Nikon D3 Review

 
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Nikon D3 Operation

Like other Nikon DSLRs, the user interface on the Nikon D3 is straightforward and simple to use. The LCD menu is a six-tab system that divides up functions between Playback, Shooting, Custom Settings, Setup, Retouch and My Menu. While many of the camera's options can be accessed via the excellent "plain English" menu system, all the most common shooting controls are available via the camera's external buttons and knobs. You can also program the operation of some of the buttons, to configure the camera for your particular shooting requirements. Nikon makes a big deal of their digital SLR's "cameraness," defined as how well/easily they function as cameras, and the D3 embodies that philosophy.

Nikon D3 Top Panel LCD

As with most higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the D3's top-panel data readout LCD communicates a lot of information about current camera settings, and provides an interface for setting many camera functions, when used in conjunction with the various buttons and Command Dials. You can also use the main LCD to adjust many of the same settings, but using the top LCD saves power and can be more convenient when the camera is below eye level. The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display.

1
Shutter speed
13
Battery indicator
Exposure compensation value
14
Frame count
Number of shots in exposure and flash bracketing sequence
Preset white balance recording indicator
Number of shots in WB bracketing sequence
Manual lens number
Number of intervals for interval timer
15
"K" appears when memory remains for over 1000 shots
Focal length (non-CPU lens)
16
Flash value (FV) lock indicator
ISO sensitivity
17
Flash sync indicator
2
Shutter-speed lock icon
18
Clock battery indicator
33
Flexible program indicator
19
GPS connection indicator
4
Exposure mode
20
Focus mode indicator
5
Flash mode
21
Interval timer indicator
6
Shooting menu bank
22
Multiple exposure indictor
7
Custom settings bank
23
Aperture lock icon
8
Memory card indicator (slot 1)
24
Image comment indicator
29
Memory card indicator (slot 2)
25
"Beep" indicator
10
Number of exposures remaining
26
Exposure compensation indicator
Number of shots remaining before buffer fills
27
Exposure and flash bracketing indicator
Capture mode indicator
28
White-balance bracketing indicator
11
Aperture stop indicator
29
Electronic analog exposure display
12
Aperture (f-number)
Exposure compensation
Aperture (number of stops)
Exposure and flash bracketing progress indicator
Exposure and flash bracketing increment
WB bracketing progress indicator
WB bracketing increment
PC connection indicator
Number of shots per internal
Tilt indicator
Maximum aperture (non-CPU lenses)
PC mode indicator

 

Nikon D3 Rear Control Panel LCD

Like other professional models, the Nikon D3 also has a rear Control Panel LCD. The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display mode.


1
Image quality (JPEGs)
6
"K" appears when memory remains for over 1,000 shots
2
"Remaining" indicator
Color temperature indicator
3
Image size
7
Memory card slot indicators
4
ISO sensitivity indicator
Image quality
Auto ISO sensitivity indicator
8
White balance bracketing indicator
5
ISO sensitivity
9
Voice memo recording indicator (shooting mode)
ISO sensitivity (high/low gain)
10
Voice memo status indicator
Number of exposures remaining
11
Voice memo recording mode
Length of voice memo
12
White balance
White balance fine-tuning
White balance fine-tuning indicator
White balance preset number
Color temperature
PC mode indicator

 

Nikon D3 Main LCD

Shooting Information
Like other more recent Nikon digital SLRs, the D3 has the ability to display shooting info and settings on the rear LCD. The rear LCD is larger and in color, so some prefer to use it over the top LCD, at the expense of battery life. It's nice that Nikon gives you the choice. The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display mode.


1
Exposure mode
17
Flash mode
2
Flexible program indicator
18
Clock battery indicator
3
Shutter speed lock icon
19
FV lock indicator
4
Shutter speed
20
Interval timer indicator
Exposure compensation value
21
Image comment indicator
Number of shots in exposure and flash bracketing sequence
22
"Beep" indicator
Number of shots in WB bracketing sequence
23
Exposure compensation indicator
Focal length (non-CPU lens)
24
Battery indicator
5
Multiple exposure indicator
25
Exposure and flash bracketing indicator
6
Aperture lock icon
WB bracketing indicator
7
Aperture (f-number)
26
Focus mode indicator
Aperture (number of stops)
27
Long exposure noise reduction indicator
Exposure and flash bracketing increment
28
Color space indicator
WB bracketing increment
29
Picture Control indicator
Maximum aperture (non-CPU lenses)
30
Active D-Lighting indicator
8
Aperture stop indicator
31
High ISO noise reduction indicator
9
Number of exposures remaining
32
Image area indicator
10
"K" (memory remains for over 1000 exposures)
33
Release mode (single frame/continuous) indicator
11
Frame count
Continuous shooting speed
Manual lens number
34
Auto-area AF indicator
12
Memory card indicator (slot 2)
Focus points indicator
13
Memory card indicator (slot 1)
AF-area mode indicator
14
Custom settings bank
3D-tracking indicator
15
Shooting menu bank
35
GPS connection indicator
16
Flash sync indicator
36
Electronic analog exposure display

 

Nikon D3 Virtual Horizon

A really neat feature of the D3 (and D700) is the virtual horizon gauge. It uses sensors in the body to detect the orientation of the camera and display a virtual horizon, similar to an aircraft instrument. This is useful for critical alignment of subjects such as buildings, the horizon, etc. With the use of the FUNC button, the electronic analog scales in the viewfinder can also display the amount of tilt, so that you don't need to take your eye off the subject to check the camera angle. Updating the Nikon D3 with the 2.00 firmware even allows you to overlay the virtual horizon during Live View with a push of the "info" button. I find it interesting that they've added this feature, despite the fact there is no in-body stabilization feature, which would have probably allowed them to use the anti-shake sensors already there. Instead, the Nikon D3 probably has a more sophisticated orientation sensor than what is typically used for automatically rotating images for playback.

 

Nikon D3 Playback mode

Playback mode is entered by pressing the playback button. The D3's playback mode provides a great deal of information about your pictures after you've shot them. A variety of playback displays can be cycled through using the up/down arrows on the multi-selector, including image with file information with optional highlight warning and focus point display, RGB histogram, three screens with overlaid shooting and image parameter information (an additional GPS info screen is available when a GPS device was used when the image was captured), and an overview display with basic shooting data and luminance histogram. The screenshot animation at right shows the sequence when the down arrow is used. And if you find this amount of information overwhelming, you can add or remove the displays as you see fit.

As you'd expect, the Nikon D3 offers a comprehensive RGB histogram display mode. Histogram displays are common on professional digital cameras (and many amateur models now), regarded as almost mandatory by many pros for evaluating exposure levels. A histogram is simply a graph of how many pixels there are in the image at each brightness level. The brightness is the horizontal axis, running from black at the left to white at the right. The height of the graph shows the relative number of pixels having each brightness level. This sort of display is very handy for determining under- or overexposure. Ideally, the histogram would stretch across the entire width of the display, using the full range of brightness values available. An underexposed image will have a histogram with all the data lumped on the left-hand side, with nothing reaching all the way to the right. Likewise, an overexposed image will have all the data lumped on the right hand side. Clipped highlights are shown by blinking any highlights that are saturated in any of the color channels. It does this by taking the nearly-white areas on the LCD and toggling them between white and black. Highlights can also be displayed separately for each color channel by selecting R, G, or B in this display.

Of course the Nikon D3 also lets you zoom out to quickly find and select images, or magnify them for closer inspection on its gorgeous 3-inch, 922K pixel LCD. You have the normal 4- or 9-image thumbnail displays available by pressing the thumbnail/zoom out button, and you can magnify them up to approximately 27x for large, 20x for medium and 13x for small images, using the zoom in button. Once magnified, you can scroll around the image using the multi-selector to examine critical detail and framing. You can also program the multi-selector center button to automatically zoom in on the active focus point with a preset the initial zoom setting (low, medium, or high), to make focus verification faster and more convenient.

To return the Nikon D3 to shooting mode, simply press the playback button again, or half-press the shutter button.

 

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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