Sunday, March 31, 2013

High ISO comparison: D7100 vs. D7000, D600 and D700

Among the people considering the D7100, some of the most common competition I hear about is either the D7000 or the D600.  Using the DPReview raw studio samples, I compared the D7100 against the D7000 and D600 at higher ISOs (1600 and above).  I also compared the D7100 against the D700, which in some areas is available used for not much more than the D7100.  In the case of the D7000 and D700, I compared the samples at the same viewing sizes in Photoshop.  I did not change any of my default settings.  Here are my observations. (Note: in this post I'm only comparing high ISO performance.)

In all of these comparisons, the D7100 is on the left while the competing camera is on the right.  You can see the file name at the top left of each picture, where I indicated the camera name and ISO.  Click on the thumbnails below to see the full resolution screen capture.

Viewing samples at 100%, the D7100 and D7000 look similar to me (DXO gives the D7100 about a 1/10th stop edge).  However, I viewed the samples in Photoshop (which has a continuous zoom) at about the same viewing size (with the D7100 at around 80% zoom).  I found that at ISO 25,600, the D7100 had a significantly better appearance than the D7000.

ISO 25600
The D7100's noise looked much less objectionable (partly because the grain appears finer at the same viewing size), and the D7100 preserved more details than the D7000.  So much so that when I compared the D7100 at 12,800 to the D7000 6,400, the D7100 looked about as good.

D7100 @ 12,800 vs. D7000 @ 6,400
At lower ISOs, it seems to me that the D7100's noise advantage over the D7000 decreased as the ISO decreased, although the D7100 looked better because of the finer grain of the noise.
ISO 6400

ISO 3200

ISO 1600

As expected, the D7100's high ISO performance is not as good as that of the D600.

Even when I compared the D7100 to the D600 at one stop higher, the D600 still came out slightly ahead.  I would estimate that the D600 is about 1.5 stops better than the D7100 at high ISOs.
D7100 @ 12800 vs. D600 @ 25600

D7100 @ 6400 vs. D600 @ 12800

D7100 @ 3200 vs. D600 @ 6400

D7100 @ 1600 vs. D600 @ 3200


At ISO 25,600, viewed at the same size (the D7100 is zoomed to approximately 66%), the D7100 looks just as good as the D700.  In fact, you can even make the argument that the D7100 looks a little better because the grain of the luminance noise is finer, and in addition, the D7100 preserved some details better.  With the Umberto medal in the middle, the lines around the bust are better preserved with the D7100 than the D700.
ISO 25,600

The same pattern holds true at ISO 12,800, 6,400, 3,200 and 1,600.
ISO 12,800

ISO 6,400

ISO 3,200

ISO 1600

The fact that the D7100 samples look about as good as the D700 samples at the same viewing size is really incredible.  The D700's full frame sensor, the same as that of the Nikon D3, has about twice the surface area as the D7100's APS-C sensor, and the D700 was well-regarded for its low noise for many years (indeed, even today).

In fact, the D7100 seems to preserve the smallest details a little better than the D700.  For example, if you look at the medal in the top left of these samples (near the red and white cross), there is a blue hatching pattern, which looks more accurate on the D7100 than on the D700.  If you look at the Umberto medal as well, in the inscription Milano 1881, the number 8 is legible as such, whereas on the D700 the number 8 looks illegible.

The D7100's high ISO performance does not seem very remarkable when viewed against competing cameras at 100%.  However, at the same size viewing size, the D7100 shines and can actually offer the same (or even slightly better) performance as the full-frame D700.  I invite you to download samples from DPReview (using their studio comparison tool) to draw your own conclusions.

Please note also that this was a studio scene comparison.  I noted that the D7100's shadow recovery is not as good as that of the D7000 or D600.  It is possible that if the samples required significant shadow recovery, these observations might be different.

Nikon D7100 Hands-On Real World User Review
Importing D7100 Raw Files Into Lightroom
Nikon D7100 Low Light Teaser
Nikon D7100 FAQ and Helpful Links
Nikon D7100 Shadow Recovery
Nikon D7100 Real World Dynamic Range
Nikon D5200 and D7100 Band-Aid: Solutions for Banding
Sample of D7100 banding in a real world shot