According to popular digital camera review website DXO Mark, the sub-frame Nikon D3300 has a better sensor than the full-frame Canon 5D Mark III. This report comes on the heels of an in-depth, RAW-based (see also: the benefits of RAW), computer-driven test that goes to make DXO Mark's lab results truly objective in their nature. Result: 2009's D3s beats all the current full-frame models from Canon.
So, how badly do the Canons lose (or how big does the D3300 win)?
The good news here for Canon shooters is that the full-frame Canons don't lose by all that much, with the Canon 1Dx and 6D only fractionally lower than the D3300 (they all score a rounded 82) and the 5DIII being only 1 point worse. Bottom line: the D3300 won't go killing the FF Canons in image quality.
However, this also says a lot about the quality of the Nikon sensor.
When it comes to digital camera sensors, big (as in area) is good. Why? It's simple physics. For example, let's say that two sensors, one full-frame and the other 1.5x crop, have the same amount of pixels. In terms of square area, the FF sensor will have twice the area which means that, if both chips have the sane resolution, the pixels on the FF sensor will be twice the size of those on the cropper. As for why this matters, big pixels capture a lot of signal, which is good at drowning out electronic noise. Result: a pixel twice the size of another will have better noise performance, dynamic range, and color capture tendencies, at least on paper, which is what makes the sub-frame Nikon's performance so impressive.
As for the facets of image quality that DXO measures, namely sensor noise, color depth, and dynamic range, the D3300 puts up some impressive numbers . In terms of noise, the D3300 comes in with a score of 1385 which, while nowere near as good as the 3000 score range of Nikon's FF chips, is nonetheless good for APS-C. For bit depth, the D4 scores 24.3, which is among the overall leaders when it comes to ability to render rich color tones. In terms of dynamic range, the D4 scores 12.8, which is not among the overall leaders but, in terms of class, among the best.
Bottom line: if you want a lot of image quality for your buck, the D3300 could be worth a good look as the full-frame cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Sony all cost upwards of $2000.
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