A not so technical comparison of the Canon 5D mk3 vs Nikon D810

Lots of people have been telling me about Nikon’s latest camera – the D810. To satisfy the curiosity in me, a good friend of mine, Bryan Foong, who is also the Ambassador for Nikon actually hooked me up with some of the good folks at Nikon Singapore. They were kind enough to drop by for a visit a few weeks after the launch of the D810 and loaned me a set of the D810 along with my request for 4 speedlites, 16-35 F4, 24 tilt shift, 50 F1.4 G and the 85 F1.4 G lens. Special shout out to William and Max from Nikon for lugging the gears over on a hot Thursday afternoon. No specifics were given, they just asked me to try their latest camera and give it a spin. Well they sure are confident in their product and boy was I surprised with the results.

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 01
The items came all packed up nice and tight in a large Nikon NPS bag. Christmas came early this year!!!

 

Disclaimer: With no prior experience using a Nikon, this post comes purely as an afterthought of a user rather than a comparison or a review between the 2 cameras. It is also unfair for me to pass any judgment as I have always been a Canon user since year 2004 and the closest I have touched a Nikon was at the IT shows where they have demo sets available to try. There are already countless reviews out there of the D810 mentioning about the improvements over its predecessor, plus new and improved additional features like the removal of the AA filter for a sharper image. There is also 60fps HD video recording as well as a whole sleight of bells and whistles with this new camera but I am only going into specifics, well, at least things that mattered to me and my consideration in getting a body good enough to satisfy my requirements. 😀

 

Also to note is that Nikon did not commission me to write this, and this is not a sponsored post. This observation was done purely as a personal project of mine to share with fellow photographers and likeminded enthusiasts about my afterthoughts.  As timing is tight (I shot these images on 13 Aug, wrote this article on 14Aug and going in camp reservist for 2 weeks on 15 Aug), images here are unedited straight out of camera. Also to note is this was done with real wedding couples and not models hence time was a constrain as I have to set up lights for both Canon and Nikon system and anything I change I would have to duplicate it on either system.

 

I had the gears for 2 weeks, however because I was overseas for that period, I was only able to try out the gear on the day of an actual conceptualized pre wedding shoot. I didn’t had time to read the manual of the D810 nor fiddle around with the flash hence everything was done via instinct on the Nikon so please be gentle and take the following with a pinch of salt.

 

Flash system & AWB : After Canon came out with the built in Radio enabled 600ex-RT, using off camera flash has never been easier or happier. I became a little spoilt with the build in capabilities and was a little disappointed that Nikon did not have an equivalent model with radio transmission. Nonetheless, I know I would still want to test out the off camera capabilities hence I requested 4 of the Nikon speedlites. Pleasantly surprised here was that the build in flash of the D810 would be able to do commander mode to control the 4 slave flash which means now I have 4 slave units! Had an easy time figuring out how to set master and slave mode as it was a physical switch by itself. Straight forward and fuss free for a first timer without need for instruction manuals. Looking good so far!

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 02

 

Above is the overall panorama scene of the setup. There are 4 x Canon 600ex and 4 x Nikon speedlites on stands. 8 Speedlites, 1 Canon & 1 Nikon at each respective corner, 4 to give bounce light while 4 for direct fire. Power settings for the flashes were also kept similar for both Canon & Nikon. There is also a Profoto B1 on optical slave mode with a little less than half power to fill a little from the front and because the power was set low for the B1, the recycling rate was fast enough that I could trigger both the Nikon and Canon camera at almost the same time, probably milliseconds away, and still have both cameras register the fill in flash from the B1, leaving the Canon and Nikon master and slave speedlites do their magic. Close up setup shots as follows.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 03

 

Pardon the poor image quality, this was captured in a rush using the phone as we were racing against time to set up the lights.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 04

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 05

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 06

 

Both cameras with the following settings. F5.6, 1/200,ISO 200, Auto White Balance to test the camera individual abilities to render the scene right. The only difference is that the Canon is using a 45mm tilt shift lens while the Nikon is using a 50mm since I do not have the equivalent Nikon 45mm PC lens hence you will see the Nikon version with a tighter crop.

The following images are the results, unedited raw straight from the camera, no tweaks no adjustments.  Canon on the leftie and Nikon on the rightie. Faces are mosaic to protect the innocent. 😀

 

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 07

 

Shot on Canon.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 08

 

Shot on Nikon.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 09

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 10

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Observation : No brainer to setup the master/slave flash on the Nikon on first try, easy to understand how to set manual flash output on the master. AWB feels a little funny for Nikon, maybe I am not used to it yet. The color and tone of the fire looks more pleasing on the Canon. Also note the colors of the carrots and chilies. Just very slight differences so I’m not going to nitpick here. All these to test the flash system and AWB. Important for those in event, wedding field where good, fast and accurate means the world. Having radio transmission built in is really awesome and a god sent and Canon nailed it with this feature.

 

Shutter sound : After 5D mk3 came out with silent mode, it seems like a god sent for those moments in that quiet church, formal solemn ministerial events, concerts or even that sneaky moment you creep up on your neighbor’s cat. Very often at a big crowd with photographers, you will always know which guy is holding a Nikon without looking up because of the sound of their mirror slap. The same silent shutter has finally come to Nikon D810 and compared to the typical Nikon mirror slap, this silent shutter is so much softer. Now Nikon users have no reason to disrupt church weddings/concert anymore! Yay!

 

Low/High ISO and dynamic range : Now this really surprised me. I did some test, and did more test just to confirm what I saw. It is one thing when people tell you it’s good and another thing when you experience yourself. That probably explains the charts over at DxO mark (http://www.dxomark.com) as well which I will also quote here to give a clearer picture. Completely unfair playing field and unbelievable performance at ISO lower than 800. The Nikon D810 files is that good. Not to bash Canon but the stunning results is probably also because this is a newer sensor than the Mk3 hence the dynamic range and ability to extract data is much higher. Whatever the case, I hope the yet to be launched 5D mk4 or 1Dx mk2 will also process such powers. One can only wish right? 😀
Below are 4 tests starting with an indoor test at ISO 100 and ISO 3200 (which is a typical setting in most dim dinner banquet venues that lots of wedding photographers would probably use) plus the same conceptualized pre wedding couple at ISO 800. ISO 800 is also the line where the graphs for 5D mk3 and D810 at DxO charts merge which makes perfect sense in our result. The forth test is where we shoot an extremely underexposed image and thereafter, using Adobe Camera Raw to extract 5 stops out of the underexposed image.

Here we go.

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 11

 

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 12

 

Indoor Test. ISO 100, F4, 2 seconds. White Balance 5000k. An example of massive highlight and shadow area.

Let’s try bring back shadow area by pulling 1.5 stops of exposure in Adobe Camera Raw and -85 highlights and +85 shadows. The close up comparison as follows. Canon on the leftie, Nikon on the rightie;

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 13

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 14

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 15

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 16

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 17

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

This is sort of expected as seen from the comparison charts done by DxO mark here and I quote:

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 18

 

What this chart shows is the dynamic range of the 2 cameras. Based on ISO 100, the Canon is about 11.74EV while the Nikon is 14.36EV which is about 2.5 stops more leverage by Nikon. Basically that means to say, you are technically able to pull 2.5stops more in the Nikon before noise appears compared to Canon or at least that is what I analyze it is. The level of detail and sharpness in the image at base ISO 100 is surreal for the D810. THAT TO ME IS PRETTY AWESOME! It is just plain unfair for all Canon users! So based on the images above where the noise is apparent on the Canon, you will find clean usable images in the Nikon as reflected in the charts.

 

Now at high ISO 3200, which is what a lot of us typically use and from referring to the charts above, we know the graph merges and we should see very similar results. Both camera settings ISO 3200, 1/20, F4, White balance 5000 kelvin.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 19

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 20

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 21

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

And yes indeed. The images speak for themselves. At low ISO below 800, the Nikon D810 is king of dynamic range, producing clean usable images, however at higher ISO ratings the line blurs and there is no significant difference between the 2.
So based on the DxO chart above again, we know that the line starts merging at ISO800. I just had to try this to satisfy my curiosity. Therefore, using my conceptualized pre wedding couple again, I setup another scene and light it up accordingly. I didn’t had chance or time to take behind the scenes as we were rushing for time doing the setup, but this is the end result of the shoot with very basic touch up and simple toning. ISO 800, 1/200, F5.6, Canon on 45 Tilt Shift while Nikon on 50mm. Faces mosaic again to protect the innocent. 😀

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 22

 

 

Following is the test shot for both Canon and Nikon. Similar settings as above but pushed one stop exposure in Adobe Camera Raw with +85 shadows and -85 highlights just to verify the claims of the DxO graph showing the camera’s dynamic range merging. Canon leftie, Nikon rightie.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 23

 

Canon.

Lady In red is our resident Digital Imaging Artist – Susu! No need to mosaic her face. 😀

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 24

 

Nikon.

 

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 26

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 25

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

Indeed, the shadow noises are pretty similar. The amount you can pull out and extract out from a ISO 800 file for both cameras are almost on par and not as drastic difference as compared to ISO 100 files. Notable thing too is the Nikon 50mm has controlled CA very well as seen from the gown fringing above.

 

Not convinced at the results shown, I decided to do one last control test at home after my shoot. This test is to take an extremely underexposed image and add 5 stops of exposure in Adobe Camera Raw. This is a test that really stretches the camera sensor and I am really amazed at the results. Take a look and I think you will also have similar thoughts. The setup, subject and settings as follows;

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 01

 

2 Cameras side by side, ISO 100, 1/200, F16, Manual flash output at 1/32 shooting on Angeline’s soft toy which she named Queen Herpeles when Susu gifted it to her. Same thing, Canon leftie, Nikon rightie. Results?

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 27

 

Canon.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 28

 

Nikon.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 29

 

Canon.

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 30

 

Nikon.

 

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 31

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

 

Raymond Phang Nikon D810 Comparison - 32

 

L: Canon
R: Nikon

 

what-sorcery-is-this

 

Yes I must admit. I screamed a little. WHAT KIND OF SORCERY IS THIS!!!!

I for one could not believe my eyes at the level of detail that one can still see while pulling a 5 stop exposure. You can still see sewing threads and clear tape at the dark side of the image. Both with noise reduction disabled. This is an unfair advantage that Nikon D810 users have that would be able for them to extract details out from nothing. Not that we always get extremely underexposed images, but it’s still comforting to know you have that safety net of 5 stops with the D810. No wonder my Nikon friends can extract so much detail at times. I am secretly wishing Canon would be able to up the game with their next camera launch.

 

That being said, if you ask me which camera is good, well I would say both systems has its own share of pros and cons and the ultimate question begets what you usually normally shoot. Pre weddings/commercial/fashion/product shooters would benefit from the higher dynamic range that the D810 would provide at low ISO. Event/wedding day/sports/portrait shooters would generally love the quick focus, radio transmission of flash, ease of use of the canon. Ultimately it is still the man behind the camera that creates the image. The camera is just a tool and extension of your imagination. J

 

Special thanks once again to Nikon Singapore, William and Max for loaning us the set. Your proactive attitude and courage to let a virgin Nikon user try the camera is really commendable. You guys rock!!!

 

p.s/ eagerly awaiting for the release of the Canon 5D and 1Dx successor. This is gonna be exciting.

Author: Raymond Phang

 

 

Website: www.raymondphang.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/raymondphangphotography
Email: Contactme AT raymondphang DOT com

 

 

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