Mar 132010

Kendra's bobcat was used as part of my test scene

I was recently loaned a Nikon D3S from Nikon Professional Services in Canada. Unfortunately, I became ill whilst I had the camera and was not able to go out and test it as extensively as I had hoped. This brief test of the D3S was carried out to see if I would upgrade my D3, it was not meant as a detailed review. However, here are some thoughts on the two new features that I was eager to try out; video and high ISO. Finally, there is a conclusion as to whether the D3S is worth buying….


The D3S is Nikon’s first professional SLR to feature video. The video is easy to initiate, simply enter LiveView mode (now done by pressing the LV button on the back of the camera) then press the centre of the AF area select control and you are shooting video. With the dual CF slots, it is possible to record stills on one CF card and video on to the second card.

With a bit of cheating, it is possible to have autofocus (AF) whilst recording video handheld. This is done by setting the Liveview mode to tripod, even though you’re using the camera hand held. The AF with video is slow and noisy enough to be picked up by the camera’s microphones. You are much better off focusing manually but this takes some practice.

The video quality of the D3S is excellent and it can be used in some incredibly low light but I’m disappointed that Nikon restricted the video to 720p HD instead of 1080p HD. The 1080p video on the Canon 5DII is so good that that camera is being used by movie studios (albeit with some modifications) and some Nikon photographers are using Nikon equipment for stills and the Canon 5DII for video.

If I were to start doing video alongside stills then I am not convinced that the D3S is the best camera to use.

High ISO

The Nikon D3 already has low noise at high ISO settings. I have taken photographs with the D3 at 6,400 ISO and sold them as fine art prints. Despite such capabilities I sometimes wish that I could use even higher ISO’s and produce great prints. Therefore, when the D3S was announced I was very eager to see how much higher I could go. There are some comparison photos on my website taken by the D3 and the D3S at 6,400 ISO and 12,800 ISO. Click here to see the comparisons.

In my opinion, the verdict of these comparisons is that the D3S at 12,800 ISO is noticeably better than the D3 at 6,400 ISO. Unfortunately, the D3S at 25,600 ISO is too noisy to use for prints of wildlife.

This gives the D3S at least a one stop ISO advantage over the D3 but I don’t believe that the advantage is a much as two stops.


Is the D3S worth buying? If you’re in the market for a professional, digital SLR that has incredible high ISO capabilities then yes, it is worth buying as no other camera comes close.

On paper the difference between the D3 and the D700 seemed small (except for the price tag) but for me the D3 has always been worth the extra $2,000 because of it’s exceptional viewfinder, speed and handling. Now there is a huge difference between the D3S and the D700 and if you’re a wildlife or sports photographer trying to decide between the D3S and a D700  then I would strongly recommend the D3S.

However, if you already own a D3 then I’m not sure that it’s worthwhile replacing it with a D3S unless you absolutely need a one stop advantage in ISO. If it was a two stop advantage then I’m pretty sure I’d upgrade, I would also probably upgrade if the D3S could record 1080 HD video.

The D3S does have a bigger memory buffer but in two years of owning a D3 I’ve only once needed to shoot more than 16 RAW files (the limit on my camera) continuously.

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