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

Started Mar 30, 2012 | Discussions thread
OP Legion5 Senior Member • Posts: 1,047
Part 2: 5D3 vs D800 - A Technical Analysis (UPDATED & EXTENDED) - With Samples


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.


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.



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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