The new Nikon D3s dSLR

Written by Gary on October 14th, 2009

Nikon today announced their new high end dSLR, the Nikon D3S, presumably to try to compete with the new Canon 7D as a sports camera.

It is a bit of a strange beast really – it is obviously targeting the pro sports photographers with its pro build and price tag (~$US5200 body only) and 9fps burst rate (11fps in 5mp DX crop mode), double size buffer over the D3 to allow 48 RAW in burst (instead of 18 in the D3) and its ultra high ISO capability (up to ISO 12,800 in regular mode and up to an incredible ISO 102,400 in boost mode).

BUT, being a full frame, it lacks the telephoto reach of the Canon 7D, Canon 1DMIII or Nikon D300s, and no where matches the hand holdable telephoto reach of Olympus E3 (or its successor).

AND, it doesn’t compete with the Canon 5DMII in resolution terms being 12mp compared to the Canon’s 21mp or even the 17mp on the Canon 7D.

It strangely adds a movie mode with some AF capability (I wouldn’t be holding my breathe on how well this is going to work but it will be interesting to see how it pans out in tests) but in a rather crippled 720 24fps motion jpeg only capability with mono mic and external stereo mic input. Sure movie shooters will be able to shoot at much higher ISO than before and with nice shallow DOF, but I would have thought if they are into action, they would be wanting at least 720p 60fps (50fps in PAL).

A potential advantage over Canon dSLRs is that you can shoot using cropped sensor lenses (DX) but why bother when you only get 5mp other than you get 11fps burst rate??

It does finally get a sensor cleaning system at long last, and the very slow Nikon contrast detect AF has been apparently made a touch faster – not sure why a sports photographer would really care for a still slow live view AF though.

So, as we have come to expect from Nikon and Canon, another evolutionary camera which further pushes the boundaries – in this case high ISO – great for low light sports pros who don’t need telephoto reach or high resolution but nothing really revolutionary, and way too expensive for most of us who are not professional sports photographers.

I suspect pro sports photographers will find this complements their Nikon D300s nicely as the D300S will provide the added telephoto reach that the D3S misses out on, while the D3S maximises the ultra wide angle potential of the amazing Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G lens when used for creative action photography and they can go for the D3X for resolution needs (at a price).

So I am sure it will be much loved by the pros, but the keen amateur Nikon shooters wanting an affordable 20+mp full frame are still missing out – maybe that is coming very soon as Nikon really needs to compete against the Canon 5DMII but would seem to be no where near the competition in video capability.

Feature Canon 1D Mark III Canon 7D Nikon D300S Nikon D3S
price body only $US3700 $US1700 $US1800 $US5200
sensor 10mp 1.3x crop 18mp 1.6x crop 12.3mp 1.5x crop 12.1mp full frame
burst rate 10fps 8fps 7fps 9fps (11fps in 5mp DX)
max burst RAW 30 48
pixel density 1.9 MP/cm² 5.4 MP/cm² 3.3 MP/cm² 1.4 MP/cm²
ISO normal modes 100-3200 100-6400 200-3200 200-12800
ISO boost modes 50, 6400 12800 100, 6400 100, -104200
Built-in flash No GN 12m ISO 100 GN 12m ISO 100 No
X-sync 1/250th 1/250th
contrast detect AF no and low res LCD slow slow faster than slow?
movie modes none 1080i, 720p, 24/25/30/50/60fps H.264 720p 24fps mjpeg 720p 24fps mjpeg
AF points 19 cross type 19 cross-type 15 cross-type (51 total) 15 cross-type (51 total)
Max telephoto reach hand holdable lens < 2.5kg f/4 or faster AF IS lens 400mm f/4 IS DO = 520mm reach

300mm f/4 IS = 390mm reach

400mm f/4 IS DO = 560mm reach

300mm f/4 IS = 480mm reach

300mm f/4 IS = 450mm reach 300mm f/4 IS = 300mm reach
weight w batt 1335g 860g 938g 1240g + batt

Nikon has posted image samples here – there is substantial noise at ISO 12800, much nicer at ISO 6400 but presumably this is a market-leading performance.

Finally, there is a price to pay for the ever increasing sensor sensitivity and high ISO capability – lower quality images at ISO 100 and ISO 50 not possible, making wide aperture fill flash in sunlight that much more difficult – see previous two posts.

Personally I don’t really need ISO 104,200 but I do like hand holdable compact, light 600mm telephoto reach at f/4 and the D3S will not be able to deliver this.

For hand holdable telephoto reach, you really can’t go past Olympus Four Thirds – the brilliant ZD 150mm f’2.0 mated with a EC-20 2x teleconverter gives telephoto reach of 600mm at f/4 and well under 2kg for that combo. Now we just have to wait and see what Olympus delivers in terms of a replacement for the E3. It won’t be high ISO (max. probably ISO 6400), it won’t be lots of megapixels (probably 12mp), but hopefully it will be 7-8fps at least instead of 5fps, and then throw in a new lens such as a 200mm f/2.5 or 250mm f/3.5 which would give a beautiful hand holdable 500mm f/3.5 which could be pushed further to 1000mm f/7 while retaining AF.

See for specs of the D3S.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Your blog have many amazing content about slr camera. Thank you for share.

  2. r4i says:

    Nice review guys but have you not realised that the D3X was released a year ago. It has 24.5MP and does the pixel thing pretty well. Nikon has had a policy since the D1 of having one camera that does speed for photojournalists and sports (D2H, D3) and another for people who need out and out quality (D2X, D3X). Have a go at the price sure, but not the pixels – if you need that it’s covered.