Nikon D3x sensor – made by Sony, designed by Nikon

Update: On December 1, 2008 Nikon USA issued a correction to the pixel pitch specification, restating it as 5.94µm - the same as the A900?. This is just getting better by the minute...

This is the first official statement that I came across regarding the Nikon D3x sensor origin (if you can trust CNET):

"Nikon officials were at pains to point out that although the D3X's sensor is manufactured in a Sony plant, it's still very much a Nikon designed sensor".

The only difference mentioned in the article is the respective pixel pitches: 5.9 microns on the A900, 5.49 microns on the D3x. If you don't know what this means - check this article about sensors and pixel pitches.


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  • Dave

    Okay, so it is not the A900 sensor?! That should promise a lot then concerning image quality. 😀

  • Pablov

    if it’s true that D3x’s sensor has smaller pixels, collecting less light and having more pixel gap, it’s interesting asking how do they improve the image quality over the Sony’ A900’s sensor

    Interesting also that Nikon Officials told where the sensor is manufactured… (according to the article)

  • JHarris

    According to an update in the article on the D3X on Rob Galbraith’s site Nikon has corrected the pixel pitch, and it is now the same as the A900:

    “Update, December 1, 2008: Nikon USA has now issued a correction to the pixel pitch specification, restating it as 5.94µm.”

  • Wow! I updated the post – so it is “almost” the same sensor after all? It can’t be…

  • Pablov

    Thanks JHarris for the correct info, good article

    as the page says:
    “So, given the similarities between the DSLR-A900’s and D3X’s sensor specifications, they would appear to be related, but whether they’re twins or third cousins only Sony and Nikon know for certain. “

  • Char

    Just a question, why care about who makes the sensor? If the quality given is good, I do not care at all who designed and who manufactures the sensor – as long as it is not manufactured using child labor in China or something like that.

    Then again, I am not interested in the D3x anyways….

    • Why do they keep it a secret? Many people are trying to justify the D3x price and the sensor is the key to that – you can get the Sony A900 for 3k here in the US.

      • alex

        did you see a900 samples?
        anything similar to d3x to you???

        • A900 samples look pretty damn amazing to me.

          • alex

            at lowest iso they look nice. there is fringe, lots of it.

            but if you need a sensor in a box (read dumb body) to use only at base iso then a900 is the camera for you.

            but the issue is that with sony you need to get the most expensive zeiss lenses to resolve the MP. with the nikon you already have the lenses.

            you could get a900 + 3 zeiss for $8000 but you get a sensor and some primes. there isn’t even a 14-24 zoom yet. not to mention the lack of features on the body.

            the even bigger issue with canon is that there are 1-2 primes to resolve 21mp. you again need to get the most expensive zeiss or the nikkor adaptor to make it look sharp ( website has all sorts of tests. L primes are not as sharp as nikkor zooms too).

            so you see d3x may be expensive but since there is nothing similar as competition they are not forced to lower the price. that is the problem. 1ds was also $8000 list price and it lacked features found on d3 or d3x today and also had hardware problems. european models were recalled for parts replacement and the focus issues seems forever there.

            why can’t canon produce a camera with all features like d3x (high MP, fast working af, very good metering, very good flash system, solid body, lenses to use the mp etc)? i don’t get it. the same with sony. they offer versions of features.

            and i’m sure street price won’t be $8000.
            stop comparing the street price of 1ds after 1 year with the list price of d3x.

            • Which features are you talking about, specifically, aside from live view?

              I don’t remember any nikons having intelligent preview.

            • luk

              Hmm…why you talking only about expensive zeiss lenses? I saw samples A900 with few old Minolta lenses (cost 300-1000$ – is this expensive?) and work very, very good so your argument isn’t good. There’s no wery wide zoom like nikon 12-24 but new zeiss 16-35/2.8 is coming.

  • Brian darnell

    So, is this the “Big” announcement?
    This is a let down.
    I’m really glad I bought my D3 when I did.

    • I don’t think this is the “BIG” announcement, unless they referred to the price…

      • Pablov

        hahaha, that made laugh

      • Michael

        Good one!

  • EricS

    One thing is for sure with Nikon. The marketing and PR simply not up to par.

  • Anonymous

    The D3x’s sensor is obviously a close relative of the A900’s. Just compare the press release images of the sensors.

  • Chevypower

    I thought there was some familiarity with the names: Exmor, Expeed

    • Douglas

      those are processors, not sensors…

  • Dan

    the marketing plan was to make everyone wait for the D3X and have the price is too high so everyone starts buying up the D3’s and D700’s then after awhile lower the price on the D3X by $2k then have those user buy the D3X. Business as usual. What if Sony bought into Nikon? we would have Sonyikon’s

  • ben

    same way as D3 and D700 sensor. Designed by Nikon – Fabricated by Sony. Makes total sense.

    • but as has been discussed here MANY times, the D3 and D700 sensor was NOT manufactured by Sony, we have that information on the word of Sony itself…

    • Renee

      This sounds also logical, as Sony uses a different brand process equipment, that Nikon cant buy.

      That is probably the reason those sensors arent manufactured @ Nikon. The reason for a diffent sensor, could be just a simple as they like to optimise the sensor interface to the image processor. having extra hardware to match those interfaces might me a step they might not wanted to take.

      But, I’m just guessing, as things I often see in the embedded software development environments I work in.

      Hope this might enlighten some design choices, as I dont know if these I apply here.


  • Stephen

    Okay, so the fact that Nikon isn’t making their sensors is not such a big deal to me. Nikon isn’t a microprocessor company. They aren’t set up to make their own silicon. Sony is. I believe this is what is making the camera so expensive. It is kind of like Fuji buying Nikon bodies. It drove the cost up astronomically. It is also what drove them out of business.

    No, I am not saying that Nikon is going to go out of business, but this kind of action is crap. There is no way this will compete with medium format cameras. Sensor size is what sets them apart. It seems that at the price they are charging they are shooting for that market.

    Oh well, I think this is the Windows Vista of cameras. A lot of hype for a big price that doesn’t deliver anything special. Yeah I know a lot of MPs is good for some. Heck, I am one of them. But this just disappoints.

  • SimonG

    Nikon D3X, pixels wide 6048, sensor size width 35.9mm, pixel pitch = 35.9/6048 = 5.9358 microns (rounded to 5.94 microns)

    Sony A900, pixels wide 6048, sensor size width 35.9mm, pixel pitch = 35.9/6048 = 5.9358 microns (rounded to 5.9 microns)

    I’m just about to start designing my own 24 Mpixel FF CMOS sensor . . . the image width will be 6048 pixels . . . . guess what the pixel pitch will be ??

    • Pablov


      0.1 inch ? 😛
      that would really be a high iso killer (but the lens would be sooooo BIG… )

      • SimonG

        Errrr . . . nope.

        You work it out like this . . .

        pixel pitch = 35.9/6048 = 5.9358 microns

        and NO ! it’s not a Sony sensor . . .


  • Maybe people were holding back buying D3s because they were hoping for a cheap D3X? So Nikon brought it out fast to show people it’s not a bad idea to just go with the D3. That’s what I’m going to do. Either a D3 or D700. Forget 24 megapixels. I don’t need that much.

    As for the idea that the sensors are the same, that’s nonsense. They might be related and share some technology, but I’m betting that Nikon does things that will make the image quality better. But only time will tell.

    • Ernst

      The sensors are made by the same company in the same fab with identical pads and identical (public) specifications.

      Any change in pixel design that Nikon may have requested is known to Sony. If the change is a real improvement, the only way Nikon can keep Sony from incorporating those changes into the Alpha is by means of an elaborate and ironclad contract and/or a patent on the design.

      Under these circumstances, It’s *possible* they’re different, but it’s hardly “nonsense” to suspect that the sensors are identical and that they differ only in post-processing.

  • gs

    It is quite possible that sensor “wells” are the same with a different microlens structure, bayer filter, aa filter, hi/lo-pass filter, etc It is also possible that connection paths and some associated electronics are different, e.g., the ability to pull off 3:2/FF, 5:4 and APS-C/DX data streams. And, on-sensor AD conversion could be different.

    The same basic sensor design could be altered very slightly and optimized in many different ways resulting in vastly different final results and still have the same well size and pixel pitch and come off the same fab line.

    • Eric B

      I agree, just because Sony makes the sensor doesn’t mean the nikon doesn’t add some of its own components to the sensor UNIT design before putting it in camera. I doubt that sony makes the entire D3x sensor unit. that is the A/D circuitry, housing for it, and or course the AA filter and other intangibles that we wouldn’t know about that optimize it for the nikon F-mount lenses…

  • Anonymous

    i don;t care about D3x i bougth the D3 yet

  • You know – I was wondering the same thing. It will not be so difficult for Nikon to track him down now – there are not so many people that had initial access to the D3x before it was released… and he also has a website?

    • Aleksey

      He is probably working for Nikon’s marketing department, so he is just doing his job.IMHO. If he is not, then they should pay him some bonus.

      • Michael

        That’s funny!

  • Xavier


    ‘The sensor is manufactured by Sony, but it’s designed exclusively for Nikon,’ Nikon UK’s group marketing manager Jeremy Gilbert tells BJP. ‘We have input in the production. We send them a list of requirements of what we need, and we also send them our specifications. The final result is a sensor designed especially for the D3x. We have a closer relationship in the production of our sensor than any other manufacturer.’

    • Thanks for the info – do you have a link for this so I can post it for everyone to read?

  • Anonymous
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