Wednesday, October 3, 2012

COMPARISON: Nikon D600 vs Canon 5D Mark III using the latest 24-70 f/2.8 lenses

Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D600 with their newest 24-70 f/2.8 lenses
Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D600 with their newest 24-70 f/2.8 lenses

The Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED is one of my favorite lenses, so as a Canon shooter I was thrilled when Canon finally upgraded our 2.8 equivalent – the 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM (my review). I thought it would be fun to compare the 24 megapixel D600 (6016 x 4016 pixels) to the 22 megapixels 5D Mark III (5760 x 3840 pixels) using these awesome 24-70 f/2.8 lenses.

The $1774 difference

These cameras have effectively the same full frame size sensor (Canon at 36 x 24 mm vs Nikon at 35.9 x 24 mm), so this felt like a fair match technology wise. Pricewise, the advantage is clearly all Nikon. At the time I wrote this article, the 5D Mark III ($3559 USD) is $1462.05 USD more expensive than the D600 ($2096.95 USD). On the lens side, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM ($2299 USD) is also $412.05 USD more expensive than the Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED ($1886.95 USD) so all told the Canon combo cost $1774.10 USD more than the Nikon combo!!! That’s nuts Canon!

To be fair, Nikon hasn’t release a new 24-70 yet so if it does the prices may get a little closer to each other, but Nikon will definitely have the advantage due to the camera price differences.

Testing Methodology

In doing this comparison I mounted both cameras to the same tripod and set them effectively the same distance from the test bookshelf so that I could frame the reference books on each edge (meaning the tripod wasn’t in the same spot). I also made sure that the cameras were set to effectively the same settings as shown below:

  • High ISO Noise Reduction set to low on both cameras
  • Vignetting control (Peripheral Illumination on Canon) turned off on both cameras
  • Active D Lighting / Auto Lighting Optimizer turned off
  • Auto White Balance (Auto1 for Nikon)
  • Single Point / Single Shot auto focus on the red LOTR book in the center
  • No Chromatic aberration corrections (no lens data loaded for the Canon)
  • Standard Picture Control / Style
  • Same exposure settings
  • Both used Mirror Lockup with a 10 second delay
  • Both were on the same plane with the subject and level according to the camera’s built-in level.
  • Lens hoods on both lenses in correct position
  • In-Camera Max Quality Fine JPEG’s used for both as I consider in-camera processing to be relevant. RAW is subject to so many variables its hard to get a fair comparison, and I can’t store the RAW’s on Zenfolio anyway so I’m limiting my testing to in-camera JPEG’s.
  • All other camera settings were factory defaults, including in-camera sharpening

I also tested each camera and lens combo at each end of the zoom range (24 & 70mm) at both wide open (f/2.8) and a safe mid-range aperture (f/10) to avoid diffraction. Finally I tested both ISO 100 and ISO 25,600 (which is Hi 2.0 on the Nikon – it’s max value – the Canon goes up to 102,400).

All comparisons were done using the just final released version of Lightroom 4.2 (not the beta).

It should also be noted that I did not compare against the D800 since I didn’t have one on hand, and because the resolution differences make it much easier to argue about the results.

The Bookshelf Test

Love it or hate it, my bookshelf test is my personal way of judging camera products. I like this test because it allows me to see the dynamic range as well as how the cameras perform with shadow regions. My bookshelves sag so things don’t always seem perfectly level, and I’m moving the tripod around, so it’s not a perfect science – but it’s close enough.

You can find the full gallery of images complete with the full-size in-camera JPEG’s at

24mm at f/2.8, ISO 100 Comparison

1.3 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100

At the center they are effectively equally sharp, but as you start to away from the edge it is quickly apparent that the Canon image is sharper than the Nikon image. Canon images are always warmer by nature of their Auto White Balance differences, but the details in the shadows seems to slightly favor the Canon in my eyes.

The vignetting of the Canon lens is definitely worse than the Nikon, but the distortion seems to be a little more prominent in the Nikon. I don’t put much weight into these as both cameras offer corrections for these (Canon requires a camera update via EOS Utility lens info download) to address these issues.

24mm at f/10, ISO 100 Comparison

15.0 sec at f/10, ISO 100

At f/10 the differences are very subtle and any apparent Canon advantage is probably due to more aggressive in-camera sharpening. At the edges the Nikon is the clear winner, but in the center the Canon seems to have an advantage. For landscape photography, I’d probably prefer the Nikon.

70mm aft f/2.8, ISO 25,600 Comparison


While DxOMark seems to think otherwise, to my eyes there’s on comparison here – the 5D Mark III easily wins on noise. Detail wise the lenses seem to be pretty close with the the advantage going to Canon. I also felt that the dynamic range favored the Canon (even when comparing the RAW files in ViewNX 2 vs DPP), but you be the judge. Examine the images for yourself and decide which you think is best.


In my examination of all of the images I saw a pattern forming, so I don’t discuss all 8 comparisons you can find in my gallery here. The images shown are a sufficient sample in my opinion to draw a conclusion, but you are welcome to examine the images for yourself to decide which you think is best. Naturally fan boys from both camps will see what they want to see and freak out that this test is not comparing the RAW images. Others will no doubt do this comparison and plenty will find reasons to argue with my results, but if you’ve read this then I’m already happy and appreciate your visit.

Physically holding and using each lens, I found myself thinking that the Nikon was the better built lens worthy of its price. While the fact that the Canon lens is shorter makes it more convenient, at this price a little bulk makes me feel better about the money leaving my wallet. I also appreciate that the Nikon can use the cheaper and much more common 77mm lens filter vs the Canon’s larger 82mm lens opening.

I will say that the Nikon D600 with a faired a lot better than I expected with a lens that came out in November of 2007 versus Canon’s hot new 24-70 II that just released. Given the $1774 price difference of the Canon setup, I’ve got to say that the only significant advantage that you get for that price difference is better high ISO performance of the Canon body and minor lens sharpness differences. I don’t put a ton of weight on the lens differences though as they are close enough that honestly you could easily address the differences in post-processing. The only place where it might make any difference at all is in very large prints where the extra megapixels of the D600 might come in handy.

In my other comparisons the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM outperformed the Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, but Nikon’s legendary AF-S Zoom Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED destroys the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. As a result, you really need to look at the big picture if you are just getting started and think about which lenses are most important to you.

If money is a factor, and it usually is, the Nikon D600 seems to be an easy choice for great performance at a substantially lower price even if the high ISO performance favors the Canon. I’ve got the Canon setup and love it, but I’m kinda wishing I had my $1774 back in my pocket and the D600 combo! Of course the high ISO performance of the Canon makes it the perfect camera for parents, so for those evenings when I’m shooting with only lamp lighting I’ll be glad I had the Canon combo.

Where to Buy

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Nikon D600




Nikon 24-70 f/2.8




Canon 5D Mark III




Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II




Other articles you might enjoy…


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Murray Parker said...


Thanks for your comparison on the Nikon and Cannon cameras with the 24-70 lenses. I have the Nikon lense I use with my D700 and think you did a fair comparison of the two. Keep up the good work, love to read your blog.


Anonymous said...

thanks for your 5D VS D600!

i examine myself the portrait of Julian, and its look a litlle bit more sharp and details on the 5D... BUT there is a problem because the scale of the head is not exactly the same, and more important the skin color... I explain myself, i am a 3D artist and i work a lot on skin shader, the D600 shoot got a lot more of red/yellow color, and it's problematic because the light diffusion is more important (so more blur) when you go deep in the skin, and hit the blood (so red color ^^), so when you go on photoshop you scale the picture (ctr+T) to match as much as possible to the other one, and after you grade the D600 one to delete the yellow and red to match perfectly to the 5DmkIII, and you will see it's 99,9 pc the same :) and i haven't put a sharpen...
So my conclusion are : don't waste your money in a 5D mk III :D

Anonymous said...

I think the pricedifference is $1874.10 :-( said...

Prices are always changing. My price diff was at the time I wrote the article.

My point remains the same

Anonymous said...

RAW file output is where the D600 really shines and this is the difference shown by DxOMark's tests and the other 5DMK3 vs D600comparisons on the web. Better IQ and a free 70-200 2.8 is what Nikon gives you for the same price as the Canon.

Anonymous said...

you can't compare the in camera JPEGS its completely unfair, only fair way of doing this is to compare the RAW files but if you insist on using JPEGS take both RAW files and use photoshop with the same settings to export a JPEG, would be WAY more fair - canon purposely puts way more effort into their JPEG processing because most of their users are females and incapable of processing RAW files properly. next time you are walking down a touristy area in san francisco or new york look at you will see. most canon uses are females and most males use nikon lol!!!! said...


I'm well aware of the advantage of the RAW file format, but I've deleted my original long response to avoid a long debate with you.

You enjoy your D600 - it's a great camera and I've said that repeatedly on my blog and I've even stated that it's my camera of the year for 2012.

This comparison was about the lenses, not the cameras, and if you look at the section entitled 70mm aft f/2.8, ISO 25,600 Comparison you'll see that I did do a RAW head to head comparison.

I still stick to the conclusions of all my articles, including this one. You are free to use that data or ignore it. In the end, it makes no difference to me which brand you buy because the results are the same for me if you buy Nikon, Sony, or any other brand.

What many of the 70,000+ people a month come here to find out is what did I think about a given product. At times they disagree, and sometimes they come back and realize - hey, Ron was spot on (go see my Olympus OMD E-M5 and Rogue Gels reader comments (just to name a few, there's several others and dozens of emails I get offline each month).

You've got a camera, and you're happy. I've got a couple cameras and I'm happy. Move on.


Anonymous said...

maybe my screen is broke but the nikon shot do not look in focus. there's a large amount of blurriness and it is dull. the canon shot look was better and i use nikon. said...


There's two things going on here to explain what you are seeing:

1. The Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 is good, but not as sharp as the new Canon 24-70 f/2.8.

2. If you view the full images you'll see that there's areas where the Nikon is sharper and areas where the Canon is sharper. That has to do with the blur index (see of the Canon and Nikon lenses.

The areas that I've emphasized in the article do have an advantage to the 5D Mark III, but if you pixel peep every inch you'll find case where the inverse is also true.


jacobwhite said...

I'm not convinced of the d600 performance compared to canon's, admittedly, more expensive 5D. It seems to me that on every front the 5D outshines the d600; which leaves me little choice of where to move next with my d700...

the d800 truly isn't the right camera - the d4 is too bulky and expensive.

Unknown said...

I have the Nikon D600 . It has only 6400 & H1 ,H2. It has not 25000 Iso setting. How can i go up to 6400 ISO? said...


Those H* modes are how you get to the higher ISO's. You can either consult your owners manual or simply take a photo in each mode and then look at the file in Windows Explorer, Bridge, or Lightroom to see what the real ISO for each mode translates to. I can't recall them off the top of my head.

IIRC, H1 is probably 12,800 and H2 is 25,600.