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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. 


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.


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)