Review of Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800 vs Nikon D600/Nikon D610 based on real life experience

Update: I have updated this article to reflect the Nikon D610. The D610 is a minor update of the Nikon D600 and only really has got three changes, two has to do with the shutter. It now does 6 fps instead of 5,5 and it has a Quiet mode (which I loved on the Canon 5D Mark III too). And last a change on the white balance, to fix an issue. 

Since I originally wrote this article have sold my Canon 5D Mark III and now only have the two Nikons.

Update 2014-01-03: I have added the Nikon DF in the review comparison. I have given the Nikon DF a lot of thought, and I have ended up NOT buying it. In the conclusion of this review, I will bring in my thoughts on the Nikon DF.

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For some unplanned reason I have ended up as the owner of Nikon D600, D800 and Canon 5D Mark III and have been using all three camera’s intensively for several months. On a daily basis I carry around both my Nikon D800 and my Canon 5D Mark III – and why is it that I do that? Because they are different cameras. They are good in different situations. They both take excellent photos. I will give a review based on my hands-on experience, in a non formal way. The formal lab tests exist in heaps already.

I will start by explaining why I ended up owning both high-end Canon and Nikon cameras, because that is an expensive lot. I always was a Canon guy, while many of my friends and my dad was Nikon guys. I became a Canon guy by random and not religion. I got a new girlfriend (my wife today) and she had a 70-300mm lens for Canon, so when I should buy my first DSLR, the choice was Canon. The lens however was so poor that I never used it for anything. When I started out doing more serious photography in 2012, I got myself the Canon 5D Mark III.

And for a couple of months I was quite happy with my camera. Good low light performance and a couple of good lenses. But, being a landscape and cityscape photographer, the wide angled lenses are very important to me. After a trip to Amsterdam in september 2012, where I shot around 2000 shots, my mind changed. I have the Canon 17-40mm and I had brought it with me to Amsterdam. My problem was not as much the camera, as it was the lens. The Canon 17-40mm is not terrible sharp in the corners, but worse, it is not wide enough. I realized that, when I stood in a church and shot this image:

Amsterdam Church

I couldn’t include all of the pulpit and all of the roof at the same time. I didn’t have any room behind me, so this was the best I could do and I wasn’t happy about it.

I started looking for other extreme wide angled lenses and read a ton of reviews, only to find out, that Canon only had a few options. Canon has a 16-35mm, which cost twice as much and was reviewed much the same as the 17-40mm. And then there is the 14mm prime that cost three times as much as the 17-40mm, and is characterized as the worst price/quality/performance ratio lens ever. And another couple of options is a cheap Samyang 14mm, with great reviews, except for one major drawback, because it has got a complex distortion, changing a horizon into mustage shaped line. And the Carl Zeiss 15mm, which is very expensive, but very good. In my search I discovered that Nikon did make a 14-24mm that not only had a really good zoom range but also had received extremely good reviews. This lens was the only real reason why I made the shift to Nikon. I’ll get into the details later.

I was going on a 6 week vacation to vist Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. For that I needed two cameras and to avoid carrying too many lenses and doing too many lens changes, I decided to get a D600 with an 28-300 as my second camera for the trip and I left the Canon 5D Mark III at home.

Comparison parameters

My primary focus of photography is landscapes and architecture/cityscapes. I do a lot of HDR photography and my review is biased as such. I will review the cameras from these perspectives.

  • Ease of use. The usability of the camera if you like.
  • Shooting HDR photos.
  • Low light performance.
  • Using the Live View mode.
  • Image quality.
  • Dynamic Range.
  • Lens line-up.

Ease of use

I must admit, that I would love to make combination of Nikon and Canon features and button layout. In many ways I find the Canon easier and faster to use, and for some reason more modern than Nikon, but Nikon has some advantages too. But I must admit, that everytime I pick my Canon 5D Mark III, it feels just like coming home.

Custom settings

What I really like about the Nikon D600 and the Canon 5D Mark III is the easy accessible custom presets, that are easily access by turning a dial to U1 or U2 (Nikon D600) or C1, C2 or C3 (Canon 5D Mark III). These presets are onfigurations of the camera, that I can make and store in a preset bank. I use mine for HDR photography and have different configurations for each configuration. One for handheld (higher f-stop, and higher ISO) and one for HDR shots on tripod. Canon 5D mark III has got three preset banks, which allows me to have a handheld setting, a 5 shot tripod setting and a 7 shot tripod setting. This I really love.

The D800 has got some custom presets, divided into two different banks and they are hidden in a menu. They are not easily accessed and I don’t use them at all, it’s faster to setup the camera manually.

One thing I need when shooting on a tripod, is to turn on the Timer. On both Nikon cameras this is a dial and cannot be included in a preset, which when switching between hand held and tripod preset, I sometimes forget, to switch the Timer dial accordingly.

On my D800 I need to do all of my HDR settings manually, and it is really a pain and I more than once ended up forgetting to switch on something or switch something off when I’m done. This is definately not why I use the D800 as my primary camera, this is something I have learned to live with.

On all three cameras I have learned to find my way around, and I find that many things are equally fast to adjust, but just (very) different. However, Canon also has the option of doing the settings on the screen too, like a menu, with (changing programs, f-stops, shutter-speed etc). This is very user friendly.

HDR photography

I like to take High Dynamic Range photos. In the old days only Pro Nikon cameras could take more than 3 auto exposure bracketed (AEB) shots automatically, but that changed with Canon 5D Mark III. The 5D Mark III does up to 7 backeted shots, however the Nikon D800 does up to 9, but the baby brother Nikon D600/D610 still only does 3 bracketed shots. Canon really did a good job, when they designed how the exposure bracketing should work.

First I will need to define what I call the Total Dynamic Range of the camera.

Total Dynamic Range

If you take a set of 5 HDR shots, with 1 EV (exposure value) step between each photo, ranging from –2 to +2, then you effectively extend your camera’s Dynamic Range by 4 EV steps (or EVS). Let’s look at the differences in the Total Dynamic Range:

Canon 5D Mark III 7 AEB shots with a variable EV step ranging from 1/3 to 3 EV steps.
Native dynamic range is 11.7 EVS.
Total Dynamic Range coverage is going from –9 to +9, that gives 18 + 11.7 = 29.7 EVS.
Nikon D800 9 AEB shots
Variable EV step ranging from 1/3 to 1 EV step.
Native dynamic range is 14.4 EVS.
Total Dynamic Range coverage is going from –4 to +4, that gives 8 + 14,4 EV = 22,4 EVS.
Nikon D600/D610 3 AEB shots
Variable EV step ranging from 1/3 to 3 EV steps.
Native dynamic range is 14.2 EVS.
Total Dynamic Range coverage is going from –3 to +3, that gives 6 + 14.2 EV = 20.2 EVS.

I have used DXOMark test values to get the native dynamic range for each camera.

It looks like the Canon 5D Mark III is a clear winner in this discipline, and in some ways it is. Because of the flexibility of the Canon 5D Mark III you can reach a higher total dynamic range coverage, than you can with the Nikon D800 and D600/D610.

I do like the flexibility the Canon camera has, not only because I can increase the total covered dynamic range, without adding more photos. The D800 is limited to 1 EVS between each shot. A result of that is the only way to increase the covered dynamic range, is to increase the number of photos. To get the maximum covered dynamic range with Nikon D800, I have to shoot 9 exposures, each taking approx. 75 Mb, which is 675 Mb per set of HDR photos. That is an awful lot of memory card! Had the Nikon D800 had the same flexibility to change the AEB to go by 2 or even 3 EV steps pr shot, it would have been a clear winner. Or if the D600 had not been feature locked to a maximum of 3 AEB shots, that could have been in the game too.

Another aspect is the native Dynamic Range of the camera. The two Nikons are really impressive and are the best DXOMark has ever measured. A “standard HDR photo” is 3 or 5 exposures ranging from –2 to +2. With Canon 5D Mark III that is a total covered dynamic range of 15.7 EVS (11.7 + 2 + 2). The Nikon D800 is 14.4 EVS in one single exposure, which is only 1.3 EVS less than the Canon HDR photo. The Nikon D600 is only 0.2 EVS short of the Nikon D800.

Dynamic Range HDR 5D D800 D600

In the future the High Dynamic Range will be covered in one single exposure. When you pass the line of 16 EVS in one shot you will only need to use AEB in more extreme situtations.

Just to show how much dynamic range the Nikon D800 covers with 14.4 EVS covers, let’s have a look at the image below. I shot this photo with my Nikon D800 as a single exposure. The building was almost completely dark, only lit by the couple of street lamps you can see. I actually shut off the camera because I thought it was too dark. This photo had been impossible to shoot with my Canon 5D Mark III in one single exposure, because it would have lost all of the details on the building in either complete black spots or very noise areas.

University of Copenhagen

Conclusion on HDR

In terms of flexibility and total covered dynamic range the Canon 5D Mark III comes out as a clear winner. In extreme dynamic range situations, like a really dark church with bright sun shine coming through smaller windows, the Canon has an edge.

However, both of the Nikons has an impressive native dynamic range, which makes it possible to capture scenes, that the Canon 5D Mark III would have to use AEB shots to capture. The Nikons can cover more than 18 EVS, within a –2 to +2 scenary, which is plenty for most High Dynamic Range situations.

While both Nikon D800 and the Canon 5D Mark III has got more flexibility in how many AEB shots they can shoot, the D600/D610, can only capture two or three shots. The D600/D610 does support up to +3/-3 EVS steps, which 1 more EV step than most consumer DLSR’s supports. This is a feature lock put on the D600/D610 by Nikon, probably to prevent the Nikon D600/D610 to take market shares from the D800. But even with the 20.2 EVS coverage (using –3 and +3) of the D600/D610, it’s is really impressive.

I prefer the flexibility of the Canon 5D Mark III and can cover more extreme situations with the 5D Mark III, but the D800 is more than capable in as good as any situation. The D800 has a huge advantage in the native dynamic range. It allows me use a single shot in many situations, where the Canon 5D Mark III would need to use AEB. This helps photographing moving objects.

The most annoying thing with the D800 is the maximum limit of 1 EV step pr bracketed shot and that combined with the fact, that the D800 RAW files are enormously 75 Mb each. A 9 shot HDR set will then be 675 Mb on your memory card.

The only thing that talks the D600/D610 down is really the feature lock on maximum of 3 bracketed shots, but to compensate for that, I have bought a Promoto Control, which is a really neat control for HDR photography and time lapse photography. The Promoto Control allows me to take any number of bracketed photos that I would like.

Shooting in low light conditions

All three cameras perform very well in low light conditions, though I always take the Canon 5D Mark III, if I know I’m heading into low light situation, like an indoor event or something like that. I do not like to use a flash; I prefer to use the natural light available. This puts some extra strain on the camera. One of my absolutely main reasons for acquirering the 5D Mark III, was because of its low light performance. And it really does a great job here – the best I have ever tried.

There are many ways of getting more scientific conclusions, and if I you are really interested in it, I suggest that you look around for good source. But take my word for it, the Canon 5D Mark III comes out as a clear winner compared to Nikon D800 and D600/D610. Of the two Nikons, the D600/D610 is ever so slightly better than the D800.

At ISO 1600 Canon 5D Mark III has got a lead, which only increases at ISO 3200, 6400 and 12800. I would actually use ISO 12800 for family photos, in small prints. At ISO 12800 I don’t really want to use the photos of the Nikons.

To me there are two kinds of low light situations. One is an event where I take pictures of people in a low light condition, while the other one is shooting landscapes outdoors at night, dusk or dawn. The first situation requires a fairly fast shutter speed, because it is handheld, which means increasing both the f-stop and the ISO, while in the latter situation, I will have the camera on a tripod and I can keep both the f-stop and the ISO much lower. In the first situation I would use the 5D Mark III ten times out of ten times, while all three cameras can handle the latter situation effortless.

Conclusion on low light performance

The Canon 5D Mark III does perform much better at very high ISO ranging from ISO 3200 and higher. But even at ISO 1600 the Canon has got a clear lead. You can hide a lot in the 36 megapixels of the D800, but pixel to pixel it can’t compete with the 5D Mark III.

Using the Live View mode

On the back of all three cameras there is a great Live View screen. For any normal hand held shooting, I never use Live View. It uses the elektronics to focus, just like the snap shot cameras and it is much too slow to get the shot. Fast focus is only achieved by shooting while looking through the View Finder, and that goes for any DSLR camera.

However, I do like to use the Live View mode when I have the camera on a tripod as I do when I take my landscape and cityscape photos. When I shoot my landscapes, I rarely use auto focus. I prefer to use the Live View mode, both to compose the photo and to focus manually. This works impressively well with Canon 5D Mark III. Even in fairly dark situations I am able to adjust the focus manually. The Nikon D800 and D600/D610 is a different story all together.

When I got my Nikon D800 I was really disappointed with the Live View mode. There are two major problems with the D800 Live View. First of all the D800’s Live View has a poor low light performance. Even in reasonably bright situations, like in a room with normal daylight outside, the Live View is very noisy. When the D800 is almost giving up, the Canon 5D Mark III is not even struggling yet.

But that is not the worst part about the D800s Live View. The worst part is, that it does some interlacing of the image on the screen, making focusing impossible in some situations. Even if the light is really good, you may still have serious problems focusing because of the interlacing. You simply can’t see if it is sharp. The interlacing is most probably a side effect of the high pixel count the D800 has. An ingeneered solution to get performance out of the Live View, while handling the 36 megapixels. Typically you see this problem if you try to focus on a smaller pattern, like bricks, fences, windows etc, which I happen to have included in my photos quite often, when means that I have had to adapt other ways of focusing.

The Live View Mode on the D600/D610 is better than on the D800. It does not have the interlacing problem, and the light performance is slightly better, but the Canon 5D mark III is still running in circles around the Nikon D600/D610 in this area.

I use my Nikons for landscape photography and to get around my problems with the poor Live View I have learned by heart, where my Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 must be focused to get a tack sharp photo. This is possible because it is a wide angled lens, and when you use a wide angled lens you can get pretty much everything sharp.

Conclusion on Live View mode

The Canon 5D Mark III is a clear winner in this discipline and the Nikon D800 is a clear looser. The D600/D610 is somewhere in between, it has a little better low light performance compared to the D800, but is still way behind compared to the 5D Mark III, however, most important, it doesn’t suffer the interlacing problem if its big brother the D800.

No matter how good the Live View is on the 5D Mark III in lowlight conditions, there are limits to what’s it capable of, and it will grow first noisy, then black too.

Image quality

The image quality of all three cameras is excellent and it should be. There is no reason to be disappointed in any of the three cameras. But they do have their differences.

The mega pixels

The Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D600/D610 have similar pixel count, 22 and 24 megapixels, respectively, while the D800 has got the mind boggling 36 megapixels. All three cameras capture a lot of details and has got plenty of pixels to spare, if you need to do some cropping. I have, in a couple of situations, really loved the 36 mega pixels, because it allows a more aggressive cropping.

While the 5D Mark III and D600/D610 generate raw files with a size of about 25 Mb, the Nikon D800 is a monster. Raw files takes up about 75 Mb (update: after having writting this article I learned that there is a loss less compressed NEF, which makes RAW files around 40 Mb). You fill up your memory cards too fast. A 64 Gb memory card can hold less than 800 photos at 75Mb and around 1200 at 40Mb. I shoot HDR photos and I take series of 5, 7 or 9 photos and this is really a pain. Later, when I import the D800 images into Lightroom I convert them to DNG files, which compresses the files to about 30 Mb, which is much better. But even the import takes painfully long time.

The large images also have a foot print in the time I spend working with the photos, first the unloading, is more time consuming, and the post-processing my photos is also slower. Eventhough I have a pretty potent computer with 16 Gb of RAM I still find it slow to work with the D800 images in Lightroom. This is a natural price to pay, because data processing takes longer, the more data you have. Larger images contains more data than smaller images.

The colors

The colors are different on the cameras. The two Nikons are much the same, while the Canon is born with a different color profile. The Canon I find slightly more saturated, which comes becomes more clear in some situations than others. This is not something that I feel is an advantage or disadvantage for any of the cameras, just differences. I work a lot with the colors in the post processing and I haven’t had any problems that I couldn’t solve with either of the cameras.

The last real photo shoot I did with both Nikon and Canon, I did on a winters eve close to my home. At the time my Nikon D600 was in for repair, to get fixed the dust / oil on sensor issue. This is what I got:

Nikon D800 and Canon 5D Mark III comparison

I of course can change the white balance on one of them and get more or less the same colors. I work a lot with the colors, but the initial white balance often tends to be my starting point, and in this case it does give very different results.

This is my final HDR from the Canon 5D Mark III (and I know it is not the same composition as above, it is shot only 3 minutes earlier, and the coloring is the same. I try not to post process same composition twice) :

Icy Sunset at Veddelev

And this is the finaI HDR from the Nikon D800:

On a winters eve I took out both my Nikon and my Canon cameras and took a lot of pictures with both cameras. Both I got fantastic photos from, but they were still quite different. Basically because the cameras chose different white ballances. The Canon tend to be more warm and purple-ish in this particular scenery. It was the last real photo shoot I did with both cameras and on basis of that, I started out on a camera camparison review you can read here: http://goo.gl/eEJt0N. Photo by Jacob Surland, www.caughtinpixels.com

Very different photos, also because I processed them with different things in my mind, but notice the overall temperature and coloring. The Nikon one just is more blue, and the Canon more purple. I boosted the saturation quite a bit in the Nikon version, but that doesn’t change the temperature.

Now I have only the Nikons and my results are quite biased by the default white balance, even though I work a lot with the colors.

Which is better? The Canon or the Nikon? They are extremely good both of them, just different. What did reality look like? Like something in between the two I would say.

The Dynamic Range

I was very happy with my 5D Mark III when I got it. I was amazed at what details I could find in the dark shadows. It was not perfect, there was some red and green color noise, but with some noise reduction I could retrieve great things from the shadows. This is mostly relevant you shoot single exposures, but I shoot a lot of HDR consisting of 5 shots or more and then dynamic range of each photo is less relevant. However…

When I got the Nikon D800 I knew it was 2,7 stops better in dynamic range, than the 5D Mark III. I hadn’t realized how much this was. The D800 – and the D600, because they perform almost equally well – are outstanding in dynamic range, as you can read in the section about HDR photography above in this review.

This is an example of three closely resembling photos, shot with a few seconds between them.

5DMarkIII

Canon 5D Mark III

D600

Nikon D600

D800

Nikon D800

I then increased the exposure 4 stops (4 EV steps) artificially in Lightroom and have a look at the shadows at a 100%.

Canon 5D Mark III dark shadows 100% crop

Canon 5D Mark III: A 100% crop from from the shadows. (unfortunately slightly unfocused)

Nikon D600 dark shadows 100% crop

Nikon D600: A 100% crop from from the shadows.

Nikon D800 dark shadows 100% crop v2

Nikon D800: A 100% crop from from the shadows. (unfortunately slightly unfocused)

This is what what Dynamic Range is about. Even though I failed to get two of the shots tack sharp, I think it is easy to see, that the Canon 5D Mark III is a lot more noisy in the shadows, if the shadows are raised 4 EVS as I did here. The area is almost completely black in the original images, but the Nikons actually manages quite well and delivers very usable details, a little noise but definitely usable! The Canon 5D Mark III on the other hand really falls apart in the shadows, and I would not try to recover that information. Shadows should remain shadows on the Canon 5D Mark III. If you want to have more information from the shadows you should shoot at two or more exposures.

When you shoot photos with both the D600/D610 and D800 you can shoot an under exposed photo and then you can raise the exposure in Lightroom or Photoshop and still get a usable result. This I have purposedly used, while shooting single exposures. I then set the exposure compensation to –0.7 EVS or –1 EVS. This I do if I anticipate a risk of blown out areas and I prefer to have completely black areas compared to completely white areas.

Conclusion on Dynamic Range

There is no doubt about it, in dynamic range, both the Nikons come out as clear winners, the D800 only an inch ahead of the D600/D610, but well ahead of the 5D Mark III.

Lens lineup

I was quite happy with my Canon 5D Mark III, but as I wrote in the introduction to this article, there was a turning point. It had started, because I sometimes got annoyed with the image quality of my Canon 17-40mm lens. It is soft in the corners and has got a lot of chromatic aberrations. The latter can be removed, softness can’t. But there was a third problem – it was not wide enough and as I wrote in the introduction to this review, I realized that in a church in Amsterdam, where I couldn’t get all of the pulpit included in a photo and I wasn’t happy about it.

I had picked that particular lens, because from reviews I could see that, there was no significant difference in the quality of the images between the Canon 17-40mm and the twice as expensive Canon 16-35mm. I also liked the fact, that the 17-40mm was lighter. It didn’t matter, that the 16-35mm is a faster lens that goes up to f/2.8 where the 17-40mm only does f/4.0. I had no intension of using it with a faster f-stop than f/4.0.

What good was an excellent full frame camera body, if I didn’t have the lens that I wanted?  So I started my research.

After having read a ton of reviews on the Canon lenses I figured, none of the wide angled lenses was really what I wanted:

  • The Canon 8-15mm fisheye. It takes completely round pictures at the lower end and in the upper end still classic fisheye and I didn’t want a fisheye.
  • The Canon 14mm prime is very expensive and has received the worst price/image quality ratio and then it is less flexible, being a prime and not a zoom.
  • Canon 16-35mm. Twice the price of the 17-40mm, only 1mm wider, which I doubted was enough and much the same image quality as the Canon 17-40mm. This seemed too much the same, just more expensive.

I then looked for other brands and found:

  • Samyang 14mm f/2.8, also a prime with excellent sharpness and very cheap. But it has got a complex distortion. A straight horizontal line looks like a mustage, which is harder to fix than a curve. I decided that I didn’t want this kind of distortion, even though it might be fixable.
  • Carl Zeiss 15mm f/2.8. At the time a new and not yet available lens, for other than a few reviewers. The lens is very expensive, but also excellent in every way, as far as I could see, but it was a prime and not a zoom.
  • Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8. This seemed like the perfect lens for my needs. It goes really wide and has out standing reviews and image qualities. It’s expensive, but still cheaper than the Carl Zeiss and Canon 14mm. There was only one problem, it was a Nikon lens.

I ended up pre-ordering a Carl Zeiss 15mm, even though it was a prime. It seemed like the only option.

I had a long vacation coming up, where we had to go to Sydney for a few days, then stay in New Zealand for a month and then a couple of days in Singapore. I would hate to go with the wrong equipment. It was very likely that I wouldn’t get my Carl Zeiss before going, so I continued searching for other options.

While waiting for the Carl Zeiss I fell more and more in love with the Nikkor 14-24mm. I also found out, that Nikon had a Nikkor 28-300mm, while not being a superb lens, it was reasonably priced and had a good all purpose usage for travelling. A tourist lens. Canon has got a 28-300mm lens too, but the price tag is just more than I want to spend on a lens, beside the fact that it is huge and heavy.

I did some calculation, and figured out that if I sold all of my Canon equipment, bought the Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm and the Nikkor 28-300mm I would still have money in my pocket. In the end I chose to buy the Nikon D800 and the two lenses. During my investigations I observed a few things, that are important to me:

  • There are several lenses that exists in both line ups, like 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 70-300mm, 28-300mm, but they may be of different quality and with different specifications and very different pricetags.
  • For Canon full frame cameras there is no superb extreme zoom wide angled lens, like the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8.
  • Canon high-end lenses are more expensive than Nikons. Nikons are expensive too, but I have the feeling of getting the good stuff cheaper than at Canons.
  • It seems that everything new from Canon is really really expensive. The new 24-70mm f/2.8 has almost doubled the price.
  • Canon has got an excellent 24-105mm all purpose lens, that doesn’t exist in Nikons lineup. Nikon has a 24-120mm, the newest one is reviewed ok’ish, but not excellent. So the only real option is the 24-70mm or 28-300mm, which are two very different lenses in quality and zoom range… and price.
  • Canon has a cheap 70-200mm f/4 that is really sharp and light. Nikons has got something similar, though not as as cheap.
  • Canons full frame cameras are more expensive than Nikons.

The decision of switching from Canon to Nikon

I can take great photos with Canon, some of my best I have shot with my 5D Mark III, but what really pushed me towards Nikon was the lenses and to some extend the pricing. It seems that every new thing from Canon is much more expensive, so I thought I’d rather get off the train, before it was too late. Canon lacks some of that good stuff in the wide angled lenses department, that Nikon has got. And I must say, despite the weight and clumsiness of my Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 I love this lens. It has an out standing sharpness all over and gives incredible photos and I love that I’m able to go as wide as 14mm.

I do miss the flexibility from the Canon 5D Mark III, both in Auto Exposure Bracketing and in the easy accessible custom presets, but the native dynamic range and the lenses of Nikon is making up for that.

The Nikon D600

I wanted a second backup camera for my long vacation in New Zealand. While I searched for options, Nikon announced the D600, which seemed like the obvious choice to me. It hit the shelves a couple of weeks before my journey and I got one of the first copies.

I really love many things about the D600. It’s almost as fast as the 5D Mark III in terms of shots pr second, and has got many qualities (update: And the D610 is equally fast). There are really only two negative things to say about the D600. The first one is the fact that it is feature locked to a maximum of 3 Auto Exposure Bracketed shots. The second one is the dust on the D600 sensor issue. I got the camera with dust on the sensor and immediately handed it in for cleaning, and they gave it a quick blow and handed it back to me, but before I knew it, I had got spots again. I handed it in again, and this time they did a proper cleaning. I got it back two days before take off. But on the second day in New Zealand the upper left hand corner had a lot of dust spots again. But just a few weeks ago Nikon finally acknowledged that there is a dust problem with Nikon D600 and I handed in my camera again. And they fixed it, and now I am a very happy D600 owner. Update: I still get far more spots on my sensor than I ever got on my Canon. But this also goes for the Nikon D800. Both generate much more spots on the sensor.

Conlusion and verdict

All three (well four now) cameras are amazing and can produce amazing photos, but there of cause exists differences.

Canon 5D Mark III

Pros

  • Total Covered Dynamic Range at 29.7 is amazing.
  • Lots of flexibility in Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.
  • Fast accessible Custom Presets for complicated camera configurations.
  • Excellent low light performance.
  • Fast camera with 6 fps.
  • Fantastic Live View Mode.
  • Quiet shutter mode.

Cons

  • Not a very impressive native Dynamic Range. Only 11.7 EVS. (www.dxomark.com). Which more often requires brackted shots, making photographing moving objects difficult.
  • Weaker lens line-up in the extreme wide angle department.
  • Prices on newly released Canon equipment is too expensive to my taste.
  • No built in Flash.

Nikon D800

Pros

  • Total Covered Dynamic Range at 22.4 is enough almost any situation.
  • Some flexibility in Auto Exposure Bracketíng mode.
  • The best native dynamic range in the world.
  • Excellent extreme wide angle lens line-up.
  • 36 Megapixels gets a lot of details.

Cons

  • Custom presets are hidden in a menu and not usable for practical use. Faster to just switch the buttons.
  • RAW files are huge, they take up 75 mb and are slow to work with.
  • It is a slow camera with only 3 fps.
  • Really bad Live View mode, with interlacing making manual focus in Live View mode impossible in some situations.

Nikon D600/D610

Pros

  • Second best native dynamic range in the world, only second to the D800.
  • Almost as fast as the Canon with 5.5 fps (and the D610 6 fps)
  • D610: Quiet shutter mode.

Cons

  • Custom presets are hidden in a menu and not usable for practical use. Faster to just switch the buttons.
  • Total Covered Dynamic Range is only 20.2 EVS, which is not much better than many other cameras.
  • Bad Live View mode, though better than the D800.
  • Not much flexibility in Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.

Nikon DF

I don’t have a Nikon DF, though I did consider to get one, but in the end I have chosen not to buy one. Why is that?

The Nikon DF certainly is a different camera, not technically, but in usage. It does not offer Video, but that’s no big deal for me. If I shoot a video I use my iPhone, I rarely the cameras.

What the camera really is all about is the essence of old school photography. You can use a number of old Nikon lenses, that you can’t on a D800. But I (just as well as most people out there) don’t own any of these and probably never will. If you are dying to use some of the lenses, this of course can be the reason to get a Nikon DF.

The sensor is the same as in the D4. It’s “only” 16 megapixels, which is in the low end of what I prefer. I do love the 24 megapixel of the D600/D610 and love even more the 36 megapixels of the D800. I wouldn’t hesitate to crop a photo from the D800 quite a lot. If you got the wrong lens attached, then it is an option, to say “what the heck, and do the cropping later”. From 16 Megapixels, you don’t have much to crop from. This is reason enough for me, not to buy the camera.

What the Nikon DF does better than any of the other three is Low Light photography, and that should be the ONLY reason for me to buy a Nikon DF. But I have been experimenting with the Nikon D800 on low light photography recently, and I find that it really does meet my requirements.

If you shoot a lot of Low light photography, the Nikon DF, might just be the camera that you need.

And the price tag. It’s just too expensive. If you don’t own the old lenses and don’t have a really high demand of a low light performance, you get much more camera for your money, buying a Nikon D610, in my opinion.

Pros

  • Low light performance.
  • Almost as fast as the Canon with 5.5 fps
  • More quiet than the other Nikons
  • Looks vintage

Cons

  • Only 16 Megapixels
  • Less Dynamic Range (13.1 EVS)
  • Fairly expensive compared to what you get
  • No video, if you are into that kind of thing
  • No built in flash

Verdict

All cameras produce fantastic photos, and differ a little in usage, but for a landscape photographer Nikon has got a better extreme wide angle lens line-up, compared to Canon, and that really tips the verdict, for me. What Canon 5D Mark III might lack in native dynamic range, is covered in a very flexible Auto Exposure Bracketing mode.

After having had all three cameras for some months now, my decision is clear. Nikon D800 is the best DSLR of the three for landscape photography. The D600 now with a solved dust on sensor issue, is another excellent landscape camera. The D600 also gives 5.5 fps, which almost is the same as 5D Mark III’s 6 fps.

Now that I have had good and long time with all three cameras I am sure, that have made the right decision to switch to Nikon. The only things I will be missing are the ease of use with the Custom Presets and the low light performance. The Nikons are good at low light too, but the 5D Mark III just is better.

And at the time of writing this review I have actually sold my Canon lenses and the Canon 5D Mark III body is leaving the building in two weeks.

Check prices at B&H:

or at Amazon 

70 thoughts on “Review of Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800 vs Nikon D600/Nikon D610 based on real life experience

  1. Wow. Now that’s what I call a review. You filled in so many questions I had about all these cameras. I actually use a Canon 5Dmkii and use the Samyang 14mm and the Canon 16-35mm. From what I understand the Canon 16-35 II is better than the 17-40mm as far as all aroundsharpness at lower fstops especially at F4.0. I think they are undistinguishable at something like an f8-f16. So if you’re shooting landscapes makes sense to get the 17-40. I also use the Samyang which is a cheap lens. My focus markers slip but it’s inexpensive so that’s ok. I have found a lightroom lens profiles that correct the distortion to near perfection. It’s really a nice lens but you’re stuck at 14mm and manual focus. The 14-24mm looks amazing for nikon.

    1. Hi Alik,
      The Nikon 14-24 is really really amazing, but is not perfect. I do not have anything to complain about, image wise, but if there is one thing that is lacking, it is the option to add filters to the lens. The lens looks like a fisheye with a huge round bulp of glass. And since I like to use filters, I have actually added the 16-35mm Nikon lens to my collection.
      For a few days during my considerations I actually thought that the Samyang was the answer, but I decided that, manual focus, no EXIF data transfering from the lens and the mustage distortion was not what I wanted, I wanted something more.
      Thanks for the comment!
      Best regards
      Jacob

      1. Hey Jacob, one more question. Something I’ve always been confused about. If the Canon is better in low light I would think if you shoot RAW at ISO 100 on both cameras (the canon and nikon) you would be able to lift the exposure in Lightroom to have better shadows on the Canon, no? Doesn’t shooting raw exposure across the whole sensor, so if the Canon shoots better at 128000 than the Nikon I would think those blacks would look nicer even when shot at ISO 100 and lifted in LR. Or does shooting raw not work that way or is there some sort of internal Denoising the camera’s do across a certain exposure range?

        1. Hi Alik,
          This is a great question, because it really allows me to tell the difference between ‘Low light performance’ and ‘Dynamic Range’. The low light performance is about shooting photos in poor light conditions, like indoor at night time. To shoot indoor, you go as slow as you can on the shutter (typically 1/60 or 1/80 sec), as high an f-stop as your lens allow you (that is smallest number, eg. f/2.8 or f/4) and the last thing you do is to raise the ISO. The ISO is the sensor’s sensibility to light. In broad daylight the sensor gets a lot of light, and ISO 100 is good, indoor you will have to go higher, 3200, 6400 or even 12800. On the Canon 5D Mark III I wouldn’t recommend going higher on many other cameras going higher than ISO 1600 or 3200 gives so bad images that they are not worth using. What a good low light performance gives you, is less noise in the photo, when you go really high on the ISO, and really high starts at around ISO 1600.
          Dynamic Range is about how much light the sensor can capture from the very darkest shadows to the very brightest light source with in one single photo. What is so dark, the sensor can not capture it, just becomes completely black, and what is too bright, just goes completely white. So Dynamic range is about “how many shades of gray” can the sensor capture.
          And why is that not same as Low Light performance? The low light performance is about getting a perfectly exposed photo in a dark situation. You will probably still have shadows and bright light sources in your photo, and it is the Dynamic Range of the sensor, that dictates how much detail you can capture in the shadows and in the light sources.
          The Nikon cameras (also the entry level ones) are much much better than Canon at capturing details from the shadows and from light sources, with in one shot. Surprisingly much better! The way you can see this, is, as you mentioned, by raising the exposure in Lightroom, so you can actually see what has been captured in the shadows. You will see a lot more detail from a Nikon camera, than from a Canon camera. I was shocked the first time I did it with my Nikon. If you want to test Low Light Performance, you shoot in dark conditions and raise the ISO beyond ISO 1600 and see how much noise you get. This is something that Canon 5D Mark III does better than both Nikon D600 and D800.
          But why is it that good low light performance, is not the same has high dynamic range? You can compare it to a car, in the first gear you can start the car, but you can’t reach the top speed, but in the top gear, you can’t start the car, but you can reach the top speed. Each ISO setting covers a dynamic range, just like a gear covers a speed range.
          About reducing noise. There are some noise reduction in the cameras, and they come in different flavors on different cameras. You can find them in the menus, but I strongly recommend that you always (and I mean always) shoot RAW, and then do the noise reduction in the post-processing. You can then do a much more fine tuned noise reduction in the post-processing. The problem with noise reduction is that it also takes away details from the photo, and you don’t want to do that, too early in the process, like when you shoot. When you have taken away information, you can’t get it back. The reason that you should shoot RAW, is that there is so much more data contained within the raw file. When you start playing around with raising the shadows and post-processing your photo’s you really can tell the difference very easily. Shooting RAW stores all information, the sensor was able to capture, at a certain ISO level, but not information that you could have caught, at another ISO level. This why we shoot several photos, with different exposures, when we make High Dynamic Range photos.
          I hope this answers your questions and thank you very much for asking here on the blog!
          –Jacob

        1. Hi RHKavli,
          Yes that is true. I have found out later, but as you say it’s a bulky affair. I have chosen to continue to use my filters on 77mm, and attached to the 16-35mm (which I used for 99% of my photos last week on Duncan Macarthurs autumn workshop in the Queyras National Park in the French Alps).

          I did consider buying the filter set for the 14-24mm before going, but decided on staying with the 16-35mm.

          Thanks for the tip!

          –Jacob

  2. I just received a great tip from Darren Neuport, that the Nikon D800 supports compressed RAW files, but that you have to enable it. It comes in two different flavors, one is compressed, and one is lossless compressed. Of cause it has to be lossless compressed that you pick for your RAW files. The reason for shooting in RAW, is that you want all information, as lossless gives you.

    Shooting Menu->NEF (RAW) recording->Type->Lossless compressed

    –Jacob

  3. I’ve also seen guys shooting 9 exposure HDR’s on the D800 that just use Jpeg as well. Since your working with 9 exposures that’s usually enough dynamic range even when shooting Jpeg. But I know Jpeg can often give you some unwanted banding and artifacting.

    1. Hi Alik Griffin . You can shoot bracketed in JPEG and get really nice results, but you cut of some ways of working with your photos. Personally I wouldn’t recommend it. If you want to change white balance you need the RAW files or if you in other ways work with one of your exposures (which I do a lot), then the RAW file contains a lot more data than the JPEG’s. I always shoot 9 images, when I have the sun within the frame. I also often do a -2 adjustment, so that I shoot from -6 to +2.
      The only reason to shoot in JPEG is the file size, and that is a hard one to swallow. I have bought the largest memory cards available on the market, and plugged them into my D800 and now has 96 Gb worth of memory card in the camera.
      Another way of reducing space spend on the memory card is to take fewer shots and that is on my road map. I have bought the Promote Control. This allows me to shoot any number of bracketed shots that I want, and with any EV step between each photo, eg 1.3, 1.7 or maybe even 2. This way I can take just 5 shots and cover the same dynamic range, as I can with 9 shots and save almost half the space. I only just bought it, and haven’t had much time to play around with it yet, but it works! I have shot some 7 shot exposures with my D600, but haven’t processed them yet.

  4. Hi Jacob, You write about special settings for handheld or mounted work. What is the difference, except the shutterspeed?

    1. Hi Tobias,
      On my Canon 5D Mark III the I had C1 programmed to do 3 bracketed shots (-2, 0 and +2) with no timer. On the C2 and C3 I had a configuration for 5 shots, using a timer and 7 shots using a timer. The first one C1 I used for hand held HDR.
      When you shoot hand held a fast shutter speed is crucial. A shaken photo is unusable, so I had the F-stop at f/5.6, which is a bit higher than I prefer (normally I go around f/8-f/11, because that gives sharper images (the lens performs better at that f-stop). Second I had the ISO on 400, to keep a fast shutter speed as well. Better to have noise in the photo, than a shaken photo. And the last thing, was that I didn’t have the Timer enabled. Nothing worse, than standing with a camera beeping and waiting for it to shoot. I had it on continuous high speed.
      That made it fast and easy to use for hand held HDR. Does that answer your question?
      –Jacob

      1. Hi Jacob,

        thank you a lot. I always hat c2 set up for hdr shots with a timer for the work on a tripod but never thought about using the c1 for a handheld version of it. In fact I never thought about handheld bracketing. Do you use the option to raise the mirror befor the actual shot when u use your tripodsetting? I often read about more stable shots with this option turned on, but when activated my 6D doesn’t autobracket, it just waits to press the shutter release button 2 times for every shot. I know that this is correct, but i dont like to press buttons when i could just press it once…

        Thank you very much for your help 🙂

        1. Hi Tobias,
          You can actually get nice hand held results, as long as the light is fairly good. Several of mine published shots are shot hand held, but when the light gets darker, you have to go on tripod.
          About the mirror lock up. It is correct, that if you just activate the mirror lockup, it just opens the mirror lockup, and closes the second time you pushes the button. This kind of beats the purpose, unless you use a cable release. I don’t know the 6D, but I assume it works as other Canons, and can tell a work around that works on other Canon models. If you switch to Live view the camera will lock up the mirror and when you you shoot it will be much more silent, because the mirror doesn’t flip. And this also works with the self-timer.
          On my Nikon D800 there is a delay exposure mode, that will lock up the mirror for 1,2 or 3 seconds before shooting. This is the way it should have been built in the Canons as well. One can wonder, how difficult it can be, to make the perfect camera. I’m also a learner, and it’s only recently I switched that feature on and I haven’t been able to tell the difference yet.
          Another tip in this area is to turn off you image stabilizer on your lens, when on tripod. This I can see makes a difference. For some reason the stabilizer works the opposite way, when on tripod for longer exposures, then you get slightly shaken photos.
          But matter what I believe a strong and steady tripod is an equally important matter in this area.
          –Jacob

  5. Really very-very comprehensive and useful review.
    I’m a humble nikon d5100 user made a most huge ever investment in a nikon 105 micro vr lens and planning to upgrade in near future into the full frame. and my final agenda was a DX nikon set and a full frame As a full frame Canon 5d mark iii. Of course after getting the Canon stalwart the Nikon ( DX) with the 105 micro vr would be for my micro shots only.
    It was a great coincident that the last night I searched for the wide angle landscape photography and arrived at the same conclusion you were at. I found the 14-24 of so much impressive quality and it is such a perfectly useful lens for the purpose (plus, found no match in the canon lineage ) that I had to chose now the camera body only in accordance with this lens and of course it would not be the Canon 5D mark iii which has been my dream camera.
    I want the both – the 14-24 Nikon and the Canon 5D mark iii but I know I could not make a symbiosis between them. So now?
    A vague idea I got is to use the 14-24 with a heavyweight Nikon DX like D7000 or D7100 and the rest I should hand over to Canon 5D mark iii, though not sure is it all right to use the 14-24 with any DX body!
    Please say something.

    1. Thank you very much Suray p. Singh

      I have learned, that it is expensive to have both Canon and Nikon. The Canon 5D Mark III was my dream camera too. The only really good reason to get a Canon 5D Mark III is if you need the high ISO performance, otherwise I would go with the Nikon camera.

      Using the Nikkor 14-24mm on a DX body like a D7000 or D7100 would effectively give you something like 21-36mm, which is not that wide. While you still would have a fantastic lens on your camera. If you really want the Nikon 14-24mm, I really recommend to go with a Nikon full frame body too. If you want to use a wide angle on a DX I would recommend to get something 10-20mm or similar, to get something that really is wide angle enough for landscape photography. The D5100 is really a great camera too – you don’t need to change that. Just add a Nikon D800 or D600 and the Nikon 14-24mm. This is a cheaper solution for you and then you can switch lenses around.

      –Jacob

  6. Hi Jacob, I love to doing HDR photography and already owned 5DMarkIII and Nikon D800E. Today, I am in a dilemma situation. In August 2nd I will go to Hong Kong to have a vacation and take some landscape for HDR photographs.

    Do you think that 5D Mark III will give a better result to D800E? Or Nikon still the best? please help me to choose because my 16-35 is in Nikon and I need to buy another in Canon. Before that, I have to consider sell the Nikon to switch it to Canon (The lens). Also, I could not bring my to cameras, its heavy. Thank you so much for your help.

    1. Hi Gema
      I was in the exact same dilemma last year before I went to New Zealand. If you have the Nikon 16-35 I would bring the Nikon D800E if the purpose is to shoot landscape HDR. I personally own the Nikon 16-35mm too and I think it’s a great lens.
      Last year I took my Nikon d800 to New Zealand while my canon 5D mark iii stayed at home. I would do the same today.
      Have a great trip!
      –Jacob

  7. Hi Jacob,
    I am in medical profession and am very interested in photography. It was my dream to buy an slr and bought a 600d from canon. Had an option of the nikon 5100 and 3200 but the canon felt at home in my hands. But I am disappointed with the indoor performance with the 15 55 kit as I use the cam primarily for shooting my 6 month old kid inside the house. Despite making my kid look like a carrot in the jpegs, which was circumvented by shooting raw, most images indors above 800 iso are very noisy and I now regret decision of choosing the canon. Should I invest in a flash and 50mm or sell it and buy a nikon, say the 5200 or 7000. What would be your advise to a inexperienced amaetur?

    1. Hi Sandeep,
      If you buy a flash or use a built in flash you will end up with a different kind of look on your images. Personally I prefer photos taken in natural light. The problem is then the ISO. And for indoor shooting you have to have a camera that has great ISO performance and unfortunately these cameras are quite expensive. When I bought the Canon Mark III that was my true fokus – world class ISO performance. And it really does an excellent you, but noise is visible still, though much better and indeed very usable.

      RAW is the only way to shoot to get good quality.

      The Nikon 5200 is better at noise handling. Have a look at this page:

      http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Compare-Camera-Sensors/Compare-cameras-side-by-side/(appareil1)/850%7C0/(brand)/Nikon/(appareil2)/813%7C0/(brand2)/Canon

      But still – the 5200 has a ISO performance of about 1300 while the Canon Mark III is in the neighborhood of 3000.

      There is still a lot of room for improvement on the cameras in this area. The Nikon D600 is the cheapest high ISO performance DSLR that comes to my mind. I don’t know about the Canon 6D, that might be a good choice too.

      Other wise it is the flash – but the flash gives a completely different look to your images, that I personally don’t like too much, because I like the natural light.

      –Jacob

      1. Thank you Jacob for your prompt reply
        So flash it will be for the time being
        Let me learn photography and in the mean time save some money for the 5d or the Nikon 600 / 800

        Sandeep

    2. Hi Sandeep,
      I looked a bit more into it, and gave it a bit more thought.

      There are two parameters to get better indoor photos. One is to get a camera with a better ISO performance. If you get a Nikon 5200 you will get a camera that performns almost twice as good as your Canon 600D. The Nikon 5200 is 1284. Both of these cameras has got an APS-C sensor, which is smaller than a full frame sensor. A smaller sensor is not as good to collect light as a larger sensor, which makes sense. Nikon D600, which 2-3 times the price of the Nikon 5200, and quite an expensive DSLR has a ISO performance of 2980, which is pretty good.

      The second parameter is your lens. If you buy a 50mm f/1.8 you will get a lens which is faster, which means that it let’s in more light and therefore allows you to use a lower ISO setting. Your kit lens probably does a f/3.6, which makes the 50mm at f/1.8 one stop faster, which means you can go for half the ISO. So instead of using ISO 800 you would use ISO 400.

      A 50mm prime lens is one of the cheapest lenses you can buy, both in Nikon and Canon. A bonus from using the f/1.8 is that you also get this nice blurry back ground which looks so good when you take photos of people.

      If your budget allows you can buy the Nikon 5200 and a 50mm f/1.8, and you will be able get twice as good ISO performance and twice as good f-stop performance which will allow you to use ISO 1600 and get approximately the same amount of noise as on you Canon 600D at ISO 400.

      And the last thing I would do, is to get some good Noise reduction software. There is some built into Lightroom, which does an okay job, but more dedicated software exists. Noiseware is one, which is good, but also DeNoise is good.

      Here’s a link to the comparison of Canon 600D, Nikon 5200 and Nikon D600 (full frame and more expensive):

      http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Compare-Camera-Sensors/Compare-cameras-side-by-side/(appareil1)/850%7C0/(brand)/Nikon/(appareil2)/834%7C0/(brand2)/Nikon/(appareil3)/692%7C0/(brand3)/Canon

      –Jacob

      1. Hi Jacob,

        Thank you very much for your advise.
        Unfortunately there is no return policy for any consumer product in India, which is really annoying. May be the multinationals take us for granted. I will be losing a huge sum say 200 $ on trying to sell it in the used market. That seems unacceptable as the shutter count is a mere 1800. I ll try to buy a 100$ 50 mm f1.8 in the next couple of weeks which will double the cam’s low light performance. If not satisfied I ll sell it and buy a nikon 5200 with a 1.8G 50 mm, if the budget does not allow a nikon 5100/3200 with a 1.8G 50mm. The Canon produces sharper JPEGS out of the box in good light and raws of both canon and nikon below iso 400 are comparable. I should have gone to the dealer at night!!. Full frame is a bit too far away from my budget at this point of time. A full frame DSLR like the 5D3 would be 3X my monthly salary.

        Regards,
        Sandeep

  8. Hi Jacob,

    Awesome review and I learned a lot base on the actual facts youve shared. Next month im planning to get the D600, Im wondering and felt discourage with the dust on the sensor issue some said oil also was found on the sensor. What did the Nikon shop did with your D600 that the dust was completely gone?

    Best Regards,
    Cliff

    1. Hi Cliff,
      Thanks a lot. I think that the worst of the dust problem is gone after a repair at the Nikon Labs. It’s on the same level maybe slightly worse than my D800, however I still find a lot more dust on both my Nikon D800 and D600 than I was used to on my Canon 5D Mark III. Apparently this is a Nikon issue. The Nikon D7000 also has a dust problem.
      If you can wait, there’s a Nikon D610 rumoured, which should fix the dust issue. The D600 is really an awesome camera and the dust issue is the only real pain, but now it’s under control, but I would rather have been without the dust issue.
      –Jacob

  9. Hi, Jacob. The best review out of all I have read so far on these cameras. What is your opinion about Tamron lenses for Nikon cameras such as D5200/600 in comparison to genuine Nikkor ones you discussed in your review above?
    Thanks, Alex.

    1. Hi Alex

      Thank You very much. I’m glad that you found it useful. I don’t have any particular experience with tameron lenses, but I do have with sigma lenses. I currently own the Sigma 12-24mm EX lens which I’m very happy with. I think the proper perspective is that some companies offer cheaper lenses. Often there will be some trade offs, which can be anything. Examples: not weather sealed, strong barreling, heavy vignetting, not really sharp, bad bokeh, a slow lens etc. You have to investigate on each lens. My sigma has heavy vignetting and barreling at the wide end, but it’s the only lens there is wide for a full frame camera. So it’s a trade off. But Nikkor 28-300 really is a bad lens, so buying a Nikkor lens is no guarentee. It’s a jungle out there. I use photozone.de for reviews on lenses.
      –jacob

  10. hi thanks for the great review, am between buying d800 and d610 and the most important thing for me is landscape and dynamic range you said the d800 is better than the d600 but the picture says that the d600 much better can you explain why you said the d800 is better?

    1. Hi Sadi,

      You’re welcome. The dynamic range on both the D800 and D600/D610 is incredible and the D800 is a tiny bit better than the D610. I would have no worries buying a Nikon D610 for Landscape photography. If you want to test the Dynamic range for real on the two cameras, you have to do a lab test, which I haven’t done. Based on real life experience, I can’t tell the difference. The D800 is 14.4 EVS and the D600 (and the D610) are 14.2 EVS. This is virtually equally good and like I said, I can’t tell the difference in real life use of both cameras.

      Best regards,

      Jacob

      1. thank you for your reply… i meant in the 3 photos you reduced shadow i see the d800 the wore on details it has less noise but there is no details thats why i was wondering, i want the best for the landscape

        1. Hi Sadi,

          From the three images, the Canon 5D Mark III is very clearly a long way behind. The two others are really hard to tell the difference between, because the D800 is unfocused. I fortunately have sold my Canon 5D mark III and can’t reshoot.

          If you have the budget and want the best for Landscape photography the choice is clear, it’s the Nikon D800. It does have a little bit better Dynamic Range, and it has got 36 Megapixels. It is THE Landscape photography camera. D600/D610 are awesome too, but the best is the D800 without any doubt.

          Best regards Jacob

          1. oh thats why the d800 out of focus thats make since, i only thinking of buying the d610 because they say they fix the green white balance issue, and i had bad experience with d800 with autofocus so i returned it and i dont know if i should try another copy or should i buy d610, but if the d800 much better i may give it second chance… and the 36 mp isnt positive i dont think it make any deference but it slow down the processing

          2. I usually don’t have problems with the D800 and auto focus. Maybe you had a bad copy? It’s true about the post-processing being slow on 36 Megapixels – it’s something that I have learned to live with.
            –Jacob

  11. Thanks for an interesting review – it confirms most of my own experience with these cameras.

    However, one thing you ought to consider, if not already done, is to run the text past another pair of eyes (preferable some who’s owner’s first language is English) to proof-read it for spelling, punctuation, and grammatical accuracy. The errors here detract from the article’s enjoyment and credibility.

    Only saying … 🙂

    1. Hi Martin,

      Thanks a lot. I’m affraid it comes from not speaking English as my first language and I don’t really have an English guy for proof reading, but I try to do the best I can. But thanks for the input, I will try to improve.

      –Jacob

  12. Fantastic review. Thanks for all your great input.

    I have the following dilema: i do two types of photography. Landscapes and sports.

    It seems like the canon is better for hi speed and the Nikon for landscape.

    Thoughts on this conclusion and the viability of the Nikon for hi speed shooting?

    Thanks!

    Base

    1. Hi base
      Thanks. The Nikon d610 and canon 5d mark iii both shoot 6 frames pr second. So that’s the same. Higher fps requires either a much more expensive camera, like the D4 or a camera like the canon 7D. The 7D is quite old now and a replacement is expected soon. For indoor sports I would go with the 5D mark iii or the Nikon d610. If you want to do landscapes too, the Nikon had superior dynamic range.
      –jacob

      1. First of all, great all around review and read. I’d like to pitch in, in this sports/landscape topic. I have owned all three (D800, D600, and 5D3). Comparing the 5D3 and D610 for sports, while they both shoot at 6fps, what is most important for me while shooting action at a football game is the fast and accurate AF system. The D600/10 has a nice AF, but the 5D3’s AF is vey customizable for different situations. This is where I believe the 5D3 has an advantage. Also, I’m not big on the D600’s smaller AF coverage. Another advantage is the ability to use faster CF cards, while the D610 only has twin SD slots.

        For landscapes, yes the D600/10 has more native’ DR. The 5D3 still takes great landscapes photos but in my opinion is not as impressive as the D800/600. If interested you can also mount Nikon lenses via adapters for those ‘still’ landscape shots.

        -Carlos

        1. Hi Carlos,
          Thank you for this excellent input – I agree and should have thought of that, but I don’t do a lot of indoor sports as one thing the second is that I really always use center focus and re-compose. This works when you have plenty of time, which is not the case in action and sports.
          Thanks.
          –Jacob

  13. great review!
    but something that is contantly in my head is the multiple exposure mode of the canon mark III….that is awesome!

    i loved your review…
    i m more near to buy the d610 now…but until the day, i m still thinking.

    1. Hi Christian,
      Thanks,
      The muliti exposure, not the exposure bracketing? I don’t (didn’t) use that feature, but I can see it usable for special purposes.
      I’m sure the D610 is a just as fantastic as the D600, they are almost identical twins!
      –Jacob

  14. Excellent Review,
    I was curious if you encountered any metering issue with the Nikon D610.

    I have used the D610 and came across some matrix metering issue especially if there a discrete light sources scattered across a dark background. I see a huge difference between the live view & the metering results from a view finder.
    I ran into such situations while shooting houses with decorative lights or Las Vegas Casinos etc., I found the Live view mode to be more accurate in metering for most situation involving low light. For bright day light photography it did not seem to matter much unless you have the sun in the picture. In other words, in a dark environment the view finder tends to under expose, the problem is this cannot be corrected by exposure bias as its not a linear offset. Most of my photos has to be metered with the view finder to set the aperture, shutter speed & ISO to have the required exposure.
    Coming for a D7000 which I have used for about 2 years never encountered this problem.

    1. Hi Tellarun and thank you very much for your question.
      I know that some cameras (the D800 included) can leak light through the viewfinder. On the D800 there is a shutter to close the viewfinder to block light, and you should close that on long exposures. On the D600/D610 this viewfinder shutter doesn’t exist. But you could try to cover the viewfinder with your hand and see if that changes the metering.
      Personally I haven’t noticed it specifically, because most of my photos are HDR photos, and I don’t notice small misreadings from the metering, because I usually cover all of the light anyway, with 3 or more exposures. That’s not much of a help, but try to cover the viewfinder and see what happens.
      Merry Christmas and Happy new year!
      –Jacob

      1. Hi Jacob,
        Thank you for the suggestion but covering the view finder & trying did not change anything 🙁

        But for now my only work around is while using matrix metering I will use Live View set the Shutter speed, Aperture & ISO, Switch back to View finder & then take the shot.

        I also performed some test & for the same shutter, aperture & ISO the picture taken Live view reads a metering -1.6, I believe the parameter is “Exposure Adjustment” however if i use the view finder its 0.5, this is almost 2 Stops variation.

        Thanks
        Arun

  15. Hi Jacob!

    Thank you for the most useful review of this cameras ever. I normally don’t reply do reviews, first time I do, because you did such a good job bringing out the right points – and, by the way, it’s perfect – grammaticalywise – to read for me, no problems at all with your english (maybe because my mother language is german and I don’t see the mistakes.. 🙂

    Your thoughts are exactly the same as mine, although, as a professional landscape photographer I still shoot Canon. I decided for the 5D (and the Canon system) years ago, because it was the only affordable fullframe when I switched from analog (Zeiss/Contax) to digital, so it was an easy decision.

    Probably I would choose Nikon today, although I have to bring in one fact, there IS a superb Canon wide angle lens which I gave a try after throwing my 16-35 ii accidentley in the water in Sweden (what maybe was a good idea after all 🙂 – cause I was never happy with it.
    I know, Jacob, you have made the right decision for you, I just want to point this out for the “poor” – in terms of wide-angle-lenses – Canon users.
    The solution is expensive, but worth the money if you need sharp corners on fullframe, it’s the TS-E 17mm which is an outstanding lens not only in terms of image quality. I thought about it even at the time when I decided to buy 16-35 and thought it’s to “complicated” and expensive – now, 3 years later, I regret every picture I did not shoot with this lens…, it’s day and night…
    Of course it has some of the same issues as the Nikon 14-24 (for which I would die for to have it on my 5Diii) – heavy, bulky, not easy to use with filters. (well, that’s not correct anymore, there is a perfect solution now, the Lee 100 system) But, of course, it’s not a zoom (well, I don’t like zooms so much…) but therefore it has it’s strong sides as a shift-optic. I use it together with a 1,4x expander to get 24mm and the new 35mm/2 IS – that’s somehow o.k. in terms of weight and delivers great image quality. of course it has no AF which is a non-issue for me. MF is easy and fast. Pictures are increadibly crisp and clear, in my opinion the difference to the 16-35 is much bigger in real life then most of the reviews suggest.

    But back to the cameras, D800E is still in my mind, simply because of it’s dynamic range. I do not like to use hdr to often, because it’s a lot of work (for me) to get naturally looking pictures (I don’t like the “hdr-look”) and – what’s more – there is often a moving subject – and if it’s only leaves in the wind or water.
    in a long term I’m shure Canon will loose a LOT of serious customers if they don’t try to catch up with Nikon here… – but I’m still hoping the best 🙂

    But that’s exactly the point why I like your review, shooting out in the field sharp corners, dynamic range and ease of use are much more important then a little extra in resolution. (which is nice to have) you bring out the point very well. ah, ease of use, I also LOVE the CA1,2,3 modes of 5D, I would miss this so much with the Nikon, I use them for handheld – hdr – tripod – and if light is changing quickly (Skandinavia!) I often switch between tripod and handheld, and with one “click” I get mirror-lock-up + 2sec.-self-timer for the tripod. I can’t believe a soperb professional camera like the D800 doesn’t have this feature…

    well, after all, I want ease of use and layout of 5Diii PLUS Nikon D800E sensor….

    cheers from Vienna, Guenter

    1. Hi Guenter,
      What a wonderful comment and input and thank you for taking your time to write it. Others will benefit from it! Thank you so much. If you don’t mind, I would like (with credit of course) to add the TS-E 17mm to the review, as a “lens that I overlooked”. I also have Sigma 12-24mm, which is available both Canon and Nikon, I overlooked that one too.
      I’m seriously considering to buy the Nikon 24mm Tilt shift currently. It’s just so expensive, and I would love it to be just a little bit wider.
      Have a nice day.
      –Jacob

  16. hi Jacob,

    I also tried the Sigma 12-24 once in Italy and was absolutely surprised how well it performed for such a unique lens.
    well, I never regreted to purchase the shift lens but I also had no Nikon Zooms to choose from, so that’s an easy decision again.
    maybe you should try the Nikon 24 tilt shift before you purchase it, you have 24mm already in good quality, right?
    shifting is great as it delivers much better image quality then doing the same in post, but, is it that important at 24mm? I don’t know, I know with 17 it’s much more of an issue and great to have.
    tilting is just stunning. you can really get incredible sharpness from centimeters away from the lens to infinity. great tool.
    will not be an easy decision for you, cause you have to carry it all around, right? But if you do a lot of architecture, maybe it’s the one for you…

    have a good day too, Guenter

  17. hi Gema,

    sorry, I could not open your website for some reason, but at least, there seem to be one outside shifting from D800 to Canon if i get you right.
    I decided also to stick with Canon for the moment, cause of my lens-park (and there is for example no 300/4 with image stabilization in the Nikon system… – and I do neither want to pay for a 2,8 nor carry it around…) – and, what’s much more important, cause I know (and we all know) that it’s finally not a matter of D800 or 5D if I make great photos or not…
    although, of course, it’s always good to discuss what could be the even better solution…

    good shooting to all of you out there, Guenter

  18. Hi Jacob,

    Thank you for the comprehensive comparison of these three cameras. Your review is excellent. I’m just getting into photography and bought a mirrorless camera to start. I’m leaning towards the D610 for my first full frame though I will rent one for a day before making a final decision. Your portfolio photos are stunning, I hope to create such works of art someday. Cheers.

    Tom

    1. Hi Tom,
      Thanks a lot. Which mirrorless did you get? Some are actually quite good. The D610 is awesome, and I think one of the best value for money bargains available, currently.
      –Jacob Surland

  19. Jacob,

    I bought a Panasonic Lumix GX1. I have the 14-45 3.5/5.6 kit lens as well as the 20/1.7 prime. I opted for the optional electronic viewfinder which I have found to be a must. It is very light and compact but I’m discovering its limitations, especially in low light shooting.

  20. Simply best review I ever read……! Very very logical review. I have been sitting on dynamic range issue for weeks now it is very clear. Thanks a lot ! I have used Canon 5D mark II and 17-40 for years and it takes excellent picture no doubt about it But faced with same DR issues as you did. Time to take an action. thanks again Charlie

    1. Hi Jeff,
      True, but I wasn’t aware of the adapters at the time. However, the shift to Nikon has shown me a lot more about the difference between Canon and Nikon, than just the 36 megapixels. The 36 megapixels are nice, but it really is the increased Dynamic range, that I find the biggest advantage. And for that reason I am very happy I didn’t come across the adapter.
      –Jacob

  21. Hi Jacob,

    Any thougts on the release of the new Canon 16-35 mm f/4 L Lens? Could it be the game chaner in favor of the 5d MK III?

    1. Hi Thomas,
      I don’t have any hands on experience, but according to Photozone.de, this lens is better than both 16-35 f/2.8 and 17-40 f/4. Reading the review, I would consider this lens good enough for me.
      –Jacob

  22. Now that the new Canon 16-35 f4 is has been released and tested, many are saying it is nearly as good as the nikon 14-24 and better than the Nikon 16-35 f4 vr. If that was the case would you still have settled on the D800? I am having a really hard time deciding which camp to join in the full frame world. I only see myself getting two lenses for the first while, Nikon; 16-35 f4 and 24-120 or Canon; 16-35 f4 is and 24-105. I do a lot of travel to Europe and elsewhere so that would be my primary use. Thanks for any insight!

    1. Now having been in both camps, and even joined the Sony camp too, with a Sony A7R, I still wouldn’t go for Canon. In the kind of photography I do, I really enjoy the extra Dynamic Range the Nikons (and the Sony) also have. It is quite a lot. Today I would probably go for Sony, with an adapter. I do this for my Nikon lenses – what annoys me, is that I don’t get full integration, which is no exif information. Manual focus I survive without. But using a Canon 16-35mm with a canon adapter on the Sony A7R is not a bad option, because there are better adapters for Sony< -> Canon. You might want to read this http://caughtinpixels.com/reviews-2/5-reasons-to-buy-a-sony-a7r-and-5-reasons-not-to-buy-a-sony-a7r/ article before jumping to conclusions. But bottomline – Nikon is superior to Canon in terms a better sensor. And with Nikon D810 out, this gap is just increased.

  23. Thaks you very much for this review. I have a question which is of much significance to me. In the comparison of these 2 photos (http://caughtinpixels.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Nikon-D800-and-Canon-5D-Mark-III-comparison.jpg) you concentrate on their color reproduction. To me, there’s one thing that attracts my attention more than the color. While the bright parts of the both images (the water and the sky) look more or less the same as far as the number of the detail is concerned, the dark parts (the rocks) look very much different – the Nikon picture reveals much more detail and contrast than its Canon counterpart. Actually, I was reading before about Nikons bringing a more clear and neat image than Canons and these 2 pictures seem to confirm that. Would you confirm that Nikons bring more contrast and clarity in the dark areas of a picture while the general level of exposure stays the same? Many thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Greg,
      You’re very welcome. Yes there is a lot of difference, and it has to do with the much higher Dynamic Range of both Nikon and Sony cameras, compared to the Canon cameras. If you read the next section on Dynamic Range, you will see example photos, where I show how huge the difference between the Dynamic range of Canon and Nikon cameras. You can call it more clarity or details in the shadows, but it is because of a higher dynamic range.
      –Jacob

      1. Jacob,

        here’s a typical look from Canon and Nikon side by side: http://fc06.deviantart.net/fs71/i/2010/010/1/9/Nikon_D60_vs_Canon_EOS_400D_by_knifeofdreams.jpg Much detail and contrast in both shades and lights on Nikon vs. rather muddy shades and close-to-burn-out lights on Canon. However, the difference in the Dynamic Range of those 2 cameras wasn’t that huge yet – 11 Evs on Canon vs 11.4 Evs on Nikon. How would you explain that? Maybe there are some other factors involved, too, like in-camera preprocessing with some curve algorithms? As for the colors, the colors from Canon look more natural to me, with an exception of the skin tones.

        Btw., where do I find the next section on Dynamic Range? Can you post a link?

        1. Hi Greg,
          I think this is a wild goose hunt, you are on. What you see here, has more to do with the processing, than the actual capabilities of the cameras. These might be shot as a JPEG photo, and not a RAW photo. Then you rely pretty much on what the camera does. The Nikons have D-Lightning, which does some enhancements on the shadows. But that really doesn’t add anything, that wasn’t there. What is important though, is that newer Nikon cameras in general does have better dynamic range than Canons do. And Canon has got some color noise in the shadows, that can be difficult to get rid of.
          I don’t know if that answers your question.
          –Jacob

  24. A bit late to the conversation … Nevertheless, I had my 5D III stolen last month (with a bunch of other equipment) and I’ll be compensated enough to purchase gear that will replace the loss. I like my 5D, with the lighting quick responsiveness and focusing action. I’ve preordered the new Sony a7R II, but wonder about all the lenses and the focusing and handling performance. Yes, the DR is an advantage on the latest sony sensor, but your sentence here really is crucial: “Shadows should remain shadows on the Canon 5D Mark III.” Why would I want to raise the esposure in shadows 2 or 3 stops, rather than properly exposing scenes? I love both the canon lens line up, plus all the 3rd party lens offerings, particularly the stuff coming from Sigma (and Tamron). I realize I could purchase Canon lenses (again) plus the metabones adaptor, but what will work is rather unpredictable. Would it be stupid to repurchase the 5D (plus 70-200 f/2.8 IS) rather than the new Sony?

    1. Hi Stephen,
      Currently, I use both Sony and Nikon, but I rarely use my Nikon lenses on the Sony, mostly because I get no automatic help and no EXIF information. However, it seems that an adapter for the Nikon F mount is on the way for the Sony E-mount providing auto focus (I can’t wait!). From a Canon perspective, this is already an option. It seems that the new Sony A7R II is optimized for using Canon lenses and that auto focusing should be really good. But manual focusing using the Sony, is really no problem. I wouldn’t worry too much on this. The Sony camera is, in terms of dynamic range so much more than the Canon cameras. It’s not always, that you can expose properly, to get the details from a specific shadow. But the more dynamic range you have available, the more likely it is, that you can raise the shadows, within one exposure. The quality of the noise in the shadows of the Canon is really bad because it has red and green color noise, which is harder to get rid of. Regarding the 70-200 – Sony doesn’t have a f/2.8 offering yet. I ‘only’ have the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8, and that is awesome. The sharpest lens that I own. My guess is that the Canon is similar, but the Sony 70-200 f/4 will not be able to compete.

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