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

Started Mar 30, 2012 | Discussions thread
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Legion5 Senior Member • Posts: 1,047
5D3 vs D800 - A Technical Analysis (UPDATED & EXTENDED) - With Samples

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:



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.


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.


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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