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Nikon D300s vs. Nikon D90 - Noise Showdown at 6400 ISO

Posted by DigitalDarrell, 07 December 2009 · 9001 views

Which is better?
I have been reading various opinions on the internet where people are claiming that the Nikon D90 has better looking images at high-ISO sensitivity settings than the Nikon D300s. It made me curious! So, being the extremely humble and modest fellow that I am, I thought I might offer my opinion. :P Since many may just be picking up cameras and firingówithout thinking much about settingsó and then making comparisons of their images on the LCD monitor, I tried to do the opposite. I sat down with my new D300s, and my sweet wife's D90 and did a carefully controlled test of the two cameras at identical settings, and with the same AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm F3.5-5.6G VR lens.

Here is a direct "JPEG fine" comparison, with no retouching. Personally, I feel that the D300s image is superior by a slim margin. Make your own choice as to which performed better, by examining the images for yourself:

Both images are:

  • 100% cutouts at about 840 pixels wide
  • JPEG fine (camera processed)
  • 6400 ISO (Hi 1)
  • 1/60s @ F8
  • 85mm (AF-S Nikkor 16-85mm)
  • High ISO NR at NORM
  • NL Picture Control at default settings
  • Direct flash from the popup speedlight
  • WB AUTO
  • Active D-Lighting LOW
Attached Image: TinyD300svsD90Sample.jpg

Attached Image: NOISE_D300s_vs_D90_Darrell_Young.jpg

Looking at both of the originals carefully I have determined that the Nikon D300s is sharper, has less noise, and slightly less contrast. The D90 has significantly more color noise. Both cameras performed in an amazing way at this high level of ISO sensitivity. The sharpness on both is excellent.

I feel that the D300s beat the D90 by a slim margin in overall noise, but by a larger margin in color noise. There is no way I can display the original image I see on my screen, even though I am saving this at Level 12 in Photoshop. The re-compressed image is much worse looking than the original, which teaches me that resaving a JPEG even once seriously lowers the quality of the image.

Both of these cameras performed at levels that surprised me. I normally never raise my camera's ISO sensitivity above 200, much less to 6400. However, I may just start venturing into higher ISO territory now. Technology seems to be catching up with our needs for excellent digital imagery.

Keep on capturing time ...
Darrell Young




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