Friday, January 23, 2009

Comparing the Nikon D50 and D300 in an unscientific way

I've bought a Nikon D50 in the summer of 2006. Excellent camera back then, I've shot about 24000 pictures with it, had loads of fun and have learned an awful lot more about photography. But, just like anyone who reads the major photo sites, I now and then had the urge to replace that simple D50 by something better. The first camera that really appealed to me was the Nikon D300. It feels great when you pick it up and has features that are really tempting. Things like 51 AF points, AF tracking, metering with Ai lenses, CLS commander and a dedicated button for metering to name a few.

An acquaintance who owns both the Nikon D50 and D300 was kind enough to shoot the same image with his 17-50 2.8 on both cameras. Shots were is01600, A-mode, f8, 1/5 on the D300, 1/2 on the D50. Light came from two compact fluorescent lamps and the window.

All pictures are stored on Flickr with full exif. Click on any to see the full sized version.

Here's the original, just converted to jpg:

D50 iso1600


D300 iso1600

Hmm... Immediately you notice the difference in dynamic range but also a weird color cast on the D300.
Let's get both in Capture Nx, I'm running 2.0.

First an Auto Whitebalance:


D50 iso1600_awb


D300 iso1600_awb

Let's see what happens if we brighten the images a bit. I'm applying +1 EV to both.


D50 iso1600_awb_1ev


D300 iso1600_awb_1ev

There is still a lot more detail visible trough the window on the D300 shot. In the D50 it's mostly blown.

OK, on with the D300 shot. Picture Control wasn't set to neutral yet, now it is.

D300 iso1600_awb_1ev_picctrl_neutral

And now let's disable active d-lighting:

D300 iso1600_awb_1ev_picctrl_neutral_active_dlight_off

Finally, for the pixel peepers a crop. To be honest, I didn't expect this level of noise.


D50 iso1600_awb_1ev_crop


D300 iso1600_awb_1ev_picctrl_neutral_active_dlight_off_crop

I don't know, perhaps the test setup was wrong. I do like what I can do with the D300's raw files. There's loads of room there and at +1EV the D300 clearly retains a lot of dynamic range. That color cast I can't seem to get rid of bothers me. There's, obviously more room to crop and a load of dynamic range to play with. Looking at there's lots of people out there shooting beautiful pictures with this impressive camera.

But why this color cast???

If anyone has any ideas, I'd apprieciate some feedback. I still find the D300 a desireable camera but, based on this, I am a bit disappointed in the image quality.

In case anyone wants to play with them, here are the NEF files:


Kathy said...

Hey Jeroen,
I'm looking at the D300 now too. Your comparison is interesting. I'm very interested in what the D300 can do in low-light situations. I find the D50 doesn't give me a lot of range when little light is available.

Good luck with your decision making.

lwiley said...

As for the noise, you've given the D50 1-1/3 stops more light - that's a pretty big advantage. I would do the test again in manual mode and the same settings.

As for the color cast, I played with the two nefs and there is a strong yellow light from inside the room and a strong blue light from the window and aquarium(?) on the right. That makes it very hard to get the white balance right. But, using ACR, even if I WB dropper on the wall near the clock the WB doesn't match when I get to the table.

Your shutter is slow enough to where even flourescent lighting would not be a problem. So I am very confused about what is going on. I have a D300 and D50 and have never had a problem getting them to match.

I think something had to change in your lighting between the two pictures. They are too different for it to be anything else. I guess it could be a filter but i presume you would have mentioned that.


Marc said...

If you experiment with the NEFs a bit, I get exactly the same colour balance. First of all, reset all settings of the camera. Disable the custom curve setting of the D50 and set it to color mode 1, put the D300 to mode Neutral. Then, give the D300 about a +0.5 EV, to make the over exposure of the D300 the same as the D50 (look at the window, the D300 prevented it from getting overexposed). Then make NX to calculate the auto white balance itself, and manually set the temperature of the D300 to 2610 degrees Kelvin. Almost the same in that case. I expect the clouds to be different, and due to the fact there is a lot of different light in the picture, it is difficult for the camera or SW to choose a WB. You can see that if you take a gray-point AWB on the table, just next to the phone. That implies the light outside must have been somewhat different.