Nikon D3S review

January 2, 2010

Overall Rating:


Nikon D3S

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Price as Reviewed:


With an extraordinarily high maximum sensitivity, a 9fps shooting rate and HD video capture, the Nikon D3S will be looked at lustfully by many an amateur photographer. But are its 12.1 million pixels still enough? the professional photographer? Richard Sibley investigates

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Nikon D3S Professional DSLR at a glance:

  • 12.1-million-pixel CMOS sensor
  • Maximum sensitivity of ISO 102,400
  • High-definition video capture
  • 9fps shooting rate
  • New ‘Quiet’ mode
  • Street price around £4,000 (body only)

In October last year, Nikon announced the third camera in its professional D3 range: the D3S. Although its body is largely unchanged from the original 12.2-million-pixel D3 and the 24.5-million-pixel D3X, it has a new 12.1-million-pixel sensor. The main benefit of this new sensor over the original one of the D3 is that it can capture images at an extraordinary sensitivity of ISO 102,400.

Although it may sound like an intergalactic sporting event, the ‘pixel race’ is something that is often talked about by photographers. Many want cameras that produce smooth pictures with little image noise, rather than higher resolutions but noisier images.

There have been signs of manufacturers acknowledging this recently, most notably with the launch of the Canon PowerShot G11, which has more than four million fewer photosites than its predecessor, the PowerShot G10.

So, while the 12.1-million-pixel sensor of the Nikon D3S might seem a little sparse when compared to the likes of the 24.5-million-pixel Nikon D3X and Sony Alpha 850 and 900, or even the 21.1-million-pixel Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the D3S is, in fact, aimed at a very different type of photographer.

As a weatherproof, high-performance camera with a high ISO sensitivity, the D3S is targeted at professional photographers who rely on speed and the ability to shoot in low light. However, £4,000 is a lot to pay for a camera with just 12.1 million pixels, and I’m interested to see whether Nikon’s decision to keep the pixel count at this modest level will work in the camera’s favour.

  • Built-in Flash: No
  • Dioptre Adjustment: -3 to +1 dioptre
  • Memory Card: 2x CompactFlash shots, compatible with CF type I/II, Microdrive and UDMA
  • White Balance: Auto, 6 presets (with fine-tuning), plus 3 custom and Kelvin adjustment settings
  • Shutter Type: Electronically controlled focal-plane
  • Output Size: 4526x2832 pixels
  • Viewfinder Type: Type B BriteView clear matte VI screen
  • LCD: 3in TFT with 920,000 dots
  • Field of View: Approx 100%
  • AF Points: 51 points, selectable manually or automatically
  • Max Flash Sync: 1/250
  • Sensor: FX-format (full frame) CMOS device with 12.1 million effective pixels
  • White Balance Bracket: 2-9 exposures in increments of 1, 2 or 3
  • Exposure Modes: PASM
  • Focal Length Mag: 1x (1.5x in DX-format crop mode)
  • Power: Rechargeable Li-Ion battery (supplied)
  • Weight: 1,240g (without battery or card/s)
  • Shutter Speeds: 30-1/8000sec in 1⁄3 steps plus B
  • File Format: NEF (raw), JPEG, raw+JPEG simultaneously
  • Lens Mount: Nikon F
  • RRP: £4,199.99
  • Colour Space: Adobe RGB, sRGB
  • Drive Mode: Single, continuous (Hi/Lo selectable, up to 9fps in FX mode, 11fps in DX mode), self-timer
  • ISO: 100-12,800 in 1/3EV steps and Hi1, 2, 3 (ISO 102,400)
  • DoF Preview: Yes
  • Focusing Modes: Manual, single shot AF, continuous AF with AF fine-tuning
  • Dimensions: 159.5x157x87.5mm
  • Connectivity / Interface: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed/HDMI
  • Metering System: 1,005-pixel 3D Matrix metering, centreweighted (adjustable), spot (1.5%)
  • Compression: Three-stage JPEG, three-stage NEF
  • Exposure Comp: ±5EV in 1⁄3, 1/2 or 1EV steps

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