Nikon holds the top three positions in a criteria-based laboratory evaluation of the RAW-sensor performances of current-market digital cameras.
Dxomark.com, a Web site created and developed by DxO Labs, claims its ratings provide the first publicly accessible database of objective and in-depth RAW sensor image quality measurements.
Not only do Nikon bodies -- led by the 2-month-old D3x (a curiously virtual clone of the D3 but costing quite a bit more money) -- hold the top three positions on the DxO Labs' rankings of cameras' RAW-sensor performance, but they also claim four positions in the Top Ten and eight of the Top 25. Canon, led by the 1Ds Mark III at No. 4, claims five spots in the Top Ten and 13 total in the Top 25 -- but also positions 26, 27 and 28.
DxO evaluates RAW-sensor performance on the basis of color depth, dynamic range and low-light ISO. Using those criteria, here are DxO's Top Ten rankings and ratings (with 100 being perfect) of digital cameras -- almost all of which are single-lens reflex -- on the basis of their RAW-sensor peformance:
1. Nikon D3x -- 88
2. Nikon D3 -- 80.6
3. Nikon D700 - 80.5
4. Canon 1Ds Mark III - 80.3
5. Canon 5D Mark II - 79
6. Sony A900 - 78.9
7. Canon 1Ds Mark II - 74
8. Nikon D90 - 72.6
9. Canon 1D Mark III - 71
10. Canon 5D - 70.9
RAW-sensor performance is important for many pro-level photographers; RAW is the image format many shooters choose (instead of jpegs) when taking their pictures because it contains more pixel data and information (12 to 14 bits, usually) than the more-compressed jpeg (8 bits). Therefore, such things as brightness, contrast, tone, color and dynamic range can be more easily, precisely and effectively manipulated in RAW format after shooting than a jpeg can be modified with post-processing software.
The tradeoff of RAW images is that they use up a significantly greater amount of space on memory cards than jpegs and, in some cases, require special software to move from the camera to a post-processing platform. However, once a photographer has worked with a RAW image to perfect its final version, the RAW image can be converted to the smaller jpeg format.
Pentax's top performer in DxO Labs' evaluations is the K10D, ranked No. 12 with a rating of 66.9; Samsung's GX 20 slips in just ahead of the K10D at No. 11 with a rating of 68.7.
The only other non-Canon or Nikon camera appearing in the Top 25 is the Fujifilm FinePix S5 Pro, which is No. 19 with a rating of 65.3.
Click here to see a full list of the top 50+ RAW-sensor performance ratings by DxO.