Pros: Class-leading resolution and picture quality; professional-level build with superb layout and ergonomics.
Cons: Long-winded menus; fiddly implementation of Live View compared to some rivals; no auto-sensor cleaning.
Some said it was never going to happen but, flush with the success of the 12-megapixel full-frame D3 digital SLR, Nikon has released the 24-megapixel full-frame D3x. The new model competes head-on with arch-rival Canon’s top-of-the-range EOS 1Ds Mk II (read our review here).
Like the D2x it replaces, the D3x is aimed primarily at the traditional commercial photographer, but will appeal to any Nikon user whose clients demand uncompressed file sizes of 50MB upwards. Indeed, the D3x delivers 8-bit uncompressed 69.7MB files with a 6,048-x-4,032-pixel image size – easily enough for an A4 magazine double-page spread at 300dpi with some cropping.
As the name suggests, the D3x is based on the hugely popular D3 body and boasts the same camera features, including the robust build quality. It has the same superb 51-point AF system; a superb 920,000-pixel, three-inch LCD screen; and an excellent viewfinder image with 100 per cent coverage. Yet this means there’s no room for an automated sensor-cleaning mechanism. Even though Canon solved a similar problem, it’s a small concession to pay for an otherwise well-engineered and superbly balanced body.
The camera’s layout is identical to the D3, which in turn was essentially unchanged from the D2 series. Anyone familiar with these cameras can pick the D3x up and start shooting with little or no instruction. Even if you’re switching from another brand, the control layout is intuitive. If we have a niggle here, it’s that the menus have become lengthy, making little-used features difficult to find.
Live View is selected as a drive mode from a dial on the top plate, while the Handheld and Tripod shooting options are selected from the menu. This gives the impression that Live View was an afterthought, but the Tripod option using contrast detection for either auto or manual focus is handy for a studio camera.
Sensitivity runs from ISO 100 to ISO 1600, with an option to lower the base to ISO 50, for studio lights, and push the maximum two-stops to ISO 6400. With 5.95 micron-sized pixels, noise levels of the Sony-made CMOS sensor can’t quite match the larger 8-micron pixels of the D3, but it’s close throughout the range.
We were also impressed by the sheer quality and resolution of in-camera processed JPEGs: images are lush and highly detailed. Colour data is assessed from both the impressive 1,005-pixel RGB metering system and 24.5mp CMOS sensor and from our test files white-balance accuracy was some of the best we’ve seen.
Choosing between 14-bit or 12-bit Raw files hasn’t any immediately obvious advantages in image quality, at least during our short time with the camera, but there is one very noticeable downside. Continuous shooting plummets from a respectable 5fps to just under 2fps, and well beneath the Canon’s 5fps at 14-bit.
Capturing 18-19 Raw files regardless of colour depth, the D3x scores around a 50 per cent improvement in buffering over its rival, but we found the memory fills with the same number of JPEGs. That’s only a third of the 56 the Canon can put away. Be that as it may, with only a few shortcomings the D3x easily rivals entry-level medium format systems and is a terrific choice for the photographer on the move.