After I posted my last article comparing the high ISO performance of the Nikon D4s vs D4, a number of our readers requested that I provide a similar comparison with other cameras such as the Nikon D600/D610, D800 and Df. Instead of posting multiple articles that show these comparisons, I decided to put it all into a single article, so that our readers could look at the side by side comparisons, or download the files to their computers for closer examination. Before you start comparing the below images, however, I would like to point out that the images are just provided as a reference, and only represent one side of the camera performance – high ISO in low-light, indoor conditions. Each camera comes with its own set of features, strengths and weaknesses, so please do not draw conclusions from these shots. Please note that ISO performance might vary in different lighting conditions. My recommendation would be to read the comment exchange I had with Brad Hill of Natural Art Images in the previous Nikon D4s vs D4 comparison article, where we discuss the topic of comparing sensor performance in detail.
For those that want to find out how the below images were taken, here is some technical information:
- All images were shot in 14-bit RAW and converted using Adobe Lightroom. Nikon D4s images were processed using the Adobe Camera RAW 8.4 RC
- Camera settings were identical between all cameras, shot in full manual mode (same aperture, shutter speed and ISO). White balance was also set to the same value across all cameras
- Images from the D600 and D800E were down-sampled to 16 MP to match the resolution of the Df/D4/D4s
1) ISO 1600 Comparison
Let’s start out by comparing ISO 1600 between all cameras:
As expected, all cameras handle ISO 1600 extremely well. The Nikon D600/D610 and the D800/D800E have a resolution advantage here. Images appear sharper, thanks to the down-sampling process.
2) ISO 3200 Comparison
As we push ISO to 3200, noise obviously becomes much more apparent, especially in the shadows. As expected, the Nikon D4s looks the cleanest in the group.
3) ISO 6400 Comparison
ISO 6400 is pretty noisy for all cameras, but the high resolution cameras cannot maintain the same dynamic range as the lower resolution cameras. This is visible when looking at the shadow areas. The Nikon D4s once again looks a tad cleaner, followed by the Df and the D4.
4) ISO 12800 Comparison
ISO 12800 is already beyond the native ISO sensitivity of the D600/D610 and the D800/D800E, so we see big losses of colors and dynamic range there. The D600/D610 looks the noisiest to me with some visible artifacts, but seems to retain colors a tad better than the D800/D800E. The output from the D4s looks very similar to the Df.
5) ISO 25600 Comparison
The D600/D610 looks the worst at ISO 25600 among the group, although the D800/D800E is not that far off. Lots of artifacts, loss of colors and detail. The Nikon Df shows some artifacts in the shadows, but the image is much cleaner in comparison. Once again, the Df and the D4s seem to be pretty similar in performance.
6) ISO 51200 Comparison
ISO 51200 is already beyond the limit of the D600/D610 and the D800/D800E, so those are excluded. While all three are similar, the D4s seems to have a slight advantage over the D4 and the Df.
7) ISO 102400 Comparison
102400 is way beyond my “acceptable” range, so I do not particularly care for the performance here.
8) ISO 204800 Comparison
And ISO 204,800 is just a marketing gimmick, since most of the details are missing, colors are gone and noise patterns are all mixed up.
Based on what I see from the above, it is pretty clear that high resolution cameras do struggle with noise at high ISOs above 3200 when compared to lower-resolution sensors. If I were to pick the order of best to worst up to ISO 25600, I would say that the Nikon D4s looks the cleanest to me, followed by the Nikon Df, D4, D800E and the D600. However, noise is not everything – as you can see from the above comparisons, the D600/D610 and the D800/D800E have a resolution advantage over the Df/D4/D4s. When images are resized/down-sampled to 16 MP, those cameras are capable of bringing out greater detail. Similar to what happens when you take a somewhat blurry photo and make it smaller for the web to make it appear sharper, the down-sampling process certainly helps in not only increasing the details, but also effectively reduces noise.