For years, Nikon users had been asking their favoured camera maker for a dSLR with a full-frame sensor (the same size as a 35mm frame of film). Finally, Nikon caved, delivering the 12-megapixel D3, which is selling for around £2,900 for the body only. The result is a camera that reaches new heights in imaging with extremely low noise at astronomical ISO sensitivities, while maintaining the pro-level control and body design Nikonians have come to expect in the company's flagship cameras.
Interestingly, Nikon seems to pit its flagship model against Canon's 10-megapixel , with its APS-H size sensor, rather than the 21-megapixel, full-frame . That makes sense on some level, though, since the 1D Mark III and the D3 are really all-around cameras that combine the burst speed to handle the demands of sports shooters with ruggedness and image quality that should appeal to news photographers and many others. It's available through a number of retailers in bundles with various different lenses.
Camera body design is an exercise in slow evolution -- rightfully so, as current designs are the end products of decades of research going back to the good old film days. The D3 is nearly identical to the it replaces. The grip is wonderfully sculpted, arching back toward the top, and with a recessed groove on the inside so your fingers wrap around it rather than giving the impression that you're gripping a bar, as we sometimes feel when holding the 1Ds Mark III.
The weather-sealed magnesium alloy body includes a built-in vertical grip, and like most bodies that do, it's heavy -- about 1.5 kilos, before adding a lens. Your arms might ache at first if you shoot for long periods of time and aren't used to a camera this heavy, but over time you'll get used to it, and we find that heavier cameras are more stable when shooting handheld (as opposed to on a tripod).
The vertical grip is good to have if you shoot verticals often, but while Nikon does include duplicate front and back scroll wheels and an AF-On button, we did find ourselves wishing Nikon had also included a duplicate exposure compensation button as well. Custom functions can help you overcome this, though, if you're willing to dig in to the menus and customise it to your shooting style.
All major controls can be changed through buttons or dials on the camera body, so you shouldn't have to dig through menus while you're shooting. Any buttons that might be accidentally pressed or dials susceptible to inadvertent turning have some sort of locking mechanism to prevent this. There are plenty of options to customise the controls to your needs, and you can even change the direction of the two main wheels used to change shutter speed and aperture, as well as the direction of the exposure compensation EV display.
In the case of the exposure compensation, it defaults so that positive exposure compensation moves to the left while negative moves to the right. This only makes sense if you think about the fact that slower shutter speeds let you achieve positive exposure compensation, but in our world, positive adjustments should move to the right.
Some of the current settings are displayed on the LCD screen next to the shutter atop the camera, while others, such as ISO sensitivity and white balance, are shown on a smaller LCD below the 76mm (3-inch) colour screen on the camera back. All important info is also displayed in the large, bright viewfinder, which was an absolute pleasure to use when focusing manually, especially compared with lower-end dSLRs whose viewfinders tend to give a tunnel vision effect. If you're searching for reasons to step up to a pro-level SLR, a finder like this one should be high on the list.
Without a doubt, the feature that Nikon shooters have been looking for is this camera's full-frame sensor. Nikon calls this the FX format, in contrast to the 1.5x field-of-view crop offered by its DX-format cameras. Lenses are labeled the same way and if you should choose to mount a DX lens on the D3 (something you can't do with Canon's sub-full-frame EF-S lenses on that company's 1D or 1Ds cameras), this Nikon can automatically adjust for the smaller circle of light shining onto the sensor and crop the image to 5 megapixels. You can, of course, override this and end up with a 12-megapixel photo with black edges and a circular image in the middle.