Friday, May 4, 2012

First Look: Nikon D800–Should Canon 5D-Mark III Users Switch?

Click for original - Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Nikon 800 – 1/200 sec at f/11, ISO 100, 200mm, AWB, Handheld

I finally got my hands on a Nikon D800 this week, and my business partner was kind enough to also send along a Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II lens. I haven’t done any sort of careful scientific review yet, but I did ask a model to come by my studio so I could snap off a few shots.

Until I got this camera in the studio I was very underwhelmed and wondered what the fuss was about, but I must say in good light this thing is impressive. If you click on the shot above you’ll see the unedited in-camera JPEG (13.3 MB and 72.9 MB for the RAW). The thumbnail above has two moles removed, but its otherwise a downsized version of the 100% unedited in-camera JPEG (which you can click to see).

Here’s some screen grabs from 100% of this image:

Nikon D800 - Eye Detail
100% Crop Eye Detail


Nikon D800 - Mouth 100% Crop
100% Crop Mouth Detail

Pretty freakin impressive!

Now I’m a Canon shooter so I wasn’t crazy with the out of camera color or exposure with the camera default settings, but those things are easily addressed when editing the RAW file in Capture NX2 or Photoshop. What I do have though is an impressive image that should print quite well even if I didn’t do another damn thing to it.

Compared to the Canon 5D Mark III

Click for original - Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Canon 5D Mark III 1/200 sec at f/11, ISO 100, 200mm, AWB, Handheld

Doing the same exact kind of shot (handheld) using my 5D Mark III and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, I got an equally impressive shot with better in-camera color in my opinion. If you click on the shot above you’ll see the unedited in-camera JPEG (6.2MB and 25.7MB for the RAW).

The thumbnail above has a minor crop from the left side and two moles removed, but its otherwise a downsized version of the 100% unedited in-camera JPEG (which you can click to see).

Here’s some screen grabs from 100% of this image:

Canon 5D Mark III - Eye Detail
100% Crop Eye Detail

Canon 5D Mark III - Mouth 100% Crop
100% Crop Mouth Detail

Canon’s in-camera JPEG is certainly more satisfying to my eyes, and in this case gives me an image I could technically call done and do nothing else. With that said, it does add more in-camera sharpening and seems to expose better so it gives this image an unrealistic advantage over what is possible with the D800 image with similar processing (I’ll do that later in another review).

What this does tell me is that Canon 5D Mark III owners shouldn’t be crying in their milk or feeling buyers remorse – it does a fantastic job – especially with its 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens (which to me focus significantly faster, has much better vibration control, and  better usable minimal focus distance).

If you are shooting in the studio, both are fantastic products so if you think you need more megapixels the D800 has got you covered, but if you aren’t printing billboard then 5D Mark III won’t let you down either.

D800 in the Field

Click for original - Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Nikon D800 1/200 sec at f/6.3, ISO 2000, 200mm, AWB, Handheld

I didn’t have much time to shoot today, but I did take 5 minutes to go outside – in the rain – and shoot a few raindrop shots. The shot above turned out nice, but what’s funny is that when you view that drop at 100% it’s like a freakin macro shot:

100% Crop
100% Crop of Water Droplet – Notice the detail in the reflection!!!!!!!

Holy cow, who needs a macro lens eh? Again, this is an in-camera JPEG (16.4MB and 73.3MB RAW) with camera defaults so some detail is lost over what is possible with the RAW. I think the D800E is going to be just sick for this stuff!

This did show me that the LCD on the back of the D800 is woefully inadequate and not up to the task of inspecting images at 100%. When you view them on the camera they look soft and highly unimpressive, but when you get them on the computer the wow factor comes back!

Click for original - Copyright Ron Martinsen - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Nikon D800 1/200 sec at f/2.8, ISO 280, 200mm, Cloudy White Balance, Handheld

Again in the rain I did another shot and once again if you look at the detail of this shot at 100% you have what would be a pretty darn good macro shot – straight out of the camera JPEG (12.9MB and 71.4MB RAW) with a mega crop!

100% Crop

Conclusion

While I don’t feel that the ISO performance is worth a hoot after ISO 3200 (more on that in my next article), there’s a ton of goodness at lower ISO’s with this camera. The detail that can be resolved out of images is just sick, but it’s huge files mean you’ll need a big ass Drobo. Disks are cheap so maybe it’s worth it, but the question you really need to ask yourself what’s the output size you’ll be using these images for? If it’s for the web then it’s a lot of wasted pixels unless you frequently do major crops to makeup for a shortcoming in telephoto lenses.

The dynamic range is impressive and the bokeh you get is pretty sweet. However, I have noticed that with this many megapixels the camera is very unforgiving to motion shake, so I found myself needing to shoot a minimum of 1/200 sec when I was at 200mm otherwise I got blurry shots (and yes VR was on in the correct mode). It’s clear this camera wants to be on a tripod and longer exposures will be its answer to lack of high ISO noise performance (where it’s sibling the D7000 thrives).

My early advice is for Canon 5D Mark III shooters to stay put as I don’t think this warrants jumping ship (as I once thought the D3s was versus the 1D Mark III). For D700 owners who need burst mode performance or > ISO 3200 then I think you are better off not making the jump.

However, if you are a Nikon studio photographer or compulsive tripod shooter, then I think this camera might be a perfect fit as the image detail is just awesome. Those who give it the right light are rewarded handsomely and it’s no slouch up to ISO 3200.

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More Articles

Click here to see my full review and comparison to the 5D Mark III.

Here’s a few 5D Mark III articles for those considering both camps:

Disclosure

A business partner provided me with their one and only loaner unit which is being sent around the country to reviewers. I will be returning this camera and lens, and I get no compensation for doing this article. If you make a purchase using select links in this article, I might get a commission.

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13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like the D800 portrait better. The canon portrait has too many white highlights on the skin. It looks like the flash is a 1/3 or 2/3 of a stop too strong.

Ron Martinsen said...

Anonymous,

I agree. The issue here is that I was trying to keep all the settings identical between the two camera shots. However, the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM is a much brighter lens than the Nikon, so that's why we are seeing this. It happened all night so the only way to compensate for it was to adjust the camera or flashes, but then people would whine if settings weren't identical between the cameras. ;-)

Anonymous said...

What does bokeh have to do with the sensor? Or did I misread that?

Anonymous said...

I agree that the canon shot has more white highlights, however I would take the amazing color difference from the canon shot over having the Nikon's flat and green tinted one.

Having less post production work is always better IMO and the Nikon photo needs the work before being usable, where as the canon photo could easily have been taken without the highlights on site and be used as is.

Ron Martinsen said...

What does bokeh have to do with the sensor? Or did I misread that?

No, you didn't misread that.

The larger the sensor, the more detail you have, therefore the smoother the bokeh.

The same is true when you have more megapixels (up to a point) which is why medium format cameras have a much smoother bokeh and a more shallow depth of field than a full frame sensor. The same is true of full frame over cropped sensors.

This is why point and shoots have such deep depths of field and rarely offer a smooth bokeh.

This is why many famous portrait shooters are using medium format cameras because they want lots of detail and a very smooth bokeh.

The D800 does offer this advantage if that's what you are looking for, but it also comes at a cost of having a more shallow depth of field for landscapes than camera with less megapixels.

Throw diffraction into the equation and it is a bit of a quandry for the landscape shooter who ideally wants tremendous detail and an infinite depth of field.

Ron

Ron Martinsen said...

I agree that the canon shot has more white highlights, however I would take the amazing color difference from the canon shot over having the Nikon's flat and green tinted one.

To be fair, with the right white balance adjustments and picture style tweaking the Nikon could simulate a look that is similar to the Canon. It would take a little work, but it's addressable.

Straight out of the camera with the defaults though, yeah I like the sharper and more vibrant Canon images. Many Nikon pros I know, including Bryan Peterson, have even acknowledged Canon's advantage here (even though he hates everything else about Canon).

This is why you always see guys like Joe McNally talking about setting your white balance to cloudy or shade - to compensate for this dreaded AWB color. Canon guys don't typically even mention setting whitebalance because the AWB is pretty satisfying for many.

Nikon diehards will argue that the Nikon AWB is perfect, or that you should always do custom white balancing. They argue that Canon is oversaturated, so you can't please everybody. This is why picture styles and custom white balancing exists for both cameras.

Having less post production work is always better IMO and the Nikon photo needs the work before being usable, where as the canon photo could easily have been taken without the highlights on site and be used as is.

I do agree that this is a big advantage for photojournalist, event photographers, and even some studio/wedding photographers who are about volume output. If you like what comes out of the camera and can call it a day or only do minor tweeks, then that's a huge advantage.

People are so brainwashed into thinking that they must shoot RAW that that they forget why. Personally I use the JPEG when possible and resort to the RAW when the JPEG can't give me what I need. Yes, I always shoot raw but that's a safety net - not a primary workflow.

Ron

Alexander Shabalin said...

Hi! Sorry for my english. I'm a portrait photographer. And I want to compare D800 and 5D mark III in RAW without any sharp, etc.
Can you post a link on RAW files with the girl Juliet, please? I'll be very thankful!
Or (if you can't post RAW), can you convert JPG without sharp, saturation, etc?
In the end, the photo from 5Dm3 was shot from the distance less than D800. Do you have a photo from the same distances?
Best regards, Alex

Ron Martinsen said...

Alexander,

I'm happy to share the RAW files of those two shots with you. Just send me an email (see my About page) and give me a location like a dropbox (link http://db.tt/SkbYRvg) and I'll copy them on there.

I didn't take these shots at the same exact distance as this article wasn't about science or stats, but rather real world use. In the real world that's how I'd take shots with both cameras. Based on real world use I wanted to see which I preferred.

You can stare at images until your eyes bleed here - http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/canon-eos-5d-mark-iii/26 if that's what you want to do, but in the real world I find that the 5D Mark III suits my needs very well. I'm sure in the studio only setting though that D800 users will be equally happy. I don't do just studio which is why I made my decision (and because I have a big investment in Canon lenses already).

Mohamed said...

you said "However, I have noticed that with this many megapixels the camera is very unforgiving to motion shake, so I found myself needing to shoot a minimum of 1/200 sec when I was at 200mm otherwise I got blurry shots" as far as i my humble knowledge i know that minimum shutter speed to avoid camera shake is equal to or more than the focal lens u are using .. I'm confused here because i think this is applicable to whatever camera regardless to the megapixel which has not thing to do with blurring issue ... correct me if I'm wrong

Ron Martinsen said...

Mohamed,

Great observation, and I should have been more clear.

If you don't use VR, then 1/200 sec at 200mm is the minimum shutter speed that one should use for a stable photo. However, the VR on the 70-200 f/2.8 VR II is good for 2 to 3 stops of stabilization so what the D800 does is effectively negate the benefit of VR being able to allow your to drop below the ideal shutter speed. In fact, I think you'd be better off at 1/320+ at 200mm with a camera with this many megapixels.

I should also point out that this isn't a knock on Nikon - any camera with this many megapixels is most likely going to have this same issue unless the stabilization in the lens is amazingly good.

The bottom line is that i consider this to be mostly a tripod or studio camera rather one you can easily travel with for other purposes. Again, this is due to the megapixels and not any fault of Nikon.

Mohamed said...

that is very kind from you, thanks you very much Ron for the clarification...now i got it

Mohamed said...

that means for birding and wild life it will be very difficult to master it especially at low light condition with lenses of longer focal length

Ron Martinsen said...

Mohamed,

Vibration reduction comes into play for camera movement at slower shutter speeds, but with this many megapixels it will have an impact on faster shutter speeds as well.

Based on what I experienced in my testing, I'd say that if you would typically shoot at 1/1000 sec, then you'd probably want to shoot at 1/2000 sec to get similar results.

The direct impact this has on your birding and wildlife shots is that higher shutter speeds means higher ISO's, which on a rainy or dark overcast day is going to be problematic - especially since this camera isn't super strong at higher ISO's.

Things like gimbal heads and strong tripods are going to be even more important with a camera like this (or any camera with this many megapixels).

There's also the fact that its huge files means slow burst mode performance, so overall I do not recommend this camera for shooting moving wildlife. If you only shoot stationary wildlife in good light, then it should give you excellent results - but still make 100% sure you are using a gimbal.