D800 / 5D Mark III comparison

Finally!  Canon and Nikon have announced the cameras that we've all been waiting for.  And while we at pictureline have been thrilled with how the two cameras stack up against one another, there are a few differences that are worth noting, particularly if you're not yet married to one system or another.

If you've been following the progression of cameras in this range from Canon and Nikon, you know that each brand has historically had their own strengths.  The D700 didn't have video or super high resolution like the 5D Mark II, but very few would argue that the Mark II could even touch the D700 at higher ISO's.

Before we look at the differences, let's cover the common ground.  Both are full frame, high resolution camera bodies that utilize a CMOS sensor.  Both have 100% viewfinder coverage, 3.2" LCD screens, and HD movie capability.  Both Canon and Nikon have upgraded the processors and redesigned the auto focus systems, as well as overhauled the metering systems in the new models.  HDR shooters will be happy with either model as both now support in camera bracketing and HDR merging.

Now for the differences.

Ever hear the expression "go big or go home?"  Well with the D800 resolution Nikon definitely went big.  At 36 megapixels the D800 is the highest resolution, non-medium format digital camera ever produced.  It is the first camera they've ever had that significantly out paces Canon's competitive model, and coincidentally the first time Canon has found itself in the #2 position in resolution for this category of camera.  However, the big resolution comes at a price for Nikon, and that price is high ISO capability.  Just as Canon is in uncharted territory being #2 in terms of resolution, Nikon is not used to having the camera that stops earlier in ISO range.  Now don't get me wrong, the D800 range allowing native shooting at ISO 6400 is impressive, but the Mark III's ability to shoot all the way at ISO 25,600 gives Canon the obvious advantage for extreme low light shooters.  I am looking forward to test both cameras and see just how well they do at their respective ISO limits.

Staying true to their predecessors, the D800 has a built in flash which can control their CLS compatible flashes, while the 5D Mark III still has none.  This is a feature that many portrait photographers have found handy, allowing for some modest fill light from the camera, while your main lighting comes from non-hotshoe mounted sources.  It's a feature that I would love to see Canon introduce in a 5D family body, but given the history of this line don't expect it anytime soon.

As far as video goes, this is an area where I was frankly surprised.  While everyone was expecting that the D800 would offer HD video capabilities, nobody expected it would outdo the 5D Mark III.  Let me say before I get too far, the proof will come when cameras are delivered and some independent tests have been performed.  On paper, the uncompressed output via HDMI appears to be a major advantage for Nikon, and it certainly has plenty of video users talking.  With both cameras shooting at 1080p, and offering a variety of frame rates, the difference in quality will come down to compression.  In my speaking with customers who are big video shooters, I would say it's a pretty even mix of surprise that Nikon included the uncompressed output on one side, and disappointment that Canon didn't offer it on the other.  As with the high ISO performance, we'll have to wait for the cameras to see how big a difference this makes in actual image quality.

To sum it up, Nikon and Canon appear to have switched roles when it comes to high ISO performance, resolution, and video.  As before, there will be certain applications where one camera will have an advantage over the other.  If you already own a considerable amount of glass in one system or the other, you will likely not be swayed enough to switch systems.  If however, you've not made the commitment to either brand yet, you are in the perfect opportunity to evaluate which will fit your needs best and start from the ground up.


Nikon D800

Canon 5D Mark III

Sensor Resolution 36.3 Million 22.3 Million
Sensor Type CMOS CMOS
Sensor Size 35.9x24mm 36x24mm
Dust Reduction / Sensor Cleaning Yes Yes
Image Size 7360 x 4912 5760 x 3840
Image Processor EXPEED 3 DIGIC 5+
Viewfinder Type Pentaprism Pentaprism
Viewfinder Coverage 100% 100%
Viewfinder Magnification 0.70x 0.71x
Storage Media 1x Compact Flash and 1x SD 1x Compact Flash and 1x SD
Continuous Shooting Speed 4 FPS, 6 FPS in DX mode with MB-D12 battery grip 6 FPS
Max Speed 1/8000 to 30 sec 1/8000 to 30 sec
Shutter Durability 200,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
Exposure Metering Sensor 91,000-pixel RGB sensor 3D Color Matrix Metering III iFCL metering with 63 zone dual-layer sensor
Base ISO ISO 100 ISO 100
Native ISO Sensitivity ISO 100-6,400 ISO 100-25,600
Boosted ISO Sensitivity ISO 50, ISO 12,800-25,600 ISO 50, ISO 51,200-102,400
Autofocus System Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX with 51-points (up to 15 cross-type points) 61-point high-density reticular AF (up to 41 cross-type points)
AF Detection Up to f/8 (up to 9 cross-type sensors) Up to f/5.6
Built-in Flash Yes No
AF Assist Yes No, only with external flash
Video Output H.264/MPEG-4 in MOV Format AVI, H.264/MPEG-4 in MOV Format
Uncompressed Video Output Yes (HDMI) No
Video Maximum Resolution 1920×1080 (1080p) @ 30p 1920×1080 (1080p) @ 30p
Audio Recording Built-in microphone
External stereo microphone (optional)
Built-in microphone
External stereo microphone (optional)
LCD Size 3.2 diagonal TFT-LCD 3.2 diagonal TFT-LCD
LCD Resolution 921,000 dots 1,040,000 dots
Exposure Compensation ±5 EV in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV increments ±5 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments
Bracketing 2 to 9 frames in steps of 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 EV ±3 EV in 1/3 or 1/2 EV increments
HDR Support Yes Yes
Built-in GPS No No
Wi-Fi Functionality Eye-Fi Compatible, WT-4A Eye-Fi Compatible, WFT-E7
Battery EN-EL15 Lithium-ion Battery LP-E6 Lithium-ion Battery
Battery Life 850 shots (CIPA) 950 shots (CIPA)
Battery Charger MH-25 Quick Charger LC-E6 Charger
Weather Sealed Body Yes Yes
USB Version 3.0 2.0
Camera Construction Magnesium Alloy Magnesium Alloy
Dimensions 144.78 x 121.92 x 81.28mm 152 x 116.4 x 76.4mm
Weight 900g 860g
MSRP Price $2,999 $3,499
5d mark iiiCanonComparisonD800March 2012NikonVs