The Nikon D3s shoots at up to 11 frames per sec, at up to ISO 102,400, but is it the ultimate DSLR?

Product Overview

Overall rating:


Nikon D3s

Overall score:95%
Image Quality:95%


  • A solid workhorse that really delivers the results. High ISO is stunning, as is the focus system, and everything else is a bonus


  • Movie mode could do more, price is limiting


Nikon D3s Review


Price as reviewed:



Nikon D3s test image Nikon D3s test image

Nikon D3s high ISO comparision: Even at the highest ISO value in the camera’s standard range (12,800) images remain smooth, while the highest setting is still usable. Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, 40mm, f/11, AWB, Left @ 1/20sec ISO 12,800, Right @ 1/160sec ISO Hi3

The sensor featured on the D3s is the same size as the D3 version but is actually a brand new design. The 12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor has a wide dynamic range and high signal-to-noise ratio, helped by a relatively low number of photosites on such a physically large sensor. The output size is 4256 x 2832 pixels, which equates to roughly a 13MB Raw file, or a 5MB JPEG. Raw images can be output (in NEF format) as compressed or non-compressed files and in either 12 or 14 bit. The 12-channel output and the large buffer ensure an uninterrupted continuous shooting at up to nine frames per second, or 11fps in DX crop mode.

The camera also gives the option of shooting in TIFF format, or a combination of Raw and selectable size and compression of JPEG files. The sensor also features Nikon’s dust-reduction system, consisting of image sensor cleaning – which can be set to clean on start-up, shutdown, or manually. For stability, Nikon uses Vibration Reduction technology in its lenses and therefore there is no stabilisation system in the body of its DSLRs.

The ISO range from the D3s, made possible by this new sensor and the EXPEED processor, has made this camera headline news. With a standard range of ISO 200 to 12,800 it also offers extended settings from a Low-1 of ISO 100, to a Hi-3 setting of ISO 102,400 – this is two stops higher than offered by the D3 (at 25,600), and allows handheld shots to be obtained in practically pitch black conditions. To put this into perspective, imagine a scene that required a one-second exposure at ISO 1600; this would require just a 1/60sec at the Hi-3 setting of the D3s. Like the D3, it also offers advanced Auto ISO settings to specify a range of ISO values to be chosen by the camera, in any shooting mode.

The metering system remains as the 1,005-pixel RGB sensor, 3D Colour Matrix Metering II system as seen previously in both the D3 and D3x and also comes with centre-weighted and spot options; offering +/- 5EV in exposure compensation and exposure bracketing for up to nine frames.
The much-praised Multi-Cam 3500FX autofocus system also remains from the D3, with its 51 AF points, including 15 cross type sensors. It gives a selection of either all 51 or 11 focus points in single-point mode, while the dynamic area mode uses nine, 21 or 51 points, or full 51-point 3D tracking.

White balance is catered for with an auto setting, obtained from the main metering sensor, or a series of 17 presets, which include seven fluorescent settings, and five custom manual settings. Each preset also offers fine-tune adjustment in the form of a four-way colour axis.

Shooting modes are kept refreshingly simple with just PSAM options, accessed with the mode button and scroll wheel. The drive modes, however. offer two speeds of continuous shooting (High or Low), a Quiet Mode that softens the return of the mirror to reduce shutter noise, self-timer and a mirror-up function.

As you would expect from a professional camera at this level, the viewfinder offers a full 100% field of view coverage. The camera also allows a number of other image crops to be used (1.2x, 1.5x, and 5:4), to allow for DX lenses and for creative purposes; for these settings the viewfinder will grey out the outer unused region, much like a sports viewfinder.

On the front of the camera there are two buttons to the right of the lens, easily accessed by fingertips from the right grip. These are a depth of field preview and a function button, both of which can be set to a range of functions including exposure lock, metering modes or the camera’s inbuilt virtual horizon function, which shows on the meter display both on the top panel and in the viewfinder.

The rear LCD screen remains as the 3in 920k-dot version and provides live view functionality for compositional aid. For the first time on a Nikon full-frame DSLR, it also allows High Definition video to be captured. Moving images are recorded in Motion-JPEG format as an AVI file at up to 1280 x 720 pixels at 24fps for a maximum of 5mins per clip (20mins in lower VGA resolution).

There is an external input for a stereo microphone; otherwise there is an internal mono microphone and speaker for playback.

In addition, full manual exposure can be used in video mode.


  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. Features
  3. 3. Design
  4. 4. Performance and Value
  5. 5. Key features
  6. 6. Image Quality
  7. 7. Verdict
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