Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D5000 Review – ISO Comparison Part II

The Canon Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000 are the two new consumer-level DSLRs from the leading brands in the business right now.  Over the past month or so, I’ve shot extensively, almost exclusively, with these new DSLRs.  While there are a number of features that make these cameras stand out, the one that I keep coming back to is their ability to manage noise, even at higher ISOs.

Both cameras do something new in the entry-level category by turning up the sensitivity. The Canon Rebel T1i tops out at ISO 12800, while the Nikon D5000 pushes its sensitivity one-stop lower to ISO 6400.  In my day-to-day shooting, I would have no problem shooting with either camera at ISO 3200 for snapshots that will make my wife or mom happy to have in the family photo album.  Truth be told, they probably wouldn’t notice the difference between ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 in either camera.  The Rebel T1i’s spec of ISO 12800 may be a bit much for most applications; however, in a bind, you can likely get some decent black and whites at that level.

To see how the Canon Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000 stack up against each other, as well as the Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D700, read on.

In Part I of the Canon Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000 ISO Comparison, I took some quick, hand held images (almost straight out of the box) comparing these two cameras.  While I think that comparison is perfectly valid, it’s always nice to see what happens when you get really dark with some long exposures on a tripod.

Below, I have put together a comparison of the same scene shot outdoors at night under tungsten light.  For the sake of comparison to see where the consumer grade cameras stood, I shot the scene with a Canon Rebel T1i, a Nikon D5000, a Canon 5D Mark II and a Nikon D700.  I used the following settings on each camera:

  • Aperture Priority Mode (set to f/8)
  • Auto White Balance
  • Evaluative Metering
  • Center Focus Point (in one-shot mode)
  • Quality set to JPEG Fine
  • Factory default settings for noise reduction, highlight tone priority, auto lighting optimizer, etc.

Each camera was mounted on a Manfrotto 190XB w/ 804RC2 head for its series of shots.

The Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000 remained equipped with their kit lenses zoomed to 35mm and 40mm, respectively (I was eyeballing it in the dark of night).   The Canon 5D Mark II had the EF 50mm f/1.4 USM attached, while the Nikon D700 was equipped with the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D lens.  Note that the Nikkor 50mm f/1.4D lens will not autofocus with the Nikon D5000, which led me to the decision to use the kit lenses on the entry-level combos and get in the ball bark of the angle of view (admittedly, I ended up a bit off).  However, the main concern is a 100px x 600px section of the images near the center of the frame.

For those of you who would like a closer inspection of the full files from each of the 100% crop samples, links are below each ISO sample to the respective original JPEG files.  Simply right click the link and choose “Save as…”  Please note that some of the full image files approach the 20MB mark. These images are provided for personal inspection only and may not be republished elsewhere without prior written consent, which may be obtained via email correspondence. If you want to republish the images, use the contact form to get in touch.

ISO 100 Reference Shot from Canon Rebel T1i

100% Crop Samples at ISO 100

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 100 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 100 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 100 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 100 – Original File

ISO 200 Reference Shot from Nikon D5000

100% Crop Samples at ISO 200

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 200 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 200 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 200 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 200 – Original File

ISO 400 Reference Shot from Canon Rebel T1i

100% Crop Samples at ISO 400

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 400 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 400 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 400 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 400 – Original File

ISO 800 Reference Shot from Canon Rebel T1i

100% Crop Samples at ISO 800

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 800 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 800 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 800 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 800 – Original File

ISO 1600 Reference Shot from Nikon D5000

100% Crop Samples at ISO 1600

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 1600 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 1600 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 1600 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 1600 – Original File

ISO 3200 Reference Shot from Canon Rebel T1i

100% Crop Samples at ISO 3200

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 3200 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 3200 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 3200 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 3200 – Original File

ISO 6400 Reference Shot from Nikon D5000

100% Crop Samples at ISO 6400

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 6400 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 6400 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 6400 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 6400 – Original File

ISO 12800 Reference Shot from Canon Rebel T1i

100% Crop Samples at ISO 12800

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 12800 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 12800 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 12800 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 6400 – Original File

ISO 25600 Reference Shot from Nikon D700

100% Crop Samples at ISO 25600

Canon 5D Mark II – ISO 25600 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i – ISO 12800 – Original File

Nikon D700 – ISO 25600 – Original File

Nikon D5000 – ISO 6400 – Original File

Canon Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D5000 – ISO and Noise Conclusions

There is a lot of hoopla surrounding the ever-increasing ISO specs put in modern DSLRs (and point and shoot cameras for that matter).  While professional sports photographers drool over such specifications, you may wonder if it will ever really matter to you as the purchaser of an entry-level DSLR. Does it matter at soccer games, birthday parties, or just chasing the kids around the house?  In the Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000, I think it finally does matter.  I think these are two DSLRs that finally bring the levels of noise at higher ISOs down to a level where it will make a difference in your daily shooting.  How so?

Instead of using the popup flash and produce a shiny-faced subject in your snapshots, you bump the ISO to 3200 and shoot under the available light indoors, or you can capture those action shots of you soccer star at dusk or under lights by doing the same.  The other advantage is that you don’t draw as much attention in those public places where flash photography is prohibited, or at least embarrassing to your significant other (can I see a show of hands?).

While these cameras may not garner the low-noise power of their $3000 counterparts (the Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D700), the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in this case.  In terms of overall image quality and noise suppression, the Canon Rebel T1i and Nikon D5000 are two of the best bang-for-buck cameras on the market today.

If you’re interested in either of these cameras, check on their availability from the trustworthy folks at B&H Photo – here’s the links to the cameras:  Nikon D5000Canon Rebel T1i.

Your Turn…

What conclusions do you draw on the noise performance of these cameras?

What about metering and exposure issues?

Share your thoughts in the comments below.



  1. Bob Agens says

    I think testing noise with factory defaults an jpeg is stupid. Everybody knows Canon puts a lot more noise reduction than Nikon by default. In this test the D5000 looks a lot worse the the Rebel. It may be a litlhe worse in fact, but if you look at level of detail captured instead of the noise itself you’ll see they they are very similar. Look at the two fine lines on the wall for example. At ISO 6400 the are just as visible on both, maybe a little more on the Nikon. With equivalent noise reduction they would be almost the same.
    In my opinion this kind of test should be done with RAW and original brand converting software with zero noise reduction. Some people claim that Canon reduces noise even if you set it to zero. If that is true, then a common software like ACR should be used to read the raw.

  2. jOsE says

    I think you are totally biased, this test is absolutely useless, take a look at dpreview to learn how to make good and independent reviews.

  3. Jeremy D. says

    @jOsE: what makes this review biased and useless? What is so much better about dpreview?

  4. D700 says

    looking at the iso 6400 photos the canon rebel looks far better but it was shot at a sixth of a second & the Nikon D5000 was shot at a tenth of a second.Even though the Nikon had far more noise there are areas of the picture where it shows more detail elswere with dense shadows there is far less detail with the Nikon
    I think its fair enough to do a test using factory defaults & to use Jpegs it’s how some people shoot & there are plenty more thourgh reviews on the web but such a large diference in exposure time gives the Canon a huge advantage
    i would like to see them both shot at a tenth as well as both shot at a sixth of a second.

    The 5Dmk2 versus D700 was interesting i prefered the D700’s AWB. The Iso 6400 pictures showed the 5d mk2’s resolution advantage but by iso 12800 & 2500 they both showed similar amounts of detail with the Nikon having less noise & the Canon smoothing away detail more in plain areas.
    It was a lot closer than i expected seeing that in this case the Nikon had a slightly longer exposure a 13th of a second compared to a 15th of a second on the canon.
    If you have Lightroom i recommend opening the images in it & using the synch option to compare images.

  5. says

    I appreciate the comments, opinions and suggestions, including the rather ill remarks.

    To address the exposure time: I could have set the cameras to manual exposure so that each camera uses the same exposure value; however, that’s not how most people who buy the Rebel T1i and D5000 are going to shoot. To that end, I let Nikon and Canon decide how to meter this scene by setting the aperture to f/8 and the respective ISO values. The cameras’ evaluative metering system were left to determine the appropriate shutter speed based on their interpretation of the scene.

    The D5000 consistently chose to expose the scene about 1/3 stop darker than the T1i. While I found this a bit troubling, I think it is one of the things to consider when looking at these two cameras. I was also a bit surprised by this fact given the stellar performance of Nikon’s metering in the D700 when I previously tested it against the 5D Mark II.

    Again, I appreciate the responses and, perhaps next time I will shoot a series of manual exposures as well.

  6. says

    My conclusion, I love my Canon EOS 5D Mark II. But seriously, thanks for the efforts in putting together a nice comparison. I couldn’t agree more with your conclusions, having usable ISO 1600 or even in a pinch ISO 3200 is a real benefit in capturing those low light moments, as is.

  7. says

    Sample variation will certainly make a camera expose differently. Heck, a spot of dust on the meter could do that. Some cameras do need a global meter tweak. If it was consistent, and you say it is, it would be fair to have adjusted it. You made this mistake with your d700/5dmkii ISO comparison as well if I remember correctly.

    Also, anybody who knows enough to use aperture priority is probably going to tweak exposure and white balance. You’re manually choosing two out of three exposure variables–why not the third?

    Also what this test doesn’t show is something I’ve been surprised about with Nikon’s 12mp APS-C sensor: the ability to keep noise tolerable under extremely warm light, such as these sodium vapor lights. I suspect Nikon is doing something either at the gain, A-D, or Bayer filter to make the blue channel more sensitive than past cameras. Manual white balance pulls out proper color under some odd lights that I don’t expect it to.

    What’s the Canon look like manually balanced under this lighting?

    Anyway, thanks for posting this. Just offering feedback.

  8. D700 says

    As most of us shooting at higher iso’s won’t be using a tripod i guess Nikon decided on a shorter shutter speed to reduce bluring if you have the Nikon it should be easy enough to dial in a third or half a stop exposure + comp.
    If you try shooting the Canon handheld at a sixth of a second at night it’s going to make for some blurry photos & if you use a tripod why not shoot at iso 200.
    I’ve just looked at the iso 1600 images the D5000 has more resolution the Rebel seems to give a sandy look to the pavements & road.

  9. Ryan says

    Hi Everybody,
    I’m ryan. I stay in Singapore.I want to request one thing. Could you please give me advice DSLR. Now i am looking for DSLR camera. But i’m not prof photographer and i really don’t know about DSLR.I crazy DSLR camera.I would like to know your opion about which brand and which model is sutable for me. I applicately you.Hopefully I can get your idea asap.
    thank you. have a nice day.
    Ryan ( or

  10. Gavin says

    Does anyone actually use jpg if raw is available? Raw will compare the cameras. Jpg will compare the companies attitude to image manipulation prior to storage. Will stick with dpreview etc for the comparisons. Thanks though. Interesting article if slightly flawed.

  11. says

    Well, the photos appear to have obvious differences in the field of view (magnification) and exposure. How can you make valid conclusion based on that?

    Highlight tone priority, auto lighting optimizer, and D-lighting etc can also affect noise levels artificially. These should perhaps be disabled before running the tests.


  12. D700 says

    THe Nikon cameras seem to hold on to fine detail far better as the iso climbs, in the 100% crop samples at iso 100 on the Canon 5Dmk 2 sample look at the wall below where it says mark 2 -i theres a pattern of 5 dots now have a look to see how each camera copes as the iso racks up there is obviously more noise reduction being carried out by the Canons.
    The Canon 5Dmk2 has the most resolution so you should be seeing the most detail in the wall texture at iso 100, but its not i see more in the other 3 cameras & the 5D2 has the smoothest look maybe its a feature Canon has put in to help when photographing spotty teenagers.
    My own preference is for photos to retain as much detail as possible so i have the choice to apply as much as i want & where i want theres some great software out there that does a better job than the camera can, once the deail has been smoothed away its gone for good.

  13. says

    Good discussion and as an NYC street photographer – the ability to shoot ‘clean’ in low light situations is critical. Currently my street rig is a D700 coupled with 35mm, 60mm, or 85mm prime glass. My holy grail is a light weight system which can ‘almost’ match my D700’s ISO quality. – perhaps the next generation will match or even exceed the ‘big boy’ specs.

  14. says

    Thanks Photography Bay for the side by side comparisons. This is a worthy effort and should help shooters pick their poison. It is amazing to see how far the entry level camera are coming in lower noise and higher ISO. I’m waiting for the new 60D or 7D.

  15. says

    This page was exactly what I was looking for!.. I don’t like to use the flash!, I rarely ever us it.. I prefer to shoot with raising the ISO and hoping for the best. I’ve been getting by fairly well with my Canon Rebel XT (350D) but I knew it was just a matter of time before I moved up to a camera that would get me cleaner ISO shots.

    Thats why I found this page most amazing!.. I’m just an enthusiastic amateur, but I like what I like so my search for a low priced DSLR continued. I”m not looking for PERFECTION!.. I just want to shoot without the flash, using the highest ISO that will let me get a good clean picture. So, I narrowed down my prospects and came up with the Canon Rebel T1i (350D)… now don’t anyone get excited here……I’m talking about a lower priced DSLR. Of course I saw that the Nikon and the other cameras shown here got cleaner shots…..but the much lower priced Canon T1i was right up there with the very best even though I could most surely see the difference in the CLARITY…

    My conclusion is: Tomorrow, Sunday, I’m going down to B&H in NYC and check out the CanonT1i along with a few other cameras and will most probably buy the Canon T1i because I simply can’t afford spending any more…
    And, yes, I did like the clarity of the Nikon D700 but its priced much too high. So, wish me luck tomorrow at B&H..

  16. D700 says

    @ SPedi wish you luck with your new camera remember to shoot raw & apply any noise reduction in photoshop with a plugin like nik define (my favourite) & you will get far better results than shooting Jpeg.

  17. Christopher says

    I think this was a very interesting and useful review, so thank you very much. It is really one of the most useful reviews of ISO on modern cameras I have come across.

  18. matt says

    i think this would be very helpful to any person new digital SLR, great review and impressive mark ii and d 700 comparison. helped me out thanks

  19. Greg says

    I just purchased a d5000, and what a joy it’s been.
    It was so hard to decide between the d5000, the 500d and the e620.
    For the last month i have read so many opinions favoring one over the other. Honestly, i wish I had more money to spend on a better camera. Dream over! My nikon takes phenomenal shots. You will not be disappointed. I wish I did not have to deal with this current d5000 recall but I do. Also my LCD is not as sharp as with 900,000 + pixels.
    Please note that one can also keep the LCD flat against the camera like all other DSLRS.
    As far as the comparison is concern, all things not being equal i.e.: metering, white balance, cropping, magnification etc, makes this a mute point.
    None the less it was interesting.

  20. says

    I personally shoot with a pair of 5D II’s but I agree with the original critiques of the trial. The D5000 shots are underexposed which will naturally make them noisier. Underexposed images are always noisier than properly exposed ones. Eric’s rationalization that the camera underexposed itself in auto mode doesn’t justify his using that image. Eric, you were comparing the noise of the cameras, not their ability to properly meter scences. The images should have been shot at the exact same settings in manual, so that a proper comparison could be conducted.

  21. Zetton says

    The Nikon D5000 won the DIWA Imaging Gold award in 2009. You can compare the key imaging specs between the two cameras here:
    Nikon edges out the Canon in all measured imaging quality specs:
    Sensor: 72 vs 62.5
    Color Depth: 22.7 vs 21.7
    Dynamic Range: 12.5 vs 11.5
    Low Light: 868 vs 663
    – All in favor of Nikon.
    The articulated LCD is awesome. Shoot at waist-level or low angle, much more useful as a photographic tool than higher-res or a bigger screen, I use it often. I don’t think I can go back to a non-articulated screen…ever. Nikon also makes a great 35mm f1.8 prime lens for its line. Bravo! Someone finally came out with a fast standard prime for DSLRs instead of big, heavy, slow, crappy kit zoom lenses. Haleluya! Last but not least, the Nikon uses the MJPEG for video capture, which you can edit without stupid plug-ins and other technical wonkiness. Sorry, the Nike blows the Canon away. It’s not even close. It shouldn’t be either… The D5000 is essentially the D90 in a smaller, cheaper (but perfectly fine) body with an articulated LCD screen.

  22. rid says

    i am pro photografer (yes i live from selling my picture) from all camera canon, nikon, and sony, i think theres only 2 things which will make different..
    sensor and ergonomic..
    hold your canon, than hold nikon ? you will feel lot different, i can shot one hand with nikon, from camera off to capture.. with extremely FAST, this cannot applied on canon (sony also try to apply this on/off button layout in their new a390)
    now when you have a chance to get under 1000USD, with quality same like 2000 USD camera ?
    see dxomark sensor ranking, and you finally figure it out Nikon D5000 is amongst the best camera…

    everything is under your control and under your concern, if you need quality, then u know what will you choose,.

  23. Jo says

    I have both cameras nikon is better for novice or new in photography due to the 19 easy settings features. T1i canon is better if you know how to use it. Each one has it own advantage but for me canon is more fun to use.