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Nikon D3 vs. Canon EOS 1-DS Mark III vs. Nikon D300 vs. Canon EOS 5D

  • Canon EOS 1-DS Mark III: Canon 85 mm F1.8 lens, Manual exposure, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard), High ISO NR (Default; Off), JPEG Large / Fine
     
  • Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II: Canon 50 mm F1.4 lens, Aperture Priority (F4), Manual WB,
    Sharpness 1, JPEG Large / Fine
     
  • Nikon D3: Nikkor 85 mm F1.8 lens, Manual exposure, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Normal), High ISO NR (Default: Normal), JPEG Large / Fine
     
  • Canon EOS 5D: Canon 85 mm F1.4 lens, Aperture Priority, Manual WB,
    Default Parameters (Standard), JPEG Large / Fine

Canon EOS 1DS Mk III
ISO 50
(L)

Canon EOS 1DS Mk II
ISO 50
(L)
Nikon D3
n/a
Canon EOS 5D
ISO 50
(L)

Canon EOS 1DS Mk III
ISO 100

Canon EOS 1DS Mk II
ISO 100
Nikon D3
ISO 100
(L1.0)
Canon EOS 5D
ISO 100

Canon EOS 1DS Mk III
ISO 200

Canon EOS 1DS Mk II
ISO 200
Nikon D3
ISO 200
Canon EOS 5D
ISO 200

Canon EOS 1DS Mk III
ISO 400

Canon EOS 1DS Mk II
ISO 400
Nikon D3
ISO 400
Canon EOS 5D
ISO 400

Canon EOS 1DS Mk III
ISO 800

Canon EOS 1DS Mk II
ISO 800
Nikon D3
ISO 800
Canon EOS 5D
ISO 800

Canon EOS 1DS Mk III
ISO 1600

Canon EOS 1DS Mk II
ISO 1600
Nikon D3
ISO 1600
Canon EOS 5D
ISO 1600

Canon EOS 1DS Mk III
ISO 3200

Canon EOS 1DS Mk II
ISO 3200
Nikon D3
ISO 3200
Canon EOS 5D
ISO 3200

A 21 megapixel camera - even a full frame 21 megapixel camera - is always going to struggle more at higher sensitivities than one with a less ambitious resolution, so it comes as a pleasant surprise to see that the EOS-1Ds Mark III does an excellent job at up to ISO 800, and (from a noise point of view) more or less matches the EOS 5D right the way through the range. Noise (in particular chroma noise) at the highest settings is slightly lower than it was on the EOS-1Ds Mark II, but this may well be down to a slightly more aggressive approach to NR. Of course the Nikon D3, which has the advantage of far larger pixels, produces noticeably less noisy results at higher ISO settings (without any serious impact on detail) - and keeps on going all the way to an unprecedented ISO 25,600.

In truth the Mark III isn't likely to be the first port of call for anyone prioritizing very high ISO performance any more than it would be the first choice for a sports photographer; that's not what it's designed for. As a studio camera it offers far, far more versatility than a medium format camera/back (most of which max out at ISO 400) but there's a limit to what you can expect at ISO 1600 and 3200. It certainly seems that Canon is applying more luminance NR (and perhaps less chroma NR) at the highest ISO settings than Nikon does with the D3.

* These results are with the cameras in their default modes, all four cameras offer some control over the amount of noise reduction used at higher ISO settings.

Noise graphs

Note that we normally show both gray and black results on the same graph, comparing four cameras this became too difficult to read hence we have two separate graphs, one for the gray patch (middle gray) and one for the black patch (shadows).

Luminance noise graph (gray patch)

The gray noise graph confirms what we saw with the crops; the 21MP EOS-1DS Mark III and the 12.7MP EOS 5D have almost identical levels of noise (the EOS-1DS Mark II's noise is higher at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200). Measured noise for the Nikon D3 is slightly lower at all ISO settings (except ISO 1600 where Canon's NR appears to pick up).

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of luminosity on the vertical axis.

Luminance noise graph (black patch)

Much the same story for the black patch (which generally represents shadow noise), with little measurable difference between the 1DS Mark III, 5D and D3 in the range up to ISO 1600. Once you get into the highest reaches the D3 pulls ahead of the competition despite the fact it's obviously not applying a great deal of luminance NR.

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of luminosity on the vertical axis.

Chroma (color) noise graph

The biggest difference in measured noise comes when you look at the chroma noise (again, this is obvious from looking at the crops at the top of the page). The Nikon D3 is the clear winner here, with the Mark III again matching the 5D until you hit ISO 3200.

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of color on the vertical axis.

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