Built for pixel power, not for speed
Is this excellent camera worth $8,000? We say yes.
Why? First, its super-high resolution, which will let you print really big photos. Second, its super-tough build, complete with dust- and weathersealing, as well as an integrated vertical grip, important to pros. Finally, its super performance in low light, with high sensitivity, low noise, and fast autofocus in the dimmest conditions.
Especially for pros and enthusiasts who are already invested in the Nikon system, and can afford the eight grand, this is one smart big-ticket purchase.
Imaging: 24.5MP effective, full-frame FX-format CMOS sensor captures images at 6048x4032 pixels with 12 or 14 bits/color in RAW mode.
Storage: Dual slots for CompactFlash Type I/II including UDMA; microdrives. Stores JPEG, NEF RAW, RAW + JPEG, and TIFF files.
Burst rate:Full-sized JPEGs (Fine mode): Up to 44 shots at 5 fps. RAW: Up to 24 shots at 5 fps (12 bit). DX format (10.5MP) JPEGs: Up to 76 shots at 7 fps.
AF system: TTL phase detection with 51 illuminated focus points (15 cross-type). Single-shot and continuous AF with 3D focus tracking. Tested sensitivity down to EV -2 (at ISO 100, f/1.4).
Live view: TTL Phase detection and Contrast Detection modes.
Shutter speeds: 1/8000 to 30 sec plus B (1/3-, 1/2-, or 1-EV increments). 300,000-cycle rating.
Metering: TTL metering using 1,005-pixel RGB sensor, 3D Color Matrix II, centerweighted, and spotmetering (approx. 1.5% of viewfinder). EV 0-20 (at ISO 100).
ISO range: Normal, ISO 100-1600; expanded, ISO 50, 3200 (in 1/3-EV increments) or 6400 (1-EV increment).
Flash: Dedicated Nikon hot-shoe with i-TTL flash using Nikon SB-400, SB-600, SB-800, and SB-900 Speedlights. Flash sync to 1/250 sec. Supports wireless control of SB-600, SB-800, or SB-900 units when using SB-800 or SB-900 as Commander.
Viewfinder: Fixed eye-level pentaprism.
LCD: 3-in. TFT with 920,00-dot resolution, 170-degree viewing angle.
Output: Hi-Speed USB 2.0, HDMI video, composite video, and 10-pin remote control.
Battery: Rechargeable EN-EL4a Li-ion, CIPA rating, 4,400 shots.
Size/weight: 6.3x6.2x3.4 in., 3.1 lb with a card and battery.
Street price: $8,000, body only.
Accuracy: 100% (Excellent)
Magnification: 0.7X (Acceptable)
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III($6,550, street, body only)
Sure, it can't match the D3X's 24.5MP, but at 21.1MP, this Canon's no slouch. Add to that a fast autofocus system, accurate colors, and extremely low noise at lower ISOs, and you've got a very compelling camera. If you mainly shoot in a studio environment, where you won't need high ISOs, the 1Ds Mark III might be the camera for you -- especially if you already have an arsenal of Canon glass. If your shooting is more varied, the D3X's versatility may tip the scales in its favor. After all, the D3X nearly matches or beats the Canon in most areas of performance, including the burst rate of 5 fps. But if you're not already wedded to a brand, the Canon offers one big advantage: It costs about $1,500 less.
Sony Alpha 900 ($3,000, street, body only)
Although the A900 uses a very similar 24.6MP CMOS sensor for extremely high resolution, in other respects it's a little unfair to compare it with the D3X. Sony doesn't even call its flagship a pro camera. Die-hard pros may be disappointed in the A900's relative lack of weathersealing, less-accurate colors, and high noise at ISO 6400. Unlike the Nikon, there's no live view. But the Sony has plenty to recommend it, especially built-in, sensor-shifting image stabilization, which works with any lens you mount on the camera. The big, bright optical viewfinder, like the Nikon's, is 100% accurate according to our tests, but the Sony's offers slightly higher magnification. And then there's the price, which makes it a much more affordable option than the D3X for anyone who wants a full-frame DSLR with the highest resolution on the market.