Nikon D3x Review
The new camera, according to Nikon, completes its line-up of full-frame cameras, and meets the needs of studio, stock and landscape photographers by upping the pixel count to a massive 24.5-megapixel – almost double that of theD3 – and giving the company a new flagship model in the process.
Cosmetically, the camera looks almost identical to the D3 and indeed, Nikon admits that it is wholly based on this existing body. There are, however, a good number of improvements under the skin, pixel count notwithstanding.
There is also no compromise on achieving the highest possible picture quality, something that the Nikon engineers used as their ultimate aim when designing the camera. With that in mind, the D3X retains the 100 per cent viewfinder coverage of the D3 rather than restricting the photographer’s viewby including the dust reduction system fitted to theD700.
Some commentators have decried this, but with the newly reinforced magnesium mirror box and the fact that all Nikon shutter mechanisms are pre run-in,the problems of dust entering the area are greatly reduced. While the camera does offer many features from the D3, the CAM3500 51-point autofocus system and 1005-pixel RGB exposure sensor, for example,these have been greatly enhanced by the Picture Control system.
This enables these components, along with the white balance information from the sensor, to communicate with each other, improving the performance of operations like 3-D tracking to the point where it is using information from all three elements to control the focus point.
Exposure metering has also been enhanced with the inclusion of a new prism grating on the 1005-pixel RGB sensor where the light is split by small prisms in front of the metering sensor. This focuses the wavelengths to the corresponding sensor component to ensure a greater degree of accuracy.
There is also no compromise on achieving the highest possible picture quality, something that the Nikon engineers used as their ultimate aim when designing the camera. With that in mind, the D3x retains the 100 per cent viewfinder coverage of the D3 rather than restricting. Naturally, while all of these new technologies are welcomed, the main focus of interest is the new, Nikon exclusive design, 24.5-megapixel sensor.
And, despite its obvious similarity to the Sony offering in the A900, the performance is considerably different. The D3 (and subsequent D700) was, and still is, hailed for its exceptional high ISO performance. It was said at the time that keeping the pixel count in those cameras down was how the low noise performance was achieved.
So, in the 15 minutes that we had to play with the camera, I unplugged the preset studio flashes and pushed the ISO setting from 100 to themaximum recognised ISO1600. Now, the pixel density of theD3x is almost identical to
that of the D200, an able camera but not one that was notable for its noise control. The D3x in DX mode uses 10-megapixels,virtually identical in image size to the 10.2-megapixels of theD200. TheD3x images, though, knock the output from that camera into a cocked hat!
The D300 would be a better comparison,as it is still a current model, albeit with a slightly denser pixel distribution. At ISO 1600 the D3x does the same trick, improving considerably on the image quality when files are viewed at 100 per cent. The D3x sports a brand new ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) board with an EXPEED
processing engine and 16-bit architecture that ensures the fine tonal reproduction on processed files, and improved power consumption that means the D3x can shoot up to 4400 frames on a single charge of the EN-EL4a battery, the same as used in the D3 and usable in the battery grip of the D300/700. That’s real system interoperability.
The camera has an increased buffer size compared to the D3, and with the file sizes it produces it really does need it. There is also a new ActiveD-Lighting setting of‘ExtraHigh’where, in situations with strong contrasts, ActiveD-Lighting (used in combination with 3DMatrixMetering II) determines an exposure by utilising a gradation of highlights, detects lost shadows, then reproduces them after digital processing. Full-frame Raw (NEF) files, stored at 12-bit produce 37MB files, while shooting in 14-bit mode increases them to 50MB. Full-frame large JPEGs are around the 10MB mark, whileTIFF files straight from the camera are a massive 72MB! With files of this size, large capacity UDMA-enabled CompactFlash cards are the order of the day in theD3x’s twin card slots. As with the D3,however, UDMAcards rated at 266x and above are the only way to extract the maximum performance from the camera.
With the self-testing, Kevlar/carbon fibre composite shutter, which is tested to 300,000 cycles, firing at five frames-per-second (fps) in FX mode, or 7fps inDX crop mode, theD3x has 12 channels to shift the data from the sensor to the storage media smoothly. The camera has the ability to record the same information to both cards at the same time, creating instant backups; use one card as an overflow, doubling its capacity; or to record one file type to one card while simultaneously recording another file type to the other card.
At normal setting, the D3x offers awide range of sensitivity – from ISO100 (suitable for a wide variety of studio situations) to ISO 1600 (for low light, hand held shooting). The sensitivity range can be increased by two stops (up to ISO 6400 equivalent) and decreased by one stop (down to ISO 50 equivalent), offering an even greater diversity of shooting possibilities. Auto sensitivity control is also available.
Just like the D3, the D3x achieves a start-up time of 0.12 seconds and a shutter release time lag of 0.04 seconds, so, although the headline speeds are a tad slower than the D3 and the top end ISO settings have a couple of stops margin, theD3x is still no slouch when it comes to picture-taking performance.
The next question, when it comes to a camera of this kind of resolution, is whether the lenses match the sensor’s performance. We put this question to Nikon, which confirmed that recently introduced 14-24mm and 24-70mm lenses were designed with this camera in mind. Fortunately, if you want to use older lenses, the camera sports
lateral chromatic aberration reduction and vignette control, which effectively prevents reduction of light in the corners of the frame affecting images.TheAF fine adjustment is carried over from the D3/300/700. Nikon has, in effect, done as much as it can to make all of its existing lenses usable on the camera, and that includes a DX crop mode for use with DX lenses.
The one big disappointment is, of course, the price, which at £5500 does seem to be a bit steep for what looks like an existing body with a new sensor. It is, however, just a couple of £K above the price of theD3 at launch and there are a number of advances in the camera over the original D3 specification that go a longway to warranting the price of this new offering. The Nikon’s handling ergonomics are well documented. With the controls being identical to the D3 the new camera continues this trend, making the camera more than a pure studio tool or something that has to be mounted on a tripod to achieve usable images.
Overall, the camera is a good step up from the D3, being able to beat that camera where it has been criticised for lack of resolution while only taking things at a slightly more leisurely pace. If your need is for ultimate image quality rather than the ultimate speed of the D3, then the D3x certainly steps up to the mark.
Click here for more information from the Nikon website: nikon.co.uk
Nikon has started 2008 with a brace of 12-megapixel DSLRs; the pro-spec D3 and this, the D300, for the semi-pro and enthusiast markets
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Three compact, lightweight DSLRs. All boast a healthy set of features, are capable of great results and give you change from £400
Nikon has added the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/18G to it's range.
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