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.
At ISO 1,600, the Nikon D3s starts to shine, showing a significantly less amount of noise in the background.
The same thing at ISO 3,200 and this time Nikon D3s is showing a 1-1.5 stops of improvement over Nikon D700.
At ISO 6,400 we are already seeing some loss of details on the Nikon D700, while Nikon D3s is still super sharp, with a slight amount of noise.
ISO 12,800 looks pretty darn good on the Nikon D3s, while the image from Nikon D700 is almost unusable with color blobs appearing in random spots.
As expected, the image is unusable at ISO 25,600 on the Nikon D700, while Nikon D3s is still kicking butt at ISO 25,600 with very few, barely noticeable color spots.
As you can clearly see from the above images, the Nikon D3s outperforms D700/D3 by approximately 1.5 stops. I cannot say that the difference is full two stops, because the Nikon D3s has a little more noise/grain at two stops than Nikon D700. For example, here is what we see when Nikon D700 @ ISO 3,200 is compared against Nikon D3s @ ISO 12,800:
Sharpness-wise both images are very similar, but when you look at noise levels, Nikon D700 @ ISO 3200 is a tad better than Nikon D3s @ ISO 12,800, which is already remarkable. The ISO on Nikon D3s can also be “boosted” to ISO 51,200 and 102,400 for those, who need to be able to shoot in extremely dim environments or want to get faster shutter speeds. Let’s take a look at those crazy ISOs:
ISO 51,200 is not bad at all and is much more usable when compared to Nikon D700’s ISO 25,600. I wouldn’t use ISO 102,400 though, because it is not only too grainy, but there seem to be issues with blue and red color blobs getting added to the picture (nearly impossible to deal with in post-production).
The Nikon D3s is labeled as “high ISO king” for a reason – it clearly delivers outstanding results on high ISOs when compared to the first generation Nikon FX sensor. Nikon did the right thing by keeping the resolution the same as in Nikon D3 and not chasing after more megapixels like Canon has been lately. Keeping the number of pixels low allowed Nikon to use the same pixel size, also known as “pixel pitch” as in Nikon D3 (8.4 µm), while significantly increasing the sensitivity of the sensor. The difference between DX and FX has been shifted to a new level now, making it a whopping 3 full stops of light! This means that ISO 1,600 on a DX sensor will look very close to ISO 12,800 on a D3s FX sensor.
I will be posting a full high ISO noise test between Nikon D300 (DX), Nikon D700 (FX) and Nikon D3s (FX) tomorrow, so stay tuned!
Very nice and helpful comparison!
I dont think that d800 is good in high ISO.
when is the d700 going to be updated to anew model ,the d800 will it be in the shopes
How do you think when will be announced the new D800? This year?
A question, am upgrading to D3S bodys soon and thinking lenses, been using DX 17-55 2.8 on my D300’s and wondered how much coverage loss there would be against the 24-70mm on the D3X, like you I try to carry as versatile a lens as possible to save weight by carrying lots of others :-).
Not sure about how fdlexible the 24mm prime would be but would be interested in any comments you may have.
It’s commendable how you take out time for this knowledge sharing on your website and it’s always been a learning experience reading through your blogs.
I am not a professional photographer but I take photos at family events. I have a D90 with SB 600 now and I am not that happy with it’s ISO capabilities in low light conditions. I am planning to upgrade it to D700 with Sb900 as I can’t afford D3s. What do you suggest? And I would appreciate if you can share any tips to make the best use of D700 at such indoor events. Especially with ceiling being very high, I want to use ISO capabilities to ensure I don’t get underexposed photos. I will have 85mm 1.4 D, 50mm 1.8, 24-70mm 2.8 and a 70-300mm sigma as my lenses. Thank you
would you suggest D700 vs D3s for landscape (tripod) and portrait work ? is the D700 picture quality as good as D3s at low , let say, ISO 200 ?
I already have the D3S, and i am absolutely happy with it, but I am thinking about to get a second body, to not contineously switching the lenses, leaving the D3s on the 200-400 (set up i use very often) and using the second body with 14-24 etc.
or it will be wiser to make an efford getting the second d3s ?
i am not professional photographer, but i really love the photo…
Thank you for the effort to put this together. It’s great in showing daylight ISO comparisons. I find myself using High ISO (over 1600) mainly at night – at which time the noise performance – especially in shadows – is much different than daylight noise performance.
I would have loved to see a comparison here for low-ligh photography as well.
Keep up the good work
It’s my first posting on your site and first of all, I have to say it’s a great job what you do with this website.
Regarding the comparison between D3s and D700, I noticed that D700 images are a little bit sharper and have more contrast than D3s images. Is there a difference in in-camera processing? Do you think that D3s might apply a little noise reduction so the images become softer?
I’m asking these questions because lately, Nikon seemed to apply some tricks in their in-camera processing to increase images’ quality, even if they are in RAW format. For example, the new D7000 seems to increase the exposure just a little bit to avoid noise.
Bogdan, there is no sharpness difference between D700 and D3s – in the above samples, my focus is probably not 100% accurate on the D3s images, which is why they look a little less sharp. In real life situations, both cameras are equally as sharp and I cannot notice additional visible noise reduction on the D3s.
In terms of overexposing to decrease noise – that’s a known technique called “shooting to the right”, which is basically overexposing an image to get better shadow details. I don’t think there is much surprise there – the Nikon D80/D200 and other older cameras were known to overexpose by about 0.7 EV.
What would be your pick for a all around camera for everything a D3s or a D700? I am looking at both I need an upgrade from my D90.
Andrea, it depends on your budget. If you can afford the D3s, go for it – otherwise, D700 is a very nice alternative. Another question is whether you shoot video or not, since D700 does not offer any video capabilities.
I have both and I use them constantly for my photography.