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Timings & File Sizes

In many areas the D3X is as fast as its 'built-for-speed' cousin, the D3. Startup, shutter lag and focus acquisition are impressively fast indeed. However, the large file sizes of the 24.5 MP images - a 14-bit RAW+JPG occupies easily more than 30 MB - take their toll. Continuous shooting and write/buffer times are, as you would expect, quite a bit slower than on the 12 MP D3 - after all the D3X has been designed for a different kind of application. However, at 5 frames per second the D3X is still no slouch and when you need more you can switch to the 10.5 MP crop mode (DX format). This allows you to shoot at 7 fps, which should be more then enough even when shooting fast moving subjects. Just make sure you stay away from the 14-bit RAW mode if speed is of any importance, the huge files fill the buffer so quickly that continuous shooting is not much fun anymore.

Timing Notes: All times calculated as an average of three operations. Unless otherwise stated all timings were made on a 6048 x 4032 JPEG Fine (approx. 6.8 MB per image).

The media used for these tests were:

  • 8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV 45MB/s UDMA CF card
  • 8 GB SanDisk Extreme III CF Card
  • 16 GB Lexar Professional UDMA 300x CF card

Media comparison

Action
Time, secs
(8GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(8GB SanDisk Extreme III)
Time, secs
(16 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 0.6 0.6 0.6
Record Review RAW 12-bit *1 0.6 0.6 0.6
Record Review RAW 14-bit *1 0.9 0.9 0.9
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 *3 ~0.3/~0.1 ~0.3/~0.1 ~0.3/~0.1
Play Image to Image JPEG *3 ~0.3/~0.1 ~0.3/~0.1 ~0.3/~0.1

*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 D3X uses low res 'proxies' to display recorded images almost instantaneously, it takes around 0.3 secs to fully load the image (for magnifying etc).
*3 The first number is the time for an image which hasn't yet been displayed, the second figure is the time to display if has been cached).

Continuous Drive mode

Caveats / notes

  • FX /DX mode
    The D3X 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.
     
  • 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 20 frames before slowing down (to 0.8 fps).
     
  • Max. continuous release (c.fn d3)
    The D3X 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 which we only reached when shooting in DX mode) 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 100, Shutter Priority (1/250 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
  • 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
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme III)
Time, secs
(16 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 5.0 fps 5.0 fps 5.0 fps
Number of frames 69 43 69
Buffer full rate 4.0 fps 2.0 fps 3.9 fps
Next burst 5.2 secs 13.0 secs 5.3 secs

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

Timing
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme III)
Time, secs
(16 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 7.0 fps 7.0 fps 7.0 fps
Number of frames 130 67 130
Buffer full rate n/a 3.5 n/a
Next burst n/a 10.7 n/a

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

Timing
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme III)
Time, secs
(16 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 5.0 fps 5.0 fps 5.0 fps
Number of frames 25 22 24
Buffer full rate 1.4 fps 0.8 fps 1.4 fps
Next burst 15.3 secs 26.6 secs 15.2 secs

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

Timing
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme III)
Time, secs
(16 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 7.0 fps 7.0 fps 7.0 fps
Number of frames 34 29 33
Buffer full rate 2.7 fps 1.4 fps 2.2
Next burst 9.5 secs 18.8 secs 9.6 secs

Burst of RAW images (14-bit NEF, FX / Full Frame Mode)

Timing
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme III)
Time, secs
(16 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 2.0 fps 2.0 fps 2.0 fps
Number of frames 30 22 30
Buffer full rate 1.1 fps 0.8 fps 1.1 fps
Next burst 16.2 secs 29.1 secs 15.8 secs

Burst of RAW images (14-bit NEF, DX / Crop Mode)

Timing
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme III)
Time, secs
(16 GB Lexar UDMA)
Frame rate 2.8 fps 2.8 fps 2.8 fps
Number of frames 64 31 62
Buffer full rate 2.0 fps 1.2 fps 2.2
Next burst 9.1 secs 17.1 secs 9.2 secs

The D3X did exactly what it said on the box, at around 5 frames per second in FX (full frame) mode and 7 fps in DX (cropped) mode. With a fast card and in DX mode the only limit on the number of frames in burst is the D3X's own 130 shot cut-off, though with some cards (the Sandisk Extreme III in this test) you'll find you fill the buffer before this point is reached, at which point the frame rate slows considerably. You should also stay firmly away from the 14-bit RAW mode if you shoot in continuous mode a lot, the image files simply get too large, causing the frame rate drop to 2fps and a meager 1.1 fps when the buffer is full, and that's with a fast card.

File Flush Timing

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

The D3X 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
(6048 x 4032)
Time, secs*1
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme IV)
Time, secs*1
(8 GB SanDisk Extreme III)
Time, secs*1
(16 GB Lexar UDMA)
Approx.
size
RAW 14-bit + JPEG *2 2.8 3.7 2.8 31.5 MB
RAW 12-bit + JPEG *2 2.1 3.0 2.1 25.5 MB
RAW 14-bit Lossless 2.4 3.2 2.4 25.5 MB
RAW 12-bit Lossless 1.8 2.4 1.8 19.5 MB
RAW 12-bit Compressed 1.8 2.3 1.8 17.1 MB
RAW 12-bit Uncompress. 2.4 3.5 2.4 36.3 MB
JPEG Fine 1.0 1.2 1.0 6.8 MB
JPEG Normal 0.9 1.1 0.9 4.2 MB

*1 The D3X 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 D3X delivers very fast write times but the image files, especially the 14 bit RAWs are so large that in fast-paced shooting scenarios, such as sports, you should always have an eye on your image buffer. Once it's full it can, dependent on your memory card, take a little while before you can shoot at the maximum frame rate again.

USB transfer speed

Method
Transfer rate
Nikon D3X (Mass Storage device) 5.7 MB/secs
SanDisk Extreme IV USB 2.0 card reader 16.8 MB/secs
SanDisk Extreme IV Firewire 800 card reader 29 MB/secs

To test the D3X's USB transfer speed we transferred approximately 250 MB of images (mixed RAW and JPEG) from a Lexar Pro 300x (UDMA) 16GB CF card. In this test the D3X's performance wasn't particularly impressive, you get significantly faster transfers using a good CF card reader.

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