One Photog’s Comparison: Nikon D700 vs Canon 5d Mark III

by Marissa Gifford

I have been a happy Nikon shooter since I got my first DSLR in late 2008.

I started with a Nikon D60 and joined the full frame ranks with a D700 a few years ago. It’s a wonderful camera and has provided me with many treasured images. But I’ve always heard people raving about the famous “Canon colors” and there just seemed to be a dreaminess about Canon that I could never quite put my finger on. My curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to do a direct comparison between the two. I wanted to see if the grass was really greener on the other side or if the brown spots were just in different places (to quote my awesome, wise friend, Jenni Jones).

Gear used in these shots:

Nikon: D700, Nikon 70-200 and Sigma 35

Canon: 5d Mark III, Canon 70-200 and Sigma 35.

****Comparison shots were taken with identical shutter speed, aperture, ISO and Kelvin settings.****

First impressions:

The Canon setup is lighter. Both of the lenses are heavy with both setups, but the body is noticeably lighter in my hand with the Canon. I’m thinking with long sessions or weddings, this would be an advantage to Canon. After shooting with the Canon and Sigma 35, for a while, then picking up the Nikon version of the same setup, it felt prohibitively heavy. *Note: This is the setup I use 90% of the time on Nikon, and I never realized just how heavy it was until the direct comparison.

I prefer the location of the toggle joystick on the Canon as well as the large wheel in the back to adjust the aperture and scroll through images, but I prefer the ISO/WB and AF-C/AF-S switch on the Nikon vs the Canon where I have to take the camera away from my eye to adjust it. I also don’t like to dig into a menu each time I need to switch my Kelvin setting on the Mark III.

The ability to meter off of any focal point on Nikon is a huge plus. It is a pain to only be able to meter from the center of the Canon.

One Photogs Comparison: Nikon D700 vs Canon 5d Mark III photo

Color:

The AWB (auto white balance) on the Canon is much nicer than the Nikon, which is notoriously finicky. I’ve never had such beautiful color SOOC without the use of an ExpoDisc. I don’t love shooting in AWB mode though, because the camera reads the color/light differently each time, and I prefer a more consistent color output during a session with clients or my family. Being a Kelvin shooter, this wasn’t going to be a big selling point for me. Images taken with identical aperture/shutter speed/ISO settings and identical Kelvin readings showed a big difference between the two brands. The Nikon images were noticeably more washed out than the Canon images, which had more natural skin tones and more saturated colors straight out of the camera. I prefer the color of the Canon much more than the Nikon.

One Photogs Comparison: Nikon D700 vs Canon 5d Mark III photo

Exposure:

Another thing that intrigued me about the Canon was the exposure. Coming from Nikon, where every focal point can be used to meter, it was an adjustment to start metering from the center only on the Canon (Nikon definitely wins there – no question). However, the red channel (i.e. skin tones!) doesn’t blow as easily on the Mark III, which is helpful for this girl who tends toward overexposure. I found that images taken on both cameras with identical settings to be noticeably brighter on the Nikon, while the Canon retained more pleasing skin exposure.

One Photogs Comparison: Nikon D700 vs Canon 5d Mark III photo

Focus:

This is a big one. Color can be fixed, focus can’t. I found that in still situations, or just generally around my house, I got the same amount of keepers between both the Canon and Nikon. It was a dead heat. Where things got more (much more) noticeable was when I ventured outside to capture things like my kids running and riding their bikes. Right out of the box, my D700 had a much higher keeper rate of in-focus images than did the Mark III. The Nikon required nothing more than me switching to AF-C mode and shooting away, which wasn’t the case with the Mark III. Granted, the Mark III has a very advanced focus system, and there are plenty of photographers who shoot Canon and have wonderful action shots. But honestly, it felt a little high maintenance compared to Nikon, which allows me to just switch to AF-C and shoot without worrying about the different focus “cases.” But, after putting in the effort to distinguish between which cases work best for my shooting, I have been able to get a higher rate of keepers on recent outings. If you’re willing to put in the time to explore and understand the Mark III’s complex focusing system, you will be rewarded.

Another thing that stood out to me was the need to calibrate lenses on the Mark III body. I have never had to calibrate a single lens with my D700, but I had to micro-calibrate every lens (and I rented more than a few) I tried on Canon. It drove me crazy for a while, wondering if something was wrong with the lenses or the body. Ultimately, I was able to get all but one calibrated to my satisfaction (I returned the one that didn’t have good focus), but Nikon is much more user-friendly in this regard, with the ability to pop a new lens on my camera and have it focus accurately without the need for any micro-calibration.

One Photogs Comparison: Nikon D700 vs Canon 5d Mark III photo

ISO:

I found the ISO of the Mark III to be pretty comparable to the D700 up to ISO 6400. I didn’t notice much of an advantage to the Canon despite being a few years newer with their technology, which was slightly disappointing. What I did love, however, was the way the higher ISOs on Canon were still remarkably clear. Once past ISO 6400 on my D700, I rarely had a useable image (at least not one that was up to my picky standards). With the Mark III, I got one of my all-time favorite shots of my youngest son at ISO 25,600 which just would not have been possible with my D700. If I only had that camera, I probably wouldn’t have even grabbed my camera, knowing that it would be unusably grainy. There is definitely grain in this image, but it’s not overwhelming and doesn’t ruin the image, in my opinion.

One Photogs Comparison: Nikon D700 vs Canon 5d Mark III photo

Unscientific Final Thoughts:

As frustrated as I was with the Canon focus system at first, I found myself continually reaching for my Mark III over my D700 over the course of the past few months. Despite a few drawbacks such as the external controls and a complicated focus system, I have produced some of my all-time favorite images with this camera. When push came to shove, I decided to make the switch from Nikon to Canon. I mean, it’s not rational for me to keep *both* systems, right? The Canon colors are beautiful, the exposure is a better fit for my shooting style, the high ISO capability is something I often put to use and to be honest, it just feels better in my hands. Ultimately, I just found myself reaching for it more often than my Nikon, and for all the frustrations of the learning curve, I just like that I feel inspired to pick up my camera more.

Nikon is a much more user-friendly experience in my opinion. Controls are easier to locate without digging into menus and lenses work correctly the first time you attach them. The focusing system is straightforward, yet accurate, with no complicated “cases” to choose from. However, I prefer the images that come from the Canon. Canon has made me work to achieve a level of comfort with their equipment, but ultimately, I prefer the end results and the extra work and learning curve is worth it to me.

One Photogs Comparison: Nikon D700 vs Canon 5d Mark III photoMarissa Gifford, Washington
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Marissa loves sports, traveling, foreign languages, diet soda, flip flops, and black licorice. She fell in love with photography after the birth of her third son, though she had been interested in it for years. Marissa lives in Washington with her husband and three boys and shoots with a Canon 5d mark III and varied prime lenses. Marissa enjoys getting creative with her post processing and going beyond a clean edit to enhance the emotion and mood of her images. She has created various action sets to help other photographers accomplish this in their own work. The Organic Set and the Jet Set can be found in the CM store and are compatible with both Photoshop and Elements.

Read all photography tutorials by Marissa Gifford.

46 Comments

  • Darn you Marissa! *shaking my fist in the air* Just kidding, sorta not. Great article while I ponder if I want to make the change. :)

  • Marrissa says:

    This is just one type of camera for each. I feel that Nikon is better because they have better lenses and are lighter. What Nikon has can not compare to Canon. No matter what, I would never change to Canon because this just shows one camera and a couple of images and if you are advanced in photography you should not be shooting in auto white balance and should be doing it all manually so the result would be different. It’s not hard to set a Nikon to get bright color photos either. It just takes you knowing your camera. Nikon will always be the better camera for me and many that I know.

    • I understand that, and I wasn’t trying to say one brand is definitively better than another. They both have their strengths and it was just meant to be a fun comparison for myself, that I then decided to share it with others who might be interested.

    • Jonae says:

      Yes Marrissa I completely agree with you. As a seasoned Photographer and completely sold on Nikon, I capture images only in the Raw format and always shoot in manual mode. I like to be able to adjust the camera to each setting and image I capture. If you shoot correctly in camera it will not come out as the washed out images above. I mean this in the nicest way possible for the writer of the blog. Everyone should shoot with what they are comfortable with though.

      • Brittany says:

        She was shooting in manual mode and was never in auto white balance, as she stated above. Both of the Canon and Nikon images were shot with the exact same settings, and she was just sharing her SOOC results. She was never trying to put Nikon down, as she said she was a Nikon shooter for a long time. She was kind enough to share her results for those of us who didn’t feel Nikon had a worthy upgrade from the D700 (which everyone adored, myself included).

        Thank you for sharing Marissa, you know you swayed me ;)

      • Janesa says:

        Absolutely first rate and cooter-bptpomed, gentlemen!

    • punch says:

      i always shoot in auto WB, and i’m not new at this by a mile. everyone has their own preferences and ways of working.

      i prefer the way canon handles WB out of the box.

      • Liz says:

        Ditto punch. I shoot Auto WB and I’m no spring chicken either. Thanks for sharing your thoughts again Marissa! You rock (in more ways than one my friend!)

  • What a fabulous article Marissa. Thank you for taking the time to put your thoughts down for us. I started out as a Nikon user and then made the switch to Canon but when Canon took forever to come out with the Mark iii I chose to switch back to Nikon. I had my D700 for a year and just never fell in love with it. Canon always felt more intuitive and natural in my hands so once I sold all of my gear and made the switch back to Canon. I too love the colors I get SOOC and the lightweight feel of the camera. Even with my 70-200 on there, it is lighter than my Nikon was. I think every shooter needs to decide for themselves which works best but for this gal, Canon just works for me. Glad you found your happy with the Mark iii. <3

    • Thank you for your sweet comment, Shan. :) I think everyone should just shoot what feels right to them, as each brand produces beautiful images. For us, it happens to be Canon that feels better. :)

  • Carmody Baker says:

    Marrissa,
    Thank you for this article. I shoot with the canon 5D mark III. Can you elaborate a bit more on what you did to achieve focus when tracking action ( I use BBF and change to AI Servo only.) I have NEVER adjusted the AF functions in the menu section. If it would take too long to explain, can you please direct me to a good source? Also I have NEVER calibrated my lenses. How do you do that and does this camera remember each lens once calibrated? Again if it would take too long to explain, can you please direct me to your best resource? I googled both items and there is SOOO much information it made my head spin. Thanks in advance!
    Carmody

    • Hi Carmody! I have my case set to Case 3 for shooting action. I also use BBF, and this was the one that I had the most success with. I don’t have any articles to refer you to, as this was all written based on my own trial and error, and truthfully, the explanations I found myself weren’t particularly helpful. You can micro calibrate lenses under the AF menu in the last panel. The bottom option is AF Microadjust. And yes, it remembers my settings for each lens, so when I switch back and forth, I don’t need to do anything with it to reset the calibration. I use a tape measure to calibrate and adjust based on where the focus falls. For example, if I’m focusing on the number, and the focus falls in front or behind, I make the adjustment to compensate. Canon actually makes it very easy in the menus to understand which way you’re moving the calibration. :) Hope that helps! :)

  • Monica M says:

    so was the 50 1.4 the lens you couldn’t micro calibrate?

  • Corey says:

    Great article! I’m in the process of trying out the Mark iii as we speak. I also would be moving from the D700. This is the first I’m hearing that you can only meter off the center point??? So you have to recompose every shot after metering off the center? Also, the calibrating was news to me too. Would LOVE some more details. Thanks so much!

    • I just meter once for the setting and go from there. I toggle focus points and shoot normally after getting my settings in place. I only re-meter if I’m in changing light situations. :)

  • Brittany says:

    Good summary with some interesting points. I realize that this is based on your own experience, but perhaps a disclaimer that the comparison is between a 6 year old Nikon and a 2 year old Canon would be in order. The sensor technology has made incredible strides in the past 6 years, particularly in the area of ISO so I’m not sure this is an entirely fair comparison. Just a thought :)

    • Oh, I agree, Brittany. It’s a little bit of apples to oranges, but it was a fun comparison I did for myself and thought others might be interested in seeing as well despite the differences in technology. :)

  • Samantha says:

    Wonderful article, Marissa! Definitely pluses and minuses for each system. I’m so tempted to try a mark III…but that may be seriously terrible for my pocketbook, lol!

    • Thank you, Samantha! :) Each system definitely has its own strengths and weaknesses, I think it just comes down to people shooting with whichever feels right to them. There’s no right answer. :)

  • Beth Daghfal says:

    Thanks for the article! I have the mark iii and love it… Would love direction in articles, etc, on the focusing… Any advice?

    • Hi Beth! I wish I had some articles to refer you toward, but I really did this all on my own trial and error. Case 3 was what worked best for me with focusing moving subjects, but you could ask that to 10 people and get a wide variety of answers. The focus system was almost a deal breaker for me, but I finally found a happy place for my style of shooting. :)

  • Liz says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to share this article and your revelations Marissa! I’ve always been a Canon girl after trying my brother’s Nikon long ago, but I’ve contemplated testing them out a few other times. I’m quite happy with my mark3 though so I don’t see me jumping ship anytime soon!

  • Laura K says:

    Hi Marissa! I have anyways wondered how big of a difference there is between Canon and Nikon.. I have always had a Canon and love it where all of my other photographer friends have Nikon. They always ask me why I got a Canon and I never a have a good enough answer for them. Now I can just point them to this!! Thanks!

  • Jenny says:

    Wow THANK YOU for this!! I am ready to upgrade to full frame, from a Nikon, and no one could answer my questions about jumping ship or sticking with what I know. You just verified that Nikon is what I want – user friendly, focus issues, ISO, everything!! So grateful for this post.

  • Jenni says:

    Great article, Marissa! You are so right, there are benefits and drawbacks to both camera systems, and at the end of the day, it’s about which one best fits your needs and your style of shooting <3

    PS – so I guess the answer is "the grass isn't greener, the brown spots are just in a different place" lol. It's logic that never fails ;)

  • Megan Dill says:

    Fabulous comparison, Marissa! It is interesting seeing the results between the two when using the same settings. Glad you are happy with your upgrade! :)

  • Mickie says:

    As a Nikon shooter I’m always interested in what Canon can do too! Thanks for this informative fair review of both!

  • NinaZM says:

    This is an excellent, honest comparison, Marissa! I am a diehard canon girl, but always curious to see the other side. <3

  • Vironica says:

    Excellent article Marissa and I’m glad you made the switch ;) !

  • Melissa says:

    Thanks for this, Marissa! Interesting comparisons. :)

  • Alexis says:

    Thanks for the article! However, I do think it’s a tad unfair to compare the 5D Mark III (which is two years old) to the D700 (which is six years old). It seems to me that comparing it to the D800 would have been much more useful.

    • Jenni says:

      Hey Alexis – I’ve actually done a comparison of the d800 and the MK III, and Marissa’s observations are spot on. The primary differences as far as how each system handles white balance, exposure, as well as the ergonomics all still apply. I think it’s a fair statement to say the concepts here absolutely apply to the D800 as well <3

  • Sam says:

    I would agree with Alexis, the D700 is an old Nikon model and maybe this comparison should have been done with Canons Mark II , or updated to a Nikon D800 vs the Mark III before making a decision to switch an entire system. While I appriciate this personal test, every comparison I’ve read with Nikon’s D800 36MP blew the Canon Mark III out of the water. :)

    • Jenni says:

      You know it really it a personal decision. What one person finds value in, someone else may not value as much – and vice versa. And at the end of the day it really is about which one best compliments your needs, shooting style, and feels best in your hands. Having used both the d800 and the MK III, I can tell you they are both excellent, and even though I decided to stay with the nikon system, it most certainly did not blow canon out of the water. Nikon just happen to work best for me, my needs, my shooting style, and it love how it feels in my hands :)

  • Kristin Dokoza says:

    I thought the comparison between the two cameras was very interesting to see. As a canon shooter – I like to see the differences between the two. Thank you for taking the time to share Marissa.

  • Thank you for taking the time to share your comparison’s, Marissa. I’m a Canon shooter and I am always curious about the differences between the two. I know you put a lot of thought into this and it is greatly appreciated. <3

  • Sharyn says:

    I knew I liked Canon. And you’ve just reaffirmed my decision. Great comparison, it’s a really interesting read.

  • Stacy says:

    Funny, I switched about 8 years ago from Nikon to Canon because I felt Nikon just wasn’t keeping up with technology the way Canon was but after 6+ frustrating years of using Canon I gave up and went back to Nikon, best decision I ever made. The controls on Canon just do not make sense, or maybe they are better suited for a left handed shooter and the lack of focus points was frustrating. I also felt the color quality was better from Nikon than Canon but that is definitely a matter of opinion. I hope you have better luck with your Canon than I did with mine.

  • Yvonne Min says:

    Really interesting article. I’m in the midst of this too. I have shot Nikon for 5 years and I’m tired of fighting the red channel and the contrast. Don’t even talk to me about newborn macro shots. I have purchased the Mark III and the 135L. I took both out for a shoot the other night and kept grabbing for the Mark III (although I had the 200 2.0 on the Nikon which is a hassle to shoot). A few questions for you: What are you doing about lenses? I’m actually going to shoot both systems. I love the Nikon for urban shots, landscape, flower macro and the 200 is a damn dream lens). I would love to try the 85L and the 50L but there are so many rumors that Canon is going to update those soon. I hear over and over that the CA on the 85L is ridiculous which would really piss me off. So I feel sort of stuck because I’m pretty sure Canon will announce upgrades the day after I purchase either lens. Also, do you ever use Exposure Compensation. I shoot in AV a lot (and I’m also really sad Canon can’t figure out how to offer ISO Sensitivity) and adjust by Exposure Compensation (and anyone who questions this can shut up because I obviously know how to use my camera and all the tools it comes with). Setting Exposure Compensation on the Mark III seems…..challenging. If I don’t do the sequence right, it just defaults to the old EC. Thoughts?

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