D3 starts to have noticeable vertical banding at screen resolution (720p) when it is pushed 6 stops at ISO 100. The D800 starts to have noticeable pattern noise at screen resolution when pushed 8 stops at ISO 100.

(continued in second post due to charachter limit...)

Canon EOS 5D Mark III Canon EOS 7D Nikon D800
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Legion5
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Part 2: 5D3 vs D800 - A Technical Analysis (UPDATED & EXTENDED) - With Samples
In reply to Legion5, Mar 30, 2012

(...continued)

Dynamic Range Normal-High ISO (400 and above)

Winner: 5D3/Both

The 5D3 has a variable dynamic range advantage over the D800, from very slight to somewhat prominent at normal to high ISO. The overwhelming majority of the time the advantage of the 5D3 is slight .

The 5D3's normal-high ISO dynamic is about half way between the D800 and Nikon D4 (the D4 has more DR than the D800 in this range). This is virtually the perfect explanation to the point where both the D4 and the 5D3 have a dynamic range "sweet spot" at ISO 1600, where ISO 1600 is almost as good as ISO 800, and other normal-high ISO's for the 5D3 are in line with being half way between the D4 and D800 at every point dynamic range wise.

While the advantage of the Nikon D4 over the D800 is always noticeable (0.5 stops) in this ISO range, and gets fairly prominent, the advantage of the 5D3 over the D800 being half that is only a few tenths of a stop better, except for the sweet spot where the 5D3 is around 1 stop better. This results in a few rare circumstances where the 5D3 is noticeably better but in practice, the D800 and 5D3 are more or less equal.

It's worth mentioning that the 5D2 lagged behind the D700 all the way to ISO 1600, to a noticeable extent, so this is an extreme improvement for the 5D3. The D700 is likewise substantially improved upon. The overall dynamic range of the 5D3 follows a curve which starts out flat and then drops exponentially (the flatness of the curve is responsible for the sweet spot, before the drop eliminates the advantage), while the D800's is completely linear.

Highlight Recovery

Winner: Tie

The 5D3 recovers more detailed highlights but has a harsher roll-off than the D800. The additional highlight recovery detail on the 5D3 is laregley due to the harshness highlight recovery adds. Neither seems to be able to recover noticeably more information.

The 5D3 tested against the 5D2 shows a remarkable increase in highlight recovery on the 5D3, while the D800 is actually a step back from the D700.

Resolution: Primes

Winner: D800

Obviously because the D800 has more megapixels, it's going to achieve a better resolution. With primes the advantage should be clear. Generally speaking primes will achieve under good circumstances around 3800 LP/PH on the 5D3. On the D800 they will achieve 4300 LP/PH (based on results using crop cameras with nearly identical pixel sizes, which are extremely accurate as analysis). Notice that this is only a 30% increase in spacial resolution, noticeably below the difference in sensor resolution. Lenses that are sharp enough to resolve all 36 megapixels are virtually nonexistent.

Here is an absolute best case scenario for the difference, shooting a very very sharp lens, on fabric which shows the clearest possible different, again 5D3 files are resized to 36MP.

Extended reading:

LensRentals.com has come to a nearly identical conclusion, showing a 27% increase in spacial resolution between the 5D3 & D800 with primes under the best circumstances.

http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2012/03/d-resolution-tests

Resolution: Zooms

Winner: Tie

The best zooms will achieve around 3800 LP/PH on both the 5D3 and D800. Mid level zooms will go as low as achieving 3500 LP/PH and the lowest quality zooms will achieve 3300 LP/PH on the D800 (again based on results using crop cameras with nearly identical pixel sizes, which are extremely accurate at testing resolution). Some zooms will be able to peak 4300 LP/PH at the very center of the D800, such as the 14-24mm. However even under the most ideal settings this will only be over 15% of the image area. A small distance away from the center the resolution on the 14-24mm sharply drops to 3750 LP/PH, which does not outresolve the 5D3.

ISO 50 100% crop (5D3 as always resized to 36mp), heavily sharpened after render to show any differences better. 3500 LP/PH resolution side by side example, worst case scenario (fabric texture):

Extended reading:

LensRentals.com corroborates the above conclusions in all respects. Their tests of the 70-200mm VR II and 14-24mm match up very very closely to these findings.

http://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2012/03/d-resolution-tests

Conclusion

My purpose here is to be as unbiased as possible, cameras are tools and it doesn't matter who makes them. As I said earlier I am focusing on real world results, because pictures aren't taken "in theory". With that said I think it's appropriate to make a conclusion from the perspective of the D800's advantages over the 5D3 as I'm posting this in a Canon forum primarily.

Conclusions about resolution:

To gain a resolution advantage with the D800 over the 5D3 you must in combination shoot at less than ISO 1600, with primes, a shutter speed of at least 1/2 x focal length(unless your prime has IS or you're using a tripod), and between f/4.0 and f/8.0.

Conclusions about dynamic range:

To gain a dynamic range advantage with the D800 over the 5D3 you must shoot at an ISO below 400.

Conclusions about other stuff:

I think the other major performance criteria of each camera are similar enough if not identical. There are many many nuances to either body though

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PerL
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Re: 5D3 vs D800 - A Technical Analysis (UPDATED & EXTENDED) - With Samples
In reply to Legion5, Mar 30, 2012

Legion5 wrote:

Could you show this crop instead? This is from the jpegs, at ISO 6400. Here the D800 shows more high ISO detail.

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candleJack
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Re: Appreciate the effort..
In reply to Legion5, Mar 30, 2012

I appreciate the effort, however I believe the more useful information will be provided by actual users of these cameras after they shoot in various conditions (light levels/temperature) and apply various PP treatments.

Best regards,
Alex
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bradleyg5
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Re: Part 2: 5D3 vs D800 - A Technical Analysis (UPDATED & EXTENDED) - With Sample
In reply to Legion5, Mar 30, 2012

I don't understand why the d800 crowd are so bent on disputing the high ISO performance. Look at the charts the 5dIII has more dynamic range over ISO1250 undeniably. The d800 peaks higher at lower ISO and falls more steeply at high ISO. I honestly think a lot of this is counter reaction to the assumption that the d800 would be terrible at high ISO, it clearly isn't but it's not improved. They state the DXO measurement, yet at the same time DXO doesn't consider ISO 3200 on the D4 to be usable which is ridiculous, they are clipping the results at the point where the d800 hasn't fallen behind.

it's just not an advantage in anyway to say the d800 is comparable in low light event shooting. Even the lossless compressed 14bit raw files are almost 60MB compared to a little over 30MB for the 5dIII. Not to mention the d800 has an AWFUL jpeg in comparison to the 5dIII, a d800 JPEG is larger file than a 5dIII raw.

People who need to take hundreds of pictures per day indoors are not going to be better served by the d800, it's truly baffling why they can't accept this.

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SpartanWarrior
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Re: Appreciate the effort..
In reply to candleJack, Mar 30, 2012

Yes I agree with your test and both will be great cameras, just pick the one you want and enjoy it;)
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Dominique Dierick
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The question is not, which cam is better at 6400, but...
In reply to Legion5, Mar 30, 2012

Rather, who has been drinking from the olive oil

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Tim Homola
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Re: The question is not, which cam is better at 6400, but...
In reply to Dominique Dierick, Mar 30, 2012

Fantastic work. Thanks.

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candleJack
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Re: Nothing gets by you! LOLZ! nt
In reply to Dominique Dierick, Mar 30, 2012
-- hide signature --

We make a stand now, or there will be nobody left to go to the chopper..

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gigamel
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You never shoot red?
In reply to bradleyg5, Mar 30, 2012

Here you go, the awrfull D800 jpeg at iso 6400

Look at the red fabric

From the left it is

5D3, D800, 5D2, 7D, D700, D4

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/read.asp?forum=1021&message=40923479

IQ wise the ranking is

D800, D4, D700, 5D2, 5D3, 7D

But then again mayby 2 out of 3 is okay for you - and you never shoot reds but only green and blue

And by the way remember that the 5D3 is exposed 60% longer at 1/800s, than the D800 at only 1/1250s

If we compared 5D3 at ISO 6400 to D800 at ISO 3200 the D800 would only get a 25% exposure advantage

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Cipher
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This statement shows the bias of this review...
In reply to Legion5, Mar 30, 2012

Legion5 wrote:

Color

Winner: Tie/Either

I did survey of a few fellow photographers with a set of test images. In general from this small analysis it was found that the D800 had more accurate color reproduction, but the 5D3 had better looking colors, especially with yellows, oranges and reds. After converting dozens of other raw files I've noticed this is a recurring theme. The D800's warmer colors look washed out but more detailed.

First, you should mention that you're a Canon shooter so that people know you're not impartial.

Next, your statement about colors is pretty ridiculous. The D800 has more accurate colors but the 5D3 has better looking colors??? All this shows is that this technical review is biased. You need to sugar coat everything about the 5D3. Your statement about reds just boggles my mind. Canon has always had very poor reproduction of reds and Nikon has been the best over pretty much over all other brands.

P.S. In case, you're wondering. Yes, I own both systems. 10D, 7D, D200 and D700.

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Slideshow Bob
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Meanwhile, back on planet earth...
In reply to Legion5, Mar 30, 2012

It's a slow day, so what the hell!

The quote from Legion5 goes like this…

"Above ISO 1600 the 5D3 just has both more detail and less noise than the D800. At 1600 ISO they are equal in both respects. At 3200 there is an edge to the 5D3 and at 6400 the 5D3 just pulls away and just keeps widening the gap.".

… and I'd like to put this to the test. So the 5DIII has more detail above ISO1600, does it? Let's see. What I'll do here is compare D800 crops from ISO3200 - 12800, with 5DIII crops at ISO3200. That way we should be able to easily judge how much detail the Nikon is losing against Legion5's "above ISO1600" baseline. These are all unsharpened RAW conversions, with no noise reduction, and no manipulation by me.

First up, here's a crop of the fabric with both cameras at ISO3200. You may need to click on the image link at the top to view the original file at full quality:

As you can clearly see, the D800 shot has far, far more detail. All the texture is there, whereas the 5DIII shot can't resolve the fine details. So Legion 5 is already completely wrong.
Winner: D800

Here's the same test, but with the Nikon at ISO6400:

Well, obviously there's more noise in the D800 shot, but what about detail? Check out the yellow fabric; there's still far more texture detail in the D800 shot. How about that red/yellow patterned fabric? Again, there's a lot more texture visible, although detail is starting to drop out in the darker areas. Legion5 is starting to look silly.
Winner: D800

Here's the same thing again, but with the D800 at ISO12800:

Well, the D800 shot is really getting noisy now, but has that reduced the detail level so much that the 5DIII wins? No. The yellow fabric still retains more detail, and although it's getting harder to tell noise from detail, comparisons with the lower ISO D800 shots suggest that there is still more detail visible.

Winner: They're very close (a few areas are slightly better on the 5DIII), but overall the D800 still wins in this portion of the image.

How about looking at other areas of the image? Here's the same comparison done with the proportional scale, and another part of the fabrics. Check out the legibility of the word "Bloomfield", and the definition of the lines at the bottom of the proportional scale. Check out the fabric detail in the shadow to the right of the Fiddlers Elbow bottle. I won't bother rating these, because it's pretty obvious what's going on. Personally, I think the 5DIII has a slight edge overall when the D800 is at 12800. Enjoy!

So there you go. How do you think these cameras compare for detail above ISO1600? Just to remind you, here's Legion5's quote once again…

"Above ISO 1600 the 5D3 just has both more detail and less noise than the D800. At 1600 ISO they are equal in both respects. At 3200 there is an edge to the 5D3 and at 6400 the 5D3 just pulls away and just keeps widening the gap."

Just how much of the detail you chose to obliterate with NR is a personal choice. I don't care how badly Legion5 choses to screw up his images, but he representing his "creative" manipulations as a true measure of these cameras capabilities. That makes his assessment, once again, pure garbage.

Thanks again to Imaging Resource for the sample images.

SB

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Jaims
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Re: This statement shows the bias of this review...
In reply to Cipher, Mar 30, 2012

Cipher wrote:

First, you should mention that you're a Canon shooter so that people know you're not impartial.

He publishes this in the Canon forum, and that's the right place to do so.

Maybe he is not impartial, but at least we have to concede that he is in the right place.

Seems obvious, but many have been arrogantly partial out of his/her forum for the last weeks...

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chironNYC
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You are not in the same league as Legion5
In reply to Slideshow Bob, Mar 30, 2012

Bob,

You are not in the same technical league as Legion5. This is what he does for a living, at a very high technical level with top photographers. He produces finished graphic images for a living for national campaigns. Try to learn from him. He is offering you something.
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latyshevv
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Re: This statement shows the bias of this review...
In reply to Cipher, Mar 30, 2012

chironNYC wrote:

Bob,

You are not in the same technical league as Legion5. This is what he does for a living, at a very high technical level with top photographers. He produces finished graphic images for a living for national campaigns. Try to learn from him. He is offering you something.
--
Peter

He maybe in whatever league, but the above analysis is full of BS statements. I stopped reading after the part which Cipher pointed out:

Cipher wrote:

Legion5 wrote:

Color

Winner: Tie/Either

I did survey of a few fellow photographers with a set of test images. In general from this small analysis it was found that the D800 had more accurate color reproduction, but the 5D3 had better looking colors, especially with yellows, oranges and reds. After converting dozens of other raw files I've noticed this is a recurring theme. The D800's warmer colors look washed out but more detailed.

First, you should mention that you're a Canon shooter so that people know you're not impartial.

Next, your statement about colors is pretty ridiculous. The D800 has more accurate colors but the 5D3 has better looking colors??? All this shows is that this technical review is biased. You need to sugar coat everything about the 5D3. Your statement about reds just boggles my mind. Canon has always had very poor reproduction of reds and Nikon has been the best over pretty much over all other brands.

P.S. In case, you're wondering. Yes, I own both systems. 10D, 7D, D200 and D700.

D800 had more accurate color reproduction, but the 5D3 had better looking colors, especially with yellows, oranges and reds

Seriously?

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Slideshow Bob
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So, no comment on his ineptitude then? I'm shocked! N/T
In reply to chironNYC, Mar 30, 2012

No text

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GeoffreyH
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Re: Meanwhile, back on planet earth...
In reply to Slideshow Bob, Mar 30, 2012

Thanks for the comparison Bob. For me, you just made the case for the 5DIII for low light photography. I know you were attempting to do the opposite, but the color noise at higher ISOs in the 800 convinces me that if I were a wedding/portrait or "all-'round" photographer I'd lean toward the Canon.

The basic premise between the 5DII and D800, generally, is now and has been, that the Canon is more suited for low-light and all around photography and the D800 is more suited for landscape and studio. That still holds true. Nothing in this thread (or otherwise) changes that & anyone trying to convince someone that one is "better" than the other is just pi$$ing in the wind.

Any of the two candidates would be an excellent choice. Most of the arguments here are just splitting hairs and are frankly, downright comical — real photographers just go out and take pictures and don't worry or care about what the other guy has or try to convince him/her to come to their way of thinking.

...and now, back to your regular programming.

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Slideshow Bob
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Re: Meanwhile, back on planet earth...
In reply to GeoffreyH, Mar 30, 2012

Er, no, I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. The fact is, what Legion5 posted is a lie. I have merely proven that is the case. It's not an opinion that can be taken one way or another, it's just a fact.

The only thing I don't understand about your post is that, since there is effectively no colour noise in the ISO3200 samples (from either camera), my post couldn't have "made the case for the 5DIII for low light photography" because there is nothing other than ISO3200 shots for the 5DIII in my post. I only showed increased ISO shots for the D800. If your saying that D800 ISO6400/12800 is noisier than the 5DIII at ISO3200, therefore the 5DIII is better in low light, well, that's just stupid. Your statement makes no sense.

SB

GeoffreyH wrote:

Thanks for the comparison Bob. For me, you just made the case for the 5DIII for low light photography. I know you were attempting to do the opposite, but the color noise at higher ISOs in the 800 convinces me that if I were a wedding/portrait or "all-'round" photographer I'd lean toward the Canon.

The basic premise between the 5DII and D800, generally, is now and has been, that the Canon is more suited for low-light and all around photography and the D800 is more suited for landscape and studio. That still holds true. Nothing in this thread (or otherwise) changes that & anyone trying to convince someone that one is "better" than the other is just pi$$ing in the wind.

Any of the two candidates would be an excellent choice. Most of the arguments here are just splitting hairs and are frankly, downright comical — real photographers just go out and take pictures and don't worry or care about what the other guy has or try to convince him/her to come to their way of thinking.

...and now, back to your regular programming.

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mgrum
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Re: You are not in the same league as Legion5
In reply to chironNYC, Mar 30, 2012

chironNYC wrote:

Bob,

You are not in the same technical league as Legion5. This is what he does for a living, at a very high technical level with top photographers. He produces finished graphic images for a living for national campaigns. Try to learn from him. He is offering you something.
--
Peter

I try not to get dragged into slanging matches on here, but who someone is or what they do for a living has absolutely nothing to do with facts which are plain to see.

On one hand we have a set of images to which several filters and post processing steps have been applied, with different settings for each camera. This set shows the 5D3 to have a detail advantage.

On the other hand we a pair of images with the minimal possible processing applied . This set shows the D800 clearly resolves the weave of a piece of fabric which is totally absent from the 5D image.

The test is flawed and this is clear to see regardless of the identity of the person who posted it!

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GeoffreyH
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Re: You are not in the same league as Legion5
In reply to mgrum, Mar 30, 2012

If your saying that D800 ISO6400/12800 is noisier than the 5DIII at ISO3200, therefore the 5DIII is better in low light, well, that's just stupid. Your statement makes no sense

No, not what I'm saying. There is a comparison with BOTH at ISO 3200 (green bottle tops) and yes, I definitely see color noise at what would be considered a rather moderate ISO,. D800 at 6400 even more so, not so much with the Canon.

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