Nikon D3X Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Ultimately, image quality makes a camera worth buying. For a digital SLR, image quality greatly depends on the lens used. While noise, color, exposure and dynamic range are properties of the camera, distortion, vignetting and chromatic aberrations are properties of the lens. Sharpness depends on the weakest link. So, the camera cannot capture more details than the lens lets through. Conversely, a good lens can transmit more details than the sensor can capture.
The aging flagship DSLR from Nikon has yet to be beaten. After 3 years of technological advancements, no current DSLR produces the quality of images seen by the Nikon D3X in terms of resolving details. The 25 megapixels CMOS sensor used in this digital SLR produces extremely clean images with impeccably sharp details at ISO 50 to 400. These images can be used for large prints up to 16"x24" which stand close-up scrutiny. The ISO 800 setting is almost as perfect.
Image noise starts being visible at ISO 1600 where maximum print sizes get slightly reduced. Keep in mind, this is reduced from a moderately large size to something still relatively large like a 12"x18" which would show very fine-grained noise in mostly uniform areas. The expanded ISO 3200 and 6400 settings makes for nice but slightly noisy mid-size prints.
This camera delivers an excellent dynamic range, very close to the latest DSLRs, while capturing an amazing amount of nuances in terms of color and tonality. Only 2 DSLRs offer better high ISO performance due to their much larger pixels, the 12 megapixels D3S
Nikon D3S and D700
Colors from the Nikon D3X can be very accurate, although default settings are slightly off. Reducing saturation and brightness by one step provided the most accurate results with Picture Control set to Standard. The default Sharpness setting is a little soft, increasing by one delivers crisper results. Higher settings make sharpening artifacts appear quickly.
Automatic while-balance is good but requires some work, particularly under artificial light. This is probably the only area where the D3X shows its age as modern cameras have greatly improved in this area. Still, this DSLR has plenty of controls over white-balance, including a custom options which works perfectly well.
Nikon's high-end Matrix metering is probably the most reliable system. Without being perfect, it performs very well, rarely missing the ideal exposure by much. Some positive compensation is required to optimize details in low contrast scenes but those are never improperly exposed. It occasionally over-exposes scenes with small but very bright highlights, usually by 1/2 or 1 EV which is better than most metering systems.
The Nikon D3X is a very fast camera. Its speed is even more impressive considering the bandwidth required to output 14-bit RAW of 25 megapixels at 5 FPS which it can sustain for 34 frames. JPEG images which are 8-bit per pixels - as always - require less space and 70 of them can be captured in a single burst without loss of speed.
This DSLR rarely makes the photographer wait. It turns on and off instantly. The shutter is released immediately with an extremely short black out time. Shot-to-shot speeds are an incredible ¼s. The 51-point autofocus is very fast and accurate. It locks in under ¼s under a broad array of conditions, even in moderately low light. Focusing may take longer in very low light and with slow lenses. This is usually the case when shooting with a variable zoom lens at the telephoto end where they often cannot open more than F/5.6 or F/6.3. Still, it rarely takes more than ½s to lock focus.
Entering and exiting Playback mode is very quick and so is scrolling between images. The only relatively slow operation is zooming into images. When that happens, the camera shows an hourglass icon for less than 1 second while it reads the full-resolution image.
The optical viewfinder is large and bright and makes it easy to determine what is in focus. It provides 100% coverage as one would expect of any high-end DSLR. There is a viewfinder shutter, activated by a small switch on the prism housing, which serves to block stray light from entering. This is mostly useful when shooting very long exposures. A diopter correction nob for those who wear prescription glasses is found on the side of the housing. The optical viewfinder slightly protrudes from the rear of the camera for extra comfort.
There is a Live-View mode which is selected as a Drive Mode. This is one of the earliest Live-View and is limited in functionality. It is not exposure-priority in any mode but it previews white-balance. Contrast detect autofocus is available in Live-View but is extremely slow, taking easily in the order of 3-5s to lock.
With an enormous 2500 mAh battery and no built-in flash, it is still surprising to know that battery life is 4400 shots per charge, the highest of any digital camera. This is enough for any day and even weeks of shooting for some photographers.
The Nikon D3X maintains its position among top quality DSLR even 3 years after its introduction. It delivers the highest resolution images among DSLRs while performing very throughout its ISO sensitivity range. Color with tweaking, metering, dynamic range and sharpness with a good lens are all exceptional. White-balance is good but not perfect but easily fixed using custom white-balance or presets.
The value of the D3X lies in its high-resolution capture, particularly between ISO 100 and 400, which is highly suitable for large prints. There is one camera to consider against the D3X and that is its sister model, the Nikon D3S
Nikon D3S. While externally identical, the D3S has half the resolution which permits it to reach much higher ISOs, up to 102400, and faster frame rates, up to 9 FPS, making it an ideal choice for available light and action shots. This leaves the D3X superior for landscape, architecture, studio and other situations which do not require such astronomical ISO sensitivities.
Handling is very good with external controls for all important functions and a highly customizable behavior. The Nikon D3X is fast and responsive and is unlikely to make the photographer miss a shot. Its 5 FPS continuous drive is fast with a good buffer. The only noteworthy issues some may have with this DSLR are its bulk and its premium price. Yet, for such a splendid performance, many photographers find it worth it.
Nikon D3X Highlights
Sensor-Size: 36 x 24mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|25 Megapixels DSLR||ISO 50-6400|
|Nikon F Mount|
Extra Large Viewfinder
|Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|1 Axis Digital Level||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|5 FPS Drive, 70 Images||Hot-Shoe & Sync-Port|
|3" LCD 920K Pixels||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|Compact Flash x 2|
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