matter of seconds to get to grips with it. The single feature I found most useful is the one mentioned above, that is camera's shooting details being displayed in the rear screen. As I shoot mainly in manual mode it's fantastic to have all this information at your fingertips rather than having to peer into the top window at the very small icons and numbers. The light meter is simply huge and allows you to accurately determine what exposure to use very quickly. But the big question is how was it at high ISO?
In a single word, as I'm not sure the editor would publish my expletives, stunning. At 800 ISO you just cannot tell the difference between 200 ISO. So for the macro shooters depth of field is back again by simply turning up the ISO enabling you to shoot at f22 or above, as I did after a disappointing macro dive using f11, an aperture that was OK when I previously used with the D2x. And what about higher? At ISO 1600 & 3200 there is very little noise, if shooting wrecks or larger animals it would be very difficult to detect. At a whopping ISO 6400 noise is still perfectly acceptable for similar types of subjects. Hi1 and Hi2 are effectively 12800 and 25600 ISO respectively and yes noise is certainly detectable but perfectly useable if that was the only way of getting an image - I've seen a lot worse images printed in newspapers!
So how does the D3 do it, what's its secret? First of all, the Teflon-heads back in Japan developed a new CMOS (Complimentary MetaOxide Semiconductor) sensor with new optical low-pass filters (OLPF). These OLPFs are the key. On the D3's sensor there is an innovative twin-layer mechanism. Just above the Bayer pattern filter are two layers of micro-lenses. The upper ones are physically larger than the pixels below leaving virtually no gaps between it and its neighbours. In any normal camera this would be good enough, however, not good enough for Nikon. They decided that due to circuitry that runs between the pixels, they needed to add a second layer of micro-lens that capture any light that would have otherwise not hit a pixel, ie. Landing on the circuitry instead (note this twin-layer system is not available on the D300). Once virtually every last photon has been collected these are then processed by the D3's new single ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) greatly speeding up processing power (the D2x has two ASICs making it far slower) but more importantly giving extra grunt for more tasks to be completed.
Nikon claim that the D3 has a 1.4 times improvement in dynamic range over the D2x helped by what this extra processing capacity can handle. In a nutshell once all the light is initially processed the D3's ASIC is put to work automatically correcting for lateral chromatic aberration and the effects of vignetting. Nikon have further dispensed with the old optimised image controls and colour mode options, and replaced them with a much more comprehensive Picture Control System giving you complete control over, contrast, brightness, saturation, hue and sharpness. And there's more.
In situations where the image has highlights as well as very dark patches the Active D-lighting can be put to use. What this effectively does is to automatically adjust the exposure across the frame reducing highlights and bringing up the shadows. This last feature can be very useful when shooting underwater where light can vary as much as ten stops. In practice it works well and certainly gave me images I wouldn't have managed to capture with previous cameras.
The only disappointment I could find is the area of the matrix focussing display. Due to the larger frame size it is considerably smaller when compared to the area of the D2x and D300. If you generally keep the main point of interest in the centre third of the frame then this shouldn't be a problem, but you can't ask it to focus near the edges. For me, shooting mainly with wide-angle lenses, I only use the viewfinder for general aiming, although if you can get close enough the D3 actually gives 100% viewing of the image. If I require more accurate framing then I switch to 'Live
View' mode. Similar to compact digital cameras the D3's rear screen can be used to view the frame before exposure. There is a drawback though to using Live View. The camera needs the mirror to be down in order to use its super fast phase-detection auto-focus. That is, it can't focus on-the-fly with the mirror up. Thus you have to slightly depress the shutter, wait until it focuses (the mirror drops) and then depress full way down to take the image. Here again if using wide-angle lenses it isn't an issue but for macro it's virtually useless, unless the subject is static. Staying with the rear display, it has to said, it's massive. Being a gigantic 3-inch 920,000 dot TFT LCD monitor it gives true VGA (640x980) resolution and can be viewed at up to around 170 degrees. It is also considerably brighter and clearer than older Nikon DSLRs.
My final useful feature that I found is that the D3 can take two compact flash cards. This means you can simply carry double the amount of memory or use the second card for either back-up (for ultra mission critical shoots) or you can store RAW files
on one card and JPEGs on the other. The last feature is great if you are shooting for a client onsite. You can quickly drop the low resolution JPEG card out and download the images for instant review on a relatively low powered machine.
In conclusion the D3 delivers virtually exactly what I need, Nikon have decided to go for quality rather than pure pixel count, and providing you are using the optics to match super sharp prints that would supersede that of tradition medium format are simply not a problem. The low light capabilities and wider dynamic range of the D3 over its fl611100s IS0800105mm-pin sharp predecessors makes it perfect for underwater use. The Aquatica housing for me is a workhorse. It works when the going gets tough. Sometimes on a rolling hardboat it's inevitably going to slide around and take the odd knock. Also I don't particularly take good care of it, yes I protect the port as much as I can but at the end of the day its there to do a job and not look pretty on the mantle-piece. Aquatica housings appear to cope well with the abuse I give them. The controls on the D3 version I suspect have improved over the old generations, they feel a little more positive in their action. Cost wise, don't try and justify the purchase it's simply insane - I've just put off buying a new car for another five years!
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