Thursday, September 11, 2008

ISO test - D90 / D300 / D700

The internet is all a-buzz about whether the D90 is really better at high ISO settings than the D300. So I set out to see whether it's true or not. Just for good measure I threw the D700 in as well.

First things first. The images are 100% crops, no sharpening, no Noise Reduction, no nothing.

The same lens was used on each camera, the lens was the D90 kit lens, the Nikkor AF-S 18-105mm ƒ/3.5-5.6. The zoom was at 105mm and the aperture was set to ƒ/5.6. Please note that this was just a quick test. All shots were hand held (and I must admit, I got some pretty sharp shots at 1/4 of second @ 105mm). The D700 has a lower resolution at the DX setting so the image looks a bit smaller.

Click on the photo to see it bigger...

At ISO 200 they're all pretty similar.

At ISO 400 there's still not much else to report.

At ISO 800 the D300 is starting to show some noise. The D90 and D700 are noise free.

At ISO 1600 the D300 is showing a fair amount of noise. The D90 is showing slight noise. The D700 not a speck of noise.

At ISO 3200 the D300 is showing quite a bit of noise, the D90 is amazingly clean for ISO 3200, but there is some noise there. The D700 is just starting to show some noise.

At ISO 6400 the D300 is pretty well unusable for practical purposes. The D90 still looks pretty good (about the same as the D300 at ISO 1600). The D700 is showing a fair amount of noise, but its not too bad.

Well, there you have it folks. The D90 actually kicks the D300's butt in ISO performance. (It's pretty damn close to the D700!)

Am I going to get rid of the D300? Nope. It's an awesome camera. The build quality and layout is strictly pro. I need that. The D90 though well built just doesn't function as good as I need it to. There's too much stuff that you have to change in the menus. I can give up a little ISO performance for the pro features of the D300.


Christopher of Definitive Images said...

darn it. This makes it alot harder to be happy with my recent d700 purchase. I am not really a high ISO shooter but somehow convinced myself to pickup d700 though the d90 had peaked my curiosity quite a bit. I didn't really need a new main camera and from your analysis the d90 would have amade a great high iso backup in cases I just HAD to shoot beyond iso800 or so. Thanks for posting this Denny

Ray said...

Thanks for taking the time to do this test, very informative.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Thanks guys.

Christopher, the D700 is an awesome camera. I wouldn't trade it for the D90 at all. The ability to get super wide on the D700 is worth it.

Patrick said...

I work for a number of newspapers in the area covering anything from meetings to sports with my D300. That said, I shoot in some of the most poorly lit stadiums in Austin and the surrounding schools.

If you pick up a copy of today's Austin American Statesman (Friday 9/12), you can see what the D300 does at ISO 6400 with no noise reduction in camera (or post) in the sports section.

While it isn't ideal it gets the job done. I would hesitate to call it unacceptable though.

But if you are talking of making an 8x10 photo on a hard crop, it won't foot the bill. But for my purpose, newsprint, the camera is a godsend after using a D2H for many years.

That said, I really want to try out the D700. The photos I have seen from the camera look great. I love the crop factor for sports, but I would love to be able to use my wide primes again.
Keep up the good blog!

J. Dennis Thomas said...

For newspaper print noise is hardly an issue. Half-tone makes everything look bad.

For most practical applications, like printing images larger than 5X7, the D300 at ISO 6400 isn't usable unless converted to black and white.

Anonymous said...

If these images were shot as JPEG's then they have had NR applied to them. Nikon adds some NR to everything from ISO 800 and up. You can't control it. All this means is the D90 has more applied than the D300, which makes sense for a consumer camera. Try the same test with NEF's through ACR set to 0 NR for a level playing field.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

When High ISO Noise Reduction is set to Off the camera only applies NR to images shot at Hi 0.3 and above. The amount of NR applied is less than the amount applied when NR is set to On / Low.

D90 users manual pg. 168
D300 users manual pg. 263
D700 users manual pg. 278

Since the noise levels of the D90 at the highest base ISO level of 3200 are less than that of D300, I stand by my test.

Cyth said...

would a newer firmware release improve D300's noise performance?

J. Dennis Thomas said...

Cyth, a firmware update could possibly improve the D300 noise performance. The only issue is whether Nikon would release a firmware update. They'll probably just release a new camera instead.

Cyth said...

well, that would suck wouldn't it?

When D700 came out, D3 had few firmware fixes.. lol

Daniel Sach said...

Hmmm... This is interesting. NIce to see the d700 holding its own but I am shocked at the d300. I have seen ISO 6400 shots that look much better.. Hmm...Who knows.

Khoner said...

This is interesting. The D300 is showing far more contrast in the black textured portion around the lens of the Yashica camera (lower right section). I would swear that the lighting conditions were different if it weren't for the identical reflections off the lens.

Out of curiosity, what were the shutter speeds for each exposure? I didn't see this information.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

It's not that the D300 is showing more contrast it's just keeping more detail. The D90 applies a little more NR at the processor than the D300 so it kills some of the detail.

With the D700 the pixel density is lower so the details are harder to make out, but they are there.

gleeenn said...

I'm curious if there were any improvements to the D300s ISO performance over the D300. Have both the D90 and D300s but haven't done any proper tests.

J. Dennis Thomas said...

I have the D300s and I didn't see any significant improvement over the D300. Basically all that was done was add video. I like the D300s for everyday shooting, but I rarely use it in low light.

Anonymous said...

I'm eager to see how the D7000 stacks up to these cameras in a month or so! From what I have seen so far, it looks very promising.