SONY or Nikon? Can you judge the Image Quality? « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

SONY or Nikon? Can you judge the Image Quality?

What’s Up?

I am heading over to Circle Bar B Ranch in Lakeland for a morning photography session. Then I meet multiple IPT veterans Mike Gotthelf and Morris Herstein for a lunch session on setting up their SONY A9 bodies for bird photography. That will be followed by an afternoon shooting session at Fort DeSoto and a morning session on Friday. If you are an A9 shooter and would like to join us at the Neptune Grill in Gulfport today at 1pm please call me cell at 863-221-2372.

IPT Updates

I still need three or four folks for the Galapagos trip, and the UK Puffins and Gannets trip is wide open with only a single registrant. Please shoot me an e-mail to learn about the huge late registration discount on the Galapagos trip.

  • The 2019 Fort DeSoto Spring IPT/THURS 18 APRIL through the morning session on SUNDAY APRIL 21, 2019: 3 1/2 DAYS: $1549. Limit 8/Openings: 4. Meet and greet at 7PM on the evening of WED 17 APRIL.
  • The New, Expanded 2019 UK Puffins, Gannets, & Red Kites IPT. Thursday June 27 (from EDI) through Tuesday, July 9, 2019 (on the ground; fly home on Wednesday July 10.): $9,999. Limit 10 photographers/Openings: 9. This trip needs four to run. Co-leader: Peter Kes.
  • The GALAPAGOS Photo Cruise of a Lifetime IPT/The Complete Galapagos Photographic Experience. July 23 to August 6, 2019 on the boat. 13 FULL and two half-days of photography: $14,499. Limit: 12 photographers/Openings: 4. Please e-mail to learn about the huge late registration discount for this trip.


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Selling your used (or like-new) photo gear through the BAA Blog is a great idea. We charge only a 5% commission. One of the more popular used gear for sale sites charged a minimum of 20%. Plus assorted fees! Yikes. They went out of business. And e-Bay fees are now up to 13%. The minimum item price here is $500 (or less for a $25 fee). If you are interested please scroll down here or shoot us an e-mail with the words Items for Sale Info Request cut and pasted into the Subject line :). Stuff that is priced fairly — I offer pricing advice to those who agree to the terms — usually sells in no time flat. Over the past year, we have sold many dozens of items. Do know that prices on some items like the EOS-1D Mark IV, the old Canon 100-400, the old 500mm, the EOS-7D and 7D Mark II and the original 400mm DO lens have been dropping steadily. Most recently the price of used Canon 600mm f/L IS II lenses have been dropping like a rock with the introduction of the 600 III. You can always see the current listings by clicking here or on the Used Photo Gear tab on the orange-yellow menu bar near the top of each blog post page.

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If you need a hot photo item that is out of stock at B&H, would enjoy free overnight shipping, and would like a $50 discount on your first purchase, click here to order and enter the coupon code BIRDSASART at checkout. If you are looking to strike a deal on Canon or Nikon gear (including the big telephotos) or on a multiple item order, contact Steve Elkins via e-mail or on his cell at (479) 381-2592 (Eastern time) and be sure to mention your BIRDSASART coupon code and use it for your online order. Steve currently has several D850s in stock along with a Nikon 600mm f/4 VR. He is taking pre-orders for the new Nikon 500 P and the Nikon Z6 mirrorless camera body.

Gear Questions and Advice

Too many folks attending BAA IPTs and dozens of photographers whom I see in the field and on BPN, are–out of ignorance–using the wrong gear especially when it comes to tripods and more especially, tripod heads… Please know that I am always glad to answer your gear questions via e-mail. Those questions might deal with systems, camera bodies, accessories, and/or lens choices and decisions.

This image was created after the conclusion of the 2019 San Diego IPT. ISO 400: 1/800 at f/6.3 was an underexposure.

Image #1: Pacific race Brown Pelican on rock

The Playing Field

Both of today’s featured images were created within minutes of each other. One was made with my new Sony gear, one was made with my Nikon gear. Both were converted in Capture One. There was no selective sharpening, no NIK, and no sharpening at applied to the resulting JPEGs.

I have tried many times to create identical images with different camera bodies for comparative purposes. I have always failed miserably even when I photographed a sign with the gear on a tripod! With a bird, it is pretty much impossible. But I tried.

This image was created after the conclusion of the 2019 San Diego IPT. ISO 400: 1/500 at f/5.6 was perfect.

Image #2: Pacific race Brown Pelican on rock

SONY or Nikon?

Please enlarge each image to view a larger, inexplicably sharper version. I ask that you judge only the fine feather detail on the breast, the folded wings, the back, and the head. Do note that when created Image #1 the sun was a bit brighter than when I created Image #2. Please therefore do not concern yourself with differences in color or contrast. Both of those in large part are more a function of the photographer’s personal tastes and their choices both during the RAW conversion and later in Photoshop. Similarly, do not choose the “best” image based on your favorite pose. As above, my only concern here is to see if anyone can note image quality differences in an unsharpened 1200 pixel wide JPEG.

If you need some help, you can check out my very similar BPN post here.

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47 comments to SONY or Nikon? Can you judge the Image Quality?

  • avatar Lamar May

    I thought image #1 was slightly sharper, with a bit more detail in the feathers and around the head area. Plus the color of the rock in image #1 looks more natural to me…..image #2 has a slight color cast showing in the rock in my mind.

  • avatar Chris Loffredo

    Arthur, I cannot tell any difference. Both look great to me. I can only assume you shot both wide-open, and using the Nikon D850 & 500PF at f5.6 in #2 and the Sony with the 100-400 & 1.4TC in #1. I believe that would produce about a similar depth of field to keep the comparison fair. Or it’s the opposite and you used the F-stops to trick us. I assume there is no cropping, so I wonder if it would make any difference if the subject was much further away and you had to do a decent crop? I would think the more MP would be better. ?? On that topic, I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the Sony A7r3 for BIF. Is the A7r3 a significant step-up in autofocus from Canon/Nikon with the benefit of 42mp for cropping and a cheaper price point. ??

  • avatar Geoff

    Based on the background blur and the assumption you used the 500PF on the D850, I’d go with #1 being the Sony (shot with 100-400 at 400mm…because of f/5.6 couldn’t be with the TC on it) and #2 with Nikon. Granted the 1st was f/6.3 but I think the difference in the water blur is greater than 1/3 stop would have made if it was the Nikon.

    If the Nikon lens was 80-400 then all bets are off and I guess 1/3 stop did make that much of a difference.

    Otherwise, I have no idea, I shoot the A9 and D850 regularly as my two main bodies and don’t really pick one of the other based on IQ. I choose the A9 for AF on very challenging subjects and very low down work with the flip screen and the D850 for cropping pixels…ie reach.

  • I don’t think that it is possible to tell which image is with camera in 1200px size. Especially to judge feather detail!! In the size presented here, this image could be made with a 10 years old camera from any of the major manufacturers. Not to mention that here we are talking about cameras having almost the same image sensor! This is anyone’s guess…

  • I am guessing that the first image is Nikon and the second one is Sony for one, there appears to me to be more feather detail in the breast feathers of the first image (larger sensor) and two, the dynamic range of the first photo appears to me to be wider – a characteristic of the Nikon over the Sony according to the DXO sensor ratings (but not by much).

  • avatar Jamie Baker

    Both images look about the same to me, I can’t tell a difference. I pretty sure Sony makes the sensors for most Nikons.

  • avatar Donnette Largay

    #2 looks slightly sharper to me. So which camer is it? I don’t think most people could tell the difference.

  • avatar Marr

    With my aging eyes, I think they are about equal at the points you’ve noted. Ant that’s surprising, given the different equipment.

  • 1st pic feathers on head seem a little sharper, might be because it was f6.3? 2nd photos really close but chest feathers may be slightly sharper in the 2nd photo???? So close to my eyes sharpness seems to be very much equal. Haven’t read all the comments yet, didn’t want to be jaded in what I thought. Can’t wait to see and hear your thoughts.

  • avatar Guido Bee

    Not sure I can see any real difference in sharpness between these 2 images on my monitor.
    I think, in the right hands, either system can deliver excellent (and better) results. As I still carry heavy stuff around, I can appreciate the differences in weight when there is not any real difference in quality; I could be tempted to move toward the lighter options. Results look good to me. In the absence of any other systems’ image, I’d say either, standing alone, is very good; with a bit of PP magic, either could be publishable.
    Have a happy Valentine’s Day. Be well.

  • avatar Brooke Miller

    Sharpness-wise, they are about the same. Being a Sony A7RIII (the 42 mp camera and Sony 100-400mm lens) shooter for almost a year now (and no experience with Nikon), I think the second image is the Sony because it looks like an image that would come out of my camera using Capture One Pro–more bluish-gray, but I like that on this image. At 5.6 I know you’re at 400mm with no teleconverter, with your 100-400mm lens.

  • avatar Sandy

    After looking them over, I think #2 is sharper. Could be these older eyes and my laptop, color and contrast, but I would say #2 is Sony.

  • avatar Hank Fowler

    The human eye can’t tell a difference, in my opinion. I’m staying with canon.

  • avatar David Policansky

    Hi, Artie. All I can see is that the exposure in image 1 looks a bit better to me–better color in the head and a bit richer texture in the body. But that, even if it were true, might not be a function of the camera.

    For birds, especially BIF, sharpness is the overriding criterion for me, and that depends on AF speed and accuracy and a good lens; and a fast enough shutter speed to eliminate motion blur (unless I’m trying to make a pleasing blur). The next criterion is noise and I don’t see noise in either image.

  • avatar Tony Z

    Hey Artie,
    Before i read the info about the difference i light conditions, i had jumped to the conclusion that #2 was the Sony. Maybe because of the bluer cast? Not sure, but that was my instinctive reaction. On closer look, the detail in the first might be a little better, which i would guess is Nikon (based on your switch from Canon posts), and i believe the Nikon produces a higher resolution raw file.
    Just guessing πŸ™‚

  • Good morning Artie… Looking carefully at both images, it appears to me that Image #1 is a bit sharper that Image #2 in all the areas in question. Overall, both photos look pretty amazing!

    I want to take this opportunity to wish you and BAA gang a Happy Valentines Day!

    Take care and see you soon!!!

  • #2 looks a bit cleaner and sharper to me. Feels like a D850/500PF image. My vote: #1 is Sony, #2 is Nikon.

  • The bokeh in image 2 is much more blurred. Given that you only have a 400 mm Sony lens and that you were likely using the 500 mm pf from Nikon, I’d say the second image was shot with a Nikon. Judging sharpness difference at this image size is nearly impossible, especially on my work monitor. I’d have to see the files larger. Seeing them at 100% would tell the tale. Of course, your ultimate point is that the Sony gear is as good as the Nikon or is, at least, good enough, which I am sure is true for all but the most demanding situations.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Good thinking. You made some very good points. I guess that part of my ultimate point is that both cameras are way better than most photographers including me. There will be lots of interesting discussion to follow.

      with love, artie

  • avatar Joe Subolefsky

    Other then the obvious dof bg differance the only other difference that jumps out to me is the green cast to image one. From that I would guess image one to be the Nikon.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Could be. Or not. Don’t forget that the sun came out just a bit for Image #2 …

      with love, artie

  • avatar JERRY FENWICK

    I think that the wing feathers are sharper on #1, and the head feathers are sharper on #2. This is probably due to differences in the point of focus. Both images would be considered super sharp though.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thanks Jerry. Both were focused right on the eye but I was hand holding …

      with love, artie

  • avatar Brendan

    It seems apparent to me that a skilled photographer could make an essentially perfect image with either set of gear in this situation. Both photos look flawless to me.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Thank you Brendan. I will not disagree with what you saw in any way, shape, or form πŸ™‚

      with love, artie

  • avatar Cliff

    Very close but if I have to choose I would say the second one is slightly sharper.

  • avatar Byron PRINZMETAL

    Two is sharper to my very old eyes…bp

  • avatar Ray

    Was a micro adjusted lens in play here ?

  • Don’t see any difference in sharpness.

    But isn’t it Sony that produces Nikon’s sensor?

    The only slight difference that I see is that the first one looks to me a bit more green on the stone than the second one which looks more blue on the same stone.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      That’s because the sun was out slightly for Image #1 πŸ™‚


      ps: I think that you are right about the sensors …

  • avatar Lamar May

    My guess is Nikon on image #1 and the Sony image is #2.

    • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Lamar,

      Excellent. Why?

      with love, artie

      • Artie, I would agree with Lamar. You had mentioned in a previous blog that Nikon D850 raw images were slightly better than Sony. I can see just a minuscule amount of more sharpness and clarity in image #1 on some of the feathers on the wing.

  • avatar Joe Randle

    Good Morning Artie,
    Happy Valentine’s Day… Thanks for all the hard work you do for us…

    Let All That You Do Be Done With Love

  • avatar Ruthie

    I don’t see any difference

  • They look equally sharp…I would guess it was the same gear for both images with different light.

  • avatar Joel Eade

    I forgot to add: It would not be surprising to me if they were shot with the same gear!!

  • avatar Joel Eade

    The first image has more contrast which is easy to mistake for better sharpness but I think the second image is slightly better in fine detail. That said, the difference isn’t worth arguing over IMHO πŸ™‚