Nikon D3x

The Nikon D3x is the company’s flagship DSLR, aimed at professional photographers. Announced in December 2008, it becomes the third Nikon DSLR to employ a full-frame ‘FX-format’ sensor, following the D3 and D700, although unlike those models it more than doubles the total number of pixels from 12.1 to 24.5 Megapixels.

This allows the D3x to generate images with no fewer than 6048×4032 pixels, which can be printed at 20×13.5in at 300dpi. These files match the resolution of Sony’s Alpha DSLR A900 which, at the time of writing, makes them the joint highest resolution bodies based on the 35mm format to date. In comparison, Canon’s highest resolution bodies, the EOS 1Ds Mark III and EOS 5D Mark II, both sport 21.1 Megapixels, delivering images with 5616×3744 pixels, while the D3 and D700 deliver 12.1 Megapixel images with 4256×2832 pixels.

The D3x’s higher pixel count is impressive but inevitably has compromises in sensitivity and continuous shooting compared to the D3 before it. The D3x’s base sensitivity runs between 100 and 3200 ISO with extended 50 and 6400 ISO options, compared to a base range of 200 to 6400 ISO, extendable to 100 and 25,600 ISO on the D3. Continuous shooting at the D3x’s maximum resolution may be a respectable 5fps, but this is almost half that of the 9fps on the D3.

Beyond their respective sensors and their impact on sensitivity and continuous shooting, both bodies are essentially identical. Like earlier Nikon pro bodies and those from Canon’s 1D series, the D3x features a built-in portrait grip and tank-like build quality. The D3x measures 160x157x88mm, weighs-in at 1.22Kg without battery and is protected by a tough environmentally-sealed magnesium alloy body.

Like the D3 before it, the D3x features a great quality 3in VGA screen with Live View and a large optical viewfinder with 100% coverage and 0.7x magnification. The D3’s 51-point AF system and dual Compact Flash memory card slots are also inherited here, the latter allowing the D3x to record duplicate images to each card or RAW to one and JPEG to the other, providing useful redundancy; an overflow option is also available.

To exploit the full quality of either body, you’ll need to fit full-frame compatible lenses, although like the D3 before it, you can also fit DX-format lenses and choose whether to automatically crop the images or record the uncorrected area. In a classy move, the D3x’s optical viewfinder can also grey-out the outer area when a DX-format lens is fitted to illustrate the corrected and uncorrected portions of the frame. Obviously with more pixels concentrated in the same area though, the D3x’s cropped DX-format mode enjoys a higher resolution than the D3: 10.5 Megapixels versus 5.1. Both bodies also enjoy quicker continuous shooting in cropped DX-mode, although again with less data to process, the D3 has the advantage: 7fps on the D3x versus 11fps on the D3.

The Nikon D3x is the first truly professional DSLR we’ve tested at Cameralabs, so we’ve gone for a different approach than normal. Rather than giving the D3x a full review we’ve concentrated on image quality alone here, as we believe this is what will be of most interest to Cameralabs’ readers. Should the report be popular, we’ll consider expanding it into a full review with details on the design, build quality, features and handling.

Secondly, as a top-end DSLR with a price tag to match, we’ve avoided in-camera JPEGs altogether and exclusively tested the D3x in its RAW mode, processed using Nikon’s Capture NX 2.2.0; this approach will allow you to see what the D3x is really capable of.

As for comparisons, the natural rival for the D3x is Canon’s EOS 1Ds Mark III, but we decided not to use this model as we’re concerned only with image quality in this report, and Canon itself describes the EOS 5D Mark II as having the best quality in its range at the time of writing; it’s also of a similar era to the D3x, whereas the 1Ds Mark III is already looking a little dated in comparison, with a successor widely tipped to arrive in the near future.

Obviously the D3x and 5D Mark II are in different leagues when it comes to build quality and handling, not to mention pricing, but again we’re only comparing image quality here and not features or value for money. Since each model is described by its manufacturer as delivering the best image quality in their respective ranges, we believe it’s a fair comparison to make. Again we tested the 5D Mark II in its RAW mode, this time using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software for conversions.

We also wanted to include the Sony Alpha DSLR A900, but sadly the company was unable to supply one for testing. You can however open the results pages from our A900 review for a rough comparison.

So read on to find out how Nikon’s flagship DSLR measures-up in terms of real-life resolution, studio resolution and high ISO noise – ultimately does it become the best quality DSLR to date?

Testing notes

We tested a final production Nikon D3x with the Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f2.8 and Nikkor AF-S 50mm f1.4G lenses. The D3x was set to RAW for all samples in this report, with Auto White Balance and the default Standard Picture Control, Normal High ISO NR and Active D-Lighting switched off. All images were processed using Nikon Capture NX 2.2.0 using the default settings.

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