Six-digit sensitivity and 720p grace Nikon D3 update

The Nikon D3S builds on the D3 body with a new--but same resolution--sensor that supports sky-high sensitivity, 720p 24fps video capture and a bigger buffer for better burst shooting.

Nikon USA

Budget for a smaller turkey this Thanksgiving; you'll need to save your pennies if you want to upgrade to Nikon's latest pro dSLR when it ships at the end of November. With a few substantial changes that should appeal to nighttime shooters or the video-inclined pro, packed into the old D3 body, the slightly more expensive D3S seems like it'll be a decent successor.

Though it retains the same 12.1-megapixel resolution and 8.45-micron pixels of its predecessor, the D3S uses a new sensor. Combined with updated image-processing firmware, Nikon manages to eke out sensitivity of up to ISO 102,400 (Hi 3), for a whopping 10-stop sensitivity range. How much of that will be usable? Well, the D3's looked pretty good as high as ISO 12,800--formerly Hi 1 and the new top of the standard range--and given the tweaks it should at least gain another usable couple of stops, which is worthwhile in itself. I saw some prints from Hi 3 shots taken with a preproduction model, and they looked pretty serviceable for emergency shooting in the dark.

The other major enhancement is support for Nikon's 24fps, 720p video implementation, which allows for shooting with sensitivities up to ISO 6400, shutter and aperture adjustments in preview mode and selectable sound levels. Like most models it has a built in mono mic, though it has a minijack for stereo audio. Plus Nikon supplies some postprocessing for trimming video and extracting frames.

One of the biggest complaints about dSLR-based video is the rolling shutter artifacts, which tend to be more pronounced at the 24fps frame rate Nikon uses over Canon's 30fps. Nikon claims it's tweaked the video processing to reduce the artifacts by half.

As you can see, there aren't a lot of spec differences between the D3S, the disappearing D3 and the current top-of-Nikon's-line D3X:

  Nikon D3 Nikon D3S Nikon D3x
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.1-megapixel CMOS 12.1-megapixel CMOS 24.5-megapixel CMOS
36.0 x 23.9mm 36.0 x 23.9mm 35.9 x 24.0mm
Magnification factor 1.0x 1.0x 1.0x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400/25,600 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 12,800/102,400 (expanded) ISO 50 (expanded)/100 - ISO 1,600/6,400 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 9 fps
20 raw/64 JPEG
9 fps
36 raw/82 JPEG
5 fps
24 raw/76 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/effective magnification
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
Autofocus 51-pt AF
15 cross-type
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
Metering 1,005 pixel 3D color matrix 1,005 pixel 3D color matrix 1,005 pixel 3D color matrix
Shutter speeds 1/8000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/250 sec max flash X-sync (1/8000 focal plane sync) 1/8000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/250 sec max flash X-sync (1/8000 focal plane sync) 1/8000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/250 sec max flash X-sync (1/8000 focal plane sync)
Live View Yes Yes Yes
Video None 1280x720 at 24fps MJPEG AVI None
LCD size 3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
Shutter durability 300,000 cycles 300,000 cycles 300,000
Battery life (CIPA rating) 4,300 shots 4,300 shots 4,400 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4
Body operating weight (ounces) 50.4 50.4 (estimated) 50.4 (estimated)
Mfr. Price (body only) $4,999.95 $5,199.95 $7,995.95

There are a few subtle differences in the D3S as well. Nikon increased the buffer memory to significantly boost burst depth, added sensor vibration to its dust reduction system, inserted a DX crop mode, and incorporated the same Quiet shutter release mode that debuted in the D300s. There are also more custom settings banks (to accommodate movie settings, if memory serves) which now support saved shutter speed and aperture values--a small thing, but nevertheless one of my pet peeves with the Nikon models.

Rumors abound for the D3S's main competitor, the next Canon pro model, speculatively named 1D Mark 4 (Mark IV?), but I put more credence in the Q1 2010 prognostications than the ones for next week. It's quite possibly Canon's turn to leapfrog Nikon in the neverending game. But for now, the D3S looks like it stacks up pretty well compared to what's currently available. Of course, there's also that huge price differential to consider:

  Canon EOS-1D Mark III Nikon D3S Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
Sensor (effective resolution) 10.1-megapixel CMOS 12.1-megapixel CMOS 21.1-megapixel CMOS
28.1 x 18.7mm 36.0 x 23.9mm 36.0 x 24.0mm
Magnification factor 1.3x 1.0x 1.0x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 12,800/102,400 (expanded) ISO 50 (expanded)/100 - ISO 1600/3200 (expanded)
Continuous shooting 10 fps
30 raw/110 JPEG
9 fps
36 raw/82 JPEG
5 fps
12 raw/56 JPEG
Viewfinder
magnification/effective magnification
100% coverage
0.76x/0.58
100% coverage
0.70x/0.70x
100% coverage
0.76x/0.76x
Autofocus 19-pt AF
all cross-type
51-pt AF
15 cross-type
45-pt AF
19 cross-type
Metering 63 zones 1,005 pixel 3D color matrix 63 zones
Shutter speeds 1/8000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/300 sec max flash X-sync 1/8000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/250 sec max flash X-sync (1/8000 focal plane sync) 1/8000 to 30 sec; bulb; 1/250 sec max flash X-sync
Live View Yes Yes Yes
Video None 1280x720 at 24fps MJPEG AVI None
LCD size 3 inches fixed
230,000 dots
3 inches fixed
920,000 dots
3 inches fixed
230,000 dots
Shutter durability 300,000 cycles 300,000 cycles 300,000 cycles
Battery life (CIPA rating) 2,200 shots 4,300 shots n/a
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 6.1 x 6.2 x 3.1 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 6.1 x 6.3 x 3.1 in.
Body operating weight (ounces) 47.3 50.4 (estimated) 50.0
Mfr. Price (body only) $3,999.99 $5,199.95 $6,999.99

In theory, it looks like there's something here to float everyone's boat: if you're not into video, there's still the low-light shooting. Or if you're so inclined, start looking for deals on used D3s. (That's D3 plural, not D3S. Oh, fun Googling for this one.) I'm certainly looking forward to trying it out.

 

ARTICLE DISCUSSION

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Don't Miss
Hot Products
Trending on CNET

Hot on CNET

Saving your life at speed and in style

Volvo have been responsible for some of the greatest advancements in car safety. We list off the top ways they've kept you safe today, even if you don't drive one.