Compared to Nikon D300s
Nikon D3s vs D300s ISO Comparison at low ISOs
There is no such thing as a fair comparison when you put an FX sensor against a DX sensor. A larger sensor means larger pixels, which translates to cleaner images. I know FX vs DX is always a heated debate, with plenty of people defending each side, but for me – the low ISO performance of a full-frame sensor was something that made me permanently switch to FX. I was simply never happy with noise showing up even at base ISO on DX sensors. Everybody talks about high ISO performance difference between FX and DX, but people rarely show examples of low noise of the FX sensor at low ISOs. Below you will find comparisons at both low and high ISO levels between D3s and D300s. Please note that ISO 200 is the base ISO for both D3s and D300s.
Let’s see how the D3s FX sensor compares to the D300s DX sensor – take a look at the below crops at ISO 200, 400 and 800:
At base ISO 200, the Nikon D3s has very smooth and clean shadows, whereas the Nikon D300s has a little bit of noise that is particularly visible in the shadows.
At ISO 400, the D3s still has a clean and noise-free image, while D300s is already showing plenty of noise in the shadows.
Even at ISO 800 the D3s looks very clean, while the D300s has plenty of noise.
Nikon D3s vs D300s High ISO Comparison
What about high ISO levels above ISO 800? Let’s take a look:
ISO 1600 is very grainy on the D300s, while the image from the D3s adds just a little bit of noise in the shadows. We are starting to see loss of details on the D300s.
The D300s image at ISO 3200 looks unusable to me, while D3s still looks very good with much less noise in comparison. D300s lost a lot of colors and dynamic range too.
At ISO 6400 the amount of detail loss on the D300s is significant. Colors are off and lots of dynamic range is lost. The Nikon D3s looks better at ISO 6400 than Nikon D300s at ISO 800.
Nikon D3s vs D300s Summary
It is hard to explain the difference between FX and DX until you see image samples at different ISOs, including base ISO. While D3s’ full frame sensor produces very clean images from ISO 200 to 1600 even in the shadows, D300’s crop sensor already shows some amount of noise at ISO 200. The difference between the sensors increases even more as ISO levels are increased. The ISO 6400 crop from the D3s looks slightly better than the ISO 800 crop from the D300s, so there is more than 3 stops of difference between the two. I was never happy with the image quality of D300/D300s above ISO 800, while I do not hesitate to use ISO 6400 and even ISO 12800 on the D3s. Obviously, the difference between FX and DX sensors is much more than noise levels. There is a significant different in field of view, dynamic range, colors, etc. Again, see my Nikon FX vs DX article for more details on differences.
Nikon D3s vs D700 ISO Comparison at Low ISOs
What about comparing the D3s to my favorite Nikon D700? Let’s take a look. Both cameras produce noise-free images between ISO 200 and 800. Here is a head to head comparison between D3s and D700 at ISO 200:
I cannot see any difference between the two. What about ISO 400:
Still the same story, the images look almost identical.
The same goes for ISO 800 – again, both cameras are excellent between ISO 200 and 800. Finally, here is ISO 1600:
At ISO 1600, both still look great, but the Nikon D3s image looks a tad cleaner in the shadows.
Nikon D700 vs D3s High ISO Comparison
The battle begins at ISO levels above ISO 1600. Here is ISO 3200:
Now the difference is clear – the Nikon D3s has less noise at ISO 3200, especially in the shadows:
At ISO 6400, the difference is significant – take a look at the shadows and the figurine on the right side. If my maximum workable ISO level on the D700 is ISO 3200, on the D3s it is raised to ISO 6400.
ISO 12800 is unusable on the D700 due to the significant amount of noise and loss of colors, while it still looks OK on the D3s.
And the difference is even more significant at ISO 25600 – look at the figurine on the right side and note how much detail is lost on the D700, while D3s still preserves most of it.
Nikon D700 is maxed out at ISO 25600, while D3s can push it all the way to ISO 102400. I never shoot at ISO levels above 25600 on the D3s, so the performance at these ISO levels is not important for me.
Nikon D3s vs D700 Summary
As you can see from the above image crops, both cameras are comparable at low ISOs between ISO 200 and ISO 800. Starting from ISO 1600, the Nikon D3s shows better handling of noise in the shadows. The difference grows as ISO levels are increased. At ISO 6400 and above, the Nikon D3s shows roughly a stop of difference and this difference slightly increases at ISO 12800 and above. Take a look at ISO 51200 on the D3s and compare it to ISO 25600 on the D700 – the D3s looks better and retains colors. Obviously these kinds of extreme ISO comparisons are not very useful for most photography needs and I personally avoid shooting at ISO above 6400, but it is nice to know that the D3s could save a picture if the lighting conditions are extremely poor.
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