Color Comparison: Canon 5D Mark lll and Nikon D800

This article compares the uncalibrated and calibrated color from Canon and Nikon’s recently released pro camera bodies: the Canon 5D Mark lll, and the Nikon D800. I recently spent two weeks in Tuscany shooting with other photographers. One of those was Kevin O’Connor, who was carrying the new Nikon D800, while I was carrying the Canon 5D Mark lll. It was interesting to compare the two cameras in terms of various types of shooting from sports to glamour, from food to landscape, not to mention low light and long lenses. But this article focusses on one factor of each camera: its native color, and its calibrated color.

The calibration tool used was Datacolor’s SpyderCheckr, which (in addition to the SpyderCube) we had with us on the trip. The SpyderCheckr target was shot with each body, and the resulting RAW file was cropped, white balanced, and exposure compensated in Lightroom before export to the SpyderCheckr utility, where a colorimetric calibration correction set was built for each. The image below shows the each of eight color channels, and the corrections to Hue, Saturation, and Lightness made to these channels for both bodies, with the 5D Mark lll on the left, and the D8oo on the right.

SpyderCheckr corrections for Canon 5D Mark lll (left) and Nikon D800 (right)

The first thing to notice in these corrections is that they are quite similar to one another. The 5D Hue adjustments tend to be a bit smaller than those for the D800, while the D800 Saturation are larger. The D800 Luminance adjustments are significantly larger than those for the 5D Mark lll. There is some variation in which colors need correction, but typically it is for a similar set of colors, and in a similar direction, for both cameras.

Shooting the same event with both Canon and Nikon bodies tends to produce images that are recognizably different, especially in bright reds and in sky blues. So the two sample images I have selected for comparison are ones containing those colors. First, lets look at similar shots of a musician from above. Here are the two images at Lightroom default import values, with exposure corrected for as close a match as possible.

Uncalibrated Image at Lightroom Defaults, Canon 5D Mark lll

Uncalibrated Image at Lightroom Defaults, Nnikon D800

Keep in mind that these images have been converted to sRGB for the web, and are viewed on your display; only you know how good your display is, whether it is calibrated, or how reasonable your ambient lighting conditions are. But the relative difference between the files should still be visible, unless your ambient lightings is so bright you can’t see the screen well. Both cameras produce a bright red for the shirt that the experienced eye sees as oversaturated, as well as problematic to print. Lets see what the files look like once the SpyderCheckr calibration has been applied to them.

SpyderCheckr Calibrated Image at Lightroom Defaults, Canon 5D Mark lll

SpyderCheckr Calibrated Image at Lightroom Defaults, Nikon D800

Both reds are now more believable, and more printable. There is still a minor white balance difference between the images, which ideally would be corrected with a SpyderCube, but once that is adjusted, it would be difficult to tell the calibrated results from the two cameras apart.

Now for the blue sky example. This is the most common Canon/Nikon mismatch issue, since the sky is such a common image element. First, the uncalibrated output from both cameras.

Uncalibrated Image at Lightroom Defaults, Canon 5D Mark lll

Uncalibrated Image at Lightroom Defaults, Nikon D800

Even on the web, its possible to spot the difference, with the Nikon producing a greener result, while the Canon produces a darker result. On a calibrated monitor I would say the Nikon hue is off, and the Canon luminance may be a bit dark; but its difficult to make a judgement on the web. Now the corrected versions.

SpyderCheckr Calibrated Image at Lightroom Defaults, Canon 5D Mark lll

SpyderCheckr Calibrated Image at Lightroom Defaults, Nikon D800

Here we are looking at an even smaller variation in camera white balance, and an even better match between the two cameras. I have complete confidence that, with these sets of HSL color corrections for each camera body, plus SpyderCube shots to adjust white balance and exposure for each lighting condition, that these two cameras would produce images with indistinguishable color, allowing them to be used side by side for even the most important of events.

All Nikon D800 images: Copyright Kevin O’Connor. Thanks Kevin, for your assistance in the preparation for this article.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page


9 responses to “Color Comparison: Canon 5D Mark lll and Nikon D800

  1. There have been comments about the relative sharpness between the cameras. Yes, the D800 (and especially the D800E) produce more detail and/or sharpness, but it can’t be judged here, as the crop on both images is much tighter in the 5D Mark lll images. So please use these comparison images for color-only, not for sharpness.

  2. Maybe it would be more interesting to look at some difficult colors, like shades of natural green (plants, trees), or flowers. These colors are often much more difficult to reproduce and spectraly much more complicated.

    • I’ve had suggestions that I post the full 50 Meg RAW files for each image, that I post images in ProPhotoRGB, that I convert the images using proprietary software from Canon and Nikon, and now that I focus on out-of-gamut colors. All interesting technical areas, but dealing with colors within the gamut of sRGB allows this to be visible to most viewers, and focussed on the much more common issue of rendering typical colors, not extreme ones. Given the much smaller audience for highly technical articles, I feel that covering the more basic issues first is justified.

      • My mistake. I did not really appreciating you objective (make clear that for most purposes most cameras can be made to look alike, color wise). I read your article more in the light of things I observe myself, that for more subtle handling of natural colors ( I was not even thinking on extreme colors), cameras can be quite different.

    • Yes, there is way more than HD resolution available here. The video from both these cameras is excellent as well. But I have to calibrate my TV to get the color accuracy I expect. Either as a display, if I’m sending files to it as a computer monitor, or as a TV if I’m sending it a video-stream. Either way I use Spyder4 for the job, just different software.

  3. Thanks for this very infomative post. Was not aware you can calibrate a camera’s output. Tried the D800 HSL settings on my D600 and D7000 files. Sure its not accurate but I get a taste of what calibration can do and the results are amazing.

    • That depends on the lens. L series lenses from Canon are very color consistent. Nikon lenses, less so. If you see color differences between lenses, you may choose to calibrate for each one individually, though it makes the calibration application process less convenient.

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