Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 Review

Discussion in 'Arts and Photography' started by RajaPraveen, Oct 10, 2012.

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  1. RajaPraveen

    RajaPraveen Black Jeebus Staff Member

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    Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 Review
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    You'll never really know the truth about a camera until you get your hands on it and take it out into the field…and once you start printing your images there's nowhere to hide. I had high expectations for the new Canon 5D Mark III. Don't get me wrong. My current 5D Mark II has been amazing. I love my lenses especially the tilt and shift ones, but I am always searching for bigger and better things. So, after almost four years when Canon finally announced the released a new full-frame SLR, I couldn't wait to see what this new body was capable of. That was until I found out about the new Nikon D800 hitting the market at around the same time. Sure Canon has made some great improvements, but it just didn't seem geared towards landscape shooters like me.
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    This new Nikon promised a 36MP Exmor sensor, which would rocket the industry like nothing we had ever seen before. I literally lost sleep thinking about the possibilities for my photography if I started shooting with Nikon instead. After years of investing in Canon glass, how would this new Nikon sensor change the tonal range, colors, and small details in my prints? Would it be worth the switch?
    There was only one way to find out. I packed my gear, and armed with both cameras, side by side, I was determined to test them in the real world. My destination - Yosemite National Park, one of the most beautiful and challenging places for a landscape photographer.
    Note: Use the links to enlarge the thumbnail images. Make sure to close the window before opening another image.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/8 6s ISO 400:
    My first impression, was that both cameras seemed similar in build. Pictures just don't do it justice. Once I picked up the cameras, I noticed the new 5D Mark III had greatly improved the grip. It felt like a mini-1D series. The battery door is rubberized throughout, and there are no more squeaks when applying pressure to the camera. It's definitely more solid than the old version and it's been bulked up just enough to feel like it was molded for my hands.
    Nikon's body comes with a reputation for being built to last. This new D800 does not disappoint. Even though I did not have a D700 to compare it to, I could tell that Nikon meant business. I felt like this was a nice, solid piece of equipment that I could depend on when out in the elements.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 17mm TS-E f/9 1/13s ISO 100:
    Both cameras have the added feature of dual card capability, which gives you peace of mind, because you can use two cards at once and back-up your images as you go. Assuming I would see some wildlife, I ran a few tests to check out Canon's continuous shooting buffer. Although it seems similar to the Canon Mark II, there is a noticeable difference. The new camera takes advantage of UDMA7 compact flash cards. This allows the camera to hold up to 18 RAW images on the buffer (depending on your ISO setting) instead of 13. However, these cards can be pricey, and the Lexar 1000x UDMA7 is currently the only card I found capable of achieving these results. I tested out the Transcend UDMA7 64GB and there was no noticeable difference. The Nikon D800 performed similarly. I was even able to squeeze in a few extra shots on the buffer. With the Transcend UDMA7 64GB I held 16 RAW images before the buffer was full. I would assume that with a capable card you could do even better.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/8 20s ISO 100:
    When I finally arrived in Yosemite, I went straight to my favorite spot nearby Valley View. The skies were bald, the clouds were a no-show, but it was almost sunset so I still had high hopes for decent lighting. I pulled out the Canon and got to work. First of all, I really liked the fact that I was able to frame my shot through the viewfinder. This gave me 100% coverage, something that was not possible with the previous version. A welcomed improvement since there is usually no room for cropping in my landscape photos. I leveled the camera, locked down the ball-head, and activated live view. My fingers automatically looked for the Magnify/Reduce button on the upper right side. Low and behold, it was no longer there. It's been moved to the left of the LCD almost as a copycat of "Nikon's" location, but I was able to quickly find a work-around by assigning it to the "SET" button. This solution worked well for me and caused no big changes in my shooting style. I was able to focus on the subject with ease.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/8 0.3s ISO 100:
    Next, it was time to let the Nikon out of the bag. I quickly set it up, as I cursed out the light that was beginning to fade already and tried to manually focus. Dusk was upon me and I was not prepared for the frustration that was to follow. I tried my best to focus using Nikon's live view. To achieve critical focus I looked for nuances as I slowly turned the focusing ring on the lens. Surprisingly, in the field under this variable lighting, the image seemed to be interpolated as I used higher magnification. It was a mess. I had never experienced this before and wasted so much time playing around with the live view, that I missed the light. I still took a few shots even though I knew they weren't usable just so I would have something to look at. When reviewing these images on the LCD, I noticed they had a green cast and a low contrast look to them. Needless to say, this did nothing for my self-esteem in the field. My solution - Delete.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/3.5 21s ISO 1600:
    I tried not to read too much into this. The point is, if you don't use a manual lens or rely on live view for critical focusing, this shortcoming is not really an issue. It's more of an adjustment for those of us accustomed to using this feature. After testing Nikon's live view manual focusing in the field, I quickly came to the conclusion that Canon's implementation worked better for the applications I need. Perhaps because Nikon's depth of field preview is always "live" and there's a lag time from when you make your adjustment to when you actually see the results. For this reason, Nikon's live view at higher magnification appeared pixelated and nailing focus was not easy. However, with the Canon you get to preview depth of field by simply pressing a button. Therefore, the changes appear faster and the nuances necessary for focusing are much easier to see.
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    Nikon D800 21mm f/10 25s ISO 100:
    The new auto-focusing system on the Mark III is a dream for 5D shooters, and probably the best reason to upgrade your camera. No more focus hunting in low light and no more having to "compose and re-frame" with the center focusing point only. It instantly locks focus and is extremely accurate when using the "only cross type" focus setting. However, interchangeable focus screens are not supported with the new viewfinder and this is unfortunate for anyone using a manual focus lens. Keep in mind, that if you are using a manual focus lens that supports AF confirmation (green dot), the new focusing system will aid with added speed and reliability.
    The "red light" that appears when you lock focus on the new Canon shows up on the focusing point and on the entire viewfinder. I found this to be a bit troublesome. It's hard to see the AF points in low light and the red light confirmation is not that visible outdoors, thus making the focus lock beep a must. Hopefully a firmware upgrade will come around to fix this shortcoming. In low light, I found myself pressing the "AF Point Selection" button (the default) to confirm which focusing point was engaged. I'd prefer for this to work like it did before on the Mark II, whereby you could just press the "Multi-controller" (joystick) and move the focusing points, as apposed to now having to use a two-step "AF Point Selection" followed by the "Multi-controller" to set your desired focusing point.
    I have since learned that there is a new custom function allowing the "Multi-controller" (joystick) to control focusing point selection directly. You can set this up by going to menu, C.Fn2: Disp/Operation, Custom Controls. The last item, on that page will be the Multi-controller AF point direct selection. Reference
    Shooting landscape, I rarely use auto-focus anyway, so this feature was not something I was able to explore in depth on the Nikon. I primarily stuck to manual focus lenses, like the Zeiss 21 mm for the purpose of this review. However, I did take a few quick shots with Nikon 14-24mm and auto focusing was quick, accurate, and easy to use.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/8 1/4s ISO 100:
    The weather was finally starting to change. I woke up at the crack of dawn and set out for a nice sunrise capture. My first stop was nearby Yosemite lodge overlooking Half Dome in the distance. It was finally time to give in to the 17mm and 24mm TS-Es that had been calling my name. I thrive on shooting with tilt and shift lenses because it lets me keep the camera level instead of having to tilt the entire camera to compose the shot. Tilting the camera creates unwanted distortions, even in landscape, so I avoid doing this at all costs. Trying to capture tall mountains like El Capitan while keeping trees straight, are easier when your camera is level, thanks to the TSE shifting movements.
    Large format photographers rely on view camera movements to achieve optimum resolution. They strive to keep ideal apertures like f/64 and use tilt to achieve perceived depth of field. This optimum aperture size translates to about f/8 in a full frame digital SLR. Why do you think Ansel Adams prints are so sharp? Shouldn't we at least dream of doing the same using our digital SLR?
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    Canon 5D Mark III 17mm TS-E f/10 1/4s ISO 100:
    Tilting the lens to "tweak" the plane of focus, in landscape photography, helps you avoid loss of resolution due to diffraction. Without having to stop down your lens, you can get both close elements in the foreground and the background in perfect focus. It grants me the ideal aperture size and maximum resolution with apparent depth of field at the same time. There is always a compromise between depth of field and resolution and I strive for the best of both worlds.
    The two Canon lenses I brought were more than I could hope for. They delivered spot on and did not disappoint. On the other hand, the Nikon 24mm PC-E did not excel functionally or optically. It lacks an independent axis rotation and I noticed some annoying chromatic aberrations, when shifting or tilting. Personally, this was a big handicap and hopefully Nikon will refresh their PC-E lenses in the near future.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/8 13s ISO 100:
    Lucky for me, a full-on snow storm had just rolled into the High Sierras. With chains on my tires, I rolled over to Mono Lake in search of the calm after the storm. Faced with high winds, I tried my best to deal with the restless waters and the lack of reflections. I waited for my favorite lighting to show itself at dawn and dusk, since there's lower contrast during these times and I wouldn't need a high dynamic range camera to capture the light.
    The image below was taken to test the Canon 5D Mark III in comparison to the Nikon D800 in order to demonstrate the differences between the two cameras and how they each capture small detail. I did this by shooting with the Nikon and the Canon using the same lens (Zeiss Distagon 21mm f/2.:cool: with an EOS adapter attached.
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    For the purpose of this test, my files were normalized in order to compare them on a monitor screen. It's unfair to downsize the D800 36MP file to 22MP in order to compare the advantage of higher resolution. Doing so, would throw away detail from the higher resolution file. Instead, I interpolated the 22MP file to 36MP. I believe this is a fair comparison because both files will be printed at the same paper size. Since I can not demonstrate print detail on the web, I will show 100% magnification crops displaying identical size dimensions for both cameras.
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    Canon 5D Mark III
    Notice the detail on the text written on the "non-smoking" and "notice" signs. The lettering is blurred and difficult to read.
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    Nikon D800
    Now check the Nikon image at 100% magnification. Words come into focus and are much easier to read since the sensor was able to capture more detail.
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    Canon 5D Mark III
    This cross section gives an example of the Moiré pattern produced by the Canon 5D Mark III. Notice the white horizontal slats on the top part of the dome.
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    Nikon D800
    Looking at the same area above, Moiré is not visible in the D800 shot.
    It's no secret that the Canon 5D Mark II does not have the cleanest shadows even at base ISO 100. It's usually unnoticeable in good light if we don't start pushing it in post. However, even perfectly exposed shots in high contrast lighting will show, color and luma noise in the shadows when pushed one or two stops in software. To make matters worse, you might even find some banding or visible horizontal and vertical line patterns. At this point, I was wondering how the 5D Mark III and D800 would deal with noise at base ISO. Canon shooters brace yourselves because I don't have good news.
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    For all tests, I used the same exposure for both cameras under the same light conditions with the same Zeiss lens. I wanted to make sure that I captured RAW images in exactly the same settings. Afterwards, I used Lightroom 4.1 (with the latest Adobe profile) and kept color noise reduction and sharpness at 25 percent which are essentially the default values.
    Let's examine these 2 areas for shadow detail recovery and compare how much each camera is able to retrieve detail under high contrast lighting.
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    We begin by taking a look at the image with no recovery and no post-processing.
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    Although the Canon 5D Mark III deals with banding slightly better than the previous version, surprisingly I could still see a substantial amount of color noise.
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    Nikon D800
    Obviously, the Nikon D800 is in a totally different league. Absent of color noise or any pattern, this image reveals Nikon's exceptional performance.
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    Notice the lower area of the image with no recovery and no post-processing.
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    Canon 5D Mark III
    The Mark III image shows a huge chunk of color noise. Vertical patterns are also visible.
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    Nikon D800
    There is no question that the D800 does not disappoint in signal to noise ratio (SNR) at low ISO and has higher dynamic range. I'm still shocked by the differences.
    I know this is disappointing for Canon shooters but on the bright side, there is a workaround if you shoot RAW. Start by overexposing (up to 1 stop) above the correct exposure before taking your shot and then normalize the exposure later in software. This gives you the correct exposure but the shadow detail is much cleaner, just in case you need to push it a stop or two. Alternatively you could use ISO L (50) for low contrast situations whenever lighting and wind conditions allow. However, make sure that there is no clipping in the highlights (blinkies) because essentially when you are using ISO 50, you are already compromising highlight detail by about one stop. I've used this workaround for many years and have been happy with the results.
    In regards to the Nikon D800 handing of noise in the shadow areas, I have to say it's nothing short of amazing! Kudos to Sony and Nikon for the new sensor partnership. The Exmor sensor is exceptional and there is so much detail in the shadows. I can push the shadows more than 4 stops without any hint of color noise. WOW! Let's just say the D800 sensor is a breakthrough in sensor technology.
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    Nikon D800 Zeiss 21mm f/10 1/10s ISO 100:
    In order to get the most out of Nikon's 36MP sensor, we need to use the best glass at their sweet spot apertures. Apertures too wide will lessen resolution due to lens aberration and too small will rob resolution due to diffraction.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 17mm TS-E f/10 0.4s ISO 100:
    There is a lot of conflicting information about diffraction. A high resolution 36MP sensor is NOT more diffraction prone. Diffraction is solely caused by the lens aperture and it will always be the same regardless of the resolution of the sensor. Of course, the more resolution you have, the more you will see the effects of diffraction evident. When using the same lens with the same aperture, the Nikon D800 will always have more resolution than the Canon 5D Mark III or any other current digital SLR on the market.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/10 1/15s ISO 100
    Shooting at the lake made me wonder, how would my images look without an ANTI-ALIASING (AA) filter. Nikon is set to release a D800E which cancels out the effects of an AA filter. However, there must be a compelling reason to include AA filters when designing a digital SLR. The filter blurs the "optical" image before it is sampled making sure there are no spatial frequencies present beyond the ability of the sensor to correctly render it. This is currently the most effective way to combat aliasing without noticeably impacting resolution. So basically, the filter function is there to block spatial frequencies that the sensor can not resolve while allowing what the sensor can resolve to pass through. AA filters are not 100% effective, there's always a small loss in resolution and some aliasing that's noticeable in your images even when the filter is present.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E + 1.4x III f/9 1.3s ISO 100:
    The worse aliasing offender is Moiré but aliasing can also manifest itself in the form of jaggies, stair stepping, wavy lines, and sparkling, inaccurate, unreal detail. It really turns up the digital "fake" look, which is not for me. In my opinion, removing the filter is not beneficial for certain applications. For example, with architecture, fashion or any other subject filled with man-made patterns, aliasing is more apparent and may require post-processing correction which is never 100% effective. You can't effectively remove aliasing in post-processing because any higher spatial frequencies beyond Nyquist (sensor resolution) will be combined with the real detail, distorting and contaminating it. The best you can do is "band-aid" it as much as possible in software.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 17mm TS-E f/5.6 8s ISO 100:
    Moiré aliasing is not so obvious in landscape or nature images because we have "random" patterns. But, other types of aliasing artifacts can still mix in with real detail, especially when shooting with high resolution lenses at their optimal apertures (usually from f/4 to f/:cool:. When shooting at smaller apertures diffraction will blur your image thus mimicking the effects of an AA filter, which is also not desirable.
    Who knows, maybe one day we will have even higher resolution sensors making the necessity of having AA filters irrelevant. As for now, I'm glad Canon kept it on the Mark III and would like to see how the Nikon D800E performs without it.
    On the last two days of my trip, there was so much snow falling that I had no choice but to hit the slopes. The cameras were forced to sit this one out. Ok, I did feel a little guilty neglecting them in the dark closet, but hey how often does a guy from Brazil get to go snowboarding?
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    Canon 5D Mark III 17mm TS-E f/10 0.4s ISO 100:
    The next step would be to get home and start printing. I mostly print my pictures in-house at 17x22 inches on my Epson 4900 and occasionally larger 24x36 inches. In my controlled tests, I shot with both cameras using the same Zeiss Distagon 21mm f/2.8. Thanks to a high quality Novoflex EOS adapter, I was able to mount the Zeiss 21mm (Nikon Mount) on the 5D Mark III. I printed in my preferred size formats and then even larger to test the capabilities of the 36MP sensor. I wanted to really see how the new sensors compared when using the same glass. There was no visible difference based on the smaller (17x22) print size. Small nuances detected in controlled environments were not perceptible on the prints. However when printing crops, interpolated to a larger scale print, Nikon revealed it's superiority in resolution and detail.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 17mm TS-E f/10 0.5s ISO 100:
    After an exhausting week, it was finally time to unpack my gear and look over everything I used on my trip. I had both the Canon 5D Mark II and 5D Mark III bodies with these lenses: 17mm f/4L TS-E, 24mm f/3.5L TS-E II, 90mm f/2.8 TS-E, 70-200mm f/4L ISand the Canon 1.4x III extender which works great with all TS-Es.
    I'd also like to note, that in a majority of the shots portrayed in this review I used LEE Filters consisting of: Grad Neutral Density (ND) Soft Filter Set 4 x 6", 4x4" ND 0.6 Resin Filter and 4x4" Circular Polarizer Glass Filter. For the Canon 17mm f/4L TS-E, since it does not take filters, I was able to come up with a customized workaround.
    I also took the Nikon D800 and the Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZF.2. Which I recommend for landscape shooters. I did try the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens and the 24mm PC-E, but both gave me blurry corners. Not sure if my was my copy or if the 36MP sensor was "seeing" more flaws. Aside from the corner softness, the 24mm PC-E revealed serious "CA" when tilting or shifting. Therefore, I deliberately did not use them that much and concentrated on the 21mm prime instead.
    As for tripods, I brought both my Gitzo's GT3542LS and Gitzo's GT5531S Ball-heads were the RRS BH-55, Acratech Ultimate andSunwayfoto XB-52.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/3.5 23s ISO 1600:
    Overall, it was a smooth trip to Yosemite in the spring. The waterfalls were flowing and the weather had it's fair share of up's and down's. The first 2 days, the skies held nothing inspiring so I was able to concentrate on getting to know the new cameras better. My final days were covered in snow and with the storm, came the dramatic weather I wanted as I headed out towards Mono Lake.
    As for the Canon Mark III, the 22MP sensor is not that different when compared to the Mark II. You might be able to detect a half stop DR improvement in the high ISO settings (above 6400) but this is not applicable to my needs and nothing to write about at the low ISO 100-400. But, the build quality on this new Canon is impressive and its auto-focusing system is a terrific upgrade. Personally, I don't rely on the camera auto-focusing system, but if you shoot events, weddings, photojournalism or even sports, you should seriously consider this upgraded camera.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/7.1 1/500s ISO 100:
    As you can see from my samples, I mostly stuck with the Canon Mark III on this trip. Mainly because of the difficulty I faced with Nikon D800's poor LCD Live View performance in low light. For my photography needs, this was the Achilles' heel of an otherwise superb camera. But, if you don't rely on live view, then this will never be an issue for you. Aside from that, my only other desire would be for Nikon to release an ultra wide-angle tilt and shift lens and upgrade the current PC-E lenses so that the shift and tilt could be rotated independently.
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    Nikon D800 21mm f/8 1/30s ISO 100:
    There's no question that Nikon produced an exceptional camera. In fact, many photographers will gravitate towards it because of the high resolution. As far as I'm concerned, the big attraction is the incredible dynamic range. Especially in the 100-400 ISO range, which is critical for landscape photography. Nikon's ability to recover shadows and highlights without a noticeable penalty is a huge bonus.
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    Canon 5D Mark III 24mm TS-E f/3.5 24s ISO 800:
    Finally, I leave you with an image of my silhouette, captured without my consent by the illumination of a full moon that guided my path as I said goodbye to my favorite falls. The bottom line, is that these are both amazing tools for photography. There are good points and bad points to both. Nothing is ever perfect and the best advice I can give, is for you to evaluate your needs and make your decision based on what you primarily shoot. There are workarounds to every problem but ultimately a photographer needs to know the camera's strengths and weaknesses in order to get the most out of it.
     
  2. BANHAMMER

    BANHAMMER Teh Almighty BanHammer Staff Member

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    very good review sire!
     

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