Nikon D3s Review – Stuck in Customs

Nikon D3s Review

Check Latest Lens Prices

  • Nikon D3S – A remarkable camera that I carry with me on all photo adventures.
  • or rent it for a while from
    • I use Borrowlenses all the time to test stuff out to make sure!

Why did I buy a Nikon D3S?

I also have a Nikon D3X review up that you might enjoy as well.

My suspicions about the camera are correct and it is perfect for a second body for me to carry around. The D3X is still the mainstay of my arsenal because of the 24 megapixels. I know some people say that is too big, but I disagree for a variety of reasons I describe in that review. However, having said that, there are many things the D3S can do that I need.

  • Because it shoots great in low-light situations, and I can keep other lenses on that to shoot family and people without flashes
  • Because it also has a movie mode, which is very handy
  • Because I want a backup that is comparable to the D3x – going on adventures with just one camera is a bad idea

Video with the Nikon D3S

Below are a few sample videos I took with the NIkon D3S. The first is one I shot over a 24-hour period of the Cherry Blossoms in Kyoto, Japan.

Making videos with the D3S is very fun and intuitive. Like my “Moments Between” videoshere on the site, I think people remember in little 1-3 second snippets… this is how my memory works, and often how I choose to edit together videos. That is neither here nor there, and it also happens to fit showing several scene-types to really test out the D3S.

What is it like to use the Nikon D3S?

It is a lot of fun! First, if you have never used one of these bigger professional cameras, then that is something to get used to. It’s bigger than the mid-range Nikon cameras like the D90, and you definitely know when you are carrying this thing around. But to me, that is okay. When I go out to shoot, I go out to shoot. I want the best thing even if it is a little big.

The camera is extremely fast. It’s time between pictures is even faster than my D3X, and I think it is comparable to the D3. So, in that sense, it is better for portraits, sports, wildlife, and everything that moves quickly.

It shoots 12 megapixel files, which are big enough for most anything. After looking through a few hundred shots, I am very satisfied with the results. I have no complaints about its general ease of use and the quality – it’s all quite amazing.

As you can see in the photo below, we have an HDR image taken with the D3S. It shoots SO quickly, that making a handheld HDR with multiple exposures is a heck of a lot easier than with my D3X. It feels like it shoots about twice as fast, which is good because I can only strike a pose for a few seconds!

Enola Gay

This is a 5-exposure HDR of the Enola Gay at the Air and Space Museum in DC.  It was shot with a 14-24 lens and the Nikon D3S.  The aperture was F/8 and ISO 200.

Why is the Auto ISO so cool on the Nikon D3S?

This is a feature that will have the camera automatically adjust the ISO whilst staying faster than a certain shutter speed. I like my shots to be sharp, and I don’t mind a bit of noise. The ISO goes all the way up to a mind-blistering 12,800! That’s crazy! Many of my shots came out at that ISO and the noise was not that bad! I was expecting way worse.

You can see some samples below.  Note that I did not do a lot of sample “daytime” shots.  Those are as awesome as you would expect…  I tried to focus on the “dark” stuff since that is where this camera stands above.

I’ve seen some people say that the D3S can see more than the human eye in dark situations. I have not seen that behavior yet… I tried taking some shots of my kids in a dark car, and they still came out blurry, even at max ISO.


A sharp and stunning rendition by the Nikon D3S using a 50mm prime lens (Nikon 50mm Review).

ISO 800 at 30 seconds. Yes, you read that right. And no Noise Reduction!

d3s review (4 of 4)

Here is my daughter in downtown Tampa.  How’s that for low-light performance?  Shot with an 85mm 1.4 lens.  This is ISO 1250 on an 85mm lens shot at f/1.4.  1/90th of a second.

Running right at me full speed!  ISO 200, 85mm,  f/1.7, 1/3000 sec

ISO 360, 85mm,  f/3.3, 1/90 sec

She’s not a happy princess.  But she was shot at 1600 ISO, 85mm, f/1.4, 1/320 sec.

d3s review (2 of 4)

Here is Isabella again.  It was dark on the streets of Savannah, and I mean DARK.  And she was moving around, as always.  This was ISO 3200, 85mm, f/1.4 at 1/90 sec.

d3s review (1 of 4)

Here is my friend’s family in Savannah.  After dinner, about 10 PM in very very dark, we went out.  All of this is, like the ones above, without a flash.  It’s really amazing, isn’t it?  This is ISO 3200, 85mm, f/1.4 and 1/90 sec.

Shot with a 50mm prime at 1.4. 1/8000 shutter speed. 200 ISO.

ISO 800, F/11, 270mm, 1/1000th shutter speed

Nice pics!  So, is that the Lens or is that the Camera?

Good question! Many of those above were shot with my 85mm (see my still-growing Nikon 85mm Review). You can see those ISOs are quite high and pretty noise free. I took a lot of low-light Christmas shots with the same 85mm lens on the D3X that did not turn out nearly as good.

Many of my other D3S shots are taken with the 50mm prime. See my Nikon 50mm Review.

I can tell you with certainty that I will be using the D3S exclusively for people shots. Really, most of the time, people are inside, so the ability to catch them perfectly without having to worry about artificial light is really exciting to me.

What about the noise?

There is not much noise at all.  At some of the higher ISO (above 2000), you will start to get a little.  To me, it is not that bad because the essence of the image is still there and the noise is tolerable.  However, sometimes I use Noiseware to go in and clean that noise up – see my Noiseware Review here on the site.

How about the movie mode?

It’s cool! I find it so convenient just to start taking movies right away. By using the lens, you can do some artsy and nice things.

Now, a downside for many people is that you have to manually focus. This is a problem when shooting at f/8 and lower. If you can get up to f/11 or higher and set the focus on the subjects, you will probably be okay for most of the action. This is the kind of stuff you will learn by experimentation.

I showed this the movie below to a friend and he said, “It looks just like a high-def TV camera!” Now, he doesn’t know anything about cameras, but, that is indeed what it resembles to most everyone.

I got the hang of it very quickly, and it made natural sense. The camera has no stabilization, so that can be problematic. Camera shake is even more obvious in high-def, so I had to try hard to stay still. There are many steady-cam things you can get too — but I have not gone that route yet.

Like I said in the video above, I do not shoot weddings… but I do think a wedding photographer would have a lot of fun and be very creative with this!

How about HDR Video?

I have been working on HDR Video on a variety of fronts. You guys know I am a perfectionist on certain matters, so I am not ready to release anything yet… but when I do, you will know all about it! 🙂

Anything else I should know about the Nikon D3S?

There are all kinds of technical specifications that you can look up on the various product pages for the camera. I don’t get into all that mess and re-explain what all of it means in terms of this camera. It matters, yes, but I urge you not to get too caught up in the technical details. I mean, do you really care if it does ISO 50 and ISO 100?

Now, if you do want a full description of all the little technical bits, I suggest you look at Ken Rockwell’s site. He does an amazing job of really getting into the innards of it. Me, I’m simple. I just use the thing and force my will upon it. I do try a lot of stuff, and I tend to only use and recommend the best – this certainly falls into that category.

The Shuttle in Spacedock

And last, here is the Space Shuttle at the Air and Space museum.  This was a hand-held HDR.  The D3S fires off the shots much faster than my D3X, so that is quite nice.  This was shot with a 12-24 mm lens at f6.7.

Any questions about the nature of these reviews? Visit my Ethics Statement. It