Quick High ISO Test: Nikon D5100 vs Canon 7D vs Canon 5D Mk II

One of the reasons why I purchased a Nikon D5100 is because of the affordability combined with the amazing image quality that can come from the sensor. Upon editing RAW files that I shot the other night, I looked closely and discovered something interesting: the files aren’t as easy to edit as my Canon DSLR files. When I say edit, I mean balance details with getting rid of extra noise due to the high ISO output. So I decided to look the cameras up on DXO Mark. To my surprise, the scores came out the way they did above. Knowing that the site is sometimes not correct, I decided to do a non-scientific test the cameras out for myself.

Editor’s Note: I know that this is a test of a 1.5x sensor vs 1.6x sensor and full frame sensor, but why not? People ask these questions all the time and you’re probably sitting there wondering the same thing yourself. If anything, this is a test of how far the technology has come.

Gear Used

Nikon D5100 with Kit Lens

Canon 7D

Canon 5D Mk II

Canon 24-105mm F4 L IS


First off, note that the Nikon D5100 has a 16.2 MP sensor (1.5x crop), the Canon 7D has an 18MP sensor (1.6x crop) and the 5D Mk II has a full frame 21.1MP sensor.

The Canon 7D and Nikon D5100 were affixed with the according lenses and set to the 24mm mark, giving them approximately a 35mm (give or take) field of view. The images were shot in full RAW and were metered at 1/30th f4 ISO 6400. The exposure was based on the Nikon D5100’s metering system.

The 24-105mm F4 L IS was then put on the Canon 5D Mk II and set to 35mm and the same exposure setting.

Though images aren’t the exact same, attempts were made to try to capture approximately the same scene.

Afterwards, the images were brought into Lightroom 3. Since the histograms weren’t meshing accordingly, I matched the 7D’s and 5D Mk II’s histogram to the D5100’s. Both required an increase in the exposure levels due to Canon’s metering system being notorious for underexposing. The only other setting changed was white balancing; all to match the D5100’s.

The images were set to export at 2MB files in size at 350DPI.

Image Results

To see the full results go ahead and click on the images and pixel peep as much as you’d like. This image was shot outside of my attic window.

Nikon D5100

Canon 5D Mk II

Canon 7D


I’m going to let you all draw your own conclusions from this test, but here are my thoughts. My intention is not to incite a flame war, but to measure the images in a practical way that is within reach to most people.

With all objectivity, it could just be me but I don’t see any life shattering differences between the Canon 7D and Nikon D5100. However, I can also objectively say that the D5100 does have better high ISO output than the 7D, but I wouldn’t quite say the same thing about color depth. DXO Mark states that the color depth of the cameras ranges with the 5D Mk II being the best followed by the D5100 then the 7D. To be honest once again, I find the 7D’s to be better with more true to life colors vs the plain blue scene.

What I can say is that all three cameras capture gorgeous images and that modern software will be able to allow most editors to work with the files accordingly but each requires its own different editing method.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments below. Coming soon though, we will be testing the dynamic range of each camera.

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.