Nikon D3s Review

The capability to edit RAW data within the camera and save them as usable JPEGs is an intriguing new function that Nikon is introducing with the D3S. This is a first for the company.

The image can have its white balance, noise reduction, exposure compensation, saturation, and contrast changed through the use of the available editing options.

Even though you won’t be able to perform anything nearly as advanced as batch processing, the camera will save your settings so that you can modify your photos later. People who are out on assignments and trying to provide pictures to the picture desk as quickly as possible would appreciate this function.

Now we will discuss the issue of having excessive expectations. Even though it was common knowledge that Nikon was working on an HD video mode for the most recent installment in its D3 series, some individuals held out hope that the feature would be 1080p. It is not that.

This is something that Canon has been able to implement for its line of cameras, but Nikon has decided that the 720p resolution provided by the 3DS’s D-Movie mode is sufficient for their needs.

James Banfield, Group support and Training Manager for Nikon, did make an interesting point when he was questioned about why this was the case. He explained that this was all down to the size of the file.

He pointed out that in order to obtain five-minute bursts out of the allotted two gigabytes of space for continuous recording when shooting at 720p and using the compression that the camera is employing. If the camera were capable of shooting in Full HD, then this would be a much more reasonable price.

In addition to this, he emphasized that the D3S is a stills camera that is intended to be the absolute best at ISO and that the video feature is merely an additional functionality.

Because 720p appears to be the default option for broadcasters like Sky and the BBC, we do not believe that users of the DS3 will have a lot of trouble if they try to use their movie footage in a broadcast setting. However, this does imply that another video update for the D3 range may not be far off in the future, which is something you will need to take into consideration before spending several thousand pounds on a camera.

After only a few periods of time with the D3S, it is clear that Nikon has another successful product on its hands to sell to professional photographers. Even though the economy is struggling, it appears that times are good for the camera business. The company presently enjoys a leading position in the market for cameras that cost more than £2,500, and its D3 line holds a share of 63% of that market.

The Nikon D3S camera will be released in the UK in December and will have a price tag of £4,199.99 upon its initial sale.


All of the observations and criticisms that we made in our in-depth reviews of the D3 and D3X also apply to the brand-new D3S. The body shells of all three cameras are largely identical, and they were created with longevity in mind from the ground up.

However, when compared to a D300S or D700, the D3S has a large weight, in part because of the integrated vertical grip. The body shell is made of a strong magnesium alloy, which helps keep the weight down as much as possible.

This lower area of the chassis also houses the robust EN-EL4a battery, which is compatible with all of the professional Nikon DSLRs in the D2 and D3 series and may be swapped between the series as needed. The door to the detachable battery compartment is compatible with the D3 and D3X, but not with the previous D2 series cameras because their doors have slightly different designs.


Although its headline characteristics might be equal to those of its predecessor, the Nikon D3S was designed with speed in mind, and compared to the D3, its buffer has been increased by a factor of two. In point of fact, the buffer of the D3S is equivalent to that of a D3 that has the optional buffer memory expansion installed, and it is capable of capturing more than 40 raw frames in a single burst at full speed.

The D3S has a maximum frame rate of 9 fps when it is set to FX mode, but this jumps to 11 fps when it is set to DX mode. When the camera is set to DX mode, however, it records at a lower quality (5.1Mp). The size of the buffer that is used for JPEG capture is reduced when some functionalities, such as Active D-Lighting, are used; nonetheless, the D3S is a very quick camera regardless of the settings that are used.

In terms of its responsiveness and operational speed, it is a world away from Nikon’s entry-level and midrange DSLRs, as we would expect. However, it is important to note that purchasing a UDMA-enabled CompactFlash card is an investment that is worth making if you are a sports photographer and want to get the best possible performance from your camera.


Normally, we wouldn’t devote two pages to evaluating the autofocus performance of a DSLR. This is due in part to the fact that autofocus, and specifically autofocus tracking, may be challenging to evaluate in a way that is both consistent and clear.

Naturally, after analyzing the many hundreds, if not thousands of frames that we might shoot during a typical DSLR test, we are confident that we are in a good position to comment on any obvious strengths or failings. This gives us the confidence that we are in a good position to comment on any obvious strengths or failings.

However, when it comes to addressing the autofocus (AF) systems of a camera as complicated as the Nikon D3S, we are aware that we do not have the same level of authority as, for example, a professional sports photographer who has years of expertise.

Keeping this obvious disclaimer in mind, we try our best to test certain DSLRs in the situations for which they were built, if that is possible. The Nikon D3S was designed to be used for a variety of purposes, and the quickness of its autofocus system and its adaptability are its primary selling factors.

As a result, as we were taking photos for this review, we made it a point to do our autofocus (AF) performance tests under a wide variety of lighting scenarios in order to ensure that our results were as accurate as possible.

We shot the same subjects with Canon’s new flagship sports camera, the EOS 1D Mark IV, under the same lighting conditions, and with lenses that were as close to equivalent as we could get them to be. You’ll see the results of these tests in our upcoming comprehensive review of the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.


Even after it was revealed that the D3 would be released, there was already demand among certain professional photographers for an improved model that could record moving as well as static shots. After more than two years, Nikon has finally introduced a professional DSLR with a built-in D-Movie mode; the D3S is the company’s first DSLR to do so.

The resolution of movie footage captured by the D3S is the same as that captured by Nikon’s first video-enabled DSLR, the D90, which was released in 2008. However, significant improvements have been made since then, including support for a plugin stereo microphone as well as the provision for contrast-detection AF while filming.

Quality of the Image

It is difficult to imagine how a camera with 12 million pixels, such as the Nikon D3S, could offer higher image quality when set to its optimal output settings. This is because the best images come from thoroughly processed, uncompressed 14-bit NEF files. JPEG output from Nikon’s CMOS-equipped DSLRs is generally relatively soft, and at a pixel level (100% on screen), JPEG photographs from the D3S lack a certain ‘bite’. This is true across the entire line of Nikon’s CMOS-equipped DSLRs.

This can be readily remedied (to some extent) by turning the in-camera sharpening up a notch or two; however, we do not recommend turning it up any more than that. In JPEG mode, quite fine results can be obtained by using the default sharpening in conjunction with thoughtful post-capture use of Unsharp Mask. However, we find that slightly under-sharpening an image is preferable to excessive sharpness, which, once done, cannot be “corrected.”

It should come as no surprise that one of the primary selling points of the Nikon D3S is its performance at high ISO settings, where it is currently incomparable to the capabilities of any other current DSLR. Even though it has a lower sensor size and a greater pixel count, the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV performs extremely well in low light; nonetheless, the Nikon D3S provides an unquestionable advantage of at least one stop when used with ISO settings that are higher than ISO 6400.

Above ISO 12,800, JPEGs start to become a bit mushy and increasingly lifeless, but careful processing of the raw files produced by the D3S can produce good images (although rather grainy) all the way up to ISO 102,400.

In point of fact, the D3S is able to give photographs that are useable at this elevated altitude, even though the light levels are so low that, in the past, the only alternative for capturing still images would have been infrared. Also, it’s hard not to be amazed by something like that.

To would-be filmmakers or photojournalists who don’t want to lug around a separate video camera, the capability to record video at settings all the way up to an ISO maximum of 102,400 is incredibly appealing.


Body materialMagnesium alloy
Sensor• 36 x 23.9 mm CMOS sensor
• FX format
• RGB Color Filter Array
• Built-in fixed low-pass filter
• 12.87 million total pixels
• 12.1 million effective pixels
• 3:2 aspect ratio
Image processorNikon EXPEED
A/D conversion14 bit
Image sizes
(FX format)
• 4256 x 2832 [L; 12.1 MP]
• 3184 x 2120 [M; 6.8 MP]
• 2128 x 1416 [S; 3.0 MP]
Image sizes
(DX format)
• 2784 x 1848 [L; 5.1 MP]
• 2080 x 1384 [M; 2.9 MP]
• 1392 x 920 [S; 1.3 MP]]
Image sizes
(5:4 format)
• 3552 x 2832 [L; 10.0 MP]
• 2656 x 2120 [M; 5.6 MP]
• 1776 x 1416 [S; 2.5 MP]
Image sizes
(1.2x format)
• 3552 x 2362 [L; 8.4 MP]
• 2656 x 1776 [M; 4.7 MP]
• 1776 x 1184 [S; 2.1 MP]
File formats• NEF (12-bit or 14-bit, compressed or lossless compressed RAW)
• JPEG (EXIF 2.21)
• AVI (motion JPEG)
NEF compression• Compressed 12/14-bit NEF (RAW, Lossless compressed): approx. 60-80%
• Compressed 12/14-bit NEF (RAW, Compressed): approx. 45-60%
Lens mount• Nikon F mount with AF coupling and AF contacts
• No field of view crop (full-frame)
• When using DX lenses / DX mode 1.5x FOV crop
Usable lenses• Type G or D AF NIKKOR: All functions supported
• DX AF NIKKOR: All functions supported except FX-format (36×24)/5:4 (30×24) image size
• AF NIKKOR other than type G or D: All functions supported except 3D Color Matrix Metering II
• AI-P NIKKOR: All functions supported except autofocus and 3D Color Matrix Metering II
• Non-CPU AI NIKKOR: Can be used in exposure modes A and M; electronic rangefinder can be used if maximum aperture is f/5.6 or faster; Color Matrix Metering and aperture value display supported if user provides lens data
* IX NIKKOR lenses cannot be used
* Excluding lenses for F3AF
Auto Focus• 51 focus points (15 cross-type sensors)
• Multi-CAM 3500FX
• AF working range: -1 to +19 EV (ISO 100, normal temperature)
• Contrast Detect in Live View (Tripod) mode
Lens Servo• Single Servo AF [S]
• Continuous Servo AF [C]
• Manual focus [M]
• Focus Tracking automatically activated by subject’s status in [S] or [C] AF
Focus Point• Single point from 51 or 11 focus points
• Live view (Tripod mode): Contrast AF on a desired point anywhere within frame
AF Area Mode• Single point AF
• Dynamic Area AF [9 points, 21 points, 51 points, 51 points (3D-tracking)]
• Automatic-area AF
Focus LockFocus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (single-servo AF) or by pressing AE-L/AF-L button
AF assistExternal Speedlite only
Exposure modes• Program Auto [P] with flexible program
• Shutter-Priority Auto [S]
• Aperture-Priority Auto [A]
• Manual [M]
MeteringTTL full-aperture exposure metering using 1005-pixel RGB sensor
• 3D Color Matrix Metering II (type G and D lenses); color matrix metering II (other CPU lenses); color matrix metering (non-CPU lenses if user provides lens data; metering performed)
• Center-weighted: Weight of 75% given to 8, 15, or 20 mm dia. circle in center of frame or weighting based on average of entire frame (default 12 mm)
• Spot: Meters approx. 4 mm dia. circle (about 1.5% of frame) centered on selected focus point (on center focus point when non-CPU lens is used)
Metering range• 3D Color Matrix Metering: 0 to 20 EV
• Center-Weighted Metering: 0 to 20 EV
• Spot Metering: 2 to 20 EV
• At normal temperature (20°C/68°F), ISO 100 equivalent, f/1.4 lens
Meter couplingCPU and AI
Exposure lockLocked using AE-L/AF-L button
Exposure bracketing• 2 to 9 frames
• 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 EV steps
Exposure compen.• +/-5.0 EV
• 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps
Sensitivity• Default: ISO 200 – 12,800 in 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps
• Boost: 100 – 102,400 in 1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps, HI3 = ISO 102,400
Shutter• Electronically-controlled vertical-travel focal plane shutter
• 30 to 1/8000 sec (1/3, 1/2 or 1.0 EV steps)
• Flash X-Sync: 1/250 sec
• Bulb
DOF Preview• Stop-down lens aperture by pressing button
• Activates video recording in Live View mode
White balance• Auto (1005-pixel CCD, image sensor)
• Presets (seven) with fine tuning
• Manual presets (four)
• Color temperature in Kelvin (2500 – 10000 K, 31 steps)
• White balance bracketing (2 to 9 frames, 10,20,30 MIRED steps)
Picture Control• Standard
• Neutral
• Vivid
• Monochrome
Image parameters• Sharpening: Auto, 7 levels
• Contrast: Auto, 5 levels, Custom tone curve
• Brightness: 3 levels
• Saturation: Auto, 5 levels
• Hue: 5 levels
Color space• sRGB (Standard and Vivid modes)
• Adobe RGB (Neutral mode)
Viewfinder• Optical-type fixed eye-level pentaprism
• Built-in diopter adjustment (-3 to +1m-1)
• Eyepoint: 18 mm (at -1.0m-1)
• Focusing screen: Type B BriteView Clear Matte VI screen
• Frame coverage 100%
• Viewfinder magnification approx 0.7x with 50 mm f/1.4 lens
Focusing screen• B-type BrightView Clear Matte Screen II
• Superimposed focus brackets
• On-demand grid lines
LCD monitor• 3.0 ” TFT LCD
• 922,000 pixels (VGA; 640 x 480 x 3 colors)
• 170° viewing angle
• Brightness adjustment
LCD Live view• Handheld mode: TLL phase-difference AF with 51 focus areas (15 cross-type sensors)
• Tripod mode: focal-plane contrast AF on a desired point within a specific area
D-Movie Video Mode• AVI (Motion-JPEG)
• 1280 × 720 @ 24 fps
• 640 × 424 @ 24 fps
• 320 ×216/24 fps
Shooting modes• Single frame
• Continuous Low [CL]: 1 – 9 fps
• Continuous High [CH]: 9 fps (9 – 11 fps with DX format)
• Quiet mode [Q]
• Self-Timer (programmable)
• Mirror-up mode
Continuous buffer• JPEG Large/Normal: 130 shots (at 9 fps)
• RAW: 40 shots (12 bit, uncompressed), ~36 shots (14 bit, uncompressed)
Self-timer• 2 to 20 sec custom
Flash control•TTL flash control with 1,005-pixel RGB sensor; i-TTL balanced fill-flash and standard i-TTL fill-flash available with SB-800, 600 or 400
• AA (Auto Aperture-type) flash: Available with SB-800 used with CPU lens
• Non-TTL Auto: Available with Speedlights such as SB-800, 28, 27, and 22S
• Range-priority manual flash; available with SB-800
Flash Sync Mode• Front-curtain Sync (normal)
• Red-Eye Reduction
• Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync
• Slow Sync
• Rear-curtain Sync
Flash Accessory ShoeISO 518 standard-type hot shoe contact; Safety lock mechanism provided
Flash Sync TerminalISO 519 standard terminal, lock screw provided
Flash compensation• -3 to +1 EV
• 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV steps
Creative Lighting SystemWith Speedlights such as SB-800, SB-600, SB-400, SB-R200, supports Advanced Wireless Lighting, Auto FP High-Speed Sync, Flash Color Information Communication, modeling flash and FV lock
Orientation sensorTags images with camera orientation
Playback mode• Full frame
• Thumbnail (4 or 9 images)
• One-touch zoom
• Slide show
• RGB histogram
• Shooting data
• Highlight point
• Auto image rotation
Languages• Chinese (Simplified and Traditional)
• Dutch
• English
• Finnish
• French
• German
• Italian
• Japanese
• Korean
• Polish
• Portuguese
• Russian
• Spanish
• Swedish
Custom functions46 custom functions
Connectivity• USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed) Mini-B connector
• HDMI video out (Type C connector)
• Remote control 10-pin terminal
• PC Sync flash terminal
10-pin terminal• GPS: NMEA 0183 (Veer. 2.01 and 3.01) interface standard supported with 9-pin D-sub cable and GPS Cable MC-35 (optional)
• Remote control: via 10-pin terminal
CommunicationsFTP and PTP/IP file transfer with optional Wireless Transmitter WT-3 (IEEE 802.11 b/g)
Storage• Dual Compact Flash Type I or II
• UDMA, Microdrive and FAT32 supported
• 36 characters of text can be input and stored in EXIF header
Power• Lithium-Ion EN-EL4a/EL4
• Included dual battery charger MH-22
• Optional AC adapter EH-6
Battery monitoringThe LCD monitor on the camera back displays the following information
about the EN-EL3e battery:
• Remaining charge (%)
• No. of shots taken since last charge
• Battery life (5 stages)
Dimensions160 x 157 x 88 mm (6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 in)
Weight (no batt)1246 g (2.7 lb)
Operating environmentTemperature: 0 – 40 °C / 32 – 104 °F, Humidity: under 85% (no condensation)
Box contentsRechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL4a, Quick Charger MH-22, USB Cable UC-E4, Audio Video Cable EG-D2, Camera Strap AN-D3, Body Cap BF-1A, Accessory Shoe Cap BS-2, Eyepiece DK-17, Battery Chamber Cover BL-4, USB Cable Clip, Software Suite CD-ROM
Optional accessoriesWireless Transmitter WT-4, Magnifying Eyepiece DK-17M, AC Adapter EH-6, Capture NX Software, Camera Control Pro 2 Software, Image Authentication Software


When evaluated only on the basis of its capabilities, the Nikon D3S proves to be an exceptional camera. It provides unusually high image quality across a very broad range of ISO settings, and its primary systems—autofocus, white balance, and metering—are at least on par with the most advanced options found in comparable cameras made by competing manufacturers.

When you take into account its great battery life, durable build, and complete protection from the elements, you have a camera that can genuinely be taken anywhere. It’s possible that the majority of people who use DSLR cameras at the moment do not consider the video capability to be a ‘deal breaker,’ but regardless of how you feel about it, it’s good to have, and it works (relatively) well.

You could have guessed that there would be a “but” coming, and here it is. My issue is not with what the D3S is capable of doing, which is exceptional in every way; rather, it is with what it is not capable of doing. Even at the time when Nikon launched the D3 in 2007, a number of observers expressed astonishment that the company did not choose to use a sensor with a higher resolution.

After almost three years, a resolution of 12 million pixels appears even less ambitious in comparison to recently released alternatives such as the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. In this particular segment of the market, Nikon is of the opinion that a reduction in resolution is acceptable in exchange for improved image quality when working with high ISO settings.

This additional high-ISO increase answers a critique of the D3 that no one actually had, which cannot be contested, but it is impossible to deny that anyone who routinely shoots in low available light would probably agree. After all, it’s difficult to make the case that the first-generation D3 wasn’t adequate when shooting at high ISOs…

The samples taken during this test have shown that the output of the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV is actually quite comparable to that of the first-generation D3, right up to the maximum ISO level of 25,600 that the Mark IV offers.

Even though it is wonderful that the D3S produces cleaner images at even higher settings, I believe that the most of people do not need to shoot at an ISO that is significantly higher than 3200 the majority of the time, let alone 102,400.

Nikon D3s Price

Pros & Cons

Good For
  • Outstanding performance in both the autofocus and metering systems
  • Image quality is unrivaled at very high ISO levels. A sensor that is incredibly effective. A brand new standard.
  • User interface with a high level of personalization, featuring a variety of shooting banks
  • Compatible with almost all of Nikon’s autofocus lenses as well as the majority of the company’s manual-focus lenses (the D3S may be programmed to work with up to nine manual-focus lenses that have an AI spec or later).
Need Improvements
  • Because the AF array on the D3000 is smaller (relative to the size of the viewfinder), switching between the two cameras can be difficult in some types of shooting circumstances.
  • The white balance isn’t very impressive in artificial lighting, but then again, very few cameras excel in this regard.
  • The vertical AF-ON button is awkwardly located, making it very simple to accidentally touch it.
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The capability to edit RAW data within the camera and save them as usable JPEGs is an intriguing new function that Nikon is introducing with the D3S. This is a first for the company. The image can have its white balance, noise reduction, exposure compensation,...Nikon D3s Review