Most importantly, all those Nikon users who were told time and again that the company would never go full frame will still be able to use the DX lenses in which they may have invested, though that comes at the cost of a good pixel count.
Following suit with the latest SLR trends, the D3 offers a pair of live view modes -- one for handheld and one for tripod use -- which let you frame your images on the LCD. Like most live view implementations, there's a substantial delay when focusing or shooting an image, since the camera has to flip the mirror up to provide the live feed, then flip it down to focus, then flip it up again during image capture. Sony's provides a much nicer experience, though you won't find it on a camera of this caliber. It may, however, hit the higher end of the midrange in a by the end of this year, or early next.
The other big upgrade on the D3 is its LCD screen. Nikon has stepped up to a 76mm (3-inch) LCD with 920,000 dots and a 170-degree viewing angle. There has been a lot of debate around the 920,000-dot specification as compared with the pixel spec we usually see in camera specs. We could go around and around on this, but suffice to say, the D3 has one of the best LCD screens we've seen on a dSLR so far.
Image playback is good, but as with any dSLR, you really shouldn't trust the LCD playback too much for checking image quality in the field. You should always check the histogram if you want to verify exposure (make sure it's not bunched up too much to the right or left) and run home to a calibrated monitor if you want a really accurate rendering of your images' colour.
As it should, given the price tag, the Nikon D3 performed quite well in . It took 0.1 second to start up and capture its first JPEG. After that, it took 0.3 seconds between JPEGs and raw images. Shutter lag measured a very impressive 0.3 seconds in our high-contrast test and 0.6 seconds in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively.
Noise remains well under control through ISO 1,600, and begins to creep up a bit at ISO 3,200 and ISO 6,400. As usual, Nikon includes its Hi1 (12,800) and Hi2 (25,600) settings and you even get third-stop steps up to Hi1, but you have to take a full-stop leap up to Hi2. Hi1 has obvious noise, but depending on the situation, you may be able to eke out some very usable prints, especially at smaller sizes. Hi2 gets rough around the edges, but is still surprisingly decent considering you're shooting at an equivalent of ISO 25,600 at that point, something you just couldn't do with 35mm film. Sorry diehards: your celluloid just can't keep up with digital anymore.
In continuous shooting mode, we were able to capture 37 frames in 3.3 seconds for an average of 8.6 frames per second at full resolution. That's quite impressive and near, but not better than the Canon EOS-1D Mark III's 9.9-frame-per-second burst in our lab. Of course, the D3 does have 2 million extra pixels to process compared with the 1D Mark III. If you're willing to step down to 5 megapixels, Nikon says that the D3 can achieve 11fps in DX crop mode (we only test at full resolution).
The D3's 51-point autofocus with 15 cross-type sensors delivers a major upgrade over the D2Xs's 11-point AF system. It's the same system found in the and the recently announced . Just like those cameras, the 1,005-point 3D colour matrix metering system works with the AF system to create the camera's 3D-tracking mode, meaning that it has the same quirkiness described in the review of the D300. That means the when you're shooting a subject with colours that contrast substantially with the background colours and will remain in the frame while you shoot it, you should use the D3's 3D tracking mode.
If you're shooting something that will move into the frame while you're shooting, then you should opt for the 51-point (or 21-point or 9-point) dynamic AF without 3D. For example, if you're shooting a bird perched on a post and waiting for it to take off so you can get it in action, then you should probably use 3D tracking. If you're framing around a goal and waiting for the player to run into frame and make the winning strike, you should use one of the non-3D modes.