Please note that the camera comparisons are only based on image quality. Also note that all images are down-sampled to the size of the sensor with the lowest resolution (when comparing to D700, down-sampled to 12 MP and when comparing to the 5D Mark III, down-sampled to 23 MP).
Nikon D800 vs D700 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Let’s see how the new D800 compares to the older D700. Below you will find image samples normalized to 12 MP by down-sampling. Take a look at the below crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800 (Left: Nikon D800, Right: Nikon D700):
At ISO 100, which is “boosted” ISO for the D700, there is no difference in noise.
I cannot see any difference at ISO 200, ISO 400 or ISO 800 either.
Nikon D800 vs D700 High ISO Comparison
What about high ISO levels above ISO 800? Let’s take a look:
Again, ISO 1600 looks very similar on both cameras. Little noise here and there, but otherwise very comparable.
At ISO 3200, we are starting to see some noticeable differences. The D800 has smaller grain, especially in the shadows.
At ISO 6400 the Nikon D700 is clearly worse now – grain is much bigger and we are now seeing all kinds of artifacts in the shadows.
Pushed to ISO 12,800, the D800 is clearly leading the game, with close to a full stop of difference.
And ISO 25,600 cannot even be compared – the image from the D700 looks horrible in comparison.
Nikon D800 vs D700 Summary
As I have already pointed out before, a high resolution sensor clearly has advantages over a lower resolution sensor when the image is down-sampled. While the Nikon D700 shows very clean ISO performance at low ISOs, the Nikon D800 easily matches it and produces noise-free images. In addition, due to having a much higher resolution, the D800 can resolve a lot more details at low ISO levels – take a look at the small letters on the DVDs and see for yourself.
As expected, the Nikon D800 takes the lead when the image is pushed to higher ISO levels above ISO 1600. Starting from ISO 3200, the difference gets almost as big as a full stop at ISO 12,800 – compare ISO 6400 from the D700 to ISO 12800 from the D800 and you will see that they look pretty darn close.
Nikon D800 vs D3s ISO Comparison at low ISOs
What about comparing the D800 to the low-light king, the Nikon D3s? Let’s take a look. Same deal with the D3s – it shows almost identical performance at low ISO levels:
Nikon D800 vs D3s High ISO Comparison
Let’s see what happens when both are pushed to ISO 1600 and above:
Once again, ISO 1600 is very comparable.
And the same at ISO 3200.
At ISO 6400 the shadow area of the image on the D3s looks a tad cleaner.
The same at ISO 12,800.
When pushed to ISO 25,600, the Nikon D3s is a little cleaner and retains colors, while the D800 still shows more details. D3s seems to retain more dynamic range at this ISO level.
Nikon D800 vs D3s Summary
Unlike the Nikon D700, the D3s is a worthy competitor to the D800. At high ISO levels, the Nikon D3s shows slightly better performance in the shadows, mostly because of higher dynamic range (visible at ISO levels 12,800 and 25,600). At the same time, the Nikon D800 still resolves more detail at high ISO levels, thanks to lots of resolution and the down-sampling process.
Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark II ISO Comparison at Low ISOs
Let’s see how the old Canon 5D mark II fares against the Nikon D800. I won’t talk about differences in colors here, because it is expected when comparing cameras from different brands. Let’s just look at noise and details here:
Both images are noise-free, but again, the D800 resolves more detail in comparison.
Noise level all the way to ISO 800 looks about the same to me, with very slight differences.
ISO 800 is a little noisier on the 5D Mark II – take a look at the same 4th DVD from the top and note the shadow areas.
Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark II High ISO Comparison
Boosted to higher ISO levels, the difference in sensors is even more apparent:
You can see more noise on the 5D Mark II throughout the image, especially in the shadows.
ISO 3200 looks even worse on the 5D Mark II, which seems to be losing some colors as well.
And ISO 6400 is a lot worse for the 5D Mark II, which shows close to a full stop of difference.
Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark II Summary
As expected, the Nikon D800 performs better than the 4 year old Canon 5D Mark II. The difference is not so obvious at very low ISO levels, but pretty clear from ISO 800 and onwards. The D800 also shows resolution advantage, just like when compared to the D700; again, down-sampling is to blame for this. The Canon 5D Mark II is worse by up to a full stop at ISO 6400.
Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III ISO Comparison at Low ISOs
Let’s see what the new Canon 5D Mark III brings to the table.
At base ISO, both are very clean, with very similar output and detail.
Unlike the 5D Mark II, the new 5D Mark III shows impressive performance at ISO 800, matching that of D800.
Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III High ISO Comparison
Let’s see what happens at high ISO levels above ISO 1600:
Looks like the D800 is a tad cleaner in the shadows, otherwise both show very good performance.
ISO 3200 is clearly noisier on the Canon 5D Mark III, as can be seen from the above image.
And even more so at ISO 6400 – look at the shadows.
The grain throughout the frame is bigger on the 5D Mark III at ISO 12,800, although not a huge difference. I would say between 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop max.
Pushed to ISO 25,600, both are pretty similar, although the Canon 5D Mark III still shows larger noise artifacts. Again, down-sampling does the magic for the D800 here!
Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III Summary
As you can see, the Nikon D800 sensor has no competition, even from its biggest rival, the Canon 5D Mark III. Although the Canon 5D Mark III shows impressive levels of noise at lower ISO levels, it still cannot quite match what the D800 can do. Don’t forget that there is also a big resolution difference between the two – the D800 is 36.3 MP, while the 5D Mark III is 22.3 MP. So at base ISO levels, the D800 is going to have a resolution advantage for landscape and fashion work.
Since I have been shooting with both the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 side by side, I can say that the D800 clearly has the lead in dynamic range. This difference was obvious when I shot the same scene with both cameras, at very similar camera settings. The Canon 5D Mark III consistently overexposed highlights, while the D800 rarely did (the exposure was similar on both). The dynamic range difference was even more obvious when post-processing images in Lightroom – I clearly had more options for recovering data on D800 images than I did with the 5D Mark III.
For example, take a look at the below two image crops from the 5D Mark III and D800:
The original images (RAW) were exposed the same on both cameras, both at base ISO of 100. After I imported them into Lightroom, I moved the “Shadows” slider all the way to 100 and then picked the darkest part of the image for the above crop. As you can see, the Canon 5D Mark III crop looks much noisier in comparison and retains fewer colors and details compared to the Nikon D800 crop. When pulling details from shadows, the D800 has a lot more information to work with.
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