CameraTalk w/ Matthew Saville – Musing on the Nikon D800 vs the Canon 5D mk3…
Hey everybody, it’s Matthew Saville here. Be forewarned, this post is going to get nerdy! But if you’re a camera geek like me, (and NOT just a regular “fanboy”) …then you might enjoy these random thoughts on the latest two DSLRs from Nikon and Canon…
Okay so, now that the studio has received their first Canon 5D mk3 and I’ve had some time to play with it, and now that the Nikon D800 specs and test images are out in the real world, I’ve been thinking, …just how DO these cameras compare? The 5D mk3 is an AMAZING camera, in fact in my opinion it is the ULTIMATE wedding photographer’s camera, for a handful of reasons. First, they’ve finally added flagship autofocus that just blows the previous 5D mk2 out of the water. Second, the new image playback system. …Though it has it’s drawbacks for any who are really used to the old system, it has the ONE major improvement that I personally can’t live without on my Nikons… One-click zooming! Read page 252 of your 5D mk3 manual and check it out, you MUST set this up if you have a mk3…
Beyond that, however, things get a little complicated. How else do you compare the 5D mk3 and the D800? Does either camera have enough features to cause a die-hard, heavily-invested user to up and switch brands? It’s hard to tell… Both cameras have 1080p video. Both cameras have dual card slots, in-camera HDR, and shockingly good ISO performance that is a bigger leap forward than the gap between them. Reason to upgrade? Absolutely. Reason to switch? Not for me… As usual, here comes my bullet-point thought process:
• sRAW on the 5D mk3 versus DX crop mode on the D800.
How come Nikon doesn’t have a small RAW file size that uses the whole full-frame sensor, and instead insists on including the aging DX format? (Aging, for FX-owning pros at least) It’s ironic that Canon’s 22 megapixel camera DOES have sRAW capability, while Nikon’s 36 megapixel camera does NOT. Nikon seems more interested in maintaining compatibility with a DX lens lineup for which they haven’t announced a new pro lens in what, ~5 years? If you ask me, having sRAW on the Nikon D800 would make it 100x more useful to high-volume shooters. (weddings, photojournalism, light sports, etc.)
[rewind: Learn HDR Photography from SLR Lounge]
• But, but, …you can adjust NEF file compression and bit-rate!
Yeah to be fair, Nikon’s fully compressed 12-bit NEF 36 MP files are probably almost the same size as Canon’s 14-bit loss-less CR2 22 MP files. I’m happy that Nikon gives you those RAW compression options, I just wish they’d also offer an mRAW / sRAW option too. Because honestly, I just don’t need more than 10-15 megapixels for shooting weddings. Dear Nikon: You’re SO close to having as perfect of an all-around, workhorse camera as the 5D mk3! The D800 high ISO performance is stunning for a 36 megapixel sensor; why did you drop the ball by not developing some sort of mRAW format that might have given us even better high ISO performance? Many, MANY D700 owners out there are currently deciding NOT to upgrade to the D800 simply because the other new features don’t outweigh the inconvenience of having to shoot 36 megapixels even when you hardly ever need more than the ~12 we’re so used to.
• But what about DX crop mode, or simply shooting JPG?
Close, but not quite good enough for certain lines of work. Namely wedding photographers, where RAW is still extremely important to many, and where shallow depth of field is still critical for making subjects stand out from a busy scene. Dear Nikon: Again, the bottom line is that I’d rather have sRAW than DX crop mode. The whole reason we’re paying $3,000 instead of $2,000 is for that FX frame!
• Memory cards are cheap. So why are these extra megapixels such a turn-off?
Memory cards are $25-50 per 8 GB, and hard drives are about $100 per TB. No big deal! You could increase your annual storage needs to accommodate the D800, and still be within the $500 difference between the 5D mk3 and the D800.
• HOWEVER, remember again that the D800′s resolution ALSO causes it to be limited to “just” ~4 FPS at full-frame full-resolution. That’s 5D mk2 speed.
Again, this is just one slight minus against the D800′s versatility, and one small plus in favor of the 5D mk3′s versatility. (The 5D mk3 can hit 6 FPS at full-resolution) Not a deal-breaker, but certainly worth noting.
• Also, remember that memory cards and hard drives are only half the battle.
Your computer may also require a serious upgrade, and/or your post-production time could increase by hours per week if you shoot high volume on ANY camera over ~15 megapixels. A screaming-fast computer will set you back a couple / few thousand bucks, ouch. You could just out-source your post-production. But again either way, a D800 will slowly cost you a tiny bit more per-click.
• But wait! Adobe’s new RAW DNG converter has some crazy new RAW compression!
Yep, even Nikon’s already-compressed NEF’s can be reduced by 50% or more… Word on the street is that you can get a 36 megapixel NEF file down to about ~13 MB, which is less than the average mRAW 5D mk3 CR2 file. So, can you have your cake (megapixels) and eat it too? Pretty much, it seems. Spend a few more bucks to increase your memory card / hard drive storage, be a digital pack-rat with all those huge 36 megapixel RAW files, …and edit at the same blazing speeds you’re used to when doing high-volume jobs. (Of course for excessive editing, you’ll want to switch back to the original RAW file)
• All in all, the more I think about it the more I come full-circle…
The D800′s shortcomings don’t outweigh it’s newfound improvements. You can silence the megapixel race crowd with your big “36″ number. You can enjoy all the benefits of the latest camera technology, from 1080p video to in-camera HDR’s and dual card slots. And most likely at the end of the day, it might not affect your workflow by more than a couple hundred bucks and a few hours per month. So while the Nikon D700 is still a near-perfect camera for anyone who doesn’t care about video or megapixels, the D800 is ready to go for anyone who DOES want those new features. Better “everything” compared to the D700, except the frame rate and current price tag. Not bad!
• Of course, the 5D mk3 will still be this generation’s current champion.
So while the D800 and D700 can probably keep most any Nikon shooter from “jumping ship”, …the 5D mk3 still looks like this generation’s most well-rounded camera, and a MUST-HAVE upgrade to anyone who shoots the 5D mk2 at weddings, or anything remotely resembling action. The autofocus system, low-light performance, and one-click image playback zooming make it the best camera Canon has ever made for the wedding / portrait photography market.
Alright, that’s all I’ve got for now. We’ll be posting much more throughout this coming wedding season, as we get more hands-on experience with the 5D mk3, and hopefully a loaner D800 or two from Nikon! (wink, wink!)