Impressions of Canon 5D Mark II (vs. Nikon D700)

I had to return the Canon 5D Mark II before I had enough time with the camera to write meaningful observations on it and conduct all the tests that I wanted to do. Nonetheless, I have compared the Canon with the Nikon D700 in terms of high ISO noise performance and am posting my findings below first. I expect to be able to get ahold of the camera in the near future again and will add my comments on it as well as other possible comparisons to this page in due course.

High ISO noise comparison

Prior to announcement of the Nikon D3 (and the D700 later on) Canon were the indisputable king of high ISO noise performance. The D3, however, overturned that dominance for the first time introducing until–then–unheard–of ISO value of 25600 and pushing cleanliness of files shot at higher ISO settings on to an entirely new level. Canon, naturally, did not stop improving their cameras in general and high ISO noise performance in particular. With the introduction of the long–awaited Canon 5D Mark II the company pushed high ISO performance further—but have they recouped the title of the high ISO performance king? Let's find out.

It is difficult to directly compare high ISO noise performance of the two cameras as they boast different megapixel count and thus produce files of different sizes. To deal with this issue, we need to look at two things. First, we need to compare files at 100% magnification and what you immediately see below is such comparison: crops from Nikon D700 files at 100% magnification are on the left and crops from Canon 5D Mark II files at 100% magnification are on the right. Second, we need to compare the D700 files at 100% magnification with the 5D Mark II files downsized to match the size of the D700 files. This comparison can be seen on the left: what you see immediately are crops from the D700 files at 100% magnification; roll your mouse over to see crops from downsized files produced by the 5D Mark II. Here you will notice a slight difference in the field of view—it was caused by the discrepancy in the fields of view of the two companies' 35mm fixed–focal–length lenses; in other words, I simply downsized the Canon files to match the size of the Nikon files and did not make further adjustments to account for the difference in the fields of view of the lenses). In all instances RAW files were converted with Adobe Camera RAW and no noise reduction or sharpening was applied.


ISO 800


ISO 1600


ISO 3200


ISO 6400


ISO 12800


ISO 25600


You can look at the crops carefully to arrive at your own conclusions. If you are interested to know what I think, though, then here is what I see. First, it is quite surprising that the D700 produces noticeably cleaner files at ISO800—this setting is no longer considered particularly challenging and I expected that the Canon 5D Mark II would perform equally well; this trend continues through to ISO 3200. At ISO6400, however, things are not so clear–cut—the D700 file still looks cleaner but seems to lose more detail to noise than the Canon files. At ISO12800 and ISO25600 noise patterns of both cameras get rather nasty but the Canon retains noticeably more detail. If I had to choose a winner here I would pick the 5D Mark II; this being said, the difference is rather rhetorical as both cameras are barely useable at these two settings. All in all, I conclude that the D700 (and the D3) still remains the king of high ISO performance.