Canon 5DmkIII 85mm 1.2L II vs. Nikon D800 85mm 1.4G for portraits (but not really)

by Vu Bui on September 12, 2012

DISCLAIMER: There’s no science here, folks. Just a quick and not even accurate comparison.

Lan and I decided to shoot a couple of new avatars for ourselves today since the ones we have been using are 3 years old and we don’t really look the same (I’m now a little fatter and a LOT balder, but Lan is mostly just older). For fun, and because we were curious, we decided to each shoot the other on different cameras but in the same light and with the same settings, especially to see the difference between competing lenses (NOTE: we know this is not at all scientific). One of us was shot on the 5D mark III with 85mm 1.2L II and the other on the D800 with 85mm 1.4G. Both were shot on JPEG Large Fine in monochrome with the sharpness turned all the way down and contrast in the middle. Camera settings were ISO 1600, f/1.4, 1/250th. Using Aperture we edited the photos and resized them to 5000px tall (so they are both downsampled, not just the D800), then did a slight crop in PS CS6 to make them the same since the aspect ratios of the cameras are actually a teeny tiny bit different, and output a JPEG for each which were uploaded to Flickr.

Vu Bui PortraitLan Bui Portrait

Can you tell the difference? If so, how? I can, but not just by looking quickly, and until I understood what to look for I couldn’t. So then if you can’t really tell the difference, does it matter even a little bit? And I’m not just talking about the difference

There’s lots of great attitude going around about the FACT that it’s not the camera or lens, but rather the light and subject and direction (we are especially keen on this right now having been a part of the recent amazing documentary series Revenge Of The Great Camera Shootout). It’s not a new idea, but I think people need to be reminded of it now and then. And by people I mean us too. I obsess over gear. But then I look at some of the images I’ve shot on the iPhone or Fuji X100 or Holga and I remember that the camera means very very little.

Here are the large images, you can click through to Flickr for the original full size exported JPEG images which are 3330x5000px:

Vu Bui Portrait

Lan Bui Portrait

A little BTS photo of our setup for anyone interested. We threw up the closest lights we had on hand… a LitePanels Inca 6 bounced off a Photoflex reflector for the key light and a LitePanels 1×1 with a Westcott white flag for diffusion. Both lights are on Westcott lighting stands. Took about 10 minutes to set up! BTS photo was taken with iPhone 4S with Ollo Clip. :)

  • Kraig Adams

    love the mc shirts

    • Vu Bui

      Me too. ;)

  • Regis Chen

    Just curious, how come you didn’t use the same person for both shots?  I thought keeping as many things constant as possible would make the comparison of the variables (the cameras/lens) more accurate :)

    • Vu Bui

      Well that was the thing… it WASN’T an accurate comparison. :P We just wanted to shoot the photos, the comparison was secondary and only out of curiosity. Definitely not the point or goal of the shots. We leave testing and pixel peeping to the blogs that do that best, for the most part. For us it’s all about the real world differences. And in the real world you’re not looking at 200% crop views of the corners of images of the same exact subject. Our point, if there even was one, was that it really just doesn’t matter. One of us is shooting most stills on the 5DmkIII these days and one on the D800. But as disclaimer – the D800 is supplied by Nikon, the Canon we bought.

      • Regis Chen

        Got it!  Thanks for the explanation :)

        • Vu Bui

          No problem, man! While I do care about image quality to a certain degree… for the most part I don’t think people would notice any of the major comparisons that are made out there. This even goes back to when I shot on a Leica M6 for a while and expensive M-glass because people said you could really see the difference. The shooting experience was definitely different from my Canon 1V SLR, but you wouldn’t necessarily see the “magic” in the images that came from the camera quality itself.

  • Beau Ryan

    wow. super clean shots. lurve!

  • Barb

    I’ll throw it out there: I think that Lan- you were shot with the Canon and Vu with the Nikon, only because to my eyes I see a slightly denser BOKEH with yours Lan, shot with the 1.2 vs Vu with the 1.4…then again I may be talking OMA. Either way both pieces of equipment are pretty sweet, looking forward to hearing which is which..~Barb

    • Vu Bui

      Hi Barb! Good guess! But it’s actually not identifiable the way you said. ;)

      We shot both at 1.4, so there is no difference in depth of field. But yes the Nikon image is the one of me and the Canon is the shot of Lan. There were two main differences in the images… one got covered up in the edit… the Nikon lens had a bit of vignetting that the Canon didn’t. We both add a degree of vignette to many of our portraits though, so that got covered up. The other way is if you actually pixel peep and look at the wall texture, you can see that the noise pattern is different, the Canon being a little more smooth at ISO 1600.

      Either way it didn’t matter! :D

  • Ozkan Ozmen

    Thank you buibrothers for this interesting image.
    I have just uploaded a video comparing Nikon
    85mm f1.4 g vs Canon 85mm f1.2 for those who
    are interested :

    • Lan Bui

      Fantastic video!!!

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