Nikon D300s vs Canon 50D High ISO Noise Comparison

This article is to primarily show the key differences between the Nikon D300/D300s and Canon 50D and provide information on high ISO performance above ISO 800. While there is a significant difference in both features and price between these cameras, in this Nikon D300s vs Canon 50D comparison, I will primarily focus on low-light performance between these two cameras.

Major differences between the two cameras

  1. Sensor Resolution – Nikon D300/D300s is 12.3 Megapixels (4288 x 2848) while Canon 50D is 15.1 Megapixels (4752 x 3168).
  2. Pixel Pitch – Nikon D300s is 5.49 microns and Canon 50D is 4.7 microns.
  3. Crop factor – All Nikon APS-C (DX) sensors have a crop factor of 1.5x, while all Canon APS-C sensors have a crop factor of 1.6x.
  4. Autofocus focus points – Nikon D300/D300s has the same professional autofocus system as in Nikon D3/D3s/D3x with a total of 51 focus points, while the Canon 50D has a much inferior 9 focus point system.
  5. ISO – Both cameras can handle up to ISO 3200 in native mode. Nikon D300/D300s can be boosted to ISO 6,400, while Canon 50D can go up to ISO 12,800.
  6. Wireless flash master – Nikon D300/D300s has a built-in flash that can be used as a master flash to control other Nikon flashes, while Canon 50D does not have such feature.
  7. Exposure compensation – Most Nikon cameras can handle -5 to +5 EV, while Canon 50D can only handle -2 to +2 EV.
  8. Frames per second – very similar performance between the cameras. Nikon D300 is 6 FPS, Nikon D300s is 7 FPS and Canon 50D is 6.3 FPS. With the MB-D10 battery pack both Nikon D300 and D300s can shoot 8 frames per second.
  9. Movie mode – Nikon D300s can handle 720p video and Canon 50D has no video support.
  10. Viewfinder coverage – 100% on Nikon D300/D300s and 95% on Canon 50D (pentaprism on both).
  11. Weight – Canon 50D is lighter (730g) than Nikon D300/D300s (840g).
  12. Custom Functions – 25 on Canon 50D and 48 on Nikon D300/D300s.
  13. Price – Canon 50D is currently selling for $925 at B&H and Nikon D300s is $1,519.

High ISO Comparison

Let’s move on to high ISO tests for both Nikon D300s and Canon 50D. Here is what I photographed for this test:


NIKON D300 @ 35mm, ISO 200, 2/1, f/8.0

Because there is a difference in sensor resolution and crop factor, I had to move the Canon system back a little bit to compensate for the difference. The below crops are 100% crops from both cameras and they have NOT been resized in any way. The tests were performed on a sturdy tripod, with timed exposure to prevent camera vibration. Both Nikon D300s and Canon 50D were shot in manual mode. I used the Nikon 16-35mm f/4.0 VR and Canon 17-35mm f/4.0L USM lenses, both set to f/8.0 and focused between the round candle and the green tray. Shot in RAW, then imported into Lightroom, cropped and exported with “Camera Standard” camera profile. The rest of the data is available via EXIF on the files to those, who are interested in technical details.

ISO 800 (Left: Nikon D300, Right: Canon 50D):
Nikon D300 ISO 800 Canon 50D ISO 800

ISO 1600:
Nikon D300 ISO 1600 Canon 50D ISO 1600

ISO 3200:
Nikon D300 ISO 3200 Canon 50D ISO 3200

ISO 6400:
Nikon D300 ISO 6400 Canon 50D ISO 6400


Considering the price difference between the two cameras, it is unfair to compare Nikon D300s versus Canon 50D. My main focus in this test was to show the difference in ISO performance between the two cameras and it is pretty clear that Nikon D300/D300s cameras handle noise levels about a stop better than Canon 50D (ISO 3200 on Nikon D300/D300s looks about the same as ISO 1600 on Canon 50D). This is expected, because of the difference in resolution and crop factor – Canon 50D has more pixels per square inch than Nikon D300/D300s and the difference in pixel pitch plays a huge role in high ISO performance. Also, Nikon D300s is a higher class camera than Canon 50D and it would be more fair to compare Nikon D300s with Canon 7D instead. Hopefully I will get my hands on a Canon 7D soon to be able to run a similar comparison.


  1. 1) Bill O
    March 24, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Thanks for the comparison. It would be good to identify Left Photo as Nikon D300s and Right Photo as Canon 50D (I guess)??

    • March 24, 2010 at 10:37 pm

      Bill, you are welcome! The images are tagged with the name of the camera and ISO description and when you click on the images, the information is also shown on the bottom.

      But you are right – I should have clearly pointed it out above the images to make it simpler for everyone to see :) Thanks for the recommendation and I have just updated the article.

  2. 2) Ryan
    March 31, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Great review. Now i know what is the difference between the two. I was thinking of choosing which camera will i choose if i could go for the semi-pro. A friend of mine was suggesting me for the Canon EOS 7D.

    I haven’t tried yet the Nikon but I saw some of the masters here in the Philippines are using Nikon. Nikon’s got less noise compared to Canon. Anyway, thanks Nasim!

    • April 2, 2010 at 1:27 am

      Ryan, you are most welcome!

      7D is also a very good camera, very comparable to Nikon D300s.

  3. 3) Rahul
    April 16, 2010 at 3:14 am

    Hi Nasim,
    I am puzzled as to which brand to go with. I am an amateur and I was thinking about Nikon (D90) to be my gear. But recent launch of EOS 550D (the reviews have come out great from different sites) has puzzled me more. I’ve also learned that canon camera images need post processing as out of camera they are soft is that a myth or just some tech jargon? I really dont want too much post processing for every image I take. They should be usable right out of the camera.
    Plus more confusion I even saw Olympus cameras output to be crisp for Jpegs E3, E30 and E620 in particular. Whats your take on those or the brand..? future wise.
    Please suggest. Also my budget is $1200.
    Should I wait for D90’s successor that could come anytime this year?
    Real dicy situation for me.

    Thanks, Rahul

    • April 17, 2010 at 3:01 am

      Rahul, forget about other brands. Either go for Nikon or Canon – they dominate the market and keep their values for a long time.

      Nikon D90 is a much better camera than the 550D.

  4. November 2, 2010 at 1:53 am

    This is such a wonderful review! I think choosing a DSLR should not be as simple as looking at the functions and megapixels. It is much more than that.

    I am thinking of getting a new pro-level DSLR this week and my choice is between the Nikon D90 and Canon EOS 50D. I still can’t decide what to get but they are both one of the best in their class of DSLR cameras.

    Which one do you suggest then? And which of the two has cheaper acccessories and lens?

  5. 5) Jojo Andrada
    November 4, 2010 at 2:26 am

    I was about to get a 50D until I saw this. I need to know if you turned off the in camera noise reduction of the 50D when you took these shots?


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