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.
Well, let me clarify a few things. Again, I highly recommend to follow the above-mentioned links on down-sampling. In short, down-sampling magically reduces noise. At pixel level, or as some say “at 100% view”, the Nikon D4 will obviously surpass the Nikon D800 in high ISO performance. This can be seen clearly from the following graph:
See how the Nikon D800 lags behind in high ISO at the pixel level? But what would happen if you printed an image from both the Nikon D4 and the D800 at 16 MP resolution? Take a look at this chart now:
As you can see, the Nikon D800 performs almost identical to the Nikon D4. Again, this is what reduction from 36 MP to 12 MP does to the image. Some of you might disagree with this sort of testing methodology. But as I have explained before, from the two methods of sensor comparisons, which is pixel to pixel comparison and comparison at the same resolution, the latter is the fair and correct way to assess and compare sensor performance. Taking a 100% crop view from a 36 MP image and putting it against a 100% crop view from a 16 MP image with the same sensor area will surely show deficiencies with the 36 MP image. But then you are completely disregarding the much higher resolution advantage of the 36 MP image. When publishing your photos on your blog, you don’t publish them at 100% image size. You down-sample them to a much smaller image size, something like 800 to 1024 pixels wide. So why should it be fair to compare sensors at 100% view? Judging from the high ISO performance chart above, if you took images from the D800 and the D4 and down-sampled them to 16 MP at ISO 6,400, both would look more or less the same. But it does not just stop there – the D800 would have more resolution / sharpness as well. So if you slightly missed your focus on the D4 image, it would certainly be visible at 100% view and 16 MP, while the image from the D800 would appear sharper. Crazy, but it is true.
Does this mean that the Nikon D800 is better than the D4 and does it make the D4 a less of a camera? No, absolutely not. Again, we are talking about two cameras for completely different needs. The Nikon D800 has the resolution, dynamic range and colors that are very close to the medium format range, while the Nikon D4 has the speed, better weather sealing, shutter durability and many other great features that are not found on the D800. On top of that, the Nikon D800 stops at ISO 25,600, while the Nikon D4 can go all the way to ISO 204,800. So for extreme situations where light conditions are extremely poor, the Nikon D4 can still take pictures. Wildlife and sports photographers will obviously choose the D4 for these reasons.
For anyone who doubts the accuracy of the DXOMark lab tests (Canonites hate DXOMark, because it always shows Canon cameras ranking much lower than Nikon), check out my Nikon D4 vs D3s vs D3 ISO comparison and compare it to the DXOMark data. You will find that my tests very closely match those of DXOMark. While some of their very first tests might have had some flaws, they have since solidified their testing methodology and it has now become a great benchmark tool for sensor comparisons.
As for me, I will post my Nikon D800 high ISO comparisons, along with a review very soon. Comparisons will include Nikon D800, D700, D4, D3s, D3, D7000, Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 5D Mark III. It will be the most complete review I have done so far. Since it will take me a long time to get this review up on the site, I will have to publish it in pieces. I am expecting the very first part to be available as early as Tuesday of next week (03/27/2012). Stay tuned folks, I am very excited!
More images from the DXOMark site:
And the link to the original article on D800 performance from DXOMark.