Canon 5D Mark III
In the end it all comes down to one question: is the Canon 5D Mark III worth $1,000 more than the new Nikon D750?
In my last post on this topic, I compared the specifications and concluded that on paper these cameras are basically the same. In handling, they're basically the same. So, without actually shooting with them - say when you're browsing an online camera store or standing at the counter of your local camera shop - you'd have a hard time giving Canon your money when these cameras are so similar.
Does that change when you start shooting with them?
With that question in mind, I set out to shoot these two machines side by side and see whether the Canon can realistically continue to command the premium price.
But first, as always, a bunch of disclaimers to ward off the evil nay-sayers and doubters on the photographic fora, whether it be devoted Canon or Nikon lovers.
This is not a full-fledged review of either camera. They're way too complex to test every single feature under every circumstance. If you have special needs or desires in your photography, there might well be features that one camera offers and the other doesn't that are not at all covered here.
I don't test video, HDR and a bunch of other functions that modern DSLRs offer, either because I'm not experienced enough with them or have no interest in them. I also stay away from effects and scene modes (which the Nikon has, but the Canon doesn't).
I shot both cameras with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens in either mount. This negates differences between the lens lines. Some people will prefer Canon lenses or love a particular Canon lens and don't care what camera Nikon offers. Others prefer Nikon glass and don't care about the Canon cameras. That's fine. It's not covered here.
There we go then.
Both are awesome cameras. No doubt about it. They deliver crisp images in speedy fashion and under demanding circumstances. They're sturdy, can take a beating and keep on shooting. They're weather sealed, solid and a joy to hold and use. The exude confidence. You can't go wrong with either of them. With the exception of delivering the highest resolution (D810) or the speed of a professional sports camera (D4s, 1Dx), these DSLRs cover it all.
Generally, there are a few areas people wonder about when comparing cameras at this level: speed, exposure, image quality, low-light shooting and general handling of the camera.
Handling Speed & Autofocus
Both cameras wake up quickly and are ready to shoot right away, a welcome change from the mirrorless cameras that need a perceptible time to get their EVFs ready. They both lock focus quickly, even in dark situations, as long as there is some contrast in the scene. With the autofocus assist light on, the Nikon was quicker to focus in darker areas. I don't like the AF light unless absolutely necessary, so I turned it off in which case the cameras are a wash, with the Canon sometimes performing a tad faster and the Nikon at other times. Not enough to prefer one over the other.
When tracking moving subjects, again both cameras scored about even. I haven't tried this under many different scenarios as these aren't the kind of cameras you'd buy as your first choice for sports or wildlife photography.
I shot both cameras in RAW plus fine JPEG, largely because Lightroom can't couldn't read the NEF files from the D750 yet. I used a 32GB Lexar 800x compact flash card in the Canon (write speeds up to 120MB/s) and a 32 GB Sandisk Extreme Pro SDHC card in the Nikon (write speeds up to 95MB/s). While not a totally fair comparison, I found that when shooting at high speed, the buffers of both cameras filled at about the same rate and cleared at about the same rate. This was not scientific, merely my perception when trying this a few times. The Canon is known to slow down when both a CF card and a SD card are used. No word on the behavior of the Nikon if both card slots are used at the same time.
Both cameras have a quiet mode. In the case of the Canon this really is markedly quieter than the regular mode and the shutter is just a nice little whirr. In the Nikon, the sounds doesn't dampen much and the shutter is still rather loud in quiet mode (though nothing like the cannon blast of the Sony A7R).
How the two cameras dealt with exposure showed the biggest difference. I shot mostly in aperture priority, mostly using matrix metering. The Nikon tended to open up a scene more, while the Canon did the opposite. Both can be tweaked to get it where you want it to be, either by pre-setting some modes in the camera or by tweaking the image in post-processing.
In some cases, for example on a valley road against a bright sky, the Nikon overexposed to the extent that the sky was irretrievably blown out. The Canon tended to pick a shutter speed that prevented the highlights from blowing out completely, resulting of course in a darker foreground.
In general, when you shoot with the Canon you will find that the histogram veers to the left, while on the Nikon it tends to veer to the right. You do run the risk of the Nikon completely blowing out the sky in some cases, so you may want to set the EV compensation to underexpose when shooting against a bright sky. This is apparently common in many modern Nikons and also quite a frequent occurence when shooting landscapes in high contrast conditions with any camera.
Both cameras give you RAW files that allow for quite of bit of manipulation, with the wider dynamic range of the Nikon sensor allowing more of the shadows to be restored than the Canon sensor without losing detail.
In short, when relying on the default matrix metering setting, the Canon posed less of a danger to overexpose. But if you dial in exposure compensation to accentuate the sky, the Nikon gives you a bit more latitude later on to retrieve more of the dark areas in post-processing.
If you completely mess up your exposure shooting at low ISOs and your image is severely underexposed, the Canon image is a goner while the amazing dynamic range of the Sony sensor on the Nikon gives you a good chance to make your image still usable.
Note that your experience might differ if you use Canon or Nikon lenses instead of the Sigma lenses I used. The native lenses might send more information to the camera about focal length and distance than the third-party Sigma lenses do and might better inform the metering system of the total scene. Emphasis on the word 'might,' though.
In practice, you do well with either camera despite their different starting points.
White balance was spot on for both cameras.
While I was shooting with these cameras, Adobe announced an updated version of its DNG converter which can handle the D750 NEF files. So, the Nikon files have been converted by the DNG converted and were then imported in Lightroom. The Canon files were imported as RAW files directly into Lightroom. My comparisons are based on the RAW files as seen in Lightroom.
I'm not a pixelpeeper, but I did look through my images at 100% and can find no fault with either camera. Colors are rendered nicely. Images are sharp. Details are preserved. I have a slight preference for the colors out of the Canon, but that might well be Adobe's doing rather than the Nikon's. And anyway, those kinds of preference often depend on the person. It's a wash between the two brands, really.
The Canon renders skin tones a bit warmer than the Nikon. Whether you like this or not is again a personal preference.
Canon 5D Mark III
Low Light Performance
As you go up in ISO, both cameras of course show more grain. I found both easily acceptable and virtually identical up to 6400 ISO. The Nikon's grain is a bit softer and thus looks cleaner at 12,800 and 25,600. The same applies for 51,200, but I wouldn't use that ISO on either camera, let alone the 102,400 that the Canon offers and the Nikon doesn't.
Okay, that's it. The simple conclusion is what I said above: both cameras are great and you can't go wrong with either of them, unless you have specific needs not covered in this piece.
But the question was why the Canon should be $1,000 more expensive.
Combining my observations in parts I and II, I see few points where the Canon offers more than the Nikon for normal shooting. I prefer having the 1/8,000 of a second shutter speed that the Canon offers and the Nikon doesn't. I prefer the compact flash card in the Canon. For image review, I prefer the wheel on the Canon over the buttons on the Nikon. Some lament the lack of a separate focus button on the Nikon. I do find the button placement on the Canon a bit better than on the Nikon, but could get used to the latter.
The Nikon offers an on-camera flash, which the Canon doesn't. The Nikon offers wider dynamic range when using low ISOs, in case you want that kind of latitude in your files. The Nikon shoots a bit faster, with 6.5 fps instead of 6 fps.
I'm not going to even think about the question of which camera is better. They pass muster equally. It's based on personal preference on how a camera should feel and operate, what color rendition you like better straight out of the camera and/or if you need a particular offering that the other one lacks.
In the end, though, I don't see how the Canon is worth $1,000 more than the Nikon. I think Canon can't sustain this price unless it's confident that people prefer their overall system including lenses and speed lights.
At this moment, for the price of the Canon 5D Mark III, you can either buy the 36 megapixel Nikon D810 or the Nikon D750 and a very nice lens.
I wouldn't be surprised if the D750 starts eating into Canon's market share in this camera range. Ironically, I also wouldn't be surprised if Canon's upcoming 7D Mark II lures sports, bird and wildlife shooters from Nikon to Canon.
I do think Canon needs to seriously outdo Nikon in its next generation of full-frame cameras if it wants to continue its price premium in this market segment. That shouldn't be impossible, and even if it were, Canon could still see it.
I posted a few more high resolution images on Flickr. These are not straight out of the cameras, but have been manipulated in Lightroom to render them the way I would deal with those files from either camera. There are no pictures of people, since my children were the victims for those tests and I don't post their images online, with few exceptions.
By John van Rosendaal