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Dennis Hissink : October 23th 2009 - 14:15 CET

Nikon D3s review

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NikonNikon D3s test : November 2007, Nikon stunned the world of sports photography by introducing a Nikon DSLR offering features such as high ISO performance and an unbelievably accurate AF-precision. This Nikon D3 shook the Pro's world to its foundations, causing a large amount of professional photographers and media agencies to switch from major rival Canon to Nikon only shortly after. And now, two years later, I am holding the very successor to the D3 in my hands, to work with during a European Nikon Event, held in Scotland, St. Andrews. I am talking about the Nikon D3s, Nikon's solution for the sports photographer. A vastly improved SLR camera, thanks to the feedback that came from many professional photographers!
Nikon D3s

12 megapixel Nikon D3s DSLR camera
With the introduction of the Nikon D3s, which will be shipped by the end of November / beginning of December, Nikon owns an impressive array of professional DSLR products, each of which has its very own, specific features. The Nikon D3x, a 24 Megapixel DSLR camera aimed at the studio photographer, holds the top position when it comes to resolution. The new Nikon D3s is ranked right below, being a 12 Megapixel digital SLR for the photo journalist, sports and nature photographer. Followed by the Nikon D700, a compact version of the Nikon D3 which will be discontinued as soon as the Nikon D3s becomes available.


Nikon D3s digital SLR for the professional photographer
During the presentation, Nikon claimed that no less than 70% of the DSLR cameras of 3000 Euros or more is actually a Nikon digital SLR. This is an extensive part of the market where the Nikon D700, introduced in July 2008, undoubtedly takes up the largest share. Looking at Nikon’s entire professional DSLR offer, the structure is transparent and clear. It is all about meeting the demands of the professional photographer, with the emphasis on image quality rather than the actual pixel amount. And it is exactly that; the demand for improvements and enhancements, that justifies the introduction of the Nikon D3s.

Nikon D3s preview

Image quality of the Nikon D3s SLR
Whereas the ISO quality of the Nikon D3 was already high, Nikon has clearly raised the bar once more while developing the D3s. The Nikon D3s features a Hi-3 ISO boost and, with a maximum ISO base of 12,800, ISO can be expanded to an incredible 102,400 ISO. This remarkable performance is only made possible by entirely re-developing the 12.1 Megapixel image sensor. Thanks to the large pixel space for every single pixel and a fully changed internal structure at which a minimal in-camera editing takes place in order to retain sharpness and detail, the professional photographer is able to significantly expand his job location and freedom. Shooting in less ambient light is now also enabled, which extends the effective workday on location.

Nikon D3s video

Recording videos with the Nikon D3s
One of the needs that has emerged from the experience of press/news agencies and photographers over the recent period is the possibility to capture film with a professional DSLR. This works optimally for a Pro, it enables sending a batch with both pictures and film fragments from a location in order to keep ahead in this fast online media world and traditional print jobs alike. The video clips are stored in 720p resolution at 24 frames per second in motion-JPEG, and there is the possibility of stereo sound through the optional external stereo microphone. Unique is the so-called 'Save Selected' function, which becomes available in this file format. It enables storing captured video fragments as pictures.

D3s review

Nikon D3s image sensor cleaning feature
Working with a Nikon D3 is very pleasant for a photographer. Yet in practice, it did lack certain things, and although this did not influence the quality in a negative way, we did find it somewhat annoying at times. The lack of sensor cleaning is one of those things that lead to having to clean the sensor regularly. In case of the Nikon D3s, however, this action is a thing of the past. The camera features a function to clean the sensor by generating vibrations at four different frequencies to reduce dust on the optical low-pass filter of the image sensor. This function did not influence the 100% viewfinder coverage.

Nikon D3s reviews

Nikon D3s equipped with a built-in RAW processor
Another aid in reducing the need to edit afterwards on a notebook/desktop is the built-in RAW processing that the Nikon D3s features. It will not replace the professional editing software like Capture or Photoshop, however, it is still convenient to be able to edit pictures for certain clients on location. The retouch menu of the Nikon D3s allows you to adjust white balance, noise reduction, color space, format, JPEG compression Picture Control and exposure compensation.


Sports photographer Bill Frakes about the new Nikon D3s
Bill Frakes, Sports Illustrated Staff Photographer, was invited by Nikon to intensively use the Nikon D3s. In a relatively short period of time, the impressive amount of 80,000 pictures was captured, and some of these were shown by Bill during the presentations. Bill showed an enthusiastic reaction to the new Nikon D3s. "I have to take job-related decisions in a matter of milliseconds and every time I press the button, I want to get the best image quality. I need a camera with a precise, fast and consistent response. The Nikon D3s meets all these requirements and even offers more, which gives me a perfect freedom."

Nikon D3s gallery

Nikon D3s image

Action photography with the Nikon D3s SLR camera
During the European event, we were invited to use the Nikon D3s to shoot in practice on a special reserved day with action photography as focus. Unfortunately, the pictures taken with the Nikon D3s were not permitted for publishing, while the camera had not yet reached its final product status at that time. The test in practice contained a number of items. We were able to capture a Land Rover tour through the Scottish grasslands by using the distributed Nikon lenses, including a wide-angle up to f/2.8 400mm telephoto lenses. The improved AF function proved to be no problem at all. The improved AF area optimizes the AF precision for flawless focus on subjects and, even more important, subjects remained sharply focused. Having worked with this AF in practice, it was hard having to turn back to the 'older' AF system.

Nikon D3s photos

Photographing birds of prey with the Nikon D3s dSLR
A falconer with a variety of birds, among which the fast falcon was also there that day. The AF-tracking responded as expected with high precision, enabling us to keep our full attention on the composition only. During the bird of prey show, the falconer told us about the life of birds of prey in the wild, the history of falconry and all the ins and outs of the training. We also enjoyed the spectacular flights of his raptors. Falconry is a hunting method that goes back three thousand years and has a long tradition. Even nowadays, a falconer still treats his birds with utmost respect, and will do anything to preserve the health and well-being of his animals.

Nikon D3s pictures

Highland Games in Scotland
Joining the famous Highland games is only limited to a few of us. The impressive contestants practice a sport that is experienced from the side lines as simple, however, there is actually a lot more to it. According to history, the first Highland Games were held in the 11th century. During the annual clan meetings, the Highland games took place, however, after a Scottish act of revolt in 1745, the British government banned the Games until 1781. After the release of the ban, so-called clans came into existence in the highlands. The first meeting of one of these clans took place in 1781 in Falkirk and soon, the first Highland Games were organized. It was not so simple to join, but it was nice to capture the Games with the speed and precision of the Nikon D3s.

Nikon D3s lenses

No light circumstances are too difficult for the Nikon D3s
In between the games, food and drinks were served indoors at the location of the outdoor event. That same night, dinner was served in a dimly-lit environment, presenting the ideal circumstances to try out the high ISO performance of the Nikon D3s. It's a pity we cannot show you the images, since it is simply incredible what the improved sensor of the D3s is able to do. Both pictures and videos benefit from the large ISO range, enabling shooting in the most difficult circumstances. If you have the possibility to shoot using a Nikon D3s in the near future, you will soon be convinced.

Nikon D3s test

Nikon D3s review
We will soon receive a Nikon D3s test sample and put it through technical tests in the DIWA lab, whilst also using it in practice. Next year, the year 2010, things will be all about Olympic Games and the World Championship Football. Nikon seems to be prepared for these events to the optimum with the Nikon D3s. The availability of the Nikon D3s digital SLR is expected at the beginning of December, in time for professional photographers and media agencies to get used to the new equipment and, if necessary, optimize the digital work environment. One thing is for sure; the battle in the professional DSLR segment to win over the Pro, is more than fierce and leads to high-quality, innovative technical solutions!

Nikon European press event, held in Scotland, St. Andrews

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