Comparing the 1Ds Mark III – 5D Mark II and Nikon D3

Having used a 5D Mark II for a while and suddenly getting to play with a 1Ds Mark III for a few days, I decided I would like to make some comparison shots before the 1Ds Mark III left again.

Putting together a makeshift review set-up set I took pictures comparing the 5D Mark II, the Nikon D3, and the 1Ds Mark III. It was fun, but rushed because the 1Ds Mark III needed to be returned in a few short hours, but I think some interesting and surprising results were found by my “exploration”.

I shot the 3 cameras at ISO 1600, 3200 and 6400 (1Ds MK3 only goes to 3200), shot them in RAW using an 85mm prime lens at f/5.6 in AV mode and let the shutter speed be what the camera meter chose for it. All the cameras were tripoded and used mirror lock-up and time delay. On the Nikon D3 I used a Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens, on the 5D Mark II is the Canon 85mm f/1.8 lens, and on the 1Ds Mark III is the 85L II lens.

I custom white balanced using the ColorRight Max that I own. The room lighting was tungsten overhead ceiling lights very close to what a moderate to low level reception lighting would be when they use the dimmers. You can get a good hint at the lighting by the camera exposures. I left the EXIF info intact and an EXIF reader can pick up the info for you. The RAW files were developed in Lightroom.

This is a reduced version of the shot. This sample is from the 5D Mark II at ISO 6400 and reduced to 900 pixels in width. All the cameras did their own focusing and the focus point is on the contrast between the Nutella jar white cap lid and the dark body of that jar – same for all the cameras. Any exposure differences is from the camera’s interpretation of the light levels.

This is a shot of the set-up image used in the tests:

Here are cropped sections from the frames.

First the Canon 5D2 at ISO 1600 below:

Nikon D3 ISO 1600 below:

The 1Ds Mark III ISO 1600 below:

Here is the ISO 3200 series of pictures now:

Canon 5D Mark II ISO 3200 crop below:

The Nikon D3 ISO 3200 crop below:

The 1Ds Mark III ISO 3200 crop below:

The 6400 series:

The Canon Mark II ISO 6400 crop below:

The Nikon D3 ISO 6400 crop below:

The Canon 1Ds Mark III does not shoot at ISO 6400.

One of the things I am really happy to say is the 5D Mark II focus system seems to be the most sure focus system I have ever experienced from Canon so far. The built in “soft focus ” look that comes from so many Canon shots I take here has not reared it’s ugly head yet and I have to admit that is really a surprise. It (the 5D2) is not quick like the 1D MK3 or Nikon D3, but having used a 5D as my main camera for a few years I can say first hand this focus system is doing very well so far in the first 24 hours.

While the focus system of the 5D2 is supposed to be the same as the original, it clearly has had some changes happen somewhere along the way. I would speculate that the Digic 4 making the entire pipeline faster and quicker has added benefit to parts of the camera that are not directly using the Digic 4. I also speculate that Canon’s fine tuning of the color recognition in the focus module may have cause accuracy to be improved. Whatever the cause, the 5D2 has taken a large step forward in focus abilities and I can’t wait to see this applied to the more nimble and quicker 1 series Canon cameras coming in the future.

All 3 cameras produced really nice files, and the Nikon D3 at only 12 megapixels puts out PRINTS that look so darn close to the prints from a 21 megapixel camera is a testament to how good it really is. Those D3 files attracted me towards that camera a year ago and it has serviced me well during the past year.

The 5D Mark II files are not as clean as the Nikon D3, but the 5D Mark II would be the best example of what I call a “power file”. The sheer megapixel size of the 5D Mark II along with it’s base pixel quality being very good, shoots it’s output ahead of the pack. The 1Ds Mark III produced the best print out of all 35mm level cameras up until the 5D2 came along. Now I would put the 5D2 as a contender for the king of the hill in high ISO PRINTS for these 3 cameras.

I would call the 5D2 a very solid winner when comparing the 1Ds Mark III, the 5D Mark II and the Nikon D3. If the very large file was not key though, the big winner is the D3. While the 1Ds Mark 3 is still a top contender, I personally would have a hard time putting down big cash on a camera that will probably be getting it’s ancient LCD screen along with a few other very key points changed soon. But in the end, each camera offers a different feature set, and if the final files are acceptable to you, then you can’t go wrong with any of these 3 bodies.

These 3 cameras are available from these trusted sources:

Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP Camera (Body Only)- Amazon

Nikon D3 12.1MP FX Camera (Body Only)- Amazon

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III 21.1MP Camera (Body Only)

You can also find these cameras at B&H Photo.

Peter Gregg

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