Nikon D3 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Nikon Cameras / Nikon D i Full Review

Nikon D3 Viewfinder

The D3's optical viewfinder is big, bright, and beautiful. The pentaprism design features 100% frame coverage, 0.7x magnification at 50mm and -1 diopter, an 18 mm eyepoint, and diopter adjustment range of -3 to +1. If you just look at the specs, you might think that the D3's optical VF is a step backward from that of the D2Xs. After all, the D3's viewfinder is rated at only 0.7x magnification factor, vs. the 0.86x of earlier models. You have to stop and take into account the fact that that's 0.7x relative to a full-frame sensor though, so the net effect is something like a 70% bigger view of the world. This is immediately apparent when you look through the D3's viewfinder: The view is very wide, and if you wear eyeglasses, you'll likely find that you need to press your lenses against the eyecup in order to take in the entire frame at once.

A built-in eye-piece shutter is provided for self-timer or live view mode. The Nikon D3 ships with a Type B BriteView Clear Matte VI focusing screen, but also accepts a Type E screen with etched grid-lines. (There's no provision for grid lines to be projected onto the viewfinder screen, as with some earlier Nikon SLRs.)

The graphic and table below shows what information is displayed in D3's viewfinder.


1
12-mm reference circle for center-weighted metering
15
"K" (appears when memory remains for over 1000 frames)
2
AF area brackets
16
Flash ready indicator
3
Focus points
17
FV lock indicator
Spot metering targets
18
Flash sync indicator
4
Focus indicator
19
Aperture stop indicator
5
Metering
20
Battery indicator
6
Autoexposure (AE) lock
21
Electronic analog exposure display
7
Exposure mode
Exposure compensation display
8
Shutter speed lock icon
Tilt indicator
9
Shutter speed
22
Exposure compensation indicator
10
Aperture lock icon
23
Exposure and flash bracketing indicator
11
Aperture (f-number)


Aperture (number of stops)


12
ISO sensitivity indicator


Auto ISO sensitivity indicator


13
ISO sensitivity


14
Frame count


Number of exposures remaining


Number of shots remaining before buffer fills


Preset white balance recording indicator


Exposure compensation value


PC mode indicator


 

Image Areas
The Nikon D3 is unusual in that you can not only use it as a full-frame SLR, but also as a reduced-frame one. In fact, there are two cropped-frame modes available, one with a 5:4 aspect ratio (corresponding to an area on the sensor of 30.0 x 23.9 mm), the other a 3:2 aspect ratio, but with the frame size reduced to match that of Nikon's DX-format cameras. (A 23.5 x 15.6 mm frame, vs the full "FX" format size of 36.0 x 23.9 mm.) While we wouldn't personally find the 5:4 ratio useful, it's quite possible that photographers working on specific assignments calling for a more square format would want to take advantage of that aspect ratio. The "DX" frame size is handy for taking advantage of Nikon's many excellent DX-format lenses. In fact, the camera can be set to automatically switch to DX mode when a DX-format lens is attached to it. You can rapidly select between crop modes by pressing and holding the Fn button on the front of the camera while simultaneously turning the main command dial on the rear.

When the D3 is shooting in a format other than full-frame FX mode, a translucent LCD in the viewfinder partially masks the inactive portions of the frame. The illustrations below show the viewfinder display in 5:4 and DX modes.

VF masked for 5:4 mode
VF masked for DX mode


AF Areas
Like its sibling the D300, the Nikon D3 features a new 51-point AF system, but on the D3, the AF array covers a smaller portion of the larger frame than it does on the D300's DX-format sensor. The new AF system also includes some notable improvements in the AF points themselves. In the past, cross-type AF sensors were generally only effective with large-aperture lenses: At apertures smaller than f/2.8, they reverted to ordinary line-sensors. On the D3, the fifteen points in the center of the frame (3 columns x 5 rows) act as cross-type sensors at apertures of f/5.6 and larger. This is quite a benefit for photographers needing to shoot with slower zoom lenses, or large teles on teleconverters. (Something that will more likely be required, given the lack of a crop factor when using the D3 in FX mode. Strapping on Nikon's 1.4x teleconverter won't quite get you back to the same field of view as you'd have with the same lens on a D300. - Many sports and nature photographers accustomed to the longer reach of their lenses on DX-format bodies are going to find themselves reaching for their teleconverters much more frequently with the D3.)

The Nikon D3 doesn't force you to use all 51 AF points if you don't want to though: Custom Menu option A8 lets you select between the full 51-point array and an 11-point arrangement that mimics the layout of the D2x's AF system. On the D300, this ability to select fewer AF points had performance implications, as we found the shutter lag on that camera to be somewhat longer when all 51 AF points were operating. Perhaps thanks to the D3's dual EXPEED processors though, it suffers no such degradation in performance. Shooters acquainted with the D2x may elect to use the 11-point AF layout out of familiarity, but we think most users will just stick with the full 51-point array. The illustrations below show the two AF arrays in the full FX-format viewfinder window.

Full 51-point AF array
Reduced 11-point AF layout

One last point about the D3's AF system: The AF point display is provided by the same "overlay" LCD that does the frame masking. Points illuminate only when they're active, rather than always being present, as is the case when they're engraved onto the focusing screen. The advantage of the LCD-based approach is that there's nothing to obscure your view of the subject when the points aren't lit up. (A definite consideration with such a large number of AF points.) Initially, the AF point illumination was a little subtle, hard to see in a bright setting with large-aperture lenses. The camera's first firmware upgrade fixed that issue though, by providing a setting to adjust AF point brightness. The result was a big improvement in visibility over the original setting.

 

Viewfinder Test Results

Coverage
Excellent accuracy with both the optical viewfinder and LCD monitor's Live View mode.

105mm, Optical 105mm, Live View LCD

The Nikon D3's optical viewfinder and Live View LCD mode proved extremely accurate, with essentially 100% coverage when measured with our Nikkor 105mm f/2.8 macro test lens. The coverage in Live View mode is also 100%. Excellent performance.

 

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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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