Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 are two professional cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in March 2012 and February 2012. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are equipped with a full frame sensor. The Canon has a resolution of 22.1 megapixels, whereas the Nikon provides 36.2 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D800 is somewhat larger (2 percent) than the Canon 5D Mark III. Moreover, the D800 is markedly heavier (5 percent) than the 5D Mark III. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Yet, since both cameras are based around a full frame sensor, their respective lenses will tend to have similar dimensions and heft. You can compare the optics available for the two cameras in the Canon EF Lens Catalog (5D Mark III) and the Nikon Lens Catalog (D800).
The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. In case you want to display and compare another camera duo, you can use the CAM-parator app to select your camera combination among a large number of options.
|1.||Canon 5D Mark III||152 mm||116 mm||76 mm||950 g||950||Y||Mar 2012||3,499|
|2.||Nikon D800||146 mm||123 mm||82 mm||1000 g||900||Y||Feb 2012||2,999|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||144 mm||111 mm||75 mm||765 g||1200||Y||Jun 2017||1,999|
|4.||Canon 1D X Mark II||158 mm||168 mm||83 mm||1530 g||1210||Y||Feb 2016||5,999|
|5.||Canon 5D Mark IV||151 mm||116 mm||76 mm||890 g||900||Y||Aug 2016||3,499|
|6.||Canon 5DS||152 mm||116 mm||76 mm||930 g||700||Y||Feb 2015||3,699|
|7.||Canon 5DS R||152 mm||116 mm||76 mm||930 g||700||Y||Feb 2015||3,699|
|8.||Canon 7D II||149 mm||112 mm||78 mm||910 g||670||Y||Sep 2014||1,799|
|9.||Canon 70D||139 mm||104 mm||79 mm||755 g||920||Y||Jul 2013||1,199|
|10.||Canon 6D||145 mm||111 mm||71 mm||770 g||1090||Y||Sep 2012||2,099|
|11.||Canon 5D Mark II||152 mm||114 mm||75 mm||850 g||850||Y||Sep 2008||3,499|
|12.||Canon 5D||152 mm||113 mm||75 mm||895 g||400||Y||Aug 2005||3,299|
|13.||Nikon D850||146 mm||124 mm||79 mm||1005 g||1840||Y||Jul 2017||3,299|
|14.||Nikon D810||146 mm||123 mm||82 mm||980 g||1200||Y||Jun 2014||3,299|
|15.||Nikon D610||141 mm||113 mm||82 mm||850 g||900||Y||Oct 2013||1,999|
|16.||Nikon D800E||146 mm||123 mm||82 mm||1000 g||900||Y||Feb 2012||3,299|
|17.||Nikon D700||147 mm||123 mm||77 mm||1074 g||1000||Y||Jul 2008||2,999|
|Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
Any camera decision will obviously take relative prices into account. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The D800 was launched at a somewhat lower price (by 14 percent) than the 5D Mark III, which makes it more attractive for photographers on a tight budget. Normally, street prices remain initially close to the MSRP, but after a couple of months, the first discounts appear. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down.
The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
Technology-wise, both cameras are equipped with CMOS (Complementary Metal–Oxide–Semiconductor) sensors.
Despite having a slightly smaller sensor, the D800 offers a higher resolution of 36.2 megapixels, compared with 22.1 MP of the 5D Mark III. This megapixels advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 4.88μm versus 6.25μm for the 5D Mark III). It is noteworthy in this context that the two cameras were released in close succession, so that their sensors are from the same technological generation.
The resolution advantage of the Nikon D800 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the D800 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 36.8 x 24.6 inches or 93.5 x 62.4 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 29.4 x 19.6 inches or 74.8 x 49.9 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 24.5 x 16.4 inches or 62.3 x 41.6 cm. The corresponding values for the Canon 5D Mark III are 28.8 x 19.2 inches or 73.2 x 48.8 cm for good quality, 23 x 15.4 inches or 58.5 x 39 cm for very good quality, and 19.2 x 12.8 inches or 48.8 x 32.5 cm for excellent quality prints.
The Canon EOS 5D Mark III has a native sensitivity range from ISO 100 to ISO 25600, which can be extended to ISO 50-102400. The corresponding ISO settings for the Nikon D800 are ISO 100 to ISO 6400, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 50-25600.
Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. Of the two cameras under consideration, the D800 offers substantially better image quality than the 5D Mark III (overall score 14 points higher). The advantage is based on 1.3 bits higher color depth, 2.7 EV in additional dynamic range, and 0.3 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.
| DXO |
|1.||Canon 5D Mark III||Full Frame||22.1||5760||3840||1080/30p||24.0||11.7||2293||81|
|2.||Nikon D800||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/30p||25.3||14.4||2853||95|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||Full Frame||26.0||6240||4160||1080/60p||24.4||11.9||2862||85|
|4.||Canon 1D X Mark II||Full Frame||20.0||5472||3648||4K/60p||24.1||13.5||3207||88|
|5.||Canon 5D Mark IV||Full Frame||30.1||6720||4480||4K/30p||24.8||13.6||2995||91|
|6.||Canon 5DS||Full Frame||50.3||8688||5792||1080/30p||24.7||12.4||2381||87|
|7.||Canon 5DS R||Full Frame||50.3||8688||5792||1080/30p||24.6||12.4||2308||86|
|8.||Canon 7D II||APS-C||20.0||5472||3648||1080/60p||22.4||11.8||1082||70|
|10.||Canon 6D||Full Frame||20.0||5472||3648||1080/30p||23.8||12.1||2340||82|
|11.||Canon 5D Mark II||Full Frame||21.0||5616||3744||1080/30p||23.7||11.9||1815||79|
|12.||Canon 5D||Full Frame||12.7||4368||2912||none||22.9||11.1||1368||71|
|13.||Nikon D850||Full Frame||45.4||8256||5504||4K/30p||26.4||14.8||2660||100|
|14.||Nikon D810||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/60p||25.7||14.8||2853||97|
|15.||Nikon D610||Full Frame||24.2||6016||4016||1080/30p||25.1||14.4||2925||94|
|16.||Nikon D800E||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/30p||25.6||14.3||2979||96|
|17.||Nikon D700||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2303||80|
Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. Both cameras under consideration have a sensor with sufficiently fast read-out times for moving pictures, and both provide the same movie specifications (1080/30p).
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The 5D Mark III and the D800 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The viewfinders of both cameras offer the same field of view (100%), but the viewfinder of the 5D Mark III has a higher magnification than the one of the D800 (0.71x vs 0.70x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 along with similar information for a selection of comparators.
|1.||Canon 5D Mark III||optical||Y||3.2||1040||fixed||n||1/8000s||6.0||n||n|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||optical||Y||3.0||1040||swivel||Y||1/4000s||6.5||n||n|
|4.||Canon 1D X Mark II||optical||Y||3.2||1620||fixed||Y||1/8000s||16.0||n||n|
|5.||Canon 5D Mark IV||optical||Y||3.2||1620||fixed||Y||1/8000s||7.0||n||n|
|7.||Canon 5DS R||optical||Y||3.2||1040||fixed||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||n|
|8.||Canon 7D II||optical||Y||3.0||1040||fixed||n||1/8000s||10.0||Y||n|
|11.||Canon 5D Mark II||optical||Y||3.0||920||fixed||n||1/8000s||3.9||n||n|
One difference between the cameras concerns the presence of an on-board flash. The D800 has one, while the 5D Mark III does not. While the built-in flash of the D800 is not very powerful, it can at times be useful as a fill-in light.
The Nikon D800 has an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.
Concerning the storage of imaging data, both the 5D Mark III and the D800 write their files to Compact Flash or SDXC cards. Both cameras feature dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. The D800 supports UHS-I cards (Ultra High Speed data transfer of up to 104 MB/s), while the 5D Mark III cannot take advantage of Ultra High Speed SD cards.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and Nikon D800 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
| WiFi |
| NFC |
|1.||Canon 5D Mark III||Y||mono||mono||Y||Y||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||-||mini||2.0||Y||Y||Y|
|4.||Canon 1D X Mark II||Y||mono||mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||-||-||-|
|5.||Canon 5D Mark IV||Y||mono||mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||Y||Y||-|
|7.||Canon 5DS R||Y||mono||mono||Y||-||mini||3.0||-||-||-|
|8.||Canon 7D II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||-||-||-|
|11.||Canon 5D Mark II||Y||mono||mono||Y||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
Both cameras feature a PC Sync terminal to control professional strobe lights, which will be appreciated by studio photographers.
Both the 5D Mark III and the D800 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The D800 was replaced by the Nikon D810, while the 5D Mark III was followed by the Canon 5D Mark IV. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Canon and Nikon websites.
So what conclusions can be drawn? Is the Canon 5D Mark III better than the Nikon D800 or vice versa? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.
Arguments in favor of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III:
- Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.71x vs 0.70x).
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (1040k vs 921k dots).
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (6 vs 4 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
Advantages of the Nikon D800:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (36.2 vs 22.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 28%.
- Better image quality: Scores substantially higher (14 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
- Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (1.3 bits more color depth).
- More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (2.7 EV of extra DR).
- Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
- Easier fill-in: Has a small integrated flash to brighten shadows of backlit subjects.
- Faster data transfer: Supports a more advanced USB protocol (3.0 vs 2.0).
- Faster buffer clearing: Has an SD card interface that supports the UHS-I standard.
- More affordable: Was released into a lower priced segment (14 percent cheaper at launch).
If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D800 is the clear winner of the contest (9 : 3 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision. A professional wildlife photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a family photog, and a person interested in architecture has distinct needs from a sports shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera listing whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it remains partial and cannot reveal, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance when actually working with the 5D Mark III or the D800. At times, user reviews, such as those published at amazon, address these issues in a useful manner, but such feedback is on many occasions incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable.
This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The table below provides a synthesis of the camera assessments of some of the best known photo-gear review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|1.||Canon 5D Mark III||..||+ +||82/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Mar 2012||3,499|
|2.||Nikon D800||5/5||+ +||82/100||5/5||5/5||Feb 2012||2,999|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||4/5||+||80/100||4.5/5||4/5||Jun 2017||1,999|
|4.||Canon 1D X Mark II||..||..||89/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2016||5,999|
|5.||Canon 5D Mark IV||4.5/5||+ +||87/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2016||3,499|
|6.||Canon 5DS||..||+||83/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2015||3,699|
|7.||Canon 5DS R||5/5||+||83/100||5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2015||3,699|
|8.||Canon 7D II||4.5/5||+||84/100||4/5||4.5/5||Sep 2014||1,799|
|9.||Canon 70D||5/5||+ +||83/100||4.5/5||5/5||Jul 2013||1,199|
|10.||Canon 6D||5/5||+ +||83/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2012||2,099|
|11.||Canon 5D Mark II||4/5||91/100||79/100||4/5||..||Sep 2008||3,499|
|12.||Canon 5D||..||88/100||+ +||o||..||Aug 2005||3,299|
|13.||Nikon D850||4.5/5||+ +||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||Jul 2017||3,299|
|14.||Nikon D810||5/5||..||86/100||5/5||4.5/5||Jun 2014||3,299|
|15.||Nikon D610||4/5||+ +||87/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Oct 2013||1,999|
|16.||Nikon D800E||..||..||84/100||5/5||5/5||Feb 2012||3,299|
|17.||Nikon D700||..||89/100||+ +||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jul 2008||2,999|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. As an alternative, you can also directly jump to any one of the listed comparisons that were previously generated by the CAM-parator tool.
Specifications: Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Canon 5D Mark III||Nikon D800|
|Camera Type||Digital single lens reflex||Digital single lens reflex|
|Camera Lens||Canon EF mount lenses||Nikon F mount lenses|
|Launch Date||March 2012||February 2012|
|Launch Price||USD 3,499||USD 2,999|
|Sensor Specs||Canon 5D Mark III||Nikon D800|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||Full Frame Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 24.0 mm||35.9 x 24.0 mm|
|Sensor Area||864 mm2||861.6 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.3 mm||43.2 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||22.1 Megapixels||36.2 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||5760 x 3840 pixels||7360 x 4912 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||6.25 μm||4.88 μm|
|Pixel Density||2.56 MP/cm2||4.20 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||Anti-Alias filter||Anti-Alias filter|
|Movie Capability||1080/30p Video||1080/30p Video|
|ISO Setting||100 - 25,600 ISO||100 - 6,400 ISO|
|ISO Boost||50 - 102,400 ISO||50 - 25,600 ISO|
|Image Processor||DIGIC 5+||EXPEED 3|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||81||95|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||24.0||25.3|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||11.7||14.4|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||2293||2853|
|Screen Specs||Canon 5D Mark III||Nikon D800|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Optical viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||100%|
|Top-Level Screen||Control Panel||Control Panel|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.2inch||3.2inch|
|LCD Resolution||1040k dots||921k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Fixed screen|
|Shooting Specs||Canon 5D Mark III||Nikon D800|
|Focus System||Phase-detect AF||Phase-detect AF|
|Continuous Shooting||6 shutter flaps/s||4 shutter flaps/s|
|Shutter Life Expectancy||150 000 actuations||200 000 actuations|
|Time-Lapse Photography||no Intervalometer||Intervalometer built-in|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||Built-in Flash|
|Storage Medium||CF or SDXC cards||CF or SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots||Dual card slots|
|UHS card support||no||UHS-I|
|Connectivity Specs||Canon 5D Mark III||Nikon D800|
|Studio Flash||PC Sync socket||PC Sync socket|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 3.0|
|HDMI Port||mini HDMI||mini HDMI|
|Microphone Port||External MIC port||External MIC port|
|Headphone Socket||Headphone port||Headphone port|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||no Wifi|
|Body Specs||Canon 5D Mark III||Nikon D800|
|Environmental Sealing||Weathersealed body||Weathersealed body|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||950 shots per charge||900 shots per charge|
152 x 116 x 76 mm
(6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0 in)
146 x 123 x 82 mm
(5.7 x 4.8 x 3.2 in)
|Camera Weight||950 g (33.5 oz)||1000 g (35.3 oz)|
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