Living with the fabulous Nikon D3X – 3 Months later – Peter Gregg

Having the D3X in hand for 3 months now, I think a mid-term report would be interesting to a lot of readers. The price of this camera has been a hot debate for a while now. I have read such a wide variety of opinions on the pricing of the camera and a lot of it surprises me. The only person that I have a little bit of agreement with that is on public record with his opinions is Thom Hogan. Most of the others, a lot of them big names, are making little sense and surprise me with their thoughts.

A lot more words after the jump.

Some of the biggest surprises are from well meaning guys who are not keeping an even opinion across the board, but one minute are praising medium format cameras that they wish would do so much more, and then give a “hit” to the D3X that accomplishes what they wished for. Can anyone spell “agenda”. Or is it simply age creeping in :) Thom Hogan on the other hand raises some very good points from a service point of view that Nikon should take notice of. I don’t agree with his pricing points of view though.

Well, I put up the money, bought my own camera for the public price of the D3X and have shot many a real live job with it. After having the camera in service (meaning professional service) where it has to put up or shut up, I can say this camera is worth every penny I spent and could even have come out at $10,000 and still have been a bargain.

(Greek Orthodox Easter Good Friday at 9:30pm night time ISO 6400)

I realize lots of folks want this camera at a lower price and like little birds waiting for momma to come feed them with D3X cameras at $5000 into their waiting open mouths were disappointed when that didn’t happen. I can’t say that I blame them, and i can’t say that I wish the camera was a lower price either. But that cannot stain the actual value that the camera really is. It is putting out impressive files, at ALL ISO levels. And in print, it crosses over into the “wow” level of excitement.

The reality of the goodness of this camera is what it does, and what it does in relation to other cameras. The real competition to this camera would be the Sony A900, the Canon 5D Mark II, the Canon 1Ds Mark III, the Phase One and other 20 and 30 megapixel back medium format backs.

Engagement Session D3X

It can be argued that some of those cameras don’t belong in the same group as the D3X because of price, pro body vs non-pro and so on. The truth is, when I shopped for a camera, I looked for a high megapixel count for extraordinary prints, high ISO performance, focus ability, and overall image quality. the D3X is the ONLY camera that covered more points of need than any other camera – period. That doesn’t mean that something like the Sony A900 or the Canon 5D Mark II can’t make due for “some” of the points, they can. And the medium format Hasselblad or Phase One can make do on other points like pixel size – and they do. But none, and I mean NONE of them can cover ALL the bases in one camera, and that camera is simply the D3X. Price $7999 and falling. Put up – or shut up :)

The Sony on a tripod will do well for some folks in landscape photography, the Phase One will do for low ISO work, the 5D Mark II will do as a one focus point camera and not even approach the 1Ds Mark III or the D3X in pro level features. If those things are not needed, then the folks selling those cameras will gladly take your money. But if you are using one of those cameras and want to reach over into the D3X corner to give it a slap on the head – get your hands back into your own space – lol.

Now, after all those strong words – how does the D3X feel after 3 months in the field? Weddings, where the action is swift, the lighting is dark, and the quality needs to remain high. Engagements, where you take couple out on a field trip and you have to return with “outstanding” pictures? Product photography, where the files need to be crisp and printable in a variety of mediums from the web to wall size murals. And finally, how about some plain old family photography where no one appreciates ANYTHING you do because they are all well, family :)

The verdict – outstanding performance. Not perfect, but the best there is anywhere at any price – at least for the moment.

Don’t make any mistake about the size of the files on the D3X. They are BIG – and they take up LOTS of room on your hard drive. My DROBO is filling up fast and I find I am now buying 1TB hard drives and wondering for the first time in my digital life if it is worth saving all those RAW files. Well, yes it is, as a pro it would be rather dumb to dump the negatives to my jobs, but the though did enter my mind, for a t least a second or two :)

And the files is where the rubber meets the road. Oh my goodness, not since the days of my Hasselblad and the pair of Twin Lens Rolliflex camera prints have the prints looked so good, so rich, so 3D like. It is a huge step up in quality.

In fact, I personally think the Sony A900 and the Canon 5D Mark II cameras are going to single handedly raise the level of wedding work done by professionals without a lot of them realizing the quality jump that their larger files are going to take and the impact the high megapixel count is going to have on their printed work. I say bravo. I still want my pro level performance though, and along with the best level of quality, that is the reason for putting up for such a higher priced camera.

Still, the D3X is not without some legitimate faults. The Canon 1Ds Mark III, which is older technology but still a great piece of gear out-focuses the D3X in terms of focus speed. Don’t confuse that with focus accuracy though, as the D3X beats the pants off the 1Ds Mark III in the accuracy arena. But then, the update to the Canon 1Ds Mark III is not out yet, so I WILL be watching to see if Canon leapfrogs Nikon in the focus department. For active photographers, whether they be wedding, news, sports or family, megapixel count is not the only race. Focus speed and ACCURACY is the pivot point of how well a camera is going to be received. At least I know I think that way. The name of the game now is focus focus focus – get it right and get it fast – low light and high light – it’s all about focus.

Would I buy the D3X again – yes, in a heart beat. The camera itself is outstanding, the files in print are almost untouchable, the focus accuracy is amazing, the customization of the camera is at about a 9 out of 10 (yes there are couple of stupid things missing) and don’t underestimate the customization of a camera. The ability to control the camera at the level the D3X offers separates the men from the boys (in the camera world at least) and it really makes a huge difference.

Lens selection is better in the Canon camp, especially for the guys that like to use wide primes. But the best of quite a few lenses are in the Nikon camp. It’s a little difficult for the lens topic because the Canon 85mm L lens, the new 24mm L lens, the 35mm L lens are all lenses I miss. But on the other hand, the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 and the 14-24 f/2.8 lenses are a revelation to use and they deliver some knock-out images.

The 50mm G Nikkor lens though is outstanding and the basic primes starting at 50mm and going upward are all top drawer (American slang for great stuff) material.

The Dynamic Range and color depth when comparing the Nikon D3X and something like the Canon 5D Mark II level camera are more pronounced in favor of the D3X than I expected and that is rather surprising. There is more “material” in the D3X files when you are gaining exposure on the sliders in a program like Lightroom than there is in just about any other camera except the Nikon D3.

(my hand at pop-art. Nothing is wrong with the camera – lol)

As we seemed to have reached a quality and megapixel plateau it will be interesting to see what the camera companies are going to be waving at us in terms of “real forward motion” in the near future. Detailed and cleaner high ISO is always welcome, greater dynamic range and color depth is another feature most photographer look at. To take the place of the real estate cry of “location – location – location” in my eyes will be focus – focus – focus. I am not even going to bring the Canon flap that the world just experienced with it’s Canon 1D III series cameras (although a huge kudos is in order for Canon’s staying with it and making improvement after improvement after all this time) but focus just needs to be an area that is revisited and reinvented so the accuracy of a military lock-on can be experienced on our high end cameras.

In time, the D3X price will definitely slide just as every other camera has done, plus there is the drum beat of a possible Nikon D800X or D700X that beats continuously and that will be the camera a lot of folks have been waiting for. In the meantime, the D3X still sits as king of the hill and delivers outstanding large and small prints at the medium format quality level with 35mm agility – it’s a joy to use.

Happy shooting and see you online.

Peter Gregg

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