Nikon D800 vs Canon 5D Mark III

Dick De Jong, July 7, 2012

Canon 5D Mark III Review

Don't be fooled by the name of this new Canon. It is much more than a simple update of its well-respected predecessor, the Canon 5D Mark II. Canon 5D Mark III Best Full Frame DSLR

Though the Mark III's MP count has not jumped dramatically from the Mark II, (22 from 21), the sensor has been overhauled and along with a more powerful Digic 5+ processor, the Mark III is more responsive and has a better ISO range.

The Mark III can also churn out six frames per second as opposed to less than four from the Mark II. The Canon designers have also added a nimble 61 point AF Sensor on the Mark III. In addition, button and menu layouts have been tweaked to improve handling and usability.

Comparing the Canon Mark III to the Nikon D800, the Mark III retains similar advantages in performance at higher ISOs and in its fps rate, (6 to the Nikon's 4 frames per second).

For those who have long ago pitched their tents in the Canon camp, the 5D Mark III serves as a laudable full frame DSLR standard bearer that can stand toe to toe with the Nikon D800.

What's Hot about the Canon 5D Mark III

  • Fast and accurate 61 point autofocus system
  • 22MP CMOS full frame sensor
  • Ample control buttons that are easy to use
  • 6 fps continuous full resolution shooting
  • Solid build and comfortable hand grip
  • Good performance at high ISOs, with a standard setting of 100-25600
  • 1080p video at multiple frame rates
  • Various HDR shooting controls
  • Silent shutter mode
  • Dual SD/CF card slots

What's Not So Caliente about the Canon 5D Mark III

  • Vibration reduction is not integrated in the camera
  • No integrated flash
  • No continuous AF in Video mode
  • No built-in GPS
  • $500 more than the Nikon D800


Canon 5D Mark III Best Full Frame DSLR

The Canon 5D Mark III is reassuringly solidly built. When you grip it, you know you have a red-blooded camera in your hands.

But after lugging it, with the 24-105mm kit lens, around all afternoon shooting the Mermaid parade on Coney Island, it's apparent why arm-weary and neck-strained photo vets are looking twice at featherweight mirrorless compact system cameras.

Without a doubt, the Nikon D800 body, which is only an ounce lighter than this Canon, can also be a hand cramping culprit.

The layout of the controls on this 5D Mark III are a bit different from the Nikon. For example, the ISO button is located on the right, near the shutter release, rather than on the dial on the left of the D800, which requires the left hand to operate.

Often, the best compliment that can be given to a design is that it doesn't get in your way of operating the camera. With the Canon 5D Mark III, using the camera is smooth and easy, which makes the whole experience more fun.

Image Quality

If you are closely examining images at the pixel level, the Canon 5D can not quite match the output of the Nikon D800's 36MP sensor, especially at ISOs below 3200. But if you are printing 8 by 10's or reducing images for the Internet, those differences virtually fade away. Actually, for both those applications, these two cameras can be overkill.

Canon 5D Mark III Best Full Frame DSLR
Handheld photo was shot with Canon 5D Mark III, ISO 400, Canon 24-105mm @55mm, f/14, 1/100 s.
Converted in Camera Raw 7.1 Exposure -.40, Default sharpening. Cropped in PS6.

Nikon D800 Best Full Frame DSLR
Handheld photo was shot with Nikon D800, ISO 400, Nikkor 24-85mm @50mm, f/16, 1/100 s.
Converted in Camera Raw 7.1 Default sharpening. Cropped in PS6.

The 5D shows some advantage in noise over the D800 at ISOs above 1600, but once again, we are parsing pixels. Differences exist between the cameras, though often they can be negated by a lower quality lens, a shaky hand or even an unsteady tripod.


PhotoScope: Compare Nikon D800E vs. Canon 5D Mark III

If you return to PhotoScope and set the ISO for both cameras to 3200 and leave the Scope (at 100%) over the upper left edge of the yellow tennis ball, you will notice more fiber detail in the Nikon D800 shot.

But if you look closely at the red portion of the cloth, you should see more noise in the D800 image. What the Canon 5D seems to be sacrificing in detail, it makes up in noise suppression.


One of the foundations of a quality camera is a fast and accurate autofocus system, the Canon 5D's 61 point system does not disappoint.

Canon 5D Mark III Best Full Frame DSLR

Interestingly, continuous AF is not available when shooting video. Though in retrospect, that probably is a good thing since watching the camera constantly refocus as subjects move around in the frame can spur bouts of nausea.

Perhaps the biggest advantage, feature-wise, over the D800 is the 5D Mark III's faster continuous frame rate of 6 compared to 4. Neither is a match to a speed demon like the 12 fps Canon EOS 1D X, but six 22MP images per second is impressive and can do a reasonable job of capturing an action sequence.

For Canon 5D Mark III memory cards, see Camera Accessories

If you want full motion, the 5D captures 1080p video at 24, 25 or 30 fps. It does not provide an uncompressed video stream that can be recorded off camera.

And don't be fooled when you read about the 5D Mark II and Mark III being used in professional productions like The Avengers movie. Under studio or controlled conditions, cameras like the 5D or D800 can perform well. But if you are shooting your kid's soccer game, you may be better off with a more flexible and much cheaper alternative.

The one stealth feature that will be appreciated by any photographer who would rather be seen than heard is the Silent mode. When switched on, the shutter noise is definitely quieter, not silent, but much less intrusive. It may slightly slow down how quickly you can click your next shot. In most situations, the reduction in noise is worth it. The D800 has a similar Quiet mode, but it is much noisier than the Canon's.

Like the D800, there's no integrated GPS or Wi-Fi. And why the 5D does not include a built-in flash is a mystery.

As an aside, the 24-105mm lens that is offered as a kit package is quite respectable for a kit lens. Though considering that it adds about $800 on to the cost of the 5D body, it's definitely more expensive then the run of the mill kit lens. But for those starting from scratch, this zoom lens has a practical range and produces very good images.


For many, the Canon 5D Mark III will be easier and more fun to use than the Nikon D800. As important as those attributes are, if those are your main criteria, than you can get ease of use with a camera like the new Canon T4i and have plenty of fun with the $2500 you save.

Canon 5D Mark III Best Full Frame DSLR

In all fairness, the Canon 5D Mark III matches the Nikon D800 in many quality categories and if it falls a tad short on image quality, this Canon makes up for it with some usability features, like the capability to program three custom settings onto the C1, C2, and C3 slots on the Mode dial.

After rereading this review, I've almost convinced myself that the Canon 5D Mark III is a better choice than the Nikon D800. And for many photographers, it just might be.

Buy the Canon EOS 5D Mark III here:

Amazon $2,385.00     Adorama $2,599.00    

Canon 5D Mark III Photo Gallery

More about the Canon 5D Mark III

Canon 5D Mark III spec sheet

Reader Comments(4 comments)

Posted Mar 27, 2013 9:43:38 PM
By Amit Dhamija
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I am totally satisfied with my Nikon D800e because I am a wedding photographer and am always facing challenges at the weddings. I noticed that my Canon cameras do not focus well at night weddings and Nikon has an extra light for night shoots and Nikon has a continuous shooting option and it is amazing and Canon does not have that option. That is why I like the Nikon D800e, and its colors are amazing.
Posted Dec 3, 2012 3:02:32 AM
By burasa
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I like both.
Posted Oct 5, 2012 4:17:55 AM
By kayati
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they are good cameras but which is the best price for nikon D800
Posted Jul 29, 2012 5:53:25 PM
By The not so CanNik guy
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I tested out the d800 and one thing I don't get, it's that everyone says its not for action. The way I see it, it's great for action.

Look at the d4 or d3s, both have 16 and 12mp respectively. D800 has 36mp so there isn't really a need for that many pixels. Drop it down to DX mode With grip and you get 6fps. Most sports require a long zoom anyways so you still get 16mp added x1.5 zoom @ the same lens speed. Eg. 70-200 f2.8 becomes 105-300 f2.8. If wider is needed just switch back to fullframe. That's how I took this camera to be.