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|| News Item: Posted 2007-11-11

Photographer's Toy Box: Nikon D3 Users Report
By Matt Brown

Photo by Matt Brown

Photo by Matt Brown

Then Nikon D3 performs well at ASA 3200.
"Hello D3!"

Those were the words that came from my mouth after removing it from the box. I was able to use the new Nikon D3 for two weeks. During that time I did six soccer games, four volley games, three football games, one ice hockey game, two water polo games and a wedding.

From my last review of the Nikon D2Xs in July 2006, we all waited and wanted the next big thing. One thing we D2Xs users wanted was more frames per second and maybe even a higher useable ISO.

So for the next two weeks I went to work on the D3. I want to work over the camera to find the good and the bad. For the start it was easy to see the things you could like about the new camera.

I can tell you how much I liked, no, loved the Full Frame in this camera. Let's take a step back. I used my 28mm f1.4 a lot with my F5 back in the day. The wide-angle view with a little depth of field made photos stand out. After using the 28mm with all the other Nikon camera digital cameras it never looked and made the same feel.

The 28mm f1.4 and the D3 are made for each other. I shoot a wedding during this period and I can say I must have shot 90% of the wedding with this combination. The images are stunning which moves us to the next great thing about the camera, the ISO.

Full Frame: Yes, the D3 is about the same size 12.1 megapixel as the D2x and D2xs cameras. But the D2X and D2Xs are DX format, not FX format sensors.The Nikon Fx Format CMOS imaging Sensor is the reason for absolute stunning images at all ISO's. I would never have shot a wedding at anything higher then 800 ISO. You never know how big a print a bride might want after a wedding.

I went as high as 3200 ISO without a worry. The depth of the pixel is shocking and gorgeous. The color is real to life and rich in depth. To have a full frame back is really nice, my 400mm is back and wide is wide. I know some people will say I like having my 400mm lens acting as a 600mm. But do you really like your 17mm be a 25mm?

My first football game with the D3 was a little odd. After six years of shooting with a 1.5 crop, I had to shift my placement on the field and the way I shot. With a 400mm and 1.5 crop, you can reach the other side of the field. This is something you cannot do with a 400mm and a full frame camera.

Change is good.

A FPS (frame per second), three little letters photographers have fallen in love with. Yes, five frames per second has hindered me from time to time. Missing or wanting more frames from a Chone Figgins play at home plate or that Chad Johnson diving into the end zone or Tiger Woods swing from the sand, will never happen again.

The D3 comes with 9 Frames per second. I did a test with the help of former Cal State Fullerton baseball player Joe Turgeon. I wanted to see the difference between the D2Xs and D3 in frame rate. I had Joe take batting practice and diving for balls in the outfield. I placed both cameras on tripods and used pocket wizards placed on the same channel to fire each camera. The D3 knocked the ball out of the park.

For every swing of the bat, the D2Xs took 3 frames and the D3 took 7 frames. The D2xs had the ball in frame 50% of the time. The D3 had the ball in frame every time, and in some cases 2 or 3 balls in a sequence.

Focus: I have always like the focus of every Nikon camera I have ever used. The D3 has taken it to a whole new level. Sharp and fast, locking onto subjects and rarely letting go. The 3D tracking system, something new with the camera, was mind-boggling.

Photo by Matt Brown

Photo by Matt Brown

Then Nikon D3 at ASA 250.
When I heard Nikon was moving to a 51-point focus tracking system, I was think 51 points could be too many. Well I has wrong, it worked and worked very well. The D3 locked on to running backs moving in out of blockers and defenders with great accuracy. Smooth is a good word to use for the new system. I was shocked by the improvement the auto focus system.

The D3 comes with an improved viewfinder and a 3-inch screen: The viewfinder is bigger and brighter and sharper. All three are really important. A bigger viewfinder, with the full frame, is really nice. The Daily Breeze staff photographer Scott Varley summed it the best, "I have to turn my head to see the corners of the viewfinder." Full frame will do that to you. The view is clean and crisp. With the new style of AF the black grid points are gone. Now you see just glowing red points that are active.

The 3-inch screen is huge. Super-Density with 920,000 dot resolution is stunning. Sharp is an understatement. Going back and forth to D2Xs and D3 lets you really see the size and sharpness of in the screen.

ISO: I can't say enough about the ISO of the D3. The new camera is ground breaking here. I shot every ISO on this camera, from 100-25,600.

The range is outstanding. I was really shocked by the leap Nikon took. The ISO gets better the higher you go. The 100 ISO is good, but what new camera really has a bad 100 ISO? I shot soccer back lit 500ISO at f5.6 at 1/640 and the images looked better then 200 ISO on my D2Xs.

Again, I would never shoot anything at a wedding higher than 800 ISO. Not anymore. I made beautiful images at high ISO and never had to second guess myself. Colors didn't fade, stayed rich through out the entire ISO range.

Knowing you can go to 3200 or 6400 ISO, taking a photo that can be publishable, is a load off your mind. Shooting high school football or basketball without flashing it! After a few days of seeing the images up close, I never worried about cropping deep into higher ISO images.

You can get 6400 and 12,800 into your newspaper and let people think it must be a lower ISO. Sports Illustrated staffer photographer Robert Beck had a 2500 ISO cover from the World Series with the D3. SI would have never done that in the past.

Bells and whistles:

• The shutter release time lag is super fast, only 37 milliseconds. With a pre-release cord and AC power, you can be on top of any play at home plate.

• LiveView, never thought I would use it, I did. Setting up a camera with a pole in the way of the viewfinder, LiveView helped. I know I'll find more uses soon.

• The Dual compact flash card slots: a nice touch. I shoot RAW 100% of the time. Just knowing that one card can overflow to the other is nice.

Photo by Matt Brown

Photo by Matt Brown

This sequence shows the fast Nikon D3 motor drive.
• Virtual Horizon: nice touch. I used it during some landscapes. No tilting here.

The only thing that made me say, "What the heck?" was the burst depth of 17 NEFs (raws). If you shoot 9 fps, you can and will miss things on the back end. Reactions in a play, long car crashes or a good old ringside fight. I was told this could change before hitting the street. I used a camera for 2 weeks with a firmware of .39 so anything is possible.

I had said in the past that the F5 was best camera Nikon every made, then came the D2Xs. After shooting for two weeks with the D3, I can say both the F5 and D2Xs or any other camera on the market, can't touch the advancements in this camera.

After nearly 30,000 frames with D3 I can say that it is a leap ahead of anything on the market. Fast, accurate, rich clean colors and an ISO second to none, are just a few words that can be used to describe the new flagship of Nikon.

Special thanks to Ron Taniwaki and Bill Pekala of Nikon for the help in preparing this report.

(Matt Brown is a freelance photographer based in Southern California.)

Related Links:
Matt's member page

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