Canon 5D Mark III Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Canon 5D Mark III to its predecessor the 5D Mark II, as well as to other recent full-frame DSLRs: the Canon 6D, Nikon D800, Nikon D600 and Sony A99. Though we normally start with ISO 1,600 here, we thought we'd start with the base ISO to show the best each camera can do.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot at f/8 with a Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lens, one of the sharpest lenses we've ever tested on SLRgear.com.

Canon 5D Mark III versus Canon 5D Mark II ISO 100

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100
Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 100

The 5D Mark III shows slightly improved contrast and certainly higher resolution than its predecessor. The mosaic crop is noticeably sharper, and the pink swatch has excellent detail, while the red leaf swatch is pretty respectable. Otherwise, it's not a huge change at ISO 100 from the 5D Mark II, though default sharpening is higher.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Canon 6D at ISO 100

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100
Canon 6D at ISO 100

Very similar results here. The 5D Mark III's 22-megapixel sensor captures a touch more detail than the 6D's 20-megapixel imager, but it's extremely close. Some of the increased sharpness in the Mark III's shot is doubtless the result of its slightly stronger default sharpening. The 6D appears to resolve the threads in the pink fabric a touch better, though that may just be a slight difference in focus. Practically speaking, both cameras produce nearly identical output.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Nikon D800 at ISO 100

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100
Nikon D800 at ISO 100

As expected, the Nikon D800's 36-megapixel sensor captures noticeably more detail at base ISO, resolving the thread pattern in the red leaf swatch which the Canon cannot. The Nikon also does a better job capturing the texture in the wall behind the bottles, while the Canon's noise reduction blurs much of it away. Nikon's approach to sharpening is more conservative, with less obvious sharpening halos. The D800's default contrast is also lower, and color warmer.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Nikon D600 at ISO 100

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100
Nikon D600 at ISO 100

The differences between Canon and Nikon's approach to image processing continue here, but the 5D Mark III's 22-megapixel resolution is more closely matched to the 24-megapixel D600 this time. Bright sharpening halos are again immediately evident in the 5D Mark III's images when compared to the D600, and the D600 renders the red leaf swatch better, though it does generate some noticeable moiré. The Canon's higher default contrast and sharpening give its images a bit more "pop."


Canon 5D Mark III versus Sony A99 at ISO 100

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100
Sony A99 at ISO 100

The Canon's higher contrast and stronger sharpening are again obvious here in the bottle crops, but both cameras capture similar levels of detail. The 24-megapixel Sony A99 renders the red leaf and pink swatches a little better, though.



Most digital SLRs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Canon 5D Mark III versus Canon 5D Mark II ISO 1,600

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600
Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 1,600

Your eyes can see clearly the benefit of the 5D Mark III over the Mark II here, particularly in the mosaic image. There's more contrast and sharper detail. The exception is the red leaf swatch, which while somewhat cartoonish in the 5D Mark II's rendering, is softer in the 5D Mark III's version.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Canon 6D at ISO 1,600

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600
Canon 6D at ISO 1,600

Results here are again very close, as you'd expect for siblings using similar sensors and image processors. Resolution and contrast are a touch higher from the 5D Mark III, but the two cameras' images are otherwise very similar.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Nikon D800 at ISO 1,600

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600
Nikon D800 at ISO 1,600

The difference between Nikon and Canon in their approach to sharpening and noise suppression is rather stark in these crops. The Nikon D800 elects to do less sharpening and noise suppression, and apparently less processing in the red channel, resulting in more luminance noise in the bottle shoulder crop, a softer mosaic image and a sharper red leaf swatch, while the 5D Mark III does the opposite.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Nikon D600 at ISO 1,600

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600
Nikon D600 at ISO 1,600

Nikon's more balanced approach to noise suppression is evident across all the image elements here, while Canon applies more noise suppression to some areas than others, and also sharpens more aggressively. Hence the sharp mosaic image and soft red leaf swatch from the 5D Mark III. Unfortunately, moiré is still visible in the Nikon D600's red leaf swatch.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Sony A99 at ISO 1,600

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1,600
Sony A99 at ISO 1,600

The Canon 5D Mark III's images have less noise, as well as more aggressive sharpening and higher contrast, leaving the Sony A99 images looking a touch soft in comparison. While the Canon does a bit better here, both cameras perform very well indeed.



Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.

Canon 5D Mark III versus Canon 5D Mark II ISO 3,200

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200
Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 3,200

Here's a dramatic demonstration of the improvements both to the sensor and the noise suppression technology found in the 5D Mark III. The 5D Mark II's images look downright hazy by comparison.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Canon 6D at ISO 3,200

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200
Canon 6D at ISO 3,200

Again, not a lot of difference between the two siblings here, so save some money and go with the Canon 6D if you don't need the extra speed and features the 5D Mark III offers.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Nikon D800 at ISO 3,200

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200
Nikon D800 at ISO 3,200

At ISO 3,200, approaches continue to diverge. Luminance noise is even more obvious in the Nikon D800's shadows, and flecks of chroma noise also appear in the mosaic image, yet the red swatch still has thread detail, whereas the Canon 5D3's more aggressive noise suppression continues to blur the leaves. On the other hand, the 5D Mark III's rendering of the mosaic image looks like it would print very well, but keep in mind that the D800's resolution advantage allows for larger prints.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Nikon D600 at ISO 3,200

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200
Nikon D600 at ISO 3,200

Nikon's approach is again more even than Canon's. The 5D Mark III images are cleaner and more contrasty, but contain less fine detail. The D600's images are noisier, but the camera is still resolving most of the "grout" lines in the mosaic while leaving some of the color left by the offset printing process. The red leaf swatch detail is noticeably better from the D600, though moiré is still visible.


Canon 5D Mark III versus Sony A99 at ISO 3,200

Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3,200
Sony A99 at ISO 3,200

The Canon 5D Mark III pulls ahead of the Sony A99 a bit more here, with noticeably cleaner, more contrasty images. Both struggle to maintain detail in the red leaf swatch, though.



Detail: Canon 5D Mark III versus Canon 5D Mark II, Canon 6D, Nikon D800, Nikon D600, and Sony A99

Canon
5D Mark III

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
5D Mark II

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
6D

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D800

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Nikon
D600

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
A99

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. High-contrast details are hold their sharpness more as ISO rises, so they're worth a look as well. Thanks to higher levels of contrast as ISO increases, the Canon 5D Mark III does well compared to all other contenders, and does much better than its predecessor. The Canon 6D is a close second, as expected, with the Sony A99 pretty close behind. Lower contrast and color moiré from the Nikons hold them back a bit here, but their performance is still very good. Unsurprisingly, the 5D Mark II trails in this group as it's also the oldest and lowest in resolution.

Canon's 5D Mark III indeed looks quite improved over the 5D Mark II, despite the slightly smaller pixel pitch. It also shapes up well against Nikon's 24-megapixel D3X, an impressive feat. Even if they were playing a bit of catch-up, it seems we can say they've caught up quite well.

 

Canon 5D Mark III Print Quality

Good quality 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100/200; ISO 3,200 shots still looked good at 16 x 20; and ISO 51,200 made a good 4 x 6.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 100 images were incredible at 30 x 40 inches, with crisp detail and gorgeous color rendition.

ISO 200 shots also looked great at 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 400 shots look spectacular at 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 800 images started to show a very slight indication of softness due to noise suppression, but all major elements still looked quite good at 24 x 36 inches.

ISO 1,600 images were a little softer in the red leaf swatch, but other than that, these images still looked good at 20 x 30 inches.

ISO 3,200 shots started to show a little more loss of detail in reds and other low-contrast elements, and shadows started to show a little more luminance noise at 20 x 30, but prints looked better at 16 x 20 inches.

ISO 6,400 images lost more detail in the red swatch, and luminance noise got a little darker and more prominent. 16 x 20 inch prints are still usable, but we preferred 13 x 19 inch prints.

ISO 12,800 images had shadow noise that was reasonably controlled at this size, and fine detail was good. For rendering of reds, we preferred the 8 x 10 inch print here.

ISO 25,600 prints a nice 5 x 7.

ISO 51,200 shots were usable at 5 x 7, but really better at 4 x 6.

ISO 102,400 shots were just a little too fuzzy in the shadows to be called usable at any size, and is best avoided altogether.

Overall, the Canon 5D Mark III did quite well in our Print Quality test, with all but the highest ISO setting able to produce a good quality print at sizes people commonly use (and some uncommonly large ones, too). Even ISO 51,200 made a good 4x6-inch print!

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 



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