Last update (Jun 10, 2009): Image quality compared with the 5D2 and 1Ds3.
This post is a compilation of annotated links and summaries of Nikon D3X professional and user reviews, opinions, tests, feedback, ratings and conclusions.
Full attribution is given by linking to the source.
I recently started shooting the 5D Mark II again (for my review with the 24/1.4L II), and I’m amazed at how much I dislike its image quality now— it’s just not in the same league as the D3x ( I noted this way back in January). Simply put, 5DM2 images look muddy and struggle to look real, lacking the depth and clarity that the D3x offers; they just don‘t come together, looking like digital images, not the real thing.
Gavin Stoker, the reviewer, has the following conclusion for the D3:
If, clearly, your advertising or fashion work means that you regularly don’t get out of bed for less than £10k, then a body-only D3x is still going to seem like a veritable bargain even at full £6,000 asking price. As it is when compared to a medium format camera/ digital back set up which you would have formerly needed to achieve such a high pixel count. Moreover, for such a high end camera the D3x is surprisingly intuitive to use, controls feels just right, are clearly marked, reasonably sized and the camera responds instantly to each button press or rotation of command dial.
Nikon D3X summary and conclusion at Luminous Landscape
LL wrote a thought-provoking conclusion about the pricing on the Nikon D3X, and whether big-bodied digital SLR cameras, which includes the Canon 1Ds Mark III, have a future in the face of low-priced, full-frame, high-resolution cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark II and Sony A900.
Some of my favorite sections from the article:
I am convinced that by just about any measure (except price) this is the most outstanding 35mm format DSLR yet. Build quality, image quality – you name it. No, it’s not the fastest shooting, and no it doesn’t have cleanest high ISO capability of any Nikon – its sister the D3 wears that crown. But other than with these specialized capabilities there’s hardly a camera on the market that can touch the Nikon D3x in overall goodness – except when it comes to price.
What we’re left with then is a superb camera that will appeal to the dedicated Nikon user who has been patiently waiting for Nikon to reemerge to its well-earned place as a leader in imaging technology. For them, as long as they can afford the price of admission, the D3x is an almost total winner.
Thom Hogan is increasingly impressed with the results from the D3X
In this forum post, Thom replied to a statement that the D3X uses a mediocre Sony-made sensor:
Not in my estimation. The more I shoot with the D3x, the more I’m impressed by the final results, which is really what counts.
The D3X vs Sony A900 at higher ISO values
According to Michael Reichmann’s Antartica 2009 report, an industry-leading authority on RAW processing who followed along on the trip verbally confirmed the DxOMark database results, that “the D3x has a one stop advantage at higher ISOs over the A900“.
The two D3X cameras also “performed flawlessly, and image quality is superb”.
Lloyd L Chambers has generously produced a free report on the image quality of the D3X, this time, finding that the Nikon D3X breaks new ground in pushing the blacks, and focusing on the fact that:
… images from the D3x seemed exceptionally well “anchored”, with dark tones looking pure, matching real life better than I’d ever seen with a DSLR.
The D3x is unequivocally top of the DSLR heap for image quality in the ISO 50-400 range as of January 2009, and not just due to noise/dynamic range.
In comparing imaging noise of the D3X vs Canon’s flagship cameras, Lloyd remarks:
Noise is often poorly understood as only a quantity when in fact its character is equally, if not more important; the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 1Ds Mark III exhibit visible streaking and grid noise in dark areas at low ISOs, but the D3x does not …
In a related blog post, Lloyd further says:
… one reason the D3x images look so good: an exceptionally clean signal path producing near-black areas with minimal noise, resulting in an unprecedented (for a DSLR) ~13 stops of dynamic range, 1.7 stops more than the Canon 5D Mark II.
Full-sized comparison photos by Michael Sengers
This should be useful to those who want to compare “real-life”, “landscape-style” image output from the Nikon D3X vs Nikon D3.
Lens used was the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S.
These JPEG Large Fine images are straight from the camera, with the following settings:
- ISO 200
- Shutter speed: 1/100 sec
- Aperture: f/5.6
- Automatic WB (white balance)
Here’s a set of 100% crops of roughly the same area from both photos:
A quick comparison of image quality: Nikon D3X vs Canon 5D Mark II at ISO 6400
You’ll find this comparison near the end of Imaging Resource’s Canon 5D Mark II review.
A set of 100% crops are presented, and it is clear that the output from the D3X shows markedly better color, detail and saturation. The review says:
Now you have to ask yourself how the Nikon D3x could possibly use the same sensor design as the A900, when it outperforms even the Canon 5D Mark II at its highest ISO setting. Those who have been belly-aching about the D3x’s $8,000 price point should pipe down. Still, the 5D Mark II does compare well considering its $2,700 price and video capability. And though it seems clear that the D3x’s 24.5-megapixel sensor could go to higher ISO settings, the Canon 5D Mark II can go two stops higher and still capture reasonable detail in low light.
Note that as of January 21st, 2009, the 5D Mark II isn’t priced at $2,700, but $3,699.99 USD.
The D3X posted impressive DxOMark image quality scores according to this press release:
The D3x takes the lead on the DxOMark Sensor scale with a 6-point gain above all other camera bodies currently evaluated on the dxomark.com Web site.
With such performance, the Nikon D3x is the first camera which actually achieves more than 12-bit depth of effective image information and thus is able to take full advantage of its 14-bit Analog/Digital (A/D) converter.
Check out the numbers at the Nikon D3X Image Quality Database.
D3X user impression by Dan Wells
Read Dan’s forum post to get the details, where he not only shares his opinion comparing the D3X with the Canon 1Ds Mark II, but says:
There is absolutely no noise in an ISO 100 D3x file, even at 100%, which adds to the impression of sharpness — very slight shadow noise in the Canon files adds a slight haze to dark ones — that is simply not there in a D3x file.
D3X review snippets by Lloyd L Chambers
To read the full review on the D3X, subscribe to the diglloyd’s Advanced Photography (DAP) series. The following is a list of the more interesting blog posts on the D3X:
- Nikon D3x and Zeiss ZF 100mm f/2 Makro Planar: Shooting a resolution chart with the Zeiss 100mm lens, Lloyd says:
Without a doubt, it offers the highest resolving power I’ve yet seen in a DSLR.
- Nikon D3x resolution vs Canon 1Ds Mark III and D3: In this entry that pits the D3X against the Nikon D3 and Canon 1Ds Mark III, Lloyd says:
There’s no doubt that the D3 is the new king of the resolution hill, and truly it’s impressive.
- Gut feeling on D3x: Lloyd reports:
What I’m seeing is very impressive image quality, looking as unprocessed and natural as I’ve yet seen in a digital SLR.
He’s also stated that the images from the Sony A900 are not in the same class.
- The worst Nikon feature — software: Lloyd doesn’t like the slow performance on Nikon Capture NX 2 when processing files from the D3X.
- Setting sun: Lloyd says of the ISO 800 image:
Noise there is, and quite a bit in the sky too, but the way the D3x handles noise deep into the blacks shows an exceptionally clean signal path, unrivaled in my DSLR experience.
... and ... <blockquote>It is a stunningly capable camera, Nikon’s very best effort yet.</blockquote></li> <li><a href="http://www.diglloyd.com/diglloyd/2008-12-blog.html#_20081230AtTheZoo">At the Zoo with the 200 f/2 (and Nikon D3x)</a>: Lloyd has this to say about using the <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00065QRI8/?tag=dpnotes-20">Nikon 200mm f/2G VR lens</a> on the D3X: <blockquote>Shoot it wide open, and when you nail the focus, you are rewarded with heretofore unachievable results for wildlife.</blockquote></li> <li><a href="http://www.diglloyd.com/diglloyd/2009-01-blog.html#_20090102NikonD3x">Nikon D3x at 97.5 megapixels</a>: Lloyd tries upsizing a D3X file to 12096 X 8064 pixels using <a href="http://www.iridientdigital.com/products/rawdeveloper.html">RAW Developer</a>, and says: <blockquote>You don’t need “faith” with the Nikon D3x: it’s offers the finest image quality in a DSLR the world has yet seen.</blockquote> Another upsizing exercise was done using <a href="http://www.benvista.com/">Photozoom Pro</a>, which Lloyd details <a href="http://www.diglloyd.com/diglloyd/2009-01-blog.html#_20090103NikonD3xPhotoZoomPro">here</a>.</li> <li><a href="http://www.diglloyd.com/diglloyd/2009-01-blog.html#_20090104NikonD3xNoiseAndColor">Nikon D3x noise and color vs D3</a>: An ISO 1600 crop from a D3X file downsampled to D3 dimensions show absolutely no noise. Lloiyd went as far as saying: <blockquote>n fact, I have zero desire to shoot my Canon 1Ds Mark III any more. None at all. It’s not about resolution: it’s about stunning image quality.</blockquote></li> <li><a href="http://www.diglloyd.com/diglloyd/2009-01-blog.html#_20090109NikonD3x">Nikon D3 vs Nikon D3x resolution</a>: A set of convincing crops showcase the desirability of the higher resolution of the D3X.</li>
User impression by Moose Peterson
Moose finds the firing rate of the D3X much to slow for his liking, but really likes the “freakin stunning” images from it.
User impression by Joe McNally
Joe seems to absolutely love the files from the D3X, and says:
The detail of the D3X for me, obviates the need for a medium format approach to just about anything I would tackle.
… and …
For the cover job, the job needing excruciating detail, the set of pictures that needs to leap off the page, this camera will be an astounding tool.
Here’s the Amazon equivalent for the equipment that Joe mentioned in his review (Joe linked to Adorama):
- Nikon SB-800 AF Speedlight Flash for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras
- Lowel Omni Light, Standard Multi-voltage Focusing Quartz Light, 12v, 30v, 120v, 220/240v; 100-500w
- Lexar Media Professional Series UDMA 8GB Compact Flash 300x
- Lastolite LL LS2471L 24-Inch Ezybox Hotshoe
- Nikon SB-900 AF Speedlight Flash for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras
- HonlPhoto 1/8” Honeycomb Speed Grid for Shoe Mount Portable Flashes
Here’s a summary:
- Indicative file sizes:
- NEF FX (14-Bit): 50MB
- NEF FX (12-Bit): 37MB
- JPEG FX Large Fine: 10MB
- NEF DX (14-Bit): 22MB
- NEF DX (12-Bit): 16.2MB
- Converted NEF FX to 16-Bit TIFF: 143MB
- TIFF FX (out of the camera): 72MB
- Two full-sized JPEG samples and an ISO range portrait test set (not very well-photographed) at ISO400, 640, 800, 1000, 1600 and 6400 have also been posted:
Nikon D3X ISO 50 to 3200 test photos by Jeff-C
These photos of an Oriental female model in a traditional dress are absolutely outstanding, you’ll see for yourself. Big thanks goes out to Photo Actualidad for hosting these files.
Click the thumbnails to open the full-sized image in a new browser window, or right-click and download to your hard drive. The embedded color profile is Adobe RGB, so ensure that you open the photo in a color management aware application such as Adobe Photoshop (or any photo viewing application if you are on the Mac, read this if you’re using Firefox 3 on the Mac), otherwise the image might look dull.
The ISO sensitivity for the ISO 50 image shows 1EV under 200. I think this should show as 1EV under 100 — it’s obvious that at the time of writing, Nikon ViewNX hasn’t been updated to accurately reflect the ISO value.
She’s holding the D3X with a Nikon 14-24mm lens mounted on it. The photos were taken with a Nikon 28-70mm f/2.8D lens on a D3X. White balance was pre-set, focus mode was AF-C and focal length was 70mm.
Jeff said that these were the out-of-camera JPEG photos. The camera itself was set on NEF + Large JPEG Fine, so we’ll see if Jeff is able to upload the RAW files. I have to say though, that this is quite possibly the best out-of-camera JPEG performance I’ve seen coming out of a Nikon digital SLR. There’s no hint of softness or NR (noise reduction) smearing.
Lighting conditions were terrible, Jeff said:
The lights they used seem to be the Sodium High Pressure Light type which change color and intensitity along with the AC frequency.
This kind of lighting will also result in funky colors if the shutter speed is too high, hence the skin tones in some of the photos are off.
You might want to read Google’s English translation of that blog post.
The photos were shot using a 50mm f/1.4 lens. At this point, it cannot be ascertained if the lens used is the older D model or the newer AF-S G.
The picture control used was [NL] Neutral.
The link to the candle photo might have been made in error. The title suggests that it was shot in ISO 6400, however, Nikon ViewNX reports the ISO to be 1EV under 200. I’m a bit confused why this is so, as the base ISO of the D3X should be 100, so the ISO should just show 100 instead of 1EV under 200.
Click the thumbnails to open the full-sized image in a new browser window, or right-click and download to your hard drive.
Most of the photos have Adobe RGB embedded in the color profile, and this is duly noted below the photo.
I think these high ISO samples are excellent considering how bad the lighting (or lack thereof) is.