What do you get for six grand these days? Let’s find out..

Product Overview

Overall rating:

94%

Nikon D3x

Overall score:94%
Value:90%
Image Quality:95%
Performance:95%
Design:95%
Features:95%

Pros:

  • Incredible resolution, image quality up to ISO 1600, handling and performance

Cons:

  • No dust control, no built-in flash, auto WB not foolproof, that price tag!

Product:

Nikon D3x Review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£5999

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For years, if you wanted a full-frame DSLR your only choice was Canon, whose latest flagship is the 21MP EOS 1Ds Mk III. So when Nikon finally revealed its first full-frame DSLR, the D3, little over a year ago, eyebrows were raised at its 12MP sensor. But it soon became apparent that by limiting the pixel count the D3 achieved unprecedented levels of noise control, and the ability to shoot, for the first time, at an extraordinary ISO 25,600. The superb image quality led some to question the need to ever cram more than 12MPs on a sensor.

But there are those professionals who do demand the extra resolution that can only be achieved by having more pixels, such as studio, commercial, landscape, stock, and various other photographers who need large image files and rarely shoot handheld or above ISO 100. These users have, up until now, used Canon.

Now Nikon has finally turned its attention to these resolution junkies and released a 24MP version of the D3. Some may say it’s at least three years too late, but better late than never.

The D3x is identical in almost every way to the D3 except for the sensor, and for two consequences of those extra pixels: a more restricted ISO range and slower burst speed.

Oh, and there’s one more very big difference of course, the whopping £6,000 price tag. This is almost double the current street price of the D3 and £1,000 more than its direct rival, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III. It’s also three times the current price of the 24MP Sony Alpha 900, upon whose sensor the D3x chip is based.

Buy this camera now !

 

More info:

Nikon D3x features

Nikon D3x performance

Nikon D3x image quality

Nikon D3x value for money

Nikon D3x verdict

Nikon D3x specifications

Features

For those familiar with the D3 the D3x specs will have a familiar ring, but let’s recap anyway. First, its large, heavy body is made from the same magnesium alloy and is comprehensively protected against the elements. It has a 100% viewfinder accompanied by a 920,000dot high-resolution 3in LCD screen with two live view modes: TTL phase-detection AF (for tripod-based work) and contrast-detect AF.

It features the usual PASM exposure modes (no scene modes, of course) and offers several technologies to manage exposure and dynamic range, including 3D Color Matrix Metering II (powered by a 1,005-pixel RGB chip); Scene Recognition, which uses its ability to identify the type of subject being photographed to provide information to the focus, exposure and white balance systems; and Active D-Lighting, to control and boost highlight/shadow detail. Focusing comes courtesy of Nikon’s 51-point MultiCAM 3500FX AF module, with 15 cross-type sensors – by far the most sophisticated on the market – and is aided by the aforementioned Scene Recognition System which can help the focus to pinpoint a face or track a moving subject. The camera is compatible with both FX and DX lenses, though the latter gives you a smaller 3968 x 2640pixel image and a 10.4MP file.


The D3x can save image files as TIFF, JPEG and RAW (uncompressed, compressed or losslessy compressed) in various combinations, and provides two CompactFlash slots for their storage. These can be used in various ways, with the second card usable either as a back up or overflow storage, or you can save Raw files to one card and JPEGs to the other.

Like the D3 the D3x lacks a built-in flash, or any form of dust reduction. I’m surprised that Nikon couldn’t find a way to squeeze in the latter, given its importance and the fact that even entry-level DSLRs now include it. The reason, apparently, is that the space that Nikon’s anti-dust system would take up would mean that the D3x’s 100% viewfinder would have to be reduced to 95%. Given the choice between Dust Reduction and a 100% viewfinder, the latter won. This means the D3x is reliant on the post-capture dust removal features within Nikon’s Capture NX 2 Raw software (which doesn’t even come with the camera). In my view prevention and cure are different things so I’ll bet Nikon’s engineers are busy beavering away to develop an in-camera anti-dust system for its next-generation cameras that doesn’t sacrifice any of the viewing area.

As for built-in flash, aside from its obvious use as an emergency fill-flash it can be used in commander mode to wirelessly trigger multiple external Nikon flashguns. Without it you’ll need to buy an additional flashgun to use as a trigger in order to benefit from Nikon’s superb wireless Creative Lighting System.

Now we get to the bit where the D3x differs from its older brother: the sensor. The camera uses a 25.72 MP full-frame (FX) format CMOS chip of which 24.5 million pixels are effective. This produces 6048 x 4032 pixel images, which translate to 140MB TIFF files.

If you’re getting a sense of deja-vu from those numbers it’s because they’re similar to those for the Sony Alpha 900. As with some other Nikons, the sensor is manufactured by Sony, though Nikon is adamant that the D3x sensor is a unique design, developed exclusively for the D3x but manufactured by Sony.

But while there are few differences between the sensors in both cameras, their processing technologies are very different, with Nikon using a modified EXPEED processor in the D3x.

Given that the sensor is the same physical size as the D3’s those extra pixels need to be a lot smaller to fit on it (5.94 μm pixel pitch compared to 8.45μm, if you’re interested) which means they have less lightgathering power and therefore a narrower ISO sensitivity range. On the D3x it runs from ISO 100 to 1600, extendable to ISO 50-6400 (compared to the D3’s range of 200-6400, extendable to ISO 100 and 25,600).

The other main difference is in its burst rate. You wouldn’t expect the processor to handle 24MP images as quickly as 12MP ones, which is why the D3x peaks at 5fps in FX mode and 7fps in DX mode. Still pretty good. A burst of around 60-70 JPEGs or 20 12-bit Raw files is possible. In higher quality 14-bit mode the camera slows to a pedestrian 1.8fps.

There are a few other minor tweaks to the D3 feature-set, such as the addition of two extra levels of D-Lighting adjustment: Extra High and Auto. The D3x now also fully supports the new, faster UDMA cards, and the HDMI output is now a Type C – smaller but functionally identical. Buy this Camera now !

Performance

In use the D3x handles identically to the D3, which is to say exceptionally well. Why mess with a great design? Despite its weight it’s comfortable to use even for extended periods, whether in landscape or portrait orientation. All the key controls are easily accessible. Like the D3, the buttons for Quality, ISO and WB are along the bottom of the back, with their own mini data LCD which sits under the main colour TFT LCD screen.

If you don’t like the positioning of some of the controls, or the way they operate, the D3x enables within the menu a tremendous degree of customisation. You can change the functions of some of the primary buttons and even the direction of rotation of some of the dials, so you can set it up just the way you want it. You can even calibrate the LCD screen colour if required. Of course, you also have complete control over the way that final images look, in terms of colour, sharpness etc.

The 24-70mm f/2.8 supplied for the review, which is the most logical choice of partner to the camera, is a perfect complement in terms of size, weight and build quality, and gives the camera excellent balance. Focusing with this lens, and with Nikon’s AF-S lenses in general, is fast and accurate, as it should be with 51 focus points, though I usually prefer to use a smaller grouping. On the D3x there are numerous options; in single area AF mode you can select any of the 51 points for single point operation or switch to a smaller grouping of 11 points, while in multi-area AF you can select a cluster of nine or 21 points.

Metering is as sure-footed as the focusing, and performed impeccably, with not a single bad exposure during the entire test, despite a wide range of shooting situations.

The D3x uses an EN-EL4a Lithium-Ion battery and Nikon claims you can shoot up to 4,400 frames on a single charge. Certainly the 1000 odd shots I took during the test made barely an impact on the battery charge display. Buy this camera now !

Image Quality

Exposure
I don’t believe I got a single duff exposure in nearly 1,000 pictures, taken indoors and out, in sunshine, rain and night time, and at all ISO speeds. Highlight detail is invariably retained even in extreme lighting conditions (e.g. the floodlit building at night, below) – it will rather sacrifice shadow detail if it has to make a choice. I can’t see why you’d ever need the +/- 9 stop bracketing range offered by the D3x – extreme HDR, perhaps?

Noise
Although not quite as good as the D3 in this regard, noise is still remarkably well controlled up to ISO 1600, especially given the density of the sensor. When you get to ISO 6400 things can get a bit messy and the detail starts to break dials, so you can set it up just the way you want it. You can even calibrate the LCD screen colour if required. Of course, you also have complete control over the way that final images look, in terms of colour, sharpness etc.

The 24-70mm f/2.8 supplied for the review, which is the most logical choice of partner to the camera, is a perfect complement in terms of size, weight and build quality, and gives the camera excellent balance. Focusing with this lens, and with Nikon’s AF-S lenses in general, is fast and accurate, as it should be with 51 focus points, though I usually prefer to use a smaller grouping. On the D3x there are numerous options; in single area AF mode you can select any of the 51 points for single point operation or switch to a smaller grouping of 11 points, while in multi-area AF you can select a cluster of nine or 21 points.

Metering is as sure-footed as the focusing, and performed impeccably, with not a single bad exposure during the entire test, despite a wide range of shooting situations.

The D3x uses an EN-EL4a Lithium-Ion battery and Nikon claims you can shoot up to 4,400 frames on a single charge. Certainly the 1000 odd shots I took during the test made barely an impact on the battery charge display.

Colour And White Balance
The dynamic range of images from the D3x is as good as from any camera we have tested, and colour rendition is accurate. White Balance is generally good though I found it can be fooled in tungsten lighting.

Sharpness And Detail
As you’d expect from 24 megapixels, detail is incredible. You can just keep zooming and zooming into images without pixellation. At the default setting JPEGs are conservatively sharpened, and resemble the Raw files. Like the D3, the D3x features automatic correction for chromatic aberration and vignetting – performed in the processing, which is why there is little sign of these problems in any of the images. The 24-70mm f/2.8 lens used for most (though not all) of the test is an exceptional performer – bright, sharp, and with little distortion. I also used an old (non VR) 105mm Micro-Nikkor and the 17-55mm f/2.8 DX, with no issues.

Buy this camera now !

Value For Money

With a current street price of around £5,500 there’s no escaping the fact that the D3x is expensive. You can get the same build and features in the D3 for half the price, and the same or similar resolution in the Sony a900 and Canon EOS 5D Mk II for a third of the price. If you want both, you can get that too in the Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III for £1,000 less. However, although these cameras come close to the D3x in one aspect or another, none can quite trump it in every area. The a900 is great value next to the D3x but is not in the same league as a camera and the images, although almost as good, are a little noisier. Canon’s flagship EOS 1Ds Mk III equals the D3x in build quality, but can’t quite match the D3x’s focusing, metering and other systems, which are state of the art. Image quality however is almost indistinguishable, with the D3x perhaps shading it by a whisker. However, it’s not so much better that Canon owners will change systems for it – after all, there will surely be a 1Ds Mk IV at some point.

The issue of cost is subjective. Many pro’s, for whom a camera is a tax-deductable expense, won’t worry about the price as long as it gives them an extra edge, which it probably will. As for everyone else, I doubt that the small gains the D3x offers over the trio of £2,000 DSLRs will be seen as worth the extra £4,000.

Buy this camera now !

Verdict

With the D3x Nikon has finally joined Canon in the exclusive 20 Megapixel Club, and it was worth the wait. The D3x is a stunning camera that pushes the boundaries of DSLR performance to a new level. It isn’t perfect, though, in particular, the omission of any form of built-in dust control is a major disappointment.

Is it better than the D3? Well, that depends. If you shoot landscapes, or work in the studio, then yes it is. If you shoot sports, or in dimly lit jazz clubs, you’re still better off with a D3. It’s horses for courses. The bottom line is that if you want the finest image quality at the highest possible resolution, the D3x is now the best camera of its kind. To better it you’ll have to blow £10k on a medium format outfit, or wait and see what Canon does next.

Buy this camera now !

Full Specification

ISO:
100-1600 (extendable to 50-6400)
White Balance:
7 presets, Auto, manual Kelvin scale

Memory Card:
Dual Compact Flash slots
Shutter Type:
Focal Plane

Built-in Flash:
No
Lens Mount:
Nikon F

Exposure Comp:
+/- 5EV in 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps
Cable Release:
Optional cable or wireless remote

Compression:
JPEG: 3 levels NEF: 3 levels
PC Socket:
Yes

Viewfinder Type:
Eye-Level Pentaprism
Output Size:
6048 x 4032pixels

Field of View:
100%
LCD:
3in, 920k dot LCD

Colour Temp Control:
Kelvin (2500-10,000)
AF Points:
51 (inc 15 cross-type sensors)

White Balance Bracket:
Yes, 2-9 exposures
Max Flash Sync:
1/250sec

Sensor:
24.5MP CMOS
Focal Length Mag:
1x (FX mode) / 1.5x (DX mode)

DoF Prview:
Yes
Dust Reduction:
No

Metering System:
3D Color Matrix Metering II, centreweighted, spot
Exposure Modes:
PASM

Built-in Image Stabilisation:
No, VR lenses must be used
Connectivity:
USB 2.0/ HDMI

Live Mode:
Contrast / Phase Detect AF modes
Weight:
1220g (exc lens, battery, cards)

Power:
EN-EL4a LiIon battery, AC Adaptor
File Format:
NEF, JPEG, NEF+JPEG, TIFF

Dimensions:
159.5x157x87.5mm
Shutter Speeds:
30s-1/8000sec, Bulb

Colour Space:
sRGB, Adobe RGB
Drive Mode:
Single, Continuous L/H, ST

Focusing Modes:
Single, Cont (with Tracking), Manual

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Features
  3. 3. Performance
  4. 4. Image Quality
  5. 5. Value For Money
  6. 6. Verdict
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