The range-topping 12.1-megapixel D3 is Nikon's first digital SLR with a full-frame sensor.

Product Overview

Overall rating:


Nikon D3

Overall score:95%
Image Quality:95%


  • Excellent image quality, build, low-light performance, speed, AF system, LCD


  • Could argue the resolution could be higher, Live View on fixed LCD


Nikon D3 Review


Price as reviewed:


Features: Page 1

Familiar Layout

The Nikon D3 should be reasonably familiar to users of other Nikon cameras, whether digital or the high-end film cameras. It has the usual set of PASM modes, but no scene modes that you’d find on low- to midrange cameras. There’s comprehensive exposure assistance at your beck and call thanks to the D3’s ±5 stop exposure compensation and ±4 stop auto-exposure bracketing over two to nine frames. Each of these can be selected in one-third, half or one stop increments. White balance compensation is also included over nine exposures, and there’s a full range of WB options, including presets, manual and colour temperature.

As for the metering modes, there’s the standard centre-weighted as well as a 2% spot metering option and Nikon’s new improved 3D Colour Matrix Metering II, of which more later.

Live View

The chassis is constructed from tough magnesium alloy, designed to withstand the rigours of professional use from studio to war zone and everything in between. On the body, is the same 3in high-resolution LCD we first saw on the D300, with 920,000 pixels and live view. Live view is the latest must-have on DSLRs, allowing live viewing of the scene on the LCD just like on a compact. Unlike the Olympus or Panasonic version, the D3’s LCD is fixed flat to the camera back, so allows limited use of the view – for full effect the camera should be used on a tripod, while using it without can increase the chances of camera shake. Overall though, I prefer the tilt and swivel type of screen when using this feature.

Enhanced Sensor

Other technology the camera shares with the semi-pro D300 is the enhanced 1,005-pixel RGB sensor, used by the camera to provide accurate metering via the 3D Colour Matrix system. This system has been used by all recent Nikon cameras, but the D300 and D3 have seen some refreshing of the technology. The enhanced sensor now has Scene Recognition, to recognise the subject and other details before the shutter is fired. This information is used to improve the autofocus, exposure and white balance. An example would be in human identification. By recognising the shape and colours of a human face the system recognises the important part to focus on. This ability to distinguish between background and subject also aids the RGB sensor to track the subject based on its colour. This helps the AF to predict the movement of the subject and provide accurate focus and exposure quickly when the D3 is used in 3D tracking mode.

Improved Autofocus

Nikon has developed a new focus module, the Multi-CAM 3500FX, similar to the one found in the D300 (although that version has a DX suffix).

The AF features 51 individual AF points, including 15 cross-type AF points around the central area of the viewfinder frame. By using cross-type sensors, the camera can recognise contrast changes across the horizontal and vertical axes and so can more accurately measure the camera-to-subject distance and reduce instances of AF hunting. This is also used to more accurately lock onto off-centre subjects and improve the continuous AF tracking of moving subjects. The AF points can be automatic or user selected, and the number of active AF points can also be changed from nine to 21 or the full 51.

White Balance and D-Lighting

White Balance control is also enhanced by the 1,005-pixel RGB sensor. The new system is able to recognise whites more accurately and compute the colour values of other areas within the image.

Nikon has also continued to maintain and improve its Active D-Lighting function, allowing optimisation of the camera’s dynamic range through inbuilt adjustment curves, which are applied to the image as they are processed. A user-applied D-Lighting function can be added to the images post-capture, with a new image saved alongside the original file.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Features: Page 1
  3. 3. Features: Page 2
  4. 4. Handling & Performance
  5. 5. Image Quality & Value for Money
  6. 6. Verdict
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