Nikon D3 vs D780
The Nikon D3 and the Nikon D780 are two digital cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in August 2007 and January 2020. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are equipped with a full frame sensor. The D3 has a resolution of 12.1 megapixels, whereas the D780 provides 24.3 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Nikon D3 and the Nikon D780? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
The physical size and weight of the Nikon D3 and the Nikon D780 are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D780 is considerably smaller (34 percent) than the Nikon D3. Moreover, the D780 is substantially lighter (35 percent) than the D3. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. In this particular case, both cameras feature the same lens mount, so that they can use the same lenses. You can compare the optics available in the Nikon Lens Catalog.
Concerning battery life, the D3 gets 4300 shots out of its EN-EL4a battery, while the D780 can take 2260 images on a single charge of its EN-EL15b power pack. As can be seen in the images above, the D3 has a battery grip built in. This facilitates image-taking in portrait orientation and gives it additional battery power. The power pack in the D780 can be charged via the USB port, which can be very convenient when travelling.
The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, you can navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from a broad list of cameras there.
|1.||Nikon D3||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1300 g||4300||Y||Aug 2007||4,999|
|2.||Nikon D780||144 mm||116 mm||76 mm||840 g||2260||Y||Jan 2020||2,299|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||144 mm||111 mm||75 mm||765 g||1200||Y||Jun 2017||1,999|
|4.||Canon 1D Mark III||156 mm||157 mm||80 mm||1155 g||2200||Y||Feb 2007||4,499|
|5.||Nikon D6||160 mm||163 mm||92 mm||1270 g||3580||Y||Feb 2020||6,499|
|6.||Nikon Z6 II||134 mm||101 mm||70 mm||705 g||410||Y||Oct 2020||1,999|
|7.||Nikon D5||160 mm||159 mm||92 mm||1415 g||3780||Y||Jan 2016||6,499|
|8.||Nikon D4S||160 mm||157 mm||91 mm||1350 g||3020||Y||Feb 2014||6,499|
|9.||Nikon D750||141 mm||113 mm||78 mm||750 g||1230||Y||Sep 2014||2,299|
|10.||Nikon D4||160 mm||157 mm||91 mm||1340 g||2600||Y||Jan 2012||5,999|
|11.||Nikon D3S||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1240 g||4200||Y||Oct 2009||5,199|
|12.||Nikon D3X||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1260 g||4400||Y||Dec 2008||7,999|
|13.||Nikon D700||147 mm||123 mm||77 mm||1074 g||1000||Y||Jul 2008||2,999|
|14.||Nikon D300||147 mm||114 mm||74 mm||925 g||1000||Y||Aug 2007||1,799|
|15.||Nikon D2Xs||158 mm||150 mm||86 mm||1252 g||3800||Y||Jun 2006||4,699|
|16.||Nikon D2X||158 mm||150 mm||86 mm||1252 g||3800||Y||Sep 2004||4,999|
|Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
Any camera decision will obviously take relative prices into account. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The D780 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 54 percent) than the D3, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.
The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
Technology-wise, the D780 uses a more advanced image processing engine (EXPEED 6) than the D3 (EXPEED), with benefits for noise reduction, color accuracy, and processing speed.
Despite having a slightly smaller sensor, the D780 offers a higher resolution of 24.3 megapixels, compared with 12.1 MP of the D3. This megapixels advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 5.94μm versus 8.43μm for the D3). However, it should be noted that the D780 is much more recent (by 12 years and 4 months) than the D3, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that make it possible to gather light more efficiently.
The resolution advantage of the Nikon D780 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the D780 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 30.2 x 20.1 inches or 76.8 x 51.1 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 24.2 x 16.1 inches or 61.4 x 40.9 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 20.2 x 13.4 inches or 51.2 x 34.1 cm. The corresponding values for the Nikon D3 are 21.3 x 14.2 inches or 54.1 x 36 cm for good quality, 17 x 11.3 inches or 43.2 x 28.8 cm for very good quality, and 14.2 x 9.4 inches or 36 x 24 cm for excellent quality prints.
The D780 has on-sensor phase detect pixels, which results in fast and reliable autofocus acquisition even during live view operation.
The Nikon D3 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 200 to ISO 6400, which can be extended to ISO 100-25600. The corresponding ISO settings for the Nikon D780 are ISO 100 to ISO 51200, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 50-204800.
Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. This service determines an overall sensor rating, as well as sub-scores for low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and color depth ("DXO Portrait"). The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.
|1.||Nikon D3||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2290||81|
|2.||Nikon D780||Full Frame||24.3||6048||4024||4K/30p||25.3||14.3||2877||95|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||Full Frame||26.0||6240||4160||1080/60p||24.4||11.9||2862||85|
|4.||Canon 1D Mark III||APS-H||10.1||3888||2592||none||22.7||11.7||1078||71|
|5.||Nikon D6||Full Frame||20.7||5568||3712||4K/30p||25.3||14.3||2886||95|
|6.||Nikon Z6 II||Full Frame||24.3||6048||4024||4K/60p||25.0||14.4||3303||94|
|7.||Nikon D5||Full Frame||20.7||5588||3712||4K/30p||25.1||12.3||2343||88|
|8.||Nikon D4S||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||1080/60p||24.4||13.3||3074||89|
|9.||Nikon D750||Full Frame||24.2||6016||4016||1080/60p||24.8||14.5||2956||93|
|10.||Nikon D4||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||1080/30p||24.7||13.1||2965||89|
|11.||Nikon D3S||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||720/24p||23.5||12.0||3253||82|
|12.||Nikon D3X||Full Frame||24.4||6048||4032||none||24.7||13.7||1992||88|
|13.||Nikon D700||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2303||80|
|Note: DXO values in italics represent estimates based on sensor size and age.|
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. The D780 indeed provides for movie recording, while the D3 does not. The highest resolution format that the D780 can use is 4K/30p.
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. The D3 and the D780 are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The viewfinders of both cameras offer the same field of view (100%), as well as the same magnification (0.70x). The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Nikon D3 and Nikon D780 in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras.
|1.||Nikon D3||optical||Y||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/8000s||11.0||n||n|
|2.||Nikon D780||optical||Y||3.2 / 2359||tilting||Y||1/8000s||12.0||n||n|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||optical||Y||3.0 / 1040||swivel||Y||1/4000s||6.5||n||n|
|4.||Canon 1D Mark III||optical||Y||3.0 / 230||fixed||n||1/8000s||10.0||n||n|
|5.||Nikon D6||optical||Y||3.2 / 2359||fixed||Y||1/8000s||14.0||n||n|
|6.||Nikon Z6 II||3690||Y||3.2 / 2100||tilting||Y||1/8000s||14.0||n||Y|
|7.||Nikon D5||optical||Y||3.2 / 2359||fixed||Y||1/8000s||14.0||n||n|
|8.||Nikon D4S||optical||Y||3.2 / 921||fixed||n||1/8000s||11.0||n||n|
|9.||Nikon D750||optical||Y||3.2 / 1229||tilting||n||1/4000s||6.0||Y||n|
|10.||Nikon D4||optical||Y||3.2 / 921||fixed||n||1/8000s||11.0||n||n|
|11.||Nikon D3S||optical||Y||3.0 / 921||fixed||n||1/8000s||11.0||n||n|
|12.||Nikon D3X||optical||Y||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||n|
|13.||Nikon D700||optical||Y||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/8000s||8.0||Y||n|
|14.||Nikon D300||optical||Y||3.0 / 922||fixed||n||1/8000s||6.0||Y||n|
|15.||Nikon D2Xs||optical||Y||2.5 / 230||fixed||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||n|
|16.||Nikon D2X||optical||Y||2.5 / 235||fixed||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||n|
One differentiating feature between the two cameras concerns the touch sensitivity of the rear screen. The D780 has a touchscreen, while the D3 has a conventional panel. Touch control can be particularly helpful, for example, for setting the focus point.
The Nikon D3 and the Nikon D780 both have an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.
The D3 writes its imaging data to Compact Flash cards, while the D780 uses SDXC cards. Both cameras feature dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Nikon D3 and Nikon D780 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
Mic / Speaker
|1.||Nikon D3||Y||- / -||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|2.||Nikon D780||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||3.1||Y||-||Y|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||Y||stereo / mono||Y||-||mini||2.0||Y||Y||Y|
|4.||Canon 1D Mark III||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|5.||Nikon D6||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||3.1||Y||-||Y|
|6.||Nikon Z6 II||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||micro||3.2||Y||-||Y|
|7.||Nikon D5||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||3.0||-||-||-|
|8.||Nikon D4S||Y||mono / mono||Y||Y||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|9.||Nikon D750||Y||stereo / mono||Y||Y||mini||2.0||Y||-||-|
|10.||Nikon D4||Y||mono / mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||-||-||-|
|11.||Nikon D3S||Y||stereo / -||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|12.||Nikon D3X||Y||- / -||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|13.||Nikon D700||Y||- / -||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|14.||Nikon D300||Y||- / -||-||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|15.||Nikon D2Xs||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
|16.||Nikon D2X||Y||- / -||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
It is notable that the D780 offers wifi support, which can be a very convenient means to transfer image data to an off-camera location. In contrast, the D3 does not provide wifi capability.
Both cameras feature a PC Sync terminal to control professional strobe lights, which will be appreciated by studio photographers.
The D780 is a recent model that features in the current product line-up of Nikon. In contrast, the D3 has been discontinued (but can be found pre-owned on eBay). As a replacement in the same line of cameras, the D3 was succeeded by the Nikon D4. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Nikon website.
So what is the bottom line? Is there a clear favorite between the Nikon D3 and the Nikon D780? Which camera is better? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.
Advantages of the Nikon D3:
- More portrait friendly: Features an integrated vertical grip for easier portrait shooting.
- Longer lasting: Can take more shots (4300 versus 2260) on a single battery charge.
- More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in August 2007).
Reasons to prefer the Nikon D780:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (24.3 vs 12.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 42%.
- Better jpgs: Has a more modern image processing engine (EXPEED 6 vs EXPEED).
- Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 4K/30p video.
- Better live-view autofocus: Features on-sensor phase-detection for more confident autofocus.
- Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (2359k vs 922k dots).
- More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
- Fewer buttons to press: Has a touchscreen to facilitate handling and shooting adjustments.
- More compact: Is smaller (144x116mm vs 160x157mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 460g or 35 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- Easier travel charging: Can be conveniently charged via its USB port.
- Faster data transfer: Supports a more advanced USB protocol (3.1 vs 2.0).
- Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
- Easier wireless transfer: Supports Bluetooth for image sharing without cables.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (54 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Reflects 12 years and 4 months of technical progress since the D3 launch.
If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D780 is the clear winner of the contest (16 : 3 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision. A professional wildlife photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a family photog, and a person interested in architecture has distinct needs from a sports shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Nikon D3 and the Nikon D780 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera listing whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the D3 or the D780 perform in practice. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate.
This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], digitalcameraworld [DCW], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|1.||Nikon D3||..||..||..||+ +||5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2007||4,999|
|2.||Nikon D780||5/5||..||5/5||87/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jan 2020||2,299|
|3.||Canon 6D Mark II||4/5||+||4/5||80/100||4.5/5||4/5||Jun 2017||1,999|
|4.||Canon 1D Mark III||..||..||..||..||..||..||Feb 2007||4,499|
|5.||Nikon D6||..||..||4/5||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2020||6,499|
|6.||Nikon Z6 II||4.5/5||..||4/5||89/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Oct 2020||1,999|
|7.||Nikon D5||..||..||4/5||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||Jan 2016||6,499|
|8.||Nikon D4S||5/5||..||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2014||6,499|
|9.||Nikon D750||5/5||+ +||4/5||90/100||4.5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2014||2,299|
|10.||Nikon D4||..||..||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jan 2012||5,999|
|11.||Nikon D3S||5/5||..||..||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||Oct 2009||5,199|
|12.||Nikon D3X||..||..||..||86/100||4/5||5/5||Dec 2008||7,999|
|13.||Nikon D700||..||89/100||..||+ +||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jul 2008||2,999|
|14.||Nikon D300||..||+ +||..||+ +||5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2007||1,799|
|15.||Nikon D2Xs||..||..||..||..||..||..||Jun 2006||4,699|
|16.||Nikon D2X||..||..||..||+ +||..||..||Sep 2004||4,999|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting.
Specifications: Nikon D3 vs Nikon D780
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Nikon D3||Nikon D780|
|Camera Type||Digital single lens reflex||Digital single lens reflex|
|Camera Lens||Nikon F mount lenses||Nikon F mount lenses|
|Launch Date||August 2007||January 2020|
|Launch Price||USD 4,999||USD 2,299|
|Sensor Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D780|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||Full Frame Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 23.9 mm||35.9 x 23.9 mm|
|Sensor Area||860.4 mm2||858.01 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.2 mm||43.1 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||12.1 Megapixels||24.3 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||4256 x 2832 pixels||6048 x 4024 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||8.43 μm||5.94 μm|
|Pixel Density||1.40 MP/cm2||2.84 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||Anti-Alias filter||Anti-Alias filter|
|Movie Capability||no Video||4K/30p Video|
|ISO Setting||200 - 6,400 ISO||100 - 51,200 ISO|
|ISO Boost||100 - 25,600 ISO||50 - 204,800 ISO|
|Image Processor||EXPEED||EXPEED 6|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||81||..|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||23.5||..|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||12.2||..|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||2290||..|
|Screen Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D780|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Optical viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||100%|
|Top-Level Screen||Control Panel||Control Panel|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.0inch||3.2inch|
|LCD Resolution||922k dots||2359k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Tilting screen|
|Touch Input||no Touchscreen||Touchscreen|
|Shooting Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D780|
|Focus System||Phase-detect AF||Phase-detect AF|
|Manual Focusing Aid||no Peaking Feature||Focus Peaking|
|Max Shutter Speed (mechanical)||1/8000s||1/8000s|
|Continuous Shooting||11 shutter flaps/s||12 shutter flaps/s|
|Shutter Life Expectancy||300 000 actuations||200 000 actuations|
|Time-Lapse Photography||Intervalometer built-in||Intervalometer built-in|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||CF cards||SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots||Dual card slots|
|Connectivity Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D780|
|Studio Flash||PC Sync socket||PC Sync socket|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 3.1|
|HDMI Port||mini HDMI||mini HDMI|
|Microphone Port||no MIC socket||External MIC port|
|Headphone Socket||no Headphone port||Headphone port|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||Wifi built-in|
|Bluetooth Support||no Bluetooth||Bluetooth built-in|
|Body Specs||Nikon D3||Nikon D780|
|Environmental Sealing||Weathersealed body||Weathersealed body|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||4300 shots per charge||2260 shots per charge|
|In-Camera Charging||no USB charging||USB charging|
160 x 157 x 88 mm
(6.3 x 6.2 x 3.5 in)
144 x 116 x 76 mm
(5.7 x 4.6 x 3.0 in)
|Camera Weight||1300 g (45.9 oz)||840 g (29.6 oz)|
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