Nikon D3 Review

Consider the following thought-provoking information: The body only of the Canon EOS 1Ds Mk III will be available for a price of £6,000. For that price, you may get a body for the Nikon D3, one of the brand-new Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 N-series lenses, as well as Nikon’s excellent 14-24mm N-series wide-angle zoom lens. Keep in mind that the D3 is a full-frame SLR camera; hence, the 14mm zoom is so wide that it will be difficult to keep your ears out of the image when using it.

These are both professional lenses, complete with the construction and optical qualities that come with that designation. Because of this evaluation, we had the opportunity to test out the Nikon D3 in conjunction with these two lenses, and the three of them together make for an incredible package.

The 1Ds Mk III has a resolution of 21 million individual pixels. The D3 has a resolution of 12 million pixels, which is lower than that of the D4 but is still quite a lot. It’s possible that some customers may want files with a resolution of 21 megapixels, but how many? You need to consider this in light of the far cheaper price of the D3 (a difference of £2,500) as well as several other features that the Canon lacks.

Among these is the fact that the 1Ds Mk III can shoot at 5 frames per second, but the D3 can shoot at 9 frames per second. The dynamic range of the 1Ds Mk III is 100-1600, whereas the dynamic range of the D3 is 200-6400. (yes, 6400). Are you stuck with a collection of lenses with an APS-C format that comes from lower-end cameras in the range?

If you have a 1Ds Mk III camera, you are out of luck because this model is not compatible with Canon’s EF-S lenses. If you have a D3, however, and you insert one of your older DX lenses, the camera will immediately recognize the lens and will transition to a ‘cropped’ mode, which will produce photographs with a resolution of 5 megapixels. It’s not much, but it’s a lot better than nothing, and because of the 1.5x focal factor, it can be used to make long telephotos even longer.

This is not meant to be a criticism of the 1D Mk III; rather, it is essential to have a solid understanding of the accomplishments that Nikon has made with its newest professional flagship camera. The Canon has a higher resolution, and purchasing one of these cameras is an obvious choice if you already own a lot of Canon equipment. But what Nikon has created is a camera that is excellent enough for fashion shots in the West End as well as the frenetic activity at the goal mouth at three o’clock on a sleet-soaked afternoon in January.

Control and maneuverability

Build quality is one of the things you’re paying for when you purchase a professional camera, and the D3 doesn’t let you down in this regard. This camera has the same solid, well-built feel as the new Nikon D300, which we praised in a previous review. Everything from the polish to the way the panels join together to the way the controls feel is of the highest quality.

You receive the same 920,000-pixel LCD that is found on the D300 on the back of the camera, which means that the display’s quality is quite high. Below this is a ‘tertiary’ panel (there is a secondary panel on the top), which shows ISO, quality, and white balance settings, with buttons beneath for altering them. The white balance icons are too tiny, though, and can be difficult to read in low-light conditions.

Memory cards are inserted into a camera through a door located on the rear of the device. This door features a double-catch mechanism to prevent it from being opened inadvertently. On the inside are two CF card slots; for an explanation of how these components interact with one another, please refer to the camera annotation.

The user handbook states that the battery may take up to 4,300 pictures before it has to be recharged. The battery can be inserted into the bottom of the camera. The camera comes with a dual charger, allowing you to charge both the primary battery and the backup battery at the same time.

This camera, despite its size, is quite convenient to take everywhere. Because of the additional height, you are able to wrap all of your fingers around the grip, and the camera is still manageable even when one of Nikon’s exotic new N-series lenses is attached to it. The controls are laid out in the normal Nikon fashion, which prioritizes ergonomic efficiency over rapid identification. However, if you’ve just upgraded from a D200 or D2x, you won’t have any problem getting used to the new layout. However, it would have been wonderful if the various Picture Controls (such as Standard, Vivid, and so on) had been easier to get to, as they are hidden deep inside the menus.

There were a few additional somewhat insignificant operational concerns as well. The sound stopped working at some point during the trial run; it is likely that the incorrect button was clicked or that a menu setting was missed, but we were never able to figure out how to turn it back on. And as I was switching lenses, the Focus Mode switch, which is located directly next to the button that releases the lens, was accidentally moved from Single Shot to Continuous shooting twice.

The result of this is that the autofocus squares in the viewfinder will no longer light up, and the camera will take pictures before the focus has been accomplished. If this happens, you may have to spend a considerable amount of time poring over the manual in order to find out why this is happening. It would be remiss of us not to highlight the Active D-Lighting customization option while we’re here. D-Lighting is a piece of software developed by Nikon that may be used to brighten shadows in photographs that have already been captured.

When using the Active D-Lighting mode, the camera will first adjust the exposure such that highlight detail is captured, and then it will apply the D-Lighting adjustment. In spite of the fact that it functions fairly well, why is it so buried in the menus? It is difficult to access something that has the potential to be of such great benefit, yet at the same time, it is not something that you would want to have running all the time.

Image quality

Putting aside some minor complaints, the D3 has outstanding maneuverability. When shooting at 9 frames per second, the camera is remarkably silent for a full-frame model. However, what truly sticks out is the high quality of the images. It is interesting to note that in tests conducted side-by-side, the D3 appears to be only slightly crisper than the D300 at low ISOs. This suggests that the resolution is restricted by the pixel count and that ideally, in the future, higher-resolution versions will be developed that are even better.

However, when working at higher ISOs, the D3 has a significant edge. At an ISO setting of 1600, the D300 shines brighter than any of its competitors. However, the D3 completely dominates in this category. In point of fact, the image quality produced by the D3 at ISO 6400 is comparable to that produced by the D300 at ISO 1600. Absolutely fantastic.

In point of fact, the D3 provides you with more of everything that makes the D300 such an outstanding camera. More colour, reduced noise, quicker frame rates. It is an exceptionally high-quality camera. Because it is so fantastic, in point of fact, we feel the need to reiterate our one and only reservation regarding the D300.

Even while the less expensive model is quite good, we have a feeling that you will always be wondering whether or not the D3 would not have been the wiser purchase for a professional.

Nikon D3 Specifications

Body materialMagnesium alloy
Sensor• 36 x 23.9 mm CMOS sensor
• FX format
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter
• 12.9 million total pixels
• 12.1 million effective pixels
• 3:2 aspect ratio
Image processorNikon EXPEED
A/D conversion14 bit
Image sizes
(FX format)
• 4256 x 2832 [L; 12.1 MP]
• 3184 x 2120 [M; 6.8 MP]
• 2128 x 1416 [S; 3.0 MP]
Image sizes
(DX format)
• 2784 x 1848 [L; 5.1 MP]
• 2080 x 1384 [M; 2.9 MP]
• 1392 x 920 [S; 1.3 MP]]
Image sizes
(5:4 format)
• 3552 x 2832 [L; 10.0 MP]
• 2656 x 2120 [M; 5.6 MP]
• 1776 x 1416 [S; 2.5 MP]
File formats• NEF (12-bit or 14-bit, compressed or lossless compressed RAW)
• JPEG (EXIF 2.21)
NEF compression• Compressed 12/14-bit NEF (RAW, Lossless compressed): approx. 60-80%
• Compressed 12/14-bit NEF (RAW, Compressed): approx. 45-60%
Lens mount• Nikon F mount with AF coupling and AF contacts
• No field of view crop (full-frame)
• When using DX lenses / DX mode 1.5x FOV crop
Usable lenses• Type G or D AF NIKKOR: All functions supported
• DX AF NIKKOR: All functions supported except FX-format (36×24)/5:4 (30×24) image size
• AF NIKKOR other than type G or D: All functions supported except 3D Color Matrix Metering II
• AI-P NIKKOR: All functions supported except autofocus and 3D Color Matrix Metering II
• Non-CPU AI NIKKOR: Can be used in exposure modes A and M; electronic rangefinder can be used if maximum aperture is f/5.6 or faster; Color Matrix Metering and aperture value display supported if user provides lens data
* IX NIKKOR lenses cannot be used
* Excluding lenses for F3AF
Auto Focus• 51 focus points (15 cross-type sensors)
• Multi-CAM 3500FX
• AF working range: -1 to +19 EV (ISO 100, normal temperature)
• Contrast Detect in Live View (Tripod) mode
Lens Servo• Single Servo AF [S]
• Continuous Servo AF [C]
• Manual focus [M]
• Focus Tracking automatically activated by subject’s status in [S] or [C] AF
Focus Point• Single point from 51 or 11 focus points
• Liveview (Tripod mode): Contrast AF on a desired point anywhere within frame
AF Area Mode• Single point AF
• Dynamic Area AF [9 points, 21 points, 51 points, 51 points (3D-tracking)]
• Automatic-area AF
Focus LockFocus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (single-servo AF) or by pressing AE-L/AF-L button
AF assistExternal Speedlite only
Exposure modes• Program Auto [P] with flexible program
• Shutter-Priority Auto [S]
• Aperture-Priority Auto [A]
• Manual [M]
MeteringTTL full-aperture exposure metering using 1005-pixel RGB sensor
• 3D Color Matrix Metering II (type G and D lenses); color matrix metering II (other CPU lenses); color matrix metering (non-CPU lenses if user provides lens data; metering performed)
• Center-weighted: Weight of 75% given to 8, 15, or 20 mm dia. circle in center of frame or weighting based on average of entire frame (default 12 mm)
• Spot: Meters approx. 4 mm dia. circle (about 1.5% of frame) centered on selected focus point (on center focus point when non-CPU lens is used)
Metering range• 3D Color Matrix Metering: 0 to 20 EV
• Center-Weighted Metering: 0 to 20 EV
• Spot Metering: 2 to 20 EV
• At normal temperature (20°C/68°F), ISO 100 equivalent, f/1.4 lens
Meter couplingCPU and AI
Exposure lockLocked using AE-L/AF-L button
Exposure bracketing• 2 to 9 frames
• 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 EV steps
Exposure compen.• +/-5.0 EV
• 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps
Sensitivity• Default: ISO 200 – 6400 in 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps
• Boost: 100 – 12800 in 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps, HI2 = ISO 25600
Shutter• Electronically-controlled vertical-travel focal plane shutter
• 30 to 1/8000 sec (1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps)
• Flash X-Sync: 1/250 sec
• Bulb
DOF Preview• Stop-down lens aperture by pressing button
• Activates modeling flash
White balance• Auto (1005-pixel CCD, image sensor)
• Presets (seven) with fine tuning
• Manual presets (four)
• Color temperature in Kelvin (2500 – 10000 K, 31 steps)
• White balance bracketing (2 to 9 frames, 10,20,30 MIRED steps)
Picture Control• Standard
• Neutral
• Vivid
• Monochrome
Image parameters• Sharpening: Auto, 7 levels
• Contrast: Auto, 5 levels, Custom tone curve
• Brightness: 3 levels
• Saturation: Auto, 5 levels
• Hue: 5 levels
Color space• sRGB (Standard and Vivid modes)
• Adobe RGB (Neutral mode)
Viewfinder• Optical-type fixed eye-level pentaprism
• Built-in diopter adjustment (-3 to +1m-1)
• Eyepoint: 18 mm (at -1.0m-1)
• Focusing screen: Type B BriteView Clear Matte VI screen
• Frame coverage 100%
• Viewfinder magnification approx 0.7x with 50 mm f/1.4 lens
Focusing screen• B-type BrightView Clear Matte Screen II
• Superimposed focus brackets
• On-demand grid lines
LCD monitor• 3.0 ” TFT LCD
• 922,000 pixels (VGA; 640 x 480 x 3 colors)
• 170° viewing angle
• Brightness adjustment
LCD Liveview• Handheld mode: TLL phase-difference AF with 51 focus areas (15 cross-type sensors)
• Tripod mode: focal-plane contrast AF on a desired point within a specific area
Shooting modes• Single frame
• Continuous Low [CL]: 1 – 9 fps
• Continuous High [CH]: 9 fps (9 – 11 fps with DX format)
• Liveview [LV]
• Self-Timer (programmable)
• Mirror-up mode
Continuous buffer• JPEG Large/Normal: 64 shots (at 9 fps)
• RAW: no data yet
Self-timer• 2 to 20 sec custom
Flash control•TTL flash control with 1,005-pixel RGB sensor; i-TTL balanced fill-flash and standard i-TTL fill-flash available with SB-800, 600 or 400
• AA (Auto Aperture-type) flash: Available with SB-800 used with CPU lens
• Non-TTL Auto: Available with Speedlights such as SB-800, 28, 27, and 22S
• Range-priority manual flash; available with SB-800
Flash Sync Mode• Front-curtain Sync (normal)
• Red-Eye Reduction
• Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync
• Slow Sync
• Rear-curtain Sync
Flash Accessory ShoeISO 518 standard-type hot shoe contact; Safety lock mechanism provided
Flash Sync TerminalISO 519 standard terminal, lock screw provided
Flash compensation• -3 to +1 EV
• 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps
Creative Lighting SystemWith Speedlights such as SB-800, SB-600, SB-400, SB-R200, supports Advanced Wireless Lighting, Auto FP High-Speed Sync, Flash Color Information Communication, modeling flash and FV lock
Orientation sensorTags images with camera orientation
Playback mode• Full frame
• Thumbnail (4 or 9 images)
• One-touch zoom
• Slideshow
• RGB histogram
• Shooting data
• Highlight point
• Auto image rotation
Languages• Chinese (Simplified and Traditional)
• Dutch
• English
• Finnish
• French
• German
• Italian
• Japanese
• Korean
• Polish
• Portuguese
• Russian
• Spanish
• Swedish
Custom functions48 custom functions
Connectivity• USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed) Mini-B connector
• HDMI video out (version 1.3a, Type A connector)
• Remote control 10-pin terminal
• PC Sync flash terminal
10-pin terminal• GPS: NMEA 0183 (Ver. 2.01 and 3.01) interface standard supported with 9-pin D-sub cable and GPS Cable MC-35 (optional)
• Remote control: via 10-pin terminal
CommunicationsFTP and PTP/IP file transfer with optional Wireless Transmitter WT-3 (IEEE 802.11 b/g)
Storage• Dual Compact Flash Type I or II
• UDMA, Microdrive and FAT32 supported
• 36 characters of text can be input and stored in EXIF header
Power• Lithium-Ion EN-EL4a/EL4
• Included dual battery charger MH-22
• Optional AC adapter EH-6
Battery monitoringThe LCD monitor on the camera back displays the following information
about the EN-EL3e battery:
• Remaining charge (%)
• No. of shots taken since last charge
• Battery life (5 stages)
Dimensions160 x 157 x 88 mm (6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 in)
Weight (no batt)1240 g (2.7 lb)
Operating environmentTemperature: 0 – 40 °C / 32 – 104 °F, Humidity: under 85% (no condensation)
Box contentsRechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL4a, Quick Charger MH-22, USB Cable UC-E4, Audio Video Cable EG-D2, Camera Strap AN-D3, Body Cap BF-1A, Accessory Shoe Cap BS-2, Eyepiece DK-17, Battery Chamber Cover BL-4, USB Cable Clip, Software Suite CD-ROM
Optional accessoriesWireless Transmitter WT-4, Magnifying Eyepiece DK-17M, AC Adapter EH-6, Capture NX Software, Camera Control Pro 2 Software, Image Authentication Software


When we first saw the D3, before it was officially announced, I’ll confess that there were some raised eyebrows, and the first question that sprang to mind was, “is this a successor for the D2Hs, the D2X, both or neither?”

The reality, of course, is that it’s not that easy, and Nikon’s long-awaited maiden excursion into the realm of the full-frame sensor is practically in a class all by itself. This has been a long-awaited camera for Nikon.

To begin, there is no question that it was developed with speed in mind, and I mean that in the broadest possible sense.

The D3 always seems to be one step ahead of you, from the almost twitchy responsiveness (brush the shutter, and before you know it, you’ve taken half a dozen shots) to the astounding image pipeline that can pull huge amounts of data off the sensor and process, buffer, and write it to the card at up to 9 frames per second, to the quick, accurate focus. All of these features contribute to the feeling that the D3 is always one step ahead of you.

Add to this the class-leading high ISO performance (due to a boldly low-density sensor), and you have a camera that is uniquely capable of keeping up with the action even when light levels start to drop precipitously.

Because of this, the D3 is an excellent advance to the D2H whether it is used in the DX crop mode or the full frame mode (for cropping afterward) (or D2Hs if you prefer). You receive a little greater resolution (5.1MP vs. 4.0MP), much improved high ISO performance, significantly quicker continuous drive, and improved buffering, in addition to all the other enhancements that you would anticipate after waiting for two years.

But of course, you also get a lot more than that; this is a full-frame camera that gives D2X quality and has a larger, far better sensor than other cameras in its class. The D2H for high-speed telephoto work and the D2X for high-resolution work at closer quarters may both be replaced by a single camera, which also has the additional advantage of allowing all of your wide lenses to once again function as wide-angle lenses.

Because of this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that the D3 has, in the roughly six months since it was released, been embraced by the Nikon professional photography community. Additionally, it has caused a lot of Canon shooters to do some serious soul-searching and consider the unthinkable: moving (back in many cases) to Nikon.

Nikon D3 Price

Pros & Cons

Good For

  • Every conceivable amenity and convenience is included.
  • A bargain taking into account the quality of its lineage
  • Excellent construction, with very good handling.
  • Excellent performance
Need Improvements
  • There is no function for a timed mirror lock-up (could be automatic with self-timer)
  • Fewer pixels than its rivals
  • The majority of the focal points are centered in the middle of the picture.

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