Nikon D3S Review
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Nikon D3S Operation
Like other Nikon DSLRs, the user interface on the Nikon D3S is straightforward and simple to use. The LCD menu is a six-tab system that divides up functions between Playback, Shooting, Custom Settings, Setup, Retouch and My Menu. While many of the camera's options can be accessed via the excellent "plain English" menu system, all the most common shooting controls are available via the camera's external buttons, dials and knobs. You can also program the operation of some of the buttons, to configure the camera for your particular shooting requirements. Programmable buttons include Fn, Preview AE-L/AF-L, and BKT. Even the Command dials and shutter button offer some customization. See Modes and Menus for details.
Nikon makes a big deal of their digital SLR's "cameraness," defined as how well/easily they function as cameras, and the D3S embodies that philosophy.
Nikon D3S Top Panel LCD
As with most higher-end Nikon DSLRs, the D3S's top-panel data readout LCD communicates a lot of information about current camera settings, and provides an interface for setting many camera functions, when used in conjunction with the various buttons and Command Dials. You can also use the main LCD to adjust many of the same settings, but using the top LCD saves power and can be more convenient when the camera is below eye level. The panel is illuminated by a green backlight which is activated by a third, spring-loaded lamp position on the power switch. You can also choose to illuminate LCD whenever the camera performs metering, via an option in the Custom menu (d8). The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display.
|1||Shutter speed||14||Frame count|
|Exposure compensation value||Preset white balance recording indicator|
|Number of shots in exposure and flash bracketing sequence||Manual lens number|
|Number of shots in WB bracketing sequence||15||"K" appears when memory remains for over 1000 exposures|
|Number of intervals for interval timer||16||Flash value (FV) lock indicator|
|Focal length (non-CPU lenses)||17||Flash sync indicator|
|ISO sensitivity||18||Clock battery indicator|
|2||Shutter-speed lock icon||19||GPS connection indicator|
|3||Flexible program indicator||20||Focus mode indicator|
|4||Exposure mode||21||Interval timer indicator|
|5||Flash mode||22||Multiple exposure indicator|
|6||Shooting menu bank||23||Aperture lock icon|
|7||Custom settings bank||Multiple exposure (series) indicator|
|8||Memory card indicator (slot 1)||24||Image comment indicator|
|9||Memory card indicator (slot 2)||25||"Beep" indicator|
|10||Number of exposures remaining||26||Exposure compensation indicator|
|Number of shots remaining before memory buffer fills||27||Exposure and flash bracketing indicator|
|Capture mode indicator||White-balance bracketing indicator|
|11||Aperture stop indicator||ADL bracketing indicator|
|12||Aperture (f-number)||28||Exposure indicator|
|Aperture (number of stops)||Exposure compensation indicator|
|Bracketing increment||Exposure and flash bracketing progress indicator|
|Number of shots in ADL bracketing sequence||WB bracketing progress indicator|
|Number of shots per internal||ADL bracketing progress indicator|
|Maximum aperture (non-CPU lenses)||PC connection indicator|
|PC mode indicator||Tilt indicator|
Nikon D3S Rear Control Panel LCD
Like other professional models, the Nikon D3S also has a rear Control Panel LCD. This LCD is illuminated at the same time as the Top Panel LCD. Just below the LCD are dedicated buttons for ISO, Image Quality and White Balance. Just to the right of the display is a button for activating memo recording and playback. The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display mode.
|1||Image quality (JPEG images)||6||"K" appears when memory remains for over 1,000 shots|
|2||"Remaining" indicator||Color temperature indicator|
|3||Image size||7||Memory card slot indicators|
|4||ISO sensitivity indicator||Image quality|
|Auto ISO sensitivity indicator||8||White balance bracketing indicator|
|5||ISO sensitivity||9||Voice memo recording indicator (shooting mode)|
|ISO sensitivity (high/low gain)||10||Voice memo status indicator|
|Number of exposures remaining||11||Voice memo recording mode|
|Length of voice memo||12||White balance|
|White balance fine-tuning||White balance fine-tuning indicator|
|White balance preset number|
|PC mode indicator|
Nikon D3S Main LCD
Like other more recent Nikon digital SLRs, the D3S has the ability to display shooting info and settings on the rear LCD. This display is activated by pressing the "info" button. A second press of the "info" button turns the bottom two rows of settings into an interactive menu, for quick access to more commonly used settings that don't have a dedicated button. The rear LCD is larger and in color, so some prefer to use it over the top LCD, at the expense of battery life. It's nice that Nikon gives you the choice. When shooting under dim lighting, you can opt for a light-on-dark version of the screen that doesn't glare so brightly at night. An Auto mode selects the version for you, based on ambient light measured via the camera's metering system. The illustrations below show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display mode.
|1||Exposure mode||18||Auto area AF indicator|
|2||Flexible program indicator||Focus points indicator|
|3||Shutter speed lock icon||AF-area mode indicator|
|4||Shutter speed||3D-tracking indicator|
|Exposure compensation value||19||Flash mode|
|Number of shots in exposure and flash bracketing sequence||20||Flash sync indicator|
|Number of shots in WB bracketing sequence||21||Release mode (single frame / continuous) indicator|
|Focal length (non-CPU lenses)||Continuous shooting speed|
|5||Multiple exposure indicator||22||Clock battery indicator|
|6||Aperture lock icon||23||Flash value (FV) lock indicator|
|Multiple exposure (series) indicator||24||Interval timer indicator|
|7||Aperture (f-number)||25||Image comment indicator|
|Aperture (number of stops)||26||Copyright information indicator|
|Bracketing increment||27||Beep indicator|
|Number of shots in ADL bracketing sequence||28||Vignette control indicator|
|Maximum aperture (non-CPU lenses)||29||Exposure compensation indicator|
|8||Aperture stop indicator||30||Battery indicator|
|9||Exposure indicator||31||ADL bracketing amount|
|Exposure compensation indicator||32||Image area indicator|
|Exposure and flash bracketing progress indicator||33||Function (Fn) button assignment|
|WB bracketing progress indicator||34||AE-L/AF-L button assignment|
|ADL bracketing indicator||35||Picture control indicator|
|10||Number of exposures remaining||36||Long exposure noise reduction indicator|
|11||"K" (appears when memory remains for over 1000 exposures)||37||Custom settings bank|
|12||Frame count||38||Focus mode indicator|
|Manual lens number||39||Memory card indicator (slot 2)|
|13||PV button assignment||40||Memory card indicator (slot 1)|
|14||Color space indicator||41||GPS connection indicator|
|15||Active D-Lighting indicator||42||Exposure and flash bracketing indicator|
|16||High ISO noise reduction indicator||WB bracketing indicator|
|17||Shooting menu bank|
Nikon D3S Virtual Horizon
A really neat feature of the D3S (like the D3 before it) is the virtual horizon gauge, activated from the Setup menu. The display remains active as long as certain buttons aren't pressed (such as the shutter release). The display uses sensors in the body to detect the orientation of the camera and display a virtual horizon, similar to an aircraft instrument, though it only shows left/right tilt (or "roll"). This is useful for critical alignment of subjects such as buildings, the horizon, etc. With the use of the Fn button, the electronic analog scales in the viewfinder can also display the amount of tilt, so that you don't need to take your eye off the subject to check the camera angle. The virtual horizon is also available during Live View mode as one of the overlay options via the "Info" button. In Live View mode, the display is smaller and mostly translucent, so as not to obscure the preview.
Nikon D3S Playback mode
Playback mode is entered by pressing the playback button. The D3S's playback mode provides a great deal of information about your pictures after you've shot them. A variety of playback displays can be cycled through using the up/down arrows on the multi-selector, including image with file information with optional highlight warning and focus point display, RGB histogram, three screens with overlaid shooting and image parameter information (and possibly two additional info screens - one when photographer or copyright information is embedded in images, and one which is available when an attached GPS device was used to geotag images), and an overview display with basic shooting data and luminance histogram. The screenshot animation at right shows the sequence when the down arrow is used. If you find this amount of information overwhelming, you can add or remove the displays as you see fit.
As you'd expect, the Nikon D3S offers a comprehensive RGB histogram display mode. Histogram displays are common on professional digital cameras (and many amateur models now), regarded as almost mandatory by many pros for evaluating exposure levels. A histogram is simply a graph of how many pixels there are in the image at each brightness level. The brightness is the horizontal axis, running from black at the left to white at the right. The height of the graph shows the relative number of pixels having each brightness level. This sort of display is very handy for determining under- or overexposure. Ideally, the histogram would stretch across the entire width of the display, using the full range of brightness values available. An underexposed image will have a histogram with all the data lumped on the left-hand side, with nothing reaching all the way to the right. Likewise, an overexposed image will have all the data lumped on the right hand side. Clipped highlights are shown by blinking any highlights that are saturated in any of the color channels. It does this by taking the nearly-white areas on the LCD and toggling them between white and black, as can be seen in the screenshot above right (taken from a D300S, but identical to the D3S).
As with the Highlights display mode, the blinking highlights in the histogram display mode can also be displayed separately for each color channel by selecting R, G, or B in the RGB Histogram display mode. The screenshots at right show an example of where this might be useful: The bright, strongly colored lamp shade (deliberately shot with an incorrect white balance, to produce the strong hue) showed only minor lost detail in the screenshot above, looking at the RGB or luminance highlights, but the shot at right shows that the red channel is badly blown. This is quite common: It's easy to lose detail in a strongly-colored object well before other, more neutral-colored highlights are lost.
Finally, the shot at right shows a nice feature that is we're surprised isn't more common: You can zoom into the image and pan around the magnified display, and the RGB histogram will change to show only the portion of the image that you're looking at. In this mode, you lose the blinking highlights, but this strikes us as very useful for checking critical parts of the image, to see if you've held highlight or shadow detail in areas you really care about.
Of course the Nikon D3S also lets you zoom out to quickly find and select images, or magnify them for closer inspection on its gorgeous 3-inch, 922K pixel LCD. You have the normal 4-, 9- or 72-image thumbnail displays, and you can magnify them up to approximately 27x for large, 20x for medium and 13x for small images. Both functions are controlled using the thumbnail / zoom button in concert with the rear control dial. Once magnified, you can scroll around the image using the thumbnail / zoom button and multi-selector to examine critical detail and framing. You can also program the multi-selector center button to automatically zoom in on the active focus point with a preset the initial zoom setting (low, medium, or high), to make focus verification faster and more convenient. The D3S does not offer the automatic playback mode face detection the D300S does.
Movies can be played by pressing the multi-selector's center button, and during movie playback both the down arrow and OK button serve as a pause / resume control. The left and right arrows allow cuing during playback, with subsequent presses adjusting the speed to 2, 4, 8 or 16x. While paused, these same buttons allow cuing through the video one frame at a time. Before movie playback is started, the OK button can be used to call up an edit screen, where the start and end points of the movie can be specified for trimming, with the same controls as during regular playback, and the result saved as a new file. Movies shorter than two seconds in length cannot be edited in-camera. The Nikon D3S also has the ability save a single frame of a movie as a JPEG still image.
To return the Nikon D3S to shooting mode, simply press the playback button again, or half-press the shutter button.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.