USERS of the Nikon D3 downloading the latest firmware update have found information strings referring to the D3X and listing the file sizes the forthcoming camera will produce. The sizes match the pixel count of the Sony full-frame CMOS sensor due to be used in the ‘Alpha 900’ Sony full-frame body.
This string (and others) appears in the firmware file – 6048 x 4032; 24.4 M 4544 x 3024; 13.7 M 3024 x 2016; 6.1 M 5056 x 4032; 20.4 M 3792 x 3024; 11.5 M 2528 x 2016; 5.1 M 3968 x 2640; 10.5 M 2976 x 1976; 5.9 M 1984 x 1320; 2.6 M.
The Sony sensor is said to be 24.8 megapixels but this probably refers to the overall pixel count, with 24.4 active final image megapixels a very likely figure. The smaller filesize options are interesting because they could indicate two different types of reduced resolution. The first series – 13.7 megapixels at 4544 x 3024 and 6.1 megapixels at 3024 x 2016 – looks very much a 1.4X and 2X window mode teleconverter, similar to the D2X 2X crop mode. This would fit in with the D*X philosophy and Sony’s design for the sensor, which allows windowed (cropped) output.
The second series of 5056 x 4032, 3792 x 3024, 2528 x 2016 are a 5×4 aspect ratio window; and the third series of 3968 x 2640, 2976 x 1976 and 1984 x 1320 look more like reduced overall filesize JPEG options, either for full frame, or relative to the full and cropped windows. There is no sign of an HD 16:9 ratio, which the Sony sensor will almost certainly offer as a windowed crop.
It is also possible that Nikon has developed a sensor of their own with a similar pixel count, or that the Nikon version of the Sony sensor will feature a different level of quality control and on-board features such as multi channel readout or modified A-to-D converters. With the firmware string for the D3X appearing in the D3 update, a similar processing engine to the D3 can be assumed, and it is thought that several modified D3s fitted with the new sensor will already be out on field trial. They will not need elaborate disguises!
Suggestions that a slight difference in pixel dimensions for the final file means Nikon’s sensor is entirely different can be discounted, as we have already seen different final pixel counts emerging from many cameras using identical sensors. 6096 (Sony) versus 6048 (Nikon) is in line with the relative differences found between makes using the same OEM sensors in the past.
This news poses some interesting questions for Alpha system owners, mainly about price. Assuming the new sensor can not match the 25,600 ISO boost of the D3’s 12-megapixel Nikon CMOS and is limited to a more conventional range such as 100-3200 with 6400 boost, Nikon could reasonably sell a D3X at exactly the same price as the D3, though higher pixel count usually means a higher price. With the D3 currently selling for around £2500 plus tax in the UK ($5000) it is unlikely that the D3X will be anything less, and it’s more likely to be a notch higher – say $6000 (UK).
This makes the putative, rumoured price of $3000 for the Sony ‘Alpha 900’ body seem too low.
Pentax found themselves embarrassed in the UK when Samsung allegedly released a price for their GX20 – the equivalent of the Pentax K20D – some £300, or 40 per cent, lower than their sensor-partner’s retail. Pentax lowered prices slightly and Samsung increased prices and delayed their launch. At least, that’s what the insider talk in the industry says, and it sounds plausible enough. The final difference is more like 20%.
Assuming Nikon’s agreements with Sony preclude them undercutting the D3X by 50% without raising a storm from Nikon national distributors in most markets, we can expect a price more like $4000-4500 for the Sony body. There is a possibility that Nikon, a year after launching the D3, will assault the market by dropping the D3 price when the D3X arrives, and allow the D3X in at a more competitive price like $4500 (UK) in which case the ‘Alpha 900’ might just hit the $3500 mark.
However, by this time – photokina – we will all be paying £1 for the cheapest loaf of bread (currently £0.39-0.55), £1.20 a litre for petrol, and China will have bought all Argentina’s 16oz steaks in return for sending out 16GB SD cards…
– David Kilpatrick