[Camera Tests] DxOMark Nikon D800 Rating Tops Nikon D4 and Phase One!

[Camera Tests] DxOMark Nikon D800 Rating Tops Nikon D4 and Phase One!

Last week one of the most respected camera review sites, DxOMark, listed the brand new Nikon D4 as the best digital DSLR camera to date. The D4 ranked so well that it was actually the 2nd best digital camera period falling behind only by the Phase One IQ180. Today both those cameras fall to a shocking competitor..the much less expensive Nikon D800!

Can we say we were completely shocked? After conducting our own Fstoppers Nikon D4 Real World Tests, we knew the Nikon D4 was a great camera but that it didn't raise the bar the same way the D3 did when it replaced the D2xs. Even the D3s had a much more significant jump in raw image quality from the previous camera than the Nikon D4 displayed. But what no one thought was that the $3,000 Nikon D800 with its 36 million "small" pixels could actually out perform the $6,000 Nikon D4 Flagship camera. Well according to DxOMark it has on almost every criteria!

You can read the full findings over at DxOMark's website but here are the basic results between the the latest Nikon DSLRs:

As many suspected, the Nikon D800 isn't quite up to the high ISO standards the D4 has set but if you read the details the real reason the Nikon D4 wins that category is because of it's super high ISO starting at 12800. Even at the D800's top ISO Limit, it competes really well with the D4 and shows major improvement over the already great Nikon D700. As a wedding photographer who shoots with high ISOs often, I must say I've never pushed a camera past 6400 with results better than a slightly lower ISO and a bit of bounce fill flash. But if shooting in extremely dark places with no flash is your desire, then the D4 could be your dream come true.

Where the Nikon D800 leads the pack is in Color Depth and Dynamic Range. The D800 has so much exposure latitude that it actually beat the Phase One IQ180 medium format camera with almost one extra stop of exposure! If you've seen images off the Phase One then you know how much detail is in those files. We all need to take these findings with a slight grain of salt until we see comparable examples side by side but these test results are still pretty astounding! Like it or not, the days where the highest image quality was reserved only for large medium format cameras is quickly coming to an end, and perhaps the largest reason to choose a medium format camera is the perceived value it displays to your clients and agencies.

In all fairness to the Phase One, the biggest reason it falls short of the D800 in this test is because it fails miserably in low light. We expected that though since it's primarily a studio camera that usually requires strobes and slower lenses to produce the best image quality. This test does make me question my decision to buy the Nikon D4 over the half as expensive D800 especially since I don't shoot sports and have yet to go past ISO 12,800 in my career. Having two cameras for the price of one is especially important to me because having a backup for weddings is crucial and if you hire assistants or second shooters it's best to have many cameras to make everyone's life easier.

Let's face it, the image quality in today's DSLRs is beyond what anyone really needs for practical purposes, and conventional wisdom tells us that future cameras are only going to improve upon noise, resolution, and speed slightly. We can all get excited to see our own images improve in quality with these new cameras but at the end of the day no camera advancement will overshadow vision, creativity, and a well executed photoshoot. As these cameras capable of producing beyond-professional quality files begin filtering down into the advanced amature market, the only thing clients and art directors will continue to care about is YOU and what's between your ears :)

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17 Comments

Totally agree with you Pat, I am so happy I put an order on my D800, can't wait to get it!!! I loved the D4 but I thought for my type of contract (studio) it was just the best choice!!! 

The only thing I would have loved on the D800 is the Flash synch it had on the D70, why? We all know that with many Pixels, SPEED is critical!! So if I would have been able to take all my pictures at 1/500 with all my strobes, it would have been sooo nice... 

The reason for the "slow" sync speed is that most SLRs use a mechanical shutter which is no longer than 1/250th fully open. The D70 has an electronical shutter with no mechanics involved. So you could shoot flash with much higher shutter speeds.
This electronical shutter had some issues I think. That why they are not building it anymore

Sean Shimmel's picture

Took a sneak peek... such a well written review I'm savings it for when I get back from errands.

clinedsgn's picture

I definitely appreciated seeing this, I pulled up short of ordering my back-up D4 and ordered the D800. I've been spoiled by having two identical bodies, but I think the test/price on the D800 make it worth the risk. I definitely think the D800 is a new class of 35mm and much more than a D700 replacement. Still not 100% sure about selling my last D3s : (

thanks for the post.

Marcus's picture

I'm not sure I will buy either and may in fact find a used D3x, because messing up the battery systems and control layouts will affect my workflow more than adding a few extra pixels or a slightly faster frame rate. It's just yet more stuff to carry when I travel.

D800 has a better dynamic range and color depth only when ISO is less than 400. Above ISO 400, d4 is better by a stop.

The results show the d800 has better dynamic range and color depth only at ISO 400 or below. Above that the D4 is a stop better. The score was based on the highest number which occurred at ISO 100

So, it's perfect for studio and landscape work.

Patrick Hall's picture

The thing that is interesting is for weddings, I'm usually only shooting at ISO 1000 max (mainly to help the flash refresh rate).  So we aren't far at all from the best quality being at the most usable ISO range (400-1600).  

I currently shoot with a pair of D3s bodies and the idea of the high MP is very attractive for my portrait work, but the fact it runs on different batteries, and the general difference in layout, might make a secondhand D3X more attractive. I'll be keeping an eye on D3X prices!

Patrick Hall's picture

I hear you on different batteries (I currently have the D7000, D300s, and D4), but I'd have to imagine the D3x users aren't going to sell their $8k camera for less than the D800.  I'd just get the D800 now and enjoy the MP upgrade and everything else it does better.  

Seth Smobley's picture

This is fascinating. I would love a D800.  I don't know if it obsoletes the Phase One, though. The Phase still has a large resolution advantage.  Also, isn't a big advantage of the medium format sensor that you can stop it down a long way before diffraction robs resolution because the pixel sizes are bigger?  Will it ever be possible to fit 80+ megapixels on a "full frame" sensor?  Maybe foveon style?  36 times 3 layers?  That might give 70 mp resolving capability without it being a diffraction massacre. 

Patrick Hall's picture

my question is this:  are you ever printing beyond full page or double truck magazine spread?  What difference does it make unless you are printing 4'x6' for an up close subway ad? 

Seriously?????? A freak at  DxOMark’s website had balls to compare a (close to) 35mm with a MF and say it's almost the same (even though we talking here about DR between two digital)?
Please ... gimme a BREAK! Doesn't deserve not even start to read this crap ...

Roberto Alonso's picture

Dude, your "(close to) 35mm" made me laugh. Are you implying it's not really full frame because it's 24x 35.9 instead of 24x36? A tenth of a mil, seriously?

Just for kicks, I took the calipers to my trusty old film F4. It's 24x35.7mm, so I guess it's not full frame either... :-D

Derek matarangas's picture

^^ Honestly I agree with you. I did have a chance to use a d800 my friends acutely and personally was not impressed. I ordered the E so lets see what happens. To me the camera felt cheap like a d7000.

I have the D4 and the D800. I mainly use the D4 as I just find it has that oomph that I cannot get to grips with on the D800. I love the D800 for portrait and large landscape work. But as a "go to" for just about everything, I am a D4 junkie. (All lenses are Nikkors).

Not relevant, but just to ask anyway...

Do you all use Filters on your lenses? Or Just the hood to protect the glass? I am not talking about a $10 UV filter. I think a decent multi coated runs around £60 here.

I use CPL's for all the lenses except the nikkor 14-24 "Bug Eyed" lens. That monster will not take anything that I am aware of?