Such is the pace of digital innovation that you could argue that there is no need to go full-frame because you can get brilliant picture quality from a cropped sensor DSLR. Never the less, there are a great many photographers who prefer the larger format and that can be for any number of reasons, both actual and perceived.
So, why full-frame? Going back a few years, many users wanted full-frame because extreme wide-angles for cropped sensor cameras simply weren’t available. That has totally changed now so this reason is no longer valid.
Another reason was that many photographers enjoy using the larger format and it was one that they were used to. And finally, there is the quality benefit – perceived or otherwise – of a larger format. Yes, APS-size DSLRs have come on tremendously but a good big sensor is still going to be potentially better than a good small sensor.
Over the next two issues we’ll be trying out four DSLRs that boast 20-megapixels plus and have sensors that measure 24x36mm – or 24x35.9mm in the case of the Nikon D3x. None are new to the market so our test is not in the usual way we approach a new DSLR but we will be testing them on the criteria of image quality, ISO skills and colour reproduction.
We kick off with the flagships from Canon and Nikon, the EOS 1Ds MkIII and D3x respectively. Both will set you back around £5000 body only so they are hardly budget cameras. They are also quite large and heavy but built to withstand challenging conditions and clumsy photographers. Next month, it’s the turn of two relative lightweights, the Canon EOS 5D MkII and the Sony Alpha 850.
Our test cameras tried in RAW and JPEG image modes
To see what both of our top-end DSLRs were capable of, they were set to shoot the best possible Raws and JPEGs. Both models offer a variety of size and compression options in JPEG – the Canon has the most JPEG compression levels. The Canon also has different size options for Raw shooting, whereas the Nikon has full-size Raw only.
The cameras were tripod-mounted and fitted with top-end standard zooms. In the case of the Canon, we used the £900 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM and for the Nikon the £1200 24-70mm f/2.8 G AF-S ED was the lens of choice.
AWB and aperture-priority AE were used here. It was late afternoon and the sun was due to set in about 20 minutes so the light appeared very warm to the naked eye.
The Raws were processed using Adobe Lightroom 3 to give 16-bit files and default settings were used. The JPEGs were straight out of the camera. No Photoshop unsharp mask has been used on any of the shots printed in this review.
The resulting files from the Canon, without any interpolation, measured 47.55x31.7cm at 300ppi while the slightly higher resolution of the Nikon allowed 51.21x34.14cm prints. At 300% magnification the latter file produced a document measuring 153x102cm.
In both cases it was no surprise to see that the JPEGs looked more processed and the images appeared warmer and interestingly, there seemed to be less noise – probably due again to in-camera processing. The converted Raws showed slightly more detail but this was only apparent at high magnification.
You would have to say that in both cases, the cameras are top-rate performers and easily good enough for highly critical use.
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