Nikon D3: 100% crops at ISO 3200, 6400


As a concert photographer, I'm constantly battling available light and using camera settings that never see the light of day for normal use. There's been a lot of noise about the performance of the Nikon D3 at high ISO, so I thought I'd post some real-world examples from the camera with some 100% crops.

While many photographers may dismiss the hype surrounding advancements in high ISO performance with every latest camera, for concert photographers and other photojournalists working with low light under demanding conditions this is of keen interest.

So, how does the new Nikon D3 deliver in this regard? Let's have a look at some real world images – resized samples followed by 100% crops.

ISO 2500 (Brian Viglione – The Dresden Dolls):

The Dresden Dolls @ the Pageant -- 2008.01.06

Camera: Nikon D3
Exposure: 1/250 Aperture: f/4
Focal Length: 86 mm
ISO Speed: 2500

100% Crop

100% Crop

The above is a straight conversion from RAW to a 100% quality JPG using Nikon Capture NX, which I use for all my Nikon RAW files.

At ISO 2500, used for the above shot, one may notice that the image contains largely luminance noise, without almost no false color information (chrominance noise). Another consistent characteristic of the noise pattern is that is very fine, creating a tight “granular” texture in the image.

With higher ISOs, we see these two chief characteristics continue through the range of in-spec sensitivities.

ISO 3200 (Amanda Palmer – The Dresden Dolls):

The Dresden Dolls @ the Pageant -- 2008.01.06

Camera: Nikon D3
Exposure: 1/250
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 116 mm
ISO Speed: 3200

100% Crop

At ISO 3200, noise is still very well controlled; luminance noise sees a slight increase, with more pronounced “grit,” but the characteristics are largely the same as what we saw a third-stop lower at ISO 2500.

ISO 6400 (Howard Jones – Killswitch Engage):

Killswitch Engage @ the Pageant -- 2008.01.26

Camera: Nikon D3
Exposure: 1/250
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 70 mm
ISO Speed: 6400

100% Crop

At ISO 6400, we see a slight increase in luminance noise and, still, a general lack of chrominance noise. Compared to lower sensitivities, we start to see more prominence in fine, light-valued pixels that kick up a little more grit in the images. This is most noticeable in the blue wash of the background and the deep shadows cast on the subject.

Given enough pushing in post, these aberrant pixels are the start of random “white” pixels that are most prominent at ISO 12800 and above.

ISO 6400 (Keller Williams)

Keller William @ the Pageant -- 2008.01.19

Camera: Nikon D3
Exposure: 1/125
Aperture: f/2.8
Focal Length: 155 mm
ISO Speed: 6400

100% Crop
100% Crop

There's a little motion blur in this shot, but I think there's enough detail in the crop of Keller's face to get an idea of the noise levels, especially regarding highlights and shadows.

In addition to the actual appearance of the noise with the D3, one other aspect worth mentioning is the very good color fidelity right up through ISO 6400. Gone is the washed out saturation above ISO 800 seen in previous Nikon DSLRs like the D2x.


The above images were processed using Nikon Capture NX. The standard “Normal” setting for noise reduction was used in-camera and this degree of NR was maintained in processing the RAW files.

In addition, I changed the noise reduction from “Faster” to “Better Quality” in Capture NX. The main difference I see in this is that the program basically eliminates any chrominance noise in the files, leaving a fine pattern of luminance noise.

Sharpening was set to “Auto” in-camera and not adjusted in post. Exposure was also left as-shot. For the crops, no further processing was done.

End Notes:

Coming from the D2x, this performance from a Nikon DSLR is nothing short of amazing. While the D3 does have its limitations, as a concert photographer, I think the camera ushers in some amazing performance for high ISO work.

As I shoot more with the camera, I'll be posting some samples and 100% crops from ISO 12800 as well. Initial use at this “HI-1” setting indicate that the files are still quite good, but care needs to be taken in achieving the correct exposure.

For more thoughts on the Nikon D3's high ISO performance, see also my initial impressions on the camera, ISO 800 through ISO 25600:

Impressions on the Nikon D3: High ISO Performance

In addition, for more images made with the D3, you can check out the following sets:

The Dresden Dolls @ the Pageant — 2007.01.06
Every Time I Die @ the Pageant — 2008.01.26
Motion City Soundtrack @ the Pageant — 2007.12.11
Keller Williams @ the Pageant — 2008.01.19

Mae @ the Pageant — 2007.12.11