- 12.1 Mp FX (36×23.9mm) CMOS Sensor
- RAW/JPEGs & 720p HD Video @ 24fps
- ISO Sensitivity Up To ISO 102,400
- Built Tough, Fully Weathersealed
- 3″ 920,000-Dot LCD with Live View
- Buffers Up to 48 RAW or 130 large JPEGs
- In-Camera RAW Processing
- Compatible With Most Nikkor Optics
- Dual CF Memory Card Slots
- Up to 4200 Exposures per Battery Charge
Imagine a pro-level DSLR containing an imaging sensor 7 times more sensitive to low-level light than the human eye. Imagine if this camera can also capture high-definition live-action stills at up to 9 frames-per-second or 720 HD video at 24 frames-per-second (with stereo sound) under the lowest of lighting conditions. The Nikon D3S is such a camera. Constructed to the same precision high-performance standards as its predecessor, the Nikon D3, the D3S is designed to meet the convergent technological needs and demands of professional shooters under the most extreme of low-light shooting conditions.
The D3S is ruggedly constructed of weatherproof, silicon-sealed magnesium-alloy components and contains a re-engineered 12.1-megapixel FX-format (full-frame, 23.9 x 36mm) CMOS sensor capable of producing still images and HD video at ISO levels up 102,400. The D3S captures JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG, or TIFF image files at up to 9 frames-per-second in FX-format, or 11 frames-per-second when shooting in DX-mode. The buffer is equally impressive and can handle up to 42 RAW files or 130 large JPEGs.
The D3S’s all-glass optical viewing system offers bright, 100% viewing through the viewfinder. You also have the option of composing and editing images in Live View mode using the camera’s 3″, 920,000-dot LCD. Along with a wide selection of exposure, tonal, and color controls, the D3S also offers advanced D-Lighting for maximum shadow and highlight details in stills, a D-Movie mode for similar image optimization when shooting video, advanced chromatic aberration reduction controls, and in-camera RAW file processing. To keep image files clean from the moment of capture, an advanced Dust Reduction System helps keep errant dust particles out and away from the image path.
To keep up with the action, the D3S contains dual CompactFlash (CF) slots and can capture up to 4200 exposures per battery charge. And like its predecessor, the Nikon D3S is compatible with a vast selection of Nikon lenses the enable you to take sharp, dramatic imagery regardless of where the job takes you.
ISO Range of 200 – 12800, Expandable to ISO 102,400 (Hi 3)
Professional photographers can now rely on ISO 200 to ISO 12800 as the professional standard of image quality for their assignments for an incredible advantage when shooting indoor sports, stadium events at night or any other shooting situations where light is limited and Speedlights are not practical. Shooting at ISOs as high as 12,800, the D3S can take commercial-quality, pin-sharp images in low light at action-freezing shutter speeds, a capability that will open a new world of photographic opportunities. When needed, the D3S expands to the amazing ISO equivalent of 102,400, revealing color and detail even in low-lit places where human eyes may find it difficult to discern objects. This exceptional low-noise performance also applies to D-Movie capture, which creates new potential for multimedia projects and assignments.
Improved D-Movie Functionality
From well-lit scenes to extremely low-lit situations, the D3S’s D-Movie mode delivers unique versatility. An enhanced D-Movie mode offers HD quality (1,280 x 720 pixels) Motion-JPEG movies at 24 fps. By controlling the aperture from the widest f-stop to the smallest, the large FX-format sensor renders low-noise images with beautiful ‘bokeh’ from a large selection of Nikkor lenses. High-Sensitivity Movie mode allows users to shoot at up to an ISO equivalent of 102,400 in the dimmest of lighting conditions. D-Movie footage is easy to trim in-camera by simply selecting the starting and ending point. An extra bonus for sports and news photographers is the ability to save selected movie frames as JPEGs for immediate print and web publishing needs. The D3S has both an internal mono-aural microphone and an external stereo microphone input, enabling higher fidelity audio recording.
Large Pixel Pitched 12.1-megapixel FX-format CMOS Sensor
The D3S’s image sensor has been completely redesigned from the D3; the inner structure has been further optimized, with the pixel count and large pixel pitch maintained for even greater latitude in high ISO performance. As a result, the D3S captures and renders light in ways that no other ordinary digital SLR camera has yet achieved, with a significantly higher signal-to-noise ratio and a wide dynamic range for unmatched image quality for both still images and movies throughout the broadened ISO sensitivity capabilities.
Advanced Image Sensor Cleaning System
Another significant improvement over the D3 is the employment of the Image Sensor Cleaning function, which generates vibrations at 4 specific frequencies to optimize dust removal. This function can be set to operate automatically when the camera is turned on and off, or manually.
EXPEED Image Processor
Nikon’s fast, comprehensive, and energy-efficient approach to in-camera image processing maintains the rich initial data’s integrity through 14-bit A/D conversion and 16-bit image-processing, which expands the creative possibilities made possible by shooting NEF (Nikon Electronic Image Format) files. Combined with Nikon’s FX-format sensor, the D3S produces an exceptional tonal range and minimized tone jumps. Users can expect more accuracy with difficult color combinations such as skin tones and strong reds in the same frame without over-saturation and finer tonal gradation in highlights, even with extremely bright subject matter.
Lateral Chromatic Aberration Reduction Ensures Edge-to-Edge Image Sharpness
The D3S corrects color fringes caused by chromatic aberrations that, in some instances, can appear at the edges of differing subject elements. Lateral chromatic aberrations are corrected regardless of lens type, be they telephoto, wide-angle, non-CPU or other types of NIKKOR lenses.
Active D-Lighting Maintains High Levels of Highlights and Shadow Detail
Nikon’s Active D-Lighting automatically regulates the dynamic range of high-contrast scenes, pulling out shadow details and preserving highlights while maintaining proper contrast. The D3S allows photographers to choose from six Active D-Lighting settings, including the newly added Auto and Extra High, as well as High, Normal, Low and Off. You can also bracket Active D-Lighting strength levels up to five frames and select the best rendition afterwards.
Picture Control Functionality
Picture Control helps you define the look and feel of your images by custom-tailoring sharpness, saturation and other parameters to match your creative intentions. The D3S comes with 4 pre-installed Picture Control profiles, which can be fine-tuned and saved as new custom Picture Control profiles that match your personal shooting style or particular shooting conditions. These profiles can easily be copied to additional cameras.
Responsive From the Get-Go
The D3S optimizes workflow speed and fluidity throughout the entire shooting process. Start-up time is approx. 0.12 seconds and release time lag is minimized to approx. 0.04 seconds, exactly as fast as the D3, but with a buffer memory twice as large as that of the D3’s. In addition, the D3S’s auto focusing, image processing, memory card access and recording, USB interface and optional wireless transmitter all work together to keep professional photographers focused. And for sport and news photographers, many of the D3S’s JPEG files are print-ready with little or no post-production: an extra edge when time is short.
9-fps in FX-format, 11-fps in DX Crop-format
The D3S’s continuous shooting rates allows for a more steady delivery of fast continuous shooting speeds at a wide range of aperture settings enabling professionals to have greater control and fewer limitations when capturing images. With the DX crop, photographers can also add a 1.5x picture angle and a faster frame rate to their arsenal. Furthermore, the factory-installed buffer memory is twice the capacity of the D3, dramatically increasing the power of continuous shooting.
3″ 921,000-Dot LCD with 170-Degree Viewing Angle
The D3S’s large, high-resolution LCD monitor delivers bright, crisp image playback with up to 27x enlargement for immediate and precise image confirmation. Each LCD is covered with scratch resistant tempered glass and individually calibrated and fine-tuned at the factory to deliver consistent performance.
Easy-Access Live View Mode
The dedicated Live View button gives you instant access to two Live View modes: Tripod mode for accurate AF operation and Hand-held mode for more versatile shooting angles. The speed for Contrast-detect AF in Tripod mode has also been improved for enhanced practicality.
Advanced Scene Recognition System
Nikon’s exclusive 1,005-pixel RGB sensor precisely reads brightness and color information raising the overall accuracy of AF, AE, i-TTL flash control and auto white balance thanks to Nikon’s Scene Recognition System. The D3S’s AF delivers superb subject tracking and subject identification performance. Highlight analysis used for AE reproduces brightness faithful to the eye, and light source identification makes auto white balance uniquely precise and reliable.
The D3S’s strategically positioned 51 AF points deliver faster focus, even with quick and/or erratic subject movement. The 15 cross-type sensors in the centre of the frame maintain the same outstanding performance with any AF NIKKOR lens f/5.6 or faster. There are four Dynamic-area AF options, including 51 points (3D-tracking), which accurately follows your subject by shifting focus points using color and brightness information from the Scene Recognition System. This gives users an extra advantage when composition is important but your subject’s movement is extremely erratic. Single-point and Auto-area AF modes are also available.
Nikon’s 3D Color Matrix Metering II
Nikon’s exclusive 3D color matrix metering II is highly praised for its outstanding performance and faithful exposure results even in complex, unforgiving lighting conditions. The D3S takes accurate exposure further, using highlight analysis from the Scene Recognition System and then carefully selecting from a database containing information from over 30,000 actual shooting situations.
Informed Auto White Balance
Even in challenging conditions with mixed light sources, the D3S auto white balance function allows you to capture exacting color renditions in a wide variety of settings.
100% Optical Viewfinder Coverage (Approx)
The D3S’s large prism gives you the FX-format visual advantage when you shoot. The viewfinder image is not only larger and brighter, but the focusing screen is also carefully designed to help you to more intuitively sense sharp focus, be it manual or autofocus.
Durable, Tough, Sealed Against the Elements
For the reliability professionals demand, the shutter of the D3S has been tested for up to 300,000 cycles in fully assembled cameras under rigorous conditions. The ruggedly constructed D3S employs a strong yet lightweight magnesium alloy for its body, exterior cover, chassis and mirror box. Furthermore, a comprehensive series of O-rings and other specialized seals, combined with additional Nikon engineering, protect the D3S against invasive moisture, dust and even electromagnetic interference.
Dual CF Memory Card Slots
The D3S lets you designate each card slot for certain tasks: record two full CF cards of data sequentially for a large amount of storage, record the same data onto two cards (backup), record RAW and JPEG simultaneously onto separate cards, and transfer data from one card to another. You can also designate the slot for data-heavy D-Movie recording.
Up to 4200 Exposures per Battery Charge
The D3S uses the EN-EL4a rechargeable batteries. Power consumption and power management systems have been engineered for greater operating efficiency, so you can expect long battery life, shooting up to 4,200 images per charge.
Quiet Shutter Release Mode
Photographers can select “Q” on the release mode dial to substantially reduce the sound of the camera’s mirror-down during shooting. This is particularly useful when shooting in restrictive conditions such as when photographing theatrical performances or wildlife.
Additional Nikon D3S Features Include
Newly added image area of 1.2x crop (30 x 20) format with approx. 8.4 megapixels.
Multiple exposure operation that can be repeated by designating the function to the bracketing button.
Electronic virtual horizon that is available in Live View shooting.
Extended menu banks that stores up to four combinations of exposure mode, shutter speed and aperture value.
Versatile in-camera Retouch Menus, including RAW processing to enhance your images without using a computer.
Compatible with HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) output. Type C connector (mini size) is employed.
With the optional GPS Unit GP-1, location information such as latitude, longitude, altitude and time are automatically recorded to each image’s EXIF data. The Time Adjustment feature, which adjusts your camera’s time zone, is also available using the GP-1. Especially useful for group assignments that require several D3S cameras to be synchronized.
Exclusive Nikon Software include Nikon Transfer and ViewNX software packages (supplied) for a range of basic photo browsing and editing operations; Capture NX 2, Camera Control Pro 2, and Image Authentication Software (all optional) enable more advanced operation and image editing.
Read more at Nikon USA
Good For: Pros that need to get images quickly in any environment
Not so good for: Anyone that doesn’t need top quality in ultra-low light
Judged on its own merits, the Nikon D3S is an absolutely outstanding camera. It offers exceptionally good image quality across an extremely wide range of ISO settings, and its key systems (AF, white balance and metering) are at least on a par with the best available in other cameras from rival manufacturers. Add its full weatherproofing, excellent battery life and rugged construction into the mix, and you have a truly ‘go anywhere’ camera. Video might not necessarily be a ‘deal breaker’ function for the majority of DSLR users at the moment, but however you feel about it, it’s nice to have, and works (reasonably) well.
You may be able to sense a ‘but’ coming, and here it is. My problem with the D3S isn’t what it can do – which is in all respects exemplary – but what it can’t. Even when the D3 was announced in 2007, some commentators expressed surprise that Nikon didn’t go with a higher resolution sensor. Almost three years later, and 12 million pixels looks even more conservative alongside newly-minted competitors like the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. Nikon’s view is that in this section of the marketplace, better image quality at high ISO settings is worth a penalty in resolution. Anyone that shoots regularly in low available light would probably agree, but it can’t be denied that this extra high-ISO boost answers a criticism of the D3 that no-one really had. After all, it’s tough to argue that the original D3 wasn’t good enough at high ISOs…
We’ve seen from the samples in this test that the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV actually matches the output of the original D3 pretty closely up to its maximum ISO setting of 25,600. Although it’s great that the D3S gives cleaner images at even higher settings, I suspect that most people don’t need to shoot much higher than ISO 3200 most of the time, let alone ISO 102,400.
I could be wrong, and it will be interesting to see what Nikon comes out with in the next couple of years. For now, if versatility and speed are of more use to you than a little extra resolution, the Nikon D3S will serve you very well indeed. Be sure to check out our samples gallery to judge for yourselves.
Trey is famous for his HDR works. Here’s some quotes from his article.
Why did I get a D3S if I already have a D3X?
My suspicions on the camera are correct and it is perfect for a second body for me to carry around. The D3X is still the mainstay of my arsenal because of the 24 megapixels. I know some people say that is too big, but I disagree for a variety of reasons I describe in that review. However, having said that, there are many things the D3S can do that I need.
* Because it shoots great in low-light situations, and I can keep other lenses on that to shoot family and people without flashes
* Because it also has a movie mode, which is very handy
* Because I want a backup that is comparable to the D3x – going on adventures with just one camera is a bad idea
Nikon has upped the DSLR ante again. The new Nikon D3S has a 12.1-megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor just like its predecessor the D3. But the maximum sensitivity on the D3S has been increased to a mind-boggling ISO 102,400 and noise levels have been lowered at all sensitivity settings. If being able to shoot in the dark isn’t enough for you, the D3S also adds 720p video capture with the ability to auto focus while filming. And the D3S now has sensor cleaning – a very important feature that didn’t make it into the original D3 spec.
Having the freedom to shoot in the lowest lighting levels without having to resort to a flash or a tripod is something that is difficult to appreciate until you have done it. Now I have tried it, I must admit I am hooked. It is simply awesome.
I managed to borrow from Nikon a D3S fitted with the new AF 70-200mm f/2.8 (a preview of that lens will follow very soon) for an evening.
The D3S is a well-endowed camera with features aplenty but for this preview I concentrated on its high sensitivity capability. Its top true ISO is 12,800 with the option of a staggering ISO equivalent of 102,400 using the H3 setting.
I appreciate that my shots are not the greatest examples of low light photography but I hope you can see past that and appreciate what the camera is capable of, and that is the important thing.