Live view

Nikon's live view implementation on the D3 (and the D300) is one of the most usable and comprehensive to date, the high resolution screen and addition of contrast detect auto focus, in addition to the now typical mirror down / mirror up passive auto focus system, mean that are more situations where live view becomes useful. That said, putting live view as a drive mode and requiring you to press the shutter release to activate it -for every shot - feels counterintuitive (having used the Olympus E-3 and Canon EOS 1DS Mark III side by side with the D3 in the studio for several days I'd prefer a 'press the button to engage and disengage live view' approach). Once nice touch is that you can use continuous shooting in Live View mode (though obviously you lose the live preview during the sequence).

Live view (auto focus) mode

As noted the D3 offers two AF methods which Nikon call Tripod and Hand-held modes, both use the AF-ON button to achieve auto focus (in hand-held mode you can also half-press the shutter). In Tripod mode auto-focus is achieved using the main image sensor in a "contrast detect" manner (the same as a compact camera), this tends to be slower than normal passive AF but does maintain the live view. In Tripod mode you can move the AF point anywhere within the frame using the multi-selector. In Hand-held mode the live view blanks out when you press AF-ON (or half press the shutter), the mirror drops and the camera focuses using the normal "passive" auto-focus sensor. Live view only returns when you release the AF-ON button (or shutter button), I personally found this a bit annoying, it should return as soon as the camera achieves AF lock.

Live view in Tripod mode Live view in Hand-held mode

Live view display modes

Press the info button to remove any overlaid information, you can also optionally enable grid lines which are in the same position as the grid lines shown on the viewfinder focusing screen.

Default live view display Live view without information
Live view with grid lines and information  

Live view magnification

Just as in playback mode you can magnify live view by holding the zoom / thumbnails button and turning the rear command dial to the right. While magnified you can use the multi-selector to move around the live image. The D3 appears to be able to go all the way to 1:1 magnification (one pixel on the sensor for one pixel on the LCD) which makes it easy to achieve absolutely perfect focus.

Live view auto focus

The following video clips shows live view in use to auto-focus, magnify live view, take an exposure and finally magnify the image in record review. The first clip shows contrast detect auto-focus (slower but keeps live view) and the second passive detect (faster but live view disappears and you must release the AF-ON button once focus has locked).

Contrast detect (tripod mode)

Phase detect (hand-held mode)

HDMI output / High Definition display

Announced just a few days before the Sony DSLR-A700 the Nikon D3 and D300 were officially the first digital cameras with HDMI digital high definition video output. From the setup menu you can select between Auto, 480p, 576p, 720p or 1080i output, in this section we are only going to examine the 720p and 1080i options. HDMI output works in any mode which would otherwise use the LCD monitor; shooting information, menus, live view and playback. It has to be said that using live view over HDMI to a HD LCD or Plasma screen really is an amazing experience and could be extremely useful in studio photography situations. Below we have provided captures of HDMI output in both 720p (1280 x 720) and 1080i (1920 x 1080) resolutions just to give you a sense of the amount of detail visible. My only disappointment would be that there didn't seem to be a way to display the image without any shooting information (except when magnifying), this means that the default display (top image below) is only using 74% of screen width (theoretically, given aspect ratio differences this could be 84% without the status lines at the bottom).

Normal playback via HDMI (1080i; 335 KB)
Zoomed playback via HDMI (1080i; 247 KB)