review: High-ISO performance – Nikon D750 / D4S / D4 / D810 / D610
With the initial quick test of the Nikon D750 high-ISO noise performance, I was quite impressed. But it really is only in comparison to other cameras that we can see how good it is. With that, I took 5 of the current full-frame Nikon DSLRs to compare them against each other to see their high-ISO noise.
The Nikon D4s (affiliate) is currently the high-ISO king, so it was specifically interesting to see how the 24 megapixel Nikon D750 (affiliate) would compare. If you’re in a hurry and don’t want to wait until the end of this review, then here’s the good news: to my eye, the D750 is comparable to the D4S in terms of high-ISO noise. Maybe even a squeak better! But you don’t have to take my word for it, there are RAW files you can dowload and check for yourself.
Details about the image at the top
I used the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 AF-S VR II (affiliate) with the cameras, mounted on a tripod.
Lighting was with a Westcott Spiderlite TD6 and 3’x4’ shallow softbox (affiliate).
Using continuous lighting allowed me to change my ISO and shutter speeds (and eventually aperture), without the hassle of hitting maximum flash sync speed. If I had used flash, I would’ve had to change my flash output for each sequence. Less simple than just turning a camera dial. Also, with this, the lighting stayed exactly the same for each sequence, with exactly the same light output.
High-ISO noise comparison
To compare the cameras, I shot repeated sequences of Melanie in more or less this pose, changing it as little as possible.
Comparing image quality between cameras with different size sensors isn’t easy. For example, the 36 megapixels of the Nikon D810 might print differently than it appears at 100% view on your computer. This is why the I show a 100% crop and 50% crop here. So I am mostly side-stepping diligent side-by-side comparison, by making the RAW files available with the 5 cameras shot at different ISO settings.
Download the RAW files if you want to play around with them yourself to compare.
I checked the exposure for each camera via the histogram, holding up a white paper kitchen towel to give us a spike of white. The histogram was perfectly matched for all 5 cameras.
I started the sequence at 800 ISO. I only went up to 51,200 ISO … which excluded the D610 since the D610 only goes up to 25,600 ISO
Past that, only the D4 and D4S were the only contenders, but the images were so noisy that I don’t think that those ISO settings would be of much use to the vast majority of photographers.
D810 at 36 megapixels showed noise in the dark areas fairly quickly. But again, this will print differently than you might anticipate from a 100% view on your computer, and might compare very well with the D4 or D4S.
The D610 didn’t fare as well as the other cameras.
Please note: the image softness you see in the D810 photo at 800 ISO is camera shake due to my sloppy technique. It’s not the camera being less sharp at 800 ISO than the others.
Here are 100% crops of similar images shot which each camera. The crop is of part of her shoulder, into the dark background.
I am showing the 6400 ISO images here, and should give you a very good idea of the relative merits of each camera at higher ISO settings. And make sure you marvel at how the $2,300 Nikon D750 compares to the $6,500 Nikon D4s.
I added a 50% view of the Nikon D810 file so you can see how the noise changes with the change in resolution.
About the Nikon D750
The Nikon D750 (affiliate), really performed surprisingly well here, especially considering that the D750 has higher resolution. Also, the D4S is still a very recent camera!
The comparison shown here above, is typical for how the cameras stack up against each other across all the ISO settings.
To my eye though, there isn’t that much to chose between the D4, D4S and D750. They are on par with each other. Nikon D810 (affiliate) is an entirely different beast again with its very high megapixel count.
All of this makes the Nikon D750 a very desirable little camera.