Nikon D800e vs Canon 5dmkii Landscape Photography Comparison [UPDATED]

canon 5d mark2 v nikon D800e landscape photography comparison test

Which is better for landscape photography – the Nikon D800e or the Canon 5dmkii?  Thinking of upgrading from the Canon 5dmkii to the Nikon D800e?  Who knows?  Hopefully I will have the answers for you by the end of this test shoot! 

UPDATED 25 JULY: NOW WITH DYNAMIC RANGE COMPARISONS

[UPDATE BEGINS] When I first wrote this review I figured that the big story between the Canon 5d markii and the Nikon D800e was the headline grabbing resolution shootout.  Well, the resolution battle was indeed interesting, but not quite as blood-spattered and gory as I was hoping to be honest.  The D800e certainly out resolves the 5dii but it only matters once huge enlargements are made (important to me).

After shooting with the Nikon D800e for a while it became starkly apparent that it’s most usable great leap forward for landscape photography was actually it’s dynamic range performance.  The D800e is so good in this respect that I actually found myself penning (on my keyboard? :) another article entitled Are ND Filters Dead? – where I revealed the Nikon D800’s almost disconcerting ability to create terrific looking landscape images out of RAW files that would be little more than train-wreckage on other DSLR camera bodies. 

However, I am well aware that a placebo effect kicks in with new cameras – you find results that verify your preconceptions.  Maybe my trusty Canon 5d mkii would have been equally capable of rescuing highlights and opening up shadows as the D800. I decided, once again, to channel my newly discovered testing nerd personality and pit the Nikon D800e vs the Canon 5dmkii in a dynamic range fight club – here’s what I found:

Test Details: Both cameras were shot on aperture priority -1EV and they selected identical shooting settings of f/8, 1/250th @ ISO 100.  I then ran both RAW files through Lightroom 4 at identical synced settings – shadows +100 and exposure +.85.  I tested the shadow performance rather than highlight recovery, because I tend to actively avoid clipping highlights when photographing. I prefer blocked out shadows to blown highlights.

This is what we got with the Nikon D800e (another stunning test shot :-) :

Nikon D800e Dynamic Range Shadows Test.
Left Image: -1EV exposure compensation from camera.
Right Image: After +0.85 Exposure and +100 Shadows slider in Adobe Lightroom 4

And this is the Canon 5d mkii:

Canon 5d Markii Dynamic Range Shadows Test.
Left Image: -1EV exposure compensation from camera.
Right Image: After +0.85 Exposure and +100 Shadows slider in Adobe Lightroom 4

Look about the same to you?

Well take a gander at this 100% crop from the two cameras side by side (Canon 5d mkii on left and Nikon D800e on right)

100% Detail Comparison

Dynamic Range Shadows Test 100% Detail Comparison.
Left Image: -Canon 5d mkii after lightroom adjustments
Right Image: Nikon D800e after Adobe Lightroom 4 adjustments.

Now I remember why I never felt inclined to toss away my Singh Ray ND grad filters while I was shooting with the Canon 5d markii (or any other Nikon DSLR for that matter).  Compare the dark fence rails –  crazy colour noise and criss-cross patterns emerge on the Canon while the D800e looks like it could be pumped up another stop or two.  Wood patterns emerge from the murk on the D800 that are almost destroyed by colour noise on the Canon.

Compare the midtones on the leaves – the same story repeats itself.  Once again, it is not that the Canon 5d mkii is doing a bad job (noise reduction would tidy this up a bit) – it is that the D800e is doing a freakishly good job.  Not only does the Nikon D800/e deliver a significant bump in resolution it does so while re-writing the DSLR book on noise control and Dynamic Range – I didn’t think that pixels crammed this close together could do this.

For what it matters I personally proclaim the Nikon D800 to be the world’s best (and best value) landscape photography DSLR.  

[UPDATE ENDS]

Please take the time to read the rest of this report and view the image quality and resolution comparisons.

VIEW THE IMAGE QUALITY COMPARISONS>>>>>

READ: ARE ND FILTERS DEAD – D800 DYNAMIC RANGE LANDSCAPE EXAMPLES>>>

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Nikon D800e Dynamic Range For Landscape Photography | Field Test Revisited

I wrote a post on Friday entitled Are ND Filters Dead?  in which I surprised myself as to how well I could pull up the shadows in an underexposed foreground from a Nikon D800e file.  I went to bed that night quite chuffed at myself for  the scientific rigour that I had imparted upon that test (sad, I know) until I was wrenched from my near slumber by a thought (yes, this is how far I go for you guys – the least you could do is comment ;-(.

That thought: What about the ‘over-exposed’ images? Can they be brought into line with a bit of Lightroom magic?

The answer is of course yes.

Look at this finished image:

Nikon-D800e-Landscape-Example-Dynamic-Range-1-2

Nikon D800e Landscape Image | Finished image after Lightroom exposure and highlight recovery. The histogram shows a perfectly contained tonal range.

Histogram and adjustments to the image – of course a grad adjustment was applied to the sky – exposure adjustment.

And here is the original image: This was shot at the camera’s suggested exposure – turns out the D800 knows best?!

Nikon-D800e-Landscape-Example-Dynamic-Range-1

Nikon D800e Landscape Dynamic Range Field Test | The original un-edited image – Yuk!

So, yet more compelling evidence that the world of landscape photography has taken yet another really big leap forward.  I can’t remember witnessing such a quantum leap forward in meaningful and useable  image quality between camera bodies.  As you will see in my next post, the Dynamic Range capabilities of the Nikon D800/e are in a totally different league to my previous camera body, the ground breaking Canon 5d mkii.

So are Graduated Neutral Density filters still needed? That depends, if you are shooting any other DSLR the answer is yes (unless you are into HDR or serious exposure blending).  If you are toting a D800/e the answer is no – not at all IMHO.  That makes me a little sad, as I genuinely like my Grad filters and Singh Ray are a great company – but like my postcards, which are being purchased less and less, times change and products become obsolete as technology marches on…..

My advice – if you want to be making the best landscape images possible for an ‘affordable’ price – buy the Nikon D800 (Amazon)

Cheers – Todd

Are ND Grad Filters Dead? A D800e Dynamic Range Landscape Field Test

New Zealand Photos | Milford Sound Clearing Storm over Mitre Peak

Clearing Storm, Milford Sound, New Zealand. This is one of my most successful images – made with the Nikon D2X and a 3 stop Singh Ray Grad filter.

It would be no over-statement to say that I have built my landscape photography career on the back of Singh Ray ND grad filters.  Almost all of my best selling images have been made using a grad.

Being a hair-shirted Luddite at heart (and pre-disposed to leisure time) I have eschewed hours chained to the computer blending exposures and mastering HDR by instead using Singh Ray Grads to get the bulk of my exposure work done in-camera.

I have no particular love of ND Grad filters – they are, after all, just a pricey piece of acrylic – but I do LOVE the results that Grads impart on my photography.  This love of results has always had me going all ‘Charlton Heston’  “you can pry my [Grads] from my cold dead hands” whenever the topic of surrendering my filters to the forces of progress has been raised.

Well, my hands are still warm and seemingly very much alive, yet I feel my grip rapidly loosening, particularly after this morning’s Nikon D800e test shoot.

I have been getting quite a few queries via the interwebz ( ‘z’ is surely the edgiest of letters) as to whether ND grads were still required for use with the D800.  My gut feeling was yes but I had been seeing some very thought-provoking results coming from the D800e – particularly once I upgraded to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 .  The combination of the D800e’s capacious dynamic range Lightroom 4’s revolutionary tonality enhancements (particularly shadow/highlights) seemed to be delivering a vastly extended DR.

This morning I saw a sunrise forming and promptly abandoned Sarah during the hellish pre-school circus in order to perform a meaningful DR test between my Singh Ray ND Grads and the D800e’s naked sensor.

About The Test:

  • Nikon D800E on tripod
  • Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D at 17mm, f/8
  • Aperture Priority
  • Daylight WB
  • ISO 100
  • f/8
  • Singh-Ray 3-stop soft edge grad
  • The scene is exactly the kind of situation where I ALWAYS use an ND grad – reasonably flat horizon with huge tonal range and plenty of colour to capture.

The Results:

Nikon-D800e-Dynamic-Range-ND-on-samples-699px

With Singh Ray 3-stop Graduated ND filter. The ND grad did it’s job well here – just a little highlight recovery in LR4 and we have the basis of a workable exposure. Note the smudgy flare in the vineyard just below the sun – this is one of the drawbacks of ND filters, especially once they gather a few scratches.

Nikon-D800e-Dynamic-Range-ND-off-naked-699px

Naked D800e Image, matrix metering -1 EV. Straight from the camera the no-Grad image looks pretty underwhelming – the sky is properly exposed but the foreground is underexposed. Can a quick trip through Lightroom 4 get this image looking as good as the Singh-ray shot above?

View The ‘Worked’ Image & 100% Crops >>>>