Sony A7 vs Nikon D600 ISO Performance

Thanks to all the camera and lens releases earlier this year, I now have too much gear in my hands and too little time to review it all. Instead of making our readers wait for full, in-depth reviews (which take me a while to put together), I will be publishing some bits and pieces from the reviews with my initial impressions. In this case, I would like to show you the ISO noise performance of the new Sony A7 mirrorless camera and the Nikon D600/D610 DLSRs. I have just received the A7 and A7R cameras along with two Sony lenses (the 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss prime and the 28-70mm Sony zoom), so I have not been able to use them extensively to provide a detailed analysis and opinion. From my two days of using the two, I am pretty impressed by what I see so far.

Let’s take a look at how the Sony A7 compares to the Nikon D600 in low and high ISO performance. Here is the boosted ISO 50 for your viewing pleasure:

Sony A7 ISO 50 Nikon D600 ISO 50

Right off the bat, we can already see a difference between the two – the Sony A7 shows a brighter image. Since the lighting setup was exactly the same and all exposure values were also set the same way (with NR, DR and other settings turned off), it is pretty clear that Sony is rendering images about 1/3 of a stop brighter.

Sony A7 ISO 100 Nikon D600 ISO 100

The same thing can be seen at all other ISO levels. Noise characteristics are very similar between the sensors, which is expected given that both feature 24 MP sensors with similar resolution and pixel size.

Sony A7 ISO 200 Nikon D600 ISO 200

Sony A7 ISO 400 Nikon D600 ISO 400

Sony A7 ISO 800 Nikon D600 ISO 800

Starting from ISO 800 and 1600 we start seeing more noise patterns on the A7, which are a little more visible in the shadows. But the difference is very small…

Sony A7 ISO 1600 Nikon D600 ISO 1600

And at ISO 3200, it is now getting pretty clear that the Nikon D600 is better – take a look at the shadow red area under the ship and you will see that the D600 not only maintains noise levels better, but it also retains more colors:

Sony A7 ISO 3200 Nikon D600 ISO 3200

And that difference is even more noticeable at ISO 6400:

Sony A7 ISO 6400 Nikon D600 ISO 6400

And at ISO 12800, the differences are very obvious:

Sony A7 ISO 12800 Nikon D600 ISO 12800

ISO 25600 looks like garbage on both. The Nikon D600 still has smaller grain and does a better job at keeping the detail levels – look at the red squares on the ship.

Sony A7 ISO 25600 Nikon D600 ISO 25600

Seems like Nikon still has the upper hand when it comes to ISO performance over Sony cameras. Although the differences are small, they are still there, as demonstrated by the above image samples. Please keep in mind that all of the above images are 100% crops and represent pixel-level performance. When I added +3 EV in Lightroom to see how much data can be recovered, the D600 also seemed to provide a little more details in the shadows, which translates to slightly higher dynamic range.

Coming up: Sony A7R vs Nikon D800E ISO Performance comparison.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Brendan
    December 12, 2013 at 4:53 am

    Nice comparison,Thanks very much.
    But I think I can see some moire on sony’s shots, on the ship hull.
    Can you confirm? Is there something going on with Anti-aliasing filter?
    Thanks

    • December 12, 2013 at 5:25 am

      There is definitely some funky stuff going on there. It is especially noticeable when I boosted the EV levels to +3. Looks like moire, but the patterns are not very fine, so I am not exactly sure why we are seeing them…

      • 3
        ) JeffH
        December 12, 2013 at 5:33 am

        Odd I don’t see any moire at all.

    • 16
      ) Gandalf
      May 23, 2014 at 2:40 am

      Those are some seriously strange colour patterns on the hull of the ship. Reminds me of the strange halos I experienced with my Sony A7R in combination with the Sony 35mm f/2.8. One of several reasons why I switched back to a Nikon camera (D610). Noise performance of the A7 seems to be at least a half stop worse too. The blacks areas stay nice and black in the Nikon files. The A7 files start to look a little rough from ISO 1600. If I want light and compact, I’ll grab my Olympus E-M10.

  2. 4
    ) Roberto
    December 12, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Look at high light on the lower part of ship in Sony images. They look horrible, a lot of moire and chroma nois

  3. 5
    ) Andre
    December 12, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Nasim,
    What lens did you use for both cameras for this test?
    Thanks.

  4. 6
    ) Brendan
    December 12, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Maybe sony is using modified low pass filter, that not filtering much :) just to increase sharpening of the pictures. And they look sharper that nikons. But it might be a lens as well.

  5. December 12, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Great comparison article. Thanks for sharing.

  6. 8
    ) Sandipan
    December 12, 2013 at 9:22 am

    It seems with respect to High-ISO and DR, Sony mirrorless has still some way to go before they reach Nikon DSLR performance. By that time Nikon will move too. But the Sony A7 would be nice camera for serious travel photographers who crave for small size and small weight.
    Though ultimately mirrorless is the future.

  7. 9
    ) Riot Nrrrd™
    December 12, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    How about “Sony A7 vs Nikon D600 SIZE Performance” instead?!?

    http://camerasize.com/compare/#378,487

    “Significantly thinner/smaller/lighter” wins in my book.

    http://snapsort.com/compare/Nikon-D600-vs-Sony-A7

    “But the Sony A7 would be a nice camera for serious travel photographers who crave small size and small weight.”, indeed.

    • 12
      ) EnPassant
      December 12, 2013 at 7:20 pm

      At the moment D600/D610 is the second smallest Nikon full frame camera. While bigger than A7 it is also a much higher specified camera with more controls on the body and a top LCD. It’s an apples and grapefruit comparision.

      Ignoring the size of the sensor a D5300 would be a better comparision as it offers a similar control layout but with a larger LCD and built-in flash. It’s of course still a kind of apples and oranges comparision as one is mirrorless and the other a DSLR. But except for thickness of the body, governed mostly by the grip, flash and mirror difference in size and weight is very small: http://camerasize.com/compare/#490,487

      Now imagine Nikon make a D5300 with a full frame sensor, which is possible to do, and attach a normal 50/55mm f/1.8 to the cameras: http://camerasize.com/compact/#490.353,487.395,ha,t

      Oops, the thickness of the combinations are almost the same! The A7 with lens is even 89g more heavy!
      Adding a larger sensor to the Nikon camera would of course add some weight, so overall it’s a draw.

  8. 10
    ) Steve E
    December 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks This is very helpful.
    BTW can you consistently state which column of pictures are for which camera, that would be helpful. I.E left column is the nikon etc.
    Also it would be great to compare the new DF to the sony A7

  9. December 12, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    Thank you much. This was very informative/helpful.
    FYI- boo hoo, pity- sorry you have so much gear… as a disabled serious hobbyist I just long to save enough for a decent fast prime lens. The lenses in the D3100 kit I got are f/3.5 and f/4. I’m hoping by May or June to get an f/1.4~1.8…

  10. 14
    ) rajoojar
    December 18, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Are these out-of-camera JPGs? Even though you have turned of NR the manufacturers still sneak in some NR. My A7 certainly applies a tiny amount of NR to the JPG compared to the RAW even when I have turned it off. A lot of the A7 shots above look sharper than the D600 shots. For example, on ISO6400 you can see the hull has more detail and the words “DIAMOND”/”DARK KNIGHT” are a little sharper. So at least some of the difference in lower D600 noise probably is simply down to it performing more NR (even when set to off). If you enable NR in A7 (perhaps the low setting) so that the detail is comparable between the two, then the noise comparison might be fairer. Or better still, use RAW (assuming they don’t sneak in some NR in there as well!).

  11. 15
    ) Dartagan
    May 23, 2014 at 12:20 am

    I don’t like the placement of the shutter button on the A7 series. It feels really awkward. I have to maneuver my hand in an unnatural way to press it. Images from the A7 have a slightly harsher digital look, I don’t like that. Using the A7 feels more indirect. Like I have less control over the camera. Everything is electronic, even the viewfinder. The large optical viewfinder of the D600 series obviously feels more natural. The grip/ergonomics of the D600 series is way better and so is the battery life. Where are the native FE Sony lenses? There are almost no lenses and the ones they do have cost a fortune. I bought the excellent Nikon 50mm f/1.8G for only 170 euro. The Sony equivalent is much more expensive. Almost a thousand euros for a standard f/1.8 prime, that’s insane!

  12. 17
    ) NikonSony
    August 22, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Comparison should be taken with a grain of salt. The A7 in the test obviously has the noise reduction etc. turned on making the images look a lot worse, disable that the results will be about the same.

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