Nikon D3 Field Review in the East Pacific. PART 3

So will I buy one? I am not sure, I have been hanging on for an FX camera in the 18-22MP range as resolution is more attractive to me than high ISO. I miss it. It is a phenomenal land camera, and a very capable underwater one. For anyone who made the transition of film to DX, DX to FX is much simpler. The Subal ND3 is an excellent housing, but I’d strongly recommend the GS viewfinder. I was much happier than I expected to be with the AF modes, which work really well. Nikon’s biggest job for the upgrade is increasing the AF coverage of the frame, which is currently insufficient (although does exceed many cameras out there).

I think that my shoot definitely played to the strengths of the D3 and particularly with wide angle I felt I was getting images I could not with DX. I might have been less impressed had this been a tropical trip, where the benefits of the D3 over a DX camera would have been more marginal.

There is no doubt that the D3 opens up new possibilities for wide angle in dark conditions, and I felt I only began to scratch the surface of the creative possibilities on this shoot. Nikon D3 + 15mm, Subal housing. F14 @ 1/160th. ISO 800. Two Inon Z240 strobes.

The D3 excels at both macro and wide angle and I was satisfied with its performance with the tricky rectilinear wide-angle zoom, with the subjects I was shooting. That said, low ISO image quality (both for wide angle and macro) is very good, but not a step on from current DX cameras and even some that are several years old. If I were planning predominantly coral reef diving (low ISO wide angle and macro), the D3 would be hard to justify over a D300, for example.


It proved an excellent macro camera too, although not really offering any clear advantage over cheaper DX models. Nikon D3 + 150mm + 500D, Subal housing. F13 @ 1/250th. ISO 200. Two Inon Z240 strobes.

In evaluating the D3 I cannot ignore the D700, which makes the same FX arguments at a more compelling price. The only significant feature it does not equal the D3 for underwater photography is the 95% versus 100% viewfinder. Is this worth $2000? Plus it will travel lighter and take a smaller housing.

So should you get a D3? As I have said above, a lot depends on the type of diving you do. If you frequently shoot wide angle in dark conditions then the D3 will open up new images to you. If you dive mainly in brighter conditions or if you are a macro fanatic then the D3 will offer you little to justify the cost of FX over DX.

There is much passion invested in the D3: the handling of Giugiaro designed body, the feel of the controls beneath your fingers, its bristling reflexes and instant readiness. And as a result, investing in a camera such as this should not just be about dry facts and figures. It is an emotional decision too. For most people underwater photography is not a profession and I could completely understand anyone wanting to use the D3 just for the quality of its ergonomics and capabilities. You experience these with every frame you shoot, particularly in the Subal ND3. If you decide that this camera is for you, then you will not regret your purchase for a second.

To conclude. The D3 takes excellent macro and wide angle underwater photos. I love the D3’s screen (also on the D700, D300 and D90).  I miss the Tokina! I miss the D3, now it is returned. FX is great and easy to adapt to. However, the advantages of FX really depend on what you photograph. If you shoot mainly in the tropics or shoot mainly macro then FX offers little over DX. However, if you shoot plenty of wide angle in low light, then the D3 won’t just allow you to take types of images you never could before, it will change your approach to photography in these conditions. This makes it a very exciting underwater camera.


A decorated warbonnet. Nikon D3 + 150mm + 500D, Subal housing. F13 @ 1/250th. ISO 200. Two Inon Z240 strobes.

Sincere thanks, once again to Ryan Canon at Reef Photo Video and Craig Jones for trusting me with the Subal ND3 and Nikon D3, respectively. I am incredibly grateful to fellow photographers Rand McMeins, Todd Mintz, Jeff Hartog and Allison Vitsky for helping me through the complex itinerary of this trip (UK-USA-Canada-USA-Mexico-USA-UK). I’m lucky to have friends like you and look forward to diving together again soon! Thanks Todd for lending me your buoyant StiX arms, John Davies for giving me that tub of o-ring grease that kept the expensive camera dry and also Carol Grant (who I didn’t get to dive with this time) for lending me your official Subal 105 VR port. I would also like to thank the dive ops, Mamro Adventures in Port Hardy, Marissa Dive Charters in San Diego and the guys from Shark Diving International and the fabulous crew on the Solmar V for our adventure in Guadalupe. Finally, I’d like to thank my photo-buddies on this trip for their excellent company, sense of humour and advice through the trip: Todd Mintz, Rand McMeins, John Davies, Allison Vitsky, Mike Bartick, Brett and Stephanie Tischler, Calvin Penfound, Marianne Lawrence and Jeff Hartog as well as everyone on the Solmar V.

- Alex -

Having suggested at the top of this piece that others using the D3 have been a little secretive of their opinions, I thought I should add some links to those who have shared their thoughts!
Jason Heller on the D3 in Sea & Sea housing – DPG - www.divephotoguide.com (coming soon)
Charles Hood on the D3 in Aquatica housing – UWP Mag Issue 44. www.uwpmag.com

Finally, there is a small gallery of some of the D3 images I took during this trip here.