The Nikon D3x was launched in December 2008 as a higher resolution update of the already successful D3, launched the previous year. It replaces the D3’s full-frame 12.1-megapixel FX format CMOS sensor with a 24.5-megapixel version, doubling the maximum resolution at the cost of reduced maximum frame rate (5.5fps instead of 9fps). Nikon has done this with its previous “single digit” DSLRs; launching two versions, one high-speed model for sports, news and action photographers and second higher resolution model for studio and landscape photographers.
In describing the D3x it’s difficult to avoid talking in superlatives. The first and most obvious impression is the sheer size of the thing; it’s enormous even by the standard of other full-frame DSLRs. It measures 159.5 x 157 x 87.5 mm, wider, thicker and over 4cm taller than the EOS 5D MkII. It’s also extremely heavy; the camera body weighs 1,220g, and that’s not including the huge 2,500mAh Li-ion battery which weighs 180g on its own, more than most compact cameras. Add the 24-70mm f/2.8 ED lens shown here (900g) and the whole kit weighs 2.3kg, or a fraction over five pounds, which is a lot to have hanging round your neck all day. I tried it and it gave me backache.
The enormous weight is due mainly to the tank-like build quality of the body. I’ve seen one of these things stripped down to just the bodyshell, and it’s a virtually solid lump of magnesium alloy. All the hatches and buttons have rubber environment seals to keep out dust and moisture, and the lower half of the body has a thick rubber coating that makes it easier to grip as well as providing some degree of impact protection. The pull-out battery module and the card slot have locking latches, and all the controls feel solid and durable.
Despite its size and weight the D3x is actually quite pleasant and easy to handle. The weight provides a very stable shooting platform, helping to reduce camera shake even when not using VR lenses, and the body shape includes a built-in vertical grip with a second shutter button, AF button and pair of adjustment wheels. The layout of the controls, while complex, is actually quite logical and easy to use. The controls are clearly labelled and operate smoothly, and while you wouldn’t want to use it for anything crucial without a thorough read of the manual, it looks a lot more daunting than it actually is.
The external hardware of the camera is exceptional. The viewfinder is superb, very large and bright on a par with that of the excellent Sony Alpha A900, and the LCD monitor is also of exceptionally high quality. It has a diagonal size of three inches, a resolution of 920K dots and a viewing angle of 170 degrees. As well as the main screen the D3x also has two LCD data displays, one on the top panel for main shooting data and another smaller display just below the monitor for ISO, white balance and image quality settings. Both are back lit with a pleasant tritium-green colour.