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Nikon D3, D300 and Canon 5D Sharpness Comparison
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Back to            Nikon D3 Review                Nikon D300 Review       Nikon D3 vs. D700 vs. Canon 5D        Canon 5D Review

December 2007.  

Here are some crops from 100% images shot at ISO 200. The full images would be 43" (110cm) wide at this magnification.

Nikon D3 Canon 5D
Nikon D300 Nikon D3
Nikon D3 Nikon D3


I used Nikon's newest 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-s set to 70mm for the D3 and set to 45mm for the D300. I used the Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS L for the Canon 5D. I didn't bother with my D200 since it's from 2005, I got lazy, and there isn't much difference among the DX Nikons anyway. I really wanted to see the 5D versus the D3 and the rest is just here to fill the page.

These are all crops from images at 100%. The 5D was at my standard +3 saturation, and the Nikons were at Nikon's default VIVID setting. When the Nikons were set to +3 on top of VIVID, they had such vivid color that the 5D was blown back to Tokyo, but I didn't show that here because I wanted to see sharpness vs sharpness, not real image quality, which is color, color and color.

I'm astounded that the colors match so well. I wasn't really trying.

I didn't resize anything. All cameras were at their default NR settings. All were made at f/8 and a tripod.

I see the 5D as the clear winner. It's easily the sharpest, at least shooting JPGs as I do. The 5D was set to large JPG normal (the smallest file size setting: the staircase icon, not the default FINE setting which gives larger file sizes) and the Nikons were JPG normal, optimal quality. Thus I set the Nikons for higher quality than default, and the 5D for smaller. I did this to give the same file size, about 4.5 MB for all. I tried other JPG settings and all gave the same sharpness. I usually shoot my Nikons on JPG BASIC and Optimal Quality.

The huge margin of sharpness between the Nikons and the 5D had me scramble to see if different lenses and settings changed anything.

I tried my 85mm f/1.4 AF-D, 85mm f/2 AI-s, 70-180mm Micro and more, and no matter what I tried, the results are the same. Lenses don't matter here; at f/8 they are all the same in the center.

I pumped up the in-camera sharpening on the D3 all the way to +9, and as you can see, the results are simply harsher, not better.

The D300 and D3 look identical! I thought I was imagining it, but as you hackers can devolve, I prefix my D3 files as "D3R" in-camera, my D300 files are prefixed as "300," and the Canon leaves me no choice but its default "IMG."

Adding "Smart Sharpen" in Photoshop helps the Nikon files look almost as good as the 5D.

I don't bother with raw; it's entirely probable that different sharpening is used opening raw files, which then would likely change these results. I leave this as an exercise for readers who shoot raw.

Color and tone is far more important than microscopic sharpness, and the newest Nikons create wild colors I've never seen on my 5D, but for sharpness alone, the 5D, selling below $2,000 at the end of 2007, with a $1,000 lens, is sharper than the $5,000 Nikon D3 and Nikon's best $1,700 zoom. Sorry, I don't have the Nikon 70-200 VR or a mid-range Canon lens, but as I've seen, lenses don't really matter here.

Worse, I didn't whip out my $100 Canon 70-210mm, but it probably is sharper on the 5D than the D3 as I've shown. Oh well, I've never seen real photographers worry about this - these articles are just picking nits at huge magnifications.


If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.

Thanks for reading!



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