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Nikon D5100 Gordon Laing, May 2011
 

Nikon D5100 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise


Nikon D5100 vs Canon EOS 600D / T3i High ISO Noise (JPEGs using default settings)

 
 
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To compare noise levels under real-life conditions we shot this scene with the Nikon D5100 and Canon EOS 600D / T3i within a few moments of each other using their best-quality JPEG settings and at each of their ISO settings. See our upcoming review for RAW results.

Each camera was fitted with its respective kit lens, the Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR and Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II, both set to f8, adjusted to deliver the same field of view, and focused using Live View at the highest magnification.


Noise Reduction was set to the default options on each camera, although we disabled any automatic contrast-enhancing modes as these can artificially introduce noise. As such, Active D-Lighting on the D5100 and Auto Lighting Optimizer on the Canon were disabled. The image above was taken with the Nikon D5100 at 100 ISO with an exposure of 1 second and the lens set to 30mm f8; the original Large Fine JPEG measured 5.12MB. The crops below are taken from the area marked with a red square and presented here at 100%. The crops from the Canon EOS 600D / T3i show a slightly smaller area due to its slightly higher resolution.

Interestingly, unlike several previous Nikon DSLRs, the D5100 actually metered this scene a little darker than we liked. So to reveal shadow detail we applied +1EV compensation, which coincidentally matched the metered 0EV exposure of the Canon EOS 600D / T3i. As such, the crops you see below are taken from identical exposures on each camera, starting at 100 ISO with one second at f8. As the ISO doubled, the shutter speed halved.

The sequence starts below at 100 ISO, the lowest sensitivity on each camera, where both deliver clean and detailed images as you'd expect. The Canon EOS 600D / T3i enjoys two extra Megapixels of resolution, but you'd be hard pushed to notice any greater detail, although there are quite apparent differences in processing styles using the default settings. As we've seen before, the applied contrast on the Canon is stronger by default, lending a slightly punchier look to its images, although some may prefer the more laid-back approach of the Nikon. The stronger contrast of the Canon is partly responsible for the slightly darker image given the same exposure, although the Nikon may also be fractionally more sensitive.

At 200 ISO, pixel peepers straining their vision may notice the slightest evidence of textures beginning to appear in the background, but to all intents and purposes, both cameras continue to deliver clean, detailed and virtually noise-free results at this sensitivity. At 400 ISO there's a fractional increase in the textures, but again nothing to be concerned about.

With the sensitivity doubled to 800 ISO, noise is becoming more apparent, although not at the loss of fine detail. As we've seen before, Nikon's noise textures and processing artefacts look finer and more grain-like compared to Canon's, which look a little blotchy and less natural-looking in comparison. Again though, the important thing is both are delivering very usable results at 800 ISO.

At 1600 ISO, the noise levels and processing artefacts are increasingly obvious, and both cameras have also begun to lose a little saturation. Slightly heavier processing on the Canon is again resulting in less natural-looking artefacts and grain than the Nikon, but that said, we wouldn't say one has taken a technical lead over the other, with any preference being personal.

With the sensitivity at 3200 ISO we'd say the Nikon D5100 begins to enjoy a small lead over the Canon in overall quality, and similarly the 6400 ISO sample from the Nikon is also preferred. At 12,800 ISO, the maximum for the Canon, the D5100 retains greater detail and again delivers a more natural-looking result - although both are very noisy at this point and should only be used at this sensitivity for emergencies.

Like the D700 before it, the D5100 then makes a pointless piece of one-upmanship by offering a 25,600 ISO setting, which unsurprisingly delivers an image plagued with noise as you'd expect. Unlike the D7000 though, the D5100 additionally offers a Night Vision option as part of its new EFFECTS mode which can operate at up to 102,400 ISO. We've included a sample of this scene in the Night Vision mode, which under these fairly well-lit conditions, selected a sensitivity of 6400 ISO. See our Nikon D5100 sample images for an example under much dimmer conditions.

Overall the results seen on this page are a repeat of our earlier Nikon D7000 vs Canon EOS 60D High ISO Noise page - this shouldn't be surprising since both cameras share the same sensors, and as far as we understand, the same image processing styles. As such, both cameras are roughly neck-in-neck up to 800 ISO. At 1600 and 3200 ISO, the D5100 begins to enjoy a small but noticeable benefit, with more natural-looking artefacts, then at 6400 ISO and above, the D5100's lead becomes more apparent. While the 25600 ISO setting is a step too far, the results here for the D5100 are very impressive. Like the D7000 before it, noise may be visible from low sensitivities, but it's always natural-looking, and overall the camera delivers very pleasing results throughout its range using the default settings.

Now for more real-life images, check out our Nikon D5100 sample images, or head straight to the D5100 verdict.


Nikon D5100 (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
with Nikkor DX 18-55mm VR
 
Canon EOS 600D / T3i (JPEG using in-camera defaults)
with Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS II
100 ISO
100 ISO
     
200 ISO
200 ISO
     
400 ISO
400 ISO
     
800 ISO
800 ISO
     
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
     
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
     
6400 ISO
6400 ISO
     
H1.0 (12800 ISO)
H (12800 ISO)
     
H2.0 (25600 ISO)
25600 ISO not available
     
Night Vision mode (here at 6400 ISO)
Sensitivities higher than 12,800 ISO not available


Nikon D5100 results : Real-life resolution / High ISO Noise



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