Canon 7D vs. Nikon D300s : Which is the right camera for you?

Canon 7D vs Nikon D300s

Canon 7D vs Nikon D300s

A few weeks ago, I compared the Canon 7D to the Canon 5D Mark II, suggesting that they’re both excellent cameras, but suited to different types of work. However, there is another camera that appears to be intended for the same target market as the Canon 7D, with many similar functions and a very similar price (within $100). That camera is the Nikon D300s, which was released a few months before the 7D. Again, I can say that they’re both excellent cameras, and the deciding factor for purchasing one will undoubtedly be which of the features are most important to your photographic style.

But the cameras are not created equal. Let me begin with a side by side comparison of their most prominent features.

Canon 7D vs. Nikon D300s
Canon 7DNikon D300s
Price (Amazon / J&R)$1699 / $1699$1799 /
Sensor18 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C)12.3 Megapixel
Crop Factor1.6x1.5x
ISO Range100-6400 (+12,800)200-3200 (+100, 6400)
Max. Continuous Shooting Speed8 frames per second7 frames per second (boostable to 8fps with optional battery pack)
RAW Shooting Speed8 frames per second2.5 frames per second in 14-bit, 7 in 12-bit
Shutter Lag64 milliseconds (pre-production test)49 milliseconds
AF System19-point dual diagonal cross-type15 cross type sensors, 51 focus points.
AF RangeEV -0.5 – +18EV -1 – +19
RAW type14-bit Canon proprietary12/14 bit Nikon proprietary
Card Slots1 CF2 (1 CF, 1 SD)
View Finder Coverage100%100%
Shutter Speeds1/8000 – 30 sec. +bulb1/8000 – 30 sec. +bulb
X-sync1/250 sec.1/250 sec.
LCD Size3 inch, 920,000 pixels3 inch, 921,000
HD Video Resolutions1080p, 720p720p
Video Frame Rates24/30 at 1080, 24/30/50/60 at 72024 fps

From this quick comparison, it should be clear that the cameras have a lot in common. The Canon 7D, however, seems to excel with its video functionality and it’s RAW shooting capabilities. As a RAW shooter, I must admit that I’ve have been very disappointed to find that I’d purchased a camera that claims 7 frames per second and can only manage 2.5. On the other hand, the D300s does have remarkably fast auto-focus, and slightly less shutter lag than the Canon.  If I were buying a camera based on its ability to shoot video, the added resolution of 1080p (as well as the ability to shoot slow-motion video at 60fps) would be persuasive, although I don’t have any particular interest in video.

Sensor and Digital Noise

Obviously, the Canon 7D has a substantially higher resolution sensor. With a fine lens (coupled with excellent technique), I have no doubt that the Canon’s sensor will produce images superior to the D300s in good lighting situations. Many of us, unfortunately, spend most of our working day in poor lighting situations. The D300s, like it’s predecessor the D300, has excellent low light sensor performance.

Canon 7D: ISO 6400: 100% Crop

Canon 7D: ISO 6400: 100% Crop

Canon 7D: ISO6400, Reduced to 12.3 Megapixel Equiv. (32%)

Canon 7D: ISO6400, Reduced to 12.3 Megapixel Equiv. (32%)

Noise  reduction applied before reduction. (Noise Ninja, auto-profiled)

Noise reduction applied before reduction. (Noise Ninja, auto-profiled)

Let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose that the digital noise is significantly better on the D300s than the 7D (though I haven’t seen conclusive tests at this point). We know that digital noise is a pixel-level problem, and that the 7D’s pixels are much smaller than those of the Nikon. If you were to take a noisy 18 megapixel image and down-sample it to 12.3, would any of that digital noise survive? What if you ran noise reduction on the Canon image before down-sampling? The downsampling would reduce the effect of the softening that is normally introduced by noise reduction. We are talking about a 32% reduction in size, which is significant.

The photos at left were taken with the 7D (pre-production) at ISO 6400, which is available as an extended ISO mode on the D300s, but is the highest normal shooting ISO on the 7D. Considering the grain that I used to get with Tmax 3200, even the noise of the non-reduced image is impressively well controlled, and once it is reduced, it’s not much of a problem in this case (although this example is less noisy than other parts of the image).

As you can see in the noise reduced example, because the noise reduction was applied before re-sampling, the sharpness of the final the two down-sized examples is very similar if not identical. This is the benefit of starting out with a much higher resolution image when post processing is going to be a significant factor. As far as I’m concerned, this final image is what the Nikon D300s has to compete with straight out of the camera (at its highest possible ISO setting). Unfortunately, I only have an older D300 available for testing at the moment, but since the sensor is the same, I may decide to post comparative photos later.

Canon 7D : ISO 6400, 100% Crop

Canon 7D : ISO 6400, 100% Crop

Down-Sampled 32% to match the size of the Nikon D300s sensor.

Down-Sampled 32% to match the size of the Nikon D300s sensor.

Noise reduction applied before down-sampling. (Noise Ninja, Auto-profiled)

Noise reduction applied before down-sampling. (Noise Ninja, Auto-profiled)

Lets take a final look at another region of the same photo in which the noise was a little more prominent to begin with.

After simple down-sampling, the noise in this part of the image was heavy enough to remain somewhat prominent. With the addition of noise reduction beforehand, however, the sharpness of the image remains roughly the same and the noise is becomes a minor problem, in comparison, though it is certainly not gone.

I’ve presented the preceding information based on the assumption that the Nikon D300s is equal to or moderately superior to the Canon 7D when it comes to digital noise to begin with. At this point, however, testing seems to show just the opposite to be true. Nikon D300s shots at ISO3200 and 6400 from at least one test are hardly recognizable, much less usable. Click here for further details (opens in new window).

Testing of both cameras will continue, and problems with each will become more apparent. At the moment, though, I’m inclined to believe that the Canon holds the advantage in this competition.

 

13 Comments

  • Dino Sirajudin says:

    I have Nikon D7000. I want to buy Nikon lens AF-D 50mm f/1,4, not AF-S. Is it ok using only AF-D in terms of image quality compared with using AF-S? Many thanks.

    • Matthew says:

      Yes, definitely. Either of Nikon’s 50mm f1.4 lenses will give you excellent image quality, regardless of the camera. I have one myself that I’ve used for years, and it’s been very trusty. The modern lens is the 50mm f1.4G, and the 1990s vintage is the 50mm f1.4D , which uses the focusing motor in your camera.

      Both are extremely high quality, optically, and will produce sharp, contrasty photos.

      – Matthew

  • Luna says:

    Hi Matthew,

    I was just convinced to buy the Canon 7D or 60D and now moments ago I learnt that Nikon brought out the Nikon d7000. Suddenly I not so sure anymore. All these camera choices is just driving my nuts. Can the manufacturers for once not stick to an entry level, mid level and high end ranges. It would be so much better to compare 3 levels instead of each 2 months a new camera on the market but slightly in between levels.
    I went to Nikon’s site and saw that it is a 16mp and full HD video (no concern for me) and the EXPEED 2 processor. My question is which one of the Canon D7 or D60 compares best with this newcomer.

    Thanks for your wonderful advice.
    Regards

  • myself says:

    “As far as I’m concerned, this final image is what the Nikon D300s has to compete with straight out of the camera”
    this is such a bullshit comparison, you should just say in the first sentence that you’re the canon guy, and everybody would understand what you’re trying to prove.. use the damn noise reduction on nikon too and compare the results, canon is no match for nikon low light performance period, get over it

    • Matthew says:

      Finally a pissed off Nikon guy responded to this post! :) A couple of things…

      1. I’ve actually been shooting mostly Nikon for the past 3 years, and I have a great deal of respect for Nikon in general. With a couple of exceptions, their optics are probably superior to Canon’s.

      2. I’d have a lot more respect for your response here if you’d made some sort of argument against my thought experiment. If you actually read it, you’ll see that the reason that I claim that the Canon 7D’s image can be NRd is that it will be reduced by over 30% to match the image size of the D300s, which will effectively remove the softening produced by the NR. If you object to some part of my reasoning, by all means, let me know what it is.

      You’re absolutely right, I should provide D300s images for comparison. I happen to have one handy today, so I’ll post something as soon as I get a chance.

      – Matthew

      [Upon further consideration, I realize that I don’t have a Canon 7D with me, and therefore, if I were to post the really noisy D300 photos that I took (at 3200), it would be an empty comparison. So, perhaps when I get back home to WA I’ll have a chance to get the job done.]

  • jason says:

    yeah, I have a d300 and I use 14 bit for really high contrast situations, 12 bit for everything else…

  • Matthew says:

    Thanks, that’s an important distinction.

    While looking for some further information about the 12bit vs 14bit differences, I found this great comparison : http://www.earthboundlight.com/phototips/nikon-d300-d3-14-bit-versus-12-bit.html

  • jason says:

    sorry… forgot to say, the shooting speed I quote above is for the nikon d300s.

  • jason says:

    For the raw shooting speed… 2.5 frames a second is for 14 bit raw. For 12 bit raw, there is no speed difference from jpeg to raw.

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