Nikon has just released a firmware update for a number of current and older DSLR cameras. These include the D4, D3s, D3x, D3, D800, D600, D7000 and, finally, the D3200. Last generation cameras, namely the D3, D3s, D3x and D7000 now support the new super-telephoto Nikkor AF-S 800mm f/5.6 VR lens, so changes aren’t really big. Current cameras, however, have seen additional changes, among which are AF improvements for the D800 and D600 in continuous mode.
Here is a quick comparison of ISO performance (low ISO and high ISO) between the Nikon D600, Nikon D700, Nikon D800E and Nikon D3s. Please note that all of the images below were shot in JPEG, since Nikon D600 RAW support is not available yet. All images were also down-sampled to the Nikon D700/D3s resolution (cameras with the lowest resolution). Everything was shot in ambient light (lab results are posted in the Nikon D600 review here) with all camera corrections turned off and camera profile set to standard (default, no changes). Cropping and export was performed in Lightroom 4 and I used Photoshop to add the text on the bottom of each image.
1) Nikon D600 ISO Performance
If you have pre-ordered the Nikon D800, you will have a smile on your face after you read this. Remember my first post on the Nikon D800, where I said that it will take the #1 spot at DXOMark? Well, guess what – I was right on that one. DXOMark has just released their latest data for the Nikon D800 and it took the #1 spot away from the expensive Phase One IQ180 medium format camera. With an overall score of 95, nothing comes even remotely close to its sensor performance:
While most of us were expecting to see incredible dynamic range performance from the D800, many photographers and critics out there were complaining about small pixels on the sensor and their implication on low-light performance. When I saw the negativity about the pixel size, I published an article on the benefits of a high resolution sensor. For some, the concept of “down-sampling” was quite new, while others strongly disagreed with me and kept on repeating the same old tune on how smaller pixels negatively affect high ISO performance. Well, those who doubted me can now take a look at the data that DXOMark has published today – the Nikon D800 pretty much matches the Nikon D4 in terms of high ISO performance. Wait a second, how is that possible, you might ask? After-all, we are not only comparing two completely different cameras for different needs, but also two cameras at completely different price points – the D4 costs twice as much as the D800.
While I have not yet received my copy of the Nikon D4, I had an opportunity to test it today and perform some comparisons against the original Nikon D3 and D3s cameras, thanks to my new friend Michael Sasser, who was kind enough to let me use his D4. The purpose of this Nikon D4 vs D3s vs D3 ISO comparison is to show how the new professional D4 compares to the older-generation Nikon cameras in low and high ISO performance. I will start working on a full Nikon D4 Review once I receive it and hopefully will finish it up with plenty of image samples and my analysis sometime in early April (planning a couple of big projects for the Nikon and Canon DSLR cameras).
Some background information for the below crops:
- All photographs were taken in a controlled environment, with a single studio light (octabank, modeling light), placed on the left
- All cameras were set to 14-bit NEF / RAW format, Active D-Lighting, Noise Reduction, Vignetting set to Off
- White Balance: Auto, changed to 3300 Temp, +6 Tint in Lightroom 4 (Process Version 2012)
- Lightroom Settings: Default
- Due to the difference in resolution (16 MP on the D4 vs 12 MP on the D3 and D3s), images from the Nikon D4 were down-sampled to 12 MP for a fair comparison
Here is the full image and the cropped area:
Many of the current Nikon D3s owners like me probably wonder about the differences between the new Nikon D4 and the now obsolete Nikon D3s DSLR cameras. While I do not yet have the Nikon D4 to do more in-depth side by side comparisons, I decided to write about differences in body design and specifications between the two. More details about the Nikon D4 will be published in my upcoming Nikon D4 review.
First, let’s talk about differences in camera body design.
Nikon D4 vs D3s Camera Body Design Comparison
As expected, the Nikon D4 went through rather significant changes in camera body design. The overall shape of the camera has been completely changed and it now looks more curved than the D3/D3s/D3x models. Let’s start from the front of the camera, which went through the least number of changes. The only major change I see on the front is the C/S/M focus lever (bottom left side of the camera) that has been modified to adapt to the same switch we see on the Nikon D7000 DSLR. This was a good design change, because it will prevent accidental changes to autofocus when you pull the camera out of the bag. Now the switch only has two options – AF for autofocus and M for manual focus. The button on top of the switch replaces the AF mode switch on the back of the camera. Now you can switch between the different AF modes (single, dynamic and 3D) by pressing this button and rotating the camera dial. Oh and it looks like the grip is shaped a little differently, which should help with handling the camera a little more.
Just a few days before Nikon D4 is announced at CES, I decided to write a review of the Nikon D3s DSLR that I have been shooting with for the past two plus years. I have been putting off writing the review for a while now, because I wanted to first review all the gear that I have been testing lately, while the gear I use every day for my photography has been just sitting at the end of my long “to-do” list. The Nikon D3s has received numerous awards, including “best product / camera” from various reputable organizations and websites. And it did for a reason – its image quality, high ISO performance, superb autofocus, fast speed and rich features make it a phenomenal camera – truly one of the best cameras in the world.
During my last trip to Florida, I was fortunate to attend Carlos Santana‘s concert, during which I had a good opportunity to take pictures and video with Nikon D3s DSLR and Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S lens. As I have pointed out in my previous D3s articles, the performance of Nikon D3s in low light environments is incredible.
Take a look at the following shot of Santana:
Red-Winged Blackbirds are very common in Colorado. They are permanent residents in most local parks, including Cherry Creek State Park, where I captured one of them while it was singing to attract a female. Spring is a great time for birds in Colorado, except when it gets very cold. It snowed today in Denver and the temperatures dropped below 40F, which is not abnormal for Colorado in April :)
Hoping for a sunny day next week, so that I can get out and do some spring birding!
Captured with Nikon D3s and Nikon 300mm f/4.0 AF-S + 1.4x TC.
In this Nikon D700/D3 vs D3s High ISO Noise Comparison, I will be focusing on providing information and image samples from the first-generation Nikon full frame cameras (Nikon D700 and Nikon D3) as well as from the current high ISO king – Nikon D3s. High ISOs are needed in low-light environments, where the amount of ambient light is insufficient for hand-held photography at standard ISO sensitivity values. While doubling the ISO number doubles the shutter speed to freeze motion or prevent camera shake, it also introduces noise into the picture.
All tests below were performed on a sturdy tripod, with timed exposure to prevent camera vibrations. Both Nikon D700 and Nikon D3s were set exactly the same way, shot in manual mode with Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G at f/8.0. Exposures were exactly the same on both cameras, depending on ISO value. I shot in RAW (Active D-Lighting: Off, High ISO NR: Normal), then imported into Lightroom, cropped and exported with “Camera Standard” camera profile. The rest of the data is available via EXIF in the files to those who are interested in technical details.
Here is the full area that I shot for these tests:
The first test is at ISO 800. The image on the left is Nikon D700 and the image on the right is Nikon D3s (click to enlarge). Both are extremely good at ISO 800, but Nikon D3s is a little cleaner in the background areas.
Rob Galbraith, a well-known and respected photographer from Canada, has recently posted an article on autofocus performance of the new Canon EOS-1D Mark IV after using the camera for a while photographing various athletes that were preparing for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. After weeks of shooting the camera, he compared the autofocus performance of the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV with the new Nikon D3s.
Here is a quick excerpt from his article:
It’s worth noting one other fundamental difference between the AF system in the D3S and that of the EOS-1D Mark IV. When Nikon focus is out, it doesn’t tend to be way out. More often than not, peak action frames that are not perfectly focused aren’t that blurry, making some of them still viable. That is, if you’re of a mind that it’s better to have a slightly soft frame of a great peak moment than a totally blurry one. The EOS-1D Mark IV, on the other hand, produces many more frames that are too soft to use for anything, no matter how sweet the moment.
To sum up, our experience with the D3S’ AF system is that it’s trustworthy and dependable enough for us to be confident using it for peak action sports. Not perfect: it needs to be a bit faster off the line, in addition to the other quibbles we’ve mentioned. But it does work as needed most of the time, which is in stark contrast to the experience of the EOS-1D Mark IV in the last month.
The above review is pretty much in line with what many other sports and action photographers have said after doing comparisons between the two cameras – the Nikon D3s is currently, without a doubt, a leader in both autofocus and low-light photography (high ISO performance).
When I looked at some sample pictures of the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, I got a little worried about Nikon D3s future. However, after seeing some high ISO comparisons and hearing from pros on autofocus performance of both cameras, it turned out that D3s is the leader and it looks like it will stay that way for at least another two years! Sure, it is unfair to compare Nikon’s full frame sensor with a 1.3x cropped sensor, but poor autofocus performance has been Canon’s biggest weakness (especially in 1D Mark III) and despite the fact that Canon re-engineered their autofocus system from scratch in 1D Mark IV, it is still worse than Nikon’s legendary 51 point autofocus system.
Nikon D3s wins, end of story.