Just to quickly recap, all three of these cameras sport APS-C sensors with the latest technologies from their respective companies. The D500 has the lowest stated resolution at 20.9MP, while both the EOS 80D and the A6300 sport 24.2MP sensors. In terms of focusing points, the A6300 has the most, with 425 phase-detection and 169 contrast-detection AF points, followed by the D500 with 153 focus points (99 cross-type), and then the EOS 80D that has 45 all cross-type focus points.
It's not just all about the number of focus points though, as the EOS 80D features Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF for faster AF performance during Live View mode, and the D500 using the powerful EXPEED 5 processor to achieve greater speed and accuracy. On that note, the A6300 is no slouch either, boasting an AF speed of just 0.05 of a second, thanks to the use of Sony’s enhanced Fast Hybrid AF system.
All three cameras gave us quick autofocus performance, though - as you'll see - each differed in the way they processed which part of the scene to focus on. The cameras also differ slightly in the way they evaluate exposure, which reflects more on the way their exposure systems are calibrated rather than the sensitivity of the systems itself. Our test shots in the studio also aim to give you a fair reflection of how each camera natively processes color, as well as their high ISO performance.
We did our testing of the cameras outdoors, alternating between focus modes to see how good was the evaluative focus system of each camera. As you can see in the images of the Bird of Paradise flower below, each picked a slightly different point of focus (shown in the crop), and this of course effected how the depth-of-field fell over the scene.
We’d say the predictive autofocus of the A6300 was probably the most intelligent in terms of where to best place the focus points to get a more pleasing effect (especially depth of field). It managed to place the plane of focus such that both the center areas and the outside petals seemed decently in focus, whereas with the other two cameras either had one or the other in focus.
In terms of colors, the EOS 80D stood out as being the most saturated. The A6300 however, carried the most yellow. That's something that becomes more obvious when we compared the shades of green and the overall color tone of the pictures taken by the Canon 80D and the Nikon D500.
The next set of images again shows off the slight differences in color balance and exposure tendencies for each of the cameras, as the shots were taken barely seconds apart in Program mode with white balance set to Auto.
As you can see, the EOS 80D probably has the truest colors, whereas the D500 and the A6300 a bit too blue and a bit too yellow respectively. The D500 also seems to be about half a stop underexposed compared to the other two, indicating that the exposure preference is probably to more towards preserving the highlights. When you look at the 100% crops though, the D500 easily has more detail than the other two.
Now for some high ISO comparisons under controlled situations. We're starting at ISO 25,600 because that's the highest we can go with the Canon EOS 80D.
If you were to look at the 100% crops, you can see that images from the D500 at ISO 25,600 have remained clean of obvious color noise, and there's a lot less detail loss from the noise reduction applied. For example, in the crop you can see how the left leg of the Thundercracker figure is only just starting to break up, whereas with the crops from the A6300 and the EOS 80D, you can see that the edge of the foot is already breaking up due to noise.
If you compare the wording on the quarter coin though, you'll see that the D500 again holds detail the best, followed by the A6300. With the EOS 80D, the word "Liberty" is barely visible, while you can still make out the letters “R”, ”T”, and “Y” on the coin from the photo taken by the A6300.
Moving on to ISO 51,200. With this, the D500 again stands out, with better detail and less smudging from noise reduction. This is especially obvious if you look at the face of Einstein in the 100% crop.
Clearly the colors on the D500 are more accurate, and there is much better detail retained in terms of the lines around the eyes.
And just for fun, here's what a picture taken at ISO 1,640,000 from the D500 looks like. It's still a far way off from what you might get from the full-frame Sony A7S II of course, but then again, for an APS-C sized sensor it certainly isn't bad at all. Definitely something you can fall back on if you're caught in a very difficult situation.