Sunday, September 16, 2012

Nikon D600 High ISO noise comparisons


9/18 UPDATE: Added D7000 comparisons


I'm eagerly anticipating my Nikon D600 preorder.  Meanwhile, Imaging Resource has already posted Nikon D600 sample shots using their standard studio test shot.  I used the shots to get a preview of the D600's high ISO performance.

Samples from Imaging Resource:

For these comparisons, I looked at the "Indoor Portrait, No Flash" test shots.  I used Lightroom to compare the shots side by side without any edits (the D600 shot is on the right, while the shot from the other camera is on the left).


D600 vs. D700 (same sensor as the D3)
     First, I compared images at 25600 ISO.  I resized the D600 image to the same resolution as the D700.  At this resolution the D600 is far superior to the D700.  It has far less noise (both luminance and chroma), and it has more detail.
D700 on left @ 25600 ISO; resized D600 on right @ 25600 ISO
(Click and zoom for full resolution screen capture)

     Given the huge difference between the two samples I thought I'd try comparing the D600 at 25600 with the D700 at 12800 ISO.  This comparison was much closer, though I would say the D700's noise is 'coarser' so it appears slightly noisier to me than the resized D600.
D700 on left @ 12800 ISO; resized D600 on right @ 25600 ISO
(Click and zoom for full resolution screen capture)


D600 vs. D3X
     I compared images at 6400 ISO (the highest ISO sample available from Imaging Resource).  I used the native resolution for both.  The two images are very similar, but the D3X has slightly less chroma noise and is more detailed.  Prior to seeing these samples, I thought that the D600's more modern sensor would meet or exceed the image quality of the D3X but to me, the D3X looks slightly better.
Detail @ 25600 ISO - D3X on left; D600 on right
(Click and zoom for full resolution screen capture)
Noise in the shadows @ 25600 ISO - D3X on left; D600 on right
(Click and zoom for full resolution screen capture) 

D600 vs. D3S
     At this time, the Nikon D3S still has the lowest noise of any full frame camera.  I compared images at 25600 ISO.  I resized the D600 image to the same resolution as that of the D3S.  The D600 appears to have slightly more noise (luminance and chroma, most noticeable in the lower right corner near the plant) but the D600 is also more detailed (hair, nearer eye).
Detail @ 25600 ISO - D3S on left; resized D600 on right
(Click and zoom for full resolution screen capture)

Noise in the shadows @ 25600 ISO - D3S on left; resized D600 on right
(Click and zoom for full resolution screen capture)


D600 vs. D800
     I compared images at 25600 ISO, with the D800 resized to the same 24-megapixel resolution as the D600.  At that resolution the D600 and D800 look practically identical both in terms of noise and detail.
Detail @ 25600 ISO -  resized D800 on left; D600 on right
(Click and zoom for full resolution screen capture)

Noise in the shadows @ 25600 ISO - resized D800 on left; D600 on right
(Click and zoom for full resolution screen capture)


D600 vs. Canon 5DIII
     Out of curiosity, I also compared the D600 with the Canon 5D Mark III at 25600 ISO, both at their native resolution (D600: 24mp; 5d3: 22.1mp).  To me, the 5D3 has significantly less chroma noise, and the grain of the luminance noise is finer and looks more pleasant.  On the other hand, the D600 appears to have slightly more detail (see the hair).  This suggests that the 5D3 has stronger noise reduction.  I would be curious to see how the raw files from both cameras compare.
At 25600 ISO: 5DIII on left; D600 on right
(Click for full resolution screen  capture)
D600 vs. D7000
     The Nikon D600 may be the first full frame camera for some DX owners.  I thought I would post some comparisons between the D600 and the current high-ISO champ for Nikon DX cameras, the D7000 (which has the same sensor as the D5100).  For purposes of this comparison, I resized the D600 shot to the same resolution as the D7000 shot.

     At 25600 ISO, the difference is obvious, as expected.  It's here just for reference.

     When the D7000 is at 12800 ISO and the D600 is at 25600, there initially does not seem to be a huge difference.  However, the D600 has slightly more visible chroma noise in the form of yellow patches (which can be addressed in post-processing).  On the other hand, if you look at the hair (a good sample of low-contrast detail), especially on the side, the D600 clearly has much more detail in areas that look smudged in the D7000.

     With the D7000 at 6400 ISO and the D600 at 25600 ISO, the D600 has noticeably more chroma noise (again, yellow blotches).  As for detail, if you look at the lower eyelashes of the near eye, the D7000 seems sharper.  But if you look at the low-contrast detail of the hair, the D600 still has more detail than the D7000.

Summary
     This is only a limited comparison, using one image, at one or two ISOs, and only one or two small sections from that image.  I encourage you to check out the other samples from Imaging Resource to draw your own conclusions.  As for me, I believe from these samples that the Nikon D600 holds its own against other full frames, and is definitely better than the only other Nikon full frames in its price range -- a used Nikon D700 or a used Nikon D3 (both of which have the same sensor).  Note however, that these are only JPEGs, so it will be interesting how the raw files compare in Lightroom.  In addition, noise is just one aspect of image quality.  I am also very interested in the dynamic range, for example.  Nonetheless, so far, I am optimistic about the Nikon D600's image quality.