EOS 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800 – How do they compare for photo-journalism?

Let’s go in another round of EOS 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800 comparison. Canon is facing hard times these days given the EOS 5D Mark III hardware problem we reported about and have now been officially confirmed. However, there is no reason to return your new 5D Mark III or to cancel pre-orders.

This is the second part on camerastore‘s ongoing field-testing of Canon and Nikon’s new full-frame cameras (I reported about the first part). This time, it is photojournalist Mike Drew who has a look at both cameras in a real-world, photo-event shooting at a horse competition. The setting is challenging: low light and fast moving subjects – the kind of tests I like. Hence, the attention goes mainly to how these cams cope with the issue. Moreover, JPGs are used. For a good reason, since a lot of people prefers to shot JPGs and hence is interested to know how the internal image processing performs.

In such a setting, one of the limits of the D800 is its slower burst-rate (4fps vs 6fps of the 5D3). Moreover, the test shows that the 5D Mark III handles full buffer much better than the D800. The D800 slows down to an approx. 2fps when the buffer is full and data has to be flushed to the memory card (Lexar 400x on both cams), while the 5D3 keeps up with an approx. 4fps when saving data to the card. The slower data-bus has a reason: a 36MP sensor produces bigger files than a 22MP sensor. Both cameras perform very good in continuous AF shooting, but the better buffer performance of the 5D Mark III means better chances to get more good pics. Compared to the EOS 5D Mark II, the new AF of the Mark III is another world.

The files are then analyzed at the computer. The continous-AF algorithm of the D800 has no problems at all to keep up with fast moving subjects. In this setting (tracking fast moving subjects in low light) both AF-systems perform equally well. However, there is one interesting thing showing up. The setting is under artificial lights, and while moving the subjects are under different kind of lamps/bulbs (mercury and sodium). For me it was surprising to see that the 5D Mark III’s automatic white-balance performed much better than the D800’s one. Surprising, because Canon DSLR are known to have problems with WB under artificial light (even high end models). The D800 shows a greenish tone, 5D3 pics have generally warmer colors. Nothing that couldn’t be handled in post processing.

ISO performance comparison. It’s amazing how both cameras maintain details up to settings like ISO 6400 (but noise handling is better in the 5D Mark III). Interesting: the D800 slightly overexposes pictures (1 stop) and that shows up in the higher ISO pics. Again, 5D Mark III tones are warmer. ISO 6400 seems to be the point where image quality (in-camera processed JPGs) of the cameras starts to be visibly different. The D800 shows more noise (and gets very bad over ISO 6400 – the natural ISO limit of the D800), 5D Mark III pics are smoother, noise better controlled by the post-processing algorithm. In other words: the Canon JPGs look really good.

Finally, both cams perform good and have no problems to tackle the difficult shooting-situations in the review. But the edge goes to the 5D Mark III in my opinion. More versatile, and the higher burst rate, better automatic WB handling (in this particular setting), the well known good high ISO performance and the better in-camera processing (but his may be a subjective matter, and it’s nothing you couldn’t handle in post-processing) make the 5D Mark III possibly the better choice for people looking for a very good all-purpose camera. If you already own a lot of Nikon lens, there is no reason to switch (says Mike Drew) and Nikon’s D800 may be your natural update choice.

Enjoy the video-review!

EOS 5D Mark II price check (click on shop name): Amazon, B&H, Adorama, Canon USA, Digitalrev, eBay. Latest 5D2 pics uploaded to Flickr click here.
EOS 5D Mark III price check (click on shop name): Amazon, B&H, Adorama, Canon USA, Digitalrev, eBay. For a list of shops that have the 5D Mark III in stock click here. See the latest 5D Mark III pics uploaded to Flickr (click here). These shops have the EOS 5D Mark III in stock and ready to ship.

It’s always good to look out for EOS 5D Mark II deals now that the Mark III is shipping. Check our eBay live-ticker below for possible 5D Mark II deals.


Have a nice day or night…

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