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Nikon D3X In-depth Review

February 2009 | By Lars Rehm


Review based on a production Nikon D3X, Firmware V1.0

Ever since the simultaneous announcement of the Nikon D1H and D1X back in 2001 Nikon's professional D 'single digit' series has been split into two - the X series designed for high resolution applications such as fashion or landscape photography and the H series for high speed sports type photography (lower resolution but faster continuous shooting). When the Nikon D3 was announced in August 2007 it did not carry an 'H' in its name but was clearly designed for speed. So the question wasn't if, but when, Nikon would launch a high-resolution counterpart. It arrived, after more than a year of eager anticipation, in the shape of the Nikon D3X in December 2008.

Superficially, the new flagship is the D3's identical twin. The body, controls, user interface and also a large proportion of the camera's electronic and mechanical innards have been carried over directly from the D3. The camera's core component, however, is brand new. The 36 x 23.9 mm CMOS sensor provides a resolution of 24.5 megapixels, and while this is - compared to the D3 - a massive jump in resolution, D3X users have to accept a smaller range of sensitivity (ISO 100 to 1600, extendable to ISO 50 to 6400) and slower continuous shooting of five frames per second (7 fps in DX mode) in return.

While the only other piece of news - the 'Extra High' setting for Active D-Lighting - won't make much difference for most users, the premium that Nikon is charging for the extra resolution most certainly will. For $8000 retail price you can bag yourself almost two D3s. The D3X is also roughly $1500 more expensive than its only real competitor in terms of specification and features, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III. This won't make the professionals who this cameras is targeted at contemplate changing systems, but can a camera be worth the equivalent amount of a small car? Read on and find out in our in-depth review of the Nikon D3X.

Please note that because of the similarities between the Nikon D3X and D3 a proportion of text and images in this review has been taken over directly from the Nikon D3 review.

Model line history

Model
Announced
Effective pixels
Auto focus
Continuous highest (JPEG) LCD monitor
D1 Jun 1999 2.6 mp 5 point 4.5 fps, 21 frames 2.0", 120K pixels
D1X Feb 2001 5.3 mp 5 point 3.0 fps, 9 frames 2.0", 130K pixels
D1H Feb 2001 2.7 mp 5 point 5.0 fps, 40 frames 2.0", 130K pixels
D2H Jul 2003 4.1 mp 11 point 8.0 fps, 40 frames 2.5", 211K pixels
D2X Sep 2004 12.2 mp 11 point 5.0 fps, 22 frames *1 2.5" 235K pixels
D2Hs Feb 2005 4.1 mp 11 point 8.0 fps, 50 frames 2.5" 235K pixels
D2Xs Jun 2006 12.2 mp 11 point 5.0 fps, 22 frames *1 2.5" 230K pixels
D3 Aug 2007 12.1 mp (FF) 51 point 9.0 fps, 130 frames *2 3.0" 922K pixels + Live View
D3X Dec 2008 24.5 mp (FF) 51 point 5.0 fps, 130 frames *3 3.0" 922K pixels + Live View

*1 Also 8 fps in cropped mode (6.7 MP)
*2 Up to 11 fps with DX format (5.1 MP)
*3 Up to 7 fps with DX format (10.5 MP)

Nikon D3X Key Features

  • 24.5 megapixel Full-Frame (36 x 24 mm) sensor
  • ISO 100 - 1600 (ISO 50 - 6400 in Boost mode)
  • Also supports DX lenses, viewfinder automatically masks (10.5 megapixels with DX lens)
  • 14-bit A/D conversion, 12 channel readout
  • Gapless micro lens array and on-chip noise reduction
  • Nikon EXPEED image processor (Capture NX processing and NR algorithms, optimized for D3X, lower power)
  • Super fast operation (power-up 12 ms, shutter lag 41 ms, black-out 74 ms)
  • Kevlar / carbon fibre composite shutter with 300,000 exposure durability
  • Multi-CAM3500FX Auto Focus sensor (51-point, 15 cross-type, more vertical coverage)
  • Auto-focus tracking by color (using information from 1005-pixel AE sensor)
  • Auto-focus calibration (fine-tuning) available (fixed body or up to 20 separate lens settings)
  • Scene Recognition System (uses AE sensor, AF sensor)
  • Seven frames per second in continuous and DX mode
  • Dual Compact Flash card slots (overflow, back-up, RAW on 1 / JPEG on 2, copy)
  • Compact Flash UDMA support
  • 3.0" 922,000 pixel LCD monitor
  • Live View with either phase detect (mirror up/down) or contrast detect Auto Focus
  • Virtual horizon indicates if camera is level (like an aircraft cockpit display)
  • HDMI HD video output
  • 'Active D-Lighting' with new 'Extra High' setting (adjusts metering as well as applying D-Lighting curve)
  • Detailed 'Control Panel' type display on LCD monitor, changes color in darkness
  • Buttons sealed against moisture
  • Dual battery charger as standard

Technology under the skin

FX format sensor (Nikon design) Sensor mounted on its module
Main board with EXPEED processor EXPEED processor
51-point Multi-CAM 3500FX AF sensor unit Viewfinder pentaprism
1005-pixel metering sensor Shutter

Foreword / notes

If you're new to digital photography you may wish to read some of our Digital Photography Glossary before diving into this article (it may help you understand some of the terms used).

Conclusion / recommendation / ratings are based on the opinion of the author, we recommend that you read the entire review before making any decision. Images which can be viewed at a larger size have a small magnifying glass icon in the bottom right corner of them, click to display a larger image in a new window.

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Dpreview use calibrated monitors at the PC normal gamma 2.2, this means that on our monitors we can make out the difference between all of the grayscale blocks below. We recommend to make the most of this review you should be able to see the difference (at least) between X,Y and Z and ideally also A, B and C.

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