Camera Test – Canon 5D Mark III, Mark II, 1Dx, 1Ds, Nikon D800 and Hasselbad H3D

We were messing around today as my studio partner and I both just bought the Canon 5D Mark III and some of the first files looked a little too digital.  We got a little nervous and we started are own impromptu mini test.  Full disclosure, neither of us ever ever ever tried a a technical test before, so we might have made a few errors.  That said, we have a lot of cameras, so we thought we would share what we uncovered.  Maybe it helps somebody!

By no means were we exhaustive.  We shot each camera (Canon 5D Mark III, Mark II, 1Dx, 1Ds Mark III, 1Ds Mark II, & Nikon D800) on a tripod with an 85mm 1.2 lens set to  I think F6.3 at 1/160, ISO 100.  Autofocused and took 1 or 2 frames.  We shot raw and jpg on the standard setting, K5100.  The light was Broncolor Scoro with a Para88.  One light, pretty head on, no fill or anything against a white seamless, no background lights, so it went grey.  The only exception was for the Canon 1Dx.  We don’t own this camera, so my assistant ran down to Fotocare, where they generously took a couple shots against the wall.  Hence the shadow!  We shot every image head to toe, and below is a screen capture of the 100% zoom in.  For the Nikon D800, I am not sure if it is 100% or slightly less. Below are only the raw versions.  I will say more below, but yes, I blew the opportunity to shoot the Hasselblad H3D 39MP side by side.  I luckily own one and just didn’t think to put it in the mix. I will give some opinions on it in the final thoughts.

The first shot I took was with the 5D Mark III.  I shot tethered and opened it up in Digital Photo Professional (DPP).  I have read some problems with the software with images coming out too soft, but I am not sure whether those have been resolved.  WE DID NOT have that experience.  Set to picture style Standard, with no adjustment to contrast or sharpness.  The image came out too sharp.  It looked digital, bitty and fake.  Below, it is the middle image (4th from left or right).  The skin looks spotty, and the eyes look too fake.  It looks like we went crazy with unsharp mask.
We were freaking out, and I was thinking I am going to return the camera.  Maybe I would get the 1Dx or maybe just stick with the Mark II.  Next camera I tried was my 5D MarkII, same conditions.  Below it is the 3rd to the right.  I thought the skin looked much better, smoother, and natural.  Though it look noticeably less sharp.  I figure I could always sharpen up the eyes in post, and I would be good like always.  I have been using the Mark II as my everyday camera for a couple years with few complaints.
Next, I grabbed my 1Ds Mark III.  Hasn’t seen too much action recently.  Though I loaned it to an assistant who normally shoots 7D a couple weeks back and he was really impressed with the 1Ds files.  Below (2nd from right), the 1Ds looks great. A little warmer, but very similar to the 5D Mark II.  Maybe a touch sharper.  It got me thinking about whether these cameras are actually improving or if they are just adding video.  That said and NOT pictured below, we hooked up a 1Ds Mark II and we could not get a frame that was acceptably sharp.  Not sure if it was the camera or the focusing, but we tried a few frames and got less then we were willing to show.

Already freaking out, thinking the baseline sharpness on the 5D Mark III is too much, my assistant mentioned we could just turn it down.  Like an idiot, I am like, “Can we?”  YES!  So you see below (3rd from left) we moved the sharpness down from the factory setting to considerably lower in Digital Photo Professional.  Maybe it was Sharpness 1?  Looking at it now, it seems like we probably went a little too far, but the image is way more acceptable and looks like an actual photo.  I was pleased enough that I think I will keep the camera.  That is a file, that with the right retouching, will look great.
Next my assistant ran down to Fotocare and they grabbed the rental copy of the Canon 1Dx.  I believe they shot with Broncolor still, but I wasn’t there.  Notice (2nd from left) the same TOO sharp quality too the image on the standard settings.  Again, we tried lowering the sharpness in DPP and I think the file looks great.  You see it is a little warmer, but that could be just from having a different light source/modifier.  I cannot be sure.  You can also see it is a touch smaller at 18mp.

We didn’t stop here.  My other assistant just purchased the Nikon D800.  So we put it on the tripod for whirl.  Still an 85mm lens, but he has the Sigma F1.4.  We still shot the same settings and the light had not moved or been altered.  My first thought was that I really liked the image (Far right). I thought it did much better with the highlights, so that the skin tone looked more even.  The image was taken after the run to Fotocare, so maybe my assistant’s complexion had a bit of a change and the highlight between his eye brows might have been naturally less.  Not sure.  The overall sharpness looks like a good amount; not too much or too little.  You can really make out the separation in the lashes. I think better than all the other cameras, even the over sharpened versions.  The only thing that really scares me about the D800 is the odd Magenta cast on the hair.  You can see a distinct line edging the hair that definitely does not exist and is hard to fix in Photoshop.  For a professional with the need for accurate colors, that is pretty unacceptable. Overall the color seems more purple, which I don’t believe was present or accurate.  As much as I would love a 36mp every day SLR, I don’t think my fashion clients would like their clothes coming out random colors.  I don’t know if this is actually a big problem, but over and over the reviews are mentioning it.  I think without the color concerns, I might get the D800 over the 5D Mark III, and just buy a few new lens/accessories.

Click to enlarge

If there are any difficulties enlarging this, you can download this exact file from my smugmug account.  Scroll over the image and you will see a folder with a green arrow.  Click that!


Final notes:

I am keeping the 5D mark III.  I do not think there is an image quality jump from the Mark II.  I don’t see it.  Frankly, I don’t think the image is any better than the older 1Ds Mark III.  I think the files all just have subtle characteristics.  My assistant asked my why I would keep the more expensive 5D Mark III if the files are no better than the Mark II and the 1DS.  Simply, I think the new focusing system is worth the extra $1000.  It is such a welcome improvement.  I haven’t really delved into the other features yet, but I am happy to have the extra SD card slot back and a quieter shutter mode that I had on the 1Ds.  And yes, the Mark III feels better in the hand.  I have the battery grip and the sealing seems better.  There are so many new menu options, and I haven’t even explored the video yet.

I do want to point out that the over sharpness issue does not seem to be as apparent outside the studio.  I went back and looked at a number of files that I shot of models outside with the 5D mark III and while a little over sharp, were not unacceptable like the ones above.
Jpgs.  We also shot jpgs and kind of skipped the comparisons because frankly the files were noticeably worse on all the cameras.  I like shooting jpg, as I shoot thousands of photos a week.  I am not sure I will trust it.  I have to experiment more.  We did try converting the raw to jpg in Photoshop and that looked better….but that is not what I want to do.  I want to shoot straight jpg and get a great file.  I am going to have to try a bunch of real shooting situations and see what I think. I trusted my Mark II and felt that was acceptable.

7D.  We did not include it in the test.  I am biased and am not a fan of the files.  I have had several assistants shoot it for behind the scenes photos and just don’t like the look.  Others are free to disagree.

My big regret was not to test the Hasselblad next to the 5D Mark III and D800.  I own the Hasselblad H3D 39MP.  It was sitting in the studio and I didn’t grab it!  When we were testing the cameras, I had no plan to post this for others.  We were just trying to figure out what was right for us in a particular set of circumstances.  I know my thoughts very clearly on this and after seeing the Canon’s and Nikon’s perform, I had no doubt that my thoughts on the Hasselblad would change.  I am now sorry not to be able to compare it here.  I personally believe, the Hasselblad is much better for this type of studio shot.  Hands down.  I have shot head to toe studio shots with the H3D for over 5 years now.  The eyes are sharp while the skin is smooth.  Period.  I saw the video from The Camera Store comparing the D800 to the H4 40MP and maybe the sharpness is comparable.  But the Hasselblad owners  in the video said 10 times; the skin tones.  I totally agree. The look and feel are just so different.  Of course, the Hasselblad is not a flexible  or fast camera.  I don’t trust it at 200 ISO and I just did a major fashion shoot on location mixing strobes with daylight.  It looked beautiful, but what a pain in the butt.  Canon and Nikon would have been so much easier.

I know this is NOT fair and was unplanned.  But out of guilt, here is the same 100% crop from a head to toe image from the Hasselblad H3D 39MP.  It is the first image I found on my hard drive that was shot with the same Broncolor Para 88, one light only on a seamless. It has a different amount of diffusion and is closer to the model here than in the test above.  Shot with an 80mm lens, ISO 100 at F8 and handheld, no tripod.  It is unretouched, but of course this is a model with makeup done. Which will make a pretty big difference.   The H3D Hasselblad is a raw only camera and I have it set to sharpen ZERO.  That is the image on the left and it meets or exceeds all the Canons or Nikon in sharpness.  Like the D800 there are some odd color artifacts in the hair (I don’t see those often, but have seen them from time to time.  I think if I got them more often I would be upset and have the same concerns as the color on the D800).  The rest looks fantastic.  Look at those smooth skin tones while we have great detail to play with.  On the image on the right, I barely sharpened the whole thing with Unsharp Mask at 70 with radius .9.  Skin still looks great, while the details are even better.  The closest file from the Canons and Nikon, seems to be the D800.  I would really love to see how the newer Hasselblad 50 or 60 MP compare, or Leaf’s 80Mp!!  My H3D has over 5 years of shooting on it.  Scary to think the new Nikons and Canons do not have a better look.

Click to enlarge or use smugmug link under first photo.

Michael Creagh (iPad viewers + archive)

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