Q&A on my Nikon D3 Experience

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.

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