How does the Nikon D800 compare to the newly announced Canon 5D Mark III? In this article, I will show the specifications of both cameras and talk about feature differences, in addition to providing my subjective opinion about each camera. Please keep in mind that the information below is purely based on specifications and available information. A detailed comparison with image samples and ISO comparisons is provided in my D800 Review.
Nikon definitely surprised everyone with its ultra high-resolution Nikon D800 announcement earlier this year. Featuring an impressive 36.3 MP sensor, the Nikon D800 was a huge jump from the 12.1 MP sensor that we all got so used to ever since the Nikon D3 came out in 2007. Knowing that the Canon 5D update was due for a refresh, I wondered what Canon would respond with – a similar high-resolution sensor to compete head-to-head against the D800, or a lower-resolution sensor with better noise characteristics (as it did with the Canon 1D X). As it turns out, Canon decided to play a different game and instead of engaging in a megapixel race, it decided to focus on image quality, autofocus features/performance and weather sealing – the three areas that have been receiving a lot of criticism from the Canon community for many years now. This is a very smart and welcome move, especially in regards to autofocus features and performance. As one of our readers pointed out, “the Canon 5D Mark III is what 5D Mark II should have been in 2008”. While I have to disagree with this statement in terms of image quality for now (I will have to test both side by side), I agree that Canon should have included a better AF module on the 5D Mark II, given its price and the full-frame sensor.
Let’s take a look at the specifications of both cameras in more detail.
D800 and 5D Mark III Specification Comparison
|Camera Feature||Nikon D800||Canon 5D Mark III|
|Sensor Resolution||36.3 Million||22.3 Million|
|Dust Reduction / Sensor Cleaning||Yes||Yes|
|Image Size||7360 x 4912||5760 x 3840|
|Image Processor||EXPEED 3||DIGIC 5+|
|Storage Media||1x Compact Flash and 1x SD||1x Compact Flash and 1x SD|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||4 FPS, 6 FPS in DX mode with MB-D12 battery grip||6 FPS|
|Max Shutter Speed||1/8000 to 30 sec||1/8000 to 30 sec|
|Shutter Durability||200,000 cycles||150,000 cycles|
|Exposure Metering Sensor||91,000-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering III||iFCL metering with 63 zone dual-layer sensor|
|Base ISO||ISO 100||ISO 100|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-6,400||ISO 100-25,600|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 50, ISO 12,800-25,600||ISO 50, ISO 51,200-102,400|
|Autofocus System||Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX with 51-points (up to 15 cross-type points)||61-point high-density reticular AF (up to 41 cross-type points)|
|AF Detection||Up to f/8 (up to 9 cross-type sensors)||Up to f/5.6|
|AF Assist||Yes||No, only with external flash|
|Video Output||H.264/MPEG-4 in MOV Format||AVI, H.264/MPEG-4 in MOV Format|
|Uncompressed Video Output||Yes (HDMI)||No|
|Video Maximum Resolution||1920×1080 (1080p) @ 30p||1920×1080 (1080p) @ 30p|
|Audio Recording||Built-in microphone|
External stereo microphone (optional)
External stereo microphone (optional)
|LCD Size||3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD||3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD|
|LCD Resolution||921,000 dots||1,040,000 dots|
|Exposure Compensation||±5 EV in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV increments||±5 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments|
|Bracketing||2 to 9 frames in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 EV||±3 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments|
|Wi-Fi Functionality||Eye-Fi Compatible, WT-4A||Eye-Fi Compatible, WFT-E7|
|Battery||EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery||LP-E6 Lithium-ion Battery|
|Battery Life||850 shots (CIPA)||950 shots (CIPA)|
|Battery Charger||MH-25 Quick Charger||LC-E6 Charger|
|Weather Sealed Body||Yes||Yes|
|Camera Construction||Magnesium Alloy||Magnesium Alloy|
|Dimensions||144.78 x 121.92 x 81.28mm||152 x 116.4 x 76.4mm|
So, what are the main differences between the Nikon D800 and the Canon 5D Mark III? First, it is obviously the image sensor – while both cameras have about the same size sensors, the Nikon D800 has a 36.3 MP sensor, while the Canon 5D Mark III features a 22.3 MP sensor. This essentially means that the Canon 5D Mark III has an edge in terms of noise performance at high ISOs – but that’s at 100% view. A real and a fair comparison involves a down-sampling process, in which an image from a higher resolution sensor is down-sampled to a lower resolution, which ultimately reduces noise on the higher resolution sensor. This comparison is provided in my Nikon D800 Review and as you can see, the Nikon performs very well when compared to the 5D Mark III. True, the Canon 5D Mark III has a two stop advantage in terms of native high ISO of 25,600 versus ISO 6,400 on the D800, however, I personally have no interest in such high ISO figures, since I know that anything above ISO 6400 is just too noisy for professional use. Neither camera can match what the Nikon D4 or the Canon 1D X can do at very high ISOs anyway.
The second main difference is the autofocus system. Now this is the part that will definitely need a lot of testing to compare the two AF systems. While the Nikon D800 has a lower total number of focus points (51 versus 61) and cross-type focus points (15 versus 41), the Nikon D800 has working AF at f/8, with 9 cross-type sensors. The Canon 5D Mark III is limited to f/5.6.
As for other differences, the Canon 5D Mark III has an edge in speed (6 fps vs 4 fps), LCD (1.04 Million dots versus 921,000 dots) and weight (860g versus 900g), while the Nikon D800 has better shutter durability (200,000 shutter cycles versus 150,000), better video features (uncompressed video), high-speed USB (USB 3.0 vs USB 2.0) and built-in flash.
The biggest difference, however, is the price – the Nikon D800 retails for $2,999, while the Canon 5D Mark III is $3,499 – a $500 difference.