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Test by using the RAW format

Nikon D200

Nikon D200, handheld, ISO 200, 18-200 mm lens @ 31mm (full frame = 45mm), VR On, Central focusing point; Program: 1/125s @ 5.6; AUTO white balance (other details in Exif), software used to convert RAW to JPEG: Nikon Capture 4.4 (default settings)

Whole frame (converted to 1024x768):

Download original RAW file here:
http://www.ales.litomisky.com/RAW/DSC_1984.NEF

Canon 5D

 

Canon 5D, handheld, ISO 200, 24-105 mm lens @ 45mm; Program: 1/80s @ 5.6; AUTO white balance (other details in Exif), software used to convert RAW to JPEG: Adobe ACR3.3 (default settings).

 

Whole frame (converted to 1024x768):

Download original RAW file here: (link)
http://www.ales.litomisky.com/RAW/IMG_1976.CR2

Central Crop Nikon D200 (default settings):

Central Crop Canon 5D (default settings):

Central Crop Nikon D200 with Levels and Smart sharpen (200, 0.3):

Central Crop Canon 5D with Levels and Smart sharpen (200, 0.3):

Central Crop Nikon D200 with Levels and 2x Smart sharpen (200, 0.3):

 

My notes:

Personally, I take 99 % of pictures in RAW format. It used to be because pictures in the RAW format were better than JPEGs directly from the camera (processors in cameras weren't as sophisticated and powerful then). This reason is nearly gone – a JPEG from the 5D is indistinguishable from a picture that had been converted from RAW. Nevertheless, I still take my pictures in RAW, as this allows me more exposition freedom, and I particularly like Adobe RAW for fine-tuning pictures. I can also work in a color space with large gamut (ProPhoto RGB). Since conversion utilities improve every year, I archive my RAW files, and whenever I print large photographs, I always use the original RAW file.

I am surprised by the relatively significant difference between Nikon D200 JPEGs and RAW files. After appropriate settings are configured (levels, sharpening, etc.), the Nikon D200 can create very good and detailed photographs.