Nikon D3 Digital SLR Camera - First Look

Nikon D3 Digital SLR Camera - First Look

Ever since digital SLRs took off with the masses, purists have continued to beat the drum for a full-frame 35mm sensor. Eight years after its first dSLR, the D1 in 1999, Nikon has finally released its first full-frame digital SLR--although Nikon wants it known as the FX format.

The D1 was a monumental camera of its time, heralding the acceptance of digital sensors in SLR bodies. And Nikon is now suggesting that the D3 is of a similar nature, by dropping the "X" and "H" suffixes used for its current range of dSLRs. It would be fair to say that in many ways--it is.

The Japanese firm is taking a breather from the megapixel race and has instead concentrated on amalgamating other important image capturing and quality features. The result is a camera that features enough resolution, speed and image quality to make it perfect for almost all kinds of photographers, and especially, sports photographers and photojournalists.

The D3 sports 12.1-million pixels, the same amount as the former flagship D2Xs (and D2X). However, because of the increased pixel pitch from the larger physical sensor size, the D3 has more dynamic range and much better characteristics with regard to ISO noise.

That's right, Nikon finally has a camera that performs well with sensitivities as high as ISO 6,400. The only downside for existing users is that even with ISO noise reduction switched off in the camera's settings, the D3 still applies a small amount of noise reduction as with the D2X.

Regrettably, we weren't able to try the D3 with the new wide-angle zoom that Nikon had announced at the same time as the D3, the 14-24mm F2.8. That said, the Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-F5.6 let us experience the wide-angle view that has been missing from Nikon's recent digital lineup--although we did end up with slightly soft corners with the Sigma.

Nikon has always produced good wide-angle lenses and we look forward to seeing what will be possible with the brighter F2.8 aperture and the shallower depth-of-field available with a full-frame sensor. Already, Nikon's 200mm F2, together with the D3, has given us portrait options that used to be possible only on film.

In terms of speed or image-capturing performance, the D3 is probably the fastest camera we've ever had the chance to use. It's able to capture up to nine frames per second (fps) in FX (full frame) mode and 11fps in DX (1.5 crop) mode. This happens to better Canon's sports-oriented 1D Mark III by 1fps, albeit at a different resolution.

The D3's new Multi-CAM 3500FX auto focus module also seems to be more spirited compared with the D2Xs' Multi-CAM 2000 module. In short, you will not find the camera to be the cause of your misses. In terms of the body, the D3 hasn't really changed much from those of the D2Xs or D2Hs. Most of the slight cosmetic changes have been done to make room for the new larger LCD screen. If you're used to the D2Xs or D2Hs bodies, there isn't much of a learning curve, except for the AF-On button on the vertical grip--it has now shifted to a higher location.

The multi-directional pad has now switched from a one-piece design to one that has a separate center button. This should address the issue that some former users of the D2Xs and D2Hs bodies had with regard to pressing the multi-directional pad down uniformly to reset the focus point selection. Otherwise, the D3's body is as comfortable and as ergonomic as a typical Nikon.

The local availability and pricing details have yet to be revealed by Nikon, but here's one photographer hoping it doesn't go beyond the D2X's retail launch price of S$7,999. The ISO performance improvement alone makes the D3 a hugely tempting proposition. And if speed is what you truly need, look no further.