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Nikon D3S

*Est. $5,200 body only
Reviewed
November 2011
by ConsumerSearch
Nikon D3S

Pros
  • Full-frame sensor
  • Outstanding low-light image quality
  • High-speed shooting at 9 fps
  • Fast, accurate autofocus
  • Shoots 720p HD video
  • Heavy-duty build for pro use
Cons
  • No built-in flash
  • Lower resolution than rivals (12.1 megapixels)
  • Heavy and bulky
Where to Buy
 

For professional photojournalists -- and anyone else who needs the best camera money can buy for shooting fast action (such as sports) and in low light -- experts prefer the Nikon D3S. At 12.1 megapixels, it offers only about half the resolution of the top-of-the-line Nikon D3X (*Est. $8,000 body only) and even some less expensive cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II (*Est. $1,900 body only).

But the D3S can shoot about twice as fast as either of those cameras (9 frames per second), and no other camera on the market can match the D3S at shooting in the dark: Testers easily get good images at 12,800 ISO, and with careful processing even images shot at the highest 102,400 ISO turn out grainy but usable. Overall, experts say these benefits of the D3S outweigh its lack of pixels -- especially since its photos turn out beautifully crisp and accurate anyway.

The D3S can also shoot 720p high-definition video in lower light than any camcorder can, testers say -- although in only five-minute clips (20 minutes at standard definition). Still, reviews say the lighter-weight Canon EOS 5D Mark II does a better job with video overall: It can shoot 12-minute clips of full 1080p HD video (24 minutes at standard definition), and it's not as awkward and hard to hold steady.

Canon mimics the Nikon D3S's specs with its Canon EOS-1D Mark IV (*Est. $4,600 body only), but the Nikon beats the Canon in well-designed head-to-head shooting and print tests at EPhotoZine.com and PhotographyBay.com. All of these $5,000-plus cameras from Nikon and Canon boast heavy-duty builds, with weather- and dust-resistant magnesium-alloy bodies and shutters rated to last for 300,000 shots -- but experts point out that they're also pricey, bulky and heavy (about 3 pounds with the battery, but without the lens). Some pro photographers actually prefer lighter, less expensive cameras for day-in, day-out use, such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II.

DPReview.com publishes the most comprehensive review of the Nikon D3S, but the other sources listed here also provide an impressive amount of detail in their full, test-based reviews. EPhotoZine.com and PhotographyBay.com both do an excellent job comparing the D3S to its rival, the Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, in real-life situations. Amazon.com posts owner-written reviews for the Nikon D3S.

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Canon EOS 1D Mark IV 16.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3-Inch LCD and 1080p HD Video (Body Only)
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Average Customer Review:  
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Nikon D3X 24.5MP FX CMOS Digital SLR with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only)
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Canon EOS 5D Mark II 21.1MP Full Frame CMOS Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
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Where To Buy
Nikon D3S 12.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD and 24fps 720p HD Video Capability (Body Only)

 (43 reviews)
17 Used & new from $2,400.00

 

Our Sources

1. DPReview.com

After testing every aspect of the Nikon D3S in exhaustive detail, Barnaby Britton concludes that it's "simply unmatched" in formerly impossible low-light situations. The camera's main drawback is that its 12.1-megapixel sensor offers lower resolution than its rivals.

Review: Nikon D3S In-depth Review, Barnaby Britton, Feb. 2010

2. Imaging-Resource.com

Experts here shoot stills and video with the Nikon D3S in the field for three weeks. Andrew Alexander posts an eight-minute short movie he made with the D3S for a film festival contest, with a great overview of how the D3S performed. Overall, these reviewers judge the D3S "an amazingly capable professional digital SLR" offering "astonishing improvements in low-light capability" over other digital SLRs and camcorders. It's a top recommended pick.

Review: Nikon D3S Overview, Andrew Alexander, Zig Weidelich, Shawn Barnett and Mike Tomkins, April 2010

3. ePhotoZine

Reviews at this British website are excellent, including this head-to-head shootout between the Nikon D3S and Canon EOS-1D Mark IV. Both are built for speed and super-low-light shooting, but the full-frame Nikon D3S holds a slight edge for noise control and dynamic range.

Review: Canon and Nikon's Flagship Digital SLRs Wage War!, Gary Wolstenholme, June 2011

4. PhotographyBlog.com

Here, you'll find PhotographyBay.com's hands-on review of the Nikon D3S, as well as detailed head-to-head tests between the D3S and Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, comparing their autofocus performance (at basketball games and a track meet) and low-light performance (judging JPEG and RAW files as well as 14-by-9-inch prints). The Nikon wins on both counts.

Review: Recommended Cameras and Accessories, Editors of PhotographyBay.com

5. What Digital Camera

The Nikon D3S tops this British website's list of the five best digital SLRs. It earns nearly perfect scores for design, image quality, features, performance and value. Tester Mat Gallagher loves its movie functionality, "stunning" focus system and "ISO range that makes almost any lighting condition a shooting potential," calling it "one of the finest cameras of our time."

Review: Nikon D3S Review, Mat Gallagher, Feb. 2010

6. PopPhoto.com

Breaking the ISO 100,000 barrier "is a groundbreaking achievement" for the Nikon D3S, Phil Ryan says. He notes that "12.1 megapixels is starting to feel like too few," but he says the D3S performs "flawlessly" in real-life situations. He recommends it for any photographer who needs fast shooting speeds, as well as "pros wanting a versatile do-everything body."

Review: Camera Test: Nikon D3S, Phil Ryan, Jan. 2010

7. Amateur Photographer

The Nikon D3S's trade-off -- a lower-resolution sensor in exchange for best-ever low-light performance -- is worth it for most photographers, testers here say. The resolution's plenty, unless you plan to print your photos more than a couple of feet wide. The D3S also offers class-leading speed for sports, wildlife and news photography, making it Amateur Photographer's top pro digital SLR pick.

Review: Nikon D3S Review, Editors of Amateur Photographer

8. Amazon.com

More than 30 owners posted reviews for the Nikon D3S at the time of this writing, and all but two give it a perfect 5 stars. Some of the reviews are long and detailed, written by professional photographers and serious enthusiasts who report on the D3S's real-life performance.

Review: Nikon D3S 12.1 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera (Body Only), Contributors to Amazon.com

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