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Monday, September 1, 2008

Does Your Camera Have An Evil Twin?

What’s in a camera’s DNA? We’ll show you the features and technologies that have trickled down from the top-end models to the popular sweet-spot cameras.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Nikon D3 & D300
These are fraternal, not identical, “twins.” The D3 is Nikon’s top-of-the-line model, its first full-frame D-SLR and its best D-SLR ever in terms of image quality and performance. The D300 is Nikon’s top intermediate model, selling for about one-third the price of the D3. Yet the D300 shares many features with the D3, including excellent autofocusing and metering systems, EXPEED image processing (optimizes image quality and operating speed), your choice of 12- or 14-bit A/D conversion with 16-bit internal processing, a high-res, 920,000-dot, 3.0-inch LCD monitor with both Handheld and Tripod Live-View modes, Picture Controls that let you choose and fine-tune different “looks,” Active D-Lighting (which improves highlight and shadow detail), rugged construction and more. The D300 even includes a couple of features the D3 doesn’t have: Nikon’s first self-cleaning sensor unit (a great boon when one changes lenses in the field frequently) and a built-in flash. And the D300 even has a few more megapixels: 12.3 vs. 12.1.

evil twin

After shunning full-frame sensors for years, Nikon introduced its FX-format D3 in 2007. Defining the top end of Nikon’s line, the camera is a quantum leap from earlier Nikon pro models.
Nikon D300
Announced at the same time as the D3, the D300 comes with the same processing technology and a number of the D3’s high-end features.
So what do you get for the extra bucks when you buy a D3? For starters, that full-frame image sensor makes wide-angle shooting much easier since it “sees” the same angle of view as a 35mm SLR. When you attach one of Nikon’s DX-series lenses, which were designed for the smaller APS-C image sensors used in all other Nikon D-SLRs, the D3 automatically switches to DX (Nikon’s name for APS-C) format, recording 5.1-megapixel images with the same 1.5x focal-length factor as other Nikon D-SLRs. The D3’s sensor also has much larger pixels (8.45 microns vs. 5.50 microns), which accounts in part for the D3’s better image quality and higher ISO capabilities.

The D3 can shoot 12.1-megapixel full-frame images at 9 fps and 5.1-megapixel DX-format images at 11 fps, while the D300 shoots its 12.3-megapixel DX-format images at up to 6 fps. The D300 provides ISOs up to 6400, with excellent image quality for each speed, but the D3 goes all the way to ISO 25,600, with even better image quality at each speed. The D3 starts up a little faster (0.12 seconds vs. 0.13 seconds), has slots for two CompactFlash cards and is even more ruggedly built.

Nikon D3 Nikon D300
Sensor: 12.1-megapixel CMOS
12.3-megapixel CMOS
Sensor Size: 36.0x23.9mm (full-frame)
23.6x15.8mm (1.5x)
Processor: EXPEED
A/D Conversion: 12- or 14-bit
12- or 14-bit
Sensor Cleaning: No
AF Points: 51
Metering: 1005-pixel, CW, 1.5%
1005-pixel, CW, 2.0%
ISO Range: 200-6400, plus 100, 12,800, 25,600
200-3200, plus 100, 6400
Shutter Speeds: 30 to 1⁄8000 sec., plus B
30 to 1⁄8000 sec., plus B
Max. Advance Rate: 9 fps (FX), 11 fps (DX)
6 fps
Dimensions: 6.3x6.2x3.4 in.
5.8x4.5x2.9 in.
Weight: 43.7 oz.
29.3 oz.
Estimated Street Price: $4,999

evil twin

Nikon D700
Nikon’s new D700 is the D3’s “kid brother,” offering the D3’s full-frame image sensor and much of its technology in a much more compact and lower-priced package that’s easier to carry for long spells in the field. It uses the same sensor and EXPEED processing as the D3 and provides the same wide range of ISOs, so image quality should be similar (i.e., superb). The metering and AF systems are the same, as are the 3.0-inch, 920,000-dot LCD monitor and two Live-View modes. The D700 even has two features the D3 doesn’t have: a sensor-dust removal system and a built-in Speedlight flash unit. The D700’s shooting rate is slower, 5 fps vs. 9 fps (and the D3 can do 11 fps in DX mode), but it’s an excellent choice for the outdoor photographer who wants full-frame capability, but doesn’t want to lug a bulky camera into the field (or whose budget doesn’t allow for the D3).

Bottom Line:
Both cameras are excellent outdoor D-SLRs, with the D3 providing better image quality, a full-frame sensor and faster shooting capability at a cost of more bulk and purchase price. Obviously, the D3, with its full-frame sensor and much larger pixels, is an outstanding all-around camera, but the D300, which produces 12.3-megapixel images with a 1.6x focal-length factor, shares many of the D3’s technology and features at a fraction of the price. The D300 also is an excellent choice for shy wildlife and birds (when you crop the 12.1-megapixel D3 images down to the same DX-format framing, they’re only 5.1 megapixels).


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