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Thoughts on the new Nikon D3

In my Goodbye Nikon? article, I explained why switching to Canon made sense given Nikon’s slow pace of advancement, failure to produce fast prime lenses, etc. Now Nikon is finally showing some signs of life, announcing a new flagship D3 and lower-end D300. Will I be writing a “Welcome Back Nikon!” article? I don’t yet know, but it’s certainly possible, and I’ve always believed in using the best tool for the job; one does not haul dirt in a BMW M3, nor circle a racetrack in a pickup truck. Besides, I still have my Nikon lenses and flashes and accessories.

The D3 and D300 offer what promise to be spectacular LCDs (4X the resolution of Canon’s), 14-bit processing, Live View that works with autofocus, class-leading frame rates, HDMI video output (yawn), dual Compact Flash slots. The higher-resolution screen is of particular interest to me, as I find that Canon’s 230,000 pixel LCD is not entirely adequate for Live View.

But wait a minute—the D3 is “only” 12.1 megapixels, versus 21.1 megapixels for the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III! (The D3 is priced like the 10.1-megapixel Canon EOS 1D Mark III, so Canon might be in for some serious competition). The gut reaction might be unfavorable in terms of megapixels, but readers of this site know my views on this: megapixels aren’t everything. Color accuracy, dynamic range, noise, tonality all contribute to quality.

Like the similarly spec'd Canon EOS 5D, the Nikon D3 spreads those 12.1 megapixels over a full-frame sensor, making its 8.4-micron pixels nearly as large as those on medium-format backs, but quite possibly with the superior image processing borne of experience (Nikon claims 16-bit processing stored as 14-bits, which might well be the truth on some medium format backs). I expect the per-pixel image quality of the D3 to be exceptionally good, possibly the best ever seen in a digital SLR. Nikon must believe its noise-handling is outstanding, since a ground-breaking ISo 25,600 is offered.

New Nikon lenses—While the Canon 14mm f/2.8L II lens announcement was interesting, its high price and fixed focal length make it a tough sell for me. Nikon’s 14-24mm f/2.8G ED sounds far more interesting, but of course image quality at 14mm remains to be seen with both lenses, and the Canon prime is likely to outperform the Nikon zoom, perhaps by a lot. But pairing the 14-24mm f/2.8G with the new 24-70 f/2.8G ED and adding the 70-200 f/2.8 VR makes a helluva nice kit. It’s a shame that the lenses are the “G” variety though—this precludes their use (via an adapter) on Canon EOS bodies (the Nikon 28-70 f/2.8 AF-S is a favorite of mine when shooting infrared on my 5D).

Read more at robgalbraith.com and theonlinephotographer.com. Highlights include the “Tripod Mode” Live View, real-time correction of chromatic aberration, a “Virtual Horizon” function for leveling the camera and dual Compact Flash cards. The “Tripod Mode Contrast AF” feature is particularly interesting, since accurate focus is essential for such high-resolution digital cameras.

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