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Nikon D3s— see-in-the-dark game-changing marvel

The new Nikon D3s arrived today, courtesy of B&H Photo, this site’s trusted and recommended vendor. Given B&H a try— I’ve not found a more reliable vendor, and their prices are always highly competitive.

Holy crap— this D3s sees in the dark! I owned and loved my Nikon D3 for 18 months or so, but I sold it in August, knowing that new things were coming and having too many cameras at all once, including the Nikon D3x. Anyone want to buy my 21MP Canon 1Ds Mark III?

Tonight I felt a thrill and excitement in shooting the D3s that I hadn’t felt in a while! I’m pretty jaded in camera land, so that’s saying a lot. Something about ISO 12800 looking darn usable. But do forget about ISO HI-3 (102,400) it’s a bullet point, not a usable setting. I find that ISO 12800 hits the limit of where focus can be achieved without a flashlight anyway.

It’s freakishly fun to be able to shoot at ISO 12800 handheld at f/1.4 - f/2.8 at night. Very cool stuff. Tonight I used the Voigtlander 58mm f/1.4 Nokton, reviewed in DAP.

If you like to shoot in low light, run, don’t walk, and go get the D3s now (thanks for using my link, so I get credit, too). I haven’t used the new Canon EOS 1D Mark IV yet (soon), but the 1DM4 is a 1.3X crop sensor, and nothing in the current EOS line can touch the D3s high ISO performance. The original D3 is outstanding as well, but the D3s just feels better, Nikon has made some improvements in usability.

Actual pixels — ISO 12800
See crops further below

The new D3s is different enough that it’s not an instant switch-over from the D3. For one thing, the Live View button is now a dedicated button, not a dial, a correction of the idiotic design used on other Nikon models (eg D3x), which make it a mode on the mode dial. I use Live View a great deal, so this is a BFD*. A compelling use for Live View is focusing accurately at dusk or night, where autofocus is often worthless and it’s too dim to focus by eye. Especially compelling since at dusk/night one must often use a wide aperture hence very little depth of field.

While HD video is a nice addition to the D3s, and some will like that a lot, I wish there were a master “disappear video warts” setting, so I could really just ignore the fact that it’s a feature.

The image below was processed using RAW Developer 1.8.4. All noise reduction was disabled. Noise is readily visible, but it’s incredibly innocuous and film-like noise, not the nasty streaking and mottling I continually see with my Canon 5D Mark II (even at low ISO).

Actual pixels — ISO 12800, all noise reduction OFF
Actual pixels — ISO 12800, all noise reduction OFF

* BFD = Big Fantastic Deal, uh huh

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