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Canon 1DX vs Nikon D4: Image Quality



 
When Nikon came out with the D3 and later the D3s, Canon lost its supremacy at high ISO. I was curios to test the 1DX vs the new Nikon D4 to see if Canon has brought back the title of high ISO king!  
 
The Nikon D4 is a relatively conservative update of the D3s; it offers a bit more resolution, 1 FPS faster continuous shooting, much better video and other improvements. It is the first camera to use the XQD cards (other than CF) that promises much higher speeds than other formats.  
 
The Canon 1DX replaces both the 1D Mark IV and the 1Ds Mark III (even though it is much more similar to the 1D4 than 1Ds3); Canon has replaced the 1.3x APS-H sensor with a new 18 megapixel, FF sensor that promises outstanding high ISO capabilities. The 1DX has a new AF module, much faster continuous shooting and several other improvements.  
 
I have compared the two cameras to see which one offers the best image quality! The first crop is always from the 1DX, the second crop is from the Nikon D4. The test photos has been converted from RAW without any noise reduction. The test scene (that you can see here) has been photographed with 24-70 and 24-105, both lenses were at f/9 and of course I have used the tripod.
 
 

Low sensitivities: from ISO 100 to ISO 3200

ISO 100: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 100
Nikon D4 - ISO 100

ISO 200: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 200
Nikon D4 - ISO 200

ISO 400: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 400
Nikon D4 - ISO 400

ISO 800: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 800
Nikon D4 - ISO 800

ISO 1600: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 1600
Nikon D4 - ISO 1600

ISO 3200: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 3200
Nikon D4 - ISO 3200

Up to ISO 800 you may have the impression that you are always looking to the same crops. Both cameras have outstanding image quality and very low noise; indeed noise is non-existent up to ISO 800. Even ISO 1600 and 3200 are extremely clean and you can use them without any hesitation, they are fully usable in every situation. There are no real differences between the two camera up to these sensitivities (the Nikon D4 looks a little better, but it is really a small difference).
 
 

High Sensitivities: from ISO 6400 to 204800

ISO 6400: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 6400
Nikon D4 - ISO 6400

ISO 12800: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 12800
Nikon D4 - ISO 12800

ISO 25600: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 25600
Nikon D4 - ISO 25600

ISO 51200: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 51200
Nikon D4 - ISO 51200

ISO 102400: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 102400
Nikon D4 - ISO 102400

ISO 204800: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 204800
Nikon D4 - ISO 204800

Up to ISO 12800, both cameras are fully usable in every situation, even for large prints. Of course at these settings you need to apply some noise reduction, but image quality is still great. ISO 25600 and 51200 are very noisy, but they are far better than any other camera on the market, and personally I still consider them usable for situations where these extreme sensitivities are really necessary.  
 
ISO 102400 and 204800 can be used almost exclusively for journalistic or documentary purposes; with very good post processing they are usable for small prints and for web-sized photos, but the noise is very strong and there is noticeable loss of detail.  
 
The performance of the two cameras is similar, but from ISO 6400 upwards the Nikon D4 is the winner by a little margin: I'd say that it has about 0.5 stop better high ISO performance than the 1DX; the D4 shows a little more noise and it has a more easy to remove, fine granulated noise.
 
 

Night photos

The previous test has been done few minutes after sunset with a relatively bright scene; we have repeated the test during the night to see if there were differences. Again, the first crop is from the 1DX while the second crop is from the Nikon D4.  
 
ISO 3200: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 3200
Nikon D4 - ISO 3200

ISO 12800: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 12800
Nikon D4 - ISO 12800

ISO 102400: 
 
Canon 1DX - ISO 102400
Nikon D4 - ISO 102400

The results are about the same of the previous test. Nikon shows about 0.5 stop of advantage, maybe even 0.7 stop at the most extreme sensitivities, but both camera are excellent and fully usable up to ISO 12800.
 
 

Test photos: Canon 1DX

Full size image samples taken with the Canon 1DX. You can download both the post processed version and the untouched version.  
 
Canon 1DX, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, 1/125 f/10.0, ISO 800, hand held.  
 
Canon 1DX, Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM con Canon EF 1.4x III, 1/1250 f/5.6, ISO 6400, hand held.  
 
Canon 1DX, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, 1/50 f/9.0, ISO 12800, tripod.  
 
Canon 1DX, Canon EF 50mm f/1.0 L USM, 1/2500 f/2.0, ISO 51200, hand held.  
 
Canon 1DX, Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM con Canon EF 1.4x III, 1/6400 f/8.0, ISO 51200, hand held.  
 

 
 

Test photos: Nikon D4

Full size image samples taken with the Nikon D4. You can download both the post processed version and the untouched version.  
 
The test photos taken with Nikon D4 will be online next week.
 ^

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