Nikon D3s Reviewed

Courtesy of the good folks at Nikon Australia, we have had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks with their flagship D3s along with a 70-200 VRII lens.

First impressions are important, and this combo feels like a tank. The build quality actually reminds of the legendary Nikons of the 1970s and 1980s, and to be perfectly honest, that surprised me. In a good way; I’m not used to feeling quality like this is a modern camera body, and I am truly glad to see this. But this is not a lightweight camera; be prepared to build your muscles as you carry this combo around on your daily duties.

As a long time Nikon user, the D3s feels immediately at home in my hands, with the power switch just where it always is, and most controls in very familiar locations.

Some things, like ergonomics, are a personal matter, and this is especially true especially when it comes to how a camera feels and handles in your hands. In this repest, I think that there’s a couple of areas where Nikon have taken some backwards steps in the D3s, and especially when compared with its sibling, the D300s.

For instance, Nikon have yet to get their act together when it comes to image previewing. I think that the manner by which the image zooms on each Nikon body is different: hold one button and turn a dial as on the D3s – which I think is wrong, or plus and minus buttons somewhere in the ether (wrong again), or maybe just as simple as the context sensitive buttons next to the rear lcd on the D300/D700 bodies, which, to me, seems to be the simple, logical, and most appropriate means of implementing this functionality. Please, guys, like the on/off switch, make this simple but vitally important function work exactly the same way on all of your bodies. There is no need whatsoever to make us think about how we need to perform these basic tasks every time we pick up a camera.

In use, this camera is a pleasure to drive. It’s pretty much a Ferrari in terms of its specifications, and that’s a reasonably apt comparison of how this camera does perform, with a fast frame rate, a great AF system (but see my further observations on this, below), and able to sustain long bursts of continuous image making.

Of course, one of the D3s’s primary features is its ability to be able to shoot in something that’s close to darkness. This camera will actually let you go where no camera has gone before, such is its high ISO performance. First up, here’s the test scene: full frame, raw images, resized and converted to jpg only. These were shot using one floodlight, through a beauty dish. ISO was 12800 +3EV (102000) and according to my handheld meter, correct exposure was f/13 and 1/200.

Nikon D3s, full frame image

This image appears to be pretty close to spot on exposure wise, and this is confirmed in the histogram. Here’s a 100% crop of this image.

Nikon D3s, 100% crop

Whilst we can see some noise in the 100% crop, please remember where we are shooting here: very high ISO. This is a very usable level of quality, despite the noise.

And this is a very fine camera, well suited to all types of photography. Highly recommended where critical imaging, or extreme low-light performance is the requirement.