Cameras

Nikon D3x Digital Camera Review

Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.

Introduction

The Nikon D3x is a full-frame, 24.5-megapixel camera has a list price of $7999.95 without lens. Designed for studio use, the D3x performed very well in our lab tests, but in general scored slightly lower than the D700.

Design

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo
  • Nikon D3x
  • Camera Strap AN-D3X
  • Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL4a
  • Quick Charger MH-22
  • USB Cable UC-E4
  • Audio Video Cable EG-D2
  • Body Cap BF-1A
  • Accessory Shoe Cover BS-2
  • Eyepiece DK-17
  • Battery Chamber Cover BL-4
  • USB Cable Clip
  • Software Suite CD-ROM
  • Manual

Lens & Sensor

The images below show the range of zoom available with the 24-70mm lens we used for testing.

The D3x has a full-frame, 35mm sensor, measuring 35.9mm x 24.0mm. It has 25.7-million pixels in total, 24.5 effective, putting it beyond the Canon 5D Mark II (21.1-megapixels) and substantially higher than the Nikon D700 (12.1-megapixels), but equivalent to the Sony A900 resolution (24.6-megapixels).

The D3x has no automated dust removal system, but can make use of Dust Off reference photos to eliminate known particles from images using Nikon Capture NX 2 software. First, a reference photo must be taken of a white area, in which dust will show up clearly. Nikon NX 2 can recognize this, and post-process images to remove spots using this information.

Having a 35mm sensor means that the camera's sensor matches the dimensions of 35mm film, so lenses have their full 35mm perspective, with no crop factor unless you intentionally attach a lens designed for a non-full-frame camera.

Viewfinder

The viewfinder offers 0.7x magnification with 100% field of view, which means what you see will exactly match what you get.

The default eyecup for the D3x is very slim, with minimal padding, which is slightly uncomfortable, and bespectacled users may not be huge fans. Of course, there are many alternatives available as optional accessories.

The diopter adjustment for the camera is above and to the right of the viewfinder, and must be partially pulled out from the body to be adjusted, like the dial of a watch. It can be set from -3 to 1 m-1.

Related content

Above and to the left of the viewfinder is a small lever that brings down a sliding cover that prevents light leaks that might throw off the meter reading when shooting on a tripod.

Display(s)

The D3x has three LCD screens, one full-color 920,000-dot screen, and two monochrome LCDs with basic shooting info, one on the top and a smaller one on the back.

The primary LCD is designed to mirror the look and feel of a monochrome LCD when showing shooting information. Information is displayed as light grey text against a dark gray background, but the colors can be reversed. The screen can be set to seven levels of brightness. It remains off most of the time, but is brought to life with the Info button. The only direct camera control you have via this screen is setting the focus area.

Secondary Display

Both of the monochrome LCDs can be briefly illuminated via the light setting on the on/off switch. Shooting information is split between the two screens, with the bottom handling ISO, image quality, and white balance (with buttons nearby to control each), and the top LCD handling the rest of the readouts.

The top LCD and and rear color LCD both show much of the same information, in an almost identical layout. The only substantive difference is the dark area on the lower 1/4 of the screen, which we explain below.

Flash

Unsurprisingly, the D3x has no built-in flash unit. It works best with CLS (Creative Lighting System) compatible strobes. Full controls (i-TTL flash, flash value lock, flash color information communication, rear-curtain sync and red-eye reduction) are available with the SB-900, SB-800, SB-600, SB-400, SB-R200 flashes and SU-800 wireless controller (though there is partial compatibility with older strobes). These flashes all use the i-TTL control system, and have high speed sync that works at the fastest shutter speeds. The i-TTL system allows for greater accuracy in metering and focus by firing 'a series of nearly invisible preflashes (monitor preflashes) immediately before the main flash'. With G or D series lenses, focal distance is also entered into the equation to provide the precise level of flash illumination. You can also set the i-TTL mode to base the reading only on the main subject, leaving out the background, which is the default setting when using spot metering.

A flash lock tool can be assigned to the Function button, which lets you lock flash level and output, even if the scene changes.

Flash Photo

The flash hot shoe

Connectivity

The plugs on the D3x are well protected by thick rubber covers. The USB port has its own separate section, and the camera comes bundled with a little plastic tag for the USB cable that locks it into place, so you won't knock it loose. The lower section has the DC, AV and HDMI ports. All of the ports are industry standard, which makes replacing lost cables or finding spares a breeze. On the front of the camera are ports for flash sync and a ten-pin remote.

Battery

The Nikon D3x uses the EN-EL4a/EN-EL4 batteries and is rated for an astonishing 4,400 shots using CIPA standard, or 5,300 using Nikon standard, meaning you're highly unlikely to run out of juice mid-shoot. The included battery charger can take two batteries at a time, so you can always have a spare ready.

If you burrow into the menu system, you can find the camera's Battery Info tool, which offers a wealth of information about the inserted cell. It shows current charge, the number of times the shutter has been released since the battery was last charged, if it needs re-calibrating (achieved using the battery charger) and a scale from 0 to 4 which shows if the battery has reached the end of its lifespan, and needs replacing.

Battery Photo

Memory

The D3x can take two CompactFlash cards at a time, which provides a huge shooting capacity. The way the second card performs can be set up in three different configurations: overflow starts filling the second card when the first one's full; backup records each photograph to both; and RAW slot 1/JPEG slot 2 records the image to each card but in a different format.

Memory Photo

Two CF cards allow for huge shooting capacity

Image Quality

Sharpness

The D3x captures excellent levels of detail, hitting its peak at 24mm in the center of the lens, where it captures approximately 2400 line widths per picture height vertically, a measure of how many alternating black and white lines the camera can resolve. Its softest point is at 45mm, mid-way between the center and edge of the lens, where it only measured 775 line widths per pixel height horizontally. More on how we test sharpness.

Image Stabilization

As with all Nikon SLRs, image stabilization for the D3x is based around the lens. After discussion with Nikon, we decided to test the camera with their AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm 1:2.5G N lens, which doesn't have vibration reduction. This camera is designed for use in a studio setting, with a substantial tripod. While the D3x will undoubtedly benefit from vibration reduction lenses in some settings, we opted to test with a lens best suited for the studio nature of the camera, but without the benefits of vibration reduction.

Color

The first of our tests is for color accuracy, and the D3x did well here. We measure how closely the camera captured by the camera matches the known values of the X-Rite color chart we use for testing purposes. The D3x is comparable in accuracy to the D700 and 5D Mark II, slightly worse than the Nikon D90 and performed rather better than the Sony A900.

For this test we illuminate the X-Rite ColorChecker chart to an even 3000 lux, photograph it across all the color modes the camera offers, and then analyze the resulting images using Imatest software, which tells us how accurately the camera captured the colors. The D3x has three color modes (normal, neutral and vivid), with different saturation and contrast settings for each. The most accurate of these was neutral, so this is the mode we tested with throughout the review. We base our score for this section on color accuracy results in the most accurate color mode, with a penalty for substantial under- or over-exposure. More on how we test color.

Below you can see the samples of the individual color patches of the X-Rite color chart (the ideal) and those captured by each of our comparison cameras in their highest scoring mode. The names in the left column are those used by X-Rite for each patch.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The D3x produced particularly accurate color results with blues, pinks, yellows and light greens. It struggled more with olive, skin tones, and reds. It slightly over-saturated, even in neutral mode. As you can see from the chart above, the D3x performs on par with two of the other full frame cameras, and better than the Sony A900 while a little worse than the D90.

Color Modes

The D3x has three color modes (called Picture Controls by Nikon): Standard, Neutral and Vivid. Monochrome is also available, but not shown below. There are substantial customization controls for each mode, so finicky photographers won’t feel constrained by these choices. All of the color modes can be have their sharpening and contrast shifted. The non-monochrome modes also let you change saturation and hue, and monochrome can add filters (yellow, orange, red and green) and tones (sepia, cyanotype, red, yellow, green, blue-green, blue, purple-blue and red-purple). If you have Active D-lighting (dynamic range optimization) switched on, contrast and brightness adjustments are ignored. Once you've made these adjustments, you can either use this as the new version of that preset, or set it up as a custom mode in one of nine slots, which can be renamed. You can also save your Picture Controls to a CF card, use these same settings with your other Nikon SLRs and upload and share them with others. Up to 99 controls can be stored on a card, and transferred to the camera when needed.

Of the modes shown below, Neutral is the most accurate, then Standard and Vivid

White Balance

The D3x white balance performance is one of the few areas we felt slightly let down by the camera. It underperformed compared to the competition, on both automatic and manual settings.

Automatic White Balance ()

The first part of our white balance test involves shooting an X-Rite ColorChecker chart under strictly controlled light sources simulating incandescent, cool white fluorescent, and daylight sources. These images are then tested for color error using Imatest software. You'll notice in the graph below that the D3x had a much higher error with incandescent bulbs than other light sources, a tendency in the vast majority of cameras.

Custom White Balance ()

With a custom white balance, we expect much higher color accuracy than with auto or preset WB, so the scoring is much more demanding on this test. The D3x did quite well with the usually problematic incandescent, but it stumbled over daylight illumination a little.

The D3x didn't deal with daylight illumination as well as many other cameras, though the difference wasn't very significant. It tended to make the images a bit cooler than they should be.

The D3x handled the always troublesome incandescent illumination quite well, in one of the few areas it outperformed the D700. However, it was still noticeably inaccurate.

With cool white fluorescent bulbs, the D3x introduced the same error as every camera tested here except the Canon 5D Mark II, and compensated too far into the warm end of the spectrum.

White balance was one of the few areas where we saw the D3x struggle, even a little. It had more trouble with daylight illumination than some other cameras, and both automatic and custom settings were less than stellar.

White Balance Options

The wide array of white balance presets includes seven types of fluorescent bulb, in keeping with the camera's overall pattern of granular control.

The white balance presets can all be shifted along both the amber/blue and green/magenta axes, with 6 steps in each direction. In this case, a step is the equivalent of 5 mired, a unit of color temperature shift that takes into account that changes are more obvious at lower color temperatures. While you're shooting, you can adjust along the amber/blue axis by holding down the white balance button, then turning the front dial, but strangely you can't adjust on green/magenta in a similar manner.

White balance bracketing can only be used along the blue/amber axis, in increments of one (five mired), two (10 mired) or three (15 mired) steps. From two to nine photographs can be taken in the sequence.

For reusing manual white balance settings, there are five available slots, d-0 through d-4. D-0 is where the image is stored if you take a white balance while shooting. This can then be saved to one of the other four slots. Alternatively, d-1 through d-4 can be loaded with white balance settings from images stored on the memory card.

The white balance presets can all be shifted along both the amber/blue and green/magenta axes, with 6 steps in each direction. In this case, a step is the equivalent of 5 mired, a unit of color temperature shift that takes into account that changes are more obvious at lower color temperatures. While you're shooting, you can adjust along the amber/blue axis by holding down the white balance button, then turning the front dial, but strangely you can't adjust on green/magenta in a similar manner.

White balance bracketing can only be used along the blue/amber axis, in increments of one (five mired), two (10 mired) or three (15 mired) steps. From two to nine photographs can be taken in the sequence.

For reusing manual white balance settings, there are five available slots, d-0 through d-4. D-0 is where the image is stored if you take a white balance while shooting. This can then be saved to one of the other four slots. Alternatively, d-1 through d-4 can be loaded with white balance settings from images stored on the memory card.

Long Exposure

The long exposure test looks at how the camera performs at shutter speeds ranging from one to 30 seconds, and the D3x handled the challenge admirably, scoring better than any other camera except its full frame sibling, the D700. For this test, we shoot at 20 lux illumination, and test color error and noise at one, five, 10, 15 and 30 seconds, with long exposure noise reduction on and off. More on how we test long exposure.

We looked at the color error across the five shutter speeds we test at. We found that the color error stays pretty even across the test, but jumps at 30 seconds, due to over-exposure with the really long shutter speed.

With these long exposures, the noise levels stay around 0.7%, and fall off with the longer exposures. You'll notice that long exposure noise reduction doesn't improve the situation, which is something that we've seen across a large number of cameras. Long exposure noise reduction functions by taking a second exposure the same length as the first, but with the shutter closed. The theory is that you can subtract the noise of the latter from the former, but since image noise is inherently random, it isn’t an effective solution, and sometimes actually makes matters worse.

Compared with the other cameras, the D3x does better than any bar the D700. It maintains good color accuracy and low noise across the entire test.

Noise Reduction

The first of our tests in this series looks at the noise levels across the four steps of noise reduction. You can see that software kicks in after ISO 400 for High, and at 800 for the other settings. The Low setting noise reduction has a minimal effect across the board.

We look at image noise results separately for the red, green, blue, yellow and luma (gray) channels. The tight grouping we found here is good, as substantial variation from a tightly grouped pattern would be visually noticeable. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

When you compare the D3x against the other cameras with noise reduction off, it sits in the middle ranks. It's a bit lower at ISO 100 and a bit higher at ISO 1600, but overall pretty much right in the middle. The precursor model, the Nikon D3, had an official range of ISO 200 to 6400, with extended ISOs down to 100 and up to 25600.

Dynamic Range

The D3x dynamic range, a measure of its ability to capture a wide range of lights and darks in a single shot, was slightly lower than expected. While by no means poor, it was a shade worse than the comparison cameras.

We noted the dynamic range creeping lower and lower at each ISO. We test the dynamic range using the Kodak Stepchart, which has 20 steps of gray, from white to black. At each ISO we photograph across a variety of exposure levels, and use Imatest to measure the dynamic range More on how we test dynamic range.

For comparisons, we test all cameras at ISO 200. The D3x is a bit below the others tested, so if you rely solely on the built-in JPEG processing, you may notice it is slightly worse than other cameras. This might be due to the camera doing less in the way of tweaking it JPEGs, instead expecting the user to spend more time in post-processing.

Noise Reduction

The first of our tests in this series looks at the noise levels across the four steps of noise reduction. You can see that software kicks in after ISO 400 for High, and at 800 for the other settings. The Low setting noise reduction has a minimal effect across the board.

We look at image noise results separately for the red, green, blue, yellow and luma (gray) channels. The tight grouping we found here is good, as substantial variation from a tightly grouped pattern would be visually noticeable. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

When you compare the D3x against the other cameras with noise reduction off, it sits in the middle ranks. It's a bit lower at ISO 100 and a bit higher at ISO 1600, but overall pretty much right in the middle. The precursor model, the Nikon D3, had an official range of ISO 200 to 6400, with extended ISOs down to 100 and up to 25600.

Focus Performance

As with everything else in this camera, the focusing options offer an in-depth level of control. The D3x has an impressive 51 autofocus points, of which 1, 9, 21 or all 51 can be utilized at a time, for different size focusing areas. When shooting with the full focus-point array you can take advantage of 3D tracking, which is useful for following swiftly moving targets. The autofocus system is rated for a detection range of -1 to 19 EV at ISO 100. You can adjust the brightness of autofocus target illumination, should you need the boost, which is handy under direct bright light, where the standard illumination level might be hard to see.

The autofocus was extremely fast in good illumination, locking on to targets easily. It still focused quickly in our low light tests (20 lux of illumination) but started to really struggle after dark. Street lamps generally provided enough light for it to get a quick fix, but in areas without them, it took significantly longer. Even so, the D3x usually managed to find an appropriate focus eventually, which is good for a camera not designed for low light performance.

The focus modes on the D3x are controlled via a small switch by the lens that toggles between the three settings. On our review unit it felt like there was a non-functioning fourth setting, between continuous and manual modes, which made it difficult to quickly adjust the focus mode. This may have been a problem limited to our particular review unit, though.

The autofocus area can be set to three modes, each with its own options: Single-point, Dynamic-area, and Auto-area.

Long Exposure

The long exposure test looks at how the camera performs at shutter speeds ranging from one to 30 seconds, and the D3x handled the challenge admirably, scoring better than any other camera except its full frame sibling, the D700. For this test, we shoot at 20 lux illumination, and test color error and noise at one, five, 10, 15 and 30 seconds, with long exposure noise reduction on and off. More on how we test long exposure.

We looked at the color error across the five shutter speeds we test at. We found that the color error stays pretty even across the test, but jumps at 30 seconds, due to over-exposure with the really long shutter speed.

With these long exposures, the noise levels stay around 0.7%, and fall off with the longer exposures. You'll notice that long exposure noise reduction doesn't improve the situation, which is something that we've seen across a large number of cameras. Long exposure noise reduction functions by taking a second exposure the same length as the first, but with the shutter closed. The theory is that you can subtract the noise of the latter from the former, but since image noise is inherently random, it isn’t an effective solution, and sometimes actually makes matters worse.

Compared with the other cameras, the D3x does better than any bar the D700. It maintains good color accuracy and low noise across the entire test.

Chromatic Aberration

The chromatic aberration is a little on the high side, given the otherwise excellent performance of the lens with this camera. The aberration was the worst half-way between the center and the outer edges, especially at 24mm. The sweet spot is dead center at 45mm, though it remains low in this section of the lens at all focal lengths.

At the 24mm focal length, you hit the sweet spot for image sharpness, dead center of the frame at f/2.8, which then drops off as you move away from the middle, before picking up again. At f/8.0 the sharpness is pretty high across the entire lens. At f/2.8 you'll also find the worst chromatic aberration in that dead zone mid-way between the center of the lens and the corners.

45mm is where we found the lowest chromatic aberration, at f/22 in the center of the lens. Unfortunately, you won't find extraordinary sharpness to accompany it. In fact the 45mm setting has the lowest sharpness result, at f/2.8.

At a focal length of 70mm, both the aberration and sharpness level out. The chromatic shifting is a bit higher in the center of the image than at other focal lengths, but is lower in other parts of the image, and the sharpness is good across the lens, especially at f/8.

Distortion

The distortion we measured was generally low, but definitely noticable at the closes focal length. At 24mm, there was approximately 2.5% barrel distortion, at 45mm there was pincushioning of around 2.05%, and at maximum zoom (70mm) the distortion shrunk to 0.9% pincushioning.

Usability

Buttons & Dials

Nikon's higher-end cameras, like the D3x and D700, have slightly different control schemes than their less expensive SLRs. Rather than a mode dial, they have a mode button, which is controlled using the rear and front control dials. There's also a dedicated dial for 'release mode' which sets single, burst, Live View, self-timer or mirror up modes. Three of the more commonly altered settings (ISO, quality and white balance) have their own small, dedicated LCD on the rear of the camera with small buttons to control each beneath the display.

Unsurprisingly, the controls are highly customizable. During playback, the button at the center of the joystick can be set to bring up thumbnail view, a histogram or magnified view. In Live View you can use it to select the focus point or magnify the view.

The function button on the front of the camera can be set to depth of field preview, flash value lock, AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AE lock until pressed again or a photo is taken, AE lock until pressed again, AF lock only, Flash off, bracketing, Matrix, Center-weighted or Spot metering, Virtual horizon, Playback or else access the top item in My Menu. If you hold down the Function button and use the rear dial, you can choose the image area (FX, DX or 5:4), invoke a 1 EV change in speed or aperture as appropriate, choose the lens number for non-CPU lenses, select focus point, select a shooting menu bank or the area for dynamic AF. While the depth of field preview button defaults to its stated function, it can be programmed in the same way as the function button, except you can't use it to change focus point selection. The AE/AF lock button can also be set to handle the vast majority of these functions, expect focus point select or the 1 EV change.

The virtual horizon tool shows a simulated level, to help with aligning your camera. It displays on the LCD, as shown below, and through the viewfinder using using the exposure compensation axis. While it's a nice touch, it's not very precise, and goes away as soon as you half press the shutter button.

If you've used a Nikon SLR before, you'll feel at home with this camera's menu system. It's very similar to the others, just astonishingly detailed at points. There are five primary menus (Playback, Shooting, Custom Setting, Setup, and Retouch), each with multiple options, and then the customizable My Menu.

There are two 'Bank' systems of settings. The Shooting Menu bank lets you store all your Shooting Menu settings in one of four banks, which can be named to your specific needs. This lets you have an 'indoor weddings' shooting bank, for example, or a 'studio lights' bank, and switch between them easily. The Custom Setting menu has the same option, with four banks of settings that can be easily alternated.

Instruction Manual

The D3x has an excellent manual, though it's approximately the same size as a Tom Clancy novel. Clocking in at over 475 pages, it contains detailed descriptions of every one of the multitude of options and settings in the camera. The table of contents and index are both exhaustive and well laid out. For the most part, the writing explains complex tools and settings well, and in unambiguous language, with well chosen supporting diagrams.

Handling

The D3x is a substantial camera, and is designed for tripod use. It's 6.3 inches wide, 6.2 inches high and 3.4 inches deep (159.5mm x 157mm x 87.5mm) and weighs an intimidating 43 oz (1.22kg) without lens or battery. To put it bluntly, this is a tank. It's big, heavy and tough, with a magnesium frame and weather-sealing. It's obviously not designed to be thrown in a backpack for a weekend at the beach, but rather optimized for a studio environment.

Handling Photo 1

The camera can be held in either portrait or landscape mode, with a shutter release and two control dials for each orientation. The side controls can be locked, so that you don't accidentally hit them when shooting in landscape orientation. Considering how much care was taken to optimize the camera for shooting in both orientations, it's unfortunate that the information on the color LCD doesn't rotate with the camera.

Handling Photo 2

Buttons & Dials

Nikon's higher-end cameras, like the D3x and D700, have slightly different control schemes than their less expensive SLRs. Rather than a mode dial, they have a mode button, which is controlled using the rear and front control dials. There's also a dedicated dial for 'release mode' which sets single, burst, Live View, self-timer or mirror up modes. Three of the more commonly altered settings (ISO, quality and white balance) have their own small, dedicated LCD on the rear of the camera with small buttons to control each beneath the display.

Unsurprisingly, the controls are highly customizable. During playback, the button at the center of the joystick can be set to bring up thumbnail view, a histogram or magnified view. In Live View you can use it to select the focus point or magnify the view.

The function button on the front of the camera can be set to depth of field preview, flash value lock, AE/AF lock, AE lock only, AE lock until pressed again or a photo is taken, AE lock until pressed again, AF lock only, Flash off, bracketing, Matrix, Center-weighted or Spot metering, Virtual horizon, Playback or else access the top item in My Menu. If you hold down the Function button and use the rear dial, you can choose the image area (FX, DX or 5:4), invoke a 1 EV change in speed or aperture as appropriate, choose the lens number for non-CPU lenses, select focus point, select a shooting menu bank or the area for dynamic AF. While the depth of field preview button defaults to its stated function, it can be programmed in the same way as the function button, except you can't use it to change focus point selection. The AE/AF lock button can also be set to handle the vast majority of these functions, expect focus point select or the 1 EV change.

The virtual horizon tool shows a simulated level, to help with aligning your camera. It displays on the LCD, as shown below, and through the viewfinder using using the exposure compensation axis. While it's a nice touch, it's not very precise, and goes away as soon as you half press the shutter button.

Buttons Photo 1
Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

The D3x has three LCD screens, one full-color 920,000-dot screen, and two monochrome LCDs with basic shooting info, one on the top and a smaller one on the back.

The primary LCD is designed to mirror the look and feel of a monochrome LCD when showing shooting information. Information is displayed as light grey text against a dark gray background, but the colors can be reversed. The screen can be set to seven levels of brightness. It remains off most of the time, but is brought to life with the Info button. The only direct camera control you have via this screen is setting the focus area.

Secondary Display

Both of the monochrome LCDs can be briefly illuminated via the light setting on the on/off switch. Shooting information is split between the two screens, with the bottom handling ISO, image quality, and white balance (with buttons nearby to control each), and the top LCD handling the rest of the readouts.

The top LCD and and rear color LCD both show much of the same information, in an almost identical layout. The only substantive difference is the dark area on the lower 1/4 of the screen, which we explain below.

Viewfinder

The viewfinder offers 0.7x magnification with 100% field of view, which means what you see will exactly match what you get.

The default eyecup for the D3x is very slim, with minimal padding, which is slightly uncomfortable, and bespectacled users may not be huge fans. Of course, there are many alternatives available as optional accessories.

The diopter adjustment for the camera is above and to the right of the viewfinder, and must be partially pulled out from the body to be adjusted, like the dial of a watch. It can be set from -3 to 1 m-1.

Above and to the left of the viewfinder is a small lever that brings down a sliding cover that prevents light leaks that might throw off the meter reading when shooting on a tripod.

Image Stabilization

As with all Nikon SLRs, image stabilization for the D3x is based around the lens. After discussion with Nikon, we decided to test the camera with their AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm 1:2.5G N lens, which doesn't have vibration reduction. This camera is designed for use in a studio setting, with a substantial tripod. While the D3x will undoubtedly benefit from vibration reduction lenses in some settings, we opted to test with a lens best suited for the studio nature of the camera, but without the benefits of vibration reduction.

Shooting Modes

The D3x relies on the four standard settings: Manual, Program, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority, with none of the automated specialty modes found on consumer cameras. They're all accessed by holding down the Mode button, and rotating the rear dial.

Focus

As with everything else in this camera, the focusing options offer an in-depth level of control. The D3x has an impressive 51 autofocus points, of which 1, 9, 21 or all 51 can be utilized at a time, for different size focusing areas. When shooting with the full focus-point array you can take advantage of 3D tracking, which is useful for following swiftly moving targets. The autofocus system is rated for a detection range of -1 to 19 EV at ISO 100. You can adjust the brightness of autofocus target illumination, should you need the boost, which is handy under direct bright light, where the standard illumination level might be hard to see.

The autofocus was extremely fast in good illumination, locking on to targets easily. It still focused quickly in our low light tests (20 lux of illumination) but started to really struggle after dark. Street lamps generally provided enough light for it to get a quick fix, but in areas without them, it took significantly longer. Even so, the D3x usually managed to find an appropriate focus eventually, which is good for a camera not designed for low light performance.

The focus modes on the D3x are controlled via a small switch by the lens that toggles between the three settings. On our review unit it felt like there was a non-functioning fourth setting, between continuous and manual modes, which made it difficult to quickly adjust the focus mode. This may have been a problem limited to our particular review unit, though.

The autofocus area can be set to three modes, each with its own options: Single-point, Dynamic-area, and Auto-area.

When shooting with a lens that has a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or greater, you can use the Electronic Rangefinder to assist with manual focusing, which shows a small dot on the viewfinder if the subject is in focus. If any lenses are focusing incorrectly, you can fine-tune autofocus for up to 20 different lens types using the AF Fine Tune capability.

As with every other facet of this camera, the level of control is impressive. You can tell the D3x to only take photos if the shot is in focus, and set the delay between a subject falling out of focus and the camera's attempt to adjust in Continuous focus mode. The idea here is to avoid having the camera attempt to refocus if something briefly crosses the frame.

Recording Options

The D3x can shoot in three image aspect ratios/crops. There's FX, for full frame lenses, DX for lenses designed for the smaller sensor, and 5:4, which crops the full-frame down to the image format traditionally associated with Medium Format cameras.

In all image formats, the camera can shoot in RAW, RAW+JPEG, JPEG or TIFF. If you want to shoot on RAW, you can set it to 12- or 14-bit, with three levels of compression (lossless, compressed or uncompressed). Lossless compression is reversible, and you will lose no image quality and shave 20-40% off the size of the image, and compressed will trim 40-55% off the file size, but with some loss of quality. JPEGs can be set to three levels of quality: fine, normal and basic. There are two types of JPEG compression as well: size priority compresses the files to try and provide a uniform file size; optimal quality creates images that may vary in size substantially.

The D3x ALSO has an option for dynamic range optimization called Active D-Lighting. Like every other setting on this camera, there is an extraordinary level of precise control flexibility. Active D-Lighting. It can be set to auto, extra high, high, normal, low or off. If you want to apply this technology after you've already taken a picture, you can tweak the dynamic range of a stored image with the D-Lighting tool in both JPEG and RAW.

Other Controls

Copyright Information

The D3x lets you embed your copyright info with your photos. You can add an artist name of up to 36 characters, and copyright holder names of up to 54 characters.

Audio Memo

The D3x has a built in microphone so that audio memos can be attached to files. In auto mode, the maximum record time can be set from five to 60 seconds; the camera starts recording as soon as the shutter button is released, and will stop when the time runs out or the microphone button is pushed. Alternatively, the memo system can be set to manual, and it will record as long as the microphone button is held down.

Speed and Timing

In a race to see which camera can start up the fastest, from "off" to taking the first photo, the D3x takes no prisoners. Averaging a speedy 1/3 second from flicking the switch to tripping the shutter, the Nikon is just about as fast as can accurately be measured by our testing methods.

The D3x has two levels of continuous shutter, high and low, which can be customized to various speeds. When shooting full frame, the high speed mode is limited to five frames per second, but if you're shooting in DX format, you can take it up to seven. The low speed can be altered between one and four frames per second, depending on your needs.

When shooting in continuous mode the top LCD shows the number of photographs remaining in the buffer, so you know how much longer you can continue at breakneck speed. You can also specify the maximum number of photos taken at a time in continuous mode from one up to 130, so you can limit the quantity of images recorded in one burst.

Nikon states the burst speed at highest resolution for the D3x is five frames per second. In our lab testing, we captured an average of 4.6 frames per second, which isn't far off.

The self-timer is selected by shifting the release mode dial, and can be set to one of four intervals: 2 seconds, 5 seconds, 10 seconds or 20 seconds.

Focus Speed

As with everything else in this camera, the focusing options offer an in-depth level of control. The D3x has an impressive 51 autofocus points, of which 1, 9, 21 or all 51 can be utilized at a time, for different size focusing areas. When shooting with the full focus-point array you can take advantage of 3D tracking, which is useful for following swiftly moving targets. The autofocus system is rated for a detection range of -1 to 19 EV at ISO 100. You can adjust the brightness of autofocus target illumination, should you need the boost, which is handy under direct bright light, where the standard illumination level might be hard to see.

The autofocus was extremely fast in good illumination, locking on to targets easily. It still focused quickly in our low light tests (20 lux of illumination) but started to really struggle after dark. Street lamps generally provided enough light for it to get a quick fix, but in areas without them, it took significantly longer. Even so, the D3x usually managed to find an appropriate focus eventually, which is good for a camera not designed for low light performance.

The focus modes on the D3x are controlled via a small switch by the lens that toggles between the three settings. On our review unit it felt like there was a non-functioning fourth setting, between continuous and manual modes, which made it difficult to quickly adjust the focus mode. This may have been a problem limited to our particular review unit, though.

The autofocus area can be set to three modes, each with its own options: Single-point, Dynamic-area, and Auto-area.

When shooting with a lens that has a maximum aperture of f/5.6 or greater, you can use the Electronic Rangefinder to assist with manual focusing, which shows a small dot on the viewfinder if the subject is in focus. If any lenses are focusing incorrectly, you can fine-tune autofocus for up to 20 different lens types using the AF Fine Tune capability.

As with every other facet of this camera, the level of control is impressive. You can tell the D3x to only take photos if the shot is in focus, and set the delay between a subject falling out of focus and the camera's attempt to adjust in Continuous focus mode. The idea here is to avoid having the camera attempt to refocus if something briefly crosses the frame.

Features

Other Features

GPS

The D3x is compatible with certain GPS units. The Nikon GP-1 can be connected directly through the front flash sync terminal. If you don't want to use that model, any GPS unit from Garmin that conforms to the National Marine Electronics Association NMEA0183 data format and uses a D-sub 9-pin connector can be hooked up with an adapter. The GPS data is stored with each photo, and can be viewed on playback.

In the Box

Box Photo
  • Nikon D3x
  • Camera Strap AN-D3X
  • Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL4a
  • Quick Charger MH-22
  • USB Cable UC-E4
  • Audio Video Cable EG-D2
  • Body Cap BF-1A
  • Accessory Shoe Cover BS-2
  • Eyepiece DK-17
  • Battery Chamber Cover BL-4
  • USB Cable Clip
  • Software Suite CD-ROM
  • Manual

Up next