Nikon D3s SLR test

Alexander Kaspiarovich

In the race for leadership in the category of professional broadcasting cameras, it is not easy for manufacturers to stay in first place, and for us, photographers, it is not bad, because it is the presence of worthy competitors makes manufacturers make technological breakthroughs. Nikon D3s – another camera in the professional full-frame reporter series Nikon, with the capabilities of which you will get acquainted with our expert Alexander Kasperovich.

Nikon D3s SLR camera

Nikon D3s SLR camera


Sensor: CMOS with dust cleaning function

Size: Nikon FX 36.0×23.9 mm

Resolution: 12.1 megapixel 4256×2832

Cropped ratio: 1

Recording format: RAW NEF , JPEG

Light sensitivity: ISO 200-12,800 100-102,400 expansion

Video: AVI, Motion JPEG, 1280×720/24 fps./s, 640×424/24fps./s, 320×216/24 fps./s

Viewfinder: pentaprism, matte screen

Frame coverage area: 100%

Display: 3.0 inch color TFT LCD, approx. 921,000 dots

Shooting speed: up to 11 fps, RAW 48 frames per burst

Memory card: CF

Weight: 1240g

Price: $6800

Nikon D3s SLR camera

Nikon recently gave professional reporters a great tool for their work: the Nikon D3 high-end professional digital camera. A breakthrough in one of the biggest challenges in digital imaging – effective noise reduction at high and ultra-high light sensitivities without much loss of detail or contour sharpness – has given photographers more options for comfortable working than they could have dreamed of a few years ago.

It was a camera that quickly made a huge following around the world. Nikon specialists are quite cautious to increase the number of effective pixels in full format matrix, considering that probably the best for a matrix of this format range of 12-15 million: and continuous shooting speed will be very high, and the resolution is quite sufficient for most practical shooting, and the existing algorithms to work most effectively noise reduction.

Nikon D3s, which is the direct successor of D3 and has the same resolution – 12 megapixels, is a modification of the basic model with such indicators, that when you study them photographers again come to amazement. Using a new type of matrix and improving the signal processing have increased the effective, and hence the quality indicator to set the sensitivity to 12,800 ISO! That’s 32 times the speed of our beloved 400 ISO, which we’ve known since the days of film cameras was set high enough and acceptable for a variety of reporter shots.

Surprisingly, the fact that the D3s increase these figures well, maybe with the relative quality is possible to quite already mind-boggling values: the range expansion used by the sensitivity is brought up to values 100-102 400 ISO! For me it is difficult to comprehend these figures. Brought up with film technology, I always considered 3200 ISO sensitivity as something exorbitant, and everything above it is beyond perception..

Nevertheless, some of our colleagues think that this increase of sensitivity level is a marketing trick, but I have a different opinion: a photographer in almost all cases can be free from using flash and work with the light available at the moment on the set at very short exposures we dreamed about it all our photographic life ! . The way you shoot in low light, in the evening and at night is now a whole new experience.

And the color rendering of the new camera is up to the mark, in this aspect Nikon’s products are improving very consistently and rapidly. Few manufacturers manage to maintain excellent color reproduction at high sensitivities. In short, there is a lot to think about, which we will do by testing Nikon D3s and analyzing the photos.

Nikon D3s SLR

First impressions

The first look at the new camera immediately gives us the feeling that everything is familiar and nothing has changed: absolutely the same body, controls are in their usual places, and only a small letter s tells us that before us the machine, which carries some qualitative improvements. And it’s true: the D3s looks no different from its D3 ancestor.

So the feeling of familiar technology is quite understandable, so we will not dwell on the description of the camera body and its controls, because the Nikon D3 has long been familiar to all fans of this famous brand. It’s much more important to investigate what has changed. Nevertheless, we are going to take a brief look at the device exterior and its controls – it has already become a tradition in our test programs.

The powerful, metal, truly “bulletproof” body of the device in addition to its functional strength and absolute tightness dust and water resistance flawlessly designed and constructed from an aesthetic point of view: a magnificent design and “grasping” is unparalleled.

All the controls are so conveniently located that even photographers who have favored other camera manufacturers for years cannot deny it. On the front panel of the body there are traditionally the lens lock buttons, the aperture repeater, the function button, the sync terminal socket and the focus mode switch.

The focus area selector switch, diopter adjustment control and flash shoe are all located on the rather massive pentaprism dome.

Top Panel: on the right of the pentaprism control screen, as well as the power switch, sub dial, shutter release button and exposure mode and exposure compensation buttons, on the left – the shooting mode dial with the corresponding buttons, here everything is traditional for Nikon. Right side panel: compartment for two CF memory cards, left side panel: sockets for various devices USB socket in particular .

The rear panel is also unchanged: the monitor, to the left of which are the menu buttons, image enlargement, protection, OK and Info buttons. To the left of the viewfinder are the image viewer and file delete buttons, to the right is the AF-ON button and the main control dial. Also to the right of the monitor we see a multi selector, connected to the locking lever of the focus switch.

Slightly to the right: switch for selecting the focus area. Underneath, just below the monitor, there’s another display with the appropriate controls to set the sensitivity, white balance, etc. . Note that with the vertical positioning of the camera the duplicate shutter button as well as the main and auxiliary control dials are right at hand.

So everything is very familiar, especially for those photographers who prefer Nikon professional systems. Our camera comes with an excellent professional zoom lens, the AF-S NIKKOR 28-70 mm f/2.8 ED-IF.

When testing the Nikon D3s, we will not dwell on all the features inherited from the basic model they are already familiar to experts , but will certainly examine the values of the effective light sensitivity thresholds and noise reduction system in the selection of critical values of sensitivity.

Nikon D3s SLR camera

Defeating Noise

Before we start looking at the features of the Nikon D3s, we must admit that no company producing cameras today can conclusively defeat such a parasitic phenomenon as noise.

However, at low and medium ISO values now all professional cameras work perfectly, so we go straight to the values of light sensitivity, which was unacceptable for practical shooting just a few years ago, even with all sorts of caveats. So we set the ISO to 4500. On a frosty March morning I leisurely walk along Varvarka Street towards Vasilievsky Spusk.

An ancient monastery to the left with its wall in almost total shadow. But the sun is still low, illuminating only a part of the roof and the pointed turrets on it. I notice that the gradation fades are very good, the details are fine, and in the deepest shadows the noise is present, but its presence, and most of all unobtrusive, is quite within the limits of an excellent picture taken at such a high sensitivity.

Neither an increase in contrast nor a loss of detail everything that was invariably present in the models of previous generations doesn’t show up. The overall impression was of a well exposed frame, with no hint of high ISO’s and usually lots of noise Picture 1 . In the exit from Red Square I took two shots of people dressed in old-fashioned clothes and doubles of previous American rulers.

Please note that the exposure settings suggested by mode P were: aperture f/10-11, shutter speed 1/400-1/500 sec. The choice of these exposures was not accidental: in my own practice we all came across situations when either the shutter speed was not fast enough or we could not close the aperture because of low sensitivity and we could not set another one because of the same noise .

On the Nikon D3s these parameters are enough to spare: we can reduce the aperture value or choose a shorter shutter speed, the main thing is to understand why we need it in each particular case photos 2 and 3 .

I took the next part inside the building. At this time of the day there are very few customers in GUM and nobody prevents us from taking some pictures of the interior Photos 4 and 5 . Impeccable sharpness, the noises are only detectable under the vaults of the balconies. And again they don’t cause any unpleasant emotions: their structure is very delicate and reminiscent of film grain.

Of course, when shooting at very high sensitivities we realize that the format of the pictures we see in newspapers and magazines as well as at photo exhibitions might impose some limitations, but magazine spreads are quite capable of the Nikon 3 Ds even without any further processing in graphic editors.

A breakthrough, of course, is huge: before, a photo taken at ISO 800 could be published in the 15×22 format at the most, and even that with a great stretch, because the noise did its harmful work of destroying the image to the full extent. And today ISO 800 is for photographers especially for Nikon D3s users an average sensitivity, and no more than that..

Nikon D3s SLR camera

The monument to Marshal Zhukov and the cast iron ornament on the gates to Alexandrovsky Garden were taken at ISO 9000. On the fragments of this ornament it is perfectly shown that both on the illuminated subject and on it, but in the back light noises do not show themselves proportionally to the increase of sensitivity photos 6-8 .

When shooting the Eternal Flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the sensitivity was reduced to ISO 3200, which is generally not bad either. No noise at all. At the same time I checked the level of detail: on the Kremlin wall all the bricks were clearly visible, but here too the f/11 aperture helped photos 9 and 10 .

I enter the building of the Department of Journalism of New York State University. I raise the sensitivity up to ISO 6400, the aperture f/9 lets me increase the depth of field – portrait M. In. The shot of Lomonosov on the wall behind the talking students is well done. Again noises do not cause any irritation, the frame is quite fit for printing.

The scene at the “Reporter’s Boutique” lets us appreciate the excellent level of detail in spite of the very high light sensitivity Photos 11 and 12 . I’m shooting at the highest not including expansion functions ISO 12,800.

Capturing classrooms through an ajar door. The subject is very contrasty: a lot of light inside the auditorium and no light at all on the doors something falls on them, of course, but they cannot be called light . Nevertheless, I think the level of noise on the very dark areas of the image is quite good for such a great light sensitivity, I’ve never seen anything like it before photo 13 .

Portrait of the student at a glance in a very dark hallway: the image goes a little warmer 1/80s, f/4.5 , but unfortunately it was impossible to get the white balance right in those conditions. There is some noise, of course, but let’s not forget that this is ISO 12,800 photo 14 .

Finishing shooting late at night at the same sensitivity. I was shooting the Praga restaurant building and the beginning of Old Arbat with a new shopping mall to the left of it. Shutter speed 1/100 second, aperture f/6.3 – would it have been possible to shoot something handheld in the dark with those exposition settings?

And now please, the sharpness is excellent, the noise is at an acceptable level photo 15 . And the last shot, the building in the middle of Old Arbat. Noises occur more distinctly here, but there is nearly underexposed area in the upper part of the frame photo 16 . In general my impression of the camera is very good.

Nikon D3s SLR

And the long-awaited epilogue

Of course, it’s impossible to test all the features that the Nikon D3s is packed with in such short tests, and that’s not what we had in mind. We were to find out if a complete victory over noise in digital imaging is near or not. I really want to believe that it’s close! The noise reduction algorithms, which do such a good job, do not give any reason to doubt it.

Of course, the modern photo industry is in constant development and solves not only the problem of noise. One of the actual goals is to get a bigger buffer for RAW files. In Nikon D3s, this buffer holds up to 48 frames, which is also a great achievement. It also adds the ability to shoot video at 1280×720 pixels at 24 frames per second. During shooting video the autofocus works, you can record stereo sound, and if you use high-quality optics you can get professional quality videos.

So any reporter who prefers Nikon won’t make the wrong choice if they want to work with such an advanced system like the D3s. These cameras “age” much slower than budget cameras, so this camera will serve you well until the next generation of reporters. And what they will be like, I can’t even imagine now.

It’s only been eight years since I bought my first digital camera, and what it offered back then seemed like miracles. But what we have now, we could not assume even in the wildest fantasies. So, on this beautiful instrument, which I couldn’t let out of my hands, I would’ve put a small golden crown above the letter s. Believe me, Nikon D3s fully deserves it!

Editorial thanks Nikon New York office for kindly furnishing us with the equipment.

Tests in pictures

By clicking on the picture, you can see the enlarged image. You can get out of full screen mode by clicking outside the photo field.

Shot in high resolution JPEG format.

The roof

Photo 1. Good gradation transitions, unobtrusive noise is well within the limits of an excellent shot for such a high sensitivity f/20, 1/1600 sec, ISO 4500, focal length of 24mm .

At the entrance

Photo 2. The exposure settings suggest a great depth of field at slow shutter speeds, one of the necessary conditions for reportage photography f/11, 1/500 sec, ISO 4500, focal length of 70mm .

In the Department Store

Photo 4. Perfect sharpness, noises are only visible under the arches of the balconies, their structure reminds me of film grain f/11, 1/500s, ISO 4500, focal length 24 mm .

In a department store

Photo 5. The huge brightness difference in the frame was evened out quite well f/10, 1/400s, ISO 4500, focal length 24mm

The monument to Marshal Zhukov

Photo 6. Noise does not appear proportional to increasing light sensitivity. Fragments of the cast-iron ornament show it perfectly f/16, 1/1000 s, ISO 9000, focal length 44 mm .


Photo 7. A fragment of the Alexandrovsky Garden bars illuminated by the rising sun f/20, 1/1600 s, ISO 9000, focal length 66 mm .


Picture 8. Same grille on the backside. Despite shooting against the light, no noise or dips in the shadows f/20, 1/1600 s, ISO 9000, 56mm .

Sentry at the Eternal Flame

Photo 10. At ISO 3200 practically no noise, excellent level of detail on the brick wall f/11, 1/800s, ISO 3200, focal length 35mm

In the auditorium

Photo 13. A very contrasty object. This picture was taken at the highest advertised working sensitivity, but the noise level in the dark areas is excellent f/5.6, 1/125 sec, ISO 12,800, focal length 70 mm .

Portrait of a female student

Photo 14. Shooting in a very dark hallway. The image fades to a warm tone. There is noise, of course, but it’s 12,800 ISO under extremely unfavorable light conditions f/4.5, 1/80s, ISO 6400, focal length 70mm .

Restaurant &quot Prague&quot

Photo 10. The noise at the top of the building is quite noticeable, but it is dark and the frame is severely underexposed in this area f/5.6, 1/125 sec, ISO 12,800, focal length of 35mm .

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John Techno

Greetings, everyone! I am John Techno, and my expedition in the realm of household appliances has been a thrilling adventure spanning over 30 years. What began as a curiosity about the mechanics of these everyday marvels transformed into a fulfilling career journey.

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