Saturday, September 08, 2007

Nikon Introduces First (Nearly) Full-Frame DSLR

After years of losing photographers to Canon by the droves for lack of a full-frame digital SLR, Nikon has introduced its first full-frame DSLR – sort of.

The new 12.1 megapixel D3 features a sensor chip that Nikon calls “nearly identical to the size of 35mm film.” That works out to 23.9 mm by 36mm, or just one-tenth of one millimeter short of the standard 24mm by 36mm.

Why in the world they could not have squeezed out the extra tenth of a millimeter is beyond us. There’s been talk that the diameter of the F-mount isn’t large enough to build a lens that would fully cover 24x36 with the need of digital pixels for a perpendicular light ray. But couldn’t they have just made a 24x36 chip and if there was falloff in the last tenth of a millimeter just let falloff fall where it may, so to speak? Or why not just round off the dimensions and wait until someone came along and measured it?

There’s another huge disappointment that would be laughable if not so pitiful – when DX format lenses are used, the D3 reverts to being a 5.1 megapixel camera. Hard to believe but true. See below for details.

Ordinarily, the announcement of a full-frame Nikon DSLR – even sort of full-frame – would have been the hot news in professional photography. But introduction of the D3 came just days after Canon rolled out the new EOS-1Ds Mark III, and the comparison clearly left Nikon in the dust.

Why? Nikon may have brought out its first full-frame DSLR. But Canon has been making full-frame models for years. Nikon’s new model may have been full frame. But it is only 12.1 megapixels. That failed to match even Canon’s previous EOS-1Ds Mark II at 16.7 megapixels. And the new Canon boasts 21.1 megapixels – nearly twice Nikon’s new flagship model.

Dedicated Nikon fans may welcome the D3 as finally offering them a full-frame camera and taking them out of the position of being forced to consider a switch to Canon if they need extreme wide-angle capabilities. But photographers without a previous commitment to Nikon glass who are considering which brand to choose may right it off as too little too late.

The D3’s one big advantage over the Mark III is its price -- $5,000 vs. $8,000. That’s still not cheap, but certainly a substantial savings and probably enough to keep those with an investment in Nikkors in the Nikon camp.

Twelve megapixels vs. 21? It depends on what you shoot and your end market. News photographers need extreme wide angle capability for situations where they are in close quarters. But for photos that are going to go through a halftone screen and end up on newsprint, anything more than six megapixels is a waste. But landscape photographers also like extreme wide angle and often want to sell large prints where they need every megapixel. Wedding and portrait photographers may be seeking maximum megapixels so they can sell wall portraits. And other photographers want a full frame chip just so they don’t have to do the mental math to think that their trusty 80-200 has become a 120-300 and what is that going to do to depth of field, perspective and backgrounds.

With all that said, here’s the scoop on the D3.

Nikon calls the 23.9x36mm CMOS chip the FX format, and it can capture images at nine fps. With that speed, Nikon says the D3 has the fastest startup time, shortest viewfinder blackout time, and shortest shutter lag of any digital SLR camera, making it “the world’s fastest digital SLR camera in its class.” It also incorporates Nikon’s new EXPEED Image Processing System.

Nikon says images made with the D3 reflect exceptional overall quality, broad tonal range and depth and extremely low noise throughout its normal ISO range of 200 to 6400. The camera can also be set to options of Lo-1 or Hi-2 for the equivalent of ISO 100 or ISO 25,600 respectively – but why not just mark them as such?

The D3 also features a new 51-point auto focus system with Nikon’s 3D Focus Tracking feature and two new LiveView shooting modes that allow photographers to frame a photograph using the LCD monitor. The D3 uses a Scene Recognition System to greatly enhance the accuracy of auto focus, auto exposure and auto white balance detection by recognizing the subject or scene being photographed and applying the information to the calculations for the three functions.

“Nikon is proud and excited to once again respond to the needs of professional photographers by introducing the D3,” Nikon SLR Systems Products Marketing General Manager Edward Fasano said. “Nikon engineers have successfully combined ultra high-speed shooting capabilities and handling with outstanding low-noise image quality, offering professional photographers an ideal tool for a broad range of shooting disciplines.”

“Sports, commercial and press photographers are increasingly demanding higher ISO sensitivity, better resolution, wider dynamic range and a familiar depth-of-field in relation to picture angles,” Fasano said. “With the D3, Nikon is excited to deliver a solution that represents an ideal unification of unsurpassed image quality, high-speed operation and professional durability, without compromise. Nikon fully expects the D3 to positively affect the photographic community in a way that hasn’t been seen since the introduction of the Nikon D1.”

Nikon says its DX-format cameras – with a 1.5 digital crop factor – have been widely accepted by professional photographers and photo enthusiasts but that there is an increasing demand among professionals for a full-frame digital Nikon with the same relationship between picture angle and depth-of-field of the 35mm film format.

Introducing a full-frame camera raises the question of what photographers are supposed to do with the DX-format lenses Nikon has been selling – lenses that are designed for smaller chips and won’t cover a full 24x36mm frame. Nikon says the D3 will deliver full-frame 12.1 megapixel images when used with conventional full-frame lenses, and will automatically switch to the DX format when using DX lenses.

But here’s the next big kicker: rather than delivering a 12, 10, 8 or even 6-megapixel image from DX lenses like Nikon DSLRs going back to the D100, the D3 will crop into its sensor and produce only a 5.1 megapixel image when used with DX lenses. The viewfinder will be automatically masked to show the appropriate area included in the frame.

That’s right – when used with DX lenses, this is a 5.1 megapixel camera selling for $5,000!!! Canon executives and fans must be howling with laughter.

Going to 5.1 megapixels does let D3 shoot at 11 fps, but the uses for a frame rate that high are few.

Nikon’s explanation: “Both Nikon FX and DX-formats provide their own advantages, and Nikon recognizes that both formats are necessary in order to satisfy its diverse customer demands. Based on this recognition, Nikon will strengthen its D-SLR lineup with the addition of the D3 FX-format SLR camera and a broadened assortment of Nikkor interchangeable lenses, while continuing to develop and market high-performance DX-format cameras and lenses.”

Scene Recognition
Nikon’s Scene Recognition System advances the use of Nikon’s 1,005-segment sensor to recognize colors and light patterns that help the camera determine the subject and the type of scene being photographed to improve the accuracy of auto focus, auto exposure and auto white balance. For example, the camera can track moving subjects better in all directions and by identifying them it can also automatically select focus points faster and with greater accuracy. It can also analyze scene highlights and more accurately determine exposure, as well as infer light sources to deliver more accurate white balance.

The D3 incorporates Nikon’s new Multi-CAM 3500FX auto focus module that features an intelligent array of 15 cross-type sensors and 36 horizontal sensors. The sensors can either be used individually or in groups, with the option for Single Area AF mode and Dynamic AF modes using groups of either 9, 21 or all 51 focus points. The system also features 3D Focus Tracking with automatic focus point switching that takes advantage of all 51 AF points as it uses color and light information to accurately track the subject. Nikon's new Scene Recognition System and improved focus algorithms also contribute to the performance of the AF system.

Nikon's new Picture Control System makes it easy for users of all experience levels to select and apply adjustments to how their pictures are rendered and create optimized settings to suit their individual preferences. The same settings produce consistent picture tone, even when using different camera bodies. The Picture Control System offers four basic setting options – Standard, Neutral, Vivid and Monochrome. These can be directly modified for easy adjustment and customization of image parameters, such as sharpening, tone compensation, brightness and saturation. Photographers can customize and store up to nine customized options in the D3 and export up to 99 to a CF memory card, enabling photographers to share settings among multiple D3 cameras.

Taking a cue from the popularity of Nikon’s D-Lighting technology, the D3 features a new Active D-Lighting mode that, when enabled, provides real-time highlight and shadow correction with optimized image contrast. Active D-Lighting produces broader tone reproduction in both shadows and highlights by controlling highlights and exposure compensation while applying localized tone control technology to achieve a more pleasing level of contrast across the entire image. And because the advantages of Active D-Lighting are applied as images are captured, image editing time can be shortened.

The D3’s LiveView feature offers two modes for confirming subjects and composition on the new 920,000-dot, high-resolution 3-inch LCD monitor while shooting. The Tripod mode is designed for precise focus and accuracy when the camera is on a stable platform and the subject is not moving. In this mode, the camera focuses on the subject using focal-plane contrast and any point on the LCD screen can be selected as the focus point for the picture. The second mode, called Handheld mode, allows photographers to use the camera’s conventional TTL focusing system, with all 51-points and 15 cross-type points available. When using this mode, the camera activates focusing immediately when the shutter button is pressed, to ensure accurate focus.

Nikon says the D3 has the fastest reaction times of any camera in its class. Its shutter release time lag is only 37 milliseconds, and its start-up time is approximately 0.12 seconds. It is capable of continuously shooting approximately nine frames per second in full resolution with FX-format, up to 64 consecutive frames in JPEG, Normal compression. For NEF (RAW) files, the D3 can shoot up to 20 or up to 17 consecutive frames depending on whether it is set to 12-bit or 14-bit images. When using a DX-format lens, the camera automatically switches to DX-format mode, adjusting the resolution of the camera to 5.1 megapixels. In the DX-format mode, photographers also have the opportunity to increase the speed at which the camera can take pictures by limiting the auto exposure and going up to 10 frames per second or limiting both auto exposure and auto focus and going up to 11 frames per second.

The camera’s viewfinder provides virtually 100 percent coverage for accurate framing, while the VGA LCD has a viewing angle of 170 degrees to help with the LiveView mode. The D3 also features a Virtual Horizon digital level sensor that indicates the camera’s alignment relative to the true horizon on the rear LCD screen or in the viewfinder. This is a feature we like and haven’t heard of elsewhere.

The D3 also features two Compact Flash card slots that can be used for consecutive recording (overflow), simultaneous recording (backup), separating recording of RAW and JPEG files or copying pictures between the two cards. Images can be displayed directly from the camera to a high-definition monitor using the camera’s HDMI port and an optional cable.
The exterior of the D3 is crafted of magnesium alloy and the camera’s shutter mechanism is tested to 300,000-cycle releases. The three-inch LCD is strengthened with tempered glass and the D3’s comprehensive array of rubber gaskets and seals protect vulnerable entry points from dust and moisture.

Nikon says the D3 will be available in November at a street price of $4,999.95.

Copyright 2007


At 5:33 AM, Blogger david said...

Sorry, i posted this message to the incorrect thread previously. It actually belongs here...

Some of your statements is unfare and you are not comparing apples with apples;

- Shooting 5 fps cannot be compared with 9 fps
- As a wedding photographer, 12MB has always been excellent. If i have to choose between 21B picture and 6400ISO, i will handsdown choose the low ISO. Im sure that 21MB images will be great for studio or nature photography, but it is not at the top 5 list of requirements for me...
- 5.1 mb images on DX lenses versus no compatibility for non full frame lenses at all? My friend who bought a 1D3 did no laught when he realized he could no use his non full frame lenses on his $5000 camera. I felt really sorry for him, if only it was not so 'laughable' (your words). At least i can still use my DX lenses
- Awsome color base AF, versus cameras which have problems focussing? They say it has been fixed. I have not seen many posts of people raving about their fix 1d3's....

At 5:41 AM, Blogger david said...

Also want to add... D3 = Nearly full frame... 23.9 x 36mm

Do you realize that the 'full frame' Canon 5D is based on your words even less of full frame. It is "23.9 x 35.8mm", and no one is complaining about it not being full frame or being 'nearly' full frame...

0.01mm to have compatibility, even whilst only providing 5.4MB images is much much better than a camera with NO backwards compatibility for non full full frame lenses...


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