Thursday, December 5, 2013

High ISO test. Nikon Dƒ vs. Nikon D700

My D700 is 5 years old. It was the first D700 in Austin TX off the truck and out the door. I've shot well over half-million images on this one D700 alone (I had the shutter replaced right around the 500,000 mark). It's time give the ol' girl a rest and bring in a new workhorse and I chose the Dƒ as my D700's successor. I've had all of the other small-body Nikon FX cameras, but I didn't think any of them bested the D700 which was why I stuck with it. Like a lot of people I was hoping that a D4 in a D800 body would come out, but that's not going to happen and the Dƒ just happens to fit in with what I'm looking for in a camera for the most part. No, it's not perfect, but it's the closest thing to a D700 that Nikon is going to release, for awhile at least, and I have no interest in lugging around a D4 (nor spending $6K on one).

Anyway, I don't want to get into a detailed review on the Dƒ just yet. I'm still working on getting familiar with it and I want to get a few more shoots under my belt with it. I had a little time on my hands tonight so I decided to do a quick and dirty high ISO shoot out between the new Nikon Dƒ and the old standby for low-light shooting the D700.

I love my D700 and it has stood the test of time. It's been my go-to camera for low-light concert photography as well as sports and just about everything else. Suffice it to say I've always been impressed with the D700's performance when the light gets low and the ISO's are cranked. But I just had to see how the Dƒ stacked up against the D700 when it came to ISO.

I shot each image at f/8 using a Sigma 35mm f/1.4 | A using a tripod and remote release. The Dƒ images are on the left and the D700 on the right. The images were shot using fine JPG with NR and sharpening off. They were imported into Lightroom 5 and the default LR5 color noise reduction and sharpening was applied. I would have preferred to use RAW, but as of yet there's no RAW support.

The images from each respective camera are pretty much equal all the way up to ISO 1600. One thing you will notice is that the Dƒ resolves fine detail better than the D700 due to the slight increase in resolution so it looks a little sharper and the Dƒ also has a much more substantial increase in dynamic range showing more detail in highlight areas where the D700 has little. The Dƒ also has a more accurate White Balance, both were set to Auto.

Alright, so here we go. Take a look at ISO 1600. Pretty much dead even here.

Once we crank it up to ISO 3200 the D700 starts to break up a little but the Dƒ holds it together a little better. 

At ISO 6400 things take a big downturn for the D700. I'll have to say that ISO 3200 was usually my limit for the D700 unless I was in a pinch. But as you see at ISO 6400 the Dƒ is still holding more fine detail and the noise is less "chunky". ISO 6400 on the Dƒ is easily usable. 

Pushing it up to ISO 12800 isn't something I'd ever really thought about doing. But the Dƒ still holds it together very well even at this high ISO. The noise in the shadow areas is extremely well controlled in the Dƒ while the shadow areas are a mess in the D700. In the highlight areas the detail is still very fine in the Dƒ while the D700 is pretty messy. To be fair, ISO 128000 is not in the D700's native ISO so I wouldn't expect it to perform that well. I mean it's not bad compared to a lot of other cameras. 

I didn't bother running the Dƒ up to it's H settings. ISO 12800 is higher than anyone really needs in my opinion and the H settings aren't really optimal so I just stopped the comparison there. 

So what are my conclusions? I think the Nikon Dƒ is nearly two stops better than the D700 in ISO performance. The Dƒ controls shadow noise better and holds quite a lot of fine detail even at ISO 128000. Let's take a look at a couple of direct comparisons. The Dƒ at ISO 12800 and the D700 at ISO 3200.

The Dƒ noise is noticeably chunkier, but the fine detail is still there. Keep in mind that these two images are two stops apart. That means you can make images with the Dƒ in 4X less light than the D700 and still have relatively comparable output. That's quite impressive indeed. 

Just for fun let's throw the D5300 into the mix as well. First here's a look at the D5300 at ISO 12800. Pretty much unusable. Noise is out of control and detail is obliterated. 

Taking a look below you can see at ISO 1600 the D5300 clearly shows finer detail, but the results are pretty similar. The Dƒ is almost THREE stops better than the D5300! Of course this isn't a fair comparison. Th Dƒ costs $2000 more than D5300, it better perform better. The D5300 is a great camera for it's price point and can do HD video whereas the Dƒ can't, so there's that. 

The Dƒ isn't a direct replacement for the D700 for many reasons. Build, battery, lack of vertical grip, inferior AF system etc... But if you need the best IQ in low-light and don't want to spring for the D4 this is the camera. 

Just remember, this is pixel peeping. In the real world the differences aren't quite as noticeable. 

Later this week I'll get to a full review on the Dƒ. It's a quirky camera, but this little test has proven to me that the Dƒ is indeed the low-light king in Nikon small-body FX cameras. 

1 comment:

Simon Burgess said...

Thanks for publishing the test- I have just gone down the same path as you have (700-Df) & reached exactly the same conclusions...the best compromise and a D4 Sensor in a lighter body. Appreciate you taking the time out to do this.