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Nikon D800 digital camera image
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Nikon D800

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Nikon D800 Raw Image Quality

We used to convert raw files used for comparison crops with dcraw (an excellent freeware raw converter), as we could count on dcraw not to apply any noise reduction, sharpening or other corrections. Lately, though, we've switched to Adobe Camera Raw with its noise reduction and sharpening options set to zero. We've found conversions made with recent versions of ACR to be almost identical to dcraw when dcraw's demosaicing option is set to match ACR's method, so we're pretty sure ACR isn't applying any noise reduction "under the hood" like it used to.

Below are crops from Nikon D800 raw files compared to raw files from other high-resolution full-frame SLRs:

Nikon D800
versus
Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D4, and Sony A99
Raw, no Noise Reduction, no Sharpening,
Simulated Daylight
Nikon
D800
Canon
5D Mark III
Nikon
D4
Sony
Alpha A99
I
S
O

5
0
I
S
O

1
0
0
I
S
O

2
0
0
I
S
O

4
0
0
I
S
O

8
0
0
I
S
O

1
6
0
0
I
S
O

3
2
0
0
I
S
O

6
4
0
0
I
S
O

1
2
8
0
0
I
S
O

2
5
6
0
0
I
S
O

5
1
2
0
0
N/A,
ISO 51,200 not
supported.
N/A,
ISO 51,200 not
supported.
I
S
O

1
0
2
4
0
0
N/A,
ISO 102,400 not
supported.
N/A,
ISO 102,400 not
supported.
I
S
O

2
0
4
8
0
0
N/A,
ISO 204,800 not
supported.
N/A,
ISO 204,800 not
supported.
N/A,
ISO 204,800 not
supported.
Nikon
D800
Canon
5D Mark III
Nikon
D4
Sony
A99

Here, we can see the 16-megapixel Nikon D4 performs the best in terms of noise at higher ISOs. That's no surprise, though, given it has the largest photosites of this group (pixel pitch of 7.3 microns versus 4.8 for the D800 ). We've included it here as it's arguably still the current high ISO king. Next would be the 22-megapixel Canon 5D Mark III, with its 6.1 micron pixel pitch. The 36-megapixel D800 comes in third, but keep in mind its resolution advantage is significant. If you resample the D800's images down to the others, you may be surprised how well it compares. The 24-megapixel Sony A99 comes in fourth here with its 5.9 micron pixels, likely handicapped somewhat by its light-robbing semi-transparent mirror.