Both Canon and Nikon enjoy such a strong position in the D-SLR market that any new introduction from either of them is taken very seriously by their respective fans.
After a lull, both Canon and Nikon have announced semi-professional cameras with mouth watering specifications.
Nikon launched the D800 as a follow up to the D700 and made a mammoth jump from 12 MP to 36 MP. Until the launch of the D800, Canon’s legendary EOS 5D Mark II had the semi-professional market pretty much to itself. Nikon’s launch of the D800 was quickly followed by Canon launching the EOS 5D Mark III with 22 MP. Both the cameras constitute premium offerings from both the brands at the semi-professional level.
Readers keep on asking us which one is the better camera. This required a comprehensive test which is why it took us some time to come up with a professional review. This review seeks to answer which is the better camera and for what purpose. Read on…
Individual review for both these cameras have already been done by Smart Photography (May 2012: Canon 5D Mark III; April 2012: Nikon D800). Hence we shall try and avoid repeating the features and similarities etc. as much as possible.
Comparing two ‘most-asked-for’ cameras is no easy task. This is further compounded by the fact that their sensors are not identical – the Canon is 22.3 megapixels, while the Nikon is 36.3, and hence their native image sizes are different. If the Canon images are interpolated to match the native image size of the Nikon, it is a disadvantage to the Canon because interpolation causes a drop in image quality. If the Nikon images are ‘down-sampled’ to the Canon resolution, it just doesn’t make sense having a high resolution camera and then checking its potential at a lower resolution. So then, how do we compare the image quality between the two?
We decided that the best way is to check their image resolution from a minimum viewing distance – the minimum viewing distance being the diagonal of the image size. The 5D Mark III has a native image size of 19.2 x 12.8 inches at 300 ppi; the D800, 24.533 x 16.373 inches at 300 ppi. Simple calculation then tells us that, for the purpose of this test, the Canon images should be checked from a distance of 23 inches and the Nikon images from 29.5 inches (rounded off).
To be fair and impartial to both the cameras, both were set as similar as possible in terms of image quality, image size (JPEG), and autofocus operations. Raw files were set to 14-bit Uncompressed. Canon’s Picture Style / Nikon’s Picture Control was set to ‘Standard’. At this point, by default, sharpness is automatically set to 3 levels for both cameras, but note that the 5D Mark III has 7 levels for sharpness while the D800 has 9 levels. It is impossible to say whether both the cameras apply the same level of sharpness at level 3! (In-camera settings for Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation etc. apply only to JPEG captures). Contrast, Saturation, and Colour Tone (Canon) / Contrast, Brightness, Saturation and Hue (Nikon) were set to 0 (zero). Metering for the Canon was set to ‘Partial’ (6.2% of the viewfinder, at the centre), and for the Nikon, it was set to ‘Centre-weighted’ (8 mm diameter). We also shot with both the cameras in Evaluative/Matrix metering mode.
Colour Space was set to Adobe RGB in both the cases; D-Lighting (Nikon) /Auto Lighting Optimizer (Canon) was set to: off; Vignette control: Normal; Auto Distortion Control: ‘On’; Long Exp. NR: ‘Off’; High ISO NR: Normal. Both the cameras were reviewed using 50mm f/1.4 lenses (Canon EF 50mm 1:1.4; AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4G).
Both the cameras are built to very high standards and you cannot fault the construction. Both have lightweight magnesium alloy chassis and dust/weather sealing at certain critical points. The Canon’s shutter is tested for 150,000 actuations whereas that of Nikon is tested for 200,000 actuations. The softer eye-cup on the Mark III feels more comfortable to eyeglass wearers and seems to better block the extraneous light from entering the eyepiece when viewing through it; the viewfinder eyepiece on the Nikon, though rubberised, does not feel that comfortable in comparison.
As mentioned earlier, we shall try not to repeat all the features (since both the cameras have been already reviewed earlier), but mention only those that make a difference.
||Canon EOS 5D Mark III
|Pixel count||22.3 million||36.3 million|
|Maximum image size||5760 x 3840 pixels||7360 x 4912 pixels|
|File size – Raw||27.1 MB||74.4 MB 14-bit (Uncompressed)|
|File size – JPEG Large/Best Quality||7 MB||16.3 MB|
|File formats||Raw, JPEG||Raw, TIFF, JPEG|
|Metering methods||Evaluative, Centre-weighted Average, Spot, Partial||Matrix, Centre-weighted, Spot|
|ISO sensitivity||100-12,800. Expandable to 25,600||100-6,400. Expandable to 50-25,600|
|AF Points||61 points. 41 Cross-type 5 Dual-Cross type||51 points. 15 Cross-type|
|AF type||Phase detection (Viewfinder) Live View (Phase detection + Contrast detection)||Phase detection (Viewfinder) Contrast detect (Live View)|
|LCD resolution||1.04 million dots||921,000 dots|
|HDR, inbuilt||Yes. 3 frames. RAW as well as JPEG images||Yes. 2 frames only. Works only with JPEG images|
|Maximum Burst Rate||6 frames per second||4 frames per second|
|Eyepiece Shutter||Separate Eyepiece Cover on strap||Built-in|
Note: The Nikon has the advantage of the pixel count, but the advantage is obvious only if you make ultra-large prints. Nikon’s very large files take longer to download and fill up the hard-drives much faster. A more powerful computer would also be needed. Nikon’s built-in flash is definitely a great advantage. The Canon has the advantage of having 41 cross-type AF sensors and 5 Dual-Cross type (as against only 15 Cross-type in the Nikon). The Canon also has the advantage (?) of 10 extra AF points. Canon’s 3-frame in-built HDR feature is definitely superior to that of the Nikon, which has only 2-frame and only JPEG HDR facility. The Canon’s higher (native) ISO sensitivity may not be very useful to every user. The Nikon can record in TIFF, but frankly, I don’t know of any serious photographer who does so. To prevent stray light entering the viewfinder and upsetting the exposure, Nikon’s built-in eyepiece shutter is very convenient, whereas with the Canon, you have to remove the rubberised eye-cup and attach the eye-piece cover. Nikon’s replaceable LCD protector is another advantage.
ERGONOMICS / USER INTERFACE
To start with, Nikon’s ‘on/off’ switch is conveniently located within easy reach of the index finger. The Canon has the ‘on/off’ switch located at the left top, which requires the use of the left hand. The button layouts on both the cameras have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, on the Canon, it is easier to operate the 3 dual function buttons adjacent to the top LCD panel in combination with the front (Main) and the rear (Control) Dial. On the Nikon, we have 4 buttons at the top left (Quality, White Balance, ISO, and Bracketing) that must be held down with one hand and change the settings using the Main /Sub-Command dial with the other hand. We feel the Canon buttons are better laid out for ease of use. Regarding User Interface, the Mark III seems to have an edge in ease of use. Images on the Canon’s LCD appear a tad sharper too.
The first part was the field test. The idea here was to check the various exposure metering, autofocussing speed, autofocussing accuracy, frames per second rate, and general handling of the cameras. It should be noted here that AF speed and accuracy, and accuracy of exposure metering were not done using any scientific instrument and hence your personal experience may differ slightly.
Both the cameras were then used in the studio. Pictures were shot using the supplied 50mm lenses. This was basically done to critically check image sharpness.
We compared the exposure metering of both the cameras. Results were consistent most of the time, though sometimes, the Canon provided about 0.5 stop more exposure for the same subject (we could say that since, under similar lighting conditions, sometimes, the Canon images were lighter). This could be due to the slightly different weightage for the exposure meters. Overall, we were satisfied and have no reason to complain.
AF was very fast and accurate with both the cameras and I doubt, without using scientific equipment, if anyone can actually compare the AF speed. Having said that, we felt that the Nikon focussed very slightly faster than the Canon (when using the two 50mm lenses mentioned in the review). We also noted that the Nikon lens – AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4G – autofocussed very silently as compared to the Canon EF 50mm 1:1.4. This may be because the Canon lens was an older version with no internal focussing. Of course, in practical use, this does not really matter.
Both the cameras provided excellent sharpness. Very often it was difficult to judge which camera produced the sharper result. In theory, the D800 with its higher pixel rating should have provided sharper results, but there were times when we felt that the 5D Mark III was sharper! When the images were enlarged to 100%, then, often, we could see that the Nikon prevailed.
Buffer capacity (tested using Lexar Platinum II 8GB CF card (200x)Note: The performance shown below will differ using a faster or slower memory card. It will also differ depending on whether Continuous High or Continuous Low is selected.
||Canon EOS 5D Mark III
|No. of frames:Continuous Low||15 Raw 7 Raw + JPEG (Large + Best) 88 JPEG (Large + Best) before frame rate slowed down.||16 Raw 15 Raw + JPEG (Large + Fine) 21 JPEG (Large + Fine) before frame rate slowed down.|
|Writing speed, Raw:Continuous Low||After buffer filled up to the point that the firing rate slowed down (15 frames), it took 24 seconds for the buffer to clear.||After buffer filled up to the point that the firing rate slowed down (16 frames), it took 96 seconds for the buffer to clear.|
|Writing speed, Raw + JPEG: Continuous Low||After buffer filled up to the point that the firing rate slowed down (7 frames), it took 15 seconds for the buffer to clear.||After buffer filled up to the point that the firing rate slowed down (15 frames), it took 113 seconds for the buffer to clear.|
|Writing speed, JPEG only: Continuous High||After buffer filled up to the point that the firing rate slowed down (40 frames), it took 14 seconds for the buffer to clear.||After the buffer filled up to the point that the firing rate slowed down (18 frames), it took 30 seconds for the buffer to clear.|
|Continuous Low||After buffer filled up to the point that the firing rate slowed down (88 frames), it again took 14 seconds for the buffer to clear.||After buffer filled up to the point that the firing rate slowed down (21 frames), it took 29 seconds for the buffer to clear.|
Note: Let’s be practical, Nikon users. You may like the D800 (I love it!), but if you are trigger-happy, and your buffer fills up at the wrong moment (as an example, like when a tiger is chasing a deer), I wouldn’t like to hear what you are likely to say!
At their price points, both the 5D Mark III and the D800 are aimed at the professional or serious enthusiasts. Let’s see how the cameras performed under special situations.
Landscape photographers are very fussy and look for detail and tonal quality in their shots. Our tests revealed that both the EOS 5D Mark III and the D800 are very capable in this department. We can confidently say that prints produced by both these cameras are virtually indistinguishable up to A2 size (roughly 16 x 24”). Above that size, the D800 is just slightly ahead in terms of sharpness and tonal quality. In most cases, it will be difficult to see the difference. Remember that both the cameras are well equipped with excellent weather sealing for outdoor shoots.
Action PhotographyBoth the cameras offer excellent autofocus systems. AF point selection is slightly better and faster in the D800 though. The Nikon has 51 autofocus points against the Canon’s 61. Further, 41 of the 61 AF points are the cross-type and 5 AF points are dual-cross type. The Nikon has only 15 cross-type points. This gives the Canon the edge as far as fast and precise autofocus is concerned. The frame advance rate of the Canon at 6 fps is also superior to the Nikon’s at 4 fps. The Canon can also shoot for longer in JPEG – in our test using a Lexar Platinum II, 8GB CF card (200x), we had 88 JPEGs (Large + Best) before frame rate slowed down (shooting in Continuous Low); the D800 only 21. The Canon definitely has the edge in this department.
Portrait photography demands the best from a camera in terms of metering, optics and skin tone rendition. The 5D Mark III features Canon’s iFCL (intelligent Fluorescent Colour Luminance) metering system wherein the colour and luminance systems of the camera are linked to the autofocus system. The D800, on the other hand, features Nikon’s Advanced Scene Recognition System and that includes a new 91,000 pixel RGB sensor providing detailed information about the subject to the metering system. The D800 further has the advantage of a built-in flash for fill-in purposes. The D800 also has a slightly higher flash sync speed of 1/250 sec compared to the Canon’s 1/200 sec. On the portraiture front, ultimate results are the deciding factor. Our results showed very little difference between the two cameras; the Nikon however has a slight edge in terms of skin renditions; nothing that however cannot be attained in Photoshop.
Low Light Photography
The Canon has a larger ISO range (extended) going up to ISO 102,400 compared to the Nikon’s 25,600. At higher sensitivities, the Canon was clearly the better performer. Both the Canon and the Nikon focussed admirably even in poor light. Similarly, White Balance performance was consistent and good for both the 5D Mark III and the D800.
Which camera offers better value for money?The Canon EOS 5D Mark III body has an MRP tag of Rs.2,06,095 while the Nikon D800 body is available at an MRP of Rs.1,69,950, making it cheaper by Rs.36,145. Speaking purely from a personal point of view, for my kind of photography, my heart goes out for the Canon (I need more frames-per-second burst mode, and I just love the Mark III’s 3-frame HDR capability). However, I have to admit that the D800 is overall better value for money.
So, overall which is the better camera? The 5D Mark III or the Nikon D800?
It is often said that the best camera is the one that you have with you!
Most photographers are loyal to their brand and as such, a Canon user is likely to opt for the 5D Mark III and a Nikon user will of course opt for the D800. It is our duty however, to be absolutely impartial and guide you to enable you to make an informed choice. So here goes:
Both the cameras – the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 – are superb. Even then, the cameras are not without certain blemishes. The resolution that the D800 produces is nothing short of stunning and if you always intend to make very large images with great detail, the D800 should be your choice. The D800 also has an edge over the 5D Mark III when it comes to dynamic range. And if you are the type who likes to use fill-in flash, the D800 wins again, since the Mark III does not have a built-in flash.Both the cameras – the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 – are superb. Even then, the cameras are not without certain blemishes. The resolution that the D800 produces is nothing short of stunning and if you always intend to make very large images with great detail, the D800 should be your choice. The D800 also has an edge over the 5D Mark III when it comes to dynamic range. And if you are the type who likes to use fill-in flash, the D800 wins again, since the Mark III does not have a built-in flash.
No one exposes every image with 100% accuracy; there are always times when our images are underexposed/partly underexposed. Sometimes, photographers purposely underexpose some images (I don’t agree with the idea but this is not the forum to discuss that). Here too the D800 wins. When you ‘open up’ dark shadows using an image editing program, the D800 exhibits lesser noise than the 5D Mark III. Of course if you shoot in Raw, you could follow the ‘shoot-to-the-right’ method of exposing and then correct the tones using Adobe Camera Raw to bring in shadow detail with improved noise performance.
The Canon 5D Mark III, to me at least, is a more ‘sensible’ camera. Or may be I should term it as a “multi-purpose” all-rounder. It too offers superb image quality for large size pictures (but not as large as the D800). But the question is, how many times do we make very large pictures? And what is your idea of “large” pictures? 8 x 12”, 12 x 15”, 16 x 20”, 20 x 24” or 20 x 30” or larger? Let me tell you this: For ‘normal’ day-to-day size properly exposed pictures (say, 16 x 24”), you will not notice any obvious difference in image quality between the two (I am assuming that you would use equally high-end lenses and that your shooting discipline is top-notch). So, what can the Mark III do that the D800 cannot? It is not always a case of what one can do and what one cannot; sometimes its a case of with what finesse a job can be done. It is every photographer’s dream to have adequate detail in highlights as well as in shadows, in spite of lighting being contrasty. That’s where HDR imaging comes in. Both the cameras offer HDR, but the Canon has a definite advantage since it uses three frames and can do so even with Raw files. The D800 on the other hand, combines only two frames (and that too only JPEGs). When it comes to continuous shooting, the 5D Mark III wins outright; its smaller files allow you to shoot at a maximum burst speed of 6 frames per second, while the D800 can go only up to 4! [If you shoot JPEGs – (Large + Best quality) – the Mark III seems to keep on firing endlessly]. Of course if you never shoot in burst mode, this may not be as relevant to you.
Let me ask you a question. If you like driving, and if you have to drive mostly within the city, would you need a ‘normal’ car or would you need a racing car? Mind you, I used the word ‘need’ and not ‘want’. I may want to own a Ferrari, but for day-to-day city driving (and for occasional out-of-city drives), would it make more sense to get a city car or would it make more sense to get a racing car? That is not to say that the D800 is a racing car and the 5D Mark III is a city car; both are definitely high-end. One is designed for the segment that just needs the best possible image resolution (at the expense of missing out certain goodies), while the other is designed for users who want excellent results without going overboard. So decide your segment and take the plunge. You can’t go wrong with either.
SPECIAL NOTE / QUIRKS
1. Though the pixel count of both these cameras differ (Canon, 22.3MP; Nikon 36.3MP) both are high-resolution. This means (and we have said this before) you need stricter user discipline and use of high-end lenses. Both the cameras will provide you superb high resolution images but both will amplify your lens defects / hand shakes much more than other cameras will. Between these two cameras, using top-notch lenses is more important with the D800.
2. If you want the best output from your very expensive lenses, you must use a good tripod. I am aware that some readers do not like my constant suggestion to use a tripod as far as possible, but it is even more important to do so when it comes to these two cameras; make that ‘much more important’ with the D800. Does this mean that you should never shoot hand-held when using these two models? No, that’s not what I am implying. As a reader pointed out recently, a tripod is not always convenient to use and can even make you lose some shots, especially when it comes to photographing flying birds. The norm for shutter speed (for hand-held photography) is “1 divided by the effective focal length”. With both these cameras, my suggestion to you is to try and use shutter speeds that are 1-stop faster than the norm.
3. Try using the optimum aperture (the sweet spot) when depth of field is not an important criteria. Remember, very narrow apertures can induce a loss in sharpness due to diffraction of light.
4. When using the D800, try to use only the memory cards suggested by Nikon (page 434 and 435 in the User’s Manual). We tried using 8 GB and 16 GB CF cards of a non-listed manufacturer and found that the Memory Card Access Lamp would not go off, making the cards unusable with the D800.
||Canon 5D Mark III
|Value for Money||***||****|