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Compared to...

The air is very thin at the top of the SLR tree, and essentially the D3 has no directly comparable competitors. There are currently three full frame models on the market and each fills a different niche / category. The Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III is the undisputed king of resolution with its 21.1 MP CMOS sensor (and price tag to match), whilst the EOS 5D is a compact, relatively affordable model (at today's prices it's about half the price of a D3) that is aimed more at the serious enthusiast than the jobbing professional (although that doesn't stop them using them). And then there's the D3, which attempts to offer the benefits of both Canon's professional models; the 1Ds Mark III (full frame, low noise) and the 1D Mark III (ultra high speed performance); in a single camera.

The clear blue water that separates the few 'top of the range' professional models on the market today makes a direct feature comparison slightly moot; each has its own unique benefits, and each has its own limitations. if you need 21 megapixels for your high end studio work you're going to buy an EOS-1Ds Mark III. If you're a sports snapper with a trunk-load of exotic Canon telephoto glass you're probably going to want to stick with the 1.3x cropped sensor and high speed of the EOS-1D Mark III (the camera the D3 seems designed to beat). If you want full frame and you want high speed shooting and high ISO performance the D3 will fit the bill. And of course the DX (cropped) option on the D3 (offering a class-leading 11 frames per second) may 'only' be producing 5 megapixel files, but for many newspaper sports shooters this is plenty.

Resolution aside (we'll look at that later), the D3 offers perhaps the strongest feature set of any SLR on the market. From the superb screen and live view functionality (complete with contrast detect AF and pixel level magnification) to the high level of customization, superb 1005 pixel RGB metering sensor and huge 51 point AF with advanced tracking, to the HDMI video output and eye-watering ISO 100-25,600 sensitivity range it's obvious Nikon has pulled out all the stops to produce a camera that will tempt professional users over from 'the other side'.

For our studio comparisons we've stuck with full frame cameras and have included both Canon's top of the range models (the EOS-1Ds Mark III and EOS-1D Mark III) and for those wondering how much better the D3 is than baby brother, we've included the D300 too. You'll also find studio comparisons to the EOS 5D later in this section.

Note that the feature comparisons to the EOS-1Ds Mark III shown below in most cases also apply to the EOS-1D Mark III (which for some shooters will be a more direct competitor); the key differences being speed (up to 10 fps), resolution (10MP) and sensor size (APS-H, 1.3x crop).

Positives versus the competition

  • Highest frame rate full frame camera (up to 9 fps)
  • Auto DX crop mode with 11fps top speed (compatible with DX lenses)
  • Dual CF card slots
  • 12-bit and 14-bit RAW modes (plus compression options)
  • Large buffer (130 JPEG Normal, 17 RAW frames)
  • Both passive (mirror-down) and contrast-detect auto-focus in Live View*
  • Full 1:1 magnified view in Live View*
  • 51 point AF with wide range of selection / grouping options and intelligent tracking*
  • AF 'fine tuning' adjustment can be set for body and per lens*
  • Arguably the best metering of the bunch (1005 pixel RGB sensor)*
  • Extended ISO range of ISO 100-25,600 (ISO 200-6400 standard)
  • Fully flexible Auto ISO function (max ISO and min shutter speed configurable)*
  • Very flexible control system, various configurable buttons, dial operation*
  • 3.0" 922,000 dot LCD monitor*
  • In-camera RAW developing*
  • Intervalometer*
  • High definition HDMI video output*
  • Built-in speaker for playback of audio notes*

* shared feature with D300

Negatives versus the competition

  • No dust removal system
  • Doesn't offer the resolution of the EOS-1Ds Mark III in FX mode or the EOS1-D Mark III in DX (crop) mode
 

Nikon D3

Canon EOS1-Ds Mark III

Nikon D300
Price (body only) $5000 [check] $8000 [check] $1800 [check]
Dust removal • Dust-off image • Self-cleaning filter
• Anti-static coating
• Dust delete data
• Self-cleaning filter
• Dust-off image
Environmental sealing • Splash proof
• Dust proof
• Sealed lenses available

• Environmentally sealed
• O-rings around controls

• Splash proof
• Dust proof
• Sealed lenses available
Sensor type CMOS CMOS CMOS
Sensor size 36 x 23.9 mm 36 x 24 mm 23.6 x 15.8 mm
Sensor area 860 mm² 864 mm² 373 mm²
Image Stabilization Lenses only Lenses only Lenses only
Effective pixels 12.1 million 21.1 million 12.3 million
Aspect ratio 3:2 3:2 3:2
FOV crop 1x 1x 1.5x
Image size 4256 x 2832 5616 x 3744 4288 x 2848
Live View • Yes
• Up to 1:1 pixel view
• Contrast detect AF
• Mirror flip AF
• Yes
• Up to 10x magnify
• Manual focus
• Remote live view over USB or Wi-Fi/Ethernet
• Yes
• Up to 1:1 pixel view
• Contrast detect AF
• Mirror flip AF
Lens support • Nikon F mount
• Compatible with DX (crop)
• Canon EF
• Incompatible with EF-S (crop)
• Nikon F mount
File formats JPEG, TIFF, RAW (NEF 12-bit / NEF 14-bit) JPEG (10 compression options), RAW (CR2, 14-bit) JPEG, TIFF, RAW (NEF 12-bit / NEF 14-bit)
Auto focus • 51 point
• 15 cross-type
• -1 to 19 EV
• 45 point
• 19 cross-type
• -1.0 to 18 EV
• 51 point
• 15 cross-type
• -1 to 19 EV
AF illuminator External speedlite only External speedlite only White lamp
AF adjustment Yes, body and per lens Yes, body and per lens Yes, body and per lens
Metering sensor 1005 pixel RGB 63 zone 1005 pixel RGB
Metering range 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV 0 to 20 EV
Metering modes 3D Color Matrix, CWA, Spot Evaluative, Partial, Spot, CWA 3D Color Matrix, CWA, Spot
Exp. comp. +/- 5.0 EV +/- 3.0 EV +/- 5.0 EV
Exp. comp. EV steps 0.3, 0.5 or 1.0 EV 0.3 or 0.5 EV 0.3, 0.5 or 1.0 EV
Manual EV steps 0.3, 0.5 or 1.0 EV 0.3, 0.5 or 1.0 EV 0.3, 0.5 or 1.0 EV
Sensitivity range (boost setting) (100), 200 - 6400, (25,600) (50), 100 - 1600, (3200) (100), 200 - 3200, (6400)
Auto ISO adjust Max ISO & Min shutter speed selectable No (Safety shift option will over-ride selected ISO if enabled). Max ISO & Min shutter speed selectable
Shutter speed 30 - 1/8000 sec 30 - 1/8000 sec 30 - 1/8000 sec
Shutter life 300,000 exposures 300,000 exposures 150,000 exposures
Continuous rate (high) 9.0 fps (11 fps in DX crop mode) 5 fps 6.0 fps (8.0 fps with battery grip)
Continuous buffer • 130 JPEG Norm
• 17 RAW
• 56 JPEG
• 12 RAW
• 100 JPEG Norm
• 17 RAW
White balance • 7 presets + fine tune
• Color temp (K)
• Manual (4 mem.)
• WB Bracketing
• 6 presets + fine tune
• Color temp (K)
• Manual (5 mem)
• WB Bracketing
• 7 presets + fine tune
• Color temp (K)
• Manual (4 mem.)
• WB Bracketing
Image parameters • 4 presets
• Saturation +/- 3, A
• Contrast +/- 3, A
• Brightness +/- 1
• Hue +/- 3
• Sharpness 0-9, A
• Quick adjust +/- 2
• B&W filter
• B&W tone

• 6 presets
• 3 user presets
• Sharpness: 0 to 7
• Contrast: -4 to +4
• Saturation: -4 to +4
• Color tone: -4 to +4
• B&W filter: N, Ye, Or, R, G
• B&W tone: N, S, B, P, G

• 4 presets
• Saturation +/- 3, A
• Contrast +/- 3, A
• Brightness +/- 1
• Hue +/- 3
• Sharpness 0-9, A
• Quick adjust +/- 2
• B&W filter
• B&W tone
Noise reduction control 4 levels (ISO 2000+ only) 1 additional level 4 levels
DR / Shadow adjust. Active D-Lighting (4 levels) Highlight Tone Priority Active D-Lighting (4 levels)
Built-in flash None None • Manual pop-up
• Guide no. 12 (ISO 100)
External flash • Hot-shoe
• PC sync terminal
• Wireless flash
• Hot-shoe
• PC sync terminal
• Wireless flash
• Hot-shoe
• PC sync terminal
• Wireless flash
Flash sync speed • 1/250 sec
• Up to 1/8000th in Auto FP mode (with supported speedlights)
• 1/250 sec
• Up to 1/8000th with supported speedlights
1/250 sec (1/320 sec reduced Guide no.)
Customizable controls • FUNC button
• FUNC+dials
• Multi-selector cent.
• Preview button
• AE-L/AF-L button
• Dials
• SET button
• AF-ON button
• AE lock button
• Dials
• FUNC button
• FUNC+dials
• Multi-selector cent.
• Preview button
• AE-L/AF-L button
• Dials
User memories 4 via menu 3 via menus 4 via menu
Delete in record review Yes, drive mode Yes Yes
Storage CF (inc. UDMA) x2 slots • CF (inc. UDMA)
• SD / SDHC
CF (inc. UDMA)
Viewfinder • 100% coverage
• 0.7x magnification
• 100% coverage
• 0.76x magnification
• 100% coverage
• 0.94x magnification
LCD monitor • 3.0" TFT LCD
• 922,000 dots
• 3.0" TFT LCD
• 230,000 dots
• 3.0" TFT LCD
• 922,000 dots
LCD articulation No No No
Top panel LCD Yes (plus rear info panel below screen) Yes (plus rear info panel below screen) Yes
Battery 27.75 Wh 25.5 Wh 11.1 Wh
Battery status • Percentage (%)
• Shots since charge
• Battery aging
• Percentage (%)
• Shutter Count
• Recharge performance
• Percentage (%)
• Shots
since charge
• Battery aging
Vertical grip Built in Built in Yes, MB-D10
Mirror lock-up • Yes (drive mode)
• Exposure delay
Yes, custom function No, exposure delay
Other features

• GPS record with optional cable
• Retouching & RAW processing
• Intervalometer
• Custom 'My Menu'
• FTP and PTP/IP file transfer with optional Wireless Transmitter WT-3 (IEEE 802.11 b/g)
• Audio clips (with playback via built-in speaker)
• Virtual Horizon
• Image Authentication

• Custom 'My Menu'
• Audio clips
• Silent drive mode
• FTP, PTP, HTTP connectivity (via IEEE802.11 b/g or ethernet) plus storage onto attached USB disks via optional WFT-E2/E2A Wireless File Transmitter
• On demand viewfinder grid
• GPS record with optional cable
• Retouching & RAW processing
• Intervalometer
Video output HDMI (up to 1080i) Composite HDMI (up to 1080i)
Dimensions 160 x 157 x 88 mm
(6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 in)
150 x 160 x 80 mm
(6.1 x 6.2 x 3.1 in)
147 x 114 x 74 mm
(5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 in)
Weight (no batt) 1240 g (2.7 lb) 1205 g (2.7 lb) 825 g (1.8 lb)
Weight (inc batt) 1420 g (3.1 lb) 1385 g (3.1 lb) 903 g (2.0 lb)
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