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Nikon D3s review
|DATE REVIEWED: 4th Mar 2010||Add Camera To Comparison Chart|
|Camera Type||DSLR||Shutter Speeds||30 - 1/8000 sec|
|RRP||£4199.99||ISO Range||200 - 12800|
|Megapixels||12||Focal Length||By lens|
|Dimensions||160 x 157 x 88mm (WxHxD)||Focus Distance||By lens|
|LCD Size||3 inches||Zoom (Opt)||By lens|
|Zoom (Dig)||None||Storage||CF I|
|Max Resolution||4256 x 2832||Battery Type||Li-Ion|
The Nikon D3 – with its pioneering FX CMOS sensor and superb low-light shooting capabilities – was always going to be a tough act to follow. Nikon has taken its time, quietly working away to tweak and hone its flagship full-frame model to produce an even faster, fitter version: the new D3S. In the hand, Nikon’s latest pro model feels just as weighty and robust as we’ve come to expect from DSLRs of this calibre: it’s not something you’d want to heft around all day, every day without the proper weight training, but it is impressively solid, well-made and well-designed. The D3S is marginally lighter than the older D3, weighing in at 1240g in comparison to 1300g, but the dimensions stay exactly the same. The interface also remains very similar to that of the D3, with just a few tweaks here and there that have improved functionality even further and of course, accommodate the D3S’s newest feature: HD video recording.
New to the interface is a dedicated Live View button – as seen on the recently launched D300S – which gives access to two Live View modes: Tripod and Handheld. There’s also a new Quiet Shutter Release mode (again seen previously on the D300S). As the name suggests, this dampens down the noise generated every time you take a shot by splitting the mirror and shutter movement, which would otherwise occur simultaneously, a welcome feature for covert candid photographers and wildlife enthusiasts in particular. Rotate the self-locking release Mode dial to the left of the camera’s top plate to access this. Around the back, the D3S’s fixed eye-level optical pentaprism viewfinder offers 100% coverage, 0.7x magnification and has a built-in eyepiece shutter for when you’re shooting in Live View mode or if you’re taking long exposures, to prevent light leakage.
As with the D3, the viewfinder is large, very bright and detailed, and there’s plenty of information displayed to keep you from having to take your eye away from it too often. Nikon’s LCDs never fail to impress us: the clarity and detail they’re capable of displaying is breathtaking. The D3S’s three-inch LCD performs admirably in all manner of conditions. A wide viewing angle and very effective anti-reflective coating make it highly usable, whether you’re shooting in Live View mode at odd angles, recording movies or playing back images.
Nikon’s latest launch produces the same size images as its highly popular predecessor – the D3 – but comes with a plethora of new features, plus plenty of improvements that could prove enough to tempt pro-level DSLR users to upgrade. The D3S allows users to shoot RAW files as well as JPEGs and TIFFs, with Fine, Normal and Basic quality settings available. Also on offer are more low-res shooting options than the D3 had, giving photographers a greater level of flexibility when taking quick test shots before the main event, for example. You can even process RAW files in-camera, saving them as JPEGs to save a lot of time in the digital darkroom and opening up a whole new level of functionality for deadline-driven sports, events and news-related photographers in particular.
It boasts an expanded ISO sensitivity range and promises better low-light performance than the D3’s already class-leading capabilities – something we’ll investigate further shortly. The D3S uses the same Multi-CAM3500 FX autofocus system as its older sibling, which is as responsive as ever, easily finding a lock in all manner of lighting conditions, including near darkness! As was the case with the D3, metering is very accurate, with few occasions giving rise to the need for any significant adjustment at the time of shooting or when post-processing.
Dynamic range in images – particularly RAW files – is also very impressive, with the potential to pull back a great deal of detail from even the deepest shadows. Those with a preference to get things right in-camera have the option of activating the camera’s highly effective D-Lighting feature. Present in various forms throughout Nikon’s DSLR range, the D3S offers the most sophisticated version of this feature, with the choice of a range of strengths to be applied according to the situation: Auto, Extra High, High, Normal or Low. Images are processed in-camera to ensure the most even possible exposure is produced from a difficult-to-meter high-contrast situation, a timesaving feature that improves the success rate of images straight out of the camera.
A faster Continuous Drive mode allows the D3S to shoot at a rate of up to 11fps in DX crop mode – 9fps at full resolution. No doubt this feature will continue to be appreciated by sharp-shooting action and wildlife photographers, however some may be tempted by the competition from Canon’s pro model’s slightly faster continuous shooting rate of 10fps at 16.1MP.
Of course, shooting all of those images (or indeed movies, which we’ll come to momentarily) requires a fair amount of storage capacity to keep you going without having to change memory cards too often. To this end, the D3S sports dual memory card slots, which accommodate two CompactFlash Type I/II cards. You can configure them to work together, using one as overflow, or program the camera to write RAW files to one and JPEGs to the other, for example. Increased functionality comes from the high level of customisation available with the D3S, a feature that’s preset to a greater or lesser extent throughout the Nikon DSLR range.
We’ve always liked the logical layout of the Nikon menu system, and the user-defined menu where you can deposit your favourite functions for faster access is of particular benefit. There’s the Retouch menu for quick in-camera image editing, and – if you’ve got a bit more time on your hands – the Custom menu unlocks a mind-boggling array of features that can be tweaked to the nth degree, to ensure the camera performs how you want it to. New for the D3S is the ability to shoot HD movies (1280 x 720), a feature that seems to have infiltrated the digital camera market at every level now. If you’re unconvinced of your need for such a feature, you’ll never notice it’s there, save having to skip over a couple of options in the main menu system, although obviously its presence has to be reflected in the camera’s price tag, which is a slight downside for avid stills-only image makers.
For budding directors however, the D-Movie mode is easily accessed: press the LV button to activate Live View, then press the centre of the camera’s four-way d-pad to start filming. Movies are smooth and detailed, with users benefiting hugely from the camera’s incredible low-light shooting abilities. However, those with a serious passion for top-quality film-making might be tempted towards the 1080p movie mode of industry rival, the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. Do bear in mind, though, that you have to weigh up the benefits of higher-resolution video against the larger file sizes and restricted recording time.
Photography at high ISOs is where the D3S exceeds all of our expectations. With a native sensitivity range spanning ISO 200-12800 (expandable to a top equivalent setting of ISO 102400/H3) the D3S certainly promises to cover a lot of ground, but it’s a rarity that a camera performs adequately right up to the top end of its ISO range. We found shots taken at the lower end of the sensitivity range to be very clean, crisp and beautifully detailed, with some noticeable noise only creeping in at an incredible ISO 3200. At top whack – ISO 12800 – as you’d expect, there’s perceptible noise and the colours become a little distorted, but you can still go home with something usable. Above this point, the camera’s ‘H’ settings – Hi-1 (ISO 25600 equiv.), Hi-2 (ISO 51200 equiv.), and Hi-3 (ISO 102400 equiv.) – see an increasing level of noise and the appearance of some odd colours, but that’s hardly surprising. What is startling is just how dark it’s got to be before the D3S struggles to lock onto a subject or resolve an image: we were able to shoot handheld in near-darkness. Even when it became so dark that we couldn’t make out anything, the camera could still ‘see’ the scene before us: an astounding feat, and we’ll be keen to see how the D3S’s main rival compares.
The Nikon D3S may not look that different to its former incarnation, but the inside alterations are quite incredible. The next stage in the evolution of full-frame DSLR technology is here: the D3S represents a significant leap forward in low-light functionality.
The D3S is an incredibly sophisticated camera and a very tempting prospect for full-frame upgraders. It might even tempt some system switchers
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|The D3S is an incredibly sophisticated camera and a very tempting prospect for full-frame upgraders. It might even tempt some system switchers|
Josie developed a taste for photography while travelling around Ecuador, returning home to specialize in the medium as part of her BA (Hons) degree at university. Now the Reviews Editor for Digital Photographer, Josie handles all of the latest camera launches and boasts an in-depth knowledge of all things camera-related.
|Total Camera Reviews||25|
|Average Camera Rating||3.9|
|Josie's Last 5 Reviews|
|Pentax K-5||5 / 5|
|Nikon D3100||4 / 5|
|Leica M9||5 / 5|
|Kodak EasyShare M530||3 / 5|
|Canon EOS 550D||4 / 5|
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