Review Preview: Nikon D3 and ISO examples

Nikon D3

In anticipation of our upcoming in-depth review, Professional Photographer provides you with notes from our Nikon D3 reviewer Ellis Vener on its most notable features and functions that made a big impression. 

IMPRESSIVE

This is Nikon’s first full frame (24x36mm format) D-SLR—no crop factor. Nikon calls this format FX. While the resolution is only 12.1 megapixels, roughly equal to the resolution of the Nikon D300, the larger physical area allows Nikon to employ a second layer of micro lenses to really focus the light down into the pixel wells resulting in:

• More clear resolution of fine detail than I’ve seen out of other 12 megapixel format cameras.

• Large dynamic range when using the 14-bit per channel NEF format, especially in the highlights, about one and a half stops over the D2X. (This is also a result of the EXPEED processor technology implemented  in the D3.)

• Very low noise at high ISO settings, about two to four times the quality of the D2Xs.

• Much greater resolution of shadow detail than many other similar cameras.

The view through the view finder is sublime; it’s bright and uncomplicated.

A large high resolution LCD makes reviewing images and navigating the menus much easier.

A streamlined and easy to navigate menu.

The Nikon D3 is compatible with virtually all Nikon F-mount Nikkor lenses including older AI and AI-S and DX format lenses (though not all DX zooms cover the full FX format all at focal lengths).

In-camera options for DX mode and 4x5 aspect ratio. The latter is great for portraits, saving memory space. This saves time in post processing as well.  

Dual Compact Flash slots that can be set to various record modes: over flow (when first card is full, it automatically switches to second card); NEF on one card, JPEG on the other; or in-camera backup, recording duplicate files to each card. I use the latter the most.

Built-in electronic horizontal level option on the LCD. I just wish it worked for fore and aft leveling too.

Quite accurate and very fast autofocus with the AF-S lenses I’ve used so far. It does a fine job of tracking moving subjects when the AF is set to dynamic area 51-point AF in 3D tracking mode. This holds true even in low-contrast, low-light situations and also at high frame rates.

The two Live View modes: With the camera on a tripod, using Live View in tripod mode and manual focus, it’s better than using a high quality loupe on a view camera’s ground glass. Using the LCD’s magnification tool and zooming in to the check focus in small details anywhere in the frame rather than relying on the auto-focus is a big deal for precise architectural, landscape and still life work. I haven’t tried the handheld mode yet.

The D3 is miserly about power usage.

Handles well for a big camera.

Relatively quiet for an SLR.

The AF fine tune tool lets you find out just how great your various lenses really are. You can program a camera for up to 20 individual lenses.

Controls remain easy to use even when wearing gloves in cold wet weather.

Shrugged off light rain and snow.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

It is physically big and heavy. As with anything that is big and heavy, carrying it around on a shoulder or around your neck is tiring on long shoots. Nikon needs to next work on perfecting an anti-gravity mode.  

No FireWire output option for shooting tethered. Yes, USB 2.0 is suppose to be as fast as FireWire, but it never has been.  

It’s a minor point, but it would be great to b to use the AF fine tune mode that those settings were somewhere accessible in the EXIF data. If they are I couldn’t find them.  

 

NIKON D3 ISO RANGE (click any image for larger view) 

Above: L1.0, 1 EV below ISO 200 (ISO 100 equivalent)

Above: ISO 200

Above: ISO 400

Above: ISO 1600

Above: ISO 3200

Above: ISO 6400

Above: H1.0, 1 EV over ISO 6400 (ISO 12800 equivalent)

Above: H2.0, 2 EV over ISO 6400 (ISO 25600 equivalent)

 

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Comments (10)

I recently purchased the D3. It is quite incredible. After using Fuji models for years (the S3 is still a favorite), I have to admit that I feel like a true pro now with this battle tank.

Because there are far too many positives to discuss, I think to save time and space, it would be best to discuss the one negative that I've found.

This involves the camera's tungsten preset white balance. It just does not do a good job at color correcting tungsten light. In fact, it doesn't correct it at ALL!

Also, the auto white balance fails miserably in trying to correct tungsten-only light. I have to do a custom white balance every time I shoot under this kind of lighting condition.

I've been communicating with Nikon for two days, sending them samples of my tests, and the only thing they could suggest was to send it in to be check out. WHAT? I JUST got it!

I think I'll keep it for a while to see if it's just "me."

Other than this, I can't think of any other fault with the camera. I'm just glad Fuji kept me going this long until the best digital Nikon ever was finally built!

Ellis Vener:

You could do a custom white balance . Why haven't you tried the Tungsten (lightbulb icon) setting?

Are you shooting NEFS?

if capturing NEFs, what software are you using to process them?

I haven't done rigorous (i.e. repeatable with a target of known testing with a spectrally neutral target (read WhiBal or X-rite Color checker) using standard "tungsten" or quartz-halogen lights at the Tungsten WB setting to test the accuracy of Nikon's default "tungsten" setting o but will do so later today if you like.

As I stated previously, I DID use the factory preset tungsten setting (or as you call it, the light bulb icon). I shoot jpegs only.

I also have done custom white balances with complete success. I'm just miffed that it's not correcting it on its own with auto (I'm even putting a pure white sheet of paper in the scene, up close, to "help" the camera along with no luck), or with the factory preset.

I would love to hear any test results that you have regarding this. Thanks.

In my opinion, the best way to expose tungsten illuminated images is by setting the camera's white balance to the kelvin temperature settings. This is by far the most accurate way to expose tungsten light. Tungsten light varies widely in color temperature with so many different factors affecting the color, ie:wattage, dimmers, lamp shades, type of bulbs, quartz bulbs, and on and on. Try using a few different kelvin settings beginning at about 2600 and bracket up to about 3200...Im sure you will be impressed.

I'll just stick with my gray card and expodisc. Tungsten is really only an issue for weddings, and I don't really have the time to mess with Kelvin settings.

Like you said, there are many factors with regard to color temperature and tungsten lighting. Some bulbs are much more intense, and orange, than others.

A gray card, or even "something" gray in the room at the time, is a quick fix with acceptable results.

Thanks guys for the tips!

Ellis Vener:

Tungsten lighting at events is often controlled by dimmers and light level is progressively dimmed, tungsten lights become progressively " warmer" ( the color shifts towards then red end of the spectrum). The more the light shifts in that direction it becoimes increasing harder to correct to "neutral" as there simply is very little green and virtually no blue component in the light.

I really think you are not doing yourself any favors by insisting on making in camera JPEGS instead of shooting raw. Modern raw processors like Adobe Camera Raw in both Photoshop Cs 2 and CS3 and Lightware.

I have no objection to using JPEG compression but think that it is not appropriate anymore for anything but newspaper work or work that will only end up on a website. if you are shooting JPEGS to save on memory space, given the rapidly falling price of Compact Flash media ( example: you can get a 16GB SanDisk Extreme III for under $200 as of this month) this is no longer a valid reason to start your workflow with an 8 bit per channel compressed JPEG, especially when working in challenging lighting conditions that you cannot control.

Dajuan Jones:

I also own both the D3 and Fuji S5 camera bodies. Once you've had the pleasure of Fuji SOOC JPEGs, then you have to question why Nikon hasn't been able to come close to the same ability. It's not always about CF capacity (at least not for me). The camera's ability to get it right (AWB, or otherwise) signficantly reduces backend (NEF or RAF) work. I love the D3 for what it brings to the table, but I still keep the S5 because it is still unmatched for what it brings to the table. Quality SOOC JPEGs being the chief deliverable. I'd like nothing more than a FW update addressing this for the D3. The camera presets were better in my previous D200s.

We've had trouble from the start with our D3 files not opening properly in the preview panel in the latest Adobe Bridge. Perhaps we're all getting those black bands at the tops and bottoms of the thumbnail images. This signals that there will be no hope of seeing an enlagred preview when clicked on. Sometimes after the file has been opened in ACR it will preview propertly again later in Bridge, but not certainly. Has anyone got a fix to this problem?

Rick:

I shoot with a D200 and for the most part enjoying it. I recently shot a dance and used my studio light, a gray card, and a expo white blance corrector. I set my camera to the W/B appropriate setting.
I used NX (slow software)to corect my first shot hoping to batch the rest. It would not do it. I called Nikon support and the techs did not understand what I was trying to do. Can you help with some suggestions?

Ellis Vener:

Rob,

What version of Adobe Camera Raw are you using? I'm not having that problem in either Bridge or Lightroom. The correct version of ACR for D3 and D300 files is 4.3.1

Rick:

My understanding is that to use Nikon's in camera custom WB setting you have to fill the frame with the target. What I generally do is t ouse a spectrally neutral target -- either the WhiBal or the light gray patch on the X-Rite Color Checker i nthe light the subject is in , and in Lightroom or in Capture NX use the eye dropper tool to set the neutral balance.

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