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Nikon D3S review: Nikon D3S

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The Good Incredible low light performance. Inclusion of D-Movie. Quiet shutter. Stunning pictures.

The Bad Unless you value the increased ISO and video, it's an expensive upgrade from the D3.

The Bottom Line True night vision is a step closer with the Nikon D3S, a stunning professional dSLR on all accounts from still images to video.

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9.5 Overall

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Editor's note: the D3S is available through Nikon's professional retail channel, with a price on application. That said, we have seen it priced at AU$6995 at a number of retailers.

The D3S is a worthy successor to the D3, refining rather than completely overhauling the successful formula. There's been enough written on the D3S to fill a small house with information, so rather than re-hashing every specification, we'll highlight a few and talk about some more practical elements of the camera throughout this review.

Design and features

There are few surprises in the looks of the D3S — it's almost identical to the D3 which it now supersedes. It feels incredibly well made, and for the price you would expect this camera to work like a tank. The 3-inch 920,000-dot screen remains unchanged from its predecessor's, and still does the job well. It's a smidgen lighter than the D3 too, not that 60-odd grams makes that much difference in the grand scheme of things — especially when you're toting around the new 70-200mm VR II lens attached to the camera.

There are also three different crop modes which are all displayed in the viewfinder: 1.2x, 5:4 and DX, which reduce the file size but allow the photographer to achieve different effects and also to use different, non-FX lenses.

What's in the box?

Unboxing the Nikon D3S
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Click the image above to find out what an unboxed D3S looks like. (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)


Some of the most interesting improvements to photographers are perhaps not the most highlighted in the specifications. It's the little things that you'll notice the most, like the soft-touch AF-On button and the new, dedicated live view button. It's no longer on the dial, but instead located near the LCD screen, which is actually pretty clever for two main reasons: it's more convenient to press the button rather than move the dial for easy access into live view; and secondly, it means that you can use quiet shutter and other shooting options when live view is active.

Nikon D3S
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The rear of the D3S, showing the live view button and similar layout to the D3. (Credit: Nikon)

Inside, the sensor has been completely redesigned, so it isn't the same as that found on the D3. The 12.87-megapixel CMOS sensor won't match something like the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV's 17-megapixel sensor, but then again it's not really meant to — if you want that sort of resolution for studio work you'll be looking at the D3X anyway.

The inclusion of D-Movie on the D3S came as no real surprise considering how it has encroached upon more entry-level models like the D5000, and the prosumer DX format D300S. At 720p and 24 frames per second the implementation is essentially the same as featured on the aforementioned cameras. There's an internal stereo microphone plus a 3.5mm jack for attaching an external microphone, and if you fancy capturing a moment from video as a JPEG, that's a possibility as well (though it will only be 720x540 pixels). In-camera editing of movies is also available, though it's not going to replace a dedicated video editing package any time soon. Still, we appreciate its inclusion.

In action

The D3S is an incredible performer — it meets the same stats as the now-retired D3 but it feels just a little more nimble on its feet. Its burst rating is 9 frames per second and it achieves this with ease in practice, and thanks to the increased buffer it now takes even longer for this camera to slow its machine-gun-like response. Nikon claims the battery life can now withstand 4200 frames on a single charge.

Nikon D3S at the Nikon SuperGP
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Click the image above to sample some more images and video from the D3S. (Credit: Alexandra Savvides/CNET Australia)

The white balance seems to produce slightly warmer tones on automatic settings than the D3 does, which makes for a more pleasing colour balance from JPEGs straight from the camera.

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