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Canon EOS 1D Mark IV vs Nikon D3s

Wednesday February 17 2010

Sensor Recommendations
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV vs Nikon D3s

Nikon and Canon launched their new top-of-the-line cameras for news and sports photography at the end of 2009. The Nikon D3s replaced the NikonD3, and the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV replaces the Canon EOS 1D Mark III.
On the one hand, the Nikon D3s’s sensor specifications remain very close to those of the Nikon D3; on the other hand, Canon replaced the Mark III’s 10 Mpix sensor with a new 15.9 Mpix sensor with the same sensor surface.

The Nikon D3s sensor achieves a DxOMark score almost 10 points higher in comparison with the Canon 1D Mark IV (82.4 vs 73.6), which is pretty close to the compared DxOMark scores of their predecessors (Nikon D3 and 1D Mark III, respectively 80.6 and 71). This difference can be explained by the sensor surface: The 1D Mark IV sensor surface is 1.66 times smaller than the NikonD3s. So theoretically, the gap between these two sensors is 0.73 f-stop, leading to a loss of 11 points on the DxOMark Sensor scale for the 1D Mark IV.

Measured differences follow the same pattern as for their predecessors:

Previous full -frame results are close to 80:

Nikon 3Ds - DxOMark sensor ranking

Previous 1.3 crop factor sensor results are close to 70 points:

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV - DxOMark sensor ranking

Low-light ISO scores

Lighting conditions for photojournalism are typically not as generous as those for studio photography, so the Low-light ISO score is an important factor in this comparison.

The Nikon D3s achieves an exceptional result with a score of 3,253 and takes the lead for DxOMark Low-light ISO rankings. This result is obtained thanks to a slightly better SNR and a better Dynamic Range in comparison with the D3. The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV ranks 12th with a score of 1,320. So for high ISO, and after normalization, the difference between these two sensors is more than 1 f-Stop.

These two cameras are the first to provide a “real” ISO 100,000 setting, and here are the results:

Screen mode:

ISO Sensitivity

SNR 18%

Dynamic Range

Color Sensitivity

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV





Nikon D3s





Print mode:

ISO Sensitivity

SNR 18%

Dynamic Range

Color Sensitivity

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV





Nikon D3s





Clearly, Noise affects the quality of the images taken with both cameras, but the differences between them are noticeable and can be seen on prints.

The point is that the Nikon D3s remains exceptional for this type of ISO. The chart below shows the equivalent real (interpolated or extrapolated) ISO for other cameras for the same IQ on prints:

equivalent ISO

f-Stop difference



Canon 1D Mark IV



Canon Powershot G11



Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III






Comparison with previous model: 1D Mark III vs 1D Mark IV

Canon has the same level of noise at much higher resolution, as shown in the comparison chart below (screen mode, no normalization):

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, Canon EOS 1D Mark III - SNR 18% (screen mode)

The Dynamic Range results have improved:

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, Canon EOS 1D Mark III - Dynamic Range (screen mode)

But Color Sensitivity is not as good as the SNR results:

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV, Canon EOS 1D Mark III - Color sensitivity (screen mode)

The latest Canon high resolution sensors are a bit more color-blind (for more details click here) , which leads to an increase in noise after color processing.

In the comparison chart below showing the color responses of the 1D Mark III and 1D Mark IV, the mix between red and green raw channel to obtain the sRGB channel is clearly more important for the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV (denoting a higher overlap of the spectral sensitivities):

Canon EOS 1D Mark III
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

Comparison with previous model: D3 vs D3s

All measured aspects are slightly better for the Nikon D3s (especially for high ISO settings), as shown in the comparison chart below (screen mode, no normalization):

Nikon D3, Nikon D3s - SNR 18% (screen mode)

The most noticeable improvement is in Dynamic Range for high ISO settings.

Nikon D3, Nikon D3s - Dynamic Range (screen mode)

Disclaimer: This dxomark review evaluates only the selected camera’s RAW sensor performance metrics (i.e., Color Depth, Dynamic Range, and Low-Light ISO), and should not be construed as a review of the camera’s overall performance, as it does not address such other important criteria as image signal processing, mechanical robustness, ease of use, flexibility, optics, value for money, etc. While RAW sensor performance is critically important, it is not the only factor that should be taken into consideration when choosing a digital camera.