Here you can see a generated GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart, place your mouse over any of the labels below it to see the color reproduction in that mode. Select a camera/setting combination from the 'Compared to' drop-down to comparative boxes inside each patch.
From a hue point of view the D3 produces color that is all but identical to the D300 (the tone curves used in-camera mean the D300 offers slightly lighter skin tones and pastel colors than the D3, but the differences is minimal). The D300's 'Standard' setting is also virtually identical to the EOS 1DS Mark III's 'Faithful' Picture Style, and as we've noted in most recent reviews there is now a fairly consistent response across all competing models.
|Nikon D3||Compare to:|
Artificial light White Balance
The D3's automatic white balance in artificial light is certainly a little more reliable than most (particularly in mixed light and with fluorescent sources), but it's still not reliable or consistent enough to be considered anything like 'foolproof', and - particularly when dealing with incandescenet / tungsten light sources - the use of presets or custom WB is a far safer solution.
Like every Nikon professional SLR since 1959 the D3 has no built-in flash, but it does offer the latest i-TTL metering for external flash, with balanced fill-flash and AF-assist illuminator (for any focal length if you update to the latest software). Like all Nikon's newer models the D3 also supports Nikon's advanced wireless flash system (Creative Lighting System). The flash system works very well indeed (balanced fill flash is childs play), though we did find there was a slight tendency to overexpose a touch when shooting at short distances. Not enough to blow the skintones but enough to require a tweak in Levels to stop the image looking washed out (see the example below right).
|Direct flash||Direct Flash|
Overall Image Quality / Specifics
It would be a sorry state of affairs if Nikon's top of the range professional camera didn't produce impressive results, so it comes as no surprise that the ouput is, almost without exception, superb. At lower ISO settings the image quality isn't significantly different to most other 12 megapixel models, though Nikon's fairly conservative approach to image processing - not too much sharpening, not too much saturation, not too much contrast - means that JPEGs are a little flatter 'out of camera' than most. And so should they be; a camera at this level shouldn't be producing over-processed 'punchy' output that gives little latitude for post processing. The D3's JPEGs are clean enough in the 'normal' ISO range to respond well to sharpening and tonal corrections (though the default JPEG contrast is actually a little harsh and can lead to clipped highlights).
When you move to the higher ISO settings the D3 is in a class of its own, beating the Canon EOS 5D easily at anything over ISO 1600 and producing perfectly usable output all the way up the range. Of course you can't expect miracles (anything over ISO 3200 demands fairly steep image quality compromises), but the D3 can keep on shooting when light levels have dropped to the point where all other cameras would simply give up.
Metering and focus are spot on; we're not sports photographers but we spent a lot of time testing the D3's focus tracking on fast moving subjects and it's ability to follow subjects around the frame is uncanny. Even with older non AF-S lenses focus speed is superb. The only downside is that the new 51-point AF system, shared with the D300, doesn't cover enough of the frame, and it's easy for the subject to move outside the focus area with long lenses. That said, the focus system is perhaps the best I've ever used; even if it's not the fastest (something we can't verify, and something Olympus claims for its E-3), it seems far more reliable than many, better able to deal with subjects moving erratically and those moving towards or away from the camera (as opposed to across the frame). It rarely, if ever, 'gives up' and even when shooting at high speeds its hit rate remains remarkable.
Built-in Chromatic Aberration correction
The D300 and D3 feature built-in Chromatic Aberration (CA) correction. This feature works by analysing the image, the image processor looks for CA in the image and actively corrects for it. If you're shooting RAW the analysis still occurs but instead of being applied the results of the analysis are simply written into metadata and are used by Capture NX to (optionally) correct. Obviously if you're using a third party RAW converter you won't get automatic CA correction. Our experience was that this worked very well and delivered surprising levels of CA reduction while also improving sharpness (probably due to the fact that the correction itself is effectively dRAWing the color channels back into alignment).
Below you can see a visual comparison of the difference between images, shot as RAW+JPEG, the RAW image converted using Adobe Camera RAW.
|Adobe Camera RAW||JPEG|
|A crop from our lens test chart, magnified 200%||The same crop but shot as JPEG|