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Nikon D3x Digital SLR review




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Maybe it's just a bloke thing, but whenever I'm out testing a new camera I'm always acutely aware that other camera users, or at least the male ones, are sizing up the gear that I'm using to determine our relative positions on the social ladder of camera status. It's particularly noticeable with DSLR users. If I'm out testing a compact camera or even a super-zoom, DSLR owners tend to give me mildly patronising looks, as though to say "You're using a tripod with that little thing? How cute."

Similarly if I'm using some new entry-level digital SLR I tend to notice sidelong glances of disparaging smugness from owners of more expensive mid-range models. Usually I pay no attention to such things; we are, after all, professionals. However today I will admit to a moment of sweet, sweet revenge against this small but personal annoyance.

I was in Sidmouth shooting my usual detail test shots of the seafront with a couple of new DSLRs. The viewpoint where I stand to take that particular shot is popular with tourists at this time of year, and as usual there were a couple of people there snapping the same view. One guy had an older Olympus super-zoom, but the other was using a Canon EOS 40D and the two of them had clearly already established their relative social positions.

The first camera I was testing was an entry-level Sony which I'll be reviewing next week, and I immediately noticed a slightly envious glance from super-zoom user and the usual annoyingly smug look from the Canon owner. I let him enjoy his illusion of superiority while I finished taking shots with the Sony. Then I put it back in my bag and pulled out the Nikon D3x.

I swear I heard a small, strangled yelp from the 40D owner as his previous status was reversed in an instant, because he knew, and he knew that I knew, that in the world of DSLR cameras the D3x is Top Dog, the alpha male of the social order, and I couldn't have injured his pride any more painfully if I'd peed in his camera bag. The D3x is simply the biggest, fastest and most expensive DSLR camera on the market, and even owners of the Canon EOS 1DS MkIII will nod their heads in respect. Although there's always the Hasselblad H3DII-50, but nobody talks to those guys.

Of course that's not the reason why someone would buy a Nikon D3x. People who buy cameras for status or because they think that owning a more expensive camera will magically make them a better photographer will usually go for the Canon EOS 5D MkII, which is still expensive but less than half the price of the D3x.

No, the only reason someone would spend £4,800 on a serious professional camera is because they are a serious professional photographer, and they need a camera that can be relied upon to take top quality pictures every time, all the time, in any situation from the backstreets of Basra to the rainforests of the Amazon. That's the job that the D3x was designed to do, and doing anything less with it would be a waste.


August 16, 2009, 3:32 am

I went to a photography degree show a few months back, and the pictures drawing the largest crowd and praise were shot using an "inferior" four thirds Olympus E-420, and the worst, a series of badly shot, cliqued still lifes was shot using.. You guessed it, a D3X..

Had a good chuckle to myself when I left in the way only camera nerds can..

Lee Marshall

August 16, 2009, 4:41 am

Having been fortunate to either own or use most high end DSLR's one question I get asked most often is "is it really worth the money?" The answer is most certainly YES! When I upgraded from a 30D to a 1D MKIIn a few years ago I couldn't believe the difference in image quality, bearing in mind they are the same resolution. I thought things may have changed over recent times until I tried a friends new 50D. The 50D was so incredibly noisy at 200 ISO ultimate IQ was not really any better than my old 30D. My advice is: if you are going to spend a chunk of money on a mid-range SLR, buy a two or three year old pro body instead. Something like a D2X, 1D MKII or a 5D. You won't regret it and it will be worth more at resale time.

Tony Walker

August 16, 2009, 8:22 am

...and don't forget to budget for good lenses too

Dark of Day

August 16, 2009, 8:28 am

Love the "defocused temporal perception" reference


August 16, 2009, 5:42 pm

It's very true about the class structure with cameras. When I'm walking around Central London, there a loads of SLR users. You can see people drooling over cameras like sports cars.


August 16, 2009, 5:59 pm

"I swear I heard a small, strangled yelp from the 40D owner as his previous status was reversed in an instant, because he knew, and he knew that I knew, that in the world of DSLR cameras the D3x is Top Dog, the alpha male of the social order, and I couldn't have injured his pride any more painfully if I'd peed in his camera bag."

Okay...This review is getting weird...

Digital Fury

August 16, 2009, 6:12 pm

Nice body but way too expensive. The D3 is much cheaper and just as good, unless you have to print billboard-size blowouts of your pictures. I'm a Canon user myself, and I got both a 5D MKII (FF + quality) and a 1D MKIII (1.3x + 10FPS) for less than the price of the D3X; lenses for these beasts cost a lot of money.

Jim 7

August 16, 2009, 9:32 pm

Unless you are a professional who knows exactly why you need such a beast, save your money and buy a D700 and a quality lens or two. The results will look exactly the same but you won't look like such a tw*t with it hanging round your neck.

Martin Daler

August 17, 2009, 1:01 am

@Digital Fury

of course as well as billboard size enlargements, you could also crop your photos more aggressively whilst remaining within an acceptable output resolution. If sensor technology develops far enough, all we would need would be one very high resolution wideangle prime lens - the zooming could all be done by cropping.

Not that I can afford a D3x...


August 17, 2009, 1:56 am

@ Martin Daler - To an extent yes, but in reality it would be both highly impractical and time consuming, especially for professionals. You also seem to be forgetting the effect focal length has on visual perspective; do a YouTube search for "dolly zoom" to see this same effect used in film, although it applies to still photography as well and is a useful compositional tool, especially where portraits are concerned.

Digital Fury

August 17, 2009, 2:29 am

@Martin Daler

I do that with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG, when I need a very fast lense setup (on my 1D MKIII) or I have to carry as little hardware as possible, but ultimately using an optical zoom is still better in my book - even with +20mpx - because of focus issues. Even if you have the pixels, the digitally zoomed images will never be as sharp as the optically zoomed ones (using a quality zoom), and besides 10mpx from a high quality sensor still packs a lot more detail than crappy compacts that most people are using. That being said, I understand that not everybody wants to carry (or buy) zooms, but at its current (gouging) price level the D3X is a rip off, as it is only a D3 with its FPS speed cut in 1/2 and fitted with a 24mpx sensor.

Dark of Day

August 17, 2009, 7:00 am

^^^can I pee in there camera bags?

Martin Daler

August 17, 2009, 3:33 pm

@ smc8788 The only thing that influences perspective is where you stand. Then you select a focal length to fill the frame from that standpoint (as demonstrated so beautifully in dollyzoom shots). Get close up with a telephoto lens and you will still get the big nosed, google eyed perspective on a portrait you get standing that close with a wideangle - you just won't get much more than the nose in the frame. Stand back from a scene with a wide angle lens and you will still get the same depth compression perspective you associate with a long telephoto - you just will have to enlarge the same far-distance area of the final shot as would be farmed by a telephoto to see the effect. And that is my point - once sensor technology and lens design reach a certain point it will become much more acceptable to rely on cropping and enlarging rather than having to lug aroung enough lenses to crop and enlarge the original scene.

Like Digital Fury says, lenses haven't got there yet, high resolution sensors still test the limits of lenses. But don't forget, it only wants to be a fixed focal, so fewer design compromises, and it could do the job of a bag full of expensive glass, so they could throw some money at it too.

Just imagine the benefits however, travel light with one pancake lens only, and let the sensor do the zooming. No dust problems, no changing lenses, no chiropractice bills, one set of filters. Put the 'S' back into SLR!


August 17, 2009, 4:10 pm

@ Cliff Smith

Excellent review and great writing! I'm not even in the market for this kind of camera, let alone the Nikon D3x, but now I want one! Ooooh!


August 17, 2009, 5:00 pm

Love the comment about the pecking order. For a Sony A300 user I know I'm just "cheap" not "poor". If people want to be pimped by a particular brand they are more than welcome to be. It is more about skill than it is about expensive equipment. It is always amusing to see people trying to look good taking items of little artistic merit to complement their own talents.


August 18, 2009, 2:12 am

@ Cliff Smith

''Although there's always the Hasselblad H3DII-50, but nobody talks to those guys.''

What do you mean by that??


August 18, 2009, 2:34 am

@krisinldn: It's what's called a joke.

Cliff Smith

August 18, 2009, 5:42 am

krisinldn - The Hasselblad H3DII-50 is a medium-format digital camera with a 50 megapixel 36×48mm sensor. It's an amazing piece of kit, but it costs around £18,000 body only. And no, before anyone asks I have no plans to review it anytime soon, even if I could convince them to lend me one.


August 18, 2009, 5:50 pm

@Martin: You're half right. Zooming into a far off image does give the same affect as using a telephoto lens. However, the idea that cameras will one day move to just a single lens is ridiculous for two reasons.

1. Quality will always be better using glass to zoom: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...

2. Having a fixed lens limits the sort of shots you can do: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...

Don't get me wrong, many pros do just walk around with a good quality semi-wide prime lens and rely on the quality of the glass and sensor to produce useable pictures when cropped. However, there will always be situations where an even wider angle is needed or the subject is simply too far away to get a decent picture when cropping.


August 22, 2009, 2:56 am

nice toy


August 25, 2009, 2:45 am

Brilliant introduction - I suspect that a number of us have been there at some time!


September 18, 2009, 8:26 pm

Nice but I'm still more than satisfied with my D700, and will nt pay the additional amount to upgrade to this for so many pounds more! 8 )


October 19, 2009, 7:18 pm

Can I afford a D3x? No, I can't but I made sure I could and bought one anyway after reseaching it in some detail. Full frame with gobsmacking resolution all within a easy to handle 35mm camera. If you want the bees knees of a 35mm pro camera go for the D3x, but just make sure you have the lenses to suit.


October 30, 2009, 4:50 pm

...does it have an Auto mode?


February 13, 2010, 11:17 am

I love this camera. I have been an avid amateur photographer for about 20 years, and I was fortunate enough to have the money to buy it and a good set of lens in June 2009.

What can I say? It is a stunning instrument, and if you are a skilled photographer, it will extend what you can realise. That said: The quality of the image is primarily the result of the man behind the gear, rather than the gear. (One of my best images, one I received an award for was shot with a Canon G4 ... go figure.)

As for the society of photographers and social ranking: There are few things that diminish one's position more than not being able to create great images with a great camera. If you have the gear, but not the skill, be prepared to be discounted completely. On the other side, if you manage to create a stunning image with a Holga, watch the less skilled who happen to own big gear skulk off like cockroaches.

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