Nikon has finally confirmed what we predicted earlier this week - and launched the 12.1-megapixel Nikon D3, a digital SLR aimed at professional photographers and keen amateur snappers alike.

Nikon is obviously hoping too that the camera's keen spec and innovative features will be enough to put it ahead of rival snappers from Canon, such as the recently announced Canon EOS-1D Mark II.

The Nikon D3 comes with a specially developed 36mm x 23.9mm CMOS imaging sensor that gives it at effective image resolution of 12.1 million pixels.

This enables the camera to shoot in both the universally recognised DX format as well as FX - a new format that's aimed at sports, press and professional photographers. Nikon says the FX format offers higher light sensitivity, better resolution, a wider dynamic range and an increased pixel count. Nikon said the Nikon D3 is the world's fastest FX-format digital SLR camera.

Rapid-fire photography

The Nikon D3 also aces another pro requirement - the ability to take a lot of shorts in very quick succession. The camera's continuous shooting mode enables you to reel off 9 frames per second at full 12.1-megapixel resolution or 11.1 frames per second in 5.1-megapixel DX mode.

These fast shooting speeds are accompanied by two other rapid-fire features - a shutter lag of just 37-miliseconds - the fastest achievable by a mechanical shutter, according to Nikon. The camera also offers support for UDMA - high speed flash memory that's capable of storing images at 35-megabytes per second. That's four times faster than the acclaimed Nikon D2XS camera is capable of.

The Nikon D3 also starts up much faster than the Nikon D2XS - taking just 0.12 seconds, 0.08 seconds faster.

Focusing and sensitivity

Nikon says the D3's sensitivity range is extremely wide, ranging from ISO 200 to ISO 6400 - and you don't have to worry about excessive picture noise fouling up your shots. Nikon says you can achieve high quality results even at ISO 6400. You can also increase the sensitivity to HI 0.3, HI 0.5. HI 0.7, HI 1, HI 2 or decrease to Lo 1, Lo 0.7, Lo 0.5 and Lo 0.3.

Nikon is however making a lot of noise about the D3's focusing capabilities. It uses a Multi-CAM 3500FX sensor with 51 separate auto-focus points. Fifteen cross-type sensors at the centre enable it to detect the subject at aperture settings as low as f/5.6.

A single AF point can also be selected using all 51 of the focus points or as little as 11. Dynamic AF also lets you choose between 9, 21 and 51 focus points. The Nikon D3 has 3D tracking as well which enables your subject to remain in focus even if they're moving across a scene.

The focus settings are aided and abetted by a scene recognition system which automatically optimises the camera's auto-exposure white balance and autofocus settings for certain kinds of photography.

There's also a 3-inch VGA LCD screen with live view, and a brand new 14-bit image processing system. The Nikon D3 features a new picture control system which lets you manage and customise the appearance of your images in camera too, saving time when you get to the proper image-editing stage.

Two Compact Flash card slots are built-in for extra storage possibilities. Pricing isn't confirmed but is likely to be around the £3,400 mark.