Last week I purchased the Nikon D3s and couldn’t be happier. The camera is absolutely amazing and is a must have for any professional sports photographer.
Let me start off by saying that the most important thing to me as a professional photographer is creating compelling images. I look at technology as a means to further this endeavor and nothing more. The camera is simply a means to an end and should be viewed as such. In this review I will give you my honest opinion on how this camera performs in a professional outdoor adventure scenario.
For my first shoot with the Nikon D3s, I called upon a few of my friends to ski and snowboard for me. We headed out in the dark to Carson Pass in the Sierra Nevada to photograph in the sunrise and early morning light. With a quick 45 minute hike off the top of the pass, we reached our destination just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. The light was incredible. I pulled the camera out of my bag and began shooting.
Nikon D3s - Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens - ISO 400 - f/10.0 - 1/80 sec
The first thing that I immediately loved about the camera was the ergonomics. It feels great in your hands and all of the buttons are extremely accessible. For an experienced Nikon shooter everything is in a very intuitive place. I found myself changing my settings without ever taking my eye out of the viewfinder. This enabled me to concentrate on the most important part of photography, making images.
Nikon D3s - Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens - ISO 400 - f/10.0 - 1/400 sec
With the athletes in position, we began shooting action sequences. If you have never shot action at 9 frames per second you will be in for a real treat. When shooting sports, capturing that split second when the athlete is in perfect position is absolutely critical. If your camera doesn’t have a high enough frame rate, you might miss that magic moment.
Working in conjunction with the high frame rate is the camera’s buffer speed. The D3s allows you to hold the shutter button down far longer than any other consumer or prosumer grade Nikon camera. Compare the continuous capture of 82 JPEGs of the D3s to the 43 JPEGs of the D300s. This enables me to keep shooting the action while other photographers are waiting for their images to write to their memory cards.
As the day progressed I shot in a wide variety of ISO ranges. On my old Nikon D300 I really couldn’t shoot higher than ISO 800 without noticing a significant fall off in image quality. I shot for most of the morning at ISO 1000 and the file quality was unbelievable. When I shoot skiing and snowboarding, I love shooting into the sun. Utilizing a higher ISO allows me to shrink the aperture and still maintain a fast shutter speed creating that classic sunburst effect.
Nikon D3s - Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens - ISO 1000 - f/14.0 - 1/2000 sec
After the day was done it was time to see what I captured. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I began going through my images. The file quality was unbelievable. The images that I shot at ISO 1000 far exceeded my expectations. There was very little noise, the images were extremely sharp and the color gradients were absolutely beautiful. It has really opened my eyes to how I can push my camera settings to create images that would have been impossible to make 5 years ago.
As of right now I don’t have many negative things to say about the Nikon D3s. I think it is the best thing since sliced bread. If I had to be nitpicky, I would say it is a little too heavy and bulky for an extended outdoor adventure scenario. That said, I still plan on taking it just about everywhere I go and simply dealing with the extra weight and bulk. The images that it allows me to create are well worth it.
Looking into the future, I know I have just scratched the surface of what this camera can do. I can’t wait to push the ISO boundaries even higher and start utilizing other features like the 720 HD video. The Nikon D3s is going to allow me to push my creative vision farther than I had ever imagined, and that is what a great camera should allow you to do.