Nikon D600 Kicks Canon Off DXOMark's Score Card

Nikon D600 Kicks Canon Off DXOMark's Score Card

As a Nikon user, I remember a time when I envied everything Canon. A few years ago, Canon had the best DSLR video, their cameras were the fastest, and they were the absolute kings of high ISO. Today DxOMark has released their review of the new Nikon D600, and to everyone's surprise it has the 3rd best overall DSLR sensor in the land (beats the D4). More shocking is not a single Canon camera is in the top 10. Has Canon dropped the ball or is DxOMark unbelievably biased?

Here is the list of DxOmark's top 13 Cameras in respect to their sensor performance. Note Canon's 5D Mark III at the very bottom.

Having used and tested the Nikon D800, D4, and D3s, I can personally agree with the ranking of the Nikon cameras in this list (I'm shooting my first wedding this weekend with a few Nikon D600s). If you put weight in the dynamic range and especially the high ISO tests then it makes sense why the Full Frame sensors win in those categories compared to the medium formats.

The following chart shows the Nikon D600 compared to the ancient D700 and the new D800.

For everyone claiming the D600 is just a cheap Full Frame sensor thrown into a D7000 body (which isn't even on the list), here is how the D600 compares to Nikon's last generation of flagship DSLRs.

So the question remains, has Nikon completely destroyed Canon over the last few years with their redesigned CMOS sensors? As a photographer interested in video, I think it's safe to say Canon still wins the best DSLR video award (the Mark III is beautiful for video), but it looks like Nikon has been leading the market in the categories most important to photographers such as ISO, Dynamic Range, and Color Depth.

At this point in my career, I feel like all of these cameras on the list are so beyond what is really necessary to produce amazing photographs (it's all in the photographer anyways, right?) Compared to my first DSLR camera, the Nikon D200, each and every one of these DSLRs is a pure joy to use on location or in the studio. That being said, I can't say that it doesn't make me feel pretty good knowing that the system I have subscribed to is producing some of the most amazing cameras compared to the other options on the market.

Posted In: 
Log in or register to post comments


I really can't imagine what they base these scores on (realistically).  I shoot both Nikon and Canon and somewhere in my heart I am a Nikon shooter because my father was.  That being said, I have a 5dmk2, a D700, a D800 & an Mamiya RZ67 and they all have particular strengths and weeknesses, but the 5Dmk2 (and I am sure the mk3 & 1DX) is phenomenal in all situations.  How is it not even above the pentax k5 or the D3200?  This just seems a bit fishy.

Patrick Hall's picture

Yeah seeing Pentax on there twice has me scratching my head too

I thought Pentax and Nikon used the same/similar sensors? That would account for them being on the list.

I really feel like it is down to preference (in the end), but I can't imagine that Canon's product is all around inferior.  It is an industry standard for a reason.  Not to negate the quality of Pentax.....but c'mon.

That Pentax coupled with an FA Limited 43 or 77mm lens is more 3-dimensional with better colors. Sharpness and AF speed are not everything. You might be embarrassed if you do a head-to-head comparison and discover how flat and 2-dimensional your photos are.

bla bla bla... the canon/nikon wars continue..... what anal bastard(s) do these test anyway.... and who cares.... even if Canon was on the top 5.... who cares? What was the criteria for any of the tests.... i would have to think one of the tests included if the name of the camera began with an "N".............

I've shot Nikon, Canon and Phase One and my Phase One kicks the sh!t out of the Canon and Nikon.  No idea what they base these tests on.  =P

Lee Morris's picture

I think ISO performance is what makes Phase get a lower score. 

Patrick Hall's picture

the reason the PhaseONE is so low on the chart compared to the Nikons is because HIGH ISO is a large percentage of the score.  I'm sure the Phase fails at say ISO 1600 compared to the higher ISOs on the D800.  For studio situations, yeah the medium formats are beasts

Michael Kormos's picture

Actually Bert, I do believe that D800 outclasses Phase One in both the dynamic range and noise (not to mention FPS and autofocus).  Frankly, I'm wondering why anyone would buy a 40mp Med. Format when the alternative (D800) seems to top it in just about every category (except price).  

Shoot even once with a PhaseOne IQ back and you'll see a remarkable difference. 

Lee and Patrick, yes I'm sure it's the iso performance that lowers it for sure.  =)  It fails at iso 200 so I make it a point to stay at 50 or no more than 100.

Michael, you can come to your conclusions by reading websites or go off the tests of someone else if that suits your fancy but I like to go off of what I actually see with my own two eyeballs.  =)  Shoot with a Phase One and you'll SEE the difference yourself.  It will take your breath away.  If you can't see the difference then you might as well buy an olympus... "any olympus camera". =)

I think that the professional really do not care as much unless they have a major shift in systems or business needs. This is more for the tech nerds out there as many of the great photographers are still standing by their cameras and lenses. I love Nikon because the system feels better to me, but Canon makes a great product also.

I do love the fact that both have up their game an not just rehashed products for sales. My next camera will be the D800 and maybe a D600 as a backup. I am in love with the D800 for what it does best. I am more surprised that the MF manufactures are not upping the sensors on their brands or providing an alternative like the Pentax 645. I would take a 24mp MF over a DSLR any day, but they are nowhere to be found...

You're gonna love the D800.

I don't see how you can state that the image quality of one camera is better than the image quality of another camera because some number is higher than another number.  Image quality is a different thing and can't be measured strictly by the numbers. NOT EVERYTHING CAN BE MEASURED ! ! ! ! ! ! !

PatricioU's picture

In which planet are the D800 and D600 better than the D4 and D3s? That alone destroys the credibility of the ranking.

I have used the D3s, D4, and D800 and the first 2 are way superior to the D800 unless you count small size as an advantage (it's actually a disadvantage when using a 70-200 2.8 or heavier glass). Big bodies with built-in battery pack have a much higher stability when shooting with big glass hand-held.

In terms of ISO performance, the top ranking right now is: 1st D3s, 2nd D4, 3rd D800.

DSLR video capabilities are still too much in the begin stage for 1080 video to be deal breaker.

Other than peak ISO performance and burst rate.. what makes you think the D3s and D4 are superior to the D800? All other tests dismiss that notion. I shoot d800 and have other pros that shoot D800 over the D3s/D4 (that they own) for even sports photography. Res and dynamic range alone make the D800 files more attractive.. You mention the size. I have the vertical grip for the D800 + batter = just as stable with longer lenses. 

PatricioU's picture

The resolution and image size is a serious disadvantage for any high-volume shooter. I have accumulated 3 TB of finished, edited images over the last 4 years shooting with 12 MP sensors. How many TB storage would I need to back up the same files from a 36 MP sensor? How much backup would I need after 10 years?

If I'd shoot a D800 I'd use it at 12 MP. I print regularly 12 MP images at 50x75 cm without any quality loss, I don't see why someone would want to shoot at 36 or even higher unless you shoot studio shots for big-size banners.

My work is 99% out of the studio, doing portraits on location or reportages. High burst rate when I shoot sports and high ISO are the 2 most important qualities I need on a camera, + reliable weather sealing.

The only aspect of the D3s and D4 I want to improve is dinamic range, and position of the cross-type focus points (should be more spread out over the whole viewfinder).

BTW, the D3000 and D5000 series shouldn't even show up in the list, they are ages away from the D3s and D4.

Resolution and file size will be a growing trend.. there is no where up "larger" in terms of increasing the quality of digital photos.. what will happen is storage will become increasingly larger and cheaper (look back to where we were just 5 years ago). Trust me.. I know the file size issue well. I'm a wedding photographer and rack up nearly 90gb per wedding or more. The D800 gives me the flexibility to also have a high res body for commercial photography.

The only options with the D800 to shoot smaller images are:

1. In camera JPG (not RAW) - three levels of files sizes. 
2. Shoot DX format in RAW - but you are effectively changing the nature of this camera and the use of all your FX lenses.

I too would like a higher burst rate for sports photography.. but then again I shoot 100% all in camera JPG - M size for instant delivery to the media outlets. There is no time for post.. in this case the D800 + the grip in JPG increases the rate just enough to work extremely well. Another few frames would be great, but not necessary for me I've found. If shooting RAW it would be a different story.

D800, D3s, D4 - all spectacular capable bodies. It comes down to your needs. I like the res for portraits, for weddings and commercial work and the D800 is a perfect fit. 

If I could ask for anything from Nikon.. it would be s,m,l size RAW files (canon does this) - Hear that Nikon?

Michael Kormos's picture

I highly doubt sports photographers that own both bodies prefer D800's slow FPS over D4's.  The dynamic range of D800 is only a what, half a stop better than D4?  And that's mostly all in the highlights that need to be recovered in PP.  It's insignificant, I assure you. And this comes from someone that does own both bodies, and still prefers the D4.

Truth. I will not name names, but a certain sports photographer I shoot with recently covered the London Olympics (indoor sports mainly) Shot 100% in camera edited JPG on the D800 over the use of his D3s - Shooting in DX on a 500 F4 he was able to retain more detail in low light situations than his D3s could manage. 

I've got no reason to lie here. I love Nikon more than the next.. all the lines. I'm stating fact from working professionals. Again to each his own.. but the D800 outperformed any other body up for the job. 

Zack Williamson's picture

To be fair to Canon, the 1Dx isn't on this list yet. I'm just scratching my head over the D3200 being one spot over the 5Dmk3...I mean I know Nikon and Canon both make excellent cameras, but I have trouble believing that one of Nikon's lowest models is on par or better than than a pro Canon body. Real world is totally different than a controlled lab test

These are only sensor tests... and DxOMark do that very well i think. The 5DMark III has a much better body and other features are much better. But the sensor of the D3200 is better.

Zack Williamson's picture

Oh absolutely. And realistically, the sensors coming out of Nikon recently are incredible. I'm a Canon shooter personally, but I was just surprised by these results

I agree with that first line in your last paragraph Patrick, and in a way I think calling the D700 an ancient camera does not do justice to its potential (even though by the standards of the need-to-constantly-update-my-gear-camera-world it is old).

What I don't get is the high-ISO performance numbers. If you look at Dx0's own graphs, the 5DMK3 performs better at high ISOs than the D800, but gets a lower final ISO score than it. How's that work? Look at DPReview's tests; the 5DMK3 blows the D800 away in noise performance. I think there's something odd about DxO...

And FYI, I shoot multiple systems in my role as a writer. I'm currently working with the D800...

Honestly, these tests are all very mathematical and in real world situations the difference between the various cameras is actually hardly noticeable. Personally I think the biggest factors for me are other things such as price, features, and availability.

I love my D800 and am glad I got it, but after being on a waiting list for MONTHS I seriously considered just saying "screw it" and switching to Canon or Sony. Nikon may make amazing sensors but they seriously need to figure out how to get their shit together in regards to supply. Almost every major release Nikon does is so short supplied that you have to wait months to get what you want.
I remember the same wait when the D700 came out. And the D90. And the 18-200 lens. and the 70-200 lens. And... etc etc. The D600 seems to be well supplied so far, but Nikon's reputation for being vastly under supplied gets tiresome when you need the gear.

Does Canon still have shadow noise issues?  I've seen d800 shadows can be pushed 4-5 stops with no issues, but even Canon's best cameras seem to have issues in the shadows when pushed even 1 stop.

As a new Canon shooter I have been very disappointed with the Mk III's dynamic range. If I underexpose even by half a stop I have found images to be barely recoverable. My D7000 could recover 3 stops of underexposure and still look better than the Mk III's 0.5 of a stop.

At first I thought great, this will make me a better photog, having to get my exposures dead on, but I'm still not altogether convinced I don't have a dodgy sensor.

 I can underexpose my D800 5 stops and still have a usable shot. For pictures that require fixing (bright highlights in the windows, super dark shadows) you can underexpose for the highlight detail retention and then bring up necessary areas. I did not have this flexibility with my 5D Mark II, nowhere near it in fact. Bye bye Canon, not looking back!