Body & Design

The D3 marks a whole new model series for Nikon but as we would expect the changes are subtle and evolutionary; there's no reinventing of the wheel here. Photographers familiar with the D2 series will feel immediately at home with the D3, button layout is almost identical and the control changes made are sensible improvements rather than completely new concepts. This is good news for working professionals switching bodies - as is the fact that the control layout consistency extends down the range to the D300, making it perfect as a backup body.

The D3's proportions make it almost square, and thanks to a magnesium shell it is literally as solid as a brick. Robust surfaces, soft rubber on the grips, oversized buttons, locked controls and environmental seals add up to a purposeful camera which has been designed with the requirements of the professional photographer in any situation.

Side by side

Below we have the D3 beside the recently announced Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III (21 megapixel), although aimed at different markets both of these cameras feature professional bodies with integral vertical grips and full-frame (36 x 24 mm) sensors. That said there is a huge $3000 price differential between them and so the D3 is more likely to be compared to the ten megapixel EOS-1D Mark III which has a 1.3x crop (29 x 19 mm) sensor. The EOS-1D Mark III and EOS-1Ds Mark III have virtually identical bodies.

In your hand

As you may expect the D3 feels comfortable and sturdy in your hand, the grip is just the right size, depth and shape to be both comfortable and easy to hold. Careful shaping of the rear and the use of soft rubber add to the overall feeling of solidity, buttons and other controls are positioned to be used easily. I said in my D2X review that I felt Nikon had the edge over the Canon EOS-1D series for 'real world ergonomics', that remains true with the D3.

LCD Monitor

One of the more significant external changes with the D3 (and the D300) is a new large, high resolution LCD monitor. It has four times the number of dots than the 230,000 unit used on the D2X and other such cameras. For clarity, the words pixels and dots are interchanged almost randomly in specification sheets but strictly speaking we should talk of dots (these being red, green or blue sub-pixels) when referring to the figures quoted by manufacturers. The D3's LCD has 921,600 dots, 1920 columns by 480 rows, the dots are a third thinner than they are high and so each group of three dots (sub-pixels) make up one full color pixel.

This high resolution screen really has to be seen to be appreciated, it's beautifully detailed and extremely smooth in appearance because the tiny gaps between dots are too small to be seen with the eye. This extra detail is obvious in Live view and playback modes where you really can see much 'more' of the image in one glance. Another difference comes when you magnify in playback as you find you don't need to magnify the image as much before you can clearly see sharpness, focus accuracy and even noise.

One other difference between the D3/D300's screen and that used previously is the layout of the dots (sub-pixels), this new screen has the same layout as your computer LCD, a simple RGB layout with all rows the same ('stripe array'). The other layout used on small LCD screens is the 'delta array' which uses an RGB pattern on one row then a BRG pattern on the row below, offset by half a pixel.

Stripe array layout LCD Delta array layout LCD

Below you can see a real-life, same-size example of the difference in resolution between this new 921,600 dot screen (on the D300, but it's the same as the D3) and a more typical 230,400 dot screen (in this case on the Canon EOS 40D). Both cameras were set in play mode with the same image (note that the D300 doesn't use the whole screen in play unless you magnify), a shot was taken of each camera from the same distance (hence the screens were captured at the same magnification).

Crop from the D300's LCD
(1920 x 480 dots; 640 x 480 pixels)
Crop from the EOS 40D's LCD
(960 x 240 dots; 320 x 240 pixels)

Top & Rear Control Panels

Just like the D2 series the D3 has two status / control panel displays, one on the top of the camera and one on the rear. Both panels have a green back light which can be illuminated by flicking the power switch to the lamp position, it's spring loaded and returns to 'ON', the back light stays on for the 'auto meter-off' time (CSM c2). You can also choose to have the backlights come on with any button press (CSM d7). You can customize the information displayed on the rear control panel and viewfinder display via CSM d5. Each panel is shown below along with a diagram of all information displayed.

Top Control Panel

*1 • Shutter-speed
• Exposure compensation value
• Number of shots in bracketing sequence
• Number of intervals
• Focal length (non-CPU lens)
• Flash compensation value
• ISO sensitivity

• Frame count
• Preset white balance recording
• Manual lens number

*2 • Aperture (f-number)
• Aperture (number of stops)
• Bracketing increment
• Number of shots per interval
• Maximum aperture (non-CPU lens)
• PC mode indicator
*5 • Electronic analog exposure display
• Exposure compensation
• Bracketing progress indicator
• PC mode indicator
• Tilt indicator
*3 • Number of exposures remaining
• Number of shots remaining before buffer fills
• Camera control indicator
*6 • Remaining indicator
• Continuous remaining indicator

Rear Control Panel

*1 • ISO sensitivity
• Number of exposures remaining
• Length of voice memo
• White balance fine-tuning
• White balance preset number
• Color temperature
• PC mod indicator

Diagram reproduced with permission from the Nikon D3 user manual.