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Nikon D3S announced with HD video, new FX sensor
by Allison Johnson -  10/13/2009

Today Nikon unveils a new pro-grade DSLR, the D3S. It joins the flagship D3 and D3X with an FX-sized CMOS sensor, but it stands alone as the only full frame Nikon DSLR to shoot HD video. Also added to the list of new features is an expanded ISO range that stretches up to an equivalent of ISO 102,400, a feat that Nikon claims will put the D3S ahead of even the human eye in low light sensitivity.

Nikon D3S

The addition of HD video may grab the headline, but that's not the only newsworthy update - unlike the recent refresh of the D300 in the very similar D300S, there are many more changes afoot here. The FX sensor has been updated, the EXPEED processor has been given an energy-efficiency boost, and a number of other small updates like the addition of a quiet shutter mode make the D3S a full-frame horse of a different color.

Special FX
The physical size (36x23.9mm) of the sensor and the pixel count remain consistent with the D3, but the similarities stop there. The 12.1 megapixel CMOS imager on board the D3S as been re-designed to facilitate HD video recording and a mammoth ISO range. Standard ISO will rate from 200 up to 12,800. Settings for ISO equivalent 25,600, ISO 51,200, and ISO 102,400 expand the range beyond anything a Nikon DSLR has offered before.

Nikon D3S

Those in need of a slight telephoto boost can utilize the new 1.2x crop mode. This function captures an image slightly reduced to 8.4 megapixels. Nikon's release states the individual pixel size at 8.45 microns.

Even the tried-and-true EXPEED image processor has been modified for the D3S. Nikon describes it as faster and more power-efficient than the previous generation of processors. The Live View capable LCD on the back panel measures 3.0 inches and is comprised of a 921k dot resolution.

D-Movie Recording
Nikon's first flagship DSLR to record video will capture 720p HD files at 24 fps. So long as the camera is equipped with a zoom lens, photographers will be able to zoom in D-Movie mode and utilize the camera's AF system. Recorded clips can be trimmed in-camera at the beginning and end, and JPEG still images can be extracted from video. In an effort to fight the ubiquitous "rolling shutter" problem (vertical lines are distorted with fast horizontal panning) that CMOS sensors are prone to create, the D3S will use newly developed algorithms to keep video smooth.

Nikon D3S

The D3S will be equipped with a built-in monaural microphone as well as a stereo microphone input. The full range of aperture settings will be available in D-Movie recording mode, as will the entire ISO sensitivity range. That's right - you can record your next HD video in utter darkness at an ISO equivalent of 102,400.

D3S Updates
The D3S also promises more frames in continuous shooting mode than the D3 offered. A continuous shooting rate of 9 fps in FX mode is complemented with twice the buffer capacity. Like the D3, the D3S is rated for continuous shooting rates up to 11 fps in cropped DX mode.

Another new offering is a mechanical sensor cleaning function to cut down on dust buildup in front of the sensor. Users will be able to set the cleaning cycle to repeat when the camera is powered on or off, and can also trigger it manually at any time.

Those keeping score at home can also look for the D3S to sport dual UDMA CompactFlash card slots with a variety of recording configurations. A Quiet Shutter mode has been added to the mix, while a 51-point AF is carried over from previous models. Many will lament the choice of 720p HD video rather than full 1080p HD, and perhaps that could prove to be a factor that will sway consumers toward other options. But if it performs well at the top of the massive ISO range, the D3S will lay claim to some serious street cred.

Pricing and Availability
The Nikon D3S will retail for $5199.95 and should be available at Nikon dealers starting in November.