A couple of years ago, after Canon announced the 40D, Nikon dropped a bomb with the D300 and D3 combo. I remember the cover of Popular Photography read in bold print “Nikon Strikes Back.” That was a very fitting description in the face of what many thought was a rather mild upgrade to the Canon 30D, which was in turn a mild upgrade to the 20D. A year later, Canon failed to really “wow” us with the 50D; however, I found the 50D to be an excellent performer.
Fast forward to Summer 2009 and the stage is set for both Nikon and Canon to take another turn at “wowing” us. The D300s is mostly a rehash of the D300, along with video capture. Canon, however, stepped out with the feature-packed 7D, which also featured video, but added a spec-list that made it look like a 5D Mark II Jr.
Since the introduction of the D300 was Nikon’s turn to “Strike Back,” will the Canon 7D, in response to the D300s, be “Return of the Jedi Canon”? Keep on reading this first round of comparisons, which takes a side-by-side look at the ISO performance of these two prosumer cameras.
About the Cameras
If you aren’t familiar with the specifications of these two cameras, let’s take a very brief look at some of the key features of the 7D and D300s.
The cameras are close in price, with the 7D retailing at $1700 and the D300s retailing at $1800. Looking at max resolution though, the 7D offers 18-megapixels, while the D300s features 12.3-megapixels. Both are CMOS sensors. Nikon has been using this sensor (or a version of it) for several different cameras now. Both cameras offer a high speed frame rate, with the 7D at 8 fps and the D300s at 7 fps.
The 7D offers native sensitivity settings of ISO 100-6400 and is expandable to ISO 12800 equivalent. The D300s offers native settings of ISO 200-3200 and has both low and high expansions to cover the equivalent of ISO 100 and ISO 6400.
All images were captured in Large/Fine JPEG format.
Long exposure noise reduction was turned OFF.
High ISO noise reduction was set to Standard/Normal.
On the 7D, Highlight tone priority was disabled and Auto Lighting Optimizer was set to Standard. On the D300s, Active D-Lighting was set to Normal.
Picture Style/Control was set to Standard.
Custom white balance was set using the Expodisc white balance tool.
All images were shot at f/8 and the following shutter speeds at the respective ISOs:
- ISO 100 @ 13s
- ISO 200 @ 6s
- ISO 400 @ 3.2s (3s on the D300s due to setting limitations)
- ISO 800 @ 1.6s
- ISO 1600 @ .6s (.625s on the D300s)
- ISO 3200 @ .4s
- ISO 6400 @ 1/6s
- ISO 12800 @ 1/10s (D300s shot at ISO 6400, then pushed +1EV in post-processing)
Here is the complete image shown at ISO 200. Below are 100% crop samples taken from the focus point of each image. No post processing was performed on any of these images other than the crops shown below.
You may download samples of each image for personal inspection by clicking on the links below each sample (right-click and choose “Save as…”). Do not republish the images on the Internet or elsewhere without express written permission, which may be obtained by email.
Nikon D300s vs. Canon 7D ISO 100
Nikon D300s vs. Canon 7D ISO 200
Nikon D300s vs. Canon 7D ISO 400
Nikon D300s vs. Canon 7D ISO 800
Nikon D300s vs. Canon 7D ISO 1600
Nikon D300s vs. Canon 7D ISO 3200
Nikon D300s vs. Canon 7D ISO 6400
Nikon D300s vs. Canon 7D ISO 12800
Due to a question and claim about the RAW file noise control in the comments, I have included a screen shot of the 7D and D300s RAW images at ISO 6400. The 7D file is on the left and the D300s file is on the right. Both were captured alongside the above JPEG files and in 14-bit RAW (click the image to see the larger, 100% crop version):
This test has been updated in a second round comparison – this time without any noise reduction. The updated results can be found here.
I was really surprised when I looked at some of these images at higher ISOs on the computer monitor. I think the Canon 7D really starts to set itself apart at ISO 1600 and above. It looks like Nikon’s noise reduction may be a little to aggressive. ISO 6400 was so bad compared to the Canon 7D that I actually went back and re-shot is several more times; however, the D300s just didn’t get any better at ISO 6400.
I’m really amazed at how good plain old JPEG images look like at ISO 6400 and 12800 from the Canon 7D. While there’s a lot more to a camera aside from high ISO performance, the Canon 7D is looking pretty sharp at this point.
I’ll be taking a closer look at the Canon 7D’s remaining features and performance soon. Look for more soon. Additional updates will be published on Photography Bay’s Canon 7D Reviews and Resources. Likewise, you can can find more D300s info on the Nikon D300s Reviews and Resources.
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