Canon 5D2 Full Frame vs. Nikon D700/D3 vs. Sony A900

The Canon 5D was the first "popular" priced full-frame DSLR introduced at the $3500 mark for the body only about three years ago. The 5D Mark II just started showing up at dealers on Monday, and the first units began arriving from web etailers on Tuesday, December 2. However, the market is no longer Canon only as both Nikon and Sony have recently introduced models to compete in the $3000 full-frame DSLR market.

The A900 was introduced just a couple of months ago and sells for $3000. It is currently the highest resolution sensor in its class at 24.6MP. The 5D2 has slightly lower resolution at 21/2MP. Nikon also just announced a 24.5MP D3x that will ship later this month, but the new Nikon is in a completely different class with an $8000 price tag.

Nikon introduced the pro-targeted D3 about a year ago with a full-frame $5000 12.1MP sensor. The D3 claim to fame was the widest ISO range ever seen in a DSLR, with a range from ISO 100 to ISO 25600, a 9-stop ISO range. Mid-year 2008 Nikon moved this wide-range full-frame down to the $3000 D700 to compete with the Canon 5D, as well as the coming 5D2 and Sony A900.

Again, all images are captured using a 2-second shutter delay on a tripod in the same location. The manufacturers' 50mm f/1.4 prime lens is used in all cases at an aperture priority setting of f/4.0, some three stops down from their rated speed. All images are processed with the in-camera JPEG processing with high ISO noise reduction set to the low setting. Light is provided by a 100W tungsten bulb, and white balance on all cameras is manually set to tungsten.

ISO Comparison – Canon 5D2 vs. Nikon D700/D3 vs. Sony A900
ISO Canon 5D2 Nikon D700 Sony A900

Click on any of the above image crops for the full image.
Note: Full size images are between 3.2MB and 15.5MB!

The D3 and 5D2 are both no brainers to ISO 3200. I wouldn't hesitate to use either of them for anything up to ISO 3200. 6400 and 12800 are both good with more noise, but still usable for most things. 25600 on either is more for small prints, although I suspect DXO, Noise Ninja, or perhaps other noise reduction programs can do wonders at that speed. They certainly do with RAW processing - the Sony A900 high ISO images that look noisy unless RAW processed. Resolution of the 5D2 is better than the D3/D700, but not quite up to the Sony A900 at regular ISO. I suspect at high ISO with in-camera JPEG the Canon will be equal or better than the Sony.

The Sony seems to be fine up to ISO 1600, but above this noise really starts to intrude. It is not the wide ISO wonder of the 5D2 or the D700, but it is definitely the highest resolution image at lower ISO ratings. The 5D2 is close in resolution, however - much closer than the D700/D3. Recently we have also seen some professionals getting extraordinary high ISO Sony results with RAW post-processing with programs other than Adobe Camera RAW. They claim ACR is quite poor at processing noise in the A900 images and there are much better tools. We are experimenting with their suggestions for A900 RAW post-processing.

Canon 5D Mark II vs. Canon 5D Looking Ahead


View All Comments

  • wliang - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    I wonder if using IS lens for video shooting has any effect on lessen the shaking compared to non-IS lens? Reply
  • melgross - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    Yes, that's the point to it.

    Just make sure that when on a tripod, the lens turns the IS off.

    Canon and Nikon lenses usually know what to when on a tripod, but most others don't.
  • cputeq - Sunday, December 07, 2008 - link

    I'm in the process of moving from Canon (40D) to Nikon (D700), but I must say the new 5D doesn't look too bad at all. I was worried the higher density was going to ruin high ISO advantages.

    I will say - I slightly prefer the D700's noise over the 5Dmii, but really it's splitting hairs - they both look great, with usable results at 12K ISO.

    I've seen images of black dots on the right side of pixels with very strong highlights - I'm wondering if any of this was experienced?

    Oh, and Anandtech, for the love of God, get a new test shot. The side of a Nvidia box is a horrible test for any type of detail rendition, though I guess with a black color it's okay for noise.

    I'm waiting on a full review of the 5D mii, but kudos to Canon from what I've seen so far, at least from this first look. It makes me *almost* regret moving to a D700 :)
  • Zebra328 - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    Yes, first impression is not bad, but a second says that maybe it's only in resolution that 5d2 beats d700 but d700 seems to beat 5d2 in all the rest.
    Have a look for example at white labels with text on them, do you see how the 5d2 creates color blotches around letters? I noticed the same on the test pics from other sources as well.
    Would you confide in a camera which on a black and white surface creats blotches of pink, green, blue, etc.? How this camera would behave depicting the real scenery? Undoubtedly it would add such tiny colorful blotches in any contrasting boundary, adding color which does not belong there.
    People will look at the pics of 5d2, 5d and d700 and say:
    "Well, you know, that pic from the 5d2 has certainly more detail than those from the old 5d and d700, but the pics from the old 5d/d700 look more natural somehow, more pleasing to eye. I like them better!"
    Of course they look more pleasing and natural, as they do not contain those nasty tiny bloches of color in spots where they do not belong.
    And I don't only speak of high ISO's, the same problem is evident at any ISO, as it has to do with some flaws in the sensor of the 5d2, inadequate microlenses maybe, which act as tiny prisms creating colorful tinting in contrasting areas, or something else, I dunno.
    I know only that I was waiting so long for upgrading from my old 5d to the new 5d2, but now I'm starting to look at the d700 which performs impeccably in everything.
  • melgross - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    You are so wrong here, you can't even imagine.

    Right now, the Nikon D700 is considered to be out of contention when compared to the 5D mkII. The image quality of Canon's new product so far outclasses that of the D3/700 that neither comes close.

    The poor image Wesley uses has been derided for years as being useless for telling us much of anything.

    What you need to do is to look for pictures around the net from both camera families. you will be surprised. If the other "example" you tell us you've seen, is as bad as the one here, then it's useless.

    While I am admittedly a Canon user, you seem to be a Nikon one, in the closet though you may be.

    However, while the newer Nikons did pave new road in low noise, that road has been paralleled by the 5D mkII. There may be slight differences in the way the noise is presented, as all companies use slightly different techniques, but they are about equal.

    However, when prints are made at the same size between a 12 MP camera and a 21 MP camera, the higher rez model will always look less noisy as well as more detailed, as long as the noise is about the same, which it is.
  • Zebra328 - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    As I said I've got a 5d1 with quite a few Canon lenses, and I'm going to use in in future too, but at the same time I'm planning to buy a modern camera which would permit me to go into higher ISOs and, possibly, into higher resolution provided it is not achieved with a loss of other quality points.
    I haven't taken a final decision yet, and I continue to study all relevant pics that appear on the net.
    The other test pics where I noticed the same phenomenon are shown on the Imaging Resourse:">
    I even posted a couple of crops confronting 5d2 and d700 in a post which I entitled: "A Sensor is not Supposed to Add Color Where It does not Belong", here:">
    I only hope that it could be explained in some other way than I did, e.g. that it might be some sort of CA which definite lenses produce on a sensor with 20+ resolution, or something like that.
    I shouldn't be happy to change systems, believe me. But I do see that d700 behaves impeccably in all respects and has the only drawback of being a camera with 12 MP rather than 21.
  • strikeback03 - Tuesday, December 09, 2008 - link

    Did you take the photos used in the DPR forum post, or find them elsewhere? Without knowing what has been done to those images, the comparison is relatively worthless. That looks like regular old color noise, at something like a 5000% zoom. Without knowing what ISO this was shot at and what was done in post processing we can't tell much else about it though.

    FWIW, the Nikon image appears to show sharpening halos at that magnification, but again I wouldn't put much into that without knowing how it was processed.
  • melgross - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    I'm not quite sure what the first link is supposed to show, what with all the images there.

    But I'd like to know more about the second.

    A small amount of chrominance noise removal would eliminate that. ACR uses 25% chrominance as normal for noise reduction, with 0% luminance. I've found that doesn't detract from the sharpness at that level of setting.

    Nikon is known to use a fairly high noise removal on its files, whereas Canon, on it's semi pro and up models, uses little. That is very likely the difference you see there.

    However you do it, the 5D mkII will have much greater detail at the same print size, and the ability to go larger, or to crop. This also allows one to use stronger noise removal, which is needed for every camera to some extent, without losing as much detail.

    At the same print sizes, the Canon will have less apparent noise because of the smaller pixels in the print.

    By the way, showing images on the NET isn't the best way to see what the real world results will be. Noise tends to appear less severe in a print than it does in either PS or on a web page at 100%.
  • melgross - Monday, December 08, 2008 - link

    I forgot to mention that the Nikon image is much mushier than the one from the Canon. lower contrast as well, though that could just be the settings. Reply
  • CEO Ballmer - Sunday, December 07, 2008 - link

    ... until the ZuneCam!">

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now