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Canon 1D MkIV vs Nikon D3s Battle Of The Giants - Gary Wolstenholme compares these two heavyweights to see if either is capable of delivering a knock-out blow. In this clash of the titans he pits the top end press cameras from Canon and Nikon against each other.
These flagship cameras are designed for superior speed, image quality in low light and are built to take the rough and tumble of daily use, as required by press photo photographers, who may be required to work in difficult conditions, day in, day out. Advances in sensor technology in the last year or so have produced cameras that are able to take images in incredibly difficult condition, at very high sensitivities, that just wouldn't have been possible with film.
Here is a quick summary of each camera's main features with any superior features highlighted. For the purposes of this comparison, the latest firmware has been installed on each camera.
|Canon EOS 1D MkIV||Nikon D3S|
|Sensor||27.9mm x 18.6mm CMOS (APS-H 1.3x crop)||36.0 × 23.9 mm CMOS (35mm Full frame)|
|Native ISO Range||ISO100-12800||ISO200-12800|
|Expanded ISO Range||Up to ISO102400 (H3)||Lo-1 (ISO100) up to Hi-3 (ISO102400)|
|Max Continuous Shooting Rate||10fps||9fps (11fps in DX crop mode)|
|Flash Synch Speed||1/300sec||1/250sec|
|Video Mode||1920 x 1080 @ 29.97 fps||1,280 × 720 @ 24 fps|
|AF System||45 point with 39 f/2.8 cross-type AF points||51 point with 15 cross type AF points|
|LCD Screen||3.0inch, approx. 920K dots||3inch, approx. 921k-dot|
|Construction||Magnesium Alloy||Magnesium Alloy|
It is clear to see, that there is little to choose between the two cameras on paper, which is to be expected as both cameras are right on the bleeding edge of technology for this type of camera. There are some areas where one camera scores over another, but only by very slight margins. For example, the Canon has a slightly higher resolution sensor, is slightly lighter and has a higher resolution video mode, whereas the Nikon is capable of shooting at higher speeds in DX crop mode, and has a marginally higher resolution screen.
The major separator between the two cameras is the size of the sensor. Canon have opted to retain the APS-H size sensor of previous 1D-series models, whereas the D3S has a 35mm full frame sensor. The advantages of the crop are with longer telephoto lenses, where the narrower angle of view recorded allows for tighter crops with shorter lenses. For example, a 300mm lens on the Canon will give roughly the same view as a 400mm lens on the Nikon. The downside of this is that it may be difficult to source lenses at the wider end for the Canon. Nikon's 14-24mm f/2.8 lens has garnered a superb reputation and is perfect for getting in close to the action. Currently Canon's widest zoom lens is the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM, which with the 1.3 crop factor, will provide an angle of view equivalent to a 21mm lens. Also, the lower resolution of the Nikon, coupled with the larger sensor size results in larger photosites on the sensor, which should also result in better noise performance at high ISO sensitivities. The purpose of this comparison will be to see where the differences lie and weather either camera has a clear advantage in any key areas, such as AF or ISO performance of handling.
From a distance, if the manufacturer's logos were obscured, it would be very difficult to tell each camera apart, save for the red flash on the grip of the D3S. Both cameras are virtually the same size and weight, and the extra 60g the D3S weighs over the Canon is virtually imperceivable.
Both cameras are incredibly well-built, as you might expect and you really have to look closely to find any clear differences. With the lens removed, the larger lens mount of the Canon is an obvious difference, as is the size of the viewfinder matte screen, which can be seen reflected in the reflex mirror. When viewed from the rear, the large selector dial sets the Canon apart fro the Nikon, as does the design of the viewfinder eyepiece, with Nikon opting for a larger circular design. The LCD screens on both cameras are bright and clear, making reviewing images and navigating menus a pleasure.
Both camera are a similar size and weight. The smaller viewfinder reflection in the mirror of the Canon is due to the smaller APS-H sensor.
Basic features like information screens and memory card slots are very similarly designed on both cameras. Both cameras sport an intuitive control layout, although the tiny joystick controller on the Canon can be difficult to reach when shooting in portrait orientation.
Looking more closely at the Canon, connections for HDMI output, a microphone, remote release and a PC flash socket are all located on the outside edge under rubber flaps, which can be rotated out of harms way.
The weather sealed memory card door is opened by rotating a small latch on the rear. Inside are a slot for a Compactflash card, and one for SD/SDHC, but not SDXC as yet. The slots can each be configured to receive Raw files or JPEGs independently or simultaneously as a backup, or one card can be designated for videos, whilst the other records images. It's a nice feature to have, but I find it a little strange that the photographer would have to carry two separate card formats to make the most of this feature.
The large LP-E4 battery has a capacity of 2300mAh and comes as a one-piece unit with the weather sealed cover permanently attached, making swift battery changes a doddle. The camera feel s very comfortable to hold in either portrait or landscape orientations, thanks in part to the soft rubber that covers much of the body. However the placement of the small joystick controller means that it can be difficult to reach when shooting in portrait orientation, at least without some finger gymnastics to reach across the rear of the body. Other controls are very well placed, and although the buttons aren't overly large, they can be operated easily enough with gloves, as they stand proud from the camera body.
Large rubber flaps cover the USB port, HDMI, microphone, AV out and the mains power connection. The remote release and PC sync socket are located separately on the front, also protected by individual rubber covers. The flaps cannot be moved out of the way and tend to spring back over the connections, which can be a little awkward. Also the location of the PC socket can occasionally lead to the connection becoming loose when using the camera in portrait orientation, as it is very easy to nudge it when supporting the lens with your hand. Other than that, all the buttons and controls are easily accessible making the camera very easy to use under pressure. The buttons for menus and other features are nice and large, which makes operation with gloves bearable, although the ISO, image quality and white balance controls could do with being larger, as they can be a little fiddly.
Just as with the Canon, soft rubber grips cover much of the exterior, making the camera very comfortable to hold. The memory card door is located under the grip on the rear and is released by lifting a metal guard and pressing a button. Inside are two Compactflash slots, capable of being configured in much the same way as the Canon. To me this makes much more sense than the dual format system on the 1D MkIV, as it means only one memory card format needs to be carried.
Due to Nikon's line of battery grips, which are compatible with the same EN-EL4a battery, the battery cover comes separate to the battery block and needs to be removed when changing batteries (unless you purchase spares). Although not a major issue, I can see times where a battery may need to be changed in a hurry, or in the dark, that may make this a problem.
The viewfinder eyepiece on the Canon protrudes quite a distance from the body, which reduces the chance of pressing controls with your face or nose, especially if you are a left-eye shooter. AF points are illuminated bright red when activated and disappear almost completely from view when not in use, providing a clear view for composition. The viewfinder is bright, clear and quite large, making it easy to confirm focus, even in low light.
On the D3S the viewfinder eyepiece doesn't protrude from the body as far as the Canon, and so may not be as comfortable for left-eye shooters to use, especially as the multi selector and AE-L buttons are just to the right of the viewfinder. Af points also light up red on this camera, but are not as bright as those on the Canon, and are much smaller in the viewfinder, which can sometimes make them difficult to see by comparison. The viewfinder magnification is slightly less than that of the Canon, so the viewfinder appears roughly the same size, even thought the sensor is larger.
Both manufacturers have adopted a similar approach to the layout of information, which works well in both cases. Canon have also added battery information and what file format is being recorded, which can be useful to save shooting everything in JPEG when you meant to shoot Raw files. Both viewfinders have a counter showing how many shots remain in the buffer, which is especially useful given the high frame rates of both cameras.
As far as handling is concerned, both cameras feel excellent to use and are built to exceptionally high standards. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses. The viewfinder display is more pleasant to use on the Canon, as the more simple battery design, but for me, the dual memory card formats and placement of the joystick controller let it down somewhat. It is virtually impossible to separate these two cameras, but the Canon just edges it in this department for me due to the viewfinder. The information is clearer and the AF points are easier to see and select.
For evaluating exposures, the 1D MkIV comes equipped with a 63-zone meter, which uses the selected AF point in its exposure calculation. Partial and spot metering modes are also available and the spot metering can be configured in a number of ways. It can either be fixed to the centre, or it can follow the AF point selected. The working range of this meter is 0-20 EV at 23 degrees with a 50mm f/1.4 lens, which should ensure good performance in low light conditions.
Overall the Canon's evaluative metering work well, producing balanced exposures in a wide range of conditions. In harshly backlit conditions the meter works particularly well for an evaluative system, as it gives preference to the area focused on. Spot metering also performs well in either setup, although my personal preference is to have it follow the AF point. Quick exposure compensation adjustments can be applied in either shutter or aperture priority modes by turning the rear dial, which is excellent for shooting under rapidly changing conditions.
Nikon's 1005-pixel colour Matrix meter uses colour information as well as the focus point selected to ensure accurate exposures. It really shows its worth when shooting brightly coloured objects, which may lead to overexposure on traditional luminance based metering systems. Unfortunately in the Matrix meter seem less able to cope with harsh back lighting than Canon's metering system, which can result in your subject becoming silhouetted if appropriate compensation isn't applied. Easy exposure compensation can be enabled in the menu, allowing quick adjustment s to be made in aperture and shutter priority modes.
Spot and centre weighted modes are also available. By default, the spot metering area follows the AF point selected, which is especially useful in high contrast situations.
Both cameras have an Auto ISO facility, although their implementation differs somewhat. Canon's Auto ISO is very simple, providing a shutter speed that is safe for hand-holding the camera where possible in aperture priority and program modes, and the give the correctly metered exposure in shutter priority and manual modes. Nikon's Auto ISO feature is a little more advanced. For example, in aperture priority mode you can set an ideal shutter speed value and maximum ISO, and the camera will vary the sensitivity to achieve this where possible. When it is not possible to achieve the correct exposure with the parameters applied, then it will drop or raise the shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure. To me, this is a better system, as it prevents the camera from hiking the ISO to ridiculous levels suddenly, giving you a nasty noisy shock when you inspect your pictures later on. Virtually the same level of control can be achieved with the Canon by limiting the ISO range in the custom functions, but it is a poor workaround that is not nearly as intuitive as the Nikon solution.
Again this is another close call, and although the Canon's evaluative meter gives more satisfactory results in harshly backlit conditions, Nikon's implementation of Auto ISO wins it for me. It is a really useful feature, especially when shooting in rapidly changing lighting conditions.
To test the effectiveness of each camera's subject tracking in continuous autofocus mode I fired bursts of shots focusing on a bus approaching at approximately 30 miles per hour.
In this test the 1D MkIV performed especially well. Not one frame is out of focus from a burst of 17 shots. Even as the bus came close, it still managed to track focus adequately.
Although the D3S performed well, it didn't manage to get every shot in as sharp focus as the Canon. Some of the shots, especially those taken as the bus got closer are slightly behind the target.
|Canon EOS 1D MkIV||Nikon D3S|
|The Canon does a decent job of keeping up with the moving bus, even when it gets close.||The Nikon gets most images in focus, but occasionally one or two are behind the target, especially as the bus gets close.|
To evaluate the ISO capabilities of each camera's images were first taken on a tripod at each ISO setting under low light conditions, than each camera was taken to a dimly lit bar where shots of a live music performance were taken at ISO sensitivities of ISO400 and greater. This second set of images were also processed using default noise reduction setting in Capture One 6 to see if the Raw files have any more usable at very high ISOs.
Starting with the Canon, in the first test images up to ISO800 show no significant signs of noise, or softening due to noise reduction. At ISO1600 a little luminance noise is visible if you look closely, but the image quality is still very good here. From here onwards the levels of noise gradually start to increase, with a noticeable amount of luminance noise being present at 100% in images taken at ISO3200 and fine details being softened slightly as a result.
Things start to get a little snowy at ISO12800, and here levels of chroma noise have also started to increase and fine details are visibly softened. Pushing the sensitivity beyond the camera's native range results in visibly higher levels of noise and loss of fine detail, although shots taken at ISO25600 still keep chroma noise to levels which aren't too disturbing, which is excellent performance for such a high ISO and images at this setting should be fine for reproduction in less critical applications, such as for the web, or at small sizes in newspapers or magazines. At the H2 and H3 settings, colour noise starts to become an issue and much of the fine detail is lost. At H3 the amount of colour noise present is visible even at small sizes so this setting is probably best avoided unless you have no choice.
With the D3S, no significant signs of noise are present until ISO3200, which is quite amazing performance as well as being around a stop better than the EOS 1D MkIV. Here a slight amount of luminance noise can be seen if images are inspected closely at 100%, but contrast and detail levels are still good. Detail. Remains good at ISO6400, even though there is more luminance noise present. Turning the ISO up a notch to ISO12800 results in a light amount of softening due to noise reduction, but detail and contrast still remain good for reproduction at decent sizes in print.
Pushing the camera beyond its native sensitivity range results in visible softening and loss of colour saturation due to the noise reduction making every attempt to control chroma noise levels. At ISO25600, images are acceptable for small print reproduction and the web, as are images taken at ISO51200, although they are beginning to look much much snowy at this setting. Hi-£, which is equivalent to ISO102400 is probably best kept as a last resort as most fine detail has been obliterated by noise. Still edges are well enough defined and chroma noise levels are low enough to get away with small reproduction sizes on the web.
|Canon EOS 1D MkIV||Nikon D3S|
|ISO25600 (H1)||ISO25600 (Hi-1)|
|ISO51200 (H2)||ISO51200 (Hi-2)|
|ISO102400 (H3)||ISO102400 (Hi-3)|
In the images from the ID MkIV the samples below processed in Capture One do retain slightly more detail, but also display much higher levels of chroma noise. Areas that are in focus are clearly defined enough at ISO12800 for acceptable reproduction in print.
Raw files from the D3S hold more detail than JPEGs straight from the camera up to ISO25600. In focus areas are more clearly defined whilst levels of chroma noise seem to be kept to reasonable levels.
If shooting at really high ISO settings is important to you, the Nikon D3S is a clear winner here. That's not to say the Canon performs badly. It does perform very well in fact. Image up to ISO12800 will do for many forms of reproduction. With the Nikon images taken at this setting clearly contain more detail and less noise, especially if processed from a Raw file.
Both cameras produce images of excellent quality in decent conditions, with images straight from the Canon having a more vivid appearance when the standard picture style is used. The colours produced by the Nikon are more muted by comparison but plenty of controls are provided if you require a more vivid look.
As far as preset styles are concerned, the 1D MkIV has more to choose from, but both cameras have three customisable settings that can be tailored to your requirements.
Both cameras can capture impressive levels of dynamic range, but the greater detail can be seen in the highlights of images taken with the D3S, especially in Raw files from the camera, where even more detail can be retrieved using highlight recovery. Also due to the exceptionally low noise levels, more details can be retrieved from shadow areas also.
Sharpness and Detail
Both cameras produce images with very good levels of detail straight from the camera, and the Raw files from both cameras contain ever so slightly more, especially in the highlights.
The images below were taken using the Raw+JPEG setting and the Raw files were processed in Capture one 6 using default settings.
|Canon EOS 1D MkIV||Nikon D3S|
The image quality from each camera is very good, and although the Canon has a higher pixel count, the amount of extra detail isn't great enough to offset the benefits of the wider dynamic range displayed by the D3S.
In daylight both cameras produce similar neutral results using the auto white balance setting. Under incandescent lighting both cameras display quite a strong colour cast with the auto setting, although the pink cast of the image taken with the Canon is slightly more disturbing than the amber cast present in the images from the D3S. Strangely the same mild magenta cast is present in images taken with the Canon under incandescent light using the incandescent preset too. The amber cast present in the image taken with the Nikon is still there too, although it is milder than that present in the image taken with auto white balance. Taking a custom white balance reading from the white background in the photograph, the Canon still displays a magenta cast, whilst the image taken with the Nikon is neutral, just like the image taken in daylight.
I really like the way the EOS 1D MkIV handles, especially the viewfinder information and autofocus, which are both superb. The image quality produced by it is also superb, with vibrant punchy colours and low noise compared to many other cameras available today. Good as it is though, when it comes to image quality factors such as noise at high sensitivities and dynamic range, it falls short when compared to the Nikon D3S.
For a professional, for who these camera are aimed at, it's the final result that counts. Having the ability to take images of acceptable quality at such high sensitivities could mean the difference between an image sale, or as Anne Robinson would say, leaving with nothing. For that reason above all else, the Nikon D3S would be my choice of the two cameras if I was starting from scratch. If however, you have a large investment in lenses, the difference isn't so great that it would be worth ditching the lot.
|The Canon EOS 1D MkIV makes a compelling argument for itself, and offers exceptional performance.||The Nikon D3s offers class leading performance at high ISO settings, and features excellent dynamic range.|
Canon EOS 1D MkIV vs Nikon D3S: Pros
|Canon EOS 1D MkIV||Nikon D3S|
Good viewfinder information
Superb build quality
10fps at full resolution
Vibrant contrasty images straight from the camera
|Class leading performance at high ISO sensitivities
Excellent dynamic range
Superb build quality
Auto white balance performs well
Dual Compactflash slots
Canon EOS 1D MkIV vs Nikon D3S: Cons
|Canon EOS 1D MkIV||Nikon D3S|
|White balance struggles to correct casts under incandescent lighting
Mixed format memory card slots
|Fiddly battery cover
AF points can be difficult to see
Canon EOS 1D MkIV vs Nikon D3S: Rating
|Canon EOS 1D MkIV||Nikon D3S|
|VALUE FOR MONEY||VALUE FOR MONEY|
|Canon EOS 1D MkIV||Nikon D3s|
|Sensor size||27.9mm x 18.6mm CMOS (APS-H 1.3x crop)||36.0 × 23.9 mm CMOS (35mm Full frame)|
|Sensor type||CMOS||FX CMOS|
|Max. image size||4896 x 3264||4256x2832|
|Aspect ratio||3:2||3:2, 5:4, 1:2|
|Focus system||TTL Nikon Multi-CAM 3500 FX sensor|
|Focus points||45 point with 39 f/2.8 cross-type AF points||51 (15 cross-type sensors)|
|Focus types||Continuous, Single Shot, Manual Focus||Single-shot, continuous servo AF, predictive AF, manual|
|Lens mount||EF||Nikon F|
|File type||JPEG, RAW, sRAW||JPEG, NEF, TIFF, AVI (Motion)|
|Sensitivity||100-102400 with expansion||ISO200-12,800 (expandable to ISO100, 25,600, 51,200 & 102,400)|
|Metering system||TTL full aperture metering with 63 zone SPC||TTL open aperture using 1005 pixel RGB sensor|
|Metering types||Evaluative, Partial, Spot, Centre-weighted||3D Matrix II, spot (1.5%) and centre-weighted|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 3EV||+/- 5EV in 1/2 or 1/3 EV increments|
|Shutter speed range||1/8000 – 30seconds + Bulb||30sec - 1/8000sec & Bulb|
|Frames per second||Max. 10fps||9fps max (11fps in DX Crop mode)|
|Flash sync speed||1/300||1/250sec|
|Image stabilisation||IS system in Canon lenses||VR system in Nikon lenses|
|Integrated cleaning||Yes, Image Dust Off (with optional Capture NX2)|
|Live view||Yes||Yes, for still and movie shooting|
|Movie mode||1920 x 1080 @ 29.97 fps||1,280 × 720 @ 24 fps|
|Viewfinder||Pentaprism – 100% coverage||Eye-level pentaprism, 100% approx|
|Monitor||3inch LCD||3in TFT LCD (921,000dot)|
|Media type||Compactflash, SD, SDHC||CompactFlash I and II, dual slot|
|Interface||USB, HDMI||USB 2.0, HDMI, video out|
|Power||Li-Ion Rechargeable Battery||Lithium-Ion battery EN-EL4a|
|Size||156 x 156.6 x 79.9mm||160x157x88mm|
|Weight||1180g||1240g (body only)|