Nikon D3S Review

 
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Nikon D3S Performance


Timing and Performance

Generally excellent speed for a pro SLR these days, though autofocus is somewhat sluggish for its class.

Startup/Shutdown
Power on
to first shot
~0.3 second
Time it takes for camera to turn on. (Very fast, difficult to measure.)
Shutdown
~1.0 second
How long it takes camera to turn off before you can remove the memory card. (Slow, but includes sensor cleaning.)
Single-Shot clearing times
Buffer clearing time
Large Fine JPEG
2 seconds
(after 50 frames)
Worst case buffer clearing time. -- This is the delay after a set of shots before you can remove the card. Some cameras won't shut down until the buffer is cleared. (*See note about memory card speeds at bottom of table below.)
Buffer clearing time
12-bit RAW
7 seconds
(after 60 frames)
Buffer clearing time
12-bit RAW
+ L/F JPEG
17 seconds
(after 58 frames)
Continuous mode buffer capacity/clearing times
Buffer clearing time
L/F JPEG
10 seconds
(after 100 frames)
Worst case buffer clearing time. (*See note about card speeds below.)
Buffer clearing time
12-bit RAW

(Lossless Compressed)
14 seconds
(after 41 frames)
Buffer clearing time
12-bit RAW
(Lossy compressed)
+ L/F JPEG

17 seconds
(after 36 frames)
Buffer clearing time
14-bit RAW

(Lossless Compressed)
15 seconds
(after 36 frames)
Buffer clearing time
L/F JPEG
DX Mode
5 seconds
(after 130 frames)
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB 90MB/s CompactFlash card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode. ISO sensitivity and noise reduction settings can also affect cycle times and burst mode performance.

Startup time is average for a professional SLR, but shut-down is quite slow, likely due to sensor cleaning. Buffer clearing time depends on the image size and quality, burst length and the speed of memory card used, but is generally very fast.

 

Mode switching
Play to Record,
first shot
~0.3 second
Time until first shot is captured.
Record to play
~0.9 second
Time to display a large/fine file immediately after capture.
Display
recorded image
~0.1 second
Time to display a large/fine file already on the memory card.

Mode switching is quite fast, difficult to measure, except Record to play, which is a bit sluggish for its class.

 

Shutter Response (Lag Time)
Optical Viewfinder
Full Autofocus
Single Point
(Center) AF
0.197 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder, with Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro.
Full Autofocus
Single Point
(Center) AF
Release Priority
0.043 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder, with Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro.
Full Autofocus
51-point Auto Area
0.361 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture using optical viewfinder, with Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro.
Prefocused
0.043 second
Time to capture, after half-pressing and holding shutter button.
Continuous AF
Release Priority
0.044 second
This mode usually shows no speed increase with our static subject; we have no way to measure performance with moving subjects.
Manual focus
Optical Viewfinder
0.043 second
For most cameras, shutter lag is less in manual focus than autofocus, but usually not as fast as when the camera is "prefocused".
Live View
Full Autofocus
Single Point
(center AF)
Hand-Held Mode
0.511 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, using Live View "Hand-Held" (phase-detect) mode, with Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro.
Full Autofocus
Tripod Mode
2.66 seconds
When using Live View "Tripod" (contrast-detect) mode, autofocus is performed using the AF-On button.
Prefocused
Tripod Mode
0.423 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, after prefocusing with AF-On button, using Live View "Tripod" (contrast-detect) mode.

In terms of the D3S's ability to determine that it's properly focused when shooting the same target multiple times (with no change of focus setting between iteration, to remove the impact of lens AF speed), its speed is a little slow for professional model. The D3S required 0.197 second using single-area center AF mode, and 51-point Auto Area AF lag measured 0.361 second, much slower than the 0.085-0.088 second we measured with the D3. As you would expect, switching to Release Priority did improve shutter response dramatically (to 0.043 second), but that also means the camera may not achieve focus before capturing the image. 

We had similarly slow fulll AF results with the D3X (0.161 and 0.435 second respectively), so it's unlikely to be an issue with our sample of the D3S. To make sure it wasn't some sort of compatibility issue with the D3S and the Sigma lens we use at as our reference lens, we repeated the test with a Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8 (the same lens we tested the D3 with), and a Nikkor AF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro. However, we got very similar numbers with the Nikkors so the Sigma lens was not the issue. (SLRs normally determine focus with the Sigma 70mm very quickly; in fact the D3S, D3X and D300 were all slightly faster with it than the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.) We'll see if we can get another body from Nikon to test just to make sure we didn't have issues with the particular sample we had of the D3S , but we don't know if we'll be able to obtain a second sample or not.

When prefocused or manually focused, the D3S's shutter lag was extremely fast, at only 43 milliseconds. In continuous autofocus mode with release priority, shutter lag was also extremely fast, at only 44 milliseconds.

As expected, the D3S's two Live View modes add considerable delay, but the "Hand-Held" mode is faster than some other implementations we've tested recently. The "Hand-Held" mode which uses the same "mirror-down" phase difference AF method employed when using the optical viewfinder has full AF shutter lag of 0.511 second, which is pretty good for the mode.

The "Tripod" Live View mode lag was much slower, at 2.66 seconds, but focusing is performed separately using the AF-On button, so measuring the total lag is difficult. It's easy to see why Nikon chose to call this "Tripod" mode: It's really only going to be useful for still-life subjects, with the camera pretty immobile. The time it takes to achieve focus depends heavily on how far the lens elements have to travel. When a slower lens has to rack from infinity to close focus, the AF time in Tripod mode can easily stretch to 3 seconds or more. Nikon did say that they've tweaked the algorithm to improve contrast-detect AF speed over the D3, but we didn't test that on the D3.

Once prefocused, Tripod mode shutter lag is a reasonable 0.423 second. There's little point to shooting prefocused in Hand-Held mode, as the viewfinder is blacked out as long as the shutter button is held down in readiness.

To minimize the effect of different lens' focusing speed, we test AF-active shutter lag with the lens already set to the correct focal distance. We also use the same Sigma 70mm f/2.8 macro with every camera (on all platforms except Four Thirds/Micro Four Thirds and Nikon consumer models lacking an in-body focus motor), to further reduce variation, and because our tests showed that focus-determination time with this lens was close to the fastest, across multiple camera bodies from different manufacturers. Being an older design with a non-ultrasonic motor, it wouldn't be the fastest at slewing from one focus setting to another, but that's exactly the reason we measure focus determination speed, which is primarily a function of the camera body, vs focus adjustment speed, which is primarily a function of the lens.

 

Cycle time (shot to shot)
Single Shot mode
Large Fine JPEG
0.34 second
Time per shot, averaged over >50 shots.
Single Shot mode
12-bit RAW
0.34 second
Time per shot, averaged over >50 shots.
Single Shot mode
12-bit RAW + L/F JPEG
0.34 second
Time per shot, averaged over 58 shots.
Early shutter
penalty?
Sometimes
Some cameras refuse to snap another shot if you release and press the shutter too quickly in Single Shot mode, making "No" the preferred answer.
Continuous Hi mode
Large Fine JPEG
Size Priority
0.11 second
(9.01 frames/sec);
90 frames total;
10 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over buffer of 90 shots, then slows to 0.22s or 4.56 fps with 18% variation.
Continuous Hi mode
12-bit RAW
Lossless Compressed
0.11 second
(9.05 frames/sec);
41 frames total;
14 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over buffer of 41 shots, then slows to 0.34s or 2.95 fps with 35% variation.
Continuous Hi mode
14-bit RAW
Lossless Compressed
0.11 second
(9.05 frames/sec);
36 frames total;
15 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 36 shot buffer, then slows to 0.37s or 2.7 fps with 6% variation. (Unlike the D3S00/D300S and D3X, 14-bit RAW does not slow the continuous-mode frame rate.)
Continuous Hi mode
12-bit RAW (Lossless) + L/F JPEG
0.11 second
(9.01 frames/sec);
36 frames total;
17 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over buffer of 36 shots, then slows to 0.56s or 1.8 fps with 26% variation.
Continuous Hi mode
14-bit RAW (Lossless) + L/F JPEG
0.11 second
(9.01 frames/sec);
34 frames total;
17 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over buffer of 34 shots, then slows to 0.59s or 1.71 fps with 17% variation.
Continuous Hi mode
DX Mode
L/F JPEG
0.09 second
(11.02 frames/sec);
>130 frames total;
5 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 130 shots, with no signs of slowing
Continuous Lo mode
Default 5 fps
L/F JPEG
0.20 second
(5.04 frames/sec);
70 frames total;
2 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over 70 shots, with no signs of slowing
Flash recycling
n/a
Flash at maximum output.
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GB 90MB/s CompactFlash card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode. ISO sensitivity and noise reduction settings can also affect cycle times and burst mode performance.

Single-shot cycle time performance is very good for a pro SLR model, at about 0.34 second between JPEG or RAW shots, though slightly slower than the D3's 0.28 - 0.32 second range.

Continuous mode speeds are very similar to the D3's, which is to say very fast, in any mode including 14-bit uncompressed RAW, at just over 9 frames per second. Unlike the D300/D300S and D3X, the D3S did not slow down at all when shooting 14-bit vs 12-bit RAW files. Buffer depths have dramatically improved over the D3, more than doubling, though some of the increase may be due to using a newer, faster CompactFlash card with the D3S. In large/fine JPEG mode, the D3S's buffer depth was a whopping 90 frames, and varied between 36 and 41 frames in RAW mode, depending on the bit depth of the NEF files.

JPEG buffer depth shooting "normal" subjects is likely to be even greater than we measure with our deliberately difficult-to-compress test target, so your mileage (buffer capacity) may vary, but should generally be better than our measurements.

Like the D3, for really blazing speed with the D3S, you can shoot in "DX" mode, where the sensor area is cropped to match the "DX" size sensors in Nikon's sub-frame DSLRs. In this mode, the D3S met the 11 frame/second spec that Nikon gives it. This drops the resolution down to 2,784 x 1,848 (5.1 megapixels), but that's still a very usable resolution level, and the speed in this mode is unparalleled.

Like other recent pro-level SLRs, the Nikon D3S makes good use of very fast memory cards.

 

Download speed
Windows Computer, USB 2.0
3,789 KBytes/sec
Typical Values:
Less than 600=USB 1.1;
600-770=USB 2.0 Low;
More than 770=USB 2.0 High

Download speeds were fast (but not as fast as some), though fast enough that you probably won't feel the need for a separate card reader.


Bottom line, the Nikon D3S is extremely fast in most respects, with very fast frame rates, deep buffers for long bursts, and very low shutter lag, but full autofocus speed was slower than average for a professional model. Keep in mind however that our AF tests are on static subjects, and we have no way of objectively testing the D3S's autofocus acquisition and tracking performance with real-world subjects. Despite the slower-than-average full AF test results, we strongly suspect the D3S performs very well shooting active subjects and sports in the field, being competitive with anything else out there in its class.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery

Outstanding battery life for an SLR lithium-ion design.

Test Conditions
Number of Shots
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery,
4,200
Lithium-ion rechargeable battery,
Live View
Unknown

The Nikon D3S uses a custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack for power, and comes with both a single battery and charger. The rated 4,200 shots per charge using the optical viewfinder is well above average for a pro SLR, (but keep in mind the D3S does not have a built-in flash, so that's one reason why the number is so high). Unfortunately, Nikon does not seem to publish battery life results for when Live View mode is used, but it's a safe bet that it's considerably shorter. (Again, we don't have specific measurements, but did notice that the battery seemed to use up its charge much more rapidly when we were shooting in Live View mode. - And the remaining-capacity indicator would often dip noticeably when we switched Live View mode.)

The table above shows the number of shots the camera is capable of on fully-charged battery, based on CIPA battery-life and/or manufacturer standard test conditions.

(Interested readers can find an English translation of the CIPA DC-002 standards document here. (180K PDF document))

Storage

The Nikon D3S stores its photos on CompactFlash memory cards (dual slots are provided), and no card is included with the camera. The chart below shows how many images can be stored on a 2GB card at each size/quality setting. JPEGs with default Size Priority and RAW with lossless compression.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
2GB Memory Card
Fine Normal Basic
12-bit
RAW
(LLC)
14-bit
RAW
(LLC)
4,256 x 2,832
Images
(Avg size)
276
7.4 MB
548
3.7 MB
1,076
1.9 MB
98
21 MB
89
23 MB
Approx.
Comp.
5:1 10:1 19:1 0.9:1 0.8:1
3,184 x 2,120
Images
(Avg size)
496
4.1 MB
976
2.1 MB
1,836
1.1 MB
- -
Approx.
Comp.
5:1 10:1 18:1 - -
2,128 x 1,416
Images
(Avg size)
1,076
1.9 MB
2,080
985 KB
3,904
525 KB
- -
Approx.
Comp.
5:1 9:1 17:1 - -

We strongly recommend buying a large capacity CompactFlash. You should probably consider at least a 2GB card, if not a 4GB or 8GB one, to give yourself extra space for extended outings, especially if you plan on doing a lot of RAW or Movie shooting. (Check the shopping link above, cards are cheap these days, so there's no reason to skimp -- But do consider faster cards for this camera, to reduce buffer clearing times.)

 

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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.

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