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Nikon D200 and Canon 5D Image Quality “Real life” Test

Test by using the RAW format

I've owned a Canon 5D for about a month (previously owned a Canon 20D, Olympus E-10, Mamiya 645). A friend of mine (professional photographer) recently purchased a Nikon D200. His previous camera was a Nikon D70; he also uses a Hasselblad camera.

We decided to conduct a simple image quality test between the Nikon D200 and the Canon 5D. We used the newest Nikon DX 18-200 VR lens with the Nikon D200; the Canon 5D had the new 24-105 IS lens.

The pictures were taken without the use of a tripod because our aim was “the real life test”, not the best possible quality. The focal length for the Canon was 45mm; correspondingly, it was 29 mm for the Nikon (which is the equivalent of 43 mm of a full frame Canon).

When we were shooting, the weather was cloudy; we used 200 ISO 1/100 5.6, which is relatively little light and thus more sensitive to revealing flaws of the lens, mistakes in focusing, or camera shake. Both of the lenses used image stabilization (Nikon VR, Canon IS).

The first test used the “default” settings. For Canon it is the JPEG fine large resolution; for Nikon it is the JPEG fine; both cameras used sRGB color space and automatic white balance.

ISO 200 TEST

Nikon D200 whole frame at ISO 200 (1024x768 resolution):

Download original at: http://www.ales.litomisky.com/data/projects/Nikon%20D200%20versus%20Canon%205D%20(JPEG%20files)/ORIGINAL/Nikkon D200 200 ISO.JPG (full EXIF available)

Canon 5D whole frame at ISO 200 (1024x768 resolution):

Download original at: http://www.ales.litomisky.com/data/projects/Nikon%20D200%20versus%20Canon%205D%20(JPEG%20files)/ORIGINAL/Canon 5D 200 ISO.JPG (full EXIF available)

Central crop Nikon D200 at ISO 200:

Central crop Canon 5D at ISO 200:

Top right corner crop Nikon D200 at ISO 200:

Top right corner crop Canon 5D at ISO 200:

My comments: the Nikon's resolution is worse, the color balance is worse, contrast and “micro-contrast” is worse, and the color aberration is worse.

ISO 1600 TEST

Nikon D200 whole frame at ISO 1600 (1024x768 resolution):

Download original at: http://www.ales.litomisky.com/data/projects/Nikon%20D200%20versus%20Canon%205D%20(JPEG%20files)/ORIGINAL/Nikon D200 1600 ISO.JPG (full EXIF available)

Canon 5D whole frame at ISO 1600 (1024x768 resolution):

Download original at: http://www.ales.litomisky.com/data/projects/Nikon%20D200%20versus%20Canon%205D%20(JPEG%20files)/ORIGINAL/Canon 5D 1600 ISO.JPG (full EXIF available)

Central crop Nikon D200 at ISO 1600:

Central crop Canon 5D at ISO 1600:

Top right corner crop Nikon D200 at ISO 1600:

Top right corner crop Canon 5D at ISO 1600:

In my opinion, Nikon D200 noise is almost non-visible in this picture; however, this is achieved at the expense of radical diminishing of picture detail. On the other hand, Canon 5D sensitivity retains almost the same level of picture detail at ISO 1600 as at ISO 200.

We did several additional tests with the intention of fine-tuning the Nikon D200's picture quality. We switched to Adobe RGB color space, tried the VIVID setting (it is too artificial), tried the LANDSCAPE setting and added sharpness (showed JPEG artifacts too much), but eventually ended up with a setting that had better picture quality than the default setting. However, all picture parameters (resolution, contrast, color balance) were still better on the 5D.

I think that Nikon should have paid more attention to fine-tuning the D200 “default” image parameters prior to the camera's market release.

On the other hand, the Nikon D200 has many details better than the Canon 5D:

Canon could certainly find a lot of inspiration in this camera.

On the other hand, if image quality is a priority for you, the Canon 5D is indisputably better. If the largest photographs you print are in 4x6 or 8x10, either camera will do the job.

I printed some 13” by 19” photographs from both cameras (using a Canon S9000 printer), and the superior quality of the Canon 5D is clearly noticeable.

The question is, should these two cameras even be compared, since the Canon costs almost twice as much? They should – if only to correct Ken Rockwell's text ( http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/d200-vs-canon.htm ), which compared the cameras.

On a side note: my test approximately confirms the results published on the Chinese website (comparison of the D200 and 5D “default” picture quality at http://www.potatobear.com/ND200/D200F.htm ).

So with what camera should the Nikon D200 be compared? Right now with the Canon 20D, and eventually with the 20D's successor, which is expected to become available next year.

We are considering conducting another test using a tripod and even comparing the cameras' picture quality with a Nikon film camera and a Hasselblad camera.

Ales Litomisky
December 2005
ales@litomisky.com