Let's get a couple of things straight. Firstly I have no allegiance
to any camera manufacturer, I just want the best tool for the
job. I have always used Canon cameras, not because I am a "fan
boy" to use the expression used on many internet forums,
but because (until recently at least) I have always considered
Canon to be that bit better than Nikon for my needs and also I
have a very heavy investment in expensive "L" lenses
which would make me think long and hard before switching brands.
Secondly, this article is not meant to be a review or a scientific
test, I'm certainly not qualified to comment on heavy technical
aspects about these cameras - there are plenty of other technical
reviews full of graphs, measurements and formulae written by folks
much smarter than me, that will do that if you require it. Instead,
I want to offer my practical opinions as a photographer based
on using two, great (in all sense of the word) full-frame cameras
from the top rival brands - namely the Canon 1Ds MK II and Nikon
Is this a strange choice of models to choose to compare ? Maybe-
after all, the 1DsmkII is not even a current camera - it was superceded
by the 1Ds mk III some time ago and the D3 is still current. I
do not have access to a 1Dsmk III so that kind of rules it out.
Also it has a 21 Mp sensor vs the Nikon D3's 12Mp - so comparing
images becomes problematic unless you interpolate them up or down
to match size. Finally the price of the 1Dsmk III flagship is
much higher - the 24Mp Nikon D3X is the obvious competitor in
price and performance. If you would like to read a D3 vs 1DsmkIII
The 1DmkIII that I usually use matches the D3 far better in both
price (both around £3100 currently) and also features (
they have similar Mp counts, 10 for the Canon and 12 for the Nikon,
both shoot at a very fast rate (9-10 fps) use a similar battery,
both have advanced focusing systems, live view and so on. However,
the1D mk III has a 1.3x crop sensor which gives a different field
of view with the same lens at the same shooting distance, so once
again it becomes difficult to do direct comparisons without resorting
to image resizing. More importantly, I did not have a 1DmkIII
available to test either, as I had recently written-off my camera
in an accident on a trip to Scotland.
Red grouse - One of the last shots I took using my Canon EOS 1DmkIII
plus 500mm f4 lens
Thanks to the accident, I now have the opportunity to put the
insurance money towards replacing the 1Dmk III or to jump ship
to Nikon and buy a D3- as some other sports and wildlife pros
have done with no apparent regret - prompted mainly by the 1DmkIII's
checkered history of autofocus inconsistencies. My 1DmkIII was
the best focusing Canon camera that I have owned, but it did still
throw up soft frames in most 10fps burst of images for no apparent
reason. Sod's law says that the best frame would be the soft one.
I wondered if the Nikon really could do better.
I decided that the only way to find out was to hire a Nikon D3
( from Jacobs in London) along with a couple of lenses that I
also happened to own Canon direct equivalents of - namely a 100mm
f2.8 macro (vs the105mm Micro Nikor ED VR, ) and a 70-200 f2.8
IS (vs a Nikon 7-200 f2.8 AF-S VR.)
I also own a 1DsmkII as a second camera which also has a full
frame sensor and a few more pixels than the D3 (4.6 more to be
precise). I have always rated the image quality from this old
girl as being state of the art. Perhaps the latest 1Dsmk III and
5DmkII with 21Mp each are better still - I don't know, I haven't
So, for better or for worse, the 1DsmkII is what I used for the
comparison, but you will also find the article littered with references
to the 1Dmk III too. I appreciate that the 1DsmkII can't compete
with the much newer D3 in terms of frame rate (it can only manage
a 4 frames per second) and has a pathetic viewing screen which
looks like an out of focus postage stamp against the D3's wonderfully
bright 922,000 pixel screen. It also has a horrible dual button
press system which was intended to prevent the camera accidentally
being knocked onto another setting (which it did) but also made
operating it fiddly and irritating. Also the menu systems are
far less intuitive than the D3 or mk III cameras. Despite all
this, the IDs II autofocus system has never come in for the criticism
that the 1Dmk III's has received - and it continues to produce
wonderful quality results..I was now all set to do a comparative
full frame shootout , " Whoopie - at last ! " you say.
I won't bore you with all the test details I employed throughout
this comparison - but trust me, I have treated both camera systems
identically in each comparison - e.g. same tripod, cable release,
shooting distance, aperture, ISO etc and identically post-processed
all the RAW images. As the cameras are both full frame and have
similar numbers of pixels, I have done no resampling up or down
of any images - so what you see is what you would get if you used
these cameras. The images from the action sequences were taken
hand held - both with the image stabiliser (IS) or vibration reduction
(VR) systems switched on for each lens using sufficient shutter
speed to freeze motion and eliminate camera shake.
Round 1 Image quality
We all think we know what image quality means, but when it came
down to it, I had trouble defining it. A boffin will probably
be able to do this readily, but I felt that it must come down
to a number of factors that I have considered here:
The amount of detail that the camera plus lens can resolve (Resolution),
how it reproduces colour, in terms of accuracy, brightness and
intensity (Colour rendition) - although with
a RAW converter you can adjust colours infinitely anyway. How
sharp the image appears (presumably a combination of resolution
and micro-contrast at the edges) and how much sharpening the image
will tolerate in post processing before degenerating into artifacts
such as halos etc. The ability to reproduce all the tonal values
in a scene from the very darkest to the very brightest - thus
being able to show good detail in both the shadows and the highlights
(Dynamic range). Finally the amount of unwanted
granularity (noise) present in an image at each ISO setting (Noise
performance). I have not investigated vignetting, distortion,
ghosting, edge sharpness, diffraction etc as these are probably
more attributable to lenses than cameras, although at this level
of excellence and at the middling apertures that I employed, I
just didn't notice them anyhow.
Roof tiles- starting image
Roof - 100% crop. Canon 1Ds mkII 1/500sec f8 ISO 200 70-200mm
lens at 100mm.
Roof - 100% crop. Nikon 1/500sec f8 ISO 200, 70-200mm - lens at
Conclusion - Look at the lichen on the roof at the bottom left.
There is a just a tad more detail in the Canon image. Not much,
but it is there. This is probably down to the extra 4.5MP of resolution
or possibly lens differences.
Irises - starting image using 70-200mm lenses at 200mm, 200 ISO
Iris 100% crop - Canon (look at the pollen grains on the petal)
Iris 100% crop - Nikon
Iris Starting image using 100mm (and 105mm ) macro lenses. ISO
Iris group 100% - Canon. Look closely at the texture in the closest
Iris group 100% - Nikon. More saturated blues than the Canon
Conclusion - In each case there are tiny differences in Canon's
favour. These differences are hard to illustrate here at low resolution
- even if you are using a high quality, calibrated screen - they
are quite a bit more noticeable on the high-res images.
I have had extensive opportunity to explore the image quality
produced from the 1DmkIII camera and have illustrated my findings
in my Full frame vs crop
article. In summary, I found it to be better than the EOS 40D
but inferior to the 1DsmkII. I haven't been able to compare the
1DmkIII side by side with the D3, but as the 1DsmkII has been
present in both comparisons as a control, it seems reasonable
to extrapolate that the D3 would come out mid way between the
1DsmkII and the 1DmkIII in image quality at low to moderate ISO
but I'm sure it would be a very close call. You can draw more
conclusions yourself by using the excellent "camera comparometer"
on the Imaging
Resources website. You will need to look at the still life
images at equivalent ISO settings at full size. Also DP
review have compared the D3 against the 1DmkIII and the differences
So this test is won by the Canon 1DsmkII - just.
But when not being viewed side by side, these differences become
pretty insignificant between all three cameras mentioned. As I
only had the D3 for a weekend hire, I did not have time to faff
round doing the lens micro-adjustments that this camera (and the
1DmkIII) are capable of. The lenses were obviously focusing extremely
well without the adjustments, but it is just possible that investing
the time to do this tweaking might just close the image quality
gap with the Canon 1DsII to zero.
I certainly found that my 1DmkIII required significant micro-adjustments
depending on the lens fitted, but interestingly, my old 40D and
the 1Ds mk II were fine on these same lenses without any adjustment
(just as well as you can't adjust it yourself anyway) but an interesting/curious
- Colour rendition
Both cameras produce accurate colours when the white balance
is adjusted correctly. The Nikon has a tendency to produce more
saturated images, a bit like Fujichrome vs Sensia films. The Canon
image tends to look a little more "Sensia". If you shoot
RAW and at low ISO, you can make both camera's images look very
similar by playing around with the hue and saturation. I presume
that this can also be done in jpeg via the picture styles, but
I did not try.
I'll call this round a draw.
- Image Sharpness
Both cameras/lenses can produce equally sharp images, but you
often have to work the Canon images a little harder in post-processing
to get there. The Nikon RAW images look a little sharper and brighter
straight out of the camera to me. Neither of the cameras produced
obviously digital or plasticy images ( a Canon criticism levelled
by Nikon fan boys apparently) and neither did they show artifacts
when viewed at high magnification.
Any difference in sharpness after post-processing is down to good
user technique. Both systems can produce excellent images.
I'll call this round a draw too
- Dynamic range
I have no way of measuring this other than subjectively.
DXO have done some scientific studies on sensors and you can
do some fascinating side-by side camera comparisons if you click
on the DXO link. According to DXO, the D3 has a score of 12.2
against the Canon's 11.3. I don't know how significant this is
in real world use as both cameras provided bags of shadow and
highlight detail but both will clip highlights and shadows in
difficult scenes such as a bride in a white wedding dress standing
beside a groom in a black suit. Both cameras seem to clip intense
reds and yellows very readily, making photographing a yellow iris
or a poppy very challenging. The dynamic range of sensors used
in digital photography is apparently many times less than that
of the human eye, so although exceptional cameras, neither of
them is yet adequate in this respect compared to your eye and
brain's image processing system. This is why High Dynamic Range
(HDR) photography is currently in vogue.
I did not have time to play with the active D-Lighting settings
on the D3 which should theoretically dig out more detail at the
extremes. It is not clear from reading the manual whether this
only works on jpegs or is also relevant to RAW images though.
The mk III Canon's shoot in 14 bit mode all the time, but the
D3 can shoot in either 12 or 14 bit modes. The extra bits supposedly
provide finer gradation of colour and shadow detail. I can't say
I have noticed any difference (and nor have many other trusted
photographers on internet forums) so I think that this must be
Dynamic range usually reduces with ISO, so image quality goes
down as ISO increases. The 1DsII still holds up very well against
the Nikon in this respect despite greater noise, but I am getting
ahead of my self....
- Noise performance
Here are some noise comparisons. I have always felt that the 1Ds
mk II has similar noise performance to the 1Dmk III, which is
about a stop better than an EOS 40D or 1DmkII. The D3 has a reputation
for being very good on noise performance - so let's see.
Starting image (Common-spotted orchid)
100% Crops - Note: These are all 100% crops - the Canon images all
look a little larger due to the extra 4.7 megapixels on the sensor.
I have not interpolated these images to match the image size as
they are reasonably close, so you can judge what these cameras produce
in a real life situation.
D3, ISO 12800 Image after Neat Image noise reduction
- perfectly adequte for web-use at this size:
Conclusions on noise
What we are hoping for here is low noise, particularly in the
shadows (look at the bottom right portion of the 100% images)
and high detail retention with no smearing in the subject itself
(as this would be indicative of obvious onboard noise reduction
having taken place. No in-camera high ISO noise reduction was
selected in either case.
At 200 ISO there is no obvious difference in noise between the
At 400 ISO the Canon image is excellent, but the D3's background
already looks smoother with no loss of detail.
At 800 ISO the Canon is still perfectly useable (remember this
is pixel peeping to the extreme) but the D3 is still looking as
good as the Canon at 200 ISO (a two stop difference).
At 1600 ISO the Canon is showing obvious noise in the background,
but the image would clean up well in a good noise reduction software
such as Neat Image. The D3 is still producing totally useable
images, but the first hint of noise is creeping in. Both cameras
have retained good image quality at this ISO with no obvious evidence
of detail smearing or loss of colour saturation
At 3200 ISO The Canon image is pretty degraded but would be OK
for web-use or work where the image quality is not paramount (such
as a newspaper article). I did not test the Canon at it's "H
setting" which is an extended setting of 6400 ISO as I felt
that the camera had already called "uncle". The D3 was
still going strong at 3200 ISO and a whiff of Neat image would
again give a publishable quality image if necessary.
At 6400 ISO there is obvious degradation present at 100% viewing
but with care (exposing accurately to the right) the camera can
produce good images at this extraordinarily high ISO that would
clean up well in Neat Image. I would not use it at any higher
ISO personally. I did not try setting the in-camera High ISO noise
reduction on, but this would be interesting to try on another
occasion.The Nikon goes on all the way to 25,600 ISO - which I
didn't even actually try, but I expect it would give you a reasonable
record shot if you were desperate.
What we have here in the D3 is a camera that I would definitely
use up to 3200 ISO in everyday use in order to freeze motion if
necessary or to maintain shutterspeed in low light. Even 6400
iso is usable with care if you use Neat Image to clean the image
up a little.
This is an incredible achievement and is really exciting for the
action photographer as this ability to up the ISO with gay abandon,
combined with a Vibration Reduction lens (VR) which enables hand-holding
at up to 3 stops lower shutterspeed could provide some unique
opportunities. I could envisage setting the camera to a selected
shutterspeed and using the auto iso facility on this camera set
to 200 ISO minimum and 3200 maximum to photograph birds in flight.
The camera would provide the maximum aperture possible to maintain
depth of field by adjusting the ISO - wow.
Higher ISO settings also enable a high shutterspeed to be obtained
when working at small apertures in macro work without running
into subject motion blur or user/camera shake .I really enjoyed
happy snapping macros using the D3 and 105mm VR macro at small
apertures and high ISO.
So, all things considered this round 1 goes to the D3. The image
quality is so close to the Canon, it matches it in the other factors,
but it is supreme on noise performance. This opens up exciting
new opportunities for the wildlife action photographer.
Round 2 Metering accuracy in matrix /evaluative
Again, no fancy measurements, just observations gained by taking
pictures of real subjects and looking at the camera histogram.
I have always felt that my Canon cameras underexpose by around
1/3 of a stop. On my 1DII and III, I often dialled in +1/3 exposure
compensation in evaluative metering mode as a default setting.
In good light the evaluative metering (that I always use) is very
good, but on dull days or under difficult lighting conditions,
I often have to dial in positive exposure compensation in order
to "expose to the right
", rarely do I find myself applying negative exposure compensation
unless purposely under-exposing an "arty image". I rate
the 1DsII as being the Canon with the best and most reliable metering
that I have tried, but I frequently override it.
The Nikon D3 seems to better fit with my style of shooting as
it seems designed to consistently expose to the right whenever
possible. If it gets the exposure wrong - it has usually over-exposed
it a tad rather than under-expose. Although by shooting RAW, this
can usually be recovered in post-processing. I must say though,
that I photographed a wide range of difficult subjects - ranging
from white flowers to small subjects against black backgrounds
and I found the metering to be uncannily accurate - and hardly
ever had to override it in 2 days of use. Impressive stuff.
This round clearly goes to the Nikon
Round 3 Autofocus ability in continuous/AI servo
Rob Galbraith (an accomplished US sports pro photographer) has
become famous/notorious for taking Canon to task over the issues
with the 1Dmk III. If you want to read his very lengthy, thorough
but fascinating investigation into the 1Dkmk III AF please click
here. According to RG the 1DmkIII does not focus as well as
his 1DmkIIN camera. In it's latest submirror fixed/AF check and
adjusted /updated firmware guise, he feels that the camera autofocuses
just fine but it's Achilles heel is it's inconsistent tracking
I would have loved to have put the 1DmkIII directly
up against the D3, for the next test, but I had to make do with
the 1Dsmk II (but which has the mk II AF system that RG prefers).
I used the 70-200 zoom lenses handheld, set to 135 mm for these
tests with IS/VR switched on. In test 1 I was able to achieve
a shutter speed of 1/1250 sec at f4 , 1/2000 sec at f2.8 in test
2 and 1/5000sec at f2.8 in test 3, all at 800 ISO. Motion blur
and camera shake would not be expected to come into the equation
under these conditions.
I used and recommend using jpeg large/fine for these tests to
maximise the number of shots taken until the camera buffer fills.
The D3's buffer filled at 39 frames at 9fps (sounds a bit low
- perhaps I had active D-Lighting or 14 bit selected which slows
processing) and the 1DsmkII's buffer filled at just 15 frames,
but remember it has larger files and an older digic 2 processor.
The latest generation digic III - which is on the mk III cameras
is much quicker, and the 1DmkIII can often fill a memory card
before the buffer fills. Buffer capacity is very important when
using the high speed motordrive for action - there is nothing
worse than hitting the buffer and having to stop shooting at a
Dual Test 1
plain top f4
D3 Test 2 contrasty top
D3 Test 3 Car tests f2.8
In the dual camera test -test 1, the runner was wearing
a plain top which is challenging to the AF system as it likes
some contrast to get it's teeth into. The lenses were stopped
down to f4, which provides a little more depth of field, and would
be just a little more forgiving of AF errors than at f2.8 (lens
This was the dual camera comparison test, but I went on to push
the D3 a bit harder and carried out two further challenges at
an aperture of f2.8 - where the depth of field is very shallow
and any focussing errors will be all too obvious.
In test 2 the runner changed her top to a higher
contrast black and white shirt which should make things a bit
easier for AF system. I used single AF point focus (centre point
only) and the focus point was kept on the neck of the runner's
shirt as best I could. I checked whether I had succeeded in Breezebrowser
Pro (I had) using a useful feature that superimposes the selected
AF point in red over the image.
In test 3 (which I would recommend including in any initial testing
of a new camera purchase) is to get an assistant to drive a car
towards you at a steady 30mph and focus on the number plate.
Test 1 - 1/39 images soft at f4 (97% hit rate).
Test 2 - 2/39 images soft at f2.8 (95% hit rate)
Test 3 - 39/39 images sharp at f2.8 (100% hit rate).
NB I should add that the soft images were still usable for non-critical
work, particularly after sharpening a little more firmly in post
Test 1 - 3/15 images out of focus at f4 (80% hit rate) a further
2 images were soft (total 66% hit rate)
NB The two out of focus images were totally unusable
When I first got my 1Dmk III back from Canon after the latest
round of AF checks and firmware, I did a quick test with my cat
walking (not running towards me). I was a bit disappointed to
find that there were still out of focus frames in the sequence
as usual, although there were plenty of in-focus shots in there
too to select from. Although nothing like as thorough or scientific
my findings were therefore pretty much in line with Rob Galbraith's.
Update on Canon 1Dmk III AF performance - 19 July
The acquisition of another Canon 1DmkIII enabled
me to do a comparative test with the a car driving towards the
camera at aperture f2.8 . This is equivalent to test 3 above in
which the Nikon scored 100%.
The Canon 1DmkIII scored 88% and 70% if you include the slightly
soft but still just useable images. Looking back at the images
from the D3, I was surprised at how much better the image qualtiy
of the Canon was when it did nail the shot.
Further update on Canon 1Dmk III
AF performance - 21st July 2009
Finally I repeated test 1 (runner at aperture of
f4). The Canon's buffer filled at 45 images vs the D3's 39 so
there were a few more images to assess in the calculations. The
results were that 2 out of the 45 were out of focus (4.44%) and
a further 3 were soft (6.66%) or to put it another way, 89% of
the images were totally sharp. This compared with 97% sharp for
So the Canon Af is much improved of late, but the Nikon D3 still
definitely has the better tracking ability it seems.
Using the cameras to take real
The D3 and 1DsII was used to take a series of images of
my neighbour's beautiful horses, using the 70-200 IS/VR lenses.
With the D3, provided I kept the autofocus point on the horse's
neck at a good shutterspeed, I obtained wonderfully sharp images
literally every time (if I managed to keep the AF point on the
right place). Admittedly a horse is somewhat
bigger than a bird in flight, the light levels were good and I
was using an f2.8 lens - which should turn on the more sensitive
cross-type AF sensors for better responsiveness. I tried centre
point only (Single point AF) and 9 point expanded
Dynamic AF modes with great success. I did not have time
to explore the 21 or 51 point Dynamic area tracking, nor the the
3D focus tracking which utilises light and colour data in addition
to the usual contrast detection, but they reputedly work very
well. I recommend reading Moose
Peterson's article if interested.
My impressions from memory against the Canon 1DmkIII are
that the D3 does not lock on quite so fast as the 1DmkIII. With
a fast-focusing lens, the 1DmkIII feels like an F1 car must do-
the D3 is like a road-going Ferrari by comparison - very quick,
but not so hyper-responsive.The story doesn't end there though,
as once the D3 has locked onto the subject, it appears far more
determined to hang on to it - the best analogy I can think of
is that the AF feels as though it has a magnetic attraction to
the subject once locked on - it's kind of more sticky. The 1DmkIII
certainly appears more inclined to jump to the background than
the D3 - particularly if it is a busy background - like trees
and bushes for example.
Fast moving stallion with the D3
Mare with D3 - all feet off the ground - this is just too
easy - yawn
100% crop of the above - pin sharp
and bags of detail - look at those whiskers!
D3 : I'll give you some action matey !
IDs mk II image.
On this bright day, the 1DsmkII AF was also pretty accurate
and the camera had no trouble dealing with locking onto and tracking
these horses. In low light, or with smaller subjects, obtaining
these images would be much harder. It still threw up the odd inexplicable
soft frame (like the 1DmkIII would) though.
D3: My cats did not escape my attention either. They were
really going for it here and the camera did very well to get focus
lock.The D3's high ISO ability enabled me to use a very high shutterspeed
on a dull day to freeze the motion. The focus point hit the cat's
back - which is unfortunately sharper than the head - but this
was user error - the camera just did what it was told.
D3: This is Monty chasing a piece of string and
looking very serious
I would love to use the D3 to photograph birds in flight - these
are a serious challenge and really show up AF weaknesses very
So once again, this round must go to the D3 - by a fair
margin. It's is not foolproof, but it has the most accurate and
trustworthy system that I have yet encountered in a digital SLR.
Round 5 A life-long Canon user picks up a Nikon and uses it for
the first time - likes and dislikes - ergonomics and handling
Out of fairness to Canon, the following comments
relate to the mk III cameras - as the 1DsmkII is not a latest
generation offering and is really showing it's age in terms of
ease of use.
I have used Canon
all my photographic career, so inevitably the Nikon would seem
strange at first.
I had about an hour to flick through the manual
on the train ride home from London to Kent, and after this
I only referred to it two or three times again as the camera is
Things seem to have been done to purposely make it different to
a Canon - the most obvious being the lens mount which does up
anticlockwise instead of the Canon's clockwise. How nice it would
be if the two brands used a common mount and interchangeable lenses.
I'm sure this is a very intentional incompatibility for obvious
reasons.. One funny thing - my Kirk quick release mount
which is tailored to fit the 1DmkIII fitted the D3 pretty well.
This is pure coincidence as I even had to get a new plate when
I changed from the 1Dmk II to the 1Dmk III !
On picking it up, the Nikon fitted my hand well and had a nice
high-grip rubbery feel to it. The hand grip felt thinner and more
angular the Canon - but that was OK.
I have average sized hands, but one thing I really didn't like
on the D3, was that the shutter release button was too much of
an upward stretch for my index finger. It is too high for my liking
and makes me hold my finger at an unnatural angle which made it
ache after a while. When I went back to the Canon it felt far
more comfortable and relaxed to me.
I also missed the Canon's big command dial wheel on the back of
the camera - it is just there where you want it to be for making
exposure compensation adjustments. This is also true when the
camera is in the vertical position. I dislike the Nikon sub command
wheel on the front of the camera too. This does not protrude enough
above the surface of the camera body and I find it to be set too
low. Although I suppose you get used to it in time, I was finding
myself having to keep looking up from the viewfinder to position
my index finger on it.
I also disliked the fact that to make exposure compensation adjustments,
I had to press (and keep pressed) the exposure comp. button and
then rotate the fiddly wheel simultaneously. On the Canon you
just turn that big wheel - albeit you can knock it accidentally
I suppose. It's just as well that the Nikon nails the exposure
virtually all the time, as I hardly had to resort to using these
controls. It wouldn't be so bad if you could just give the wheel
a prod and it stayed active for a few seconds while you make the
adjustments rather than having to keep it depressed. The D3 exposure
compensation control defaults to turn to the left for plus and
right for minus. In countries that read left to right this is
plain wrong. However this can be reversed in the menu custom functions,
in fact I believe that you can reverse or reassign most functions
to other buttons if you prefer. This makes the camera very customisable
which is great.
The Nikon's ISO
button is placed in a daft place on the bottom left of the camera
requiring a two handed action to change ISO. The Canon requires
a dab on the top-mounted ISO button and you then move the control
dial - much easier.
Nikon has fitted lots of switches on the camera which prevents
you having to dig into the menus for commonly used functions -
a nice idea. I'm not too sure about
the CSM switch though - you use this to select single shot, continuous
servo or manual AF. It is a bit fiddly and if you wore gloves
to shoot you would have to remove them to change positions.
I liked the fact that the release mode dial on the top of the
camera had a lock button - this means that settings can't get
changed inadvertently. Canon need to take note for the 40/50D
- I frequently used to find that this button had changed settings
upon removing it from a camera bag and I often had to waste valuable
time troubleshooting what was causing the camera to behave strangely
as a result. The mode dial also made changing from motordrive
high/low/single shot, liveview and mirror lock-up a breeze.
I must mention the
quality of the rear screen on the D3 as it is glorious. It is
big, bright and very high in definition. It is much higher resolution
than the Canon mk III screens and is now being imitated on the
Canon 50D and 5DmkII. I expect we shall see it on all future screens.
For the first time in history it is good enough to check focus
of images on the camera. On the subject of image review, the Nikon
has a strange system of zooming in - you have to press the magnifying
glass button which brings up a yellow box in screen and then turn
the command dial which frames a part of the image with teh box.
You can then press the multi selector button to move the image
around the screen. The Canon (and apparently the D300) seems much
simpler. Additionally, the Canon can be partially zoomed in and
then you can scroll through images at this magnification. The
D3 system does not support this.
The histograms on the Nikon are much larger and clearer than the
Canon ones - so it is much easier to read the in the field. Some
information coming up on the three different inormation panels
is difficult to decipher though - as the writing is so small and
it is often difficult to think what it is actually telling you
in Nikon speak.
Selecting one of the 45 AF points or the auto selection (ring
of fire) on the Canon mk II cameras is achieved by first pressing
the AF button on the top right of the camera and then using a
combination of the big control wheel and the small aperture wheel
to scroll through the points. This is not too bad a system but
it is a little slow. The system on the mk III is just plain bizarre
and frustrating. The AF points dance around in arcs and circles
as you move them and I am ashamed to say that I have never mastered
it.Fortuntely Canon came up with a firmware update which enabled
the points to be selected more conventionally with the multi selector-
thank goodness ! The D3 uses a similar method for getting around
it's 51 points and even works diagonally to get to your chosen
point quicker - excellent.
I like the fact that you can format a memory card without having
to go into the menus. You just press the two buttons marked in
red (exposure mode/format plus delete) to format the card. At
least this is what is supposed to happen. The one glitch that
I had when using the D3 is that I could not get it to format my
Sandisk 4 and 8Gb Extreme III CF cards. I could delete images
individually, but the cards would not format in camera. I tried
deleting all files on the computer before formatting in camera
- but it would still not have it - most strange. If you put a
card containing Canon RAW CR2 files into the D3 it says "no
image" , but the 1DsmkII actually played back Nikon NEF files
without batting an eyelid !
Despite all the Nikon's abilities it lacks automatic sensor cleaning
. This is strange, and has been rectified on the much cheaper
but more recent Nikon D700. These systems are not perfect but
they are pretty effective at maintaining a clean sensor once cleaned.
The sensor on my D3 hire camera was filthy of course.
Although a seemingly minor matter the lens hoods
on the Nikon are suerior to the Canon ones as they attach nicely
and click into place - frequently with a release button. The darned
hood on my 100-400 Canon is pathetic and it is always falling
Other considerations for the nature
The shutter on the D3 is a nasty, noisy, clacky
affair - just like the 1DmkIII and is sure to scare off any bird
when shooting from reasonably close range even in a hide. The
1DmkIII does have one more trick up it's sleeve though - silent
shooting mode.This only permits firing off a single frame at a
time, but although it is not "silent" it is very much
quieter than the normal shutter clatter. Similarly liveview shooting
is very quiet with the 1DmkIII, even with the motordrive running.
Nikon - take note please, this is important! I'm sure that wedding
and sports (golf ?) photographers would appreciate this too.
XXD Canons and all Nikons will retain AF when using
extenders down to f5.6. Canon 1 series cameras will AF to f8 (centre
AF point only) which is a big advantage in telephoto work - bird
photography for example when using f4 or f5.6 lenses instead of
the big f2.8 jobs.
Nikon have a 1.7x converter which loses 1.5 stops of light and
autofocus appears to be retained on the lenses with an AF motor
built into the lens (S - lenses) despite the aperture dropping
just below f5.6 as far as I can tell - but it is all very confusing
to someone coming into this afresh .
Nikon really appears to have some serious gaps
in their lens lineups. Canon is
much stronger here as they have far more image-stabilised lenses
and all Canon lenses have in-built motors and work well on both
full frame and crop cameras. As Nikon are new to full frame, they
have many lenses (DX) that work better on a crop camera. A Nikon
strength is that you can use a DX lens on an FX (full frame) camera,
but the penalty you pay is that the narrow field of view covers
a smaller part of the sensor - so only 5 megapixels are available
for use. This is useful for current DX owners as a stopgap but
anyone coming to Nikon Fx for the first time should avoid purchasing
a DX lens.
Nikon have a reputation for making exceptional wide angle lenses
that are better than Canon's, but they appear to be seriously
high end f2.8 beasties (read big, heavy and expensive) or alternatively
consumer grade only (read low end quality and plasticky) - with
nothing in between it appears. Where is a Canon 17-40 f4 equivalent
Nikon make a fantastic 70-200 f2.8 VR, but where is the f4 equivalent
? There is a superb 300mm f2.8, 500mm f4 and 600mm f4 VR, but
where is the lightweight Canon 400mm f4 DO equivalent or the cheap
but good Canon 400mm f5.6 rival ? The nearest equivalent to Canon's
incredibly successful 100-400 f4.5-5.6 IS is the 80-400 4.5-5.6
VR. OK, but why would anybody in their right mind release this
lens without an in-built motor to provide fast AF ? This lens
depends on a slow mechanical drive from the camera instead! The
200-400 f4 VR is said to be a superb lens rivaling the prime lenses,
but is a tad short on focal length for bird photography - particularly
on a full frame camera, so extenders are necessary. The 1.4x will
retain AF, but I'm not certain whether the 1.7x will on the D3
- I think it does but I'm not certain as the effective aperture
drops to f6.3, which is smaller than the usual f5.6 cutoff. Unfortunately
as versatile as this lens is and as good as it is optically, it
is still very big and heavy - almost as heavy as a 500f4 in fact.
The 300mm f4 looks interesting, as it is a ahrp but compact S
lens, but it lacks VR - and the list goes on....
If I were to change to Nikon, I would struggle a
bit to find a range of lenses to cover my all of my needs I think.
For the record, on an Fx camera (D3/D700) I would be tempted to
go for a 17-35 f2.8 or the superb 24-70mm f2.8 at the wide end,
a 70-200 f2.8 plus 1.4x or 1.7x extenders for a midrange zoom
, a 105mm f2.8 VR macro for closeups (plus a converter to extend
focal length - or go for a Sigma 180mm macro as well if funds
permitted). Now it gets tough - what do you use for birds in flight
? A 300mm f4 plus a 1.4x extender - or a 300mm f2.8 plus 1.4x
or 1.7x extenders (pretty heavy) ? Perhaps the 70-200 f2.8 plus
a 1.7x extender would be OK - but I don't know about AF speed.For
a super telephoto a 500mm f4 would be superb for birds, but a
200-400f4VR would be more versatile for larger subjects like mammals.
Some tough choices to make then.
The Nikon D3 is probably the best camera currently
available for shooting wildlife, particularly action. It's greatest
strengths are :
Exceptional performance at high ISO with the benefits of high
Very accurate autofocus
Very high image quality
High frame rate (9fps)
The downsides are few, but it would be nice if it had:
A few more megapixels to enable harder cropping and to make up
for the lack of crop factor for telephoto work, but this must
not be at the expense of image noise (maybe this is not yet possible
with current technology).
A quieter shutter or silent mode so as not to scare wildlife away
It would be nice if Nikon adopted Canon's big command dial thumb
wheel and moved the shutter release to a more comfortable position
- but perhaps it is just me this annoys.
It would be nice if the camera retained autofocus to f8 like the
Canons. This would enable AF to be retained when using teleconverters
on lenses slower tha f2.8.
It would be nice if the liveview screen articulated to enable
ground level and overhead shots without resorting to an anglefinder.
I'm sure this will come.
Nikon also need to plug the serious holes in their lens line up.
Canon need to crack the autofocus tracking problem
on the mk III cameras completely to everybody's satisfaction,
they are nearly there. The D3 needs to be used as a benchmark
to equal or preferably beat. The use of colour information in
addition to phase detection (like the Nikon 3D tracking) might
improve the AF tracking further. Canon has too many AF custom
functions. All we want is a simple AF system that works without
constantly fiddling with the settings to try to improve it.
Canon needs to incorporate autofocus into its Liveview - even
the slow contrast-detect system in the Nikon is better than nothing.
Canon should forget plans for putting video on all their cameras
and chasing silly levels of megapixels on small sensors as this
usually just comes with the penalty of worse noise performance
and reduced image quality (e.g. the 15Mp Canon 50D vs the 10 Mp
40D for example). These things are just marketing gimmicks. I
feel that efforts should be concentrated on reducing high ISO
noise to at least match the D3 and preferably raise the bar further
by achieving this at around 16-21 MP on a full frame sensor shooting
at 9-10fps. It should be technically possible as the 21Mp 5DmkII
is already making big inroads to close the gap with the 12 Mp
D3 in noise. Canon were high ISO kings for so long, that I am
sure they have the potential to leapfrog Nikon once more.
A 16 Mp, low noise Canon 1Dmk IV with the AF fixed to match the
D3 performance standards, would give Canon the best action camera
for sports and wildlife in the world. As it stands, because of
it's unique high ISO performance, very accurate matrix metering
and excellent autofocus tracking, I think Nikon currently holds
that title and it is very tempting to jump ship !