Saguaro National Park, Arizona. April 2009
Nikon D3x, 24-70mm, 1/4 sec @ f/14. ISO 100
I was in Arizona a few weeks ago with some friends, and this was my first landscape trip with my Nikon D3x camera. As a new Nikon user, I had some frustrating moments when I realized that I was not able to have both mirror lockup with a shutter delay. I was comfortable with how Canon implemented their mirror lockup, even though I had to dig deep into the menu structure to make it work. The Nikon way is accessed on the top of the camera (yeah!), however a timer / countdown mode requires making a choice between mirror lockup and the timer. There is no apparent way of having both. In a perfect world I would compose, click the shutter and the mirror flips up, and then a timed day of 2, 5 or 10 seconds, then the exposure happens.
One thing that has surpised me on the D3x is just how much detail there is when compared to a Canon 1DsMkIII or 5D Mk2 file. Nikon must be using a less aggressive anti aliasing filter, as the file size increase from 21 to 24 megapixels shouldn't be enough to explain the increased resolution. I am extremely pleased with these files, especially for landscape photographers.
The dynamic range is also pretty darned amazing. Yes, in landscape situations I can take multiple frames and merge them together and perform a tone mapping for more dynamic range, but HDR really isn't my cup of tea. I would rather grab a shot and move on to the next scene. I am ok with a more limited dynamic range, as I am still recovering from my Fuji Velvia days. Ok, now that I have admitted it, I only have 11 more steps to go for a full recovery!!
On the lens side of things, the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 is one heck of a good lens. My hunch is that it is better than the Canon 24-70mm, especially on the wider end of the zoom range. The D3x is a demanding camera, and good lenses support its capabilities and bad lenses make it look pretty bad. And that brings me to the 70-200mm f/2.8 VR. This is a lens that Nikon need to update ASAP. At apertures up to about f/11, you see a significant amount of vignetting around the edges. It is like Nikon never actually thought that they would have a full frame digital SLR on the market. My friend E.J. Peiker tells me that he is having excellent results from his Nikkor 70-300mm VR for landscapes. This is great news, as it is much less expensive and lighter in weight. I was prepared to purchase the 70-300mm VR for my upcoming Namibia trip in early May, however Sony will be loaning me a pair of A900 24mp digital SLR bodies with their 16-35mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses. The equipment should show up tomorrow, and it is likely that I will be taking the Sony setup to Namibia as a result. If you can recall back to November, Sony loaned out some gear for my polar bear trip, which also included a pair of A900 camera bodies.
So far I have been extremely happy with the Nikon D3x, but I tend to grab my D3 for all of my shooting around the house. Why? Primarily because of better quality files at ISO 800, 1600 and perhaps 3200. I am less interested in large prints, and I am more interested in silky smooth files at the higher ISO values. Both are excellent cameras, and the D3x is more of a specific tool for me. My goal when I am shooting in Africa is to be able to create large prints for sale, and the larger the print the better.