The announcement of the D3 heralds the new FX-format (23.9 x 35.9 mm) sensor, introduced for the first time in a Nikon D-SLR, and represents a considerable feat on the part of Nikon's engineers to have incorporated a sensor of this size in a camera body that retains the classic Nikon "F" lens mount, to maintain Nikon's longstanding commitment to retrospective compatibility with many earlier Nikkor lenses. The linear dimensions of the image forming area are 23.9 x 35.9 mm, which offers three principle benefits:
The D3 has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve regarding the sensor; at default settings the camera will automatically detect when a DX-format Nikkor lens is attached and apply the in-camera crop to 16 x 24 mm (there is an option to override this feature if you wish), and for any photographer who likes to print to traditional sizes of paper (e.g. 10 x 8 inches) there is a 5:4 ratio crop that reduces the frame area to 24 x 30 mm. In each case a masking system that uses the same liquid polymer system of the D2Xs operates automatically in the viewfinder to define the actual image area, reducing the non-imaging area to a darker and de-focussed view.
At their full resolution the D2Xs and D3 have near identical figures: 4,288 x 2,848 and 4,256 x 2,832 respectively. So why should the D3 be better than the D2Xs? First, aside the greater light gathering ability the larger pixel pitch of the D3 should mean working at smaller aperture values (higher f/# number) for extended depth of field will be possible before the effects of diffraction become noticeable. Second, the claim of significantly improved noise performance from the D3 should render much smoother tones, especially in the dark tone areas. Couple this with the ability to capture images at a 14-bit depth and there is a promise of a conspicuous improvement in image quality; however, only testing in real world conditions will establish the true capabilities of the D3.
Sensor aside Nikon have introduced an awful lot of new features and functions on the D3. The auto focus system has a new 3500-pixel sensor the Multi CAM-3500FX, which provides no less than 51 individual sensing points in a high-density cluster at the centre of the frame area. The central 15 of these sensing areas are cross-types sensitive to detail in both horizontal and vertical orientation. The remaining 36 sensing points, which are all line type areas sensitive to detail orientated in the perpendicular to the sensing area, are split in to two groups of 18, one either side of the 15 cross-type areas. In the DX-crop mode this cluster of 51 AF points fills virtually the full frame. The camera also offers the ability to fine-tune the AF response to individual lenses. The monitor screen is now a huge 3-inch, TFT LCD, with 920,000 pixels that will make assessing image sharpness in-camera a viable process.
In a move inherited from the entry-level D40-series cameras the shooting information can be displayed on the rear monitor screen, in full colour. Plus, Nikon has introduced LiveView, a real-time video output to the monitor screen that enables you to compose the picture without having to use the viewfinder display. The LiveView feature uses a contrast-based autofocus system as opposed to the phase detection system for normal AF operation, and in its "tripod" mode this enable autofocus to be set from any point on the monitor screen, not just the 51 AF sensing areas.
Other new tweaks and twists include:
The path ahead would appear to be fairly clear. Given the relatively low volume sales of the D2H/Hs and the quantum leap forward offered by the D3 for news gathering and sports photographers it looks to be a foregone conclusion that D2Hs production has ceased. The D2X/Xs models may continue for a while, although at much reduced production volumes, and I expect that Nikon will be in no hurry to discontinue the D200, because at its current price point that may even drop very slightly post D300 introduction, the two mid-range cameras provide sufficient price differential to offer buyers viable options.
Once the D3, and D300 become available (November 2007 - although demand is likely to out
trip supply for sometime) the Nikon D-SLR line-up will have strength and depth with one notable exception - a high resolution, FX-format model. Prototypes of such a camera have doubtless been built and tested but as to when (dare I suggest if) one would appear, as a full production model, and what the specification/price will be is anyone's guess. It does seem inconceivable that the Nikon Corporation would not want to capitalise on the bedrock of success that their entry-level (D40-series) and mid-range (D80 / D200) cameras have built over the course of the past year (remember in these sectors Nikon have out-sold Canon for the past three quarters in Japan), and as they appear to be right back in the game with professional camera for news/sports photographers, a professional grade, FX-format camera with a high resolution would meet the demands of studio, landscape, and fine-art photographers, and be a significant step toward their goal of securing and maintaining a 40% market share across all user groups.
In light of this I am confident such a camera is not far over the horizon, and as well as being a leap year, 2008 sees both the PMA show (1st - 4th Feb) in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, and Photokina (23rd - 28th Sept) in Cologne, Germany, either of which would provide an auspicious occasion for Nikon to make the announcement all Nikon devotees have been waiting for!
The basic specification of the new D3 is set out in the following table, with details of the D2Xs alongside for the purposes of comparison. Significant differences are highlighted in red. The full press release with specification can be seen at here.
|Effective Pixels||12.4 million||12.1 million|
|Format||Nikon DX (15.6 x 23.7 mm)||Nikon FX (23.9 x 35.9 mm)|
|Pixel Pitch||5.49 microns||8.45 microns|
|Analog-to-Digital Conversion||12-bit||Optional 12-bit, or 14-bit|
|Image Size||4,288 x 2,848||4,256 x 2,832|
|In Camera Cropping||Yes. Hi-Speed Crop: 3,216 x 2,136 (6.8MP)||Yes. 5:4 crop: 3,552 x 2,832 (10MP) DX crop: 2,784 x 1,848 (5.1MP)|
|ISO Range||100 - 800||200 - 6400|
|Low ISO||No||Yes - 100|
|High ISO||Yes - 3200||Yes - 25,600|
|Storage Media||CompactFlash (single card port)||CompactFlash (twin card ports)|
|UDMA support||No||Yes. Write speed of 35MB/sec|
|Storage options||Uncompressed NEF, Compressed NEF, JPEG||Uncompressed NEF, Compressed NEF (2 options: visually lossless, and lossless), JPEG|
|White Balance||Auto, 6 manual settings, Kelvin, and Preset||Auto, 6 manual settings, Kelvin, and Preset|
|LCD Monitor||2.5" 230,000 TFT LCD||3.0" 920,000 TFT LCD|
|Interface||Hi-Speed USB 2.0||Hi-Speed USB 2.0|
|Chassis||Metal Alloy||Metal Alloy|
|Lens Mount||Nikon F||Nikon F|
|Support for non-CPU type Nikkor lenses||Yes||Yes|
|Autofocus||Multi-CAM 2000||Multi-CAM 3500DX|
|AF modes||Single, Dynamic, Group Dynamic, Dynamic with closest subject priority||Single, Dynamic, Dynamic with closest subject priority. AF sensor areas can be grouped as 9, 21, or 51.|
|Metering Sensor||1005-segement RGB sensor||1005-segement RGB sensor|
|Exposure Metering||3D Color Matrix II, CW, Spot||3D Color Matrix II, CW, Spot|
|Scene Recognition System||No||Yes - uses modified 1005-pixel RGB metering sensor to distinguish subjects' shape and position|
|Exposure modes||P, A, S, and M||P, A, S, and M|
|Exposure Compensation||+/- 5 EV||+/- 5 EV|
|Exposure bracketing||Yes - 2 to 9 exp. Increments of 1/3,1/2, 2/3, 1EV||Yes - 2 to 9 exp. Increments of 1/3,1/2, 2/3, 1EV|
|Shooting modes||Single, Continuous-low, Continuous-high, Mirror lock-up, Self-timer||Single, Continuous-low, Continuous-high, Mirror lock-up, Live-View, Self-timer|
|Max shooting speed||5 fps||9 fps (11fps in DX-format)|
|Shutter||30 to 1/8000 sec. +Bulb||30 to 1/8000 sec. +Bulb|
|Flash Sync||1/250 sec.||1/250 sec.|
|Auto FP Hi-Speed sync||Yes||Yes|
|Flash control||i-TTL flash (1,005-pixel sensor)||i-TTL flash (1,005-pixel sensor)|
|Support for D-TTL flash control||Yes||Yes|
|Power||1x EN-EL4 / EN-EL4a||1x EN-EL4 / EN-EL4a|
|Wireless Transmitter||WT-2/WT-2a (compatible with D2-series)||WT-4/WT-4a (compatible with D300)|
|Remote Release||Nikon 10-pin accessory terminal||Nikon 10-pin accessory terminal|
|Dimensions (WxHxD)||157.5 x 149.5 x 85.5 mm 6.2 x 5.9 x 3.4 in||159.5 x 157 x 87.5 mm 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 in|
|Weight (g/oz)||1070 / 38||1,240 / 43|
© Simon Stafford
Posted on: Thursday 30 August 2007