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

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Nikon D3S review


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To prove that the D3S is more than a mere upgrade of the original D3, the new camera comes with some substantial improvements and new features. The first of these is a full-frame, 12.1-million pixel CMOS image sensor.

The D3S is only the fourth Nikon DSLR to feature a full-frame imaging sensor, and although it has roughly the same number of photosites as the sensor of the original D3, the sensor has been completely redesigned. According to a representative of Nikon UK, improvements have been made to the microlenses over each photosite. It is these lenses that help to direct light into the photosite, which, in turn, has an effect on the amount of image noise generated.

The improvements made by Nikon have enabled the company to increase the maximum default ISO sensitivity setting of the D3S to an impressive ISO 12,800. However, more impressive still is the camera’s extended ISO range, which, at its maximum Hi-3 setting, is the equivalent of a staggering ISO 102,400. These extreme sensitivity settings allow photojournalists to get the pictures that pay their bills, regardless of the lighting conditions.

There is an ever-increasing demand for photojournalists to shoot video alongside their stills footage. So, with this in mind, the D3S is the first full-frame Nikon DSLR capable of recording high-definition movies footage. Like the APS-C-format Nikon D300S, the D3S can record 1280×720-pixel videos at a frame rate of 24fps, along with stereo sound via an external microphone input.

It is the convergence of video and the D3s’s ISO sensitivity that is particularly impressive – that is, the ability to shoot video footage at any ISO sensitivity up to and including ISO 102,400. I first saw a demonstration of this feature at the camera’s launch. The footage, shot by Vincent Munier, was taken at dawn and was of two brown bears roaming by the banks of a river. When I pointed out that there was still visible image noise on the film footage, Jeremy Gilbert of Nikon UK said that although there was slight image noise, a video of this type would previously have had to have been shot in infrared, which would have resulted in the video being in either monochrome or with a strong green cast. Quite how true this is of professional video cameras I don’t know, but the results were certainly impressive.

The high level of performance demanded by professional photographers is also maintained with the nine frames per second shooting rate, which is the same as that found on the original D3. When the D3S is switched to the smaller DX-format frame, the shooting rate is increased to 11 frames per second.

As a full-frame (35mm equivalent) DSLR camera, the Nikon D3S is best used with standard Nikon F-mount lenses. It is compatible with Nikon’s DX-format lenses, but the image area will be cropped to the same size as that of a DX sensor, resulting in images of 5.1 million pixels in resolution. The automatic cropping can be turned off, resulting in full-resolution, 12.1-million-pixel images, although they suffer from severe vignetting.

The DX format isn’t the only crop available on the D3S. A 1.2x crop is possible that results in 8.4-million-pixel images. A 5:4 (ten-million-pixel) crop is also available, and this format should prove extremely useful for portrait photographers.

Those who bought the original D3 were impressed with the image quality, but often found themselves having to clean the image sensor. One of the less glamorous, but much needed and requested, features of the D3S is its in-camera sensor cleaning. This should now help to keep sensors free from dust. The cleaning process can be set to operate every time the camera is turned on or off.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Features
  3. 3. Build and handling
  4. 4. White balance and colour
  5. 5. Metering
  6. 6. Autofocus
  7. 7. Resolution, noise and sensitivity
  8. 8. Dynamic range
  9. 9. LCD, Live View, Viewfinder and Video
  10. 10. Our verdict
  11. 11. The competition
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