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Timings & File Sizes

It's obvious from the moment that you start using the D3 that's it has been designed for speed and the performance is nothing short of blistering. From startup to shutter lag to focus acquisition to the headline continuous shooting capabilities and file writing, the D3 feels very, very fast indeed. Although I can't imagine many people wanting to, it's perfectly possible to shoot even 14-bit RAW files at 'sports speed', thanks to the incredibly fast data throughput and large buffer.

Timing Notes: All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 4256 x 2832 JPEG Fine (approx. 4.0 MB per image).

The media used for these tests were:

  • 4 GB SanDisk Extreme IV CF card
  • 4 GB SanDisk Extreme Ducati Edition CF Card
  • 8 GB Lexar Professional UDMA 300x CF card

Media comparison

Action
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Ducati)
Time, secs
(8 GB Lexar UDMA)
Power Off to On <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Power Off to Shot <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Sleep to On <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Power On to Off <0.1 <0.1 <0.1
Record Review JPEG *1 0.5 0.5 0.5
Record Review RAW 12-bit *1 0.5 0.5 0.5
Record Review RAW 14-bit *1 0.5 0.5 0.5
Activate Live View 0.5 0.5 0.5
Exit Live View <0.2 <0.2 <0.2
Play RAW 12-bit *2 ~0.3 / <0.1 ~0.3 / <0.1 ~0.3 / <0.1
Play RAW 14-bit *2 ~0.3 / <0.1 ~0.3 / <0.1 ~0.3 / <0.1
Play JPEG *2 ~0.3 / <0.1 ~0.3 / <0.1 ~0.3 / <0.1
Play Image to Image RAW <0.2 <0.2 <0.2
Play Image to Image JPEG <0.2 <0.2 <0.2

*1 Time taken from the shutter release being pressed to the review image being displayed on the LCD monitor.
*2 The first number is the time from shooting to play mode for an image which hasn't yet been displayed, the second figure is the time to display if the image has been displayed (and 'cached'). The D3 uses low res 'proxies' to display recorded images almost instantaneously, it takes around 0.3 secs to fully load the image (for magnifying etc).

Continuous Drive mode

Caveats / notes

  • FX /DX mode
    The D3 has two different continuous shooting speeds depending on whether you're using the full ('FX') frame or the DX crop (which offers a faster burst mode). We've included measurements from both modes.

  • Focus mode
    At the highest frame rates continuous/tracking focus has by far the biggest impact on continuous shooting speed (as is the case with all such cameras). In DX crop mode the Continuous-H mode is limited to 10fps if you want focusing between frames (11 fps without), though in practice you'll rarely maintain this speed for a significant number of exposures unless your subject remains at a fairly constant distance.
     
  • Active D-Lighting
    As you may expect the additional processing required by Active D-Lighting has a significant impact on image processing speed and hence number of frames in a burst. Instead of a burst of 130 frames using 'High' Active D-Lighting reduced the burst to 15 frames before slowing (to 1.6 fps).
     
  • Max. continuous release (c.fn d3)
    The D3 imposes a maximum 130 frame limit on continuous bursts (you can customize this figure from 1 to 130). Put simply, assuming the CF card is fast enough the camera will shoot continuously until it reaches the set limit (by default 130 frames) and then simply stop unless you lift your finger off the shutter release and re-press. This doesn't appear to be a hard buffer limit, just a soft limit.

Continuous drive tests

To test continuous drive mode the camera had the following settings: Manual Focus, ISO 200, Shutter Priority (1/640 sec). Measurements were taken from audio recordings of the tests. Media used were the same as above.

The tests carried out below measured the following results for JPEG and RAW:

  • Frame rate - Initial frame rate, FX mode ~9 fps, DX mode ~ 11fps.
  • Number of frames - Number of frames in a burst (until buffer full)
  • Buffer full rate - Frame rate if shutter release held down after burst (buffer full)
  • Next burst - How soon after the burst the buffer has emptied / CF compartment light goes out

Burst of JPEG Large/Fine images (FX / Full Frame Mode)

Timing
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Ducati)
Time, secs
(8 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 8.9 fps 9.1 fps 9.0 fps
Number of frames 36 66 44
Buffer full rate 4.4 fps 6.7 fps 4.5 fps
Next burst 14 secs 3.5 sec 5.9 sec

Burst of JPEG Large/Fine images (DX / Crop Mode)

Timing
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Ducati)
Time, secs
(8 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 10.9 fps 11 fps 10.9 fps
Number of frames 90 130 130
Buffer full rate 5.8 fps n/a n/a
Next burst n/a n/a n/a

Burst of RAW images (12-bit NEF, FX / Full Frame Mode)

Timing
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Ducati)
Time, secs
(8 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 8.9 fps 8.9 fps 8.9 fps
Number of frames 17 17 17
Buffer full rate 2.1 fps 2.7 fps 2.2 fps
Next burst 8.0 secs 6.0 secs 7.0 secs

Burst of RAW images (12-bit NEF, DX / Crop Mode)

Timing
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(4GB SanDisk Ducati)
Time, secs
(8 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 10.9 fps 11 fps 11 fps
Number of frames 26 29 26
Buffer full rate 3.3 fps 4.5 fps 2.4
Next burst 6.3 secs 4.2 secs 7.0 secs

The D3 did exactly what it said on the box, at around 9 frames per second in FX (full frame) mode and 11 fps in DX (cropped) mode (manual focus). With a fast card the only limit on the number of frames in burst is the D3's own 130 shot cut-off, though with some cards (the Sandisk Extreme IV in this test) you'll find you fill the buffer before this point is reached, at which point the frame rate slows considerably and becomes rather erratic (speeding up and slowing down randomly). To be honest if you want to shoot more than 130 shots at 9 frames per second what you're really looking for is a movie camera (or a sub machine gun).

File Flush Timing

RAW options; 12-bit / 14-bit, compression

The D3 provides a fairly wide range of RAW options, you can choose between recording 12 or 14 bits of data as well as lossless compression, 'normal compression' (same as previous Nikon NEF's, partially lossy) and uncompressed.

Timings shown below are the time taken for the camera to process and "flush" the image out to the storage card. Timing was taken from the instant the shutter release was pressed to the time the storage card activity lamp beside the compartment door went out. Media used were the same as above.

Image type
(4256 x 2832 size)
Time, secs
(4 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(4 GB SanDisk Ducati)
Time, secs
(8 GB Lexar Professional)
Approx.
size
RAW 14-bit + JPEG *2 1.3 1.2 1.3 17.1 MB
RAW 12-bit + JPEG *2 1.3 1.2 1.2 14.1 MB
RAW 14-bit Lossless 1.0 1.0 1.0 13.5 MB
RAW 12-bit Lossless 0.8 0.8 0.9 11.5 MB
RAW 12-bit Compressed 0.8 0.8 0.8 9.2 MB
RAW 12-bit Uncompress. 1.2 1.1 1.2 18.5 MB
JPEG Fine ~0.8 ~0.6 ~0.8 4.0 MB
JPEG Normal ~0.5 ~0.5 ~0.5 2.6 MB

*1 The D3 begins writing about 0.7 seconds after the shutter release is pressed, hence you must subtract this from the timings shown above to get the actual write time.
*2 RAW Lossless compression and JPEG Fine. File size reported is the RAW and JPEG added together.

With a fast card the D3 delivers blisteringly fast write times, in more thorough tests we measured write throughput as approaching 30MB/s (28.2 MB/s with the Sandisk Ducati card). This combined with excellent 'shoot and forget' background buffering means that you never really need to think about write times, no matter how large the file.

USB transfer speed

Method
Transfer rate
Nikon D3 (Mass Storage device) 12.2 MB/sec
SanDisk Extreme IV USB 2.0 card reader 16.8 MB/sec
SanDisk Extreme IV Firewire 800 card reader 29 MB/sec

To test the D3's USB transfer speed we transferred approximately 420 MB of images (mixed RAW and JPEG) from a Lexar Pro 300x (UDMA) 8GB CF card. In this test the D3 performed fairly well, though you'll still get far faster transfers if you use a good CF card reader.

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