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Reflections on Canon 5D Mark III vs 5D Mark II vs Nikon D800

I trust my eyes. They are reliable image-assessment devices that tell me a lot more than lab numbers ever can. Yet test-bench (“lab”) numbers can contribute a meaningful data point in context of other qualities, and in the context of real images in the field.

In my Canon 5D Mark III review, the very first page that I published (the Carrizo Plain examples), I went with my eyes, and I wrote the following on March 26:

The bottom line for me in this first batch of images is that the Canon 5D Mark III image quality leaves me feeling bored. Adding in the +$1000 price increase, I’m left scratching my head for what this means— if I were cynical, I’d say that Canon is milking the market with a marginally better sensor than the 5DM2 at a much higher price. The 5DM3 images look improved over the 5DM2 in some ways but I don’t exactly feel compelled to trade up.

Now DxOMark has published its DxOMark lab tests on the 5D Mark III sensor, compared to the 5D Mark II. My eyes had seen right away what the DxO numbers indicate in a quantified way: the 5DM3 has a marginally better sensor than the 5DM2, and neither can hold a candle to the Nikon D800.

As for numbers, here they are (overall score):

Canon 5D Mark III score: 81
Nikon D800 score: 95

The DxOMark figures are supportive of what I see, and I trust my eyes first and foremost. And I think my examples and comparisons show clearly just how good the D800 really is, no need for numbers to realize that.

The mid-range DSLR market, flipped around

Canon ruled the mid-range DSLR market with the 5D Mark II.

Now Nikon has body-slammed Canon in the mid-range DSLR market.

Or rather, Canon has body-slammed itself with greed and mediocrity. Which is fine— the market will vote with its wallet, which is the way it ought to work a lot more these days in every area— let people make their own decisions with their own money in a free market on what constitutes value.

The D800 costs $500 less than the 5D Mark III, and when value (price and quality) is considered, the Nikon D800 is 1st, and the 5D Mark III comes in 3rd— after the 5D Mark II!

Canon got greedy, and now wants $1000 more (MSRP) for the 5D Mark III , a camera that ought to cost $200 less than the 5D Mark II (lowered costs over time), but instead costs $500 more than a Nikon D800 and $1300 more than a 5DM2 (at the time I wrote this, street prices).

Now the Canon EOS 1D X is delayed 2-3 months— has that ever happened before with a Canon pro body? Could it be that Canon has some “concerns” vis-a-vis the D800 and the Nikon D4? Pure speculation on my part.

To switch or not to switch? Image quality is not the only issue

Don’t confuse my remarks with all the other reasons one might buy a Canon body. The image quality with Canon is very good after all.

The Canon image quality has a certain rendition that some might prefer, one might have a collection of Canon-mount lenses, other Canon bodies, a workflow dialed in for Canon, particular lens needs like the 85/1.2L II, etc. I would not presume to tell Canon shooters to switch, especially since sooner or later Canon will up its game, and there are so many possible considerations.

I shoot both systems, have extensive collections of lenses for both systems, and have done so for about 7 years now. I will continue to do so, and I will be buying the Canon 1D X, and probably the 5DM3, since that’s what I have to (also) cover here on this site. And also because Canon will be very bothered by the current Nikon coup in the mid-range DSLR space.

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