Nikon D3s Review

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Just a few days before Nikon D4 is announced at CES, I decided to write a review of the Nikon D3s DSLR that I have been shooting with for the past two plus years. I have been putting off writing the review for a while now, because I wanted to first review all the gear that I have been testing lately, while the gear I use every day for my photography has been just sitting at the end of my long “to-do” list. The Nikon D3s has received numerous awards, including “best product / camera” from various reputable organizations and websites. And it did for a reason – its image quality, high ISO performance, superb autofocus, fast speed and rich features make it a phenomenal camera – truly one of the best cameras in the world.

Nikon D3s

I clearly remember the day I ordered the D3s. For a while we were quite happy with our two cameras – the Nikon D700 and the D300. I would normally shoot with the D700 and Lola was doing most of her work, including food photography, with the D300. As Lola started to shoot more weddings and events, I was often left with the D300. After a short while, neither Lola nor I wanted the D300 anymore. Yup, we both got spoiled by the full-frame sensor. Realizing that we would eventually fully move to full-frame, I got rid of all DX lenses by then and using lenses like the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G or the standard Nikon 50mm f/1.4G on DX just did not feel right. By then, Lola was already in love with the Nikon D700 + 50mm f/1.4 combo and she would simply refuse to use the D300 with the 50mm lens. With her wedding work and my passion for nature photography, it was clear that we did not need another DX camera. That’s when Nikon announced the D3s. After seeing image samples and camera specifications, it did not take long before both of us realized that we needed it for our work.

As you might have already seen on “Our Gear” page, I call the Nikon D3s “a serious camera for serious photographers”. Ever since the Nikon D3s was announced back in 2009, it has been dominating the camera world with its impressive high ISO performance. It has been numerously called “the low-light king” by many well-known photographers and reviewers, because it delivers outstanding image quality with an unmatched high ISO performance. For over two years now, there has not been any camera on the market that can do what the D3s can. A serious camera indeed! But the Nikon D3s is not for everyone. With its high price tag, bulky body and heavy weight, it is often hard to justify it. Lola does not like the D3s, because of its large size and heavy weight, especially after long and tiring wedding events. In this review, I will talk about my overall experience with the D3s and provide feedback on its strengths and weaknesses.

Maroon Bells at Night
Click here to download the above photograph in a large wallpaper format (1920×1200).

1) Nikon D3s Specifications

Main Features:

  1. Nikon-original FX-format CMOS Sensor: Newly engineered for striking image fidelity and low-noise, optimizing pixel size and count in a 12.1-megapixel sensor to produce extraordinarily rich files.
  2. Continuous Shooting Up to 9 FPS: Secure exacting moments in time with an expanded buffer, allowing continuous capture of up to 82 JPEG (fine) or 36 14-bit NEF (RAW) images.
  3. One-button Live View with Two Shooting Modes: Two modes for studio or remote shooting—Tripod Mode offers 27x magnification for precise focus confirmation.
  4. Dynamic Integrated Dust Reduction System: Ultrasonic process combats the accumulation of dust on the optical low-pass filter, safeguarding image quality.
  5. Fast, Accurate 51-Point AF System: 4 Dynamic modes and 15 cross-type sensors deliver AF precision and razor sharpness.
  6. Scene Recognition System: Referencing an onboard image database, teamed with RGB metering, SRS enhances exposure and white balance evaluation and improves AF speed and accuracy.
  7. Nikon Picture Control: Four preset options and 9 customizable settings provide personalized style control.
  8. Dual CF Card Slots with Overflow, Backup and Copy Options.
  9. Approx. 4,200 Images per Battery Charge.
  10. Low Noise ISO Sensitivity from 200 to 12,800: Renowned low-noise performance at 12,800, plus expanded settings to an astounding ISO 102,400 (equivalent) and ISO 100 (equivalent).
  11. HD Video Capture: Record smooth 24 fps HD video, leveraging low-noise D3S image quality along with high fidelity stereo sound capability.
  12. 3-Inch Super-density 921,000-dot VGA LCD Monitor: D3S monitors are individually calibrated during assembly to assure accuracy.
  13. Nikon EXPEED Image Processing: Drives breathtakingly rich image fidelity, low-noise and fast image processing.
  14. 1,005-Pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II: Nikon-pioneered RGB metering includes color information to intelligently determine more accurate exposures.
  15. Rugged and Precise Magnesium Alloy Construction: Effectively protected from invasive dust, moisture and electromagnetic interference with a self-diagnostic shutter mechanism tested to exceed 300,000 cycles.
  16. 100% Viewfinder Coverage
  17. Virtual Horizon Graphic Indicator


NIKON D3S + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 40mm, ISO 200, 1/100, f/10.0

Click here to download the above photograph in a large wallpaper format (1920×1200).

Detailed camera specifications can be found on Nikon USA.

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