In June of 1999, Nikon introduced the D1, an innovative digital single-lens reflex camera, which marked the beginning of the company’s professional D “single digit” line of SLRs. Revolutionary in that it was the digital SLR that broke Kodak’s stronghold on the digital SLR industry and essentially pushed prices down to a level that most professionals could afford (about the US$5,500 mark). This was a major accomplishment.
Since that time, we have witnessed gradual but consistent advancements in the series of cameras that these cameras belong to. While the fundamental principles of a high-quality full-size body with an integrated grip have not changed, the line has been split into two halves (marked by the suffixes X and H), with one half catering to high-resolution photography and the other to high-speed sports photography (lower resolution but faster continuous shooting).
It has been over three years since Nikon debuted a fully new digital SLR with a new sensor (the D2X), and there has been a lot of speculation that Nikon’s next step would be a full-frame chip. However, Nikon just announced that they would not be producing a full-frame chip.
And so it was, with the release in August of last year of the new ‘FX-format D3, which includes a 36 x 23.9 mm 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor as well as a large array of additional capabilities that absolutely lift it another notch beyond prior single-digit Nikon DSLRs.
Important headlining improvements include support for high sensitivity by default, up to ISO 6400 with 25600 available as a boost option, 14-bit A/D conversion, a new standard image processor, a new shutter, a new autofocus sensor, focus tracking by color, nine frames per second continuous, dual compact flash support, DX lens support (albeit at lower resolution) with automatic cropping, and a 3.0″ 922,000 pixel LCD monitor. All of these improvements are important and headline-worthy (which it has to be said is lovely).
There is no doubt that some people will criticize Nikon for “only” giving twelve megapixels on their first full-frame digital SLR camera, but all we can deduce from looking at the history of Nikon’s previous model lines is that this camera is intended to be quick (both in sensitivity, auto-focus, and continuous shooting).
When we first saw the D3 in the late summer of the previous year, our first thought was, “where’s the “H” suffix?” This was a sentiment that was shared by many analysts and photographers in the months that followed the unveiling of the camera. Even while Nikon has refused to comment on its long-term strategies, it is reasonable to anticipate that the company will unveil an alternative to the Canon EOS 1DS Mark III at Photokina (with higher resolution but without high-speed shooting).