Nikon D3s!


Just about the time you think you know anything at all, somebody drops the other shoe in a press release. This time it was Nikon. Firing off an interesting bag of mixed signals. As if a mixed metaphor would suffice to explain things...

In a hastily called press conference in an undisclosed location in England, a group of company representatives from Japan and Nikon UK, unveiled their latest model. Our imaginary reporter, Nigel McCrayker, filed this report:

This one is the D3s. Latest challenge to your (our) ability to keep the model numbers straight in our minds.

There were D1 cameras, D2 cameras and now the over-populated D3 models. Depending on how much money you want to spend, you can own a D3, D3X, and now D3s.

With Canon, the nomenclature thing is only worse. Their top model in 2016 is slated to be the EOS 5DxiCHx Mark MCMLXVII. But it seems that my mind has wandered.

The new D3s has a Major Advancement. It's a full frame HDSLR with a 12.2 megapixel sensor and ISO three stops faster than 12,800. Images are quite noise-free up through ISO 6400, slightly noisy at 12,800 and tolerable at ISO 102,400.

Most writers are comparing this to a night vision scope, but most of those writers have no idea what the ISO of a night vision scope really is (think 50,000x for a good Gen III unit, meaning about 15 stops above adapted eyes, not just the six represented by the D3s). All they know is that it shoots pictures that your eye can't see, and that the image on the Live View screen is brighter than eyesight. In the last twenty hours, Googling 'night vision' has become dominated by references to the D3s. Oh, the power of the Web. Where was I?

Mix Masher

D3s functions also include a video mode. As with other Nikon HDSLRs, it's 720p24, meaning a frame size of 1280 x 720 pixels, 24 shots per second for a maximum shot duration of five minutes. The press release touts how ISO and lens aperture are "fully controllable", but what about shutter speed?

"Did I mention that it has a 'flicker reduction' process in the movie mode?" said the Nikon representative when asked about shutter speed selection. We pressed the issue again.

"Just take a look at these ISO 6400 still images," he crowed. And certainly they were impressive. The inset shows a 100% blow-up of the fighter's eye. Dang little noise there:

And the bear at ISO 12,800. Geez:

And movie mode (best viewed in the YouTube original). Wow, Vincent. You rock:

OK, okay, ok. Nikon has conquered the ISO barrier. I got a story here. It works in movie mode, too, and that's significant. This is going to impact photography from this moment forward, "but why no 1080p movie capture, Mister Nikon?"

The rep cleared his throat, glanced at his watch, took a hard look at the Japanese visitors in the room, studied his shoes, arched his eyebrows while forming the sound "O" with his lips, pressed his mouth flat, smiled weakly and offered this comment. "You see," he squeaked, inadvertently, "it all comes down to file size." The word 'file' came out in a sort of accidental falsetto.

"If we had gone for the full monte," his little joke accompanied sweat beads on his forehead and upper lip, "then we would have had to cut the five-minute limit down, considerably." A few seconds later his tummy rumbled loudly.

"Wa— wait a minute," I said, jumping into the pall of silence, "with the D90 you guys said the five minute limit was all about frying the image chip if you let it run too long. Why the change in The Story?"

"Well, let's just call it an alternate ending?"

Later, a Japanese technician explained that it had to do with a maximum 2GB file limit. Interesting, that. Canon 7D's file limit is 4GB and that allows 12 minutes of 1080p30 HD recording.

Clearly Nikon have dropped the ball on HD. They think of it as a nice little extra, not a Killer App. And they couldn't be more wrong.

Every photographer in Hollywood is scarfing up the Canon 5D Mark II's and 7D's in wholesale quantities, because suddenly their still camera is everything they wanted in a movie camera and more.

"No, really, guys. This D3s is an advanced STILL camera," shouted the rep as we all beat a path to the door. "Come on back. I still have six more features to explain!"

Outside the presentation room, I broke out my new Canon 7D and started filming the crowd of industry reporters as they joked among themselves.

Suddenly I, or rather my camera, was the center of attention.

  • Does it do 1080p? they asked. Yes.
  • How big is the chip? Movie frame size.
  • Will it shoot 30 fps and 25 fps? Yes.
  • Does it gather 720p? Yes, at 50 or 60 frames per second, leading to easy 25% slo-mo in edits.
  • Can it take a stereo mic? Yes.
  • How big are the stills? 18 megapixels.
  • What's the maximum practical ISO for movies? About 3200.
  • Is it out now? Yes.
  • Can I use my Nikon lenses on it? For the most part, yes, with an adapter from Haoda™.
  • What is the movie quality like? Killer.
  • Could I shoot a movie with it? Some are.
  • Are you (me) going to do a book about it? No, but it will be all over the HDSLR eBook coming soon.
  • Will it work on a Steadicam? Yes.
  • How much does it weigh? 70% of a D3s.
  • Can you control shutter speed, ISO and aperture? Yes.
  • Can you lock aperture and shutter speed, and still have smooth auto-exposure? Yes with Auto ISO.
  • Easy to edit images? Yes.
  • Do they take much post-production manipulation well? Yes, surprising amounts.
  • Do the 1080p images look much better than the 720p's? Of course.
  • How much is the 7D again? Under 1/3 of a D3s, since you ask.
  • Does it have a built-in flash? Yes. The best cameras do.

Even pros need a little news, now and then.

A Coming eBook

HDSLR cameras are the hot topic in DSLRs these days, so we are creating a new form of eBook about them. The coming available "HDSLR" is trying to be was born before Christmas '09. It includes hundreds of items that will help you shoot better, edit more gracefully and end up with on-screen results you can be proud of.

Our two in-house HDSLRs have been pressed into extra innings bringing you a wide range of camera-born examples and computer based tricks, techniques and work-arounds. In the eBook, images spring right off the e-page as you read through it.

Unlike previous titles, this one is not camera-specific, so the focus is on the HDSLR genre, specifically the movie mode, not the cameras themselves, but oh, boy, is it packed.



© 2010 Peter iNova. All rights reserved. Do not reprint. Simply add a link to this page.