Great Zacuto Shootout, DSLRS vs 35mm Film Part 2. Sensitivity

Follow Me

Nikon D3s

I had a lot to do with this episode as this was where we wanted to see just how far we could push the DSLRs. I think you will be very surprised with our findings.

There was no way film could do my test so we simply pitted the Canon low light king the 1DmkIV against the Nikon D3s

Click the below image to see part 2!

I hope as many as you as possible will get to see these tests on the big screen. They will be available for download soon I believe but you will be shocked at the high ISO tests of the Nikon DS3 on a big screen. Makes me want to buy one just for extremely low light shooting. After all I still am a Nikon user with a full set of Nikon lenses as well as being a Canon fanboy…


  1. Nice work Philip & the team. Interesting low light test and was pretty darn knocked out by Nikons on-board noise reduction… I would have liked to have seen how the 5DmkII compared with its H1 and H2 settings in the same BIC lighter test. Nevertheless, very exciting stuff and thank you once again.

  2. Wow go Nikon!

    The GH1 was also quite clean at the lower ISOs…more so than the others I felt, but this might have been a result of the more contrasty image.

    Hmmm…I had dismissed noise reduction in the past but it might be worth looking at…I don’t really see how the in camera algorithm could ever be better than one on your computer but maybe. It would have been nice to see NR on and off.

      1. Philip,
        Out of curiosity, did you play one of your shorts on the big screen?
        How big is the screen?
        How does it look?

        At the shootout its edited so I don’t get answer on my questions

        Thanks in advance

  3. very very interesting what the nikon was capable of.
    has anyone heard that cowboy style theme music before? the repetitive bit with the key change? im sure its from a film but i cant remember, great track choice.

  4. I loved this episode. It was a dream of mine for decades to be able to shoot what I see at night and its beauty with light and darkness. These cameras have shown that it is now possible. I choose a Nikon D5000 to start me off with my own HD DSLR cinema and now am excited to work with it further. Thanks Phil for keeping us informed. The last episode will be one I look forward to also.

  5. Cool, thanks.

    I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there has been another leap into mainstream for HDSLRs – the final episode of House MD was completely shot on a bunch of 5D MkIIs.

    Greg Yaitanes, the House MD director wrote about the experience on twitter (@GregYaitanes). Summary:

    * The season finale was shot on 3 5D2’s
    * He loved what it did with actors faces and the shallow DOF
    * He loved the compact nature and how it was less intrusive to the actors.
    * He loved the post-processing workflow
    * They used a bunch of Canon primes and the 24-70 and the 70-200 zooms
    * They recorded sound on an external system
    * They used the 5D mkII over the 7D for the bigger sensor
    * They used the latest firmware

    The finale airs May 17th…

  6. The D3s was biblical at higher ISOs!

    What lenses were used for the shoots during the Ultra High Sensitivity tests for both Canon 1D MkIV and Nikon D3s?


  7. That Nikon D3 was incredible in low light at 25000 ISO. Incredible how good it still looked. The noise structure is really nice, very film like to the point where it looks nice, rather then the Canons. Can’t wait for Epi 3.

  8. The City of Angels trailer at the end blew me away. Most amazing work have seen yet on a 5d or 7d. I think that says just as much as the tests for what they are capable of. Nice low-light tests. Was the crew using Ex’s for the theater stuff? It was so noticeable to see the lack of noise in the tests and then see the noise in theater.

    1. We used both a 5D and EX in the theaters. You can see the 5D in incredibly less noisy. I was still an old time stubborn director and wasn’t convinced to use DSLR’s on my docu until after doing the docu and what we learned.

      1. Thanks for the reply Steve. Was it possible to crush any of the noise into the blacks on any of the tests? Did you do that in the grading or was the footage “straight” from the camera? – Thanks again to you all for the great tests and for making them public!!!

  9. Why is the in camera noise reduction so amazing on the Nikon D3s. Do you know any specifics?? Loving the shootout so far. Congrats on the high ISO idea, it blew me away. Phil, you will be ASC equivalent real soon the way you are going. Looking forward to seeing you in toronto soon. Imani, much peace!

  10. Hey Philip!!
    I know its a bit photography related but my 5D never looks this ugly even over 5000ISO. To me 7D looked even better then 5D on that test. Its hard to judge as I wasn’t there.

    Even at Bryan’s review at digitalPicture:

    5D or 1D4 doesn’t look that bad. I know they are stills but it gives some sort of perspective on how NR applies to canon images.

    As for the High ISO test – those are always tricky. Nikon was the clear winner but I wonder why those canons did so poorly. I think if Nikon was allowed to have NR on then 5D or 1D should have it as well. I just want to see what can be rescued at such a high ISO from canons.

    By the end of the part II i was left a bit unsatisfied. Nikon does good at high ISO with NR, canon does poorly without any NR but I don’t know how well can it do with some NR applied in camera. Is it possible to see Nikons footage without any NR? is it possible to see Canons footage with NR applied?

    thx in advance,
    Cant wait for part 3 ^^ color with those compressed H264s and motion jpg should be interesting.

  11. D3s was stunning! When Nikon sort out their compression their really gonna threaten Canon for Video.

    One thing that really interested me was the ‘optimum ISOs’ I’ve heard bits about that before but never anything too in depth. Are 160, 320, 640, 1250 etc the best to use on everything?

    These tests have been amazing, couldn’t agree more that DSLRs really are the future for us students!

  12. Very good discovery… Loved it!! Great to watch.

    The D3S does so well because Nikon haven’t packed as many pixels into their full frame sensor as Canon. The Nikon also seems to benefit from a very intelligent noise reduction scheme which concentrates on leaving the grain and just removing chroma colour noise.

    12MP on the GH1 and D3S gives them a sensitivity advantage.

    However the Nikon product manager said in a recent interview that they got the compromise wrong, too far over to high ISO performance and not enough res, and would change it in the future. I disagree. They got it balanced perfectly. 22MP is too much and really useless for video! 18MP on the 7D is also too much.

    The Micro 4/3rds sized sensor has no right to compete against the 5D in low light tests and yet it does because it has a similar pixel density (in a same-generation chip)

    I think the D3S’s capabilities come across more like party tricks, because as a whole it just doesn’t compete with Canon or Panasonic. If Nikon could get the image processing side sorted and add 1080p they’d have a 5D beating product albeit at a higher price. But they’ve completely missed the boat video wise. How difficult would it be for a company as skilled as Nikon to build a stand-alone video-camera with the D3S sensor? Do they realise the size of the potential market they’re ignoring? Astonishing.

    Canon understand it very well and that’s why they’re a leader.

    As for Panasonic… I feel overall they have the best all round video camera. It feels like a toy and isn’t taken as seriously as a full frame camera in a pro body, but it’s more enjoyable to handle and the articulated screen is invaluable for faster shooting and shot set up, and to save my back. I like the compact size and wider lens adaptability, and the image processing has the edge on Canon too. At ISO 1250 the difference is as near as meaningless between the GH1 and the 5D Mark II, in fact I find the depth of field more manageable and the image is very pleasing and contrasty. The GH1 is also the only one with a lens engineered specifically for video mode. It may be just personal, but I shoot better looking footage on the GH1 than I do on a 5D, I feel it aids my creativity more. It all adds up and if you need super-shallow depth of field, you can still go for a crazy fast lens like the Noktor and have enough change left compared to the 5D to spend more on accessories like a Z-Finder.

    I have both at the moment, 5D and GH1, love both, but think it’s maybe time to sell the 5D and invest in a few more GH1 lenses.

    1. I agree completely with Andrew – I think the GH1 is generally overlooked because it’s a “consumer camera”.

      I too shoot with both the 5D and GH1 and the GH1 is just easier and more pleasant to use in most respects.

  13. Phil,

    These are great. To be honest though, the differences to me (novice amateur) don’t seem that great. Whereas if you were to present two identical films one on film, and one with a DSLR the average person may not see a difference.

    Do you think you guys would run the footage by average joes and see what results you get?


  14. City of Lakes Trailer was UNBELIEVABLE. I keep watching it over and over. I thought I had just downloaded the latest studio epic from I would love to learn more about his kit, lenses, color grading workflow and budget… not to mention his casting of those kids…

    Thanks Zacuto for these informative episodes! I agree that the D3S grain looked more filmic – however, it did not hold the highlights well when over exposed- it looked very much like bad yellowish video in the flesh tones. The Canons stay white and much more pleasant in the whites…

    my .02

    Thanks again!

    Dan Rubottom

  15. Canon’s new XF305 procamcorder looks pretty tasty with the latest incarnation of their Digic processor. Its going to be an interesting summer by the looks of things.
    Time to flog the EX3 possibly…

  16. Great stuff – cant wait for part 3…

    Really impressed by the Nikon NR – amazing stuff…. wonder if a similar NR effect for Canon will be available in the future when shooting.. ? maybe even via magic latern etc…

    Would really love it if we could download HD .MP4’s of these episodes !!

    Be interesting to see what’s coming to NAB in a week.

  17. I’m pretty sure once this is done I am going to hook this up to the Christie Digital Projector at the movie theatre here in town. I’d love to see it on a big screen.

    Being a projectionist has it’s perks.

  18. Philip,

    Can you elaborate on the “optimum ISO’s” I thought every camera had a “native ISO” of the chip, than everything thereafter was just a boost of the signal to noise ratio.



  19. I’m in a bit of a mix about which way to go, I own a Nikon D80 with just the kit lense, no others and a HV30 + loads of years of DV/HDV tapes.

    I have £600 quid + D80 + HV30

    I really fancy the T2i. But suddenly thought what about selling the D80 + £600 to get a 7D. The cost is the same, now the 7D is down in price + £50 cash back.

    I’m not a keen photographer just family events, much prefer being creative with video instead it’s more fulfilling to me.

    Downside in combing video and photos into a 7D would mean when just wanting to shoot photos and have follow focus, loupe etc on it makes it cumbersome. Buy a cheap point and shoot I guess.

    Or keep D80 and spend £600 on a T2i dedicated to video and add a simple rig around it?

    Oh man. Need to keep HV30 for getting tapes onto a RAID. Got to buy the disks first though. Guess I should have RAID anyway. 🙁

    Any advice?

  20. Philip, were protective filters used on the Zeiss lenses, and do you use protective filters on your lenses?



    P.S. hope to see you in Toronto in June.

  21. I need some help..don’t know if the right place to ask, but sure enough the right place for the best answer. I’ve joined the HDSLR recently and this blog was, still is, a big help. But there’s only one thing bodering me: picture styles. What’s the right one to use? I’ve used Marvels cine and extraflat presets that are around the web, but although I liked the nice help they give CC, skin tones and noise are not the best… So I’m at square one again.. any help? thanks!

  22. Great blog Mr Bloom. So which camera did best here? What DSLR should I go for: 7D or 5D Mk II for portrait photography/video work? Is the 7D superior to the 5D Mk II in terms of delivering stunning video/photos?

    Any clarificaiton on the matter is welcome. 5D Mk II is quite old now I know!

  23. Hey Philip,
    Thank you for amazing video!!
    Tell me how you turn On / turn Off Noise Reduction in D3s? I have closely studied manual, and it is spoken that “High ISO NR has no effect on movies” (p.291)

Leave a Reply