Nikon D810 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing the Nikon D810 vs. the Nikon D800E, Nikon D800, Sony A7R, Nikon D750 and Canon 5D Mark II. These models include both of the D810's direct predecessors, a mirrorless camera of similar resolution, a more affordable option from Nikon, and a DSLR that's proven particularly popular with video shooters -- a market segment that Nikon is targeting with the D810.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved: click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page: Nikon D810, Nikon D800E, Nikon D800, Sony A7R, Nikon D750 and Canon 5D III -- links to the RAW files appear beneath those for the JPEG images, wherever we have them. And remember, you can always go to our world-renowned Comparometer to compare the Nikon D810 to any camera we've ever tested.

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D800E at Base ISO

Nikon D810 at ISO 64
Nikon D800E at ISO 100

With a refined version of the image sensor used in the Nikon D800-series, along with a next-generation EXPEED 4 image processor, the Nikon D810 offers a lower base sensitivity of ISO 64 equivalent, versus the ISO 100 of its predecessors.

At base sensitivity, the D810 has a slight advantage over the D800E in terms of per-pixel detail, perhaps due to its complete lack of a low-pass filter. (The D800E still retained a low-pass filter, but with its design changed to cancel out its anti-aliasing effect as explained here.)

Both cameras show significant moiré in the red fabric swatch, a side-effect of that greater per-pixel sharpness, however. (The moiré appears as wavy bands in the red swatch that at first glance appear to be threads, but are actually aliasing artifacts not seen in cameras with a suitably strong low pass filter.)

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D800 at Base ISO

Nikon D810 at ISO 64
Nikon D800 at ISO 100

Compared to the OLPF-equipped D800, the Nikon D810 provides a very noticeable difference in per-pixel sharpness. You can see that difference most obviously in the finer details of the mosaic label, and the thread patterns in the pink fabric swatch.

Note, though, that the D810 shows significant moiré in the red fabric swatch, which the D800 somewhat tames. Like any OLPF-free interchangeable-lens camera (and that's most of them, these days), you'll want to watch out for moiré patterns when you're shooting.

Nikon D810 vs Sony A7R at Base ISO

Nikon D810 at ISO 64
Sony A7R at ISO 100

The Sony A7R has, as near as makes no difference, the same sensor size and resolution as that of the D810, and like Nikon's camera, lacks a low-pass filter. The result is a very close performance indeed at base sensitivity, with both cameras delivering a similar level of detail. Both cameras show moiré in the red swatch, although it's stronger in that from the D810.

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D750 at Base ISO

Nikon D810 at ISO 64
Nikon D750 at ISO 100

Comparing the D810 side-by-side with the more affordable -- but lower-resolution -- Nikon D750, there is not surprisingly a pretty significant difference. With almost 50% more pixels than the D750, the Nikon D810 does a much better job with the finer details.

That's especially noticeable in the pink fabric swatch, where the D810 clearly renders threads that the D750 only hints at. The flip side of the coin, though, is that the D810 shows a significant moiré pattern in the red fabric swatch that's quite a bit more pronounced than that from the D750, which does have an optical low-pass filter (albeit a weak one).

Nikon D810 vs Canon 5D Mark III at Base ISO

Nikon D810 at ISO 64
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 100

Among other uses, Nikon is clearly aiming to persuade videographers to step up to the D810, with quite a few feature upgrades in this area. For that reason -- and the fact that Canon's 50-megapixel EOS 5DS R hasn't yet been through our lab in production-level form -- we've decided to make a comparison against the Canon 5D III, a model much beloved by videographers.

Like the D750, which has similar resolution, the 5D III lags the Nikon D810 by quite some way in terms of detail at base sensitivity. In the fabric swatches, the 5D III's red swatch lacks the moiré present in the D750's crop, but there's even less detail in its pink swatch.

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D800E at ISO 1600

Nikon D810 at ISO 1600
Nikon D800E at ISO 1600

Stepping up to ISO 1600 equivalent, the Nikon D810 again bests its predecessor overall, even though it struggles with low contrast in the difficult-to-render red fabric swatch. There's noticeably more detail visible in the D810's portrayal of the mosaic label, and less unsightly mottling in the bottle crops at top, likely thanks to the greater sensitivity of the tweaked image sensor in the Nikon D810.

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D800 at ISO 1600

Nikon D810 at ISO 1600
Nikon D800 at ISO 1600

Not surprisingly, the story is much the same against the Nikon D800, although the Nikon D810's edge in the detail department is still slightly greater than that against the D800E at ISO 1600 equivalent.

Nikon D810 vs Sony A7R at ISO 1600

Nikon D810 at ISO 1600
Sony A7R at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600 equivalent, there's a more noticeable difference between the Nikon D810 and Sony A7R. In the bottle crop, the A7R's noise processing is more aggressive, but leaves a slightly mottled effect. Stronger sharpening from the Sony gives the mosaic label a crisper appearance, although Nikon arguably captures a little more detail.

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D750 at ISO 1600

Nikon D810 at ISO 1600
Nikon D750 at ISO 1600

Despite larger pixels, the Nikon D750 turns in noise levels that are not dissimilar to those from the higher-resolution D810. There's still a pretty clear edge for the Nikon D810 in the detail department, especially noticeable in the mosaic label.

Nikon D810 vs Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1600

Nikon D810 at ISO 1600
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 1600

At ISO 1600 equivalent, the Canon 5D III yields images that are cleaner than those from the Nikon D810, as you can see in the bottle crop at top, and with relatively little of the blotchiness we see from noise reduction. However, take a look at the mosaic label or fabric swatches, and it's clear that Nikon is extracting much more of the finer details. The pink swatch, in particular, shows clear thread patterns for the D810, where the 5D III's corresponding swatch suffers from noise reduction, and as a result has an almost painted look to it.

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D800E at ISO 3200

Nikon D810 at ISO 3200
Nikon D800E at ISO 3200

Of course, ISO 1600 isn't really that much of a challenge for modern cameras, so we take a look at ISO 3200 equivalent as well. Here, the Nikon D810 manages much better than its predecessor overall, with a cleaner result in the bottle crop, and significantly more detail in the mosaic label. Interestingly, though, the D800E bests its successor once more on the red fabric swatch, showing more contrast than in the D810's image, albeit with more prominent moiré.

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D800 at ISO 3200

Nikon D810 at ISO 3200
Nikon D800 at ISO 3200

And once again, the original D800 turns in a similar -- but not quite as crisp -- entry as that from the D800E, giving the newer Nikon D810 a slightly larger edge.

Nikon D810 vs Sony A7R at ISO 3200

Nikon D810 at ISO 3200
Sony A7R at ISO 3200

At ISO 3200, Sony's greater levels of noise reduction and sharpening give the impression of more detail in the A7R's images, but realistically there's no more detail than that in the D810's shot. For our money, the D810's bottle crop -- while slightly noisier -- is easier on the eye than that from the A7R, looking more like film grain and rather less mottled. Sony has certainly done a better job of squashing the chroma noise, however.

Nikon D810 vs Nikon D750 at ISO 3200

Nikon D810 at ISO 3200
Nikon D750 at ISO 3200

Once again, the more affordable Nikon D750 is left trailing the D810 by quite some distance in the detail department, showing that you do indeed get what you pay for. Noise levels are just a touch lower from the D750 thanks to its larger pixels, however.

Nikon D810 vs Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3200

Nikon D810 at ISO 3200
Canon 5D Mark III at ISO 3200

And finally, we come to the Canon 5D III. Here, the bottle crop is clearly much cleaner than in the D810's crop, and again with relatively little blotchiness. Look at the mosaic label, though, and the finer details are being lost to smudging. And in the pink fabric swatch, there's almost no trace of the thread pattern any more, where it's still fairly noticeable in the the D810's corresponding crop.

Nikon D810 vs. Nikon D800E, Nikon D800, Sony A7R, Nikon D750, Canon 5D Mark III

ISO 64
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
5D Mark III
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. The Nikon D810 turns in a very nice performance in this comparison, with excellent detail and not too much processing. Look at the edges -- especially in the red lettering -- though, and it does seem to be applying a bit more sharpening than did the earlier D800 and D800E. Still, sharpening seems better controlled than in the 5D III and especially the Sony A7R's crops.


Nikon D810 Print Quality

Outstanding 30 x 40 inch prints and higher at ISO 32-400; a very good 24 x 36 at ISO 3200; and a good 8 x 10 at ISO 25,600(!)

ISO 32-400 prints are excellent at 30 x 40 inches and higher until you run out of resolution, with terrific color reproduction and nice detail for such a large print. Wall display prints are also possible at much larger sizes until pixels become too obvious.

ISO 800 images are also good at 30 x 40 inches, with an amazing level of sharpness for this ISO, and only a marginal amount of softness apparent in a few of the more finely detailed areas of our test target.

ISO 1,600 begins to introduce minor noise in flatter areas of our target, but is usable for general purpose printing at 30 x 40 inches. For critical applications we'll call our official size 24 x 36 inches for this ISO, as the issues are virtually unnoticeable there.

ISO 3,200 prints are good up to 24 x 36 inches. There is now a bit of fine grain noise apparent in some shadowy areas of our test target, and some of the contrast detail is lost in our tricky target red swatch, but still an amazing print for this ISO setting.

ISO 6,400 is where the D810 begins to appear mortal, requiring a reduction in print size to a minuscule 16 x 20 inches (just kidding of course, as this is still larger than most people ever print!). There is some mild chroma noise apparent and some general softness in detailed areas, but nothing that will be too obvious for most printing situations.

ISO 12,800 yields a good 11 x 14 inch print with yet again only a few minor issues here and there, and is a large print at this setting compared to the general camera population. For the most critical applications 8 x 10's are even better, so for professional level work this is the highest ISO advisable for critical printing.

ISO 25,600 produces a fairly good 8 x 10 inch print, surprisingly usable and showing only minor "film-grain-like" noise in flatter areas of our test target, and losing most all contrast detail in our red swatch. To achieve a "good" print at this size is a rare feat indeed and not achievable by many cameras in this class as yet.

ISO 51,200 prints are good at 4 x 6 inches. The 5 x 7's are usable for less critical applications as well, and certainly most family photos, especially in dim environments where you need the high gain to avoid motion blur.

The Nikon D810 follows in the hallowed footsteps of its forebears the D800 and D800E in delivering the cream of the crop for print quality in the full frame DSLR world. As of this printing Nikons are the only bodies we've yet to award a "good" 8 x 10 at ISO 25,600, and that's something worth noting. The stellar performance continues as the ISO gets lower, and to be able to print up to two by three feet at ISO 3200 is, well... choose your favorite superlative and insert it here! If you make prints in your line of work or photographic hobby and require good performance as ISO rises from a full frame camera body, the Nikon D810 outshines all others, save for a tie with a few other Nikon kin.

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

Testing 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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