Lab Report: Nikon D3 Takes Noise Award

Nikon's Flagship DSLR has impressive high ISO noise control in our initial findings.

How do you beat the 2007 Camera of the Year at its own game? Drop two zeros off its name and double its price -- and you get the Nikon D3 pro DSLR, (street: $5000.00) with a full-frame sensor, super-tough body, and faster burst rate. There's more to it than that, and we're still running a production model of the D3 through our gauntlet of tests in the Pop Photo Lab. But we can give you a peek at one of the D3's most outstanding feature: low noise at high ISOs.

Even at ISO 200, the added light-gathering capability of the larger pixels on the D3's 12.1MP full-frame sensor beats the D300's 12.3MP APS-sized sensor. Shooting RAW takes full advantage of the D3's lower noise and 14-bits-per-color capture. And it gives you much more flexibility, especially when using the trial version of Capture NX 1.3 software (included with the camera) to convert NEF RAW to 16-bit TIFF files.

Capture NX's exposure and noise reduction controls let you strike a balance between resolution and noise, depending on your needs. For example, at ISO 6400 you can crank up noise reduction to High (100 setting) to minimize noise (Moderately Low rating), while softening detail by 10 to 20 percent. At this setting, images with lots of skin tones, highlight areas, and midtone shades look as though they were shot at ISO 800 or 1600 on many other DSLRs, and the D3 earns a Moderately Low noise rating. At ISO 3200, using this setting, noise gets a Very Low rating.

Or you can maximize detail by turning down the noise reduction. This makes shadow noise more obvious at ISO 3200 (a Moderate rating), but fine details are maintained. Even at ISO 25,600 -- where noise is Unacceptable even with noise reduction at the 100 setting -- color images converted to black-and-white will pass muster for newspaper use. For this reason alone, we expect to see the D3 being used without flash by photojournalists in a variety of shooting conditions -- even dimly lit sports events.

Bottom line? This camera, like the D300, will bestow an unheard of flexibility to low-light shooters, or give sports photographers the ability to crank up the shutter speed without adding flash.

Please check back for updates on the Nikon D3 as we continue our lab testing, and look in the March 2008 issue of Popular Photography & Imaging Magazine for our full lab test.

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