Nikon D800 or Canon 5D Mark III?

That’s a question a lot of people is asking these days. Finally both cameras are out and people are testing them. I have tested the D800 a little bit. I’ve even done some quick and rough testing of the video function. The 5D however I have not yet tested much.

Never the less, I’ve been asking my self that very question and have plenty of thoughts on the subject. I’ve checked the pros and cons and decided what camera I’m going to buy. With emphasis on the I. While I’ve figured out what camera is right for me, this does not mean it’s the better camera of the two. It’s simply the best for me. Anyway,I thought I’d share my thoughts on the matter. I’ll present some facts and specifications and other reasons I’ve taken into account. If you want to just read my conclusion, scroll to the end.

Why I’m upgrading

To start I’ll explain my reason for upgrading to a new camera. I have a Nikon D90 today. A good camera, that’s served me well. However, it’s getting older and I’m ready for an upgrade. I feel that when first upgrading I don’t want a newer camera in the same range (say D300s, D7000 or 7D) I want a full frame sensor camera. An important reason being less noise on higher ISO. I like to do late night photography, and while I usually use a tripod some times I would still like to go a little further on the ISO. I also generally do a lot of hand-held and being able to go higher on the ISO will let me shoot hand-held in harder conditions. Another reason for going pro full frame is the weather seal. I’ve used my D90 on windy beaches and in rainstorms. Quite frankly I’m impressed it still works. That being said, I’m upgrading my photo camera! I’m buying a camera to take stills primarily. I’ve used the video function on the D90 once. It’s crap. End of story. But new cameras have come a long way since then, so when I’m upgrading I do want a camera with good video capabilities.

Why not other brands?

Some may ask the question why Nikon and Canon? Why not Panasonic, Sony, Pentax or others? Well first off because of the marked situation in Norway. Nikon and Canon control the DSLR marked. While Sony is gaining some percent, Nikon and Canon are the two major brands. Second; they are the leading brands internationally. They’ve been doing this for a long time with lots of experience. Third; the lenses. They produce quality lenses and have a large lens collection available. In addition there are a large number of third-party lenses available. And we all know how important the lenses are!

Video

Ok, so that’s my background. What to choose? We’ll start off with the video. On paper Canon’s all-I codec at almost 100Mbit/s is much better than Nikon’s 24 Mbit/s P-frame based codec. However, I haven’t seen any tests yet. That said, Nikon’s H.264 24Mbit/s codec should match that of AVCHD, maybe even better since it’s based more on P-frames and less B-frames. Meaning it should be a decent in camera codec. Not to mention Nikon offers an 8 bit, 4:2:2 1080i (or 720p) output via the HDMI, so for those heavy projects you could get an external recorder and blow Canon’s all-I out of the park. But, it’s not just the codecs and outputs that’s important. Down scaling is another matter. I have not seen any comparison between Canon and Nikon here, so it’s really hard to say anything, but poor down scaling could give a less sharp image. This is a bigger issue for the D800 than the Mark III due to the higher resolution. Another common problem on DSLR is rolling shutter etc. I did a quick test on the D800; in a dark room I fired a flash. ideal this should light the whole frame. I shot in 720p 50 mode with a shutter of 1/50 so standard video. The flash fired at high speed and it lit the whole frame! This should mean rolling shutter is drastically improved and not a big problem in regular conditions! (with a faster shutter it may become a problem, I don’t know) I can only assume it’s the same or better for Canon. On one note however, D800 do have full autofocus on their video, the 5D does only have semi autofocus. If any of them are any good however I don’t know.

So, both cameras have good video. I would assume (because of the history) that the Mark III may be better. SMPTE time code and all-I codec is ideal if you do documentary. You can sync a sound-recorder and get good quality video straight out of the camera. However D800’s uncompressed output (What? It’s not 10-12 bit 4:4:4 like RED so why do you call it uncompressed?! Because professionally (8)10 bit 4:2:2 is the SDI and HDSDI standard and considered uncompressed in studio and TV production settings) is a great if you want the best quality and do mostly controlled productions like films and commercials and can use an external recorder. It’s also great if you want to use DSLRs in a multi-camera production.

Stills photography

Now, over to the still photography abilities of these cameras. After all they are photo cameras and they’re made to capture still images and not video. I’m not going to go into every detail of the specifications here. Both of these are good cameras, and the specifications for both are good! However, most of the people I’ve talked to have not been impressed with the 5D Mark III. There are no real big upgrades like on the D800. It’s pretty much just what the Mark II should have been. An updated autofocus-system seems to be what everyone is talking about. It also has new ergonomics and improved building quality and of course it has improved ISO-range and less noise so it’s closing in or passing the D700 there. However, according to most tests is does not beat the D800. According to DxOMark the D800 is by far the better camera. It has a dynamic range superior to just about any camera, and if you downscale the ISO performance is better than that of the Mark III. That said the Mark III can be pushed further than the D800, right up to 25600 (expandable to 102400) while the D800 stops at 6400 (expandable up to 25600).

A deal breaker for many is the fact that the D800 is a slower camera than the Mark III. The D800 only delivers around 4 fps while the Mark III can push 6 fps. This may be a deal breaker especially for sports and maybe wedding photographers. When it comes to battery capacity the Mark III (uses the same battery as the Mark II and 7D) is said to have improved battery capacity where as the D800 (same battery as the D7000. Why, Nikon?) is said to have less capacity than the D700 and less than the Mark III.

The elephant in the room is of course the D800’s 36Mpx resolution. Bordering on medium format resolution it’s great for studio use, but it gives you RAW-files at 70MB. It also requires more of your computer and more of you lenses. I’m not happy about it and would much rather have a 22Mpx sensor like the Mark III. I simply just don’t need 36Mpx and many others probably feel the same.

Nikon D800 is probably better in a studio than Canon Mark III due to its resolution. For landscape the D800 is the obvious choise due to the dynamic range. For action and news photography the Canon’s increased ISO range and quicker shooting rate may be the better choise.

Conclusion:

So to sum up. This is how I choose what camera I’ll be getting.

1: Video is good enough: Both have decent video. However, the 8 bit 4:2:2 is more appealing to me for larger projects than the all-I codec. The in camera 24Mbit/s codec is OK for smaller projects, and the quality is much better than that of 5D Mark II. From what I’ve seen the video is good on the D800. The Mark III may have better video, but the D800’s video is still good and good enough.

2: D800 is the better photo camera: As I said, I’m upgrading my photo camera. Nikon’s D800 is the better camera and few seems to be arguing against it. It has a sensor superior to just about any cameras today. I don’t do much sport or action photography so I don’t need the extra speed the 5D offers, nor do I need the increased ISO range. Yes, I’m upgrading to get more ISO range, but I don’t need the range of the Mark III. I’m however very interested in the dynamic range. I do a lot of nature photography and don’t use a lot of flash or lighting. I love to explore natural light and the dynamic range of this camera is a great for my use.

3: Pricing and economics: Today I am a Nikon user, hence I have Nikon accessories and lenses. While I could use Nikon lenses on a Canon body, it would require me getting an adapter. Nikon also offers the DX crop mode. Meaning I can use my old DX lenses and also my FX lenses becomes more versatile than the Canon counterpart. Not to mention that the Nikon D800 itself is cheaper than the Canon Mark III.

There is also the fact that I’m used to working with Nikon and like their cameras, though at one point I was sure I would get a Canon camera this time. Anyway, these are of course the things and reasons I’ve been focusing on when I’ve chosen what camera to get. Because these are the right reasons for me, they may not be the right reasons for you. Only you can answer what is the best camera for you and your use.