Nikon D3s Hands On: Night Vision Is A Beautiful Thing By Matt Buchanan on October 22, 2009

The D3s’s impact on photography won’t be nearly as dramatic as the D3—the camera that started the low-light arms race—but we got to shoot with it, and really, you’ve never seen nicer low-light images in your life.

I had around two hours to shoot with a pre-production model of the tank-like D3s at New York’s Big Apple Circus, hence all of the scary clowns and very flexible folks. Since low-light performance is what you’re probably most interested in, I’ve broken down the sample shots into galleries by ISO speed. Overall, shots at ISO 6400 are the cleanest I’ve ever seen at that ISO rating—just think about that for a second—and ISO 12,800 photos are unquestionably usable for even large web photos (like 1000×1000 pixels). Of course, the pictures at ISO 102,400 have ridiculous grain and you’d never use them for anything but novelty, but consider that we really are talking light sensitivity on the order of night vision. It’s a remarkable achievement for achievement’s sake.

All of the photos here are from JPEGs straight out of a pre-production D3s, with no retouches. They were resized, but I’ve included shots of 100 percent zoom close-ups above the galleries.

Nikon D3s Below ISO 3200

Nikon D3s ISO 3200 Samples

Nikon D3s ISO 6400 Samples

Nikon D3s ISO12,800 Samples

Nikon D3s 26,500-51,200 ISO Samples

Nikon D3s ISO 102,400 Samples

These two series are shot at the exact same shutter speed, adjusting only the ISO, so you can get a sense of how much extra light the cranked ISO absorbs.

Nikon D3s Direct Compare: ISO 12,800; 1/800

I’ve also cut together some of the 720p video I shot. The video mode’s a little confusing to use at first, since the “shutter speed” is how adjust exposure in video mode, but the results are nice, even if they’re not in 1080p. The clip was always shot at an ISO rating of at least 3200 (I was fiddling with the ISO throughout), and the second half makes use of a boom mic for stereo.

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