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Full Review at: http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/D3X/D3XA.HTM

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Nikon D3X Performance


Timing and Performance

Generally good speed for a 25-megapixel pro SLR, though autofocus is a bit slow.

Startup/Shutdown
Power on
to first shot
0.3 second
Time it takes for camera to turn on. (Very fast, difficult to measure.)
Shutdown
0.3 second
How long it takes camera to turn off before you can remove the memory card. (Very fast, difficult to measure.)
JPEG Single-Shot clearing times
Buffer clearing time
Large Fine FX JPEG
17.2 seconds
(after 29 FX JPEGs)
Worst case buffer clearing time. -- This is the delay after a set of shots before you can remove the card. Some cameras won't shut down until the buffer is cleared. (*See note about memory card speeds at bottom of table below.)
Buffer clearing time
Large Fine DX JPEG
11.4 seconds
(after 58 DX JPEGs)
JPEG Continuous-mode clearing times
Buffer clearing time
Large Fine FX JPEG
35 seconds
(after 29 FX JPEGs)
Worst case buffer clearing time. -- This is the delay after a set of shots before you can remove the card. Some cameras won't shut down until the buffer is cleared. (*See note about memory card speeds at bottom of table below.)
Buffer clearing time
Large Fine DX JPEG
57 seconds
(after 48 DX JPEGs)
12-bit RAW clearing times
Buffer clearing time
12-bit RAW

(uncompressed)
38.2 seconds
(after 21 RAW FX frames)

29.47 seconds
(after 29 RAW DX frames)
Worst case buffer clearing time. (*See note about card speeds below.)
Buffer clearing time
12-bit RAW

(Lossless compressed)
19 seconds
(after 23 RAW FX frames)

13 seconds
(after 35 RAW DX frames)
Buffer clearing time
12-bit RAW

(Lossy compressed)
19 seconds
(after 26 RAW FX frames)

14 seconds
(after 43 RAW DX frames)
14-bit RAW clearing times
Buffer clearing time
14-bit RAW

(uncompressed)
41.7 seconds
(after 20 RAW FX frames)

29.7 seconds
(after 29 RAW DX frames)
Worst case buffer clearing time. (*See note about card speeds below.)
Buffer clearing time
14-bit RAW

(Lossless compressed)
19 seconds
(after 25 RAW FX frames)

12 seconds
(after 38 RAW DX frames)
Buffer clearing time
14-bit RAW

(Lossy compressed)
19 seconds
(after 29 RAW FX frames)

13 seconds
(after 52 RAW DX frames)
TIFF buffer clearing times
Buffer clearing time
TIFF
83 seconds (!)
(after 22 TIFF frames)
Worst case buffer clearing time. (*See note about card speeds below.)
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a SanDisk Extreme IV 16GB CompactFlash card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times.

Startup and shutdown times are average for a pro SLR. Buffer clearing time depends on the image size and quality, burst length and the speed of memory card used. With a fast memory card, buffer clearing is pretty fast, particularly considering the size of the files involved, and the depth of the buffer memory.

 

Mode Switching
Play to Record,
first shot
0.3 second
Time until first shot is captured.
Record to play
0.8 second
Time to display a large/fine file immediately after capture.
Display
recorded image
0.5 second
Time to display a large/fine file already on the memory card.

Mode switching is quite fast, though Record to Play is a bit sluggish for a pro model.

 

Shutter Response (Lag Time)
Full Autofocus
Single-Area AF
Optical Viewfinder
(Sigma lens)
0.161 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder, with a Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lens. There was only 4% variation in this test, with times ranging from 0.150s to 0.170s.
Full Autofocus
Single-Area AF
Optical Viewfinder
(Nikkor lens)
0.183 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder, with a Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. There was 7% variation in lag times with this lens, with times ranging from 0.163s to 0.206s.
Full Autofocus
Auto-Area AF
Optical Viewfinder
0.435 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder, with a Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro lens. There was only ~8% variation in our iterations, ranging from 0.413s to 0.458s.
Full Autofocus
Single-Area AF
Live View
Hand-Held Mode
0.426 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, using Live View "Hand-Held" (phase-detect) mode. There was ~14% variation in our iterations, ranging from 0.344s to 0.522s.
Full Autofocus
Auto-Area AF
Live View
Hand-Held Mode
0.606 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, using Live View "Hand-Held" (phase-detect) mode. There was only 4% variation here, with times ranging from 0.559s to 0.644s.
Full Autofocus
Live View
Tripod Mode
n/a
When using Live View "Tripod" (contrast-detect) mode, autofocus is performed using the AF-On button. The time required to focus varies wildly with the lens in use and how far the lens elements have to travel to achieve focus. With a fast-acting lens already in focus, the lag time is about 1.2 seconds. With a slow lens and a large amount of focus travel, times can stretch as long as 8 seconds.
Continuous AF
Single-Area AF
Release Priority
Optical Viewfinder
0.073 second
This mode usually shows no speed increase with our static subject; we have no way to measure performance with moving subjects. In this case, though, the AF speed improved dramatically vs single-shot AF, with our stationary subject, but likely because "release priority" means the camera doesn't wait for the AF-complete signal before firing. There was ~9% variation in our iterations, ranging from 0.062s to 0.081s.
Continuous AF
Auto-Area AF
Release Priority
Optical Viewfinder
0.349 second
This mode usually shows no speed increase with our static subject; we have no way to measure performance with moving subjects. Here again, there was a noticeable improvement in shutter lag vs single-shot AF with our stationary target. The numeric increase was similar, but it amounted to a smaller percentage gain than in the single-area case. There was ~9% variation in our iterations, ranging from 0.305s to 0.409s.
Prefocused
Optical Viewfinder
0.045 second
Time to capture, after half-pressing and holding shutter button. There was essentially zero variation between iterations. (We time down to 1/1000 second, and every measurement came in at 0.045 second.)
Prefocused
Live View
Hand-Held Mode
0.045 second
Time to capture, after half-pressing and holding shutter button, using Live View Hand-Held (phase-detect) mode. There was virtually no variation between iterations.
Prefocused
Live View
Tripod Mode
0.418 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, using Live View "Tripod" (contrast-detect) mode. Autofocus is performed using the AF-On button, and is not included in this number. There was only 5% variation.
Manual focus
Optical Viewfinder
0.050 second
For most cameras, shutter lag is less in manual focus than autofocus, but usually not as fast as when the camera is "prefocused". There was ~8% variation between iterations, ranging from 0.045s to 0.058s.

When testing the D3X's ability to determine that it's properly focused when shooting the same target multiple times (with no change of focus setting between iterations, to remove the impact of lens AF speed), we oddly found it a bit slow for a professional model. The D3X required 161 milliseconds for full AF in single-area mode (center point selected), and 486 milliseconds in Auto-area AF mode, where the original D3 required only 85 milliseconds and 470 milliseconds, respectively. Given our measurements, you'll definitely not want to use auto-area AF mode for sports shooting or other fast-paced action.

When set to continuous AF mode, the single-point AF time improved dramatically, to 73ms, but that's likely because the release-priority setting we used meant the camera wasn't waiting for the AF system to signal that it had completed its job . When prefocused or manually focused, shutter lag was much faster, at only 45 and 50 milliseconds respectively.

The D3X's two Live View modes add considerable delay, but the "Hand-Held" mode is faster than some other implementations we've tested recently. The "Hand-Held" mode which uses the same "mirror-down" phase difference AF method employed when using the optical viewfinder has full AF shutter lag of 0.426 second, roughly 2.5 times the optical viewfinder lag. This increased to 0.606 second when using Auto-area AF mode.

The "Tripod" Live View mode lag was about the same, at 0.418 seconds, but focusing is performed separately using the AF-On button, so focusing time is not included in that figure. It's easy to see why Nikon chose to call this "Tripod" mode: It's really only going to be useful for still-life subjects, with the camera pretty immobile. The time it takes to achieve focus depends heavily on how far the lens elements have to travel, but even when it's simply refocusing on a previously-acquired subject, it takes about 1.2 seconds with a fast-operating lens. When a slower lens has to rack from infinity to close focus, the AF time in Tripod mode can easily stretch to 8 seconds or more.

 

Cycle Time (shot to shot), JPEG
Single Shot mode
Large Fine JPEG
0.23 second
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Single Shot mode
Small Basic JPEG
0.21 second
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Early shutter
penalty?
Yes(?)
Some cameras refuse to snap another shot if you release and press the shutter too quickly in Single Shot mode, making "No" the preferred answer. The D3x was so fast from shot to shot that it was hard to press the shutter button fast enough to beat the next shot. When we did, though, we found that the camera wouldn't fire again until we released and re-pressed.
Continuous mode
Large Fine FX JPEG
0.20 second
(5.01 frames/sec);
31 frames total;
18 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 31 shots.
Continuous mode
Large Fine DX JPEG
0.14 second
(7.04 frames/sec);
>>20 frames total;
5 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
12-bit RAW Cycle Time - FX (Full-Frame) Mode
Single Shot mode
12-bit FX RAW
0.25 second
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Single Shot mode
12-bit FX RAW + L/F JPEG
0.27 second
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Continuous mode
12-bit FX RAW
Lossless Compressed
0.20 second
(5.00 frames/sec);
23 frames total;
19 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 22 shots.
Continuous mode
12-bit FX RAW
Compressed
0.20 second
(5.00 frames/sec);
26 frames total;
19 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 26 shots.

(Lossy RAW compression sometimes helps buffer capacity slightly over uncompressed.)

Continuous mode
12-bit FX RAW
Uncompressed
0.20 second
(5.00 frames/sec);
21 frames total;
38.2 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 21 shots.
Continuous mode
12-bit FX RAW (Lossless) + L/F JPEG
0.20 second
(5.00 frames/sec);
20 frames total;
32 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
12-bit RAW Cycle Time - DX (Cropped) Mode
Continuous mode
12-bit DX RAW
Lossless Compressed
0.14 second
(7.03 frames/sec);
35 frames total;
13 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Continuous mode
12-bit DX RAW
Compressed
0.14 second
(7.03 frames/sec);
43 frames total;
14 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.

(Lossy RAW compression sometimes helps buffer capacity slightly over uncompressed.)

Continuous mode
12-bit DX RAW
Uncompressed
0.14 second
(7.03 frames/sec);
29 frames total;
29.5 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
14-bit RAW Cycle Time - FX (Full-Frame) Mode
Single Shot mode
14-bit FX RAW
0.51 second
Time per shot, averaged over 24 shots.
Continuous mode
14-bit FX RAW
Lossless compressed
0.51 second
(1.96 frames/sec);
25 frames total;
19 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Continuous mode
14-bit FX RAW
Compressed
0.51 second
(1.96 frames/sec);
29 frames total;
19 seconds to clear*
(In our tests at least, compression didn't help buffer capacity in 14-bit mode.)

Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.

Continuous mode
14-bit FX RAW
Uncompressed
0.51 second
(1.96 frames/sec);
20 frames total;
42 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Continuous mode
14-bit FX RAW (Lossless) + L/F JPEG
0.51 second
(1.96 frames/sec);
24 frames total;
19 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
14-bit RAW Cycle Time - DX (Cropped) Mode
Continuous mode
14-bit DX RAW
Lossless compressed
0.36 second
(2.81 frames/sec);
38 frames total;
12 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Continuous mode
14-bit DX RAW
Compressed
0.36 second
(2.81 frames/sec);
52 frames total;
13 seconds to clear*
(In our tests at least, compression didn't help buffer capacity in 14-bit mode.)

Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.

Continuous mode
14-bit DX RAW
Uncompressed
0.36 second
(2.81 frames/sec);
29 frames total;
30 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots.
Flash Cycle Time
Flash recycling
n/a
(No internal flash)
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a SanDisk Extreme IV CompactFlash card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode. ISO sensitivity and noise reduction settings can also affect cycle times and burst mode performance.

Single-shot cycle time performance is very good for a pro SLR model, at about 0.23 second between shots in large/fine JPEG mode, a bit slower in 12-bit RAW mode at 0.25 second, and a lot slower in 14-bit RAW mode, at 0.51s per frame. The Nikon D3x is so fast between shots that we had a hard time actually hitting the shutter button before the camera was ready, but when we did, we found that the D3x did indeed "penalize" us for doing so, requiring us to release and re-press the shutter button in order to snap the next shot.

The story was similar in Continuous mode. The Nikon D3X met its advertised 5 frames/second when shooting full-frame (FX mode) JPEGs or 12-bit RAWs, but slowed to only 1.96 frames/second in 14-bit RAW mode. DX crop mode was quite a bit faster at just over 7 frames/second with large/fine JPEGs and 12-bit RAWs, but dropped to 2.81 frames/second for 14-bit RAW.

Buffer depths were very good though, with 31 frames in Full-Frame Large/Fine JPEG mode, 25 frames in 12-bit RAW (losslessly compressed) and 25 frames in 14-bit RAW mode (also losslessly compressed). Buffer depth in DX mode increases in rough proportion to the change in megapixel count.

 

Download speed
Windows Computer, USB 2.0
11,264 KBytes/sec
Typical Values:
Less than 600=USB 1.1;
600-770=USB 2.0 Low;
More than 770=USB 2.0 High

Download speeds were very fast. (Measured in Mass Storage mode.)


Overall, the D3X has good speed for a 25-megapixel pro SLR, but surprisingly, some areas lagged a little compared to the D3. Autofocus is significantly slower than the D3, which supposedly uses the same AF system, and 14-bit RAW mode is a lot slower than 12-bit, which wasn't the case for the D3.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery

Outstanding battery life for an SLR lithium-ion design.

Test Conditions
Number of Shots
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery,
4,400
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery,
Live View
n/a

The Nikon D3X uses a custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, and comes with both a single battery and charger. The rated 4,400 shots per charge using the optical viewfinder is well above average for a pro SLR, (but keep in mind the D3X does not have a built-in flash, so that's one reason why the number is so high). Unfortunately, Nikon does not seem to publish battery life results for when Live View mode is used, but it's a safe bet that it's considerably shorter. (Again, we don't have specific measurements, but did notice that the battery seemed to use up its charge much more rapidly when we were shooting in Live View mode.)

The table above shows the number of shots the camera is capable of on fully-charged battery, based on CIPA battery-life and/or manufacturer standard test conditions.

(Interested readers can find an English translation of the CIPA DC-002 standards document here. (180K PDF document))

Storage

The Nikon D3X stores its photos on CompactFlash memory cards (dual slots are provided), and no card is included with the camera. The chart below shows how many images can be stored on a 2GB card at each size/quality setting. Notes: JPEG compression set to Image Quality Priority, LLC = lossless compressed.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
2GB Memory Card
Fine Normal Basic
12-bit
RAW
(LLC)
14-bit
RAW
(LLC)
TIFF
6,048 x 4,032
Images
(Avg size)
93
22 MB
186
11 MB
368
5.6 MB
50
41 MB
38
53 MB
26
77 MB
Approx.
Comp.
3:1 7:1 13:1 0.9:1 0.8:1 0.9:1
4,544 x 3,024
Images
(Avg size)
164
12.5 MB
326
6.3 MB
640
3.2 MB
- - -
Approx.
Comp.
3:1 7:1 13:1 - - -
3,024 x 2,016
Images
(Avg size)
368
5.6 MB
730
2.8 MB
1,428
1.4 MB
- - -
Approx.
Comp.
3:1 7:1 13:1 - - -

We strongly recommend buying a large capacity CompactFlash card. You should probably consider at least a 4GB card, if not a 8GB or 16GB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings, especially if you plan on doing a lot of RAW shooting. (Check the shopping link above, cards are cheap these days, so there's no reason to skimp -- But definitely consider faster cards for this camera, to reduce buffer clearing times.)