Monthly Archives September 2007

Nikon D3

Thanks to everybody who posted questions, emailed me directly, or called me on the phone with your D3 questions. Disclaimer: Since I don’t work for Nikon, these are not in anyway official answers; just my take on the camera after spending a few days in the field with it, and my answers may not correlate with Nikon’s thinking, marketing, and/or position for the product. Here we go:

Q. Is the D3 really usable at very high ISO (6400 and more), as promised in the advertisements?
A. I didn’t actually try it at higher than 6400 ISO, but the test shots I took at 6400 ISO were absolutely usable. In fact, they were shockingly usable, and I think you’ll see working pros shooting at 6400 ISO with the D3. When you zoom in, you can definitely see noise, so it’s by no means “noise free,” but the amount of noise at 6400 ISO was dramatically less that I would have expected. In reality, I don’t know how often any of us will be shooting at 6400 ISO (but it’s nice to know that in a pinch; you can), but I can say with certainly that on the D3 I would shoot at 1200 ISO without hesitation.

Q. Do you find that 12MP is a good choice from Nikon and is it sufficient?
A. It’s more than sufficient for me, as my largest final print size is 24″x30″ which a 12 megapixel camera handles with no problem whatsoever. Personally, I don’t want a higher megapixel camera, because it will just slow my workflow down. Larger file sizes mean Photoshop goes slower, I need more scratch disk space, more hard drive space to store the images, and bigger memory cards for my camera. If Nikon introduced a higher megapixel camera, I wouldn’t have a use for it. But hey, that’s just me.

Q. Have you already placed your order?
A. Are you kidding? I’m already on the waiting list for it to ship. :)

Q. What are your impressions of the newly developed autofocus-system?
A. It worked perfectly for me, but then so did the auto-focus system on my D2Xs, so I can’t say that I noticed a big difference in my results. Of course, I was shooting landscapes, which don’t offer a lot of challenging auto-focus scenarios. Had a been shooting sports, I might have had a better opportunity to take it through a real world test.

Q. How does the AutoWB do in real life conditions?
A. I didn’t use the Auto White Balance out in the field, so didn’t get to test this.

Q. I note that both the D3 and D300 use a new CMOS image chip, which I understand is made by Sony. Is it reasonable to assume that the D300 will also exhibit the great low noise performance of the D3?
A. It’s my understanding that while the D300 uses a Sony chip, the D3 actually uses a new chip developed by Nikon. That being said, I think the D300 will have lower noise than the D200, but not the same crazy-low noise the D3 will have. The chips are just different (and so is the price).

Q. Is the D3 a replacement for the D2s, or is it a replacement for the D2h?
A. I see the D3 is a replacement for the D2X. Nikon may see it differently.

Q. Can you compare impressions of the 5D you used a few weeks ago with the D3.
A. I don’t think it would be a fair comparison to compare Nikon’s new gear, with a Canon camera that is probably coming to the end of it’s life cycle very soon, as Web rumors already abound about a Canon 6D in the works. A more fair comparison would be to compare the D3 with Canon’s new top of the line gear, but thus far Canon hasn’t sent me any of their new gear to review (hint, hint!).

Q. For the portrait photographer who wants to take the next step and upgrade up a level, should I go with the D300 or D3?
A. Nikon probably wouldn’t be thrilled to hear me say this, but I would probably go with the D300 (I’m ordering one myself as well, to replace my D200). Here’s the thing: to me it seems as though the D300 is about 80% of a D3, for around 1/3 the price, which makes it a very compelling buy. Also, given the D3’s specs, I feel like the D3’s target market is really the pro sports shooter. Canon has been eating Nikon’s lunch in this highly visible market segment for years now, and if you look at the D3’s specs, it sure seems like that’s who it’s aimed at.

Of course, the low noise will be attractive to wedding shooters who wind up shooting in low light situations on a regular basis, but for a portrait photographer, who’s probably shooting in more of a controlled light situation, I would hesitate to tell you to spend the extra money for a D3 just based on high ISO low noise, and more frames per second. Of course, there are other bells and whistles that make the D3 attractive to just about everyone, but if a portrait shooting friend asked me which they should get, I would tell them to get the D300.

Q. How difficult is it going to be to buy in the near future and what do you recommend to be one of the lucky first buyers?
A. This is going to be about the hottest ticket in town, and if the D200’s success is any indicator, Nikon won’t be able to make enough D3s or D300s to keep up with the demand. I’ll give you the same advice I would give a close friend; go to B&H Photo right now and place your order (I buy all my gear from B&H).

Q. I love Nikon, but is the D3 going to be worth shelling out that much money? I've heard rumors in the past of Nikon not going full frame because of loss of information around the edges⦠does the sensor in the D3 rectify this?
A. It’s a really amazing, full frame camera (I noticed no loss of info around the edges whatsoever) and worth every penny, if you need it for your work (in other words; if the feature set matches what you do for a living, or if you’re a rich doctor).

Q. How good is the camera on low iso. Is iso 200 better than iso100 on the D2X/
A. Honestly, in my testing, ISO 1200 on the D3 is like ISO 400 on the D2Xs. The noise is dramatically, shockingly, stunningly less.

Q. How does the D300 compare to Canon’s 40D?
A. I haven’t been able to field test either (I held a D300 for about two minutes, and I haven’t laid eyes on a 40D yet), so I’m not going to be much help there. Actually, I’m getting more questions on the D300 than I am the D3, as the market segment is much bigger for a $1600 camera than a $5,000 camera, and as soon as I get my hands on one or the other; I’ll give it a good field testing.

Q. What did you like best about the D3? Least?
A. Of course, I loved the low noise at high ISOs, but I try to shoot at as low as an ISO as possible, so for me the low noise is a bonus; not a requirement most of the time. I did love the new larger, crisper LCD panel on the back. I was surprised at what a difference it made. Plus, the menus are big and bright, and much more readable all the way around.

I love the ability to use two memory cards, and all the ways you can configure them. I thought the airplane-cockpit-style leveling device was very clever, but I didn’t find myself using it in real life (though I probably would at some point). One thing I dearly love, (and this will probably sound silly), but it’s the ability to use the Main Control Dial to scroll though the images on the LCD, rather than the Multi-Selector switch. To me, that was almost worth the upgrade, which just proves to me once again that it’s “the little things” that sometimes make the biggest difference. I loved the feel of the shutter button–I think it feels better than any Nikon’s ever made (at least on a digital SLR), and the whole camera just has a wonderful feel in your hands. The images it produces are warm, crisp, sharp, and I was just delighted overall at the quality of the images. What do I like least? The price. I wish it was lower, but if you look at the competition, it’s really a very competitive price.

So, that’s my quick Q&A from my D3 field testing. Thanks once again to everyone who sent their comments and questions my way. I hope this was of some help.


I wound up getting stuck overnight in Minneapolis/St. Paul due to a late flight that caused me to miss my connection back to Tampa (thanks Northwest Airlines, which not only made me miss my connection, but then wouldn’t release my own luggage to me, or provide me with a room, or wellâ¦pretty much anything. It just reminded me once again why I love United, but that’s another story).

Anyway, while passing through security the TSA Agent at the X-ray belt, said: “That’s a LowePro camera bag; do you have a DSLR in there?” I said yes, and he said I had to remove it and put it on the belt. I told him it wasn’t a video camera, and he told me DSLR’s now have to be removed and put on the belt separately because of their size. So I started screaming at him, and pointing my fingers in his face (you know I’m joking, right?). So, I just shook my head, took out my DSLR out of my bag (pictured above in a photo taken with my iPhone), put it in a gray bin (I sent it though last so I’d be there to make sure I’m the one that winds up with it), and went on.

Then they wanted to search my bag, and that’s perfectly fine with me, and they dusted it for explosives. While he and I were chatting, I asked him about having to remove my DSLR, and was this just an overzealous TSA agent, or a new rule? He said as of August 4, 2007 that all DSLR are supposed to be removed, but not all airports have instituted this new policy yet, but he felt certain most would. Just what I was hoping for, as I usually travel with two bodies, that now I have to worry about getting swiped as they pass through the x-ray machine.

Anyway, I haven’t had a chance to go to the TSA site and research this, but even if I find that it’s not accurate, what recourse do I have with a TSA agent that asks me to remove it. I’ve heard of the success rate of getting into an argument with a TSA agent. They generally win, since they can simply delay you long enough for you to miss your flight (this happened to a photographer friend of mine). Anyway, just a heads up that air travel with your DSLR may have gotten just a little bit more fun. ;-)

I’ve had a number of posts and emails about my experience with the new Nikon D3 this past week, and to make sure I address the questions you want answered about the new camera, so I invite you to post questions here (in the comments section of this post), that you’d like me to take a shot at answering. I won’t have all the answers, but I want to address as many as I can, so thanks for your input, and check back tomorrow for some of the answers.

NOTE: I’ve posted some other shots below from the workshop, including a pano from one of my students.


Here’s another from my Montana workshop (click on it for the larger version, which looks much better). I only had time to go through a few of the shots I’ve taken, because we had been going nonstop from dawn till late at night, but I took this one last night, as we returned to the stream where we shot earlier in the week, because it was another overcast night.

The shot isn’t really a pano; it’s just “pano cropped” (Bill Fortney gave the idea while I was processing the image in Lightroom (all the processing, sharpening, and cropping was done in Lightroom). I read a number of comments posted this week asking if I would share the camera settings for the shots I post, and I’m more than happy to (thanks for the suggestion):

SPECS: Taken with a Nikon D200 (Bill was shooting [read as: hogging] the D3, since we were shooting in really low light; I don’t blame him). I used a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens (racked out to 200mm), and I shot in Aperture Priority mode at f/22 (to keep the shutter open as long as possible to create the silky water effect), which gave me a nice long shutter speed of 30 seconds. I also used a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter to make things even darker, so I’d get that really long shutter speed. The ISO was set to 100.


SPECS: Taken using the same D200, and the same 70-200mm VR lens as the previous post, but I only pushed in to 130mm. I set the camera to Manual mode at f/22 with a 20 second exposure (which wasn’t enough. I should have stuck with 30 seconds). It was so dark outside by the time I took this shot, I had to take the Vari-ND filter off. In fact, it was so dark, my Auto Focus wouldn’t focus, so I switched the lens to manual focus, set the focus to Infinity, and crossed my fingers.

Dan, one of my students, offered to shine a flashlight on the falls to help my autofocus work. Even though it wasn’t bright enough for the auto focus to snap-to; it did light the falls just enough to help me make the moody picture you see above. I didn’t see it, but Dan says right after I took the shot, a large bat flew out from near the falls and made a beeline straight for me. I’m surprised I didn’t have a “Blurry Bird” in the shot.


During my GAPW Workshop (with famous landscape photographer Bill Fortney) this past week out in Montana’s Glacier National Park, I showed my students how easy it is to shoot and stitch a panorama, thanks to Photoshop CS3’s incredible Photomerge feature (which incorporates the mind-blowing Auto Align and Auto Blend features). I gave my students the assignment of shooting a pano and stitching it in CS3 (only one student in the class had ever shot and stitched a pano before).

Well, after our dawn shoot at Swiftcurrent Lake, we went to breakfast at the “Many Glacier” hotel right on the water. After breakfast, one of my students, John Cureton, shot his first ever pano from the hotel lobby balcony, overlooking the lake. When we got back to the classroom, John used CS3’s Photomerge to stitch it together perfectly and we both were really tickled. John’s success started a “pano frenzy” in the class, and by that evening everybody was shooting and stitching panos. John was kind enough to let me share his wonderful pano above (click for a much larger version). Thanks to John for letting me share this with you.

In a semi-related note: John, and his buddy Wes, were both students in my class, and they were telling me about an Advanced Photoshop Course they’re enrolled in at a local college near their home in Knoxville, Tennessee. They were raving about their instructor, Steve Chastain, and they just couldn’t say enough great things about, noting his true passion for teaching, and genuine care and dedication to his students.

I just wanted to take a moment to recognize Steve for his work, and for being such a great teacher that his students would be singing his praises even when they’re thousands of miles away. Way to go Steve–keep up the great work! :-)