The Nikon D3 camera - my full review

You probably can find much better reviews on this camera on the internet (see the sites I mention in the forums section)

but here is my personal opinion about this wonderful piece of equipment (not without flaws, see hereunder).

The other interesting reviews or references.

Hereunder my short selection of other sites which have something (more) interesting to say about the Nikon D3 camera.

The DPreview review
The Luminous Landscape review
The DPreview pre-review
Bjorn Roslett's review
Moose Peterson's review
D3 or D300 by Thom Hogan
The controversial Ken Rockwell's review

My mini-review

The second part - a few more experiences with the D3

First of all, the main characteristics

How it all started: first of all, a recommendation: don't visit shops where you can take a D3 in your hands, you'll definitely end up with one...

What are the main new relevant characteristics ?

Go back to the top

Concert and parties - evening shooting

Go back to the top

This was my very first experience with D3. I just got the camera, the battery was loaded and I went to a party, I shot RAW+JPEG, but since the results were excellent, I just used the out of camera JPEGs. All shot with 85 1.8 AF-D @ISO6400. WB on auto some matrix metering, some spot metering. Many shots -1/3 EV. Hand held, no flash (of course). For a first try, the performance is really amazing, there was a photographer on assignment there, with a D200+SB-800 (my previous favorite combo), he had some difficulties to take decent pictures without flash, and worked with a tripod.
Only problem I had, a few (2-3) pictures were seriously overexposed and I could not find out why. I cannot blame the camera it could be user error or sudden changes in lighting, or flickering lights - I don't know. Here is the full slideshow with all my shots for those interested...

The slideshow.
The wonderful thing is that the camera allows to record the mood and the lighting without losing any details in the pictures. Really impressive.
a few pictures:
#1 I liked the special expression here

#2 My favorite one

#3 Even the sound was good





Go back to the top

AF for birding

Go back to the top

My first try at "action" photography... a short walk to the park (700m from my house) and my favorite heron... and the D3+70-200VR+2xTC and the user manual in my head :D

I used 9/21 points 3D or not, AF-C, Ch (9/sec) some FX and some DX mode. Here are a few examples (it was dark, 1 hour max before sunset, so I had to push ISO to 6400 for some pics)

Anyway, it will take me quite some time to master the "engine"... the D3 is like a new sports car you need to master step by step...


#3 WB and colors completely different (this was in the shadow, sun completely gone for a minute)



#6 this is 400mm with the TC ISO3200 (I find the IQ reasonable for the 2xTC)

#7 an example of wrong metering (I could not find a 100% satisfying explanation)

I have had a similar experience with the D200, see for instance this old chapter on my website The D200 AF performance for birding
Go back to the top

Sports photography

The D3 is a wonderful machine wrt to high ISO shooting. Auto-ISO works very well and allows to work in manual mode, setting a high shutter speed and closing down the lens to get some DOF/IQ increase if needed (I usually shoot fully open or close down by approx half a stop to 3.2 or 3.5). Really amazing. But until now, I still have some difficulties with the AF. I get inconsistent results and the 3D or 51 points tracking very often loses the main subject. Moreover, the whole system is not intuitive, you don't get any idea of where the focus is. The active sensor flashes very shortly (almost invisible in the viewfinder) and then it is not possible to see what the camera is doing. When it is working properly (it is for more than 50% of the pics), the results are there... but I don't have a clue of what the system does and a lot of pictures have perfect focus on the wrong spot... My D200 did not allow me to get pictures that sharp but the AF system was more intuitive to my standards. In fact after some other tests, I come to the conclusion that it is due to the smaller AF sensors and sensor area. The tracking does work if the subject is taking a significant area in the pictures (for instance if the shirt of a player is covering several sensors). It seems that if the subject is a bit small (this is the case in the examples below, the system CAN get confused).

just a few shots to give an idea (It was a match between Hantuchova(wta-8) and a new Belgian player, Wickmayer (wta-162, rising), a potential new star (after Justine Henin wta-1 and Kim Clijsters, former wta-1))

slide show: Tennis slide show on flickr the lens was the 70-200VR (mostly @f2.8-f3.5) sometimes with the 1.7TC (@f6.3)

Here is an example with the TC, in DX crop mode, allowing to take "close-up" pictures froma distance.

Just a small test with the D3 in machine gun mode...
Interesting application. More FPSs could even be helpful...
DX crop mode, Ch full speed, lens (I am ashamed) was a Tamron 28-75 2.8

I have better sequences but this is the first one I have concatenated...

Go back to the top

DX lenses on an FX camera

I put the Tokina on the D3 to see what the DX and FX format would give... here are the results (settings displayed in the pictures) One important remark: the dark part in the top right part of some pics is not vignetting, the room is darker in that corner... and my apologies for the poor pictures, this is just a wall in my kitchen (I was looking for something neutral to display)

conclusions: the D3 is a normal 5MP DX camera in DX mode with DX lenses. the Tokina 12-24 is usable from 20 to 24mm (in fact more or less from 18mm with slight vignetting) in FX mode on the D3. Another thing: do NOT underestimate that DX mode, I have printed (real pictures) on A3 paper, the results are just amazing, the details are popping out and IQ is WAY superior to my 6MP D70 pictures with the same lens. This is not just about megapixels. Talk to D2Hs users, they will tell you the same about their 4MPs.
Go back to the top

Various tests

Go back to the top

A number of various pictures to show the capabilities of the camera
all shot in Martinique, French Antilles

#1 an in camera BW test: lens was Tamron 28-75 @28mm f11

#2 shot on a sunny day

#3 a piece of art in the sea

#4 a test of sepia - this was our waitress at our resort in Martinique

#5 driving through the jungle... the camera has been a few times in the "splash area" - no damage ! (the water was cleaner than here :D)

#6 my wife will kill me for this, but I liked this informal portrait...

#7 there was enough rhum to drink

#8 a very quick macro shot... somebody spotted the lizard, I just had the time to mount the 105VR in a few seconds, closed down and took a lucky shot. 100% crop added. The lizard was approx 2 inches long... I tried to focus manually on the eye and 1 sec later, it was gone... Details are preserved while the shot was @ISO1000.

#9 just one for the color - the buildings are just beautiful

#10 view from a cemetry, playing with DOF

#14 and the last one in total darkness, nightclub, incredible light effects, smoke effects, close to impossible to take any picture and I did this... ISO6400, flash in TTL BL (SB-800) 70-200VR used @f3.2

Go back to the top

The High ISO performance

My first test @ISO 12,800 was amazing: just incredible how clean that picture is even at 100% - my fellow D200 shooters could not believe their eyes....
shot with the 70-200VR + 1.7TC @340mm

Then a very typical puppet shot in the dark ISO25,600 (Hi 2.0)
first jpeg no pp, two 100% crops without PP, then a version with a touch of noiseware:
even if some noise is visible, the details are incredibly preserved !!!

remember this is ISO 25,600 !!!!!!!!!

The printout on A3 paper is really excellent and is similar to an ISO1600 pictures from another camera, with the details in the textures being preserved.

Go back to the top

Using manual lenses (AI/AIS) on the D3

This chapter is easy. You can configure 10 lenses using the menus (pre-programming the maximum aperture and the focal length). Since I have quite a collection of AIS lenses, I have assigned the lens selection to the AE-L button, allowing me to select the appropriate settings very quickly. After choosing the right lens, you can use the aperture ring on the lens to select the aperture. Metering works perfectly.

The positive surprise was how easy it is to focus even with very fast glass. For instance, the 50mm 1.2 is a joy to use and I don't have any problem to focus even at 1.2. The viewfinder is so clear that I am much more accurate than with the D200 for instance.

To summarize: highly recommended.

An simple example with the 50mm 1.2 used fully open.

Another example: the 24mm f2 used @f9.

Go back to the top

The recommended accessories

The first more or less evident one: a spare battery. Battery life is excellent on that camera, I easily get between 1000 and 1400 pics from a battery, and I do a lot of chimping. Since there are no backup solutions, like using an En-El3e like the D300 or AA batteries like the F5, D200, D300 etc..., it is highly recommend to carry a second battery. The standard charger can handle two batteries, this is the ideal combo.

Another accessory I would recommend is the angle viewfinder. This is a specific one (for the pro bodies) because it has a circular adapter instead of the rectangular one for the consumer bodies (D70, D40, D200 etc...). I use it a lot because it opens new perspectives to take pictures, holding the camera above your head or at your feet and getting the reaction speed you would expect to take a picture (unlike the Lifeview modes, very useful, but extremely slow)

My review of the DR-5 angle viewfinder can be found here.

Go back to the top

Using the 10.5 mm fisheye on the D3

This subject has been treated in a separate chapter. Have a look here:

Fisheye on D3

Go back to the top

The sensor dust issue

I don't know if I am an exception but this is a real serious problem to me...

my statistics until now:
D70: 25,000 pics 5 wet cleanings needed average 2-3 spots
D200: 22,000 pics 2 wet cleanings needed average 2-3 spots
D40x: 1,500 pics 0 wet cleanings needed
D3: 700 pics 1 wet cleaning needed 50-100 spots !!!!
I have never seen a sensor so full of dust. I maybe changed lenses 20 times in total (far below my average, in a controlled environment)
I knew FX was a bigger problem than DX, but this is really too much.
Some more feedback. I have been to a specialist to get a full dust removal kit (including special magnifier) and he showed me that the D3 suffers from a kind of design problem, explaining the issue. While the cameras are produced in a clean environment, some particles are coming loose from the mirror "chamber". But just moving a piece of tape inside the chamber, you collect a HUGE amount of dust waiting to land on your sensor (you need to be extremely careful of course not to touch the sensor, the mirror ...).
After a repeated wet cleaning, my sensor is now as clean as new. I never used the magnifier with integrated light (fitting on the lens mount) before, and I have been convinced to get one.
It is really useful to spot the dust and to see where to go with the swabs...
The Delkin Sensorscope system

Last update: it seems that the problem stabilizes. This means that there is a real design problem/production issue. After cleaning for three times, dust is not a real problem anymore. I will be able to confirm this on the longer term, but each time, it takes much more time for some dust to come back and then only a few spots... definitely completely different from the first time.

So as a conclusion, it seems that the probablility to get (much) more dust on the sensor in the beginning (!) is higher on the D3. Things should settle after some time (hopefully already now).
Go back to the top

The vignetting issue

I just did some tests with the 70-200VR on the D3, and it definitely vignettes at all focal lengths @2.8. This can be corrected in NX, but it is VERY visible in almost all pictures.




Go back to the top

The "flaws" or potential improvements.

(I just find that I should mention the few limitations or things which are not perfect, so that you can make the right decision). The Nikon D3 is just the best camera there is (as of today, beginning of 2008), but it is not necessarily the perfect tool for everybody.
Go back to the top


Highly recommended !!!

The D3 is just the best allround camera there is at the moment.



Go back to the top