Simon Stafford highlights some features of the new D3s, a camera that pushes the boundaries of available low-light photography even further than is predecessor the D3, and incorporates a video recording feature to provide the professional news, sports, and wildlife photographer with a tool of unsurpassed qualities.
The Nikon Corporation has announced the replacement of the highly innovative, multi-award winning Nikon D3, The D3, introduced during late 2007, is credited with reversing the fortunes of the company in the professional D-SLR market virtually overnight thanks to its speed of operation, outstanding image quality, especially at high ISO settings, which allied to its highly effective metering, autofocus, and white balance systems won it wide acclaim. The impact of the D3 was such that it convinced many professional photographers to switch their allegiance to Nikon from other brands of camera. Now, building up on these strengths, the D3s raises the bar in a number of areas, most notably the ISO sensitivity range, and the ability to record both still and video images, while other improvements enhance and expand operation of the new model.
In essence the D3s combines everything that works so well on the D3 with some new innovations and refinements of its own. The principal new features of the D3s are as follows:
By redesigning the internal structure of the CMOS sensor and maintaining the same large pixel pitch of its predecessor the ISO sensitivity range of the D3s has been stretched to span 7-stops (ISO200 - 12,800). If the normal ISO range is insufficient for the prevailing light conditions there are no less than three boosted sensitivity levels that provide ISO equivalent values as follows: Hi1 (25,600), Hi 2 (51,200) and Hi 3 (102,400). If required the sensitivity can also be restricted to 1EV below the base level (ISO200) to an ISO equivalent of 100. Based on some initial results I would suggest the setting of ISO12,800 on the D3s delivers at least equal, if not better, quality to the ISO6400 setting of the D3, while the Hi 3 (equivalent ISO 102,400) setting achieves a quality comparable to the D3 used at its Hi 2 setting (equivalent ISO 25,600), while allowing the user to shoot in conditions where the light level is four times less intense!
So what has the Nikon Corporation done to achieve such high sensitivity with low noise performance? The design team at Nikon has developed an entirely new CMOS sensor for the D3s based on the one used in the original D3 (apparently, the sensor design is exclusive to Nikon, although manufacture of the component is being undertaken by an, as yet, unspecified third party). While it shares some basic specifications with it predecessor, including a recording area of 36mm x 23.9mm, a pixel pitch of 8.45µm, 12-channel readout, and image dimensions in the FX-format of 4256 x 2832 pixels, it has been re-engineered in respect of the following:
The D3s inherits a refined version of the video recording feature seen in the D300s. At the highest resolution the camera records 720p (1280 x 720 pixel) HD video, at 24 frames per second (fps), in Motion JPEG format. By recording video via the FX-format sensor the D3s opens up further creative potential due to the shallower depth-of-field characteristics that can be achieved with wide-aperture lenses, while the High-Sensitivity Movie mode allows full use of the ISO range, up to and including the Hi 3 setting, with an ISO equivalent of 102,400. The addition of the new 'Save selected frame' option provides a 'frame grab' capability, so any key moment recorded using the video function can be output as a still image. While resolution of an image captured this way will be no match for a full-frame still image recorded conventionally it should be more than sufficient for reproduction in newsprint, or web site publication. Finally, just as with the D300s, the D3s supports contrast-detect AF during video recording.
The enhanced buffer memory available as an optional upgrade service with the D3 is installed as standard on the D3s, so for example the D3s can record up 43 NEF (Raw) 12-bit lossless compressed files compared with just 18 on an unmodified D3.
Apparently driven by feedback from users of the D3, the D3s incorporates a cleaning mechanism that vibrates the optical low-pass filter that is located immediately in front of the CMOS sensor, at four different frequencies to dislodge loose dust particles and other unwanted matter. The D3s uses the same system as the FX-format D700 camera, with the benefit that the mechanism does not reduce the viewfinder coverage as it does in the D700 but maintains full 100% coverage of the viewfinder image.
Another development brought across from the D300s to the D3s is the provision of separate, dedicated buttons to access the Live View feature and camera's information display. Both buttons are located on the back of the camera, which has required a slight redesign of this panel (see picture and legend).
In addition to the two existing crop modes of the D3 and d3s cameras the D3s adds a third option. It is now possible to select one of the following in-camera crops: 5:4 (30 x 24mm), 1.2x (30 x 20mm) and Nikon DX (24 x 16mm); each crop is masked automatically in the viewfinder. The 5:4 ratio crop assists framing images that will printed on traditional 5:4 aspect ratio papers, for example 10 x 8-inch, while the two magnifying crops 1.2x, and the 1.5x (DX-format) maintain the same 3:2 aspect ratio of the full FX-format (36 x 24mm) frame but with a reduction in overall file size and the effective angle-of-view, for example, a lens with a focal length of 400mm used in the 1.2x crop mode will provide an effective angle-of-view equivalent to a lens with a focal length of 480mm.
Another feature added to the D3s based on user feedback is the Quiet shutter release mode. Adopting this feature from the D5000/D300s cameras, it will enable users of the D3s to shoot with increased discretion in environments where the sound of the normal shutter operation would be disturbing, or distracting; it also operates with the Live View feature. For example, if you have ever used a D3 for certain types of performance photography where levels of ambient noise are very low you will appreciate the benefit this feature will deliver!
The Nikon Active D-Lighting (ADL) feature regulates the dynamic range of high-contrast scenes, automatically, by adjusting the exposure level as calculated by the 3D Color Matrix metering system to preserve highlights, and then modifies shadow and mid tone levels during subsequent in-camera processing, while maintaining a full contrast range, before saving the image file. Recent enhancements of the feature, introduced in the D300s, have been included in the D3s to provide six levels of ADL: Auto, Low, Normal, High, Extra-high, and off. Plus, the camera can also bracket ADL levels across five frames (one frame for each level, except Auto).
The accuracy of the auto white balance option of the D3s has been improved to render more neutral and natural color under both artificial lighting and in the challenging conditions where mixed light sources are present.
To reduce post-production times and boost image productivity the D3s allows the user to post-process NEF (Raw) files in-camera, via options available in the Retouch menu. The following settings can be applied directly to NEF (Raw) files: image size, image quality, JPEG compression, white balance, exposure compensation, Picture Control, high ISO noise reduction, colour space and vignette control.
The Shooting menu has a new item seen for the first time in a Nikon D-SLR: 'Flicker mode'. It allows the user to select one of two frequencies (50Hz, or 60Hz) to match image processing, in respect of Live view and Video recording, more closely to the mains AC supply frequency of artificial light sources, such as fluorescent lighting.
The D3s uses the same EN-EL4a rechargeable battery as the D3 and d3s, however, the power consumption and power management systems of the D3s have been enhanced for greater efficiency and extend shooting capacity up to 4,200 images per charge (based on CIPA Standards).
The D3s is expected to be available from the 28th of November 2009, with a recommended retail price of: £4199.99
© Simon Stafford
Posted on: Wednesday 14 October 2009
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