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Nikon announced the D3S in October 2009, as a replacement for its 2007-issued Nikon D3. The D3S is a full-frame, professional-grade dSLR and retails for a suggested price of $5,199, as of March 2012. The D3S was Nikon’s first full-frame dSLR to feature high-definition video capabilities.
The D3S has the same resolution, 12.1-megapixels, as its predecessor and looks very similar. However, Nikon engineered the D3S with a number of improvements and new features. While the D3 has a maximum light sensitivity rating of ISO 6400, the D3S features a rating up to ISO 12800, expandable to ISO 102400.
The D3S has virtually the same ergonomic design as the D3, but sports a new quiet shutter mode, a built-in sensor cleaning system and a larger buffer rate – up to 30 RAW images in a single burst. The D3S also comes equipped with a 51-point autofocus system, in-camera RAW processing tools, a sturdy magnesium-alloy frame and the Nikon EXPEED image processing system.
Because of its high cost, the D3S is not typically the best option for beginners or amateur photographers. However, the D3S’s solid construction and state-of-the-art features make it one the best dSLRs on the market for professional shooters.
Nikon built the D3S to withstand demanding conditions often faced by professional photographers. It has a magnesium-alloy body, weighs 2.7 pounds and measures 6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 inches. The D3S has a built-in, rubber-coated grip for optimal handling and fits naturally in the hand.
Nikon retained much of the D3’s basic design, but added and rearranged a few buttons and controls. The D3S has a new “info” button situated on the left side of the rear LCD screen. Meanwhile, the live view button moved to a position adjacent to the secondary rear settings screen. The rear of the camera also features dedicated buttons for accessing ISO, image quality and white balance settings.
The D3S’s top control panel enables users to quickly view critical camera settings, including exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, shooting mode, exposure compensation, battery status and frame counts. The small secondary control panel, located below the large rear LCD screen, displays critical shooting settings, such as image size, ISO, image quality, bracketing, white balance and voice memo settings. The rear monitor measures 3 inches and has 922k dots. The D3S also features a rear 4-way controller for navigating within and between menu displays.
A metering mode selector switch lies along the side of the viewfinder prism and an autofocus on/off button on the camera’s rear side. The D3S’s mode dial, situated on the top-left side of the camera, enables users to switch between single frame, quiet mode, mirror up, self-timer and two continuous shooting modes. The top of the mode dial also has a function lock and dedicated buttons for accessing bracketing and flash mode settings.
The D3S has the same 100-percent frame coverage viewfinder as the D3. It also has an HDMI video-out port, a remote-control 10-pin terminal, a USB 2.0 port and a PC sync flash terminal. The D3S has a dual memory card compartment, which accepts compact flash types I and II. The compact flash compartment also features a hidden speaker for audio playback. The D3S uses an EN-EL4a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the same as the D3.
The D3S has two user-programmable buttons on its front side. The top button serves as a depth-of-field preview by default. Users can program the bottom button for a variety of functions. The camera front also has an autofocus switch, which enables users to change between single-servo, continuous-servo and manual focus modes.
D3S users can press the “info” button to access the information screen. This menu changes background colors automatically according to ambient lighting conditions, which makes the display more easily visible. The information screen displays the most critical shooting settings, including ISO, aperture, color space, exposure mode, exposure compensation and shutter speed. Through the information screen, users can access detailed displays to adjust individual settings.
The D3S’s live view mode offers various displays, which enable users to overlay shooting information such as shutter speed, exposure mode and aperture. The live view mode features magnification and moveable focus-point functions, along with a virtual-horizon tool to aid in composition.
The playback screen offers several overlay viewing options, including an RGB histogram, a moveable autofocus point display, a highlights display, a grid-screen display and a live histogram. Users can also view a basic display screen, which overlays certain shooting data, such as exposure mode, ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
The D3S’s retouch menu allows users to make basic in-camera adjustments to previously recorded images. The menu features red-eye correction, trim and color balance tools, along with creative filters for applying monochrome, sepia or cyanotype toning.
The D3S sports a full-frame, 36 x 23.9 mm CMOS sensor that produces images up to 12.1 megapixels. It features the Nikon EXPEED image processing system and records RAW, TIFF and JPG images up to 4256 x 2832 pixels. The D3S also records AVI videos up 1280 x 720 pixels at 24 frames per second.
Users can select between program-automatic, shutter-priority, aperture-priority and manual exposure modes. The D3S uses a 1005-pixel RGB metering sensor, with 3D color matrix, center-weighted and spot meter options. Users can also bracket exposures up to nine frames.
The D3S has a light-sensitivity range of ISO 200 to 12800, expandable to 102400. It is equipped with a vertical-travel shutter, has a flash sync up to 1/250 second, a shutter speed range of 30 seconds to 1/8000 second and a bulb mode for time exposures.
Nikon engineered the D3S with automatic and manual white balance modes, along with seven preset modes that allow fine-tuning. Users can bracket white balance up to nine frames or select color temperature in a 31-step range.
The D3S features numerous shooting modes, including mirror up, programmed self-timer, quiet mode, single frame and continuous shooting of up to nine RAW frames per second.
Like the D3, the D3S uses the Nikon F-mount lens system with autofocus contacts. Because the D3S has a full-frame sensor, it produces full-frame images when coupled with most Nikon lenses.
All camera functions work when using Nikkor Type G and D autofocus lenses and all functions except the FX format work when using Nikkor DX autofocus lenses. When shooting in DX mode, images have a 1.5 field-of-view crop. The D3S supports all functions when using Nikkor AI-P lenses, with the exception of the 3D color matrix metering system and autofocus. Nikkor autofocus lenses other than Types G and D are compatible with the D3S, but the 3D color matrix metering system will not function. Users can utilize Nikkor non-CPU lenses in automatic and manual exposure modes.
The D3S sports a 51-point autofocus system, which features continuous-servo, single-servo and manual focus modes. The system enables users to select from up to 51 focal points, even when using live view.
The D3S’s sturdy build meets the rugged demands of most professional photographers. Its ergonomic design fits comfortably in the hand and its well-positioned buttons simply settings adjustments.
It produces high-quality images, with good detail and resolution, even at high ISO ratings. The D3S accepts most Nikon SLR lenses, and even supports metering when coupled with certain non-CPU lenses.
The D3S’s nine RAW frames per second continuous-shooting capability makes it a good camera for action and sports photographers. Its dual memory card slots enable users to shoot more images or assign one card as a backup.
The D3S has a highly sophisticated light metering system and its viewfinder offers 100-percent coverage.
The D3S’s new, dedicated information button enables quick access to camera settings and its virtual horizon feature provides photographers with an extra composition tool.
The D3S’s new video mode captures good-quality high-definition movies and its microphone port enables users to capture high-quality sound using an external microphone.
The D3S is not without a few faults. Its automatic white balance setting often misses the mark in artificial lighting conditions.
While the D3S offers 720p video capabilities, other camera manufactures offer professional-grade dSLRs with higher video resolution. Additionally, the D3S does not offer video capture in the MPEG format.
Although Nikon added new features and made improvements to its D3S, it offers the same 12-megapixel maximum resolution as its predecessor.
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