Know your Gear – Nikon D7100, Nikon D5100, Nikon D800, Nikon D600 best aperture to shoot at?

Know your Gear – Nikon D7100, Nikon D5100, Nikon D800, Nikon D600, Nikon D3S best aperture to shoot at?

This isn’t a review of the Nikon D7100. Although it’s my newest addition for the studio I am always keen to know my cameras so that I can then just get on and use them to create good images. Know your gear is my philosophy when it comes to cameras. It’s all very well going out and buying the latest and greatest camera but without the ability to know how you’re going to get best results then you can sometimes end up with less than optimum results when you’re trying to get the sharpest shot you want. As a portrait photographer its important to make sure i get the best out of my equipment and all part of being a profession photographer. So I thought I’d do some testing with my new studio camera the nikon d7100, and compare it to the d5100, d600, d800 and d3s. Take for example taking a photo where you want maximum depth of field out of your camera. Often for this you’d think you’d shoot at the smallest aperture. This can lead to soft photos due to an effect called diffraction. Now Diffraction can set in at different amounts on different cameras. Here’s an example shot with my new Nikon D7100 showing the same picture taken at full stop intervals. Note the drop-off in sharpness as the aperture closes.

See how the image softens by the end of the sequence? I’d generally avoid the smallest apertures unless I really needed to use it!

Here are some images of what you’ll be seeing in the crops below:

How I tested

I set all cameras on a tripod and triggered with a remote release. Interestingly the D5100, D7100, D600 all use the same trigger with the D800 and D3S using the same one also. ISO was set to ISO200 (lowest on the D3S). I stared at f/5.6 as this generally is a good aperture. I found that there was little difference between f/5.6 and f/8 so I’ve omitted those from the charts. I was shooting in aperture priority for speed. Note there was some slight variation in lighting as it was a sunny/cloudy day and the metering was slightly different in each camera.
I’ve done a approximately the same crop so you can see the images side by side, differences between cameras are done by eye as each camera sits ever so slightly different on the tripod but should be close enough you can see the differences. The crops are all 100% to give you a per pixel level comparison.

For the comparison between cameras I’ve normalised the exposure to make it easier to compare (but i left the camera exposure alone in the comparison with apertures). All images were brought into lightroom and lens profile correction applied. Crops are from the central regions of the lens to ensure that we’re not coming up against edge issues on the lenses either. For the DX cameras (D5100, D7100) I used the 18-55 kit lens. Sure it’s not the best lens in he world but at typical studio apertures f/8-f/11 it does the job nicely without the bulk of the 24-70. For the FX cameras (d800,d600,d3s) the 24-70/2.8 was used. Simply the best standard zoom but it is big, heavy and expensive. Great for when you need the best at wider apertures. the differences at f/8 shrink very quickly though.

The D7100, D5100, D600, D800 images

Here’s a sequence of all cameras shot at F/8

And all cameras at f/22. Note how the amount of blurryness from diffraction varies depending on the pixel density used. As you can see the least pixel dense cameras (D5100, D600) fare best here.

Here’s the D600 shot at the wider end of the 24-70mm

Here’s the D600 shot at the longer end of the 24-70mm

Here’s the D800 shot at the wider end of the 24-70mm

Here’s the D800 shot at the tele end of the 24-70mm

Here’s the D5100 shot at the wider end of the 18-55mm

Here’s the D5100 shot at the tele end of the 18-55mm

Here’s the D7100 shot at the wide end of the 18-55mm

Here’s the D7100 shot at the tele end of the 18-55mm

Which camera is best? Conclusions

As you can see all produce GREAT images at ISO200. Lovely and sharp with no artifacts at all! At the same apertures there really is nothing to choose between them at the pixel level. Obviously the more megapixels they have the more cropping room you should be able to crop in afterwards. From what I can see there is no increase in sharpness at the pixel level from the d7100 despite it’s lack of OLPF filter. you still get great sharp images!

As you can see you get remarkably similar images from any of the current crop of Nikon cameras – really is exciting times to be a photographer. So many wonderful tools to choose from.

Comments welcome on your thoughts!

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