Nikon D3X

Thursday, 5th February 2009

£5295 for a camera is a lot of money. When the D3X was announced I was shocked and surprised by the price, particularly in the light of the pricing of the D3 and the D700, both of which I had bought. I had also recently bought the Canon 5D Mk2 and was mightily impressed by that. Since that camera is now around £2000 here in the UK I could not see the point of paying all that money for the latest Nikon. In fact I was angry with Nikon, feeling that they were ripping photographers off.

I was not alone in this. The web was buzzing with disgruntled photographers, all mostly complaining about the price and comparing it against the Canon and the newly released Sony A900, both substantially cheaper. I joined in the general anti-Nikon sentiment and felt that this could be a repeat of the D2X saga. I bought that camera & was so disappointed in its image quality that I wrote an angry letter to Nikon.

Taking all this into consideration, you may be surprised to learn that I have owned a D3X for 2 weeks and consider it the best £5000 + I have ever spent on photographic equipment.

So what changed?

When the camera was announced I looked at the samples on the Nikon website and they were undeniably impressive. Particularly a shot of a sports car in a European Square. Incredibly sharp and detailed. However I am somewhat sceptical of .jpg images posted on companies websites as its impossible to know what post processing is involved. Eventually other samples started to surface from people who either bought the camera or had been involved in its testing. Some were good, others downright bad. There were even a few raw samples, but these needed Nikons NX2 software or Capture 1 to convert & I dislike both and never use them.

More rants appeared on the web, lots of comparisons with the Sony & Canon. In particular an article by Michael Reichmann of Luminous Landscape. I have generally liked his reviews and tend to give him a lot of credence. His conclusion about the 3 cameras tested included the section:-

“Other than at ISO 1600 and above, where I'll leave the Sony in my cabin, I'll shoot with all three cameras, choosing which one to use based not on presumptions about image quality, but having proven, to myself at least, that these amazing cameras are pretty much equivalent in image quality in typical use.”

That was that I thought - I’m happy with the Canon 5D Mk2 and having bought some adaptors to use my Nikon manual focus primes (24mm f/2, 50mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/2.8) on the Canon was perfectly content.

(N.B. See a previous entry for my reasons for using Nikon lenses on Canon cameras)

What changed my mind was a seemingly minor event. Adobe released a new update for Camera Raw which included support for the D3X.Out of curiosity I downloaded it and also found some raw files on the Dpreview site. These were samples which I had looked at before in their .jpg form. I must admit I thought that they were OK but it seemed to me that they were over-sharpened. After what seemed an eternity downloading them I got one into Camera Raw, applied my “flat” setting (Everything set at zero, no sharpening, no noise reduction) and opened it up in Photoshop. One of the more expensive moments of my life then occurred. I was blown away! I did in fact gasp out loud. On my screen was an image (It was a portrait of a woman) with incredible detail, sharpness and colour that quite literally took my breath away. I double checked my raw settings to make sure I hadn’t changed anything, but there it was again. I looked at the rest of the samples (The same model at every setting from ISO 50 to 3200) and experienced the same thing. The higher ISO settings were much better than I was expecting and the whole batch of images were incredibly impressive. I had looked at a friends images taken on a Hassleblad H2D 39 and that was the only time before that I’d had a similar experience. I knew then and there that I was going to buy one. I started imagining what my Nikon lenses would produce on this monster. The next day I checked a few prices on the web, found the lowest from a reputable dealer I’d dealt with before and ordered one, which arrived the next day.

So whats it like?

Since it arrived I’ve taken every opportunity to test it out.

The UK is experiencing a mini ice-age at the moment so I’ve been piling on the clothes and running out the door every time the sun comes out. I’ve been shooting winter images for my stock libraries. Its performed really well. The images are stunning - large files, incredible resolution and free of artefacts. All in all a very impressive performer.