Full Frame Shootout: Review of Nikon D800, D4 and Canon 5DmkIII

ETHICS STATEMENT: I made this in my own time (and it took A LOT of time!) for the readers of my blog. I was not paid by any manufacturer to do this. The two Nikons were supplied to me on loan as review cameras by Nikon UK for this review. I have never and will never be paid by a manufacturer to review a product. My opinions are my own and always will be. There is a big plug for my site sponsor Kessler Crane for their new products below, as they damn well deserve it. Brilliant stuff! Read more on my ethics statement here. 

My BAFTA/ RAINDANCE winning documentary “How to start a revolution” is available to buy on Amazon. You can purchase it below.

I know I am a bit late to the party getting my reviews of the new Nikons out, but I have been on the road for almost 3 months. First in Australia and New Zealand and then in the US. I managed to get loan cameras from Nikon just before going to the US, so a big thanks to Nikon UK for helping me out there.

The full-frame look, for me, is a wonderful unique aesthetic. I already own three superb super 35mm video camera which all do a better job at shooting video than the three DSLRs in this test – I have the Sony FS100, F3 and Canon C300 (The Canon C300 was used to film this video) but their aesthetic is totally different. Very similar to crop-sensor DSLRs. Not a bad thing. Just different. Full-frame looks so unique that it is hard to quantify in words. Certainly, it can achieve much more shallow depth of field, which is a nice option to have in your box of tricks, but not one to use all the time!

The 5DMk II was the first full-frame DSLR to shoot usable HD video, and until the Mk III came out it was still the best. It was marred by image issues, in particular moire and aliasing, but it excelled in low light and had that UNIQUE aesthetic. It was and still is a great camera. The MkIII bettered it and it is reviewed fully here. That camera fixed the moire and aliasing issues and was enormously better in low light. Sharpness out of the camera was not great BUT could be improved a lot in post, unlike the MkII where sharpening just made the image look worse.

My first DSLR was a Nikon, and I have bought a lot of the video shooting ones. The D90, D3s, D7000, D5100. All disappointing in video. The D5100 the first to shoot 1080p 25p but with no proper manual control. The D7000 had no 1080p 25p and no onscreen metering. All of them suffered from disappointing images. I have wanted Nikon to bring out their own fantastic video shooting DSLR for such a long time, as they really have been playing catch up. It really has taken until the D800 for them to finally bring out a camera that is pretty damn good for shooting video!

I go into a lot of detail in the rather long video below. I hope it will entertain and inform you for its running length. I show resolution and image issue tests, show off the full frame aesthetic, discuss features, and demonstrate how they all compare in low light.

The one bit I missed out of the test was rolling shutter issues. They are all the same. Very difficult to tell them apart!

I didn’t do a dynamic range comparison as that is too damn tricky to get accurate without knowing how to get the best picture profiles for the D4 and D800. Too many chances of making a mistake.

The ProRes recorded footage looked great but to the compressed web eyes identical. Only when pushing hard in post does it really start to shine.

No 5DmkIII footage was sharpened (nor Nikon) in any of the shots. This is straight out of the camera. The MK3 would have looked way sharper had I done that.

Check out the “Kessler’s People” video at the bottom of this post. Shot for the review but I have made a little self contained version. It’s shot the D800 and Mk3. All have been graded in Colorista II and the Mk3 has around 25 sharpen on it in Premiere Pro CS6. 7 Shots are on the Mk3 the rest are D800. Can you tell which are which?! All shot with Zeiss ZF 50mm F1.4 and 35mm F1.4.

Huge thanks to TheMusicBed.Com for their excellent music, to Sarah Estela who shot all the links and helped out so much, and to all at Kessler Crane and the NY meet-up for being a part of the video.

The D800 anti-aliasing filter is available from Mosaic engineering by clicking the link below. A version for the 7D is out now too.

I will be taking a look at all the excellent new Kessler Crane products very soon, including their fantastic new quick release plates which adhere to the Arca standard size, the shuttle pod mini and their brilliant new low profile ball head (I did help design it!) for putting cameras on sliders easily but with excellent adjustment. You can check them all out here. 

The new quick release plate system
The new Kessler low profile ball head
Low profile ball head on slider caddy
ball head with new multi angle plate

You can help support my site by buying your cameras or gear through one of my affiliates. Without this help I wouldn’t be able to make this videos. It doesn’t cost you any more. Thanks!






Full Frame Shootout: Nikon D800 / D4 / Canon 5DmkIII from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Shot on the Canon C300

 

Sound Devices Pix 240

Kessler’s People:5DmkIII and Nikon D800 from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Shot as part of my “Full Frame Shootout” and expanded for a bit of fun. http://vimeo.com/42065372

I shot this on both the D800 and mk3. But which shots are which? Can you tell?

7 are on the Mk3 and 23 are on the D800.

You can visit Kessler Crane’s website here: http://www.kesslercrane.com/?Click=85

Music from www.themusicbed.com
Daniel Elsworth: Cardinal Wings

Read the review and more on my blog post here: www.philipbloom.net/?p=24958

168 comments

  1. Stunning review! My next camera is definetly the Mark III! Would take the low light for the extra hasle of sharpening in post any day of the week! 🙂 Had a little chuckle when I heard about Christchurch’s rubbish hotel room, I hope the rest of your trip to NZ wasn’t as poor… After all it’s the best country in the world 🙂

    1. Applying sharpening in post is much easier using Adjustment layers in Premiere CS6. Siply make the layer as long as you want, and it will apply any effect you want to all of the clips underneath it

  2. I really enjoyed your review. Despite having just purchased an EOS 60D (right price point and I have legacy lenses). With this I will take my first faltering steps into video.

    If I may ask, what was the review footage shot on?

  3. Very informative indeed!
    Still, at these cameras’ price point, I wish you had elaborated more on the ‘unique aesthetics’ of full frame dslr video, compared to camcorders like the fs100, f3 an AF100/101, because, honestly, I don’t get it. Razor thin DOF seems more like a nuisance and distraction because it is so very hard to get it right. With my cheapo 550D, which is asp-c, I already struggle to get my f1.8 50mm shots in focus. You didn’t mention continuous AF, so I conclude none of the tested cameras has it.
    Doesn’t that make these cameras useless for any fast, ‘run and gun’ filming, homemovie or documentary making?

    1. While I agree that it is difficult to get some shots in focus without continuous AF, it’s by no means impossible. Check out my good friends videos: http://www.youtube.com/user/astripeleszebra?feature=results_main

      Everything we shoot is either on a 500D or a 60D (With the exception of our RED EPIC video, of course), and I would definitely say our style of shooting is ‘run and gun’ filming. Also, he went to Africa last summer to shoot a documentary (mostly with his 500D), and that final product won him a presidential scholarship of the arts.

      All I’m saying is that although these cameras do pose a challenge in certain areas and produce an image some aren’t used to, they’re not useless in any sense. They’re the only cameras that my friend and I could afford, and we’ve found ways to make them work, even alongside an EPIC.

  4. Excellent review Philip! Only question that I have is, would having an external recorder clean up some of the noise from the D800 in low light?

      1. But makes it a ton easier to grade. You really backpedal on this Phillip and its wrong. The difference in grading is tremendous if the D800/D4 is recorded externally, especially if already pre-compressed to PRORES or NxHD.
        I agree a 5.3 is much better in low light than a D800. I’d say the D4 destroys them both.

        I own both a 5.3 and a D800. The sharpness wins every time.

  5. Just watched some of your review again. That’s great you got to use the same lens for your detail tests, I had a bad experience with a lens adapter that once I put it on the Mark III with a Nikon lens, it won’t come off! After a few phone calls, I finally got it off the lens off the Canon body, but for the rest of the time I was too afraid to put it back on again.

    Since I was using different lenses in my comparison I couldn’t come to the conclusion that the D800 has a much sharper image to the Canon 5D3 even though that is what I was seeing on the screen.

    For an amateur like myself I was really enjoying the D800’s neutral picture style with the contrast all the way down, to me it had a lot more dynamic range (latitude) than the 5D3, I could really see into the shadows better on the D800. But in the end since I am an available light shooter (which means I am terrible at lighting), I went with the 5D3 because of it’s insane high ISO performance.

    Dave

  6. Great review Philip.
    I am a Canon shooter because I use a lot of manual vintage lenses both for photography and for video that cannot be adapted to Nikon, so I have ordered the Mark III. However, from these initial tests I feel that the D800 has got the edge resolution wise. Also the Nikon full HD crop mode, and clean HDMI out are nice add ons the Canon doesn’t have. This, added with the steep European price tag of the Mark III compared to the D800 makes the Nikon a clear winner, unless you are stuck with EF glass….
    Only “hope” for Canon users is Magic Lantern. But then again, it is not released by Canon…

    Regarding the lowlight performance, from all the tests I have watched so far, it appears to me that both cameras perform quite similarly. However, the Canon appears to be almost one stop darker than the Nikon at the same ISO setting. And I think this is what makes the Canon less noisy at, say, 3200, because at this setting the Nikon image looks as bright (and noisy) as the Canon at ISO 6400…
    Looks like how ISOs compared between the older GH1 and the MarkII, where the GH1 was almost one stop brighter than the Mark II at the same ISO setting.
    Hence, I think that the Mark III doesn’t truly have the edge, even in lowlight.
    Have you noticed the same thing?

    1. Not really seen that.

      I did seem to under expose all the mk3 stuff in this test compared to the D800 that was probably it. The Mk3 is leagues better than the mk2 and d800 in low light. Not the D4 though.

      1. Nope. D4 is remarkable.
        I found the D800 MUCH sharper and I also agree that there seems to be some interesting ISO readings on the Canon. Not unlike labelling clothes a size smaller to make your customers feel less fat.
        Put the two cameras at the same ISO settings, then put the output up on a calibrated monitor.

        One of these things is not like the other.

        5D 3 is a lovely camera to use, but come on. In your ‘tell’ test below, I can pick them and that’s only on Vimeo. If you watch the output enough of these two cameras its very easy to tell them apart.

          1. Great review (as always)
            I was also hoping for the D4 to be at least as good as 5D3 and better (for me)
            because of the HDMI out and the fact that I have all Nikon G Series FX lenses
            already ! . .so no need for adapter etc. . . also I get photography jobs too and some
            of it’s improvements over my D700 would help.

            Have you spoken to Nikon at all – given that when I spoke to them
            they were very enthusiastic that you would be reviewing the D4 and D800 – or do
            you think that the sharpness issue with the D4 will be improved by firmware
            updates given it is the flagship body ?

            Anyway cheers for your endless supply of impartial reviews.

      2. Tested my Mark III against my partner’s D800 in lowlight.
        This just verified my doubts about the ISO ratings of the two cameras.
        The D800 is at least one stop brighter than the markIII at the same ISO, aperture, and shutter settings.
        And this effect is more pronounced at lower ISO settings. In a dimly lighted bar, @ ISO 1600, f 1.4 and shutter 1/50 the Mark III was nearly completely dark, whereas the D800 appeared to be almost brighter than the human eye :).
        Had to rais the ISO to 3200 and even more to see what I was able to see with the D800 @ ISO 1600.
        Naturally, the price to pay was more aparrent noise at the same ISO setting for the D800, compared to the Mark III. But then again, it is not the same true ISO setting.
        So after seeing this in many tests and verifying it myself, my conclusion is that both cameras are equally good performers in low light. Maybe the D800 has even more dynamic range. But the statement that the mark III being far more better in low light is definitely not true.

  7. Great and honest review. I’m left with the all too familiar feeling: I’ll wait for the next model to come out. : )
    The C300 delivers a beautiful image in this video and wins the review without even beeing reviewed. Wow. But what about AUDIO recording in the DSLRs, Mr. Bloom? Yes, we can monitor it now, so what does it actually sound like? Bad preamps and hiss is the feeling I get from other video samples. Do we still need an external recorder to get clean audio?

  8. Really, really great review. Looks like a damn lot of work indeed, but it’s great that you made it.

    Wow, the results are great in a way but also damn frustrating. Nikon has such a great chance to make it all right with the D800 (and the D4), grab a huge chunk of the market at the same time … they have no video business to lose. However I fear the inferiority of the D800 in low light will many Canon users stick with the 5D and buy the 5D3 instead.

    The 5D3 looks like the perfect compromise between the D800’s sharpness and the D4’s low light capabilities!

  9. Best review ever!
    I`m upgrading from a T2i to 5DmkIII or maybe the blackmagic cinema camera to start getting paid work here in Norway. The battle for me is the lack of sharpness out on mkIII. Hope so badly that magic lantern can do some magic things in this area!!!

    Definitely would be insanely cool if you could review the blackmagic cinema camera Philip!

    regardless… Thanks for so much help on a lot of things =)

  10. Awesome review Philip. It was a long wait but seeing as how it was shot in multi STATES, it only shows just how busy you are, so thanks for taking the time. But I do have to say that it still leaves me a little undecided, you’re right, why doesn’t anyone make a camera that can do it all for a low price. What’s wrong with wanting C300 quality with a low price tag. This review felt more like a showcase on how awesome the C300 is. Sigh….but the horribly crappy 720 60fps performance of the D800 may have me leaning towards the MK3. Though I really do like the lower price tag, clean HDMI and sharper image, the all around no hassle-ness of the MK3 may be best. Lets hope the MK3 comes with an update with clean HDMI. Also Philip, did you ever check out the D800’s crop mode?

  11. thanks for taking time for the review.
    Seems that Canon is still on top, (sharp can be fixed, not the noise…)
    As a AF100 owner (which i regret in low light situations)
    my needs is to buy a second one to have a DSLR for pictures (i just have Nikon lenses and some are electronic) and to experiment Time lapses in any kind of light.
    Is the D800 low light performance good enough for that, did you test this function ?

  12. Philip – Thanks for the wonderful review! I’ve had my D800 for a little while now and have actually found myself adding film grain (GorillaGrain) in low-light shots. All of them are great tools and I think it all comes down to what you’re going for in post! Check this out: https://vimeo.com/42038853

  13. Awesome review Philip! I love the angle in the hotel room…2 Philips is better than 1. The girl is cute too. I look forward to the FS700 next round…if only you would come to Hong Kong to shoot some footage…You’ve got a lot of fans here! We’ll take you to the hot spots!

  14. Great review Philip. Thanks for the work you do.

    What would happen if a camera manufacturer would give it all in one camera? I heard one will be doing it, it comes out December 21st of this year. 🙂

  15. Phillip, I would have love to seen the ProRes footage you shot on the D800 with the Sound Devices unit. Was it a vast improvement?

    By the way, fantastic reviews. And good job keeping those cameras focused while inside a pub and while ingesting a handful of cocktails. I figured the shots would get progressively blurry as the night went on.

    -Drk

      1. Hi Philip,

        Thanks for a excellent review. You are the best reviewer!

        So if the footage is recorded on some kind of external recorder like Sound Devices can it be sharpened in post? And how it compares to 5D3’s sharpened footage.

        Cheers

        Alex

  16. Thank you Philip for an excellent review. Can I ask – were the low light tests done with the moire filter on the d800 and post sharpening on the canon? I’m also curious to know whether it would be reasonable to use in camera sharpening with the canon for most shots, and switch to no sharpening when shooting obvious moire risky stuff?

      1. Thanks again Philip. So is that in camera sharpening on the 5d low light shots, or no sharpening? – they look surprisingly good either way. The trouble is, you can’t watch that footage too much, or you start falling in love with the girl!

  17. Thanks Philip, great review and loved watching it. Started out with a Nikon D80 but moved over to Canon when video became an option. Still hoping Nikon can shock us with something amazing. Cheers!

  18. Thank you sooo much for this review! Everyone was waiting for this one and you delivered in full effect.

    Rolling shutter I expect on all of these but watching the shots made me curious about the difference in DR. Am i seeing a contrast difference in the D800 or is that the effect of the sharpness?

    Thanks for all the work you did on this.
    (P.S.-How many drinks does it take to get to the end of a Philip Bloom low light test?)

  19. Hi Philip, great job!
    And a suggestion for a next review, I’d love to see a comparison of the in camera compressed footage against the hdmi out, maybe an example of how much you can push it in grading before those compression artifacts start to look nasty, and how better the hdmi out version is.

    cheers!

  20. Thanks for the review. I got the MK3 after your last video. I couldn’t be happier with it. One of the less spoken features of the DSLR’s or at least the MK3 and MK2 is the weather proofing. That goes a long way when you’re shooting in rough environments. Thanks again

  21. Well, I love your British humour. Always did. Maybe ’cause I’m French.

    AND it’s a very interesting test.

    What else to ask ?
    Don’t know. Nothing I guess.

    Nice work !
    And thank you. 🙂

    Fred

  22. great job here phillip. This cleared up all my questions about these cameras. Best test vid I’ve seen on your site since I started following your site in 2009. As always, thanks again for helping out the filmmaking community.

  23. Hi Philip! I am really grateful that I found your website and you’ve been really helpful with this reviews. I just recently started video about 8 months ago and landed a job ( an in-house videographer/editor of a new company here in Reno, NV) and was looking for ways to improve my craft. Your work inspires me in so many levels and the blogs/reviews/education that you do help me learn stuff that I didn’t even know. I wish you all the the best in your career & hope that I can meet you in person in the future!

    P.S: I really want to ask you a lot of questions on dslrs and video but I’ll just save it until next time when you are not as busy. Good day! 🙂

  24. Philip I know you said a few times you love Nikon camera for photography was wondering if you would write a blog post your love for Nikon as still camera. And also do you use your Canon cameras for stills or do you pull out the Nikons for stills?

  25. Thanks for the lovely review and for the time you spend doing it. I think the better camera is the MKiii because you can fix the shapness problem in PP CS6, the low light it´s great and clean. The Nikon problems can´t be totally fixed. Thanks again Phillip, it really helps to have more info about this cameras because thay are not a cheap investment.

    Amazing C300… Question: Is the c300 better than the fs100.

    Bye
    From Pitrufquén, Chile, Southamerica.

  26. This review finally clarified my doubts about the D4’s advantages over the D800 and 5DmkIII. Such a shame its so good on paper. Thanks for doing this review.

  27. A fine effort as usual Phil. Our industry needs people like you who make the effort and find the time to do these reviews, much appreciated.

    However, I am concerned about the “skanky” motel you experienced in Christchurch…! Next time, and I hope there is a next time, let me book you into a far nicer establishment that will erase the memory of those cockroaches etc…

  28. Fantastic rhetorical question posed at the end… I wonder if c300, which is so amply displayed throughout, is the answer. I’ll be finding out myself when I pick one up next week.

  29. Anyone else going to miss grain??? -these cameras do too well. Even the D800 did an amazing job compared to what we had just a while back. I’d like to see how the moire/aliasing does in a more dynamic situation with these cameras. Bought a Canon a few years back and took it to a dance shoot, bit colored curtain hung up in the back with lights flashing. All the footage was not useable, just big waves of aliasing and it looked to soft to my eye. Got rid of the camera and scoffed the DSLR revolution (wrong job really). Anyone have a D800 and can attest to how it compares to Gen 1 Canon DSLRs? How diminished are these extreme artifacts?

    1. They’re still there.
      But all these new DSLRs miles better than previous DSLRs for video, unless you have a Mosaic filter in a 5D2.
      They do still have a lot of negatives (moire in the Nikons, softness in the 5D3) compared to actual cinema video cameras.

  30. Very nice Phillip! Very well produced. Any idea what your ISO on the C300 was for the Manhattan shots? It seemed a bit noisy. Just curious. Thanks! Keep up the great work.

  31. Forget about the cameras you reviewed, the C300 dynamic range is wonderful! – let’s hope the Blackmagic Cinema Camera can equal it! Thanks for the review, another excellent review and makes me appreciate my hacked GH2 even more.

  32. I wan’t the best low light video camera, (willing to sharpen each time no prob) best dynamic range (so to be grade-able), dslr (must be dual purpose for high fashion photography). mark III? 1dX? 1DC? Or mark iii plus another camera that’ll take canon mount adapter? I have about 20-25k to spend. I like the c300 and scarlet but dread two cameras for two purposes. prefer dslr. but i will do whatever’s necessary. black magic cam looks good too…

  33. Thank you very much for this excellent comparison.

    In a way, it follows what I found, although I could only play with them for half an hour each and both my D800, D4 and 5D3 were late prototypes. A car accidently trashed my €15k worth of photo gear, so having to start from scratch and as it’s yet impossible to get a production D800 for better testing, I was waiting for yours to make a decision.

    I believe the D800 is at this time the better camera for both stills and video, unless you need the 6fps of the 5D3. After my own pre-tests, the Nikon got quite close to a Hassy H4D, both in terms of Res and DR and it costs less than a MF lens (!). On the video side, the apparently better DR and significatively better resolution of the D800 (why is the 5D3 so soft?) puts it ahead of the Canon. The D800’s clean HDMI is the ice on the cake.

    Canon’s 5D3 is better at ultra high ISOs, but honestly people shouldn’t go beyond 800-1600 ISO in video, as they’d risk having blown-out practicals, which get way hotter than the key, always a sign of amateurism (not talking about you, you were only doing a test here). Higher sensibility DOESN’T mean you don’t have to light properly!

    Nikon has finally stroken gold. The D800 is a stellar photo camera. Then by (literally) sandwiching it just between a Ninja2 and a SoundDevices MixPre-D, you also get a lightweight and professional ProRes 422 220Mbit videocam with pro audio and external EVF, for just an overall €1,6k addition (Pix220 is also an alternative to those, but it’s just too heavy to stick it on top of the D800).

  34. Philip,
    As always mate, your videos are fascinating and engaging in a way that is similar to the DOF full frame argument. “YOU JUST CANNOT QUANTIFY IT IN WORDS” haha. I would like to know where you would stack a driftwood hacked GH2 in comparison to your c300/d800/5dmkiii/mkii/D4?

    1. The GH2 wins in resolution for sure. BUt that’s it! Still great for the price! But this is all about full frame cameras. We open up to GH2 then we open up to C300 etc again and then it becomes a bloated mess for me!

  35. Hi again Philip, I am travelling the world for seven weeks in June on long service leave, finishing up at Siggraph in August for work. I’m thinking about buying a new 5DmkIII duty free before I leave Australia. What are your thoughts on buying bodies/lenses/gear outside of the country you live in, for warranty purposes etc when you really need it?