Nikon D3s vs. D800 ISO performance


At ISO 1600 they are more or less the same, although you need to be a bit more careful with sharpening the D800 file as it is more prone to showing luminence noise when sharpening than the D3s due to the smaller pixels. At ISO 12800 out in the wild it is a whole different story. The D3s is so much better at ISO 12800 that I can’t really justify the D800 for that. Really the D3s starts to pull away in dynamic range already at ISO 1600. On the other hand the dynamic range and color clarity of the D800 raw files from ISO 100 – 1000 pales the D3s straight out of camera (the D3s files can of course easily be post processed to appear the same but the D800 still shows much more detail and that is a winner in those conditions).

At anything up to ISO 3200 or so I will probably reach for the D800 for this kind of shot (As seen below). It really is that good. That came as a bit of a surprise to me – just how good the D800 actually is even after sunset. Much of my concerns with AF, and the likes, of the D7000 are put to shame by the D800. The AF-system is like the D3s – excellent.

Here is the scientific table demonstrating the dynamic range vs ISO on the D3s vs D800 vs D800 (DX):

Dynamic Range vs ISO D3s - D800

Let me give you a short preference list given my initial experience:

  • Telephoto up to ISO 3200 on monopod all the way down to 1/50: D800 (hand-held at shutter speeds >1/800th, on DX, 1/500 on FX with the 300/2.8)
  • Telephoto hand-held at ISO 3200 and up: hands down, D3s
  • Macro flowers: D800
  • Macro, insects: D3s
  • Portraits: D800 (depending on the level of detail optional D3s)
  • Portraits, no flash and low light: D3s
  • Concerts: D800
  • Wedding / Event: D3s with D800 for video
  • Landscape up until f/11: D800 
  • Landscape f/11 and up: D3s
  • Architecture, interior: D800
  • Architecture, buildings: D3s
  • Cloudy: D800
  • Out in the rain, in the forest: D3s

We’ll see how that holds up to actual use. I will take both cameras out some time to take similar shots but this is my initial evaluation.

D3s, ISO 12800, no NR:Image

D800, ISO 2800, no NR:Image

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