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

Build and handling

As a newer version of the D3, rather than an entirely new model, there is very little difference between the bodies of the D3, D3X and D3S. The D3S features two very slight changes.

The first of these is the addition of a dedicated button to switch on Live View mode. Video capture is also started via the Live View mode, so it is important that the feature is quickly and easily accessible.

The second change is even subtler. To help photographers in cold weather, the cutaway on the battery door latch has been made wider to make it easier to change the battery while wearing gloves. This new cover has the same product code as the old one (BL-4) and is compatible with both the D3 and D3X.

Besides these changes, the magnesium-alloy body of the D3S is almost exactly the same as the earlier two models. It has the same number of ‘O’ rings and seals to protect the camera against moisture and dust, regardless of the conditions. During this test I, along with the D3S, was caught in a heavy downpour of rain, and despite the rear of the camera getting splashed with water it didn’t suffer any adverse effects.

The button layout of the D3S should be familiar to anyone who has used a recent professional-level Nikon DSLR, plus the camera is also similar in use to the high-end enthusiast-level D300S. Among the key differences between the body of the D3S and those models further down Nikon’s range is the additional small LCD at the bottom of the rear of the camera. This small screen displays the ISO sensitivity, the image quality and white balance settings.

As the D3S uses a large EN-EL4a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, the bottom of the camera is larger than that of an enthusiast DSLR – around the same size as a D300 with the addition of a battery grip.

In fact, the bottom of the camera is built like a battery grip and includes a shutter-release button designed for shooting in portrait orientation. An ‘AF On’ button is also set into the rear of the camera for vertical shooting, although in practice it often proved a hindrance. When using the camera in one hand, the fleshy part of my palm below the thumb pressed against this button.

When reviewing images in playback mode, this often caused the autofocus to be activated, returning the camera to its shooting mode ready to take the next image. When the button is accidentally pressed during video capture it is even more  inconvenient as it causes the focus to search back and forth. This was also an issue with the original D3, and although the role of the button can be changed in the custom menu, it seems odd that Nikon hasn’t taken the opportunity to set the button slightly deeper into the body so that it cannot be accidentally pressed.

All things considered, the build and handling of the D3S are excellent, as you would expect from a camera costing over £4,000. With a huge number of in-camera customisation options, including an Fn button, My Menu and AF fine-tune, the various functions of the camera can be tweaked to fit the exact shooting needs of individual photographers.

  • 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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