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Outback Photo Handbook: Cameras

Nikon D3 Review Diary

review by Uwe Steinmueller

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Diary Index

Note on image processing:

As usual we work only with raw files.

We mainly use ACR 4.3.1/Lightroom 1.3.1 for the Nikon D3.

Why not Capture NX? We find Capture NX on our Mac too slow for our type of workflow. We know that Capture NX can deliver excellent image quality but it stresses our patience :-).

All images are also treated with our new DOP Detail Extractor and sharpened using EasyS Plus Sharpening Toolkit (sharpening in Lightroom is set to a very low level: Amount 60, Radius 0.5, Detail 0, Masking 0).


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1/23/2008 New Portfolio: San Francisco Industrial

This portfolio features shots with the Nikon D3 (and Canon 1Ds Mark III).

1/14/2008 Nikon D3 Gallery #1

Our first gallery shows pictures taken at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk (was great fun).

We photograph always using our own "Capture more Light" technique. This means taking 3 or 5 bracketed pictures at the highest speed of the camera. The D3 can produce about 9 frames per second.

Nikon D3 Gallery #1

Now all our images get some treatment of our new Detail Extractor Photoshop script. Yes we plug our tools (supports DOP) but we created it for our own work in the first place.

1/11/2008 Diary Start

This is the first Nikon full frame (FF) digital SLR. The camera is designed more to have low ISO noise than ultimate resolution (actually 12MP is more than many need unless they print really big). The resolution is virtually identical to the Nikon D2x and D300.

  • 12MP FF CMOS
  • Fast frame rate (9 fps at full size)
  • New auto focus module
  • Live view (not sure yet we will use it much)

We use the D3 with the Nikon top zooms: 24-70mm f/2.8 and14-24mm f/2.8. We own ourselves the AFS 28-70mm f/2.8, AFS 17-35mm f/2.8 and AFS 70-200mm f/2.8 VR.

This review will first concentrate on the high ISO qualities of the D3. This is where this camera can make a difference if it is up the praise it gets on the net. We liked the D2x quite a bit but limited ourselves to about ISO 400.

Los Gatos test shots


Ristorante @ISO 200

Crop @100% magnification

We used for this test the new 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom. We think the image quality is as good as expected.

You can download the original RAW from here (>14MB).

Note: Remember that the service we provide is financed by selling our ebooks and PS tools. Also direct donations are welcome.

Antique store @ ISO 400

@ 100% magnification

Excellent shot for ISO 400 (hardly any noise at all).


ISO Test

Note: We now show both the only sharpened version (left) and the version also using the Detail Extractor. As expected the Detail Extractor pulls out much more noise but also show way more texture. Above ISO 3200 we would always use the Detail Extractor with care at very low levels.

We keep both representations because:

  • Left images show normal noise characteristics
  • Right images show at which ISO levels the noise hides fine detail

Bear Coffee Shop

Nikon D3
ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800

ISO 25600


All these shots are with luminance noise removal off in camera (as much as the user can control this) and raw converter (color noise removal was at default). ISO 200 - 400 very smooth with virtually no noise. ISO 800 shows a bit of noise, ISO 1600 shows still very manageable noise . ISO 3200 can be useful at times and even ISO 6400 may sometimes save your day. ISO 12800 and 25600 should be avoided unless it is the only way to get an important shot.

Note: Because we use now also the DOP Detail Extractor (at moderate levels) noise actually would be even more visible than in the past.

With most cameras today we feel that ISO 100-400 defines our comfort zone. This means we use this range without any further thought. We have the feeling that with the D3 our comfort zone is easily IS0 200-800 (maybe even 1000). One f-stop more is very important to us because we shoot often freehand using our "High Speed Bracketing" technique.

Note about high ISO noise: Many people ask why they should worry about noise at ISO 800 or more if they only use 400 ISO at max. This is of course a good question. In the past we did not care either. Then we changed our photographic style and make now often use of Tonemapping (learn more about HDR and Tonemapping). During this process we brighten the shadows and this brings out the noise otherwise seen at way higher ISO. It often starts to matter at even ISO 200 photos.

Note about frame rate: We hardly photograph action and still we find the high frame rate very important. Why? We shoot high speed exposure brackets freehand. Please read this article for our motivation behind high speed brackets. We find that the Nikon D3 works for our new technique just perfect.

First conclusions

  • The Nikon D3 is a very solid and extremely responsive camera
  • Image quality is excellent
  • The D3 seems to deliver at high ISO (of course we need now to get more experience with real world photos)
  • The LCD is very good (like with the D300)
  • We like the dual CF card slots

We think we are again at a good start. Now we will start using the D3 for real world photos.

Minor Issues:

  • With our AFS 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens the auto focus wants to have good edges to lock in. Not a problem for our work because we tend to shoot more static objects.
  • Why can't I activate a grid in the viewfinder like with the D300?

Wish list:

  • Dust removal like in the D300. Not sure why it did not make it into this camera.


Other Reviews

  • Bjørn Rørslett's D3 review (we trust his reviews since about 2000. Bjørn is also an excellent photographer which makes his reviews more realistic).

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Nikon D300
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