Nikon Df vs D600 ISO Comparison at low ISOs
Let’s see how the Df compares to the budget D600 full-frame camera with the superb 24 MP sensor. Below are some crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800 (Left: Nikon Df, Right: Nikon D600):
While both cameras are very clean at ISO 100, the Nikon D600 has more detail in the images. And that’s the result of the down-sampling process – when a 24 MP image is reduced to 16 MP, it results in a sharper image that appears to have more detail. Hence, higher resolution sensors will always have an advantage at low ISO levels when you look at similar size prints.
Images produced by both cameras look very clean at low ISOs. As we approach ISO 800, we start seeing a little bit of noise on both cameras, but it is barely noticeable.
Nikon Df vs D600 High ISO Comparison
What about high ISO levels above ISO 800? Let’s take a look:
Things start to look a little different at high ISOs. While the amount of details is very high at ISO 1600 on the D600, it definitely shows a little more noise, especially in the shadows. Pushing to ISO 3200 makes this even more evident:
At ISO 6400 we definitely see more noise on the D600 and there is some loss of shadow details.
And at ISO 12800, the Df clearly performs better, especially at maintaining colors.
Both look very grainy at ISO 25600, but the D600 looks far worse in comparison.
Nikon Df vs D600 Summary
Judging from the above shots, it is pretty evident that the D600 maintains a clear advantage at low ISO levels – thanks to having a higher resolution and very low noise levels. Pushed to high ISO above 3200 however, the Df takes over. Do keep in mind that we are looking at down-sampled images though – the D600 would never look this good if you were to judge its pixel-level quality. If you are curious what the two look like at pixel level, take a look at the below images at ISO 6400:
Since the web page will automatically downscale the larger image, I would highly recommend to download both images to your computer for a more detailed analysis. If you look at both at 100% crop (pixel level), the difference is very apparent – the D600 crop is a lot noisier in comparison. This shows that the process of down-sampling / resizing significantly reduces noise.
Nikon Df vs D800E at Low ISOs
Now let’s compare the Nikon Df to the D800E, Nikon’s resolution king with a mighty 36 MP sensor. Due to big differences in resolution, the D800E has even more advantages at low ISOs and would appear sharper / more detailed when down-sampled. Here is the performance at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
Once again, we see a very similar situation as with the D600 – the Nikon D800E delivers a lot of detail due to downsampling and does an excellent job with keeping noise levels low at low ISOs.
There is a hint of noise at ISO 800 on both cameras, but it is barely noticeable.
Nikon Df vs D800E High ISO Comparison
Let’s see what happens at high ISOs above ISO 1600:
As we push ISO to higher levels past 1600, we start seeing noise patterns appear on both cameras.
Noise is pretty apparent at ISO 3200, as demonstrated above. The Nikon D800E has finer noise patterns, thanks to downsampling.
The shadow detail starts to get affected with the D800E at ISO 6400 and there is a little bit of color loss.
Pushed to ISO 12800, the Df still looks pretty clean in the shadows, while the D800E lost a lot of details and colors. In addition, the D800E shows plenty of artifacts throughout the image.
At its maximum ISO of 25600, the Nikon D800E has lost lots of colors and dynamic range and its shadow area is practically non-existent. We see a lot of false color patterns throughout the image. In comparison, the Df still retains some shadow details and it does not introduce false colors or lots of artifacts.
Nikon Df vs D800E Summary
When comparing the Nikon Df to the D800E, we see a very similar situation as with the D600 – the cameras seem to be about the same in noise performance at low ISOs, while the Df does a better job in handling high ISO levels. At the same time, the D800E shows sharper / more detailed results, when a 36 MP image is resized to 16 MP. The situation is obviously very different at pixel level, when you zoom in to both at 100%. Take a closer look at the Df and D800E at 100% crop (ISO 6400):
Once again, I recommend that you download both images to your computer for a more detailed analysis. The D800E not only has more noise, but it shows some artifacts in the shadows at ISO 6400 and there is a noticeable loss of shadow details and colors.
Nikon Df vs Sony A7R ISO Comparison at Low ISOs
Lastly, let’s compare the Nikon Df to Sony’s new full-frame mirrorless camera, the A7R. Here is the comparison at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
Since the Sony A7R also has a 36 MP sensor, it has a serious advantage in providing the extra detail after images are down-sampled to 16 MP.
We can see that the Sony A7R is capable of excellent image quality at low ISO levels, including ISO 800. There is very little difference in noise performance between the Df and the A7R.
Nikon Df vs Sony A7R High ISO Comparison
Let’s see what happens at high ISO levels above ISO 1600:
As we crank up ISO to 1600, we start seeing very slight differences in noise performance between the two. The Sony A7R seems to have finer, but darker grain.
The same thing happens at ISO 3200, except the A7R shows a little more shadow noise.
And the difference is more apparent at ISO 6400 – now the A7R is losing more shadow details and colors.
At ISO 12800, the Df maintains a clear advantage – the shadow detail and color loss on the A7R is higher and we see plenty of artifacts throughout the image.
At at the boosted ISO of 25600, both look noisy, but the A7R looks a little worse in comparison. Take a look at the colors of the ship, especially the red area.
Nikon Df vs Sony A7R Summary
As I have demonstrated in previous articles, the Sony A7R seems to produce a little more noise than the Nikon D800E. While the camera does really well at low ISOs, it loses more colors and details above ISO 6400. As a result, the Df looks better in comparison. Again, this is happening at down-sampled resolutions. What about pixel level quality? Let’s take a look at 100% crops at ISO 6400:
You could see right away that the image from the Df looks cleaner and contains more color and shadow detail information. The Sony A7R produces plenty of false-color noise in the shadows and we can see that the dark red colors are actually merging with black in the shadow area of the ship. The colors also look more vibrant on the Df throughout the image.
Camera Comparison Summary
When we look at the above comparisons and compare the Df to the down-sampled images from the D600, D800E and A7R, we don’t see a huge difference in performance between all of these cameras. While the Df seems to have some advantage in maintaining colors, dynamic range and details at high ISOs, it is not a staggering difference – it varies anywhere between 1/3 of a stop to maybe 1/2 of a stop. At the same time, the higher resolution cameras deliver amazing performance at low ISOs and provide sharper / more detailed results when down-sampled to 16 MP. So at the end of the day, it is not about one camera being a whole lot better than another. I would say that all cameras are more or less equivalent in image quality. Think of it this way – we have four cameras at different resolutions (16 MP, 24 MP and 36 MP) and they are basically on par when looked at a 16 MP print size. The below SNR graph from DxOMark confirms my findings:
As you can see, once images are down-sampled to the same resolution print, there is very little difference in ISO performance between all these cameras. Where the 16 MP Df stands out is at super high ISO levels above ISO 25600, but those are very noisy and practically unusable anyway.
So, what is the point of having different resolution sensors, if they are all somewhat similar? Well, if you read Section 8 of this review, I brought up a number of points on why many photographers choose smaller resolution sensors. There are those of us that do not like dealing with large files and lots of resolution for their work, especially if they want to work fast and efficiently. So at the end of the day, it is not all about the sheer number of pixels! Many feel like 12-16 MP is plenty of resolution for their everyday needs – sometimes less is more…
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