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Nikon D3x Digital SLR Review

In an ePHOTOzine UK exclusive, Matt Grayson throws caution to the wind and takes a look at the Nikon D3x, a camera with a price tag equal to at least one week's salary.

|  Nikon D3x in Digital SLRs
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It's been nearly a year to the day that the Nikon D3 and D300 were shipped and Nikon are now adding to their full frame range with the Nikon D3x making them the first company with an entire compliment of full frame DSLRs.

Nikon D3x

Nikon D3x: Specification

  • Resolution: 24.5Mp
  • Sensor size: 35.9x24.0mm
  • Sensor type: CMOS FX type
  • Image size: 6048x4032
  • Focus system: Multi-CAM 3500FX
  • Focus points: 51 (inc. 15 cross type sensors)
  • Lens mount: Nikkor type G or D
  • File type: JPEG, RAW (NEF), TIFF (RGB)
  • Sensitivity: ISO100-1600 (ISO50-6400 equivalent)
  • Storage: Dual slot UDMA enabled Compactflash
  • Focus types: Single point AF, Continuous AF, Focus tracking, Manual with electronic rangefinder
  • Metering system: TTL full aperture metering using 1,005px RGB sensor
  • Metering types: 3D colour matrix, centre-weighted, spot
  • Exposure compensation: /-5EV in 1/2, 1/3 or 1 step increments
  • Shutter speed: 30sec-1/8000sec, bulb
  • Frames per second: 5fps FX, 7fps DX
  • Flash: External only
  • Flash metering: TTL flash control
  • Flash sync speed: 1/250sec
  • Image stabilisation: Lens based
  • Integrated cleaning: Image Dust Off reference data
  • Live view: Handheld, tripod mode
  • Viewfinder: Optical, 100% field of view in FX mode, 97% in DX mode
  • Monitor: 3in TFT LCD polysilicon monitor, 920,000dot with brightness adjustment
  • Interface: USB2.0
  • Power: Li-Ion battery
  • Size: 159.5mmx157mmx87.5mm
  • Weight: 1220g body only

In the last four years, Nikon have seen a 333% growth in the DSLR share and now, GFK stats show, that Nikon have the number one position by volume in the UK, USA, Japan and Europe.

The full frame range now has something for nearly every situation:

  • The D700 has portability, durability and is what can only loosely be classed as the budget model.
  • The D3 has image performance, ISO performance and a decent price for what you get.
  • Now the D3x heads up the gang with superior resolution and the same durability seen on the other models.

Body only price for the D3x are pointing at around the £5,500 mark. The nearest priced equivalent to that is the Canon EOS 1Ds MkIII at £4474. Nikon outstrips the Canon in resolution but has the same frames per second performance, sensitivity range and screen size. Both cameras are dual slot but the Canon has one slot for Compactflash and SD whereas the Nikon has both for Compactflash.

Nikon D3x
The top left shoulder has the same command dial as featured on the D3 hosting bracket, flash and Lock button. Under this are the drive options.
Nikon D3x
The rear view of the D3x. This isn't about external changes. The upgrades are all internal such as the sensor, 100% viewfinder coverage and lower ISO range.
Nikon D3x
This small extra LCD display allows you to quickly flick through ISO, image quality and WB settings while still using live view.
Nikon D3x
Most of the action happens on the right shoulder with the shutter release, mode and exposure compensation buttons seen infront of the LCD plate. The meter switch and viewfinder dioptre can be seen on the prism housing.

Nikon D3x: Features
The obvious place to start is on the new sensor and a lot of speculation has been made regarding the noise but Nikon say that the sensor is exclusive to the D3x and won't suffer the same noise problems as the Sony Alpha A900.

The 24.5 million pixels have been designed to carry larger electrical charges which means that light transmission is better giving a wider dynamic range. 14bit A/D conversion is on chip to reduce power consumption and a new exclusive low pass filter gives minimised moiré thanks to the multi layer coating.

Thanks to the MultiCAM 3500 focusing system being so successful in the D3 and D300, the D3x couldn't have anything less. It still has the 51 point AF system which is still the highest available on any DSLR by a mile. The large amount of focus points helps with a more precise 3D track and the focusing now works alongside the metering instead of independently. Scene Recognition allows metering, focusing and white balance to all talk to each other ensuring the chances of getting the shot right are raised.

As a high end professional DSLR, it simply wouldn't do to have preset modes such as portrait or landscape modes installed. However, picture controls are available and are now interchangeable between models if you have a D3 or D700 as a back up.

The usual settings are present such as standard, neutral, vivid and mono. Sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue can be altered in these sections. Additionally, portrait, landscape and three D2x modes can be downloaded from the Nikon website along with any picture controls you may have stored from the D60, D90, D300, D700 and D3.

100% field of view is now possible thanks to the dust removal system being taken away. This news will upset some but Nikon are now so confident in the dust removal software on Capture NX that they were happy to take it off and give you maximum viewing possibilities. Capture NX can also batch process dust off a series of images which means you only have to correct one.

Of course this doesn't solve the problem of dust getting onto the sensor in the first place and takes us back to the heady days of blowers and wet strips.

Live-view is firmly in our lives and the same two modes found in the D3 are in the D3x too. Handheld mode allows for the frame being recomposed, uses the standard phase-difference focusing and all 51 AF points are activated.

Tripod mode is designed for precise focusing in still-life studio scenarios. Focal plane contrast AF works anywhere in the frame and remote triggering can be used with the optional wireless transmitter WT-4. If you want to use it in a studio with tethered remote triggering from a computer, this is possible in both live-view modes using the optional Control Pro 2 software.

At the launch of the Nikon D90, I found the dynamic range system (D-Lighting) had an extra setting of Extra high for scenes with silly amounts of contrast. This feature has been fitted to the D3x expanding the dynamic range capabilities from the D3.

Nikon D3x: Build and handling
Really, what did you expect? A magnesium alloy skeleton is covered in the tough plastic that you need with the type of photographs this camera will be taking. It's designed as a studio camera but they've added features such as the same weather sealing as the D3 so it'll be ok outside. The mirror box is also made of magnesium alloy and this is to ensure that mirror placement is precise.

As it snaps up, there's a possibility of it misaligning and losing focus and drive performance. A stronger build lessens the chances of this happening.

Interestingly, the shutter is the same kevlar/carbon fibre build as found on the D3 but this one has been tested to 300,000 cycles. It also has a self diagnostic which checks after each shot and if a problem is found, it flags an error message on the screen for you to see.

It feels great in the hands, not too dissimilar to the D3 but you know you're holding something better, even if those improvements aren't external. It has different dimensions to the D3 but only by a few millimetres here and there.

The 920,000dot screen has been fitted to the D3x and with the Canon EOS 5D MkII also having the same, it shows that Nikon had their heads screwed on when upping the monitor resolution. After I took a few shots of the model, I zoomed into the image on playback and managed to get a bright, sharp image when zoomed in at full magnification.

Nikon D3x: Performance
I tried the new camera at the launch and was really impressed by the speed of focusing and quality of the image. The studio was set up to ensure we all got the best results but that's how you'd have your studio set up, so it makes sense.

At full magnification, there's an amazing amount of detail in the image from the eyelashes to strands of hair and even seeing the detail of the softbox in the model's eyes. Skin tones are smooth and colour reproduction is amazing.

Nikon D3x
The amount of detail is what you'd expect from a camera at this price with a resolution of this magnitude.
Nikon D3x
The same image at 100% magnification and the detail can really be appreciated.

I also got to take some photographs of a Lamborghini using a 14mm lens and the image is very good. What I'm most disturbed at finding is three blue marks on the image.  I have the same problems on other images of the car but not in the same place so it's not a sensor problem. I think it's more than likely lens flare and I wasn't the only one to suffer it.

Nikon D3x
This rear view of the Lamborghini shows some small blue marks on the image.
Nikon D3x
The same spots appear on this image suggesting lens flare as they're not in the same place.

The 5fps performance is in FX format of 3:2 (36x24) or 5:4 (30x24) but in DX format (24x16) the D3x can uprate itself to 7fps. While this is slower than the D3, it's understandable given the resolution. However, the frame rate is certainly faster than the D3 when compared with the amount of information that needs to be pushed through the EXPEED processor.

Nikon D3x JPEG has really pushed the colours of the colour chart with a highly vivid red, blue, yellow and pink. The skin tone tile looks a little punchier than I'd like but the pastel colours down the left side of blue, orange and brown have got some substance to them.

I like the earthier colours of brown and forest green and the mono tone tiles are nicely balanced. 

The white frost on the trees recently gave the world an infra red feel and allowed me to test the white balance as well as a couple of picture styles. For some reason Nikon have included Cyanotype and Sepia as colour options on their flagship model which are features usually seen on compact cameras. Luckily, the Cyanotype version works quite well on the white trees but I don't think I've ever seen an image where the inbuilt Sepia looks anything other than sickly.

I was out in the cold for around an hour and the camera never gave up. Never moaned or slowed down. It wasn't until I got back that I realised quite how cold it was outside. Not the coldest that it's been this year but I would say around -3 as I was away from the city on the edge of the Peak District.

Nikon D3x
This is the normal colour version with the white balance set to sunshine as it was a bright day despite the bitterness. It's designed to warm up a blue cast from daylight but this has gone a bit too far giving the snow an orange cast.
Nikon D3x
Picture styles allow you to change the cast of the image into pretty childish options such as Cyanotype seen here. Saying that, it does look pretty good with the snow but needs a dash of selective colour.
Nikon D3x
Sepia is also available and looks quite rubbish although not as bad as some other cameras. I'm surprised to see these modes on this camera.
Nikon D3x
A good result from the Nikon proving its worth to landscape photographers. The image size has been cut for bandwidth purposes.

More neutral colours have been recorded from lower class models  in the landscape test shot, but the balance is much better and more true to life. No fringing is evident and loads of detail has been recorded. The foreground is a little out of focus despite the narrow f/16 aperture but not unpleasantly so and is only noticeable at full size magnification.

Nikon D3x

As wells as recording in RAW and JPEG, the D3x also records in TIFF so I took a standard shot of the peacock feathers in each format to see if you gain any more detail through them.The JPEG is available by clicking on the thumbnail while the RAW and TIFF images can be downloaded from the download area of the site by clicking on the links below.

Nikon D3x detail RAW image

Nikon D3x detail TIFF image

Nikon D3x
I think pattern metering has coped pretty well with me shooting into the sun here. Sure, it's blown out the sky a little but that has helped retain some detail in the gate which would be otherwise sihouetted.

Nikon D3x: Focus and metering
In the D3x is the same Multi CAM3500 focusing system as the D3 which can pick out faces and track them easily even in low light situations.

The 15 cross-type sensors work in all Nikkor lenses with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 and brighter.

Metering is adjusted on the side of the prism on top of the camera and has pattern, centre-weighted and spot available. They're all a muchness these days and the metering system on this camera works as well as the other top Nikon models with one small exception.

Because of the previously mentioned Scene Recognition system being upgraded, the focusing is even smarter as it uses the metering to help track subjects by using the information that's available.

Nikon D3x: Noise test
I was initially disappointed with the results from the D3x as it doesn't match up to the performance of the D3 or D700. However, it's easy to get carried away with expecting excellent noise images because of these two cameras, but they're only half the resolution. However, at the same time, it has to be remembered that this is a camera with a £5,500 price tag. Shouldn't it be perfect?

Comparably, the D3x results are better than the Canon EOS 1Ds MkIII but that's a camera much older than this one and the Canon has a maximum of ISO3200. At ISO6400, the D3x can be compared with the D3, D700 and newer Canon EOS 5D MkII. I've put the 5D MkII ISO6400 image up again for comparison along with the Nikon D3 and D700 ISO6400 images.

Sony Alpha A900
The Sony A900 ISO6400 equivalent image.
Nikon D3
The Nikon D3 ISO6400 image.
Nikon D700
The Nikon D700 ISO6400 image.
Canon EOS 5D MkII
The Canon EOS 5D MkII ISO6400 image.

I looked at the images for a long time even though it immediately speaks out that the noise on the D3x is much higher than the EOS 5D MkII which could cause some concern when contemplating paying out for the body. For the same amount, you could switch systems if you're careful enough with the lenses you choose.

In fact, despite the high resolution, I'm pretty disappointed with the noise results from the D3x. I expected more from Nikon because of the reputation that the D3 and D700 have created. Maybe they've dug their own grave because of this and I can only say in their defence to bear in mind that the resolution is so much higher that it's bound to happen. So why doesn't it happen with the Canon? That's a question that can only be answered by the maufacturers and will contradict each other.

One advantage it has over other models is the equivalent ISO50 setting which will be great for those of you who aren't in a rush but isn't a true setting. It also has equivalent ISO3200 and ISO6400 settings which are 1 and 2EV above the highest true setting.

RAW results for the Nikon D3x can be downloaded from the download section. I had to convert them to .tif in ViewNX as no software package supports the new RAW format at the moment. 

Click on the links below to download the images:

Nikon D3x ISO6400 equivalent RAW image

Nikon D3x
The ISO50 equivalent test.
Nikon D3x
The ISO100 test.
Nikon D3x
The ISO200 test.

The ISO400 test.
Nikon D3x
The ISO800 test.
Nikon D3x
The ISO1600 test.
Nikon D3x
The ISO3200 equivalent test.
Nikon D3x
The ISO6400 equivalent test.

Nikon D3x: Verdict
I tested the camera in various areas such as the cold, shooting into the sun and I got to try it in a studio set up at the launch. I'm impressed with the images that the camera gives and it's one of those bodies that when you hold them, you know you're taking photographs and not snaps.

I'm really disappointed with the noise results. I tried throughout the test to keep an unbiased mind. On the one hand you have the resolution so high that noise is bound to appear really quickly. On the other hand you have the fact that this camera costs £5,500 and you should be getting the best possible quality.

So why are the noise results worse than the Canon EOS 5D MkII? That's what you need to ask yourself before you get your weary Mastercard out. For the same price, you can get the 5D MkII and some new lenses.

It's worth considering.

Disabled Photographers Society:
Alan Kelly is the Nikon user of the three members that came to see us here at ePHOTOzine. He was really excited to use the camera and agreed that it was very good but not something he'd consider buying. "Nikon have magnified eyecups which are worthwhile getting if you have trouble with the viewfinder."

One thing he wasn't happy with was that Nikon have done away with the true wireless capture of older models. He said: "You now have to connect to another box which is then clipped to your belt or put in a pocket. The main problem with that is if you forget it's there, put the camera down and walk off dragging the camera onto the floor."

Nikon D3x: Plus points
Full frame
Excellent build quality
Fast focusing
Good metering control
Close to natural colours

Nikon D3x: Minus points
Removal of dust reduction facility
Bad noise performance
Sepia mode?!





It's a great camera but the noise test has knocked it out of the running for a highly recommended. 

The Nikon D3x DSLR has an RRP of £5,500 and can be seen at Warehouse Express here:

Nikon D3x

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Photographs taken using the Nikon D3x


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GaryR 15 1.3k England
2 Dec 2008 2:57PM
New Nikon D3X with an RRP of 5,500 and Mat claiming a price tag of at least a weeks salary. Are there any jobs going at EPZ towers as the pay sounds good!!!
IanA 18 3.0k 12 England
2 Dec 2008 3:00PM

Quote:I think the removal of the main dust reduction feature was a bad idea when they've not replaced it with anything. It's a tricky one because in removing it, they've gained the 5% of viewfinder coverage that was lost on the D3 taking it to 100%.

I think you'll find the D3 has a 100% viewfinder and no dust removal system Matt!

It's the D700 that has dust removal and only 95% coverage! As they said, the camera is aimed at image quality, and only being able to see 95% is not conducuive, so they left it out conciously!

MattGrayson 15 622 3 England
2 Dec 2008 3:28PM

Quote:Quote:I think the removal of the main dust reduction feature was a bad idea when they've not replaced it with anything. It's a tricky one because in removing it, they've gained the 5% of viewfinder coverage that was lost on the D3 taking it to 100%.I think you'll find the D3 has a 100% viewfinder and no dust removal system Matt!

It's the D700 that has dust removal and only 95% coverage! As they said, the camera is aimed at image quality, and only being able to see 95% is not conducuive, so they left it out conciously!


Yes. Amended, getting my launches mixed up there.

I know they did it on purpose. I just think that dust removal is such a big thing these days, that to remove it could cause negative feelings regardless of the positive outcome.
IanA 18 3.0k 12 England
2 Dec 2008 8:23PM

Quote:I just think that dust removal is such a big thing

That's a matter of opinion! Personally I haven't used the dust removal system on any camera I've had, and with my D300 (12 months old and 50,000+ activations) I've only used a blower on it twice!
I much prefer 100% viewfinders!

nickh158 14 19 England
3 Dec 2008 12:26AM
I guess these two pro-spec cameras are direct competition for Canon`s D and Ds models. Andy Rouse switched systems I believe, so he could use the D3; If a wildlife photographer`s impressed by that camera, I imagine he`ll be remortgaging to own a D3x. Much though I`d like one of these (after all, owning a pro camera means I will take pro quality photos, right?) 5.4k is a little out of my price range. Still, Matt won`t even need to save for it; A week`s wages is nothing, eh Matt?
MattGrayson 15 622 3 England
3 Dec 2008 12:39AM
Yes and anyone else with your level of expertise and knowledge will think the same way.
There are a lot of people out there with more money than they know what to do with and they simply want the best that a company can make. They know about the well documented stuff such as live-view and dust reduction but not that it sacrificed field of view and they expect it to be on a camera. I know this from selling to them when I worked the shop circuit.
It's a small market but one that exists and that may go for something else if they don't get what they think every camera should have.

But then how does the A900 do it? It's also full frame with 100% view. I suppose they have the advantage with the in camera stabilisation as it's that the camera uses to shake the sensor. What about that little hole that the D60 has which creates a vacuum, that'd be good.
MattGrayson 15 622 3 England
3 Dec 2008 11:26AM

Quote:Still, Matt won`t even need to save for it; A week`s wages is nothing, eh Matt?

You haven't seen my mortgage repayments yet! Wink
IanA 18 3.0k 12 England
4 Dec 2008 7:36PM

Quote:You haven't seen my mortgage repayments yet!

It's the seventeen bedrooms that do that Matt! Wink
Tcoat 15
8 Dec 2008 2:48AM
Obviously, the A900 must use a different type on dust reduction system - the same mechanism that is used for Sony's sensor shift image stabiliser. The A900's Pentaprism magnification is the current industry leader too. A few years back, I remember reading that the Olympus/Panasonic Supersonic Wave filter was the only effective system anyway - although Canon does have a dust mapping system to remove dust in software.
I have never read anything since, on the Web, to suggest the situation has changed.
So its D3x vs 1Ds MKIII, D3 vs 1D MK III, and D700 vs 5D MKII Vs A900?
Canon has recently upgraded its 22meg sensor with, much improved, 1D MKIII/D700/D3 type noise levels (Sans Chromatic Aberation problems, I assume), rear screen resolution, and live imaging - plus HD movie capture. Trouble is, it's currently only available on their 5D MKII!!
MattGrayson 15 622 3 England
6 Jan 2009 3:20PM

Quote:Quote:You haven't seen my mortgage repayments yet!It's the seventeen bedrooms that do that Matt!

One for each of my concubines. Wink
IanA 18 3.0k 12 England
6 Jan 2009 9:15PM

Quote:One for each of my concubines.

They're keeping your mind off the job Matt!

Quote:The focus switch and viewfinder dipotre can be seen on the prism housing.

It ain't the focus switch, it's the metering mode switch! Wink
MattGrayson 15 622 3 England
6 Jan 2009 11:26PM
Of course it is and I mention it as such later in the review. I'll amend it to the right one...
13 Jan 2009 11:06PM
Well i looked at the images of the noise levels at 6400 between the Nikon D3x and the canon 5D mkII and disagree. First of all you have taken these images in completely different lighting conditions. The D3x has been shot in much dimmer light. Noise levels should be higher in darker light anyway but even though this is the case, to me the noise levels look worse on the lighter image taken by the 5D. Im pretty sure my eyesight is up to scratch, then either you have made a genuine mistake in your observations or are viewing a completely different image to the viewers. I do wonder about these quick reviews sometimes as they can be very misleading !
MattGrayson 15 622 3 England
14 Jan 2009 9:15AM
You really think so? Actually the light is set to the same values. I push them to full power and let the camera work the exposure (which should adjust each time to give the perfect exposure) because if I didn't, the image would become more and more under exposed.
I'm looking at the images now and see much less detail and increased noise from the D3x. You aren't looking at the D3 image in the block of four are you? The D3x ISO6400 is called ISOhi2 and is at the end of the large block of noise images. Just checking. Smile

Btw, this isn't a quick review, I had the camera for a long period over Christmas and got to play with it a lot. Smile
15 Jan 2009 2:30PM
I stand corrected. You are right i was looking at the D3. A genuine mistake so im sorry about that. The noise levels do look higher on the D3x and you said you had a good while to test these camera's so i believe you. Noise levels at that setting shouldn't worry too many people who are serious landscape, nature photographers etc but i agree with you that for the price they are charging, you expect the very best. I do hope they willl bring out a new version of the D700 improved on the D3x in time to replace my D200. I think then we will see quality reaching the standards we use to get with film. Thanks for replying and apologies.
IanA 18 3.0k 12 England
17 Jan 2009 4:31PM

Quote:I think then we will see quality reaching the standards we use to get with film.


Film got surpassed some time ago!
How often have you shot film at ISO's in excess of 400? There's just no contest nowadays!
18 Jan 2009 6:09PM
IanA yes ISO is more convenient now on digital and it has obviously gone that way because of how versatile it is but still small frame sensors with the mega-pixel range available does not have the same high quality of film which is full frame. That is fact and well know. It is only now that full frame digital camera's are starting to come into their own with a much higher mega-pixel that will produce as i said earlier resolution that is becomming like film. This discussion need go no further. Read up for yourself.
DannyLenihan 14 213 19 England
24 Jan 2009 5:09PM

Quote:You haven't seen my mortgage repayments yet!

How much is a Caravan nowadays?

MattGrayson 15 622 3 England
24 Jan 2009 9:33PM
Less than if I have a star on the door too. Wink

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