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.
Nasim, very high ISO like ISO 204,800, is not a marketing gimmick. It can be used for surveillance.
I was comparing the D600 to sony A7 and I ve found that the test photos
are not constant although it is supposed to have the same ISO, check them
all of them are great… im so interested in Df
Wow, the d800 is really significantly sharper when downsampled compared to the lower res cameras.
Martin, yes, that’s what down-sampling does and that’s why high resolution sensors have their own advantages when compared to lower resolution sensors. They cannot quite keep up with very high ISOs due to massive loss of colors and dynamic range, but below ISO 12800, they are very good.
Yeah, I just haven’t been around to see it this clearly in an example before. Coincidentally, this is also just a few days before I am myself upgrading to a d800, so I couldnt be happier haha =)
Great. I am not a professional photographer; With my D800E/D7000 I have hardly take pictures above ISO 500; In some extreme cases I may go till ISO 1800. Whether professionals really use 6400 & above?
Every time a new camera is out, they keep pushing the ISO to extreme levels. Is it a value add for professionals?
Of course it isn’t ;-), it’s just a marketing gimmick, as Nasim correctely pointed out..
I don’t know about using ISO 6400+, but on my D800 I would regularly and happily use anything over ISO 1000 if conditions warranted. My main subject is aerial photography and I would rather use a high shutter speed to remove any camera movement and let the ISO take care of itself. Blurred images are worth nothing.
Further, I photograph the occasional event where I much prefer to record the ambiance of the room as well as the subjects with a little bit of direct flash to lighten up the eyes. I remember the old “soot and whitewash” days when photographing in large rooms using film with a speed of ISO ((ASA in those days!) of 400 if you were lucky.
If I knew how, I would post a couple of examples to show you what I mean.
Sylvester, I often have situations where I do have to go higher on ISO, sometimes above ISO 3200 on my D800. I try to keep it low, but if the situation is difficult, I know that I can get good quality results when the image is resized to a smaller version.
Images from the D600 and D800E were down-sampled to 16 MP .This 0ne resizing makes grain 2 times bigger on D800.If you will apply like noise redusion first ant resizing after real picture is much better. (i been doing this one test between D1x and D800E).You don’t have to do resising- you have just make pictutes same size to make comparison.
Vilmas, you mean makes grain 2 times smaller? Because that’s what down-sampling does – reduce grain size. I did not want to add the noise reduction process, because it is another variable that could affect the data. If you use noise reduction, then it should be applied to all images and it will deviate from true performance results…
Nasim, an interesting article. As a commenter above stated, it would be nice to see some Canon comparisons within this group. Any chance you can the add Canon 5DMIII and the Canon 1Dx to this analysis and see how they compare with these Nikons? Thank you. :-)
Tom, please see some of my responses above. We will definitely do our best to include more of Canon gear in the future, but for now it is the question of budget limitations when getting gear for such articles…
Thank you so much for this very useful comparison, Nasim.
I agree with Mario that to my eye the D600 looks the sharpest. As a D800 owner (and a very happy one) I find that looking at my pictures in Lightroom or Photoshop, I prefer not to go above 1600. And frankly, I prefer not to go over 400 if possible. This may be psychological, however – a holdover from film days. I haven’t yet tried printing any images with ISOs above 400. Will do so in the future, however.
Thank you again. And thanks again for this invaluable website.
It’s fun to see there’s always people complaining. Nasim is doing his best and he owns Nikon gear mostly.
He can’t review all the camera’s that are out there. We all have busy life so is Nasim. Instead of complaining do a review yourself and share it. You will see all the time it consume to do a ”proper” review.
Let’s be grateful for Nasim works and im sure there is other website who talks more about canon.
Actually, I’ve never seen a blog devoted all to canon equipment, though there must be one. Point is, that’s not what I’m looking for. I can search out articles about canon equipment or people opinions, don’t need a blog for that. I began following because I thought is was about PHOTOGRAPHY, not equipment. My bad. I can unsubscribe, and leave all you people alone.
The camera is part of photography as much as the surf board is to the surfer, the brushes and paints are to a painter, etc. The equipment is necessary and valid. It also lends itself well to online discussion and helping keep competiton strong which keeps producers in check.
There is plenty of great photography tips and information here along with discussions about gear. I would encourage you to stay!
I know how you feel. It seems like the majority of sites I visit, unless I specify Nikon, primarily cover Canon gear. Also, as a dSLR devotee, it kinda gets on my nerves to visit sites that go on and on about mirrorless cameras. I have nothing against them…just don’t care to read about it.
Anyway, you don’t have to leave us alone. A reasonable, dissenting opinion is always welcome :-)
Arnel, go to the website index and you will find a great deal of fantastic articles done on photography. This specific one was done with a spicific topic in mind following a number of requests. 90% plus is about Nikon as the owners primarily use Nikon. The reason many people read and contribute is because they bought/ invested into the Nikon system and not any of the other. There are many that constantly moun and complain about issues but I wonder if they ever go out and make an effort to take pictures, let alone sell any. There is also a reluctance to do field comparisons between brands as it normally start an attack on the validity of the test, that the tester is just bashing a brand, and many more. That is what DXO does and very few Canon users trust the data integrity due to the fact the Nikon and Sony sensors dominate the rankings. So there is never a fair comparison as they are different brands with even different objectives.
Just curious, but is your policy to address most camera systems, except canon? I see that you discuss Nikon the most, but I’m pretty sure you’ve reviewed/discussed a few other lines, but never canon.
Arnel, not just a policy it seems, but a bias. It’s all Nikon digital all the time here. No Canon. No film. No 35mm. No medium format. No large format. All specs, test charts, pixels, computer analysis, and gear. Par for the course.
It is most disappointing. After all, why does he need so many contributors for mostly talking about Nikon. Most people whom I follow, if they are really good, are capable of speaking about more than just one line, no matter what their preference. And besides that, there is plenty of material to cover in the world of photography without talking about any brand at all. Just my two cents.
Arnel, as much as we want to diversify, it just happens that we mostly attract Nikon shooters here – and that’s why there is more of Nikon content vs Canon. Both are equally very good, so by no means do we ever say here that Nikon is better. In fact, I try to avoid cross-brand comparisons for this reason – there are just too many haters on both sides. And while I do appreciate your feedback on “speaking about more than just one line, no matter their preference”, how could someone write about a brand they do not use, or perhaps never used before? I try to cover Canon in many of my articles on photography, but I stay away from making remarks on something I am not 100% familiar with. Lastly, while we do have plenty of gear articles here, if you explore the above menus and look at various sections on beginner articles and post-processing, you will find plenty of non-gear articles :)
If he included Canon, then he may include Sony, Pentax, Fuji, Olympus … I don’t see canon being any more important than any of those. He uses Nikon, that’s what he tests … it’s pretty simple. There are tonnes of Canon specific sites if you try google.
Bias towards what, Nikon? Yes, this site is centered around Nikon mostly, because that’s what I and a number of other PL team members shoot with. I never said that Nikon is better than Canon though – just a system of choice, that’s all. Actually, Laura Murray in our team does shoot Canon and also shoots a lot of film. You can check out her film work in our Gallery and see some of her articles she posted here before.
I think the reason is mostly that Nasim shoots Nikon everyday, and probably owns more than $30000 worth of Nikkor. He’s an expert on everything Nikon, and is much less knowledgeable on Canon, so doesn’t feel like writing about it.
Eric, thank you for clarifying that. Yes, Nikon is a system of choice for me personally, which is why I mostly talk about Nikon here at PL. The only experience I have with Canon is 5D Mark II and Mark III (which I reviewed a while ago), so I try to stay away from discussing something that I am not 100% familiar with.
I don’t think this website have the funds to buy or rent canon equipments, unless B&H or other store would lend them some. They have invested in Nikons to use in their wedding shoots, etc. It’s either you use Canon or Nikon and not yet the other brands. They started with Nikon that’s why they are stuck it, likewise you are stuck to Canon. If other website can be like a jack of all trade and feathers testing all brands, I don’t think they would really give an accurate report in a particular brand or other brands, unless maybe if they are a big company like DXOmark. this site is now looking at the potential of mirrorless cameras and the likes, not 35mm or medium format, like I say they don”t have funds, no offends Nasim or maybe I don’t really know you have some funds. They made an article on to what went wrong with the Nikon 1 system’s very bad price drop, Nikon is doing it again with the Nikon 1 V3 with a high price and photography life wonders what is Nikon thinking? I’m actually a painter and like to look at websites and I don’t personally knows Nasim, English is my second language.
Bes, you are absolutely correct. Getting a hold of a single Canon camera means that we also have to request lenses and potentially other accessories. There are budget limitations and we often cannot get too much on our hands.
But I do have plans to finish reviewing Nikon lenses, then keep only one body and switch to Canon for future reviews. I realize that Canon also has a lot to offer and our readers I am sure are anxious to see more info on Canon.
Arnel, Nikon is what I personally shoot with, so most of the reviews that we have here at PL are Nikon. We do cover some Fuji, Sony and I have reviewed the Canon 5D Mark III before (you can find it in the camera reviews section), but not a whole lot of Canon for sure. Hopefully, we will be able to do more of Canon gear soon – definitely have that in the plan!
Hoping you still read this.Nasim this is to thank you for your saintly patience and humility despite being a great photographer. I followed you since you presented an absolute accurate Nikon 24-120 F4 experience which still serves me well to this day. I own newer mirrorless Canon, Olympus, Panasonic and still my DSLR D800 which I love so much I will never part with it. Even more so now that Luminar AI, DXOLABS others and especially Topaz Denoise AI came to the table and which I use with Affinity.. I cannot say I have camera preferences. I enjoy each for what it is example M43 is a Godsent to use at lowest light and ISO at F1.2 with enough and ideal depth of field to get the job done on headshots which is nightmarish on fullframed in a dark event venue. A bonus is unmatched lens quality. Topaz Mask AI can give me unmatched bokeh backgrounds while I can’t fix an over bokeh from fullframe. Besides, separation and dimensional contrast are poorest served by bokeh and idiots that cannot build images with great backgrounds.And my D800 with my oldschool reactions means I never need to use motordrive. It has never missed focus on any shot for me including ballet shots.I don’t accomodate models that spin like someone possessed because smedia users started cheating with video cut outs and If I do need motordrive for example chasing horses Olympus can give me 60 per second. The D800 give stunning colours without harsh skin contrasts. Everyone loves the D800 photos so much I can’t see a need to change anything. It even gives me great video. No one asked ever why it’s not done on my 4k cameras. And they thank God when the snow rain photos come out beautifully from my M43’s. Enough ranting. I love you maxim because you are a real and not behind the counter or desk photographer. Don’t stop.