Nikon vs Canon Dynamic Range

After I have published my Canon 6D review, a number of our readers asked if there was a way to show a comparison between dynamic range performance of a Canon DSLR and and a Nikon DSLR side by side with image samples. Since the Canon 6D has the largest dynamic range in Canon’s line (higher than 5D Mark III), it was a good candidate for such a comparison. On the Nikon side, I used my Nikon D800E, since it has the same base ISO of 100. Since there was a brightness difference between the two cameras (as noted in the above-mentioned review), I compensated the shutter speed accordingly to make it a fair game. The results are quite interesting to look at, showing visible advantage on behalf of Nikon when compared to Canon. The intent of this article is not to spark another Nikon vs Canon debate, as I personally find such discussions useless. This is done as a case study to analyze recovery options between the two brands when shooting in the field.

Let’s take a look at our base exposure, with no adjustments on both cameras (Left: Nikon D800E, Right: Canon 6D):

Nikon D800E 0 EV Canon 6D 0 EV

The above are 100% crops. I did not want to down-sample these images from the D800E, since it would have shown a lot less noise in comparison below.

Nikon vs Canon Overexposure

For the first case study, I increased the exposure length by full five stops from the base exposure, which obviously resulted in a lot of overexposure. Neither camera was able to fully reproduce most of the colors, so I adjusted the exposure to four stops instead. Here is what both looked like before exposure adjustments:

Nikon D800E Before -4 EV Canon 6D Before -4 EV

It is a pretty drastic overexposure. Here are the results from both cameras, with a -4 EV adjustment in Lightroom:

Nikon D800E -4 EV Canon 6D -4 EV

As we can see from the above crops, the Canon 6D retains less colors than the Nikon D800E when images are overexposed. Take a look at what happens with green, magenta and yellow color patches – some yellows completely lost their colors. In comparison, the Nikon D800E clearly does a better job, although it also mostly loses magenta and green.

Nikon vs Canon Underexposure

The second case study is for situations where there is severe underexposure taking place that needs to be recovered in post. Both cameras were able to handle a +5 EV recovery, so I decreased the exposure time by an additional stop to make images very dark:

Nikon D800E Before +5 EV Canon 6D Before +5 EV

And now here is what happens when I dial +5 EV in Lightroom:

Nikon D800E +5 EV Canon 6D +5 EV

This is an interesting comparison, because it shows a drastic difference in the way both cameras handle severe underexposure. The image from the Nikon D800E looks very good – colors are mostly retained and the amount of added noise is minimal. Now take a look at the Canon 6D – the same cannot be said about it. There are a lot of artificial colors added and the amount of noise is very high, similar to what I had seen when comparing the Canon 5D Mark III and the D800E. The difference is pretty drastic and noticeable.

Now you might be wondering when one would ever go to such extremes during normal post-processing. When working in Lightroom or Photoshop, any time you use Highlight or Shadow recovery tools, dynamic range surely matters. Say you are photographing someone in a shade with a very bright background, or dealing with a sunrise / sunset situation where shadows need to be brighter and the sky needs to be darker. You would be mostly using three sliders for the job – Exposure, Highlights and Shadows. These sliders will attempt to pull out as much information from a RAW file as possible, if it is there. So in the case of the Canon 6D, you are risking losing more colors in highlights and adding more artificial noise in the shadows when compared to the Nikon D800E. A similar behavior can be observed when shooting with the Nikon D600 / D610 cameras – they have very similar dynamic range performance as the Nikon D800E.

The above dynamic range case studies pretty much validates what DxOMark has been claiming to date about the dynamic range of Canon DSLRs – they are visibly worse when compared to Nikon.

Still, whether you are looking at Nikon or Canon, it is pretty darn amazing what modern digital cameras can do, turning almost pitch black images to something workable today. Just imagine trying to do this experiment 10 years ago…

And if you are still shooting JPEG, hopefully the below comparison will convince you to start shooting RAW (Left: Nikon D800E RAW +5 EV Recovery, Right: Nikon D800E JPEG +5 EV Recovery):

Nikon D800E +5 EV Nikon D800E JPEG +5 EV

Ouch for 8-bit JPEG files. Looks like it is time to update my RAW vs JPEG article with a better example!

Up Next: dynamic range comparison between Nikon D810 and D800E.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Bill George
    July 25, 2014 at 8:36 am

    I’m a long time Canon shooter who is looking with envy at the Nikon and Sony cameras with greater dynamic range and up-to-date features. I’ve been shooting with a 7D and can’t wait until September when the 7D Mark ll is supposed to be announced. I’m hoping Canon finally catchs up and/or surpasses what’s available today from Nikon and Sony. I hope you are able to get the new camera in your hands and shake it out for us. Thank you for your very useful and informative website.

    • July 25, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Bill, I am also anxiously waiting for the 7D Mark II, if it ever gets announced. Because if it does, we will finally see a Nikon D400 :)

      And yes, we would love to test the sensor performance of the 7D Mark II and share some comparisons with our dear readers!

    • 87
      ) Derek
      July 27, 2014 at 8:20 am

      I was right where you are. I had years with Canon built up and was sitting with a 7D waiting for a new sensor from Canon. When the 6D came out and it was obvious they hadn’t done much to the sensor I jumped and went to a Nikon D600…. I couldn’t be happier!

      The DR on the Nikon side really is amazing. Helping this out is the fact that my D600 meters MUCH better than my 7D. I shoot mainly landscapes and I always did exposure bracketing (and often full manual exposure) on the 7D because I couldn’t trust it. With the D600 the metering is always spot on AND with the incredible DR I know I can make any small adjustments I need in Lightroom.

      If you’re unhappy… make the switch. It’s not as hard as you would think. I was able to sell all of my gear for decent prices and relearning a new camera system proved to be pretty straightforward.

      • 88
        ) Bill George
        July 27, 2014 at 8:48 am

        Thanks for taking the time to write Derek. I could be right there with you. In addition to the issues that made you noted, the 7D misses focus way too many times. Great when manually focused, but to catch something moving was iffy. But I’ve taken some amazing photographs with the camera and glad I’ve owned it. But right now it’s time to move on. Technology has made great gains and I’d like to catch up.

        I am very impatiently waiting for the 7D Mark II which is supposed to be announced on Sept 5th. We’ll see if that happens. But I can’t make a purchase until I know what this new camera’s specs are. And if all my wishes came true Canon would bring out a 6D Mark II with a new sensor. I’d love to have to made a decision between the two.

        But if the new camera still lags behind Nikon and Sony I’ll be making the switch.

      • 101
        ) SelimTheDream
        September 24, 2014 at 4:18 am

        Heya. I was also a long time Canon 7D user and very happy with it. I felt really bad when I had to sell my entire system for cash when I had financial trouble. Pretty soon I will be buying a new camera and I am considering the switch to Nikon but it’s not that easy for me. For a few months in the past I used D7000 but I wasn’t as happy with it as I was with my 7D or the 60D I owned before it. It may be due to lenses but something about the camera felt off to me. I cannot afford full frame yet so I am considering D7100 or another 7D to buy and it’s quite hard to make a decision for me. The DR capabilities of Nikon is really tempting. But there’s something about Canon images I prefer I just can’t put my finger on it.

  2. 2
    ) Mike MacKay
    July 25, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Neat. Especially if you own a Nikon D800.

    • July 25, 2014 at 8:51 am

      Mike, dynamic range of Nikon full-frame cameras is very similar. You would get practically the same results with the following cameras: D600 / D610 / D800 / D800E / D810.

      • 8
        ) Michael Bandy
        July 25, 2014 at 9:04 am

        As much as I would love to agree, I just don’t see that to be the case in the real world. The D800 series has much better dynamic range in the real world. Example… While shooting the milky way up at the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and using some very subtle light painting the difference was painfully obvious for this D600 shooter. I was shooting at 14mm, ISO – 3200 for 30 seconds at f/2.8. My buddy was shooting with his D800 at 14mm, ISO-1600 for 19 seconds at f/2.8. That was all he needed for the same amount of light painting. His camera also resolved more stars. I have read that the D600 has slightly better ISO performance than the D800, but if the D800 can use a lower ISO with a similar result to mine due to it’s dynamic range then who cares. ;) In conclusion I will be buying a D810 just as soon as I can afford it. ;)

      • Profile photo of Aziz Denli
        26
        ) Aziz Denli
        July 25, 2014 at 12:26 pm

        Dear Nasim,

        What about Nikon Df.

        • 64
          ) Betty
          July 26, 2014 at 4:10 am

          I didn’t know Df was full frame.
          Do you have insider information?

          • July 26, 2014 at 4:39 am

            Betty, no need to be sarcastic my friend!

            • 75
              ) Betty
              July 26, 2014 at 5:52 am

              Sorry.

          • 73
            ) MartinG
            July 26, 2014 at 5:03 am

            The df is full frame.

        • July 26, 2014 at 4:40 am

          Aziz, lower resolution sensors like Df / D4 / D4s are a bit different in dynamic range – they tend to produce less dynamic range at low ISOs, but higher dynamic range at higher ISOs above ISO 1600.

  3. 3
    ) Jeff
    July 25, 2014 at 8:38 am

    As always very informative! Thanks

  4. 7
    ) Lex Arias
    July 25, 2014 at 8:51 am

    Very nice comparation! very informative

  5. 9
    ) Adam felde
    July 25, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I’ve heard the Nikon D4 series has an even better dynamic range. Is that true?

    • July 25, 2014 at 9:22 am

      Adam, that’s true for high ISOs, but not for base ISO 100…

  6. 10
    ) Duffy Doherty
    July 25, 2014 at 9:08 am

    I am a Nikon user, however I very much respect Canon and what they have been able to produce, so I am not a Canon basher by any means.

    Just yesterday though, I was commenting to my wife that I didn’t understand why the one area that Canon seems to be way behind is DR. Now I understand that DR at native ISO is only one consideration, and that DR performance must hold up with higher ISOs. My D7000 has a DR of 13.9 Evs at ISO 100, but fades quickly at higher ISOs. The APS-C sized sensor cannot keep up. But my D600 has an DR of 14.2 Evs and from what I’ve read keeps above 10 Evs all the way through ISO 3200! A Canon 5D MKIII has a DR of only 11.7 Evs at native ISO. The difference in higher DR and lower DR, is glaringly apparent in shots with high contrasting light. The new 7D MKII may offer significant improvements, but that is not going to help the other models. I wish I knew, simply out of curiosity what Canon is thinking from a design standpoint.

    Thanks for a perfectly timed article!

    • 18
      ) Adam Carter
      July 25, 2014 at 9:46 am

      I have tried to have similar conversations with my wife and get met with a glazed expression.

      • 33
        ) Betty
        July 25, 2014 at 4:26 pm

        Me too but with my hubby.
        Some relationships are difficult to understand.

    • 19
      ) Joe H.
      July 25, 2014 at 10:03 am

      The reason is because Canon does not need to have a higher dynamic range. Higher DR has its costs like higher file size, longer processing in camera and longer workflow. This article is for armatures. Pro’s should have spot on exposure so would you really be able to tell the difference or need higher DR? Especially in Studio, DR is a moot point.

      • 20
        ) Duffy Doherty
        July 25, 2014 at 10:25 am

        Wow, you sure sound like an “armature” to me! :)

        • 34
          ) Betty
          July 25, 2014 at 4:32 pm

          Sounds like you could be better off with a box Brownie – hardly any dynamic range at all and the workflow is mercifully short – straight into the waste bin.

          Spot on exposure at ISO 6400 still produces lots of noise and if you never shoot at anything other than native ISO then pretty much any fairly recent camera will do just fine.

      • 51
        ) David Ahn
        July 26, 2014 at 1:00 am

        Joe, I agree with you on one point: in limited DR scenes like indoors with good lighting, 10-12 EVs of DR is probably all you need. But where the scene has 18-30 EVs of DR, or where there is simply not enough light, additional DR is essential. With the sun or even reflected sunlight in a daylight scene, it’s not possible with current sensors (even Nikons) to expose “spot on” so that you have no clipping without loss of shadow detail in dark areas. The chroma noise in recovered shadow areas in my 5D Mark II (even at ISO 100-400) is the reason I switched to the D800E rather than upgrade to the 5DIII.

        I did try an Enfuse experiment where I bracketed +/- 3 EVs in a sunrise scene next to Palazzo Ducale in Venice. When I compared the Enfused scene with the 0EV with highlight and shadow recovery, I decided to quit shooting for Enfuse or HDR. No appreciable difference thanks to 14.4 EVs of native DR. There was still some clipping in both the highlight recovered 0EV as well as in the Enfused composite, but they were both gorgeous.

      • 86
        ) Steve C
        July 27, 2014 at 7:52 am

        Joe a very nice, simple, defensive statement. Try using that argument with a brides mother when you have to shoot available light in a no flash wedding venue at 6400 ISO. I am a former Canon shooter and agree that in a controlled setting with the right light there is no difference, but not every photo can be taken in the studio and sometimes you just have to be a photographer instead of a technician. Better DR at higher ISO can really make the job easer, actually shortening the post time due to better image quality. Please don’t take this as Canon bashing, I started shooting FD mount cameras back when the Nikon guys were all busy having their photos taken holding F Mount bodies and Ai lenses so they could show their friends what pretty gear they had, and stayed with Canon (film and digital) until the D3 came out. Nikon gave me any reason to switch until the D300 and D3 came out and I have no regrets at upgrading. All that said, if one can’t make a good photo under normal circumstances with either brand they need to attend a workshop.

      • 102
        ) Jack
        October 16, 2014 at 10:47 am

        Well Mr. Pro – in studio you should be using something like 645D with 40MP or higher block – DR is important (but I guess you are just another Canon fanboy – sad)….

    • Profile photo of Luc Poirier
      49
      ) Luc Poirier
      July 25, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      Hi Duffy
      I just looked at the report from DXo Mark and the results on your comment on the APS-C Dynamic Range on the D7000 vs D610 are not right up to 3200 iso. Here what I read
      D7000 camera D7100 camera D610
      3200 iso EV 8.6 (3 years old) EV 9.5 (1 year old) EV 9.8 ( less than a year)
      so there is only 0.3 EV difference between the DE7100 and the D610 from iso 100 to 3200. Where the FX shine compared to the APS-C is the noise at high iso. Its true that if you are very picky you can see even at low iso that the noise is better on FX than it is on DX format.

      Have a good day
      Luc

  7. 11
    ) John
    July 25, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Very nice comparison indeed!
    Awesome to be in the Nikon camp!

    • 32
      ) Betty
      July 25, 2014 at 4:23 pm

      John

      I am in the ‘Nikon camp” as you put it too, but find myself so embarrassed by comments like yours that I wish I wasn’t.
      Grow up.

      • Profile photo of Stephen
        40
        ) Stephen
        July 25, 2014 at 7:49 pm

        I’m in my final year of a Fine Art degree in photography, and you hear that sort of thing all the time. Just the immature and silly bias toward one brand over another is really quite ridiculous – and pointless I should add.

        • 103
          ) Jack
          October 16, 2014 at 10:51 am

          yep – they are both great cameras – I prefer Nikon, but Cannon is very capable too (and at the end it is up to the operator and not the equipment)

        • 105
          ) David Ahn
          October 16, 2014 at 5:38 pm

          You can have the crappiest equipment and produce timeless art, and you can produce absolute crap with the best equipment. It’s nonsense to say Canon is crap, but it’s also nonsense to say superior tools are pointless. Expanded dynamic range = capturing images more like your eye can, not having to do HDR, etc. Find what works for you, make some beautiful photos.

      • 41
        ) Duffy Doherty
        July 25, 2014 at 7:52 pm

        @Betty
        I hope your photography shows more personality than your comments…

        • 65
          ) Betty
          July 26, 2014 at 4:23 am

          @Duffy Doherty
          What ?
          Not enough personality for you?

          My comment was tongue in cheek about being in a “camp,” ( you did get that didn’t you?), but was serious in that people who think belonging to one “camp” or another is something to aspire to, do indeed need to grow up.
          It is sad, geeky and infantile.

          In case you misunderstood my previous comment about the Box Brownie, it was directed to Joe H – not you.
          I was actually agreeing with you.

  8. 14
    ) Don B
    July 25, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Thanks for an interesting article. And thanks to the other authors that have recently posted. I really enjoy this website.

  9. 15
    ) Jeff
    July 25, 2014 at 9:29 am

    First, I only speak for me.

    Academically, this is interesting. But from a real life perspective, the cost of switching brands is over the top given the cost of replacing all of the glass. If it was just a matter of a $3k body that is one thing; but then replacing $20k of lenses just makes a switch not feasible.

    Thankfully, I am already a Nikon guy. Now, if they would just come out with a 17mm PC-E.

    • 23
      ) Bruce Photography
      July 25, 2014 at 10:50 am

      +1 on the 17 PC-E but I’m hoping for a replaced 24 with the dual axis like the Canon tilt-shift lenses which are optically superior to even their regular prime lenses. Think dual axis like Canon, think dual axis like Canon, think dual axis like Canon……. Are the Nikon Gods listening?

    • 35
      ) Betty
      July 25, 2014 at 4:40 pm

      Anyone who switches brands on the basis of one feature needs to sit down and have a serious chat with themselves.

      • 46
        ) Alphonso
        July 25, 2014 at 9:17 pm

        “Feature”? A technical specification is hardly a feature.

        • 66
          ) Betty
          July 26, 2014 at 4:27 am

          @Alphonso
          Now, now, let’s not get into semantic nit-picking.

          Anyone who switches brands on the basis of one technical specification needs to sit down and have a serious chat with themselves.

          Is that better?

      • 52
        ) David Ahn
        July 26, 2014 at 1:29 am

        Betty, I agree, it’s a sickness… one that most of us here have. I am one that switched because of this one specification. It sickened me to get rid of my L-series lenses (and 5DII), but I want to make the best photos I can on the sensor available using the best glass possible, because I have a 44″ wide 12-ink HP Z3100 printer and I’m not afraid to use it. Actually, I HAD been afraid to use it until I got my D800E. I’m still figuring out the best way to carry the most useful lenses and tripod, and as soon as I do, I’m ready to shoot some wall-sized photos!

        • 71
          ) Betty
          July 26, 2014 at 4:46 am

          @David Ahn
          I am a long time Nikon user and a D800E user and yes, it is a superlative camera as far as image quality is concerned, but is utter madness IMHO to junk a high end Canon system because of a sensor!
          Nikon may be somewhat ahead in this respect today, but you will be even sicker when Canon bring out a camera with a sensor as good or better than the D800E tomorrow or the next day.
          And they will.
          It’s called competition.
          Look what happened with the Nikon 200-400mm F4. Panic and despair among Canon users, switching of systems, dropping of shed loads of cash and then what? Canon bring out their own 200-400mm F4 with built in dedicated converter which is, if anything, better than the Nikon.
          It sounds to me like you are forever upgrading and changing your gear in preparation for the brilliant photographs you will never take. Photographic retailers and shoppers on eBay absolutely LOVE people like you.
          When you have figured out a way “to carry the most useful lenses and a tripod” perhaps you will share some of your wall-sized photographs with us.
          I am not going to hold my breath.

          • 72
            ) Betty
            July 26, 2014 at 4:49 am

            @David Ahn
            On second thoughts I am going to junk my two D800Es because they don’t have 10fps frame rate and those huge files are oh so unwieldy in post process.
            Damn, why is the world not perfect?

            • Profile photo of Luc Poirier
              78
              ) Luc Poirier
              July 26, 2014 at 10:13 am

              Hi Betty
              Please try to vent… and relax. Have a cup of tea. You have made your point and I think most of us agree 100% with it … Sadly buying new gears is a disease that most of us are not immuned from. Even known professionnals have this disease, like one owning a Phase One saying that its kind of difficult for him from not upgrading all the time. He said its very expensive camera can not achieve great results above 150 iso and its a very slow camera with a high shutter noise. In conclusion any camera gear is a trade-off in features, from the cheapest to the most expensive, and if you suffer from this disease you will always end up sad and broke.
              regards
              Luc

            • 79
              ) Steve
              July 26, 2014 at 12:23 pm

              Betty, why did you buy the two D800e’s?

          • 80
            ) Steve
            July 26, 2014 at 12:26 pm

            Betty, so why did you buy the two D800e’s?

          • 82
            ) SoCal Dave
            July 26, 2014 at 6:45 pm

            Nikon 200-400 = $6749
            Canon 200-400 = $11,799

            Just sayin’

          • 83
            ) David Ahn
            July 26, 2014 at 10:20 pm

            Betty, don’t get me wrong, my gear isn’t just sitting around waiting for the perfect circumstances. I’ve taken thousands of photos while I figure out how to travel with my equipment, as unlike some, I’m trying to fit photography into my life rather than my life around my photography. I’m not a professional photographer, I’m a physician who longs to take photos of beautiful scenery and display large prints in my home and office. I’m relatively new to photography (the 5DII was my first DSLR), but I’ve been doing graphic design and having stuff offset printed for decades (I do graphic design and marketing for my practice, my wife’s practice, my sister’s many businesses, and some friends). Graphic design often involves drastically manipulating photos, and dynamic range is very important (with scanners, it’s called Dmax). And since I hate the look of flash photos, I also brighten photos taken indoors in low light without getting a bunch of ugly chroma noise. The equipment switch may not make sense to you, but I feel it was worth it, and I’m very happy with my photos so far.

            You’re entitled to your opinions, but there’s enough hurt and suffering to go around in this world without ugliness between people who share a common passion. I wish you peace and happiness in your photography and in life.

          • 85
            ) Nicolas
            July 27, 2014 at 2:59 am

            Love your comments, Betty. Keep it up.

  10. 16
    ) Pam Gaynor
    July 25, 2014 at 9:38 am

    Very informative. I wonder if this trickles down the Nikon line. Do you know what other models benefit from this? How about Nikon df?

    • July 26, 2014 at 2:19 am

      Pam, Nikon Df has a little worse dynamic range than the higher megapixel Nikon DLSRs at lower ISO, but at high ISOs, it certainly has more. Just a completely different type of sensor. The Df / D4 / D4s also produce superb results when recovering dynamic range.

  11. 17
    ) Joe H.
    July 25, 2014 at 9:40 am

    An interesting article. But note those are extreme examples of bad photography needing to be corrected in post. In real life situations, for me anyway, I get pretty spot on exposure. So Dynamic range is not a issue. I would say that the reason Canon has not had a similar level of DR as other brands is because they do not need to. I do not take a photo and wish I had higher Dynamic range. It adds to the file size and processing and your overall workflow. I still use older Canon DSLR’s and they work great for 90% of my work. The other 10% has its work around. But having a Nikon wouldn’t fix that 10% either.

    • July 26, 2014 at 2:17 am

      Joe, please see article notes / comments about why dynamic range is important. Even if you nail the exposure, you will often find yourself in difficult situations with very dark shadows or very bright highlights – dynamic range can be of great help when recovering those. Landscape photographers see this quite a bit…

    • 76
      ) Luc
      July 26, 2014 at 8:45 am

      Hi Joe
      Nasism comments are dead on. The point is not to write that Nikon has better DR than Canon but to show how much DR is important to capture a scene as close as our eyes can see it. If you try to use the shadow recovery in LR and you get bad colors or too much noise you will have achieve nothing good. All camera manufacturers should make their efforts to try to bring DR to what our eyes can see with a minimum of noise. Saying that a camera manufactrurer does not need to try to achieved this goal does not make any sense to me. If Nikon was the best ,only Nikon cameras would sell. NIkon or Canon and all camera manufacturers have strong and weak points that differ from each other. Yes at this time NIkon sensors have better DR than the competitions, but hopefully not for long…. thats the way technology is advancing.
      There is an excellent e-book called “Pushing the Light” from Piet Van den Eynde for 10$ at craftandvision.com . Piet explains that our eyes see 20 stops of light and are adaptative while our best cameras see 14 stops at the most (100 iso). When you shoot outside in a sunnny day the scenery has more than 20 stops. Its techniques are from HDR to using grad filters , fill flash, reflectors, double processing a raw file, etc. This ebook is complimented by 12 videos. The ebook is filled with examples that show what can be achieved using them.

      Regards and happy reading and viewing
      Luc

    • 104
      ) Jack
      October 16, 2014 at 10:58 am

      sorry joe, but you sound like a kid stumping his feet saying: “My Canon is NOT worse than your Nikon!!!” – As Nasim said on the beginning – this is not a Canon vs. Nikon contest, just the real time test of Canon and Nikon DR capabilities – get over it (I’m sure he would post it even if it was reversed and NONE of us would scream “this is for armatures…” – ehh, some people…

  12. 21
    ) Jonathan
    July 25, 2014 at 10:28 am

    I upgraded to a Canon 6D last year and have been loving the DR of it compared to my old 50D and T1i. For clients, I shoot RAW, but for personal photos, I like to shoot JPEG. I realized long ago that you can have all the dynamic range in the world, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know how to nail exposure correctly. I always try to nail exposure in camera so I don’t have to rely on such extreme highlight and shadow recovery in post.

    Sure, I’m jealous of the dynamic range of Nikon cameras. But some of my favorite photographers (Ed Kashi, Penny De Los Santos, Sue Bryce) all use Canon and they have no problems getting awesome photos, so the problem is with me and not the camera.

  13. 22
    ) RandyHI
    July 25, 2014 at 10:28 am

    I don’t think saying “correct exposure” eliminates the need for a long dynamic range is correct. In Hawaii at least we often have very contrasty subjects with the tropical sun lighting up the tops of the leaves while deeply shaded areas remain very dark. In these conditions a high dynamic range helps keep some of the highlight colors and textures while still having enough data in the deep shadows to bring up colors and textures. Surely Ansel Adams was NOT using the zone system to correct for bad exposures but rather to match the dynamic range of the subject.

    • July 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm

      So true, Randy. Just like in the days of film when people dodged and burned in the darkroom to maintain detail that was in the negative, photographers who end up shooting in full sun often need to recover some shadow/highlight detail. In those situations, more dynamic range is a very good thing!

  14. 24
    ) jafar
    July 25, 2014 at 11:10 am

    kudos to Sony for making such good sensors in the first place. They can however learn a thing or two from Nikon about how to make a real RAW file (not compressed). It’s sad to see that the A7r can’t match the D800E/810 while having the exact same sensor.

  15. 25
    ) James
    July 25, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Not sure if it matters, but I’m guessing you used NEF/CR2 files rather than converting both to DNG.

    …and would that matter?

    • July 26, 2014 at 2:01 am

      James, yes, both were original 14-bit RAW files (NEF and CR2). Converting to DNG would not have mattered…

  16. 27
    ) Walan
    July 25, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    Photography is just my hobby but I often made the underexposure shots for the sake of higher shutter speed in dim light by my d800. After recovered in light room , I’m happy with the result. Much better than motion blur with perfect exposure at shooting.

  17. 28
    ) Brian Carey
    July 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    If you got a big boner for dr your definitely missing the bigger more important picture.

    • 29
      ) Michael Bandy
      July 25, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Or you shoot a lot of landscape type images and don’t want to have to blend 5 exposures to get the dynamic range in a contrasty scene. Not everyone shoots the same thing. For us landscape/nature guys dynamic range is a big deal!

      • 106
        ) Pawel
        October 22, 2014 at 2:20 am

        and for us wedding shooters…

  18. 30
    ) Dennis Luo
    July 25, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Great Comparison. The test methodology is clever and very useful

  19. 36
    ) boner
    July 25, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    shame on you all for not having the money to upgrade. :P

  20. 37
    ) Willis Fitzgerald
    July 25, 2014 at 5:18 pm

    Thank you for the info . Very helpful !

  21. 38
    ) Dave Lyons
    July 25, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you for a very practical explanation of why Canon and Nikon score the way they do in the DxOMark scores. Given all the great Canon photos I see, I thought the scores were bunk. Now I realize they are accurate but the larger question is whether they really matter, especially if you can nail the exposure or once you move up in ISO.

    I’d be interested in the same comparison at higher ISO levels. I’ve seen other reviews that show how the 6D outperforms the D600 (my camera) past 1600 or 3200. I’d be interested in how the better cameras deal with under-exposure at the higher ISOs. I often face the underexposed vs. shutter speed dilemma in dreaded “school lighting” situations. I’m not a pro and I don’t have a bag full of primes so dynamic range at higher ISOs matter. With the D600, I try to stay at or below 3200, underexpose if needed and fix post-process in PS with Topaz DeNoise (again, it’s not pro work).

    • Profile photo of Stephen
      42
      ) Stephen
      July 25, 2014 at 7:52 pm

      The scores only matter in terms of better hardware, but in the end, those great shots taken with Canon that you mention, are great shots because of the photographer. In that context, hardware becomes irrelevant.

    • 67
      ) HF
      July 26, 2014 at 4:31 am

      Hi,
      look for David Kingham. He compared several cameras for astrophotography. The Canon 6d has better DR at higher ISO compared to D610. For large ISOs and long exposures it is better, but not by much in my opinion, however visible. But the Nikon Df really looks great in one of his latter tests. The Sony’s had problems due to the EVF for accurate focussing.

  22. 39
    ) mariano
    July 25, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Nice.
    It’s also important to know that both cameras are in a different price range. 6d Vs D610 would be similar.
    HOWEVER it is understood that the comparison is between what you say are top performers in DR.
    Regards!
    Mariano

    • July 26, 2014 at 2:16 am

      Mariano, I thought about comparing the 6D to the D600 / D610, but when I looked at the dynamic range results, the 6D was better than the 5D Mark III, which is why I decided to compare the best of Canon vs the best of Nikon.

  23. 43
    ) Sreejib
    July 25, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks,
    Nasim nice article once again, from my personal experience as a event photographer I have used both brand from several years & I felt the same for dynamic range specially for the outdoor photography.
    But, in few area I must give advantage to Canon the ” tonal quality” & “auto white balance” performance.
    So, I am awaiting for your upcoming article on such area…

    • July 26, 2014 at 2:15 am

      Sreejib, tonal quality is a subjective measure. A hardcore Canon fan will always argue that Canon produces better skin tones and colors. That may be true for JPEG images, but when dealing with 14-bit RAW, one can produce good colors from both systems. As for white balance, that’s also subjective, but I do tend to like results from Canons better – it seems to be a bit more accurate in different conditions.

    • 74
      ) Ricardo Santos
      July 26, 2014 at 5:06 am

      I’d really like to see an article debating this thing about ‘skin tones’ from Canon vs Nikon, for me, a raw only shooter, it doesn’t make any sense but I never had the opportunity to make two equal portraits with each same-level system to compare them.

  24. 44
    ) Weixi
    July 25, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Very nice and detailed article, Nasim, but aren’t the results a bit counterintuitive? Unless there is some clipping in the first, overexposed image, isn’t the overexposed picture supposed to retain greater detail, dynamic range and lower noise than the underexposed picture (ETTR)? Or am I missing something haha

    I’d like your thoughts on this,

    Thanks

    • July 26, 2014 at 2:07 am

      Weixi, exposing to the right results in the lowest amount of noise, but not necessarily higher dynamic range. Take a look at both Canon results – note that the one that’s underexposed has lots of noise when compared to the one that’s overexposed. And that’s at the base ISO of 100! That’s the typical behavior of most cameras out there…

  25. 45
    ) Daniel
    July 25, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    Hi Nasim,

    Is it possible to include a comparison of the current Canon’s vs the last generation D700/D3 from Nikon.

    I’m wondering how different they would look.

    Thanks!

    • July 26, 2014 at 2:08 am

      Daniel, unfortunately, I do not have an older camera anymore. Sold off both the D700 and the D3s :( Unless someone local lets me borrow one, I won’t be able to conduct such a test…

  26. 47
    ) Phillip M Jones
    July 25, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    Someone made a comment about using a Box Camera. Would this work:
    https://www.sugarsync.com/pf/D6613848_67671505_6144570
    This is my mother’s Brownie Camera she one by selling the most garden seeds in about 1935.

  27. 48
    ) Marybeth Grazko
    July 25, 2014 at 10:28 pm

    Nasim,
    So appreciative of all of your articles on your site but especially loved the ones posted this week. Still very much a student and articles like this are so useful in understanding the nuances of what these cameras and post processing can achieve.

    Thank you!

  28. 50
    ) carlo
    July 25, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    Hi Nasim, would you mind if during next comparison between D800 vs D810 you compare at base ISO and at 6400 ISO?
    For this test probably is better to use the new Nikon software RAW developer (capture NX-D) because ACR is just beta release for now (I’ve red that it shows some artefacts).
    I always appreciate your professionality.
    Cheers

    • July 26, 2014 at 2:12 am

      Carlo, I wish you left your comment 5 hours ago before I changed my setup! I did a comparison at ISO 100 between the D800E and D810, but did not think about doing one at high ISO :( Will probably have to redo this one, since I am curious about it myself!

      And yes, only NX-D will work, as Adobe’s RAW conversion is pretty crappy at the moment. See this for details: http://photographylife.com/nikon-d810-vs-d800-d800e

      • 84
        ) Carlo
        July 27, 2014 at 12:27 am

        no worries Nasim, take your time. It’s not urgent matter even if I’m so curious to see how D800/e is compared to new Nikon D810.
        Anyhow do you think that D800 vs D800e has different DR and ISO performance? They should have same electronics and sensors beside the low pass filter, that’s it. They may have only different resolution if you test using the best lens available.
        Now Nikon is claiming that new D810 has a new sensor (infact also MP changed a little).
        That said I’m curious to see if after a couple of years and R&D efforts, D810 outperform the “old” D800e at base ISO and very high ISO.
        I think the difference between both camera is not in IQ but you will find new improvements in AF performance, bigger buffer, quiter shutter and new electronic curtain that eliminates any micro shakes. Anyhow, until now have you found these new features a real improvement or it is just marketing?
        Cheers.

  29. 63
    ) viraj
    July 26, 2014 at 3:27 am

    Very much useful Nasim. Thank u.
    It would also be helpful if u could show some real world examples… and the recovery capacities.

  30. 68
    ) HF
    July 26, 2014 at 4:37 am

    Very nice comparison. I often saw similar pictures in different forums showing this drastic DR difference, but none did this using a color chart to see what colour exactly is affected. Smart idea.
    Other than that, at higher ISO the 6D DR is quite good and the camera is used by many for astrophpotography. Another great performer is the Nikon DF, very good DR at low AND high ISO.
    As you wrote your wife uses it for weddings, how does AF compare between DF and D610?

  31. 77
    ) Francis Bacon
    July 26, 2014 at 9:12 am

    Knowledge is (frequently over) Power (ed) —Francis Bacon (Francis Bacon).

  32. 81
    ) kamuran
    July 26, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    What if you do the same test at ISO1600 or ISO3200? I think Canons take over pretty quickly (maybe at as low as iso800).

    • 90
      ) Steve
      July 28, 2014 at 9:18 am

      Kamuran what are you basing this on? You say you “think”, but are you separating opinion from observation?. Personally I have spent several days shooting a 6D and a D600 side by side and observed just the opposite of your opinion. There was very little difference under normal shooting, but once the ISO went above 1600 (with NR turned off on both cameras) the 6D was marginally “noisier” and the DR suffered accordingly. In addition the 6D images seemed to be softer, as if the camera applied some level of NR even though it was turned off. This is shooting raw, JPEGS were not tested.

      No knock on the 6D, it is an excellent camera, just sharing my observation.

      • 91
        ) kamuran
        July 28, 2014 at 1:00 pm

        Steve, I had 5DMarkII and D700 for 3 years, now I have d800 and 5DMarkIII. I used 6D for 3 days and gave it back. I am talking based on 10000+ images.
        And you can check DxOMark or other sites who does NR tests. D800 is very good in DR until ISO400-800, then Canons match it or get better. Very similar to D4.

        • 97
          ) Greg
          August 2, 2014 at 10:25 am

          From the data I’ve seen the 5D mk111 matches the D800 at around ISO 2500 – it then tracks so close as to make zero difference. But it doesn’t actually beat the D800 until 25,600. From around 600-800 the differences become pretty small though.

          That said Guy Gowan seems pretty good at teasing out the very best from Dynamic Range and he favours Canon.

  33. 89
    ) Denis Constantin
    July 28, 2014 at 1:41 am

    Would be nice to have a comparison like this between Nikon D7100 and Canon 70D at base ISO and high ISO…

  34. 92
    ) Steve
    July 28, 2014 at 7:34 pm

    Kamuran,

    Thanks for replying. I have very little experience with the 5DIII, but was unimpressed with the 6D. I still shoot most of my images with the D700 as I have for years, but do a lot with the D600 (ordered the day they came out) and have access to use a D800 some. In reality I find little difference in any of them unless printing larger than 16×24.

    • 95
      ) kamuran
      July 29, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Hi Steve. I agree, I see very little difference between d800 and 5DMarkIII unless I push both files by 3-4 EV’s. Even if you have good IPS monitors it’s really difficult to see big difference.
      D800 has incredible amount of information in shadows if you can keep ISO low, I can play with d800’s Raw’s shadows more freely than 5DMarkIII’s. On the other hand, 5DMarkIII is clearly better in high ISO.

      • 100
        ) Babar Asghar Khan
        September 21, 2014 at 7:38 am

        Our (mostly hobbyists) displays are not 32bit compliant otherwise we would have been able to see the real deal this dynamic range gives us!

  35. 93
    ) Henrik Manoochehri
    July 28, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    I own a D700 and D7000 and have been considering a move to Fuji X-t1 but this dynamic range issue may be a very important consideration before I choose to lose the Nikon glass. I wonder how Fuji compares in DR. I know this is a very different camera. However, I have very good reasons for considering the change. A significant loss of DR might make a difference in my decision.

    Thanks

  36. 94
    ) Rahul
    July 29, 2014 at 2:45 am

    your site makes me stay in nikon camp otherwise lucrative f1.2lenses call me?

  37. 96
    ) Rafael
    August 1, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Nasim, very informative review! It is very informative, as it is well illustrated with examples, it can be explained even for beginners on the inners of camera sensors.

    About a year ago I was thinking about upgrading to a full-frame, alas D800E, but money constraints and no REAL need has not moved me yet, maybe when a D900 is out… I also would have to change a fair bunch of my DX lenses too which rises the price tag for a full move; this is keeping me on APS-C grounds, I own a D7000, very satisfied with it actually.

    So, do you have in mind doing this same comparison on APS-C sensors (D7x00 and such) at least for the readers’ curiosity’s sake? :-)

  38. Profile photo of power slave12r
    98
    ) power slave12r
    September 10, 2014 at 9:30 am

    This is the best and the simplest comparison for dynamic range that I have seen. It is SO unbelievably useful that I’m surprised that review sites don’t do something similar. Charts and graphs are one thing, this is so so good. Thank you very much.

    I really really wish there was one comparing X-E1 (or the X-Trans sensor in general) against the Canon and Nikon DSLRs.

  39. 99
    ) Babar Asghar Khan
    September 21, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Really a rare article
    I was looking for someone who could post a similar type of article but ironically I don’t see any such article which compares the dynamic range of Nikon D610/600 and Canon 6D
    Great article n it some what made me confused as what to choose between the two! I was totally sold @ 6D but this dynamic range comparison will make things difficult!
    6D is an ideal replacement for my 60D but I’m more invested in APSC lenses so no matter which Full frame I buy I’ll have to dispose them off!
    Anyway can u do or share some personal experience with real world examples of the benefit of extra dynamic range Nikon provides at lower ISOs or Canon gives us at higher ISOs!
    Useable high ISO is not a feature which most of us use most of the time, that feature is a benefit for exceptional cases but lower ISOs better dynamic range for Nikon does give us a feature which we all will be using most of the times!
    Recovering details from under exposed and over exposed areas is something we always use. I really felt bad when I was shooting something in Tanzania without checking the results as the action was quite fluid n I didn’t get the chance to change the mode of shooting, because I mostly use Aperture priority and then retake same shot with manual mode with different settings to get desired results as aperture priority is sometimes hit and trial so I always resort to recovering details in post process, and a camera with better dynamic range at lower ISOs will give me extra room to play with.
    So as per ur test it seems Nikon I’d a winner but I want to see same scene shot with same cameras to show the real difference in dynamic range.
    I hope u got what I wanted to ask!
    Really great website I wonder whybindoeant show up higher in google search! Something with SEO n tags etc. Plz keep us updated with whatever thing u do, as it method of explaining is very simple and straight forward n easy to understand.

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