Nikon D3 Field Review in the East Pacific. PART 3

In Guadalupe the capabilities of the D3 at ISOs 400-800 were very valuable. Particularly early and late in the day, when the light is often most interesting. My buddy, shooting a D200 definitely found those conditions much tougher. Another advantage of high ISO was being able to use low flash powers, which meant that I could use the camera on continuous low (4-5 frames per second) shooting. Continuous high produces up a ridiculous 11 frames per second. This enabled me to produce a series of shots from a single pass. I also shot some images at ISO 1600 and the noise was much more noticeable in the blues. In the middle of the day I was shooting at ISO 200. In brighter tropical waters I doubt I would find many uses for ISOs above this.

A series of 6 photos, all taken within 1.5 seconds on continuous low, of a single pass by one of the sharks. Higher ISOs allowed me to shoot at lower flash powers and keep up with the action. All Nikon D3 + 15mm, Subal housing. F8 @ 1/160th. ISO 400. Two Inon Z240 strobes.

The high ISO capabilities of the D3 are revolutionary for the Nikon shooter and allow you to produce types of underwater images that would be impossible. However, these capabilities only come to the fore the right conditions. If you dive entirely in tropical conditions or shoot macro such abilities will rarely be of any use. 

The D3 can record RAW files at a bit-depth of 14-bit and perhaps equally important is Nikon’s Active D-Lighting, which is a bit like an in camera Shadows and Highlights, and is applied to the RAW file. Both of which promise better dynamic range for digital files. The big question remains is the D3 the camera to finally capture sunbursts just as they look on a tranny on a lightbox? No, is the short answer. I felt it was better than the DX cameras I was shooting alongside, but I would find this impossible to quantify with the real world shooting we did. I certainly do not feel that there is a day and night difference between the D3 and its 12-bit predecessors and I don’t have any shots that can demonstrate it.


Todd Mintz and I posed for each other with these seapens and you can compare this photo with Todd’s 40D image here. Todd and I were after different looks to our images and were shooting different exposures and white balances so they are not really comparable, but I was pleased how the D3 coped with the dynamic range of the background. But in reality these images show how difficult it is to objectively compare systems. Nikon D3 + 15mm, Subal housing. F14 @ 1/30th. ISO 800. Two Inon Z240 strobes.

At times in Canada the D3 really struggled with the transition from the bright surface to the inky depths. In the blue water of Guadalupe is coped much better and I was much happier with how it recorded afternoon sunrays. These seemed to be a benefit for macro too. I shot several subjects amongst the bright while plumose anemones and I was very impressed with how the D3 coped with these scenes.


All of us, DX and FX shooters, were impressed with how forgiving the D3 sensor was on the white plumose anemones, which are notoriously difficult to expose particularly when they are not the main subject of a photo. All Nikon D3 + 60mm, Subal housing. F22 @ 1/100th. ISO 200. Two Inon Z240 strobes.

But that is all just opinion. Without some controlled conditions testing the different to 12-bit cameras is so small as to be difficult to discern. In conclusion, I have absolutely no complaints with the D3 image quality, which is as good as any underwater camera I have seen. But get feeling I don’t think I could prove to anyone it is any better.