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Nikon D3 Review

by Shun Cheung, March 2008 (updated March 2011)

photography by Shun Cheung and Naphtali Visser


The Nikon D3 is a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera introduced on August 23, 2007, following the D2 series as Nikon's top-of-the-line professional grade camera. Unlike its two predecessors, at least initially, the D3 does not have separate H and X variations, such as the D1H/D1X and D2H/D2X, which are optimized for action photography (H) and high-resolution applications (X), respectively. However, based on its specifications such as 9 frames per second (fps), a new state-of-the-art Multi-CAM 3500 AF module, and a relatively modest 12MP resolution, it is clear that the D3 is optimized for sports, news, and wildlife photography. Additionally, since the D3 has excellent high-ISO performance for indoor existing-light conditions, it should also be a great wedding camera.

Another important distinction for the D3 is that it is Nikon's first DSLR that uses a 23.9x36mm sensor, which Nikon now refers to as the FX format. For all practical purposes, it is the same size as the traditional 35mm film frame (24x36mm). Therefore, Nikon F-mount lenses will produce the same angle of view on the D3 as they do on 35mm film SLRs, and there is no more digital "crop factor."

As the same time Nikon announced the D3, they also announced the Nikon D300 (review), which remains at the DX format (16x24mm) as all previous Nikon DSLRs. The two cameras share some components such as the AF module.

Where to Buy

You may be able to find a used Nikon D3 on Photo.net's Classified Ads Section or KEH. Otherwise, check out a few of Nikon's newer full-frame sensor cameras:

If you are new to digital photography, start with two helpful photo.net references:

Operating Speed

Designed for action photography, the D3 is highly responsive. Powering it up takes a mere 120 milliseconds and its shutter lag is a short 37ms. The D3 can capture 9 frames per second with a RAW buffer around 17 frames, depending on the exact setting. Similar to the D2X/D2Xs, the D3 has a high-speed crop mode. In that mode, the D3 captures a smaller DX-format frame (16x24mm), at a frame rate that can optionally go up to 11 frames/sec, at the expense of no AF re-adjust between frames during the burst. In other words, at 11 fps, the D3 will auto focus only before the first frame; if the subject moves, the subsequent frames will likely be out of focus.

When set at the Continuous High (Ch) 9 frames/sec mode, the D3 will frequently capture two consecutive frames with a quick press on its shutter release button. That behavior is very similar to the D300.

For an action camera, the D3's RAW buffer is on the small side, approximately 16 to 17 frames depending on the exact setting. For example, if Active D Lighting or high ISO above 1600 is turned on, the buffer size will decrease. In comparison, the D2Hs has a 40-frame RAW buffer but at only 4MP per frame. One major improvement Nikon has made to the D3 (and D300) is write speed to memory cards. With the latest UDMA compact flash cards, the D3 can write approximately one frame onto the card per second. Therefore, even though the RAW buffer is not huge, buffer space becomes available again quickly.

Controls

The D3 has the very traditional Nikon AF-style controls since the introduction of the F5 in 1996. The shutter release button is on the top right side with the on/off switch around it. I am very glad that Nikon has eliminated the lock on the on/off switch since the F5, as the lock was annoying when needing to switch the camera on immediately.

The main and sub-command dials are behind and in front of the shutter release button respectively, for controlling the shutter speed and aperture as well as various menu selections. AF point selection is controlled by a multi-selection pad on the back. Pressing on the center of the pad will reset the selection to the center AF point. There is a lock ring around that pad and when the lock is set to the L position, it disables the pad to prevent the user from unintentionally changing the selection. Sometimes people find the selection pad "not working," and that is the reason.

There are four exposure modes: M (manual), A (aperture priority), S (shutter priority) and P (program). Metering options are matrix, center-weighted and spot. Shutter release modes are S (single), CL (continuous low), and CH (continuous high). Anyone who is familiar with Nikon AF SLRs from the last 10 years should be able to use those without any adjustment.

The D3's control layout is almost identical to that of the D2X. On the back of the camera, all the buttons are in the same locations except for three minor differences:

  1. AF-mode control: On the D3, the Group Dynamic AF option is removed and Dynamic Area AF with Closest Subject Priority is replaced by Auto Area AF with human face detection.
  2. On the D2X, the AF-ON and AE-L/AF-L buttons are right next to each other. On the D3, they are about 1 cm apart so that it is much harder to press on the wrong one.
  3. For the vertical (portrait) controls, the locations for the AF-ON button and the main command dial are swapped. On the D3, the AF-ON button is closer to the corner of the camera while the main command dial is a bit lower. I prefer the D3's layout because it is easier to use the tip of your thumb to press on the AF-ON button and the lower part of your thumb to rotate the dial. However, since I rarely use AF-ON, this minor improvement makes little difference to me.

Therefore, for someone who is already familiar with the D2X, it is very easy to pick up the D3 and start using it. However, for those who use both the D3 and D300, Nikon has changed the way to enlarge a portion of a captured image during image review on the D300, where there are separate enlarge and reduction push buttons. That change only applies to the D300. On the D3, as on previous Nikon DSLRs, hold down the thumbnail/playback zoom button on the back of the camera and rotate the main command dial to enlarge and reduce the magnification. The inconsistency of this feature between the D3 and D300 is a bit annoying.

Auto Focus

The D3 uses a new AF module, the Multi-CAM 3500, that is also used on the D300. It has a total of 51 AF points and among them 15 are cross-type that are sensitive to both horizontal and vertical patterns. If you hold the camera horizontally, the 15 cross-type AF points are the ones in the center three columns, five to each column. Under dim light, typically the cross-type AF points perform much better.

On the D3, the Multi-CAM 3500 can track moving subjects at 9 fps. My testing of the D3 and D300 cameras indicates that the new AF module can track flying birds and moving surfers with ease. I would rate it a step better than the auto-focus on the D2X that uses the previous generation of Nikon's AF module, the Multi-CAM 2000. With the D2X, roughly 80 to 90% of my surfing images are in focus. With the D3, it is quite close to 100%.

For photographing still subjects, one can select any single AF point of the 51 from the Multi-Selector pad on the back of the camera and use that to directly cover the subject in the viewfinder. Using the pad to move the selection one AF point at a time is slow. Therefore, there is an option to make only 11 AF points (out of the 51) available for selection (Custom Setting a8). Additionally, if one presses on the center of the Multi-Selection pad, it resets to the center AF point.

While the 51 AF points from the Multi-CAM 3500 cover a good portion on the D300's DX frame, on the D3's FX frame, which has over twice the area, the 51 AF points only cover the center 25% of the frame. Therefore, some old-fashioned AF, lock focus, and recompose may once again be necessary. In particular, if the camera is held in the portrait (vertical) orientation, there is no cross-type AF point in the top 1/3 of the frame, where the subject typically is. It can be a problem under dim light.

For photographing moving subjects, the D3 has the Dynamic AF Area option (Custom Setting a3) to choose a cluster of 9, 21 or all 51 AF points to track the subject, with the center of the cluster in any one of the 51 AF points. A cluster of 9 simply represents a center AF point with a layer of 8 surrounding it to form a square. A cluster of 21 has a second layer surrounding the 9 inside.

The general rule of thumb is that the fewer AF points that are involved in deciding the focus, the faster the AF will be. However, using only 9 AF points, it is rather easy for the D3 to lock onto the background when the subject briefly moves off the covered area, causing the common "back focus" problem. My experience is that using 21 AF points seems to be a better compromise. If one selects all 51 AF points, there is a further option to engage 3D tracking, where the Multi-CAM 3500 takes additional information from the 1005-pixel metering CCD inside the viewfinder into consideration. Since the metering CCD is sensitive to color, 3D tracking is designed to keep track of a subject's movement provided that it has a different color and/or a lot of contrast from the background. My experience with this option is mixed. For smaller subjects that are covered by one or two AF points, the Multi-CAM 3500 can track the subject for a short while, but after a few AF point hops, it tends to lose track of it and latches onto something else instead. For larger subjects that can occupy 10 or 20 AF points, tracking works a lot better.

Unlike the D2X and D200 that have a Closest Subject Priority AF mode, the D3 replaces with Auto-Area AF where it will automatically detect the subject. If the lens used is a D lens (including all AF-S and G lenses) that can relay focusing distance information to the camera body, the D3 has the ability to detect human faces automatically. For the new 3D tracking and face detection features, I would say there is still plenty of room for future improvement.

LCD Monitor

The center of the back side of the Nikon D3 is a 3-inch, 922,000-pixel (640x480, multiplied by three colors) LCD screen. The large LCD is very convenient for reviewing images and magnified details. The display can be scrolled to review exposure information (time stamp, shutter speed, aperture, ISO sensitivity, white balance, etc.), histograms, and blinking highlights. The D3 does not come with an LCD cover; it is already protected by tempered glass that is scratch resistant.

The exposure and auto focus information on the top monochrome LCD can be duplicated onto the back LCD by pressing the "info" button, which is also the "key lock" button on the back of the D3. Since the back LCD has much higher resolution, it can provide additional details such as which AF point is currently active, which group of AF points is used in Dynamic AF, and the current frame rate.

Similar to most new DSLRs introduced in the last year or so, the D3 has the live view option. Instead of using the traditional optical viewfinder, the photographer can compose with a live image on the back LCD. This option is very convenient for photographing from either a high angle such as raising the camera above everybody's head among a crowd, a low angle for macro work, as well as precise focus tuning.

The D3 also has a new Virtual Horizon feature. It works the same way as a bubble level for photography or construction work. The D3 will display a circle on the back LCD, and a horizontal line indicates by how much the camera is tilted. I have mounted a conventional, low-tech bubble level on the D3's hot shoe and compare the two levels, and they track each other very well.

Viewfinder

The D3 has a large and bright viewfinder that shows 100% of the image. For those who were familiar with the larger viewfinders from the 35mm-film era and have been complaining about the smaller DX-format viewfinder, the good news is that the D3's viewfinder is back to the old format. Personally, I am already quite happy with the viewfinders on the D2X, D200 and D300. While the D3's viewfinder may be even better, it is not that important to me.

Across the bottom of the viewfinder area is a list of essential information including focus confirmation, metering mode, exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, sensitivity ISO setting and frame counter. One unusual change on the D3 is that the scale that displays over and under-exposure for the M mode and exposure compensation is moved from the bottom to the right margin inside the viewfinder. It has the entire margin to itself so that it can display from +3 to -3 stops in 1/3-stop increments. On other models such as the D2X and D300, the scale inside the viewfinder is limited to a range from +2 to -2.

High-ISO Performance in Low Light

Simply put, the D3's low-light performance is wonderful. For years, that was an area Nikon DSLRs were lagging behind the competition, until the D3 and D300. I have been using the D300 since it became available in November, 2007 and am glad that in terms of high-ISO performance, it is approximately two stops better than the D2X and one stop better than the D200. Essentially, the D300 provides very good ISO 1600 images and usable ISO 3200 images. At least for wedding and event photography, the D3 is better yet by about a stop and half. I have made a number of 8.5x11 inch prints with no additional noise reduction processing; I would say ISO 3200 captures look excellent but there is some noise at 6400.

To verify its low-light performance, I tested the D3 at a church wedding indoors, photographing PJ (photojournalist) style. During the rehearsal, I purposely captured a lot of candid images at ISO 3200 and 6400, without using the flash. While technically I got a lot of almost-noise-free images, a major side benefit is that the subjects were not nearly as conscious about the camera because there was no flash constantly going off. As a result, the subjects appear to be far more natural and relaxed in the images.

During the wedding ceremony, I stayed mostly on the balcony. I had a 200-400mm/f4 VR lens on a sturdy tripod. Because of the dimly lit environment, at f4 I needed mostly ISO 6400 to get a shutter speed around 1/60 second, but that was sufficient to freeze all subject movements and camera vibration even at 400mm. On a camera that maxes out at ISO 800 or even 1600, it would have been very difficult to achieve the same results.

12-bit vs. 14-bit Capture and RAW Compression

14-bit capture is a new option for the D3 and D300. I have studied a number of otherwise identical images at both 12 and 14 bits under indoor and outdoor conditions. Other than the fact that the 14-bit image file is larger, the difference is subtle. I have a difficult time telling them apart. Under high-ISO, low light conditions, 14 bits might provide a little more details in the shadows.

On the D300, the problem is that in the 14-bit mode, it becomes a 2.5 fps camera. There is no speed penalty for the D3, which remains at 9 fps in either 12 or 14 bit. The image files will be somewhat larger. Keep in mind that JPEG files are always 8 bits.

The RAW compression option has been available on Nikon DSLRs for several generations. Previously, it has always been lossy compression. Nikon has some algorithm to compress the highlight data such that the difference is not easily detectable by human vision. I have also compared a number of compressed vs. uncompressed RAW files, and I cannot observe any difference. On the D3 and D300, there is now a lossless compression option, which lets you save some memory space without any loss of details.

Since memory card and disk drive prices have decreased significantly in the last few years, for D3 users, you might as well retain as much information from the camera as possible. I would stay with 14-bit captures and lossless RAW compression (or uncompressed RAW), but practically there is little difference from 12-bit captures with lossy compression.

In-Camera Retouch

The D3 has a number of basic in-camera retouch features such as red-eye reduction, trim (cropping), monochrome, filter effects, etc. Personally, I prefer to edit images during post-processing on a computer that has more precise controls. However, there is a lot of interest in Active D-Lighting, which is new to the D3 (and D300), and it is similar to PhotoShop's shadow/highlight adjustment but is performed automatically on the camera. For high-contrast scenes with dark shadows, Active D-Lighting can automatically brighten up the shadow areas and tone down the highlights. For news and sports photographers who capture JPEGs for immediate web publication, this feature can be quite helpful.

Flash

Similar to all professional-grade Nikon SLRs, the D3 does not have a pop-up flash. Among Nikon external flashes, the best ones are the Nikon SB-800 AF Speedlight, (compare prices) (review), and Nikon SB-600 Speedlight, (compare prices) (review). Both of them have swivel heads that can be tilted upward for bounce flash in both the horizontal (landscape) and vertical (portrait) orientations. The SB-800 has more power and can serve as the master in a Nikon Creative Lighting System (CLS) set up. It can also accept an optional 5th AA battery and an external high-voltage power pack for faster recycle time, which is critical for event photography such as weddings.

Additionally, there is a small flash, the Nikon SB-400 AF Speedlight, (compare prices), that has limited power and capabilities as well as a Nikon SB-R200 Remote Speedlight, (compare prices), as part of the Nikon R1C1 Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System, (compare prices), for macro and product flash photography. The SB-R200 can also be used as a remote flash in a CLS setting but not the SB-400.

If one would like to use the D3 as a CLS master, the Nikon SU-800 Replacement Wireless Speedlight Commander, (compare prices), can be used, which is only a controller and not a flash. The SU-800 is available separately or as part of the Nikon R1C1 Wireless Close-Up Speedlight System, (compare prices).

Memory Cards

The D3 is the first Nikon DSLR that can accept more than just one memory card. However, unlike the high-end Canon EOS 1D/1Ds series cameras that can accept one Compact Flash (CF) card and one Secure Digital (SD) card, the D3 can accept one or two Type I or Type II CF memory cards or microdrives. The D3 is UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access) compatible so that it can take full advantage of the high write speeds in some of the latest CF cards, such as Sandisk Extreme IV and Lexar 300x UDMA.

If two CF cards are inserted into the D3, you can select one of these three options:

  1. Overflow: The D3 will write image files onto the CF card in slot 1. When that card is full, it will continue to the card in slot 2
  2. Backup: The D3 will write image files onto both CF cards simultaneously so that there will be two identical copies, similar to disk mirroring for computer systems
  3. RAW + JPEG: The D3 writes RAW (NEF) files onto card 1 and JPEG files onto card 2

While memory card failures are fairly rare, some photographers have concerns about them during important photo sessions, such as weddings or news events, where there is no second chance. Having the ability to write to two memory cards simultaneously effectively eliminates all such worries. (In over five years of using DSLRs, I have had only one CF card malfunction, and that happened immediately out of the box. In other words, I have yet to lose any digital image due to memory card failures.)

Batteries

The D3 requires one 2500mAh EN-EL4a Lithium-ion battery. The older version EN-EL4 (1900mAh) originally designed for the D2H, D2X, and F6 is also compatible. Other than the capacity difference, those two batteries are identical. The EN-EL4a requires a battery chamber cover BL-4 to hold the battery inside the camera. One annoying fact is that while the BL-1 battery chamber cover for the D2 series looks almost identical to the BL-4, they have slightly different sizes and are not compatible.

Mechanical Construction

Similar to all recent top-of-the-line Nikon SLRs, the D3 has an all-metal chassis, a rubberized outer shell and weather sealing on button and switches. The vertical grip with its own shutter release and command dials is built into the camera as an integral piece. The advantage is a very solid build at the expense of size and weight. The D3's shutter is rated at a very high 300,000 actuations.

Choosing a Lens

As a high-end camera, the D3 is available as body only; there is no kit option. Nikon has a series of high-quality, constant f/2.8 AF-S zooms with an all-metal construction. In the last few years, that series included the 17-35mm/f2.8 AF-S, 28-70mm/f2.8 AF-S and 70-200mm/f2.8 AF-S G VR. The first two have a traditional aperture ring on the lens. The 70-200mm zoom is a G lens that has no aperture ring. There is also an older 35-70mm/f2.8 AF-D that has no built-in AF motor and has a more limited zoom range.

At the same time Nikon introduced the D3, they also announced two additional f2.8 zooms, the 14-24mm/f2.8 AF-S G and 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S G as well as 400mm/f2.8, 500mm/f4 and 600mm/f4 AF-S super telephotos with vibration reduction (VR). All five new lenses have Nikon's latest nano crystal coating. Combining the 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200, this set of lenses covers from 14mm ultra-wide to 200mm tele at f/2.8 with no gaps in the zoom ranges except at the boundaries.

All new high-end (i.e. constant f/2.8) AF-S G lenses now have a rubber gasket around the lens mount for extra sealing against moisture.

  • The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF-S, (compare prices), is a super-wide zoom that has a rather limited zoom range. This lens has a very convex front element with a non-removable built-in hood to protect it. There is no filter thread in front and no filter slot in the back. Distortion and flare are both very well controlled. This is a wonderful lens for those who prefer the extreme wide effect. For landscape photography, I find 14mm to be too wide; one needs to find some large foreground to have a good composition. However, it is wonderful for building interior images, especially in tight corners. The convex front is a bit of vulnerability for this lens. I have accidentally touched it a couple of times and needed to clean off my own fingerprint.
  • The Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF AF-S, (compare prices), has a more traditional zoom range from super wide to moderately wide. It was originally sold with the D1 in 1999 to compensate for the smaller DX sensor, which was still a new concept at that time. It continues to perform very well on the D3. The 17-35 accepts 77mm front filters. For those who don't need to photograph at the very extreme wide angles, this is a more conventional and very convenient choice.
  • The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S, (compare prices), a moderate wide to short telephoto. This is a very convenient zoom lens for everyday use as well as for event photography such as news, weddings, and parties. The 24-70 is an upgrade from the older film lens 28-70mm, and has the advantage of an extra 4mm on the wide end, which is significant. The 24-70 is also slimmer but a bit longer than the 28-70, making the 24-70 easier to hand hold. The 24-70 is a G lens with no aperture ring. I have observed a moderate amount of barrel distortion and fairly serious vignetting at 24mm, f2.8. It would have been a problem on film. In this digital age, those optical flaws can be corrected with post-processing software such as Nikon Capture NX and PhotoShop. The vignetting is very obvious at 24mm, f/2.8 if the subject is a uniform blue sky or white wall. However, in real-life situations, one rarely uses f/2.8 outdoors under sun light, and this type of vignetting is not easily observable in typical indoor images. The vignetting lessens at f/4 and disappears by f/5.6.
  • The Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR, (compare prices), covers a slightly wider range than the Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8D ED AF Zoom Nikkor, (compare prices) (review), which has been a favorite since the late 1980's. Nikon introduced no fewer than four different versions between 1988 and 1998. In 2002, Nikon introduced the current version, extending the short end to 70mm and added vibration reduction (VR) to AF-S. VR makes it easier to hand hold in low light conditions. This is an excellent lens for news, sports, events/wedding, fashion and landscape photography. Wide open at f/2.8, it also has a bit of vignetting; if it is stopped down to f/4, sharpness improves significantly.

The D3 has an optional automatic DX crop capability that can be selected from the Shooting Menu. With this feature on, if a DX lens that has a small image circle for DX-sensor Nikon DSLRs is mounted, the D3 will automatically switch to the DX format (16x24mm) at 5MP instead of 12. Therefore, DX Nikon lenses such as the Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8G ED AF DX Fisheye, (compare prices), and Nikon 12-24mm f/4G ED IF Autofocus DX, (compare prices) (review), and Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR DX, (compare prices), can also be used on the D3 without vignetting. On larger prints, the image quality is compromised a little because of the 5MP capture. One issue to keep in mind is that some third-party DX-equivalent lenses might not have completely reverse-engineered Nikon's electronic signal such that auto DX crop does not function properly. In that case the DX crop can be manually switched on and off.

Compatibility with Older lenses

Nikon has never changed the basic F mount since the original Nikon F from 1959. The D3 is fully compatible with almost all F mount lenses, both manual focus and auto focus, since Nikon introduced auto indexing (AI) in 1977, with a few rare exceptions (such as the two AF lenses specially designed for the F3, AF version). Pre-AI lenses from 1959 to 1977 must be AI converted before they can be mounted onto most modern DSLRs. Some of the early fisheye and super-wide lenses that protrude into the mirror box and require a mechanical mirror lock up also cannot be used.

Similar to the D1, D2, D200 and D300 family DSLRs, the D3 has the traditional mechanical aperture setting linkage so that it can meter with manual-focus lenses that have no built-in CPU, for both center weighted and spot metering. Additionally, the D3 has a mini lens database inside. If the information for manual-focus lenses is pre-programmed into the database so that the D3 body knows what the maximum aperture is, matrix metering is also available.

Compared to the Nikon D2X/D2Xs and D300

While the D2X/D2Xs, D300 and D3 are all 12MP DSLRs, the similarities end there. The D2X is now over three years old; it is limited to 5 fps and its high-ISO performance from 800 and up is considered poor by today's standards. The D2X's Multi-CAM 2000 AF module is still excellent, though. While it only has 11 AF points, I like the fact that those AF points are more spread out inside the frame, and the "corner" ones are at locations where subjects are typically positioned.

The D300 shares the same AF capabilities with the D3 and has a similar frame rate (8 fps with the MB-D10 grip vs. 9 fps for the D3). Its smaller DX sensor means the pixels are a lot denser. It is great for wildlife photographers who need the reach for their telephoto lenses. However, there are fewer options for wide angle lenses, especially at f/2.8 and faster. The larger sensor and photosites give the D3 much superior high-ISO performance, by approximately 1.5 stops; that is one of the main advantages for the D3.

While the D300 is also well built, it is not quite at the same level as the D3. For example, the D3's shutter is rated for 300,000 actuations, twice as many as that for the D300. With the MB-D10 vertical grip attached, the D300 is about the same size and weight as the D3. However, the D300 becomes much smaller without the grip.

Compared to the Canon EOS 5D, 1D Mark III and 1Ds Mark III

People like to compare the D3 against Canon's 1Ds Mark III and 5D because currently (March 2008), they are the only three full-35mm-frame DSLRs in production. However, functionally, the D3 is closer to Canon's 1D Mark III, which is also a fast AF, high frame-rate DSLR with excellent low-light performance suitable for news and sports photography. They are priced similarly (initially $4500 for the 1D Mark III and $5000 for the D3). The difference is that the 1D Mark III has a smaller, 28.1x18.7mm (1.3x crop) sensor, 10MP, can capture up to 10 fps, and has an ISO range that tops at 3200 (extended to 6400). Overall, their specifications are quite similar and therefore they are direct competitors.

The 1Ds Mark III is currently the top-of-the-line Canon DSLR at 21MP and 5 fps. It is more a studio and landscape camera. The 5D was introduced in late 2005 and is a somewhat older design. It is also 12MP still with very good image quality and high-ISO performance. However, it is only 3 fps with a dated AF module that has 9 AF points, with one of them cross type. Moreover, it has no weather sealing. It is a smaller, lighter DSLR compared to the professional Canon and Nikon models. Its price has also dropped to just over $2000 depending on rebates, less than half as much as the D3.

Key D3 Features

  • 12.1MP 4256x2832 pixels
  • 23.9x36mm CMOS sensor, Nikon FX format (almost identical to the conventional 35mm-film frame), with optional DX (24x16mm) and 5:4 (30x24mm) crops.
  • 12-bit or 14-bit capture options
  • New Multi-CAM 3500 FX AF module with 51 AF points, 15 of them cross type
  • 9 fps capture, with 11 fps option in the DX crop mode
  • Sensor sensitivity from ISO 200 to 6400, with an extended range from Low 1 (roughly ISO 100) to High 2 (roughly ISO 25600)
  • Dual Compact Flash (CF) memory card storage
  • USB 2.0 interface, HDMI high-definition video output (PAL/NTSC)
  • Active D-Lighting and in-Camera Retouch Options
  • AF fine tune
  • Live view option
  • Virtual horizon (built in electronic "bubble level")

Conclusion

The D3 is Nikon's first installment to full-35mm-frame FX-sensor DSLRs, and they chose to introduce a sports and news DSLR that has excellent low-light performance. Those were precisely the major weaknesses previously in Nikon's DSLR line up. For those who would like a DSLR optimized for sports, news, and wedding photography, the D3 is probably the top choice. Since the D3 can handle ISO 3200 easily and provides very acceptable 6400 results, it changes the approach to indoor and low-light photography.

At the time of the D3 announcement, Nikon has also made it very clear that they will introduce additional FX-sensor DSLRs but provided few specifics. Merely three days before the D3 was announced, Canon had introduced a new 21MP, 5 fps, full-35mm-frame (full frame) EOS 1Ds Mark III DSLR, and during PMA (January) 2008, Sony announced a 24.8MP, full frame sensor that can go up to 6.3 fps but with only 12-bit capture. Clearly, there is a market for high-pixel-density, full frame DSLRs that Nikon will likely also enter. Meanwhile, there is the prosumer full frame DSLR market segment with DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 5D with fewer high-end features at a more modest cost. If one of those types of full frame DSLRs (i.e. high pixel count and prosumer) may better meet your photographic needs, it probably pays to wait until later in 2008 and 2009 to see what other FX-format DSLRs Nikon will introduce to compliment the D3.

At the same time Nikon introduced the D3, they also announced the Nikon D300, (compare prices) (review), which is a DX-sensor DSLR to demonstrate that Nikon will continue to support both formats. The D300 shares the same AF module as the D3 but is a step behind as far as ruggedness and high-ISO performance. However, at about one-third of the cost of a D3, the D300 is very much a viable alternative and provides better value for the money. In particular, for those long-lens users who prefer more reach, the D300's DX format is a plus.

Where to Buy

You may be able to find a used Nikon D3 on Photo.net's Classified Ads Section or KEH. Otherwise, check out a few of Nikon's newer full-frame sensor cameras:

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Example Photographs

Nikon 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED AF-S VR II, set at 400mm, aperture priority mode at f/4, 1/3200s, ISO 250. The surfing images were captured at a well known surfing spot: Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, California, next to the lighthouse. From my camera position, the surfers were coming in from the right side of the frame moving towards the left. I use Dynamic Area AF with 21 AF points. The center of the group is the AF point one column to the right of the center to place the subject slightly on the right side of the frame, thus leaving some room in front of him (or her) to move into. The 15 cross-type AF points among the 51 total AF points are the ones in the center three columns (in the horizontal/landscape orientation), five in each column. I keep the center AF point in a cross-type point for best performance.

Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED-IF AF, set at 85mm, JPEG capture with "vivid" mode, aperture priority mode at f/4.5, 1/25s, ISO 6400. Photographing in a dark crowded club with lighting conditions being less than optimal, the D3 was able to capture the band Cart Blanch in action with very little noise, although set at ISO 6400.

Nikon 200-400mm f/4G IF-ED AF-S VR II, set at 400mm, f/4, 1/25s, ISO 3200. I attended the rehearsal two days prior to the wedding and confirmed that I could photograph from the balcony, usually my favorite location for wedding photography. I also tested the D3 at ISO 3200 and 6400 at that location; after checking the results, I was confident to use those high ISOs during the actual wedding. I brought a long zoom so that I could focus on a small group as well as a larger group of people at the altar without changing lenses. The D3's performance at ISO 3200 is simply amazing.


Text ©2008 Shun Cheung. Photos ©2008 Shun Cheung and Naphtali Visser.

Article revised March 2011.

Readers' Comments


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Michael Ging , March 14, 2008; 03:26 P.M.

Great Review Shun , I appreciate all your hard work with a well presented review. I do have many AI-S MF lenses,especially long telephotos that would be difficult and expensive to replace.My question is this, how is the ability of the viewfinder to show when the image is in focus by looking at the screen. I know you can use the in-focus sensor to help focus MF lenses ,but I was wondering how easy it was to focus on the Ground glass screen, just using your eye? Thanks again for doing this.

Shun Cheung , March 14, 2008; 03:42 P.M.

Michael, I am probably not the person to answer that question, as I sold my 500mm/f4 P 10 years ago and currently only own two manual-focus AI/AI-S lenses. Two years ago, I had great difficulty manually focusing a Zeiss 50mm/f1.4 ZF on the D2X, as the electronic rangefinder is not that accurate for an f1.4 lens. The larger full FX frame viewfinder on the D3 should help (compared to DX-format viewfinders).

The best solution is probably to find a split-image focusing screen for the D3.

Ilkka Nissila , March 14, 2008; 04:13 P.M.

I think you will need to test how easy it is to manual focus with the matte screen yourself, using your eyes. In my personal opinion, it's short of the best film SLR viewfinders (e.g. F6), but not by much. You can manual focus using it, but you'll get more precise focus by using the live view and zooming in to manual focus. I don't know if anyone makes a split-image screen for the D3 though. -- I don't think the D3 should be thought of as just a sports, news, or wedding camera. It has 12 MP which is more than enough for most photography, except for very large prints. The improvement between 6 and 12 MP in DX size sensors is indeed noticeable in prints, but this is the better part of the lenses - the center. When you increase the pixel density of the D3 to 24 MP - what you might find is unhappiness as the difference between center and edge sharpness becomes more obvious than ever before. Time to buy yet another set of lenses, I'm afraid.

Ellis Vener , March 14, 2008; 05:19 P.M.

Thungs missed i nthe review were a discussion of

-battery life

-working with live View

otherwise, a solid non biased review.

I would characterize the difference in AF performance between the D2X and the D3 as more than slight. 85-90% vs. near 100% as Shun puts it

Eric Arnold , March 14, 2008; 08:29 P.M.

i agree with ellis, haven't seen much on live view for either the d3 or d300. i suspect it will take a dedicated macro-phile to get the best out of this feature, probably the least used (so far) on either of the new nikon bodies.

Shun Cheung , March 14, 2008; 08:40 P.M.

I have used liveview only twice on the D3 and D300, once at that wedding and once in a party. In other words, there are likely plenty of people who value that feature a lot more than I do.

As far as battery life goes, I can only say the EN-EL4/EN-EL4a is excellent. I have captured close to 1000 images in a day with the D3, and the battery indicator might have lost just 1 bar. When the D2X was my main camera, I typically switch batteries in the middle of the day, so I have never been close to running out.

Ellis Vener , March 14, 2008; 08:58 P.M.

I regularly use the D3's Live view (in tripod mode and manually focusing) for archtiectural (including cityscapes) and still life shots. The ability to really zoom in and very precisely focus makes the D3 a very powerful tool in those types of situations.

Battery life is pretty extraordinary with the D3.

Mark Dalrymple , March 14, 2008; 09:39 P.M.

I've been using LiveView on the D3 a lot more than I expected. It's handy for composing over-the-head crowd shots, focusing for still-life/macro stuff, and it was a god-send when I was doing some product photography for my wife. We could compose the shot on the live-view to both of our satisfaction. It's also nice for composing sunrise/set pictures that include the sun. "Do not look into sun with remaining eye".

Rafael Batlle , March 15, 2008; 12:04 A.M.

I am a sharpness freak with a lot of old manual focus lenses. They are easy to focus on the D3, and unlike my D200 the focus indicator is accurate. Something most reviewers miss is that the D3 has built in magic to eliminate chromatic aberration from almost any lens. Old lenses perform really well on the D3 because it has a large sensor with relatively few pixels, and no chromatic aberration. The D3x may require new lenses for top quality in the future. The D3 does not. Check this photo with a 15mm F5.6 from 1977. This will print great at 12*18". http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2390/2321712692_7900981fae_o.jpg

Walter Schroeder , March 15, 2008; 06:37 A.M.

Shun very well done and well presented - thank you.

I just would like to add that despite the major strong points for action photography you mentioned I value the D3 very highly for general application. For me the larger format and this implementation offers the quality of the viewfinder that I need to manual focus older but excellent AI lenses or current AF lenses if the situation calls for it. The large format alone with the intended coverage of the FF lenses is a benefit on its own. A D300 with a set of new lenses is in the same price range as a D3 added to an already existing set of lenses for an F5 or F6. The excellent dynamic range and the unprecedented low light capabilities comes in handy at almost all application. The impressive low light capabilities do not only originate from low noise but impressive color and detail rendering. Noise looks more pleasing than with my D200 - so even if there is visible noise at say 6400 ISO it often looks more acceptable.

Another thing I noticed was the high quality of BW images I was able to get out of this camera (during PS workflow)compared with the D200. I do not know exactly the reason but the image quality lets me rethink my preference for silver based film. Certainly much more camera than what I "need" as a non professional - nevertheless it carries a remarkable fun factor. So it does not only "deliver" but also gives you the feel to be in control - even though the D200 or the D300 already offer so much.

Tom Theodore , March 16, 2008; 09:36 P.M.

Nice review of this great camera. I purchased mine however for $4995 which seems to be the going rate at most reputable camera stores. As research would indicate, it sometimes pays to shop around. Amazon does not always have the lowest prices around. B&H, Midwest Photo, Samy's and Adorama are good places to start and they also have the product knowledge to help answer questions you might have.

Jeff Miller , March 19, 2008; 11:26 A.M.

OK Review, but like many others misses some important points when comparing to the Canons. I do have the Canon 1Ds and 1D and Nikon film cameras. I have friends with the D3. The D3 is a great compromise between the 2 Canons for the price but is not either one. Important things left out of the D3 comparison to the 1D... 1. Frame rate compared, but not number of captured frames in burst! And do you get what they claim. 2. D3 has low temperature issues 3. Battery life 4. Professional support programs 5. Noise should never be compared without fine detail. Anyone can completely remove noise with processing, but it's how much detail you lose that's important. 6. Higher ISO in camera is nice, but RAW files can get higher ISO's by changing exposure settings during conversion if not available in camera. At ISO's that high, I would hope you would be doing some post production noise removal anyway, so in camera higher ISO level adjustments not so important.

Guy Collier , March 20, 2008; 12:01 P.M.

D3

1. Frame rate compared, but not number of captured frames in burst! And do you get what they claim.

The 1D3 is higher, yes.

2. D3 has low temperature issues

Far from certain - aside from ONE report there are no issues I'm aware of. There are, however, many reports of D3's in use with no issues at low temps

3. Battery life

What about it? No complaints whatsoever.

4. Professional support programs

What about them? No complaints whatsoever. NPS supports just as well as CPS (and I'm a member of both).

5. Noise should never be compared without fine detail.

No it shouldn't, but I'm not sure why this is drummed out again and again. The D3 has no issues with detail as long as NR isn't set to Norm or High.

Georg Nikolaus Nyman , March 21, 2008; 11:21 A.M.

This review is very good in my opinion and your focus of interest and application is a different one to mine (my review is at http://www.gnyman.com/NikonD3vsNikonD2xs.htm ), but both of us came to similar conclusions. What I do not understand is that Nikon allows so much vignetting at their new 24-70mm prime lens, at 24mm it is very noticeable and disturbing - and that lens is not cheap at all! I love the D3 and yes, as you pointed out, there is a large improvement made over the D2x(s).. Thanks for this interesting review! Georg N.Nyman, Vienna/Austria

Ian Macadam , March 21, 2008; 05:30 P.M.

Great Review Shun wall done

Ian Macadam , March 21, 2008; 05:31 P.M.

Great Review Shun well done

Shun Cheung , March 22, 2008; 07:25 A.M.


ISO 3200, details

For those who would like to see how the D3 works in burst, I have added a 14-frame sequence at 9fps to my D3 folder.

Before the D3 and D300 came on the scene, my main camera was the D2X, which has a 17-frame RAW buffer and a max rate of 5fps (I don't like the D2X's high-speed crop mode and don't use it). When there is a lot of wildlife or sports action so that I need to capture one burst of 3, 4, 5 frames after another, I have occasionally filled up the D2X's RAW buffer and of course when that happens, the camera is effectively disabled for 10, 20 seconds until sufficient buffer is freed up.

Therefore, when I first saw the specification that the D3 also has a 17-frame RAW buffer (again, the exact size varies depending on settings), I was quite disappointed. In particular, at 9fps, it would seem to be much easier to fill up the D3's buffer. However, as it turns out, with UDMA-compatible compact flash memory cards, the D3 and D300's can write about 5 times as fast as the D2X can. Instead of taking 4, 5 seconds to write a RAW file into the memory card, it is about 1 second for the D3 and D300. That makes a huge difference for action photography. For example, if there is a 5-second pause in the action, the D3 can free up sufficient buffer space for another burst of 5 frames while the D2X can free up about 1 frame. Now, I have been using the D300 and then the D3 since November, 2007, and I have yet to run out of buffer space once during actual action photography.

So, don't just read the specs about the size of the RAW buffer. How fast the camera can write to flash memory makes a big difference in real life action photography.

As far as battery life goes, again, I have captured over 1000 images on the D3 within a day with a lot of chimping, and there was more than 50% of the charge left. I can see that it is a concern if you are camping at a remote location for two weeks without any opportunity to recharge. Otherwise, as long as you can charge your battery every night, this is a complete non issue. I typically carry a spare EN-EL4(a), and even that is really unnecessary.

The 24-70mm/f2.8 AF-S lens has been discussed quite a few times in the Nikon Forum discussion. The vignetting at 24mm, f2.8 is serious enough that we got in touch with Nikon USA to get a second sample for further evaluation. I also checked a freind's copy. Unless your subject is something like a uniform blue sky or white wall outdoors, vignetting is not that obvious in more real-life, indoor images when one tends to use this lens at 24mm, f2.8. The vignetting goes away by f5.6 so that it is typically a non issue outdoors, and it can be corrected easily in post processing. However, I would say I am somewhat disappointed that such a high-end lens from Nikon shows so much vigentting, although I am planning to buy a 24-70 myself later on.

For those who would like to see some details at high ISO, I am attaching a pixel-level crop (see above) from the very first image in this article, which was captured at ISO 3200. I have printed a lot of ISO 3200 and 6400 images from that wedding to 8.5x11", and I am very happy with the results and so is the bride. (Compared to 3200, ISO 6400 does have more noise and less contrast/saturdation.) For those who are interested in pixel-level high-ISO comparisons, Georg Nikolaus Nyman's review has a number of them.

Shun Cheung , March 25, 2008; 12:17 P.M.

For those who are interested in using the Nikon D3 for wedding photography, there is a good discussion in our Wedding Forum: photo.net/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=00OPGQ

Ty Mickan , April 04, 2008; 08:39 A.M.

Great review and for the record, I love my D3 and it is clear to me that Nikon have designed this camera to be used as an SLR was originally intended and has always been used for; a sports, pj and event camera. if i want to shoot landscape or studio shots, I'll use my Hasselblad. I really hope Nikon do not get sucked into this high MP race and sacrifice their beautiful image quality they have with the D3 and those big fat pixels.

Christopher Engeler , April 06, 2008; 10:47 A.M.

Regarding the option of a split screen: Brightscreen.com has one available. It is a dream come true to use old manual focus lenses and also the newer Zeiss ZF lenses to their full potential. Although useful, the in-focus light in the viewfinder is not ideal and this screen is the real thing.

Ilkka Nissila , April 15, 2008; 06:41 A.M.

Nice to know that a split image screen is available. FW 1.1 allows brighter AF markers in the VF, which is helpful.

Landrum Kelly , April 22, 2008; 01:52 A.M.

"Nikon have designed this camera to be used as an SLR was originally intended and has always been used for; a sports, pj and event camera. If I want to shoot landscape or studio shots, I'll use my Hasselblad."

If one is after the very best landscape photos, then the Hassy is not going to be good enough, either: better break out the 8x10 view cameras. For the rest of us, a decent DSLR is probably going to work just fine. For most persons, it is not going to matter too much whether the sensor has twelve, sixteen, or twenty-two megapixels. Although I currently shoot Canon, the D3 sounds like an excellent camera to consider if one is going to have only one high-end camera for a variety of applications.

This sounds like one very versatile camera that is truly superb for action shots, but it certainly is not likely to do a shabby job in other applications as well. The D3 does seem to have raised the bar where digital versatility is concerned. I won't be selling my Canon gear anytime soon, but I certainly would counsel those who have yet to invest in lenses to be very careful which DSLR body to buy at this point. I like my full-frame Canons (5D and 1Ds II) but I still miss the aperture ring on Nikon lenses. I really think, though, that I could be happy with either brand at this point, and the next round of models is only going to mean even better results. We can all be happy enough to lay the Ford-Chevy debate to rest, can't we? There will always be something better, but full-frame DSLRs are so good now that I don't think that most of us are going to be unhappy either way we go. I'm happy.

--Lannie

Jack Crossfire , April 22, 2008; 07:19 A.M.

Almost 1 year after it was introduced, dpreview finally got a sample & showed its picture quality was identical to the EOS 5D. Considering the reduced pixel count & the tendancy of dpreview to bump up specs for newer products, they're identical. Being the same output & twice the price of the 5D makes Nikon's move mostly an inflation play.

With that in mind, internet posts do affect revenue & we don't want to hurt a stock price by being negative. Nikon added a lot of software & speed with that higher tag & they wouldn't do it unless it was really important for us consumers to have it, so you won't catch us saying the extra 2.5g for the Nikon isn't worth it.

Ilkka Nissila , April 23, 2008; 08:11 A.M.

Jack, I don't hear people who've bought the D3 complaining. I'd probably buy a second one for backup if I didn't expect a prosumer body with a similar sensor to come out in 2009. And yes, I considered the 5D but it didn't allow me to see the viewfinder image in one look with my glasses on so it was not useable to me, not to mention all the stories of mirrors falling out not giving much confidence on the quality of the product. Live view is also missing in the 5D, as is the possibility of using Zeiss glass with automatic aperture. The D3 actually allows you to take several pictures before the camera becomes unresponsive because its flushing its RAW buffer. Judging from the dpreview samples the D3 high ISO image quality with ACR seems to be about 1-1.5 stops ahead of the 5D, and if we use Capture NX, the difference grows since Nikon's tailor-made algorithms give a better result at high ISO than other RAW converters on this camera (documented in several raw converter comparisons on the net), at a cost of some increase in conversion time.

Worth every penny. Can't imagine photography without it, I think it's a 10-year leap in technology.

Don't forget that a large part of the attraction of this camera is that it's the first Nikon full-frame DSLR. It allows the utilization of numerous older Nikon lenses to their fullest quality, for the first time with digital capture (the Kodak was an interesting attempt but with bad ergonomics and other issues which prevented its widespread utilization). Since the Nikon D3 has compatibility with manual focus lenses, including matrix metering and automatic aperture, one can use inexpensive high quality optics which are built to last.

Landrum Kelly , April 24, 2008; 07:19 P.M.

The maturation of digital

"Can't imagine photography without it, I think it's a 10-year leap in technology."

For six months, max.

Yes, great camera, but you're beginning to sound like a paid endorser. I've shot the 5D and never had the problems you allude to. Maybe a bit less anecdotal "evidence" and a bit more hard data?

This is a great camera, but let's put it in perspective. It is one in a string of breakthroughs, all of which have been quite remarkable in retrospect. I wonder what kind of competition it will be running up against in, say, six months, or six years--my frame of reference, since I have been shooting digital now almost exactly six years. The Nikon D100 came out not too long after I bought my Olympus E-20 back in January, 2002. The D100 was also a big leap in noise reduction for that era, especially at low light.

I wonder, in any case, what the next six years are going to bring. This is a very wonderful camera. That is clear. It might represent the true maturation of digital, since it is fast and full-frame and very low noise, with quite a healthy number of megapixels--quite a remarkable combination when one thinks about it.

Nikon hit a home run with this one. They needed it, and they got it. We are all richer for it, regardless of which brand we shoot. I hope that it keeps Canon honest on prices.

--Lannie

Ty Mickan , May 01, 2008; 07:34 A.M.

Jack, you cannot compare the 5D to the D3. They are different cameras targeted at diffent people. I did not purchase a D3 for improved image quality at normal ISO. I wasn't complaining about my D200 in that departement.

Landrum, I like the Hassy for landscapes because it's a great compromise between portablility, ease of use, and cost effectiveness for me however I do agree that a Large camera is an improvement.

chanapong tanachaiwisit , May 08, 2008; 12:29 A.M.

Nikon D3 review video http://digitalcame.blogspot.com/2008/04/nikon-d3.html http://digitalcame.blogspot.com/2008/04/nikon-d3-preview.html

Ron van der Kolk , May 25, 2008; 01:36 P.M.

The D3 is a great camera with unprecedented results, but the vertical grip is too shallow for my hands. You can read about that in the Nikon forum.

Ron van der Kolk

.

Arash Hazeghi , June 02, 2008; 08:12 P.M.

Hi, With respect to buffer depth for shooting 12-Bit RAW files, this is only 1.9sec worth of continous shooting. As pointed out D3 may clear the buffer fast but then again, it may just stop at the "moment" you wished to snap. I usually like at least 3sec of non-stop continous shooting. I want to know what would the max number of frames in a burst if you lower the shooting speed to say 5-6 fps. Is it possible to get more shots in a sequence?

Bidyut De , June 15, 2008; 02:05 P.M.

Nice camera, great handling,but too costly.I have used Canon 5D and Nikon D40X extensively.Recently I borrowed Nikon D3 from my friend and used it for a week but sorry to say a serious professional like me will not spend 5000 $ for this camera.I even found better shots from my 5D.When I see at actual pixel in Photoshop, D3 comes with more noise specially in low light photography.So......

Image Attachment: fileBkcEwU.jpg

David King , June 24, 2008; 03:26 P.M.

Bidyut De , June 15, 2008; 02:05 P.M.

Nice camera, great handling,but too costly.I have used Canon 5D and Nikon D40X extensively.Recently I borrowed Nikon D3 from my friend and used it for a week but sorry to say a serious professional like me will not spend 5000 $ for this camera.I even found better shots from my 5D.When I see at actual pixel in Photoshop, D3 comes with more noise specially in low light photography.So......

------------------------------

What? So let me get this straight. Countless people praise the D3 and its clean image at high ISO and you claim that it "comes with more noise especially in low light photography." So everyone else is off and you're the one on point?

Sure you can find better images from your 5D and your D40...I can find better images from my 3 MP point and shoot digital than my D3...I took a great shot of the beach house with the point and shoot which had great contrast and color! I compared it to a picture I took of my cat last night hiding under the kitchen table...Boy, that D3 really looks grainy and lacks a lot of color.

Point is, on average, I would bet that the D3 consistantly puts out a better quality image 99.5% of the time when compared to a D40 and 75% of the time when compared to a 5D. It wont win every battle, but it will win more often than both of those two cameras you mentioned.

David Fisher , June 25, 2008; 05:55 P.M.

I love my Nikon D200 with the 18-200 mm lens as it satisfies about 98%+ of my shooting requirements (about 1000 photos per week). Just for the heck of it I purchased a D3 (my wife loved my decision......ha, ha). Wow! I was stunned by the low light performance. After shooting several photos at ISO 6400 and reviewing them on my computer I was sure that there was something wrong with the information detail attached to the photo and that I was really shotting at something like ISO 640 (if there is such a value). But, the information was correct and I was simply getting beautiful results at ISO 6400. Since then I have been taking adventage of every indoor and low light photo opportunity that I can get and have been getting wonderful results. It is changing the way that I approach and enjoy photography. Although I will continue to keep my D200 within arms reach I am keeping my D3 a bit closer as it will allow me to expand my photography adventures. Keep up the great work, Nikon! P.S. ...... After seeing many of my stunning D3 photos my wife is very pleased that I treated myself to a really cool piece of equipment.

Shun Cheung , June 30, 2008; 02:35 P.M.

Marc Williams has started a thread, reviewing the D3 for wedding applications: photo.net/wedding-photography-forum/00Q0OG

Paolo Inselvini , October 23, 2008; 10:58 A.M.

I had D200 and D2X but this is the final camera. Great colours, resolution, noise, speed, construction and body. I love that!

Paul Levrier , November 25, 2008; 05:17 A.M.

I work primarily in travel/cultural/event photography in Asia and the D3 is the best thing since a bowl of rice. Besides its many wonderful features I particularly enjoy its divine tonal quality, which seems to be even more pronounced in high ISO, dim light conditions, which I find myself in a lot of the time. This now sits alongside my trusty D2xs although I now find myself reaching for the D3 first and foremost. The D3 has opened up a whole new world of photographic opportunities that were never presented before in my field.

Steve Wagner , January 18, 2009; 02:56 A.M.

A relatively low-resolution (12mp, by today's standards anyway) camera with no crop factor is not "clearly optimized for wildlife." Far from it. The Canon 50D by comparison, with 3 more mp and a significant crop factor, is a far better choice, even with the 6 fps vs. 9. Far more reach, you're only using the sharper part of the lens, and it costs only about 25% of what the D3 does.

And what's with saying

"The Nikon D3, $4100, can be purchased overnight from Adorama."

Yes, and it can also be purchased from a thousand other places

Andrew Miller , February 25, 2009; 05:19 P.M.

Been using the D3 for some time now - about 12 months. I'm not a pro - just an enthusiastic amateur - and I have now paired it with a D700. I usually take two bodies and two lenses on a shoot with possibly a third or fourth in vest pockets. (This is a hang over from my film days when I always had one loaded with colour and the other loaded with B&W). Dependent on what I'm expecting I use a 14-24 or 24-70 with 70-200 on other body, may have 24 PC-E or 105 Micro in vest. My main love is architecture, landscape and seascape together with Photoshop abstracts. I love the bright viewfinders of the FX bodies but have swopped the D3 focus screen to the grid version. For some shoots I use a 500mm f4 and a 1000mm reflex f11 - both MF Nikkors and for those I find that "Live View" is the best form of focus. I am so pleased with the FX that I have got rid of all my DX stuff - D2X, D300 and D200 plus all the DX lenses that went with them. D3X? If I want a camera akin to a Medium Format, I'll get a dedicated one. Thanks for an excellent initial review.


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