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