American Photo Editor's Choice 2009: Pro DSLRs

The Nikon D3X's phenomenal image quality, robust construction, and nearly infinite configurability make it this year’s ultimate professional DSLR.

Nikon D3X

Among new digital SLRs, the 24.4-megapixel Nikon D3X is simply in a class by itself-and it costs at least $5,000 more than the full-frame cameras in our new semi-pro D-SLR category. So what do you get for its breathtaking premium? At the moment, the best D-SLR money can buy.

Essentially a higher-megapixel twin of the fast D3, the D3X offers nearly infinite configurability, not to mention the best autofocus and overall responsiveness of any full-frame D-SLR. Its built-in vertical grip makes it larger and heavier than other full-frame models this year, but that weight is offset by superb ergonomics. The D3X's traditional control logic, distilled from three generations of Nikon pro D-SLRs, easily bests any competitors'. Dozens of gaskets seal it against the dust and moisture that threaten sophisticated electronics out in the real world of photography.

At 100 percent magnification in Lightroom, the Nikon's RAW files appeared only slightly sharper than those we shot with the 21.1-megapixel Canon EOS 5D Mark II, despite its three-megapixel advantage. (See D-SLR Shootout, May/June.) But the D3X's superb JPEGs were nearly identical in fine detail to its RAW files, while the Canon's were slightly soft. And while comparisons also showed no significant differences in noise up to ISO 400 among our full-frame sensor D-SLRs, the Nikon exhibited superior shadow detail that could be further brightened with much cleaner results than the others.At higher ISOs, the D3X is no match for the Nikon D3, which owes its low-light performance in part to fewer and therefore bigger pixels. The EOS 5D Mark II also bests the D3X in that respect. But we found D3X's tighter, film-like "grain" more pleasing than the blotchier noise and linear banding sometimes visible in the EOS 5D Mark II's deep shadow areas.

Current full-frame D-SLRs are less than ideal for action photography, trading off speed for a massive file size. That said, the Nikon D3X can move its RAW files more quickly than any of its full-frame competitors-about 23 RAW frames at 12 bits-per-color. To keep pace, the D3X has lightning- fast, supersmart AF, with 51 points and 3D focus tracking that uses subject color information.

Quick Stats:

  • 24.4 MEGAPIXELS/CMOS IMAGE SENSOR

  • 1.0X FOV CROP (full frame)

  • 3.0-INCH LCD SCREEN (920K dots)

  • IMAGE STABILIZATION: IN-LENS

  • 5FPS (7FPS in DX mode)

  • TOP ISO: 6,400

  • LIVE VIEW: YES

  • VIDEO: No

  • ABOUT $8,000

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