Nikon D3s camera
I remember saying that I wouldn’t be buying top-of-the-range cameras anymore (Birdwatch 203: 45); they were too expensive and didn’t hold their value when the next model came along, so I would stay with the semi-pro versions for now.
That was until I tested the latest Nikon D3s. As soon as I took it out of the box I knew I was in trouble. It just felt so good in my hands, and a day trip to Gigrin Farm to photograph Black and Red Kites only reinforced my view that I was going to want to keep hold of this for as long as possible.
The D3s is a 12.1 MP full-frame model, denoted by FX on the body, so the lens in use is the size it should be; a 500 mm is just that, not the equivalent of a 750 mm as it would be on a camera with a 1.5x crop factor sensor. This took a little getting used to, but I soon adjusted, and if I did need that little extra power the camera has a facility to change the settings to either a 1.2x or 1.5x crop factor. This reduces the number of pixels available, but is a handy option to have.
All the features that you would expect from a camera of this quality (and price) are included: mega-fast auto focus with 51 AF points; nine frames-per-second motor drive in RAW mode; three-inch monitor; 1/8000th sec maximum shutter speed; three metering methods and metering modes; and an ISO range from 200-12,800, which can also be decreased to 100 and increased to the equivalent of a staggering 102,400. It also has live view and video facilities and a 430-page instruction manual to explain it all.
It all sounds very good, but how does it handle the simple job of taking sharp photos? In short, superbly; images were razor sharp, with excellent contrast and colours and very good auto white balance; the viewing screen is a pleasure to look at and the auto focus a joy to use.
This is a heavy camera compared to the D300 and others in the Nikon range, but it has to withstand use by a pro photographer. The magnesium alloy body is beautifully designed and feels strong and tough enough to throw around without any damage – I didn’t test this, by the way.
It’s at high ISO speeds that this camera really excels; I very rarely go above ISO 400 (maybe on the odd occasion I’ll use 800), but with the D3S I set 400 as my standard ISO rating and frequently used 800 in dull light. For this test I even used ISO 8,000 just to see what it was like.
At 400 there was no visible noise and even at 800 noise was hardly noticeable. At ISO 8,000 the results were quite unbelievable, with the images good enough to crop if needed and comparable to ISO 800-1,000 on other cameras I’ve used.
Most probably I will never use ISO 12,800, but if I have to, say on a dull, grey November day on the east coast when that Hawk Owl appears and quickly flies past, it will be nice to know that I can.
This is the best camera I have used and it is difficult to see how it can be improved on, but no doubt it will be in a few years’ time. At more than £4,000 it will only be targeted by professionals and very serious amateurs, but for those that want the best, then the D3s is surely it.
Effective pixels: 12.1 million
Maximum image size: 4,256x2,832 pixels
LCD monitor: 76.2 mm
Size: 159.5x157x87.5 mm
Weight: 1,240 g