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 / D800 Dynamic Range Article

[Updated] check out my Nikon D800e Dynamic Range field test results here .

It Must be my lucky day – running low on writing juice today and then my buddy Petr Hlavacek passed me a link to an article he has written on his shooting experiences with the D800e – specifically the extreme Dynamic range capabilities of the Nikon D800/e. Petr’s experiences are very much in line with mine – the D800 family is a whole new ballgame when it comes to dynamic range.  I will post my findings soon. Are any of you D800 shooters finding the same thing? Cheers – Todd

Read more Nikon D800 or D800e articles on The Photo Autocracy

The Nikon D800 / D800e Handheld (sample images)

It transpires that the Nikon D800 be hand held with excellent results – but we all knew this would be the case.

There has been quite a bit of discussion online as to whether handheld D800 images would look like 36MP versions of a 2005 cell phone camera image.  This fear was largely fuelled by Nikon’s own pre-launch warnings (straight from the legal department) about the D800 spontaneously combusting if hand held. Luckily some lab-coat toting boffins quickly figured out that the D800 has the same pixel pitch (same sized pixels) as the Nikon D7000.  I have been hand holding shots on  the D7000 for a year and have never had any nasty surprises when using proper technique.

Take a gander at this shot.  Sure, it is not my finest work from an artistic perspective, but it is pretty much technically perfect.  The point you ask?

To make this shot, I put down my beer, ambled out of my In-Law’s lounge, cranked the ISO to 400 and proceeded to hand-held a series of shots using the D800e and the exceptional nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VRII.   I tested the efficacy of the VR system on this lens in my complete lens review : view my handheld 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII sample images.

As you will see below, the shots out of the can looked absolutely terrible, but after 4 minutes in LR4 this was the result – a tack sharp hand held image that has complete tonal range with no blown highlights.

Download the full resolution D800e sample JPEGS

More D800e blog posts

Cheers – Todd

PS – remember to subscribe to this blog for more Nikon D800 information and goodness-)

Landscape image sample taken on the D800e with nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VRII – All that colour in the sky has been achieved simply by reducing the exposure using a LR4 grad filter and some vibrance. The DR of the D800 is incredible.

nikon D800e handheld 100% crop

nikon D800e handheld 100% crop

The original camera file – it looks like a train wreck, but it is not so. The D800e arrived at this exposure (it tends to do a great job of knowing it’s own limits and exposes to the right consistently well, which retains heaps of tonal and colour info in the shadows)

Wellington – College Street

Here are a few images I made while walking around College Street in Wellington yesterday.

All made on the D800e and using the nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens. The D800e was set to auto-ISO (max 6400) Daylight or Auto WB. I was incredibly impressed by the metering on the D800e but the real ‘eye-opener’ was the amount and quality of highlight recovery on the D800e.

I mention quality, because I have often found that ‘recovered’ highlights lack texture detail and colour – not the case on the D800e.

Check out some samples over on the website: http://bit.ly/MYGH02

Cheers – Todd