A year and a half ago I sat at a sushi bar next to a big-time commercial pro who was in town to do some shooting for Harley-Davidson. He was transitioning from medium-format digital backs to a DSLR—a Nikon D3x. He'd had it for a month but hadn't had time even to open the box.
Since there have been Nikon SLRs there have always been amateurs who demanded the prestige of the top model, and who were not put off by the size and weight of the biggest pro cameras. My great-uncle owned a complete Nikon F system, purchased in Japan. I remember talking to one smug '90s lawyer in Washington D.C. who I saw on the street carrying a Nikon F5. He was happy to regale me with all the shortcomings of the top amateur Nikon of the era, the F100. But the very high price of the D3x, in addition to its size and weight, has upset a lot of people and helped to keep even prestige-seeking amateurs away.
The D3x, which has intermittently been unobtanium since the tsunami, is overkill even for some full-time professionals. It's not Nikon's speed champ, for either type of "speed": frame rates or high-ISO performance. It doesn't have video. And Sony offers 24 megapixels (in fact, probably the same basic sensor) for more than $5,000 less (granted, outside of the rest of the Nikon system—pros buy systems, not cameras).
The D3x really is a tool for pros. But the top pro Nikon, offering Nikon's absolute best image quality when conditions and technique are optimized, remains a powerful draw for many, even if it represents a sort of Valhalla that many are aware of and think about but that few mortals are familiar with firsthand.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Lou Doench: "'Tis a humongous beastie indeed. A fitting followup to the original D1x, which I, as exactly the kind of amateur you described, bought for $4500 when it was new...I'm a much more circumspect Pentaxian now.... ;-)"
Featured Comment by Jorit Aust: "I bought that D3x in early 2009 and since then stopped using the medium format system (digital or film-based). Picture quality is superb—never had any discussion with clients (museums, advertising agencies); handling is easy—Nikon did every aspect of that camera right. But it's just another fast-vanishing digitool; it never gives me that special feeling which I have since today, every time when I take one of my F2's. Just put a roll of film in and start making pictures. That's the real McCoy."
Mike replies: That's in impressive client list, Jorit—