Nikon D800E vs Canon 5D vs Fuji S5 Dynamic range (highlight recovery) test

I do love my D800E and I’ve been hearing a bit lately about it’s exceptional dynamic range, well it’s certainly an exceptional camera but I can’t say I’ve noticed anything anymore exceptional in regards to dynamic range when compared to other Nikon (D3, D3X). So, I thought the best thing to do was to put it to the test (specifically for highlight recovery) and see how it compares the the king of dynamic range (the Fuji S5) and also, for the fun of it, the Canon 5D

The tests were done by taking a purposely overexposed images of the same scene (nothing exciting, just the view from the front of the studio) and seeing what can be pulled back out of the white

Cameras and lenses used:

Canon 5D with Nikon 50mm f1.8 AI-S

Nikon D800e with Nikon 50mm f1.4 AF-D

Fuji S5 with Nikon 35mm F2 AF-D (to compensate for crop factor)

All shots were taken at the same time, on a tripod, with the cameras set to 1/30 sec, f8, ISO 100. Below are the (overexposed) results from each camera


Canon 5D as shot:



Nikon D800E as shot:



Fuji S5 as shot:



As you can see there’s not a lot of difference between all three images, they all look awful, to see how much could be recovered they were processed in Adobe Camera Raw, setting Exposure to -4.0 stops, Recovery to 100% and Fill Light to 100%, here’s the results:

Canon 5D (ACR e-4.0,r100,fl100):



Nikon D800E  (ACR e-4.0,r100,fl100):



Not much to choose between the Nikon and Canon, although the Fuji…

Fuji S5  (ACR e-4.0,r100,fl100):


…ends up looking a bit of a mess with that much ‘rescue’ as there is so much info that can be recovered from the highlights, a more modest set of adjustments (exposure -3.0 stops, no recovery, fill light at 50%) can provide something a bit more sensible

Fuji S5  (ACR e-3.0,r0,fl50):


There we have it, when it comes to ‘exceptional’ dynamic range then we should be referring to the Fujifilm S5 Pro (or the S3 – same sensor), still love the D800E though, just wont be putting my S5 on ebay for the foreseeable future

The Contraption

Ok, there’s a bit of a story behind this, over the past few years I’ve been a bit of a wide angle addict but recently needed to produce some more ‘correct’ images i.e. buildings with straight vertical lines. So, using my trusty 14-24mm I found myself feeling rather uninspired by the results and thoughts quickly turned towards a desire for a 24mm tilt-shift. At roughly the same time there was also a food photo assignment which got me considering all the benefits in the studio of having an 85mm tilt-shift to hand but these two beauties are not cheap and so the mind wondered about other solutions.

I’ve known of the concept of bolting a dSLR on the back of a 4×5 system for a while but only really considered it in terms of replacing a polaroid, although, not being a large format guy I would just look on with envy at the movements but appreciate the convenience of a digital 35mm system (don’t get me wrong, I love film, just can’t justify losing a day at a time to develop-scan-refine to be at the same point as when I upload digital raw files). There is also a very nice Mamiya RB67 setup that I have that never gets used, so in the mixing pot of the mind the elements came together and ‘The Contraption’ idea was born

After more thought and a healthy amount of googling I found that there were are few out there that had done similar things (Alex Koloskov being a strong point of reference), with plans in my head, some knowledge of engineering and a large dose of ignorance, I was sure it would work 😉

Firstly I needed a monorail camera and managed to get a very nice Sinar P from the usual online auction site, this came with 4 lenses and some other goodies, oh how tempted I was to leave it untouched and just enjoy it as intended. Right, to work, task one was to mount the D800e on the rear assembly; this was done by removing the rear standard and disassembling the mount from the frame (also took the opportunity to replace the front standard with the better condition frame from the rear standard). Using some aluminium square section I drilled and tapped (M4) 4 holes as per the removed frame such that the section could fastened to the rear standard mount, also in the section I drilled an 6.5mm hole so I could pass through a 1/4″ BSW machine bolt (oh, and a 10mm hole on the other side of the section to allow for the head of the bolt), the bolt is then fastened into a Manfrotto 394 Plate Adapter (using a 3/8″ – 1/4″ thread adapter)

Having read somewhere on the internet (so I know it must be true) that large format lenses are really not that great and the large format folk more than make up for this shortcoming with huge details filled negatives, something about the fact that medium format and 35mm are hard fixed boxes so tolerances and calibration are tight but the move-around nature of large format make such things less critical – dunno but I want to use my Mamiya glass anyway 🙂

A Mamiya extension donated it’s mount to the project, the only lens boards that came with the Sinar has holes in them that were too large for the Mamiya mount (apart from a recessed board that might well be used in the future), to resolve this a spare barn door was sacrificed, this was cut down, marked, drilled and tapped (M2.5) to suit the mount and the lens board (which was also drilled to allow it to be bolted to the ex-barn door). As this was all done by hand I didn’t have the means to cleanly machine the large hole, please excuse the rather messy hand file finish

This only leaves the bellows, here I need to be honest and admit that I’ve not done them as yet, the intention is to use some neoprene that I have along with a couple of bits from an old extension tube. What we have here is the current temporary solution that consists of nothing more that a T2 – Nikon adapter and a quantity of gaffer tape

That’s about it, just need to get on with taking some pictures with it!