Pixel Peeping

It may not of course be “acceptable” to talk about camera equipment in a photography club. We hardly ever do – so maybe it’s not quite the “done thing”- and the purist mantra of “it’s only the end result that counts” should prevail?

But I enjoy the whole process; I like the challenge of complex software, the pleasure of good equipment, of learning new techniques, whether in camera or computer. So when a significant new camera is launched I take notice, I want to distinguish between marketing hype and real improvements in image quality.

The new Nikon D800 (and D800E) seems like a step change in image resolution with it’s 36MP sensor and claimed improvement in high ISO performance. Almost immediately Canon hit back with the 5DMkIII which has a more modest 22MP sensor but with claims of much better high ISO noise reduction.

The well respected DPReview website has now published very detailed reviews of both cameras so we can now look at comparative performance.

But it’s not easy to pick through which features are truly important and often even harder to see differences in test image performance. Take a look at the DPReview test chart showing high ISO RAW performance which allows comparison of up to four cameras at the same ISO setting.

This shows a very small crop of the test image at 3200 ISO, comparing the new Nikon and Canon with the older Nikon D5100 and Canon 600D.

Can you see much difference? Not sure I can but if it’s there at all it seems very slight.

This DPReview test chart allows you to select your own camera (if it’s not too elderly) for comparison. For example, we can compare two basic point and shoot cameras from Canon and Panasonic (below) and can see straightaway that their  Jpg images simply don’t measure up to their DSLR relatives (above).

It’s easy to see the softness of these jpgs (even at lower ISO settings).

But you may think that the new (expensive) Canon/Nikon market leaders don’t offer enough of a quality improvement compared to their older cousins to justify the high cost?

Perhaps the important question is whether this level of pixel peeping is relevant in the real world. Would such (relatively) small differences show up in your own photography?                                                                                                                        Gary


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