Nikon goes big with 24.5 megapixel D3X

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Nikon’s much speculated-about “BIG” plans for a new flagship professional body have apparently been outlined in detail this evening with the official unveiling of the new Nikon D3X professional DSLR.

Nikon D3X

Based on some recent hint dropping on Nikon’s part, we knew that the next high-end professional model from the manufacturer would be built with studio photographers in mind. While the D3X isn’t a digital medium-format system as many had hoped, this presumed object of Nikon’s recent cryptic advertising blitz comes to market with a 24.5 megapixel full frame sensor that promises to provide many of the advantages of a larger imager (low noise, stellar dynamic range, and plenty of resolution) in the same chassis that currently houses the 12.1 megapixel Nikon D3.

Imager Improvements
The aforementioned imager behind the D3X’s mount is a newly designed CMOS unit with a stated pixel size of 5.49 microns. Nikon’s been pushing the performance limits of its current full-frame (what Nikon terms “FX format”) CMOS sensors in terms of noise performance, and hence expectations for the latest sensor – which has a default sensitivity range of up to ISO 1600, with expansion options as high as ISO 6400 – are high.

Nikon D3X

In addition to its full-frame 24.5 megapixel JPEG, TIFF, or raw (NEF) captures, the D3X can also shoot in “DX crop” mode, yielding a healthy resolution of 10.5 megapixels with digital-only lenses. A 20.4 megapixel 5:4 aspect ratio mode is also unique, setting the camera up perfectly for shooting 8x10s without the need for post-shot reframing.

The same 14-bit file output and EXPEED processing that powered the original D3 are used in this application as well. For a camera with this much resolution, the D3X’s most impressive processing feat may well be its ability to shoot at a claimed 5 fps in FX mode, or an even more impressive 7 fps in DX crop mode. While the D3X provides many of the sensor-side capabilities that studio photographers look for, this combination of pro-camera speed and good resolution numbers in DX mode as well look to make Nikon’s latest flagship model a veritable pro-grade photographic Swiss Army knife – covering everything from studio work to photojournalism.

Ruggedness and Versatility
This versatility is furthered by the fact that, as noted previously, the D3X is built around the same rugged, weather-sealed body that Nikon uses for the D3 – making the D3X among the most portable options out there offering this kind of resolution.

Nikon D3X

The body itself is made from magnesium alloy and retains the D3’s “moisture, dust and shock resistance,” according to Nikon. A durable shutter is rated for 300,000 cycles, furthering the D3X’s case with working photographers, and a pair of UDMA-compliant CompactFlash slots allow for plenty of image storage space and can be configured to handle files in a number of different ways.

Nikon D3X

Like other high-end Nikons, the D3X also provides some of the best legacy glass support in the industry. As with the D3 before it, the D3X’s F-mount lens connection provides metering for just about any lens you can put in front of it.

D3 Carry-Over Technology
Other direct carry-overs from Nikon’s other professional bodies include the manufacturer’s Multi-CAM 3500FX focus module. This top-shelf AF unit provides a 51 point auto focus system with 15 cross-type sensors and advanced tracking functions. Of course, Nikon’s latest “3D Color Matrix Metering II” provides similar exposure control technology to what we’ve seen and been impressed with in the most recent batch of industrial-strength Nikons.

Nikon D3X

For a camera in this class, screen and viewfinder specs are expected to be top notch. The D3X doesn’t disappoint, with the same 3.0 inch/920,000 dot LCD that supplied information on the D3, and the same large optical viewfinder with 100 percent coverage and 0.7x magnification. True to its studio-friendly form, the D3X also includes both an advanced live view mode and an HDMI output for quick and direct on-screen image review.

Nikon D3X

Of course, the D3X’s hot shoe and flash control system are compatible with Nikon’s Creative Lighting System, and the camera’s Active D-Lighting system provides the same options for managing wide dynamic range scenes employed in other recent full-frame Nikon cameras, plus a new “Extra High” setting.

Pricing and Availability
Building a camera to rival dedicated studio bodies in its performance while providing the flexibility of a DSLR at the same time is invariably a costly endeavor, and working photographers (and very committed hobbyists) will likely find the D3X’s $7,999.95 suggested price tag in line with expectations (and significantly cheaper than a medium-format system besides).

What’s more surprising, in fact, is just how quickly Nikon intends to bring the camera to market: look for D3X bodies to begin arriving at dealers before the end of 2008.

Nikon D3X Specifications

Sensor 24.5 megapixel FX format CMOS
Lens/Zoom Nikon F mount
LCD/Viewfinder 3.0″, 922K-pixel TFT LCD with live view; optical viewfinder (100% coverage, 0.7x magnification)
Sensitivity ISO 100-1600 (expanded: ISO 50-6400)
Shutter Speed 30-1/8000 seconds
Shooting Modes Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual
Scene Presets N/A
White Balance Settings Auto, Preset, Manual Preset, Kelvin Temperature
Metering Modes 3D Color Matrix Metering II, Center-Weighted, Spot
Focus Modes Single Point AF, Dynamic Area AF, Automatic Area AF, Manual
Drive Modes Single, Continuous Low, Continuous High
Flash Modes Normal, Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, Slow Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync
Self Timer Settings
2-20 seconds, off
Memory Formats Compact Flash, Type I or II
Internal Memory
File Formats JPEG, TIFF, NEF (raw)
Max. Image Size 6048×4032
Max. Video Size
Zoom During Video N/A
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion, 4400 shots
Connections USB 2.0, HDMI Video Out, Remote In, PC Sync
Additional Features EXPEED image processing, 9 fps full-resolution shooting, 51-point AF system, 3D Color Matrix Metering II
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