Nikon D3 vs D3s

Nikon has just announced the new Nikon D3s, so I decided to post a quick comparison between the old Nikon D3 and the new Nikon D3s in this “Nikon D3 vs D3s” article.

Nikon D3s vs D3

The new Nikon D3s is in many ways a new generation camera. When Nikon adds a letter to a camera (such as “X” or “S”), it typically means that it is an update to its current line, most likely with the same Expeed processor. The new D3s, though, despite featuring the same physical processor, is a whole new world when it comes to sensor technology. Just looking at the images and comparing the ISO performance of the older D3 and the new D3s, I can conclude that the new D3s has a 1.5 to 2 stop advantage over D3, which is remarkable.

Here are the differences between D3s and D3:

  1. D3s can shoot ISO 200-12,800 in native mode and ISO 25,600 (H1), ISO 51,200 (H2) and ISO 102,400 (H3) in “boost” mode (D3 is 200-6,400 with ISOs 12,800 and 25,600 in boost mode).
  2. The Nikon D3s now features an “image sensor cleaning” technology just like in other lower-end cameras such as the D300s and D700 that vibrates the low pass filter and reduces dust on the sensor, without impacting the 100% coverage of the viewfinder.
  3. A new 1.2x crop factor @ 8.4 megapixels is added for a “telephoto” effect for those who need the extra reach.
  4. D3s can shoot 720p video (1280 x 720 @ 24 fps). The “rolling shutter” effect is greatly reduced, thanks to a new video recording algorithm in D3s.
  5. D3s sports a much larger buffer that can continuously record up to 48 RAW images and up to 130 JPEG images.
  6. A couple of new white balance and image parameters are added into the menu.
  7. A new release mode “Q” (quiet shutter-release) is added, just like in D300s.
  8. D3s is slightly lighter than the D3 (2.12 lb vs 2.7 lb).
  9. Just like the latest generation of Nikon cameras, “Lv” (LiveView) and “Info” buttons were added to the back of the D3s.
  10. D3s is priced at $5,199.95, an increase of $200 over D3 when it was introduced.

Check out this amazing video that was shot with a D3s in very dim and challenging environments:

The Nikon D3s is ideal for professional news, sports, wildlife and wedding photographers and there is no equivalent camera on the market today that is capable of capturing such details in low-light situations. I can see this camera selling like crazy in the wedding photography market, which has been dominated Canon for years. If Nikon releases an equivalent D700s, I can see many wedding photographers switching from their favorite Canon 5D Mark II cameras to Nikon D700s, because it will feature a much better autofocus and low-light capabilities, which are both extremely important for event photographers. At the same time, it is a little disappointing that Nikon could not incorporate a true 1080p video mode into the latest cameras, but it is understandable, because the current Expeed processor is not capable of handling 1080p with H.264 codec. I believe the next generation Nikon cameras such as D4/D400/D800 will feature a new Expeed processor that will be able to handle higher resolution video recording capability, all the way up to 1080p.

So, the main question is: “Is D3s worth the upgrade?”. If you already have a D3, I would evaluate your needs for low-light photography and video. D3s is definitely not for landscape and studio photographers (D3X would be a better camera since it has much more resolution for print). But for true professionals that have to work in dim environments and cannot use flash, I would say that the D3s is definitely worth the upgrade. That 1.5 to 2 stop advantage makes a big difference in low light and I cannot even imagine what ISO 102,400 could do for news photographers and paparazzi. If you do not already own a D3 and are thinking about the upgrade, I would say definitely go for the D3s.

Update: I posted some real high ISO samples from both cameras in my Nikon D3 vs D3s high ISO comparison article.


  1. 1) Mitesh Parmer
    February 17, 2010 at 5:25 am

    Hi Nasim,

    Im a wedding photogapher. i have been usuing the D300 which is not great. I am now looking to purchase the D3s which i know is a great camera.

    You mentioned that the wedding photography market has been dominated by canon.. Why is this? I did hear that they have constant 1.8 zoom lenses. Is this why? Correct me please if i am wrong.

    I have been well informed that Nikon cameras are very reliable in comparison, hence the reason why i bought the d300 a year ago..

    Now looking to purchase a full frame camera, and im very comfortable with Nikon Body. The D3s is an amazing camera

    • February 17, 2010 at 11:52 am


      As far as wedding photography being dominated by Canon, this is just my observance of the current market. I know many wedding photographers that use Canon 5D Mk II as their primary camera and I believe this is due to the historical fact that Canon used to beat Nikon in high ISO performance all the way until Nikon released D3. The situation has been changing recently though and many photographers are either switching from Canon to Nikon, or new pros are emerging that use Nikon exclusively.

      As far as “constant 1.8 zoom lenses” – where did you hear that, because there is no such thing as a constant 1.8 zoom lens. Most pro-level zoom lenses are maximum f/2.8 and there is not much difference between what Nikon and Canon offer when it comes to professional zoom lenses.

      Where Canon currently beats Nikon, is in f/1.2 primes. Nikon currently does not have any modern pro-level f/1.2 autofocus lenses and Canon has both the Canon 50mm f/1.2 and Canon 85mm f/1.2 lenses that are superb. Hopefully Nikon will release an f/1.2 lens soon to stay competitive on that side, but it is hard for Nikon, because they are a much smaller company than Canon.

      As far as your Nikon D300 – I also have one and I love it, even though the performance is not as good as in my full-frame Nikon D700. If you can afford the D3s, I am 100% positive that you will not regret the purchase, because there is nothing out there today that comes even close to its low-light performance.

      Hope this helps :)

  2. 2) Mitesh Parmer
    February 17, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Thanks so much Nasim!

    Yes i get what your saying, i must have been confused slightly with prime lenses.. i have a 60mm nikon which is one of nikons best lenses.. its 2.8.. The high ISO setting on the d3s will work brilliantly with this..

    Im also hoping to purchase another 2 high end nikon zoom lenses- so i have good range, including my 60mm..

    Im hoping to do a lot more high end fashion, ill hope for the hasselblad one day!! (but we’ll see how that goes!)

    The d300 is a good camera- but ive been using low end stock lenses on it sadly, so the response time is quite slow, especially in low light- any higher than ISO 800- and i run into problems..

    I think i have out grown the camera now, so its time for me to step up now, so i will be purchasing the D3s- CANT WAIT!!!

    • February 17, 2010 at 12:53 pm

      Mitesh, sounds good! Let me know how you like the D3s!

  3. April 4, 2010 at 12:17 am

    Good review! The question now becomes (now a D2x owner) is it a D3x or D3s? Yes landscapes are my usual meal, and not very often in low light, however, the additional ability to shoot in low light where I could never go before (noise over 400 ISO with the D2x)) is very enticing! But the extra crispness and scope of the D3x riminds me of my old Nikon film vs. my Hasselblad days… no comparison.

    I guess the main question comes down to how large are the prints going to be? Probably not 30 X 40’s but maybe 16 X 20’s or 20 X 24’s so how large would you print with the D3s? What would you do in this case. Maybe a peek at my website might give you an idea of what/how I shoot.

    Thanks for your input, very much appreciated!

    • April 5, 2010 at 1:00 am

      Larry, if you primarily shoot landscapes, then go with the D3x and don’t look back! D3x not only gives you a bigger print size, but also better dynamic range and color depth than Nikon D3s.

      D3s is for sports/bird/wildlife photographers and D3x is for landscape and studio work.

      By the way, your website does not work well in Firefox…

  4. 4) Larry Koltys
    April 7, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Thanks much! Great info and more research to do.

    • April 7, 2010 at 2:40 am

      Larry, you are most welcome! Thanks for stopping by and dropping a comment.

  5. May 18, 2010 at 12:49 pm

    Yes, this is a good review and I read it because I am trying to decide between the D3x and the D3s. I do a lot of landscape work and have, for that reason, been looking at the D3x. I have seen recent work using the D3s, however, and I am absolutely fascinated by the low light cabability. I am a current D3 owner and have loved that camera, except for the way the sensor seems to act as a magnet for dust.

    Besides landscape photography, my second greatest photographic interest is in travel photography. The D3s sounds like a perfect camera for travel. Using a tripod religiously is simply not practical for travel – time and convenience being the biggest problems with it. The D3 earned its colors in that regard. I love being able to take beautiful photos indoors (museums, churches, hotels) where other camera owners are not abel to do so. The D3s will be even better. Having the built-in sensor cleaner is also a plus because it is so difficult to kept dust off a sensor when traveling and changing lenses several times a day.

    I have kept thinking that I should wait for the D4, which I have hoped, would have both low-light sensitivity similar to the D3s and more mega-pixels for higher resolution prints. Do you have any word on whether a D4 is currently in the making and what we might might expect from it? I am literally wearing my D3 out and don’t think I can wait for the D4 (my shutter is going out). Do you have any thoughts on whether it is smarter is wait and/or, given the need for a travel camera, if the D3s is a better way for me to go at this stage?

    • May 24, 2010 at 1:28 am

      Becky, if you find yourself traveling more and you are not able to take a tripod with you all the time, then the D3s is clearly a better choice…

      On my recent trip to Puerto Rico, I took my D700 with me and although I had a tripod with me, I did not carry it around at all and fully relied on the high ISO performance of the sensor for all lighting situations. The same thing happened on my recent trip to Orlando, where I only carried the D3s without a tripod and shot everything hand-held. I find myself using the tripod less and less, although I still heavily rely on it for early morning or late night shots.

      As far as D4, it will not come out this year for sure – I’m expecting it to be released in spring or summer ot 2011. The D4 should have a good balance of megapixels and very good high ISO performance, which will match or perhaps even exceed the D3 performance.

      Don’t wait, just get the D3s now and don’t look back…looks like you need a camera now.

      By the way, be very careful while purchasing the D3s. Lots of websites are advertising killer prices below $5K and they are all scammers. I only purchase from B&H and Adorama and I recommend that you do the same…

  6. 6) Andi
    November 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    Hi I am interested in buying the Nikon D3s because i love to take nature photography. unfortunately the Olympus camera that i had from my uncle witch was about 20 years old was stolen about 6 years ago and i haven’t been able to replace it since though i am now ending my apprentice ship as an electrician i am able to afford a camera, i am hoping to get into photography full time and make a living at it. i saw the video that you took and that is the type of photos that i am looking to take. so i guess that my question is this the right camera for me? i know that i will need to by some expenceve lenses aswell i am looking into getting a sigma 200mm-500 f2.8 and a nikon 70-200 f2.8 i would love to hear any advice that you might have for me and perhaps keep in touch as i could use a mentor the only reason that i ask this is that you have taken some amazing photos that i love and would love to some day have the opportunity that you do to capture some of life’s moments that seem to be fading away due to our human way of destroying everything, before some of life’s butties are gone forever.

    • January 6, 2011 at 5:24 pm

      Andi, are you serious about getting the Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8? Instead of wasting so much money, why don’t you start off with a simpler camera and lens and see how you like it? What is your budget and have you ever used a Nikon DSLR?

  7. 7) Shin
    December 19, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    So what you fellows are saying here is the D3s is a high priced D300s, with a full frame that is a copy of the D700 only not as good. Now given a D3s and sent to Norway while being paid I would brag up this camera as well. I even brag up my D300 and love it as this is what I can afford now. Me thinks the price of these machines is way over what they are worth like most of the stocks now days. And After charging the same $5000 + – for the D3. My reality is confusion here. After selling all those inferior cameras for the big bucks they get told now what a fine company they are for yet another inferior product just because it will take a few short video shots. So when are they going to hand out the camera that has full frame 50MP that can take two hour videos and shoot stills? Is this as confusing to others as it is to me? Other camera companies are putting out 18MP cameras for 1/4 the cost. Obviously it is about MP because the D3X has 24MP and claims it’ superior status because of this. I am hooked on Nikon but come on, What is up with this situation. If it is about MP then Why for the extreme high cost are they being so skimpy? So far from when i learned Photography from my step father in the 50s, and he had a 35mm with his own dark room, the cameras are still not as good other than you do not need film and can get a video that you can get with a $200 camera that only does video. Thats right i am jealous and do not have one but that does not make it a better camera, my old D300 could have gotten the stills with the same lens. Also if the D300s is actually worth all the hype it gets, Seems it is just as good as the D3s. Most of the proclaimed professionals I am reading about on these forms, claim to be still using their D2X cameras. So i guess the real question is which is the better camera that can take pictures that people will actually buy? Now for weddings i figure the D700, For close up face shots something with a 50MP sensor would work. Then for the out in the field Photographer that takes pictures at the race track, landscapes, wildlife and an occasional portrait shot. Now what is the best camera for this PRO in some real professional’s opinion?

    • January 6, 2011 at 5:28 pm

      Shin, where did you read that Nikon D3s is a high-priced D300s here? It is not and never will be. You are comparing apples to oranges here – cropped-sensor vs full-frame.

      I personally use a D3s and a D700 and I ended up selling my D300 and my DX lenses.

  8. 8) Grant
    January 7, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Best comments so far are from Andi and Shin, I’m too gonna wait on “50mp for close up face shots”

  9. 9) Steve
    May 16, 2011 at 3:52 am

    I was given a Nikon D3 and a ED lens and flash… being a Canon User and only an amateur photog im looking forwards to seeing what the D3 is capable of for a Wedding and Portrait Camera… im sure the D3s and D3X are better upgrades but for me im thinking the D3 will do just fine…. i also use a Canon 5D Mk1 for portraits and a Canon 40D for sports photos and general use… as im only just getting back into photography after 25 years i think the Equipment i have is adequate for my needs

    • May 16, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      Steve, the equipment you have is more than adequate for wedding and portrait photography :) Nikon D3 is a superb camera!

      • 9.1.1) Steve Hamilton
        May 16, 2011 at 11:58 pm

        Thanks Nasim, any information to help me get back into photography is much appreciated

  10. 10) Jessica
    September 1, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Hi Nasim,

    Great article! I’ve been doing a lot of research on these two Nikon bodies lately (D3s & D3x). As a professional photographer I am really trying to get my equipment up to date and up to professional standards. As much as this is my career, photography is also my passion. I work in the lifestyle and baby aspect of the portrait industry. Just recently I ran into a situation of low ugly light…”shooting in the shadows” if you will, and I was very disappointed in the way my Nikon D300 handled it. At an ISO of only 400 I got the same grain seen in images taken by the Canon 5D Mark II at 1000 ISO. I hate being forced into shooting at 2.8 and not getting enough depth of field. I feel trapped due to the D300’s short comings. Especially when I have a 24-700 pro lens on there, I know the lens has great possibilities.

    As much as portraits are my work, I love shooting landscapes and studio work as well.

    I guess what I’m asking is firstly as it’s September 2011 should I be waiting on the D4? Or should I bite the bullet and just take a leap forward in quality now?

    Also, what is the Nikon comparative to the Canon 5D Mark II ? Do you know?

    It’s tough trying to stay at the top of your game when things keep evolving. With my career driving me into huge investments I want to make sure I am making an educated and wise decision with my next purchase!


  11. 11) Cang Nguyen
    December 9, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    Good day, I am an amateur photographer and have been shooting event photography for awhile now and learned that not all camera’s perform the same in indoor/low-light settings. I would like to branch out to wedding photography as well and I know that I will be shooting indoors.

    By understanding how ISO works and how the Nikon D3+D3s can perform at high ISO with minimal noise(depending on level of course) I think that they are the most optimal camera for me. No more blurry pictures of dramatic shots. With that said, on the wedding portrait side will the D3s perform as well as the D700 or Cannon 5D MKII? I just want to make sure that the photo’s have good color and just look good when I snap them. I know it is about lenses but…if i can shoot flashless that’d be great!


  12. 12) tom
    April 21, 2012 at 2:07 pm

    hi nasim, i have been on a budget when beginning my photo business and the purchase of a nikon d-90 was, i thought a good idea, but am now finding i really should be looking into a d-300, d-700,d-3, and wanted to get your opinion. plus, the lenses i have with my d-90, what to do? thanks for your help, tom

  13. 13) Ronald
    April 26, 2012 at 1:27 am

    Hello there,

    Been losing sleep over getting a 2nd body and now that Nikon has the D4 and D800 it just made my choice even more difficult.

    I now own a D700 which i use a lot shooting concert but i also wanna do wedding and indoor sports, my first choice was to get a D3S and keep on using the D700 as a backup but i would not gain much megapixels-wise and i sure love to crop :-)

    Using my D700 as a back up still would you go for the D4 for speed (if it’s just as good as the D3s in low light) or the D800.

    Best regards and keep on the great work!

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