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Wednesday, 17 December 2008


Thanks for the informative post. As a Canon shooter I must admit I was a little disapointed to hear this.

I'm itching to step up from a APC sized sensor to a full frame. I doubt I'll wait for the next 5Dxx model, but it is nice to see the camera's limitations put out in an honest and fair profile.


A very interesting and honest appraisal, but more importantly, for me anyway, is the fact that you also find the trusty old Pentax K20D playing in the same ballpark at well under half the cost.

As a poor Brit, the cost of gear is a BIG issue and also as a K20D user (and Pentax's great and affordable lenses), I'm glad to see little David kicking some dust into the eyes of the Goliaths! ;-)

I like the bit about the Pentax K20 CHEERS Vic

Hi, I have compared by using both the Canon and the Nikon and I found the exact opposite of what you did - The Nikon was the one hesitating to focus in lower light (I have a 20D and it never once has hunted for focus with any lens in lower light) but the Nikon not only hunts but has to blind you with a white light it emits so it can focus - the Canon focuses on it's own with no extra light shooting out. Admittedly the 5D M2 is a little slower than my 20D which just never has any focus issues, but that camera is known for that and we may never see the likes of AF that good for some time. As far as noise, Canon's algorithm has always struck the best balance at low noise high detail as I have compared it to Nikon in the past too. Shadows are just plain noisy on the D700 at 3200 ISO and they are very smooth on the Canon - even at the maximum NR setting. When you do maximum NR on the Nikon, the image starts to look smeary and digital. The Canon image does not. Foliage such as pine trees look very natural with the Canon, but the Nikon renders them fake looking - it's the same problem Nikon has had since their earliest cameras including P&S's - the images just to not always render natural - they often have a weird fake look and color shift that is very hard if not impossible to fix (in the past it was sort of a bronzing thing). I tested the D700 with the 24-70 2.8 lens which is one of the best. Not impressed. What did impress me about the Nikon is the AMAZING set of features and tweaks that can be done. This really blew me away. Canon should definitely take a lesson and at least let people turn on a crosshair grid of some kind if nothing else. I cannot speak for the Sony, I need low noise at high ISO so the Sony won't help me there.

The best way is to test all cameras for yourself to see what "look" you like best, after all it's the end product we care about, so it's less about features and more about getting the shot.

Very good comparison, thank you.

Mike, thanks for your obvious effort to be unbiased and provide useful information.

I am looking seriously at these cameras for landscape use. The Sony with the Sony/Zeiss lenses would seem to be the ideal tool for me except for one big problem: no live view. The prospect of spending my time afield with my face up against a camera back is a big problem. I have a 2 x 3 view camera and looking at a very high res 2 x 3 monitor would be similar. Just how good IS that viewfinder? Relative to a ground glass?

Because of that I was considering the 5Dmk2. But the artifacts evident in the files are a problem for me. They remind me of the kind of problems that exist in the P&S world that quite simply should not be occurring at this price point. And as has been pointed out, some of these might be dealt with through firmware (IF Canon chooses to) but it is unlikely that all can be. I don't need the high speed/low noise functionality, so what appear to be compromises to allow the 5d2 to be all things renders it a compromise in image quality across the board. And given the commodity nature of digital cameras—the reduction of the resale value to nearly nothing when a replacement model comes out—makes purchasing something like this as a an interim camera out of the question.

The Nikon? Maybe the 700x, but not the 700. Besides I have had some serious issues with the way they marketed and supported the 8000 and 9000 scanners. The 8000, which I purchased and still have, has a number of design issues that create some serious image quality problems. But their idea of how to deal with it was to come to market with the 9000 and tell the 8000 purchasers that the solution (to the problems that they admitted to) was to buy a 9000. At full price. So I'm not eager to purchase another Nikon product.

So now I'm stuck for a good digital camera. Too bad, I was looking forward to it.

Your article helped to solidify my thinking in the way a second and confirming opinion can do. Thanks again.


I'm very sorry about your family...

and your sod house.

My condolences,


Good review of all three, Mike. I know it took a while to write that, and we are all thankful for your efforts.

I'm not too surprised that the Nikon has slightly better noise performance than the 5D MkII, as it's resolution is almost half that of the Canon. Assuming that the in-camera noise reduction algorithms are roughly equal (or at least, equally "modern"), one could infer that the Nikon would have better noise performance because the Nikon has bigger pixels, buckets, as it were, to gather rain (photons). Hence, it's signal to noise ratio would be higher per pixel in low light conditions than the 5D MkII and A900. Simple physics. The fact that the Canon did as well as it did compared to the Nikon must mean that Canon pulled some rabbits out of the hat with the in-camera NR algorithms.

Personally, I was kind of hoping that Canon would have left the resolution of the MkII where it was with the original 5D, and implemented Digic IV and the dust-removal system. Then we would likely have a camera that had as good or perhaps slightly better noise performance than best-in-class, and still plenty of resolution to make large prints.

As I pointed out in a previous post and sent you prints to show first-hand, one doesn't need 24 megapixels to make large prints. It's really about workflow and careful printing "management".

Seinberg, very good question;

Mike, if you downsize the 5d2's images to the D700's resolution, do you still get the difference in noise, and just as importantly is the purple fringing still so noticeable?

And you seem to downplay the color accuracy of the Sony. Seems like a major determinant of IQ, so how much of an issue is it?

In the end, as most here have mentioned, the investment in lenses people have already made will be a major driver of the decision as to which of these cameras they get. After all who's going to wish to lose all that money invested in L lenses by switching, they may as well go to the top of the class and get a 1dsIII (or vice versa the D3X).

Mike! What a breath of fresh air! Down to earth, no smoke and mirrors, or myth and rumour. Having been in this game for almost 30 years, and not been able to completely part with my Kodachrome habit and 67 format, this report proves to me that there are still people out there, testing these new offerings, without vermin in their veins.

No need to walk into the local "digital space shop" and having to keep in mind what Vincent Laforet, Joe MaNally, Thom Hogan or for that matter Michael Reichmann's opinion on Model XYZ was. Best forget the rabid geeks of DP Review.

The traditional darkroom, taught us the finer nuances of B&W, colour and depth, captured on a strip of halide covered acetate. The latent image was the result of how that picture was captured. Digital have caused a paradigm shift to the point of no matter in what "Auto Mode" the image was grabbed, it can always be rescued by means of a software application. Hence throw all the bells and whistles at a "picture" and do all the panel beating afterwards. Almost like the rescue of a train wreck after the smash. It is quite unsettling to the "old dog" who still practice the traditional principles of photography.

I want to believe this report was written against the background of that same traditional principles of photography – compose and make the picture in your eye, capture the moment with all your creative senses on high alert. Make pictures and stop comparing engine size and RAM speed!

Thank you Mike – well done!

PS: I did get into the water with a Kodak DCS 14n Pro. Made an upward move to Canon 1Ds11's, but settle back to MF with the option of digital backs. Less synthetic looking images and more colour depth.

Thank you for sharing. In a way I suppose you have managed to keep all sides equally unhappy. In my review reading moments, I try to wade through all the facts to find out if it would enable me to take great photos with whatever is on the bench. Please bear with me for my ramblings; I will get to the point.

We got into the digital realm, way back in the '90s. We started off with one of the first Canon P&S (example: http://framedandshot.com/2008/09/24/watching-the-sun-go-down/). This was, by today’s standards, a terrible camera. Our first real upgrade was to a Sony F828 (Example: http://framedandshot.com/2008/12/14/the-andes/) , after its review as “A Flawed Jewel (http://luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/sony828.shtml ). This camera was a huge step up from the P&S and served us well for years. Then snapping turned to a hobby (we could afford) and our first DSLR was acquired. It was the Nikon D200 (Example: http://framedandshot.com/2008/11/03/hoops-in-the-water/ ). The IQ was stunning and photography was fun again, just as in the pre digital SLR era. As we are two, the significant other also wanted a DSLR and we got a D300 (Example: http://framedandshot.com/2008/10/25/inside-the-cactus-flower/ ). The D300 outshone the D200 in every way and the only logical thing to do was to get a D700 (Example: http://framedandshot.com/2008/10/19/after-the-storm/ ).

My point is that every one of these cameras is capable of delivering great photos. However, with every upgrade, it becomes easier to get it just right. No shutter lag, improved ISO, focus speed, burst speed etc. Pixel peeping has its place and so does comparison of features. But, it is really just a tool….

I enjoyed this review because it focused on the camera as a whole and how it works as a tool. Technical reviews are useful and will let the reader draw his own conclusions, but a "user report" is invaluable, particularly when it is backed up by experience and skill.

Thanks Mike.

Enjoyed the writeup. Interesting to see how fast SOTA is advancing. Waiting for the your evaluation of the Panasonic G1. I'm sure that to many of us the FF digital are out of the question price wise and so it seems that it will be somewhat like the old film days when there was a choice between medium format and 35mm. How much quality can you afford. This isn't a whine about personal income level, I really like compact cameras. When just going out for a stroll I sure don't slip my Mamiya C220 in one pocket and a Gitzo in the other!

Interesting review, thanks Mike!

In regard to the mentioned compromise of the Canon 5Dmk2: it actually goes even farther than that. when shooting sRAW you get about the same technical resolution as the D700. in a forum thread at dpreview.com 5Dmk2 sRAW was compared to D700 at high ISOs. the sRAW samples showed lower noise AND higher level of details than samples from the D700. I'd be interested to hear your opinion/conclusion on the 5Dmk2 sRAW mode.

thanks, -- Peter

I fully enjoyed reading your comparison and thought it put a nice emphasis on the most important issues.

I liked the fact you you value the degree of how "photographic" an image looks.

This aspect made me chose Pentax over Nikon.

In your opinion, how does the Pentax K20D rate against the three cameras discussed here in terms of "non-digital" images?

I believe colour fidelity and noise structure plays a role in how "photographic" an image looks. I prefer the detail retaining low noise reduction of Pentax cameras. It makes them fare worse in number comparison games, but I think the images are nicer. Nikon uses outstanding sensor technology but their low noise figures are relatively meaningless unless qualified with corresponding spatial resolution.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with all of us. After reading your short but concise review I have no doubt now that you are one of the best reviewers out there. Im gonna include a link to this page on my blog.

"Mike, I just have one question - how many of your readers actually know the word "mentsch?" For what it's worth, I think you are one and enjoyed the frankness of this post, which reflects how you always present your materials."

To those who are not of the cognoscenti: mensch in Yiddish is someone upstanding, decent and honorable. In German, it means a man or human.

In Jewish culture (mother to daughter): "You should marry a mensch."

A900 really shines here! Combine that with excellent Zeiss lenses and you have a very strong competitor!

"As they say in auto racing, when you're really good but not quite the best, what they call you is second"

You may be not quite as fast on the straightways as the Ferraris, not quite as fast on the turns as the McLarens, but still be best overall.

See what you started: http://www.fredmiranda.com/forum/topic/719117


I'm smitten by the Nikon D700, and have been waiting for one on the cheap. It may be the best low light, still camera ever - just right for photo journalism. The economy has set up a chance to snag bargains as dealers face the tax season. It is an ill wind that blows no one good.

I have a lot of Nikkor glass. I’m in hopes the Nikon D3x could be an ideal (high res - deep DR) mate to the D700's low light wizardry. If that were so, I could avoid breaking what's left of my bank to get all new Sony A900 stuff, then keeping up with two systems.

Canon makes fine cameras, and lenses. Still, I have none of their gear, and switching to Canon would cost more than Sony. I would prefer a PhaseOne/Mamiya 645 for its ability to collect large files. Yet, that’s triple the cost of a D3x. Until someone breaks the price on large chips, I'm content being a small format tight wad. For me, to frugally get good commercial results means Nikon. I’ll bet I’m not alone. Odds are that Nikon knows how many we are, and where we live.

The Nikon D3x and the Sony A900 have common chip linage. Granted, the D3x has a bloated price (reminds one of road kill in July). Yet, I'm wondering about the D3x's resolution and DR. If it is as good as the Sony A900, the D3x’s price might be rationalized by not needing new glass. The D3x may even have bit better IQ than the A900.

I await your curmudgeondom. Please, don't do as another of my favorite photo mavens. For now, he has stopped his D3x order because the price was high-handed. Alas, it seems our luminous source of landscape wisdom may not shed much light on the D3x. Oh, Canada.

I agree with The Lucent One about the D3x's cost. Only there's a lot of us who have too much Nikon junk. Hence, we dance to their porky tune. Actually, Nikon strobes are hard to beat. Nikkor glass is very good. Their gear does many things well, much better than I. Yet, the D3x seems only to be an adapted D3. It’s worth maybe $1,000 more than the D3x, not several thousands more.

If Nikon needs ripping for obscene price nicking - you're the man - or, at least one of them. Still, if the D3x is a costly show stopper - your sense of fair play should prevail.

What I really, really . . . really want (along with the D700) is a good digital medium format and three decent lenses - all for less than $12,000. It’s probably coming by 2012. If Mamiya doesn’t do it, Nikon might - or Sony, or Canon. I don’t care who. Just so it’s a value and cranks out glorious files! I don’t need the cachet of a Hasseleicaflex - just good glass and a roomy chip with big, quiet photo sites. Photoshop can work magic on a good raw file. Maybe a modular system with upgradable components will become competitive. Until then, I’ll shoot small and Photoshop large.

What a great time to be a photographer, St. Ansel would be roaring with delight! So many improvements have happened, and in so little time.

Well, this is certainly an interesting if not surprising set of analyses and conclusions. The one comment that stands out in my mind is the characterization of the Canon 5D II as not being as "photographic" as the other two, meaning "more digital."

I've been a Canon shooter for quite some time and have always found this to be the case with my Canon cameras, which include the 5D Mark I and the 1Ds II. I'm not at all surprised, then, to see that this is also seen in the latest version of the 5D, although I had hoped it would be corrected ... if it can be.

All in all, this is an insightful overview. It makes me interested in exploring the A900 (more out of curiosity than need) and supports my notion about NOT upgrading to the 5D II, something I decided quite some time ago. The 1Ds II suits me just fine, thank you. It has plenty of resolution, and its AF is superb in both speed and accuracy.

Thanks for the article. Really well done ...

An excellent test and chimes with the initial 5Dmk2 comments (black fringing) made by KR.
I'll still stay with film for the moment as I can achieve so much higher resolution using 50 and 100 ISO film, than digital.
Anyway, it seems that fussy people are spending about the same amount of time fiddling with software as I am in the darkroom.

this is one of the most interesring review around. something that really make me understand the impact of these cameras on my daily job. thanks for this comparison.

Nikon does not allow for the use of my manual focus Zeiss lenses (both M42 and C/Y mount). Nikon is out for me, end of story.

Thanks Mike for the superb article. You are a brave guy and did wonderfully for being objective without having only "all great tools" message in fear of advertisers, etc.

So it seems that really the limiting factor on getting good pictures is the skill of photographer (we run out of excuses soon :-). And it seems that we are getting close to slide film quality on 35mm form factor.

Soon time to capitalize on my full frame Minolta AF lenses, now I'm only using the center part of the frame on A100...

Cheers, Erkki (one happy winner, when camera brand competition throws us even better tools!)

The response to the Sony A900 has been interesting. It has a nice viewfinder and it has a lot of pixels. DPR took the view there were 'too many' pixels, noting some issues. Others have defended the camera, Luminous Landscape in particular. The camera is well beyond my capabilities.

I'm not sure why this camera would be a game changer. You'd basically have to ask who needs the resolution, who is willing to buy and lug the lenses. It would seem to be landscape photographers, and pretty successful ones. People with unlimited funds and the ability to write off equipment might reach still higher.

It's difficult to say what camera and lens combination is needed to make what size of print. There really is no standard. People who sell prints have to have a level of quality so high that most people will be unable to find fault. But to just hang an 11 by 14 on the wall because it means something to you, the standard is going to be a lot lower.

So, an energetic amateur could buy the A900 and never get a penny of return on the camera. The problem for the enthusiast is that walls fill with pictures. The larger you make them, the fewer you hang. To justify the capability to make a large print means what, exactly? I'm not sure how any amateur can move to another level by adding the capability to make huge prints that are exceptional. Well, there's the ego thing.

As far as the D700 goes, it's clear they are not reaching for resolution. But to me the obvious question is how the D700 matches the D300, or even the heavily discounted D200. If you can't point out obvious improvements, I don't know if the camera is a game changer.

Ultra high resolution with the highest level of dynamic range is what people did with giant film cameras. I tend to think of nature photography in these terms. It's a romantic vision, often highly idealized. I live in a region, Southern Utah, that is often photographed. That fact is, nature is not doing well around here, and the romantic vision is far from realistic.

If this is the new peak of technology in still photography, what is the future of the art form? Is it all resolution and dynamic range, subtle tonality? Or is that anachronistic? The world seems to be irrational, hard-edged and in a deteriorating state. Maybe we need less resolution and hard contrast to capture it. Maybe there are better ways to capture change, or maybe you need to tell a story, rather than composing some romantic vision of something. This is why these cameras might not be game changers. Maybe there is nothing more that needs to be done, if still photography is simply 'good enough' or maybe 'finished'? There's always progress, but is there?

With some newspapers ending paper editions, and video everywhere on news websites, what is the future of stills, anyway? I can't see any real change from these 3 cameras. I don't see how anyone could make any kind of 'statement' or project any kind of artistic vision, that could not be done with a simpler, existing camera.

Well done! Good work to simplify our ideas! Merry xmas!

I have used all of the above manufacturers' DSLRs. Canon and Nikon are big NAMES, but unfortunately in terms of ergonomics and intuitive menu structures, they are somewhat miserable failures. I've seen great images from both, but only with great effort and lots of post-production. Sony, on the other hand...ergonomics: flawless...menu structure: hyper-intuitive, ease of use: amazing, post-processing: the most Photoshop-friendly camera I've ever encountered, image quality: rich, deep, three-dimensional, sharp, and awe-inspiring. I remember when I got my Canon Mark II 1Ds...with high expectations, I found myself very disappointed with the flat and muted colors before enhancing saturation in post-processing (even afterwards too). Nikon? Nice colors, sharp and crisp, definitely nothing to complain about...but the amount of work and effort that goes into creating that perfect Nikon image...really takes all the fun out of taking photos. Holding the A700 or A900 in your hands is indeed a religious experience. Out of the three brands, it's the Sony's color reproduction, deep saturation infiltration, density of dimensional arrays...the Sony is like a pure and untarnished extension of the mind, eye, and hand equation. To me, that's what photography should be all about. Not whose logo resides atop...just the shear feeling of joy and exuberance in taking amazing photos from the get go.

You are a quick read Mike. I try to live with specific gear, and use it under varying conditions for some time before letting people know my opinion. Yet you seem to have nailed these cameras pretty closely in short order.

I moved from Canon 5D/1DMKIII/1DsMKIII to Nikon D3/D700 for DSLR work .... then when Sony hit the streets added the A900 and a few select lenses ... initially the Carl Ziess offerings. I shoot weddings with this gear, and you get a feel for them very quickly ... warts and all. The D700 and A900 make a powerful combination for my type of work using the strengths you outline for each.

While I have not used the new 5D, your MKII observations mirror what I had taken note of as a long time Canon shooter... that as some attributes improved others fell by the wayside ... most notably the so called "photographic qualities" ... IMO, due to the increasing placidity that make the files feel more digital. The last round of 1D-MKIIIs convinced me of that. Some people are okay with it, even like it, I don't ... so it's strictly a personal aesthetic choice.

Note: one thing that neither the Nikon nor the Canon offer is in-camera Image Stabilization ... and Sony has pulled off what many "Experts" said couldn't done. So ANY lens mounted to the A900 can offer IS ... that one feature could result in more improved images overall than any other (given that camera shake spoils more images than most anything else).

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