Nikon seems to have once again raised the professional digital photography bar with details emerging of the upcoming D3S DSLR. Rather than try to wow with megapixels, the company hopes that excellent noise reduction and a huge ISO sensitivity range will better serve its customers. The new camera also boasts low light capable HD video, fast and accurate autofocus, a burst frame rate of 9fps and in-camera RAW image editing.

It didn't take too long for Nikon cameras to start muscling into the predominantly Canon-covered press events after the 12.1Mp D3 was launched in August 2007. The company upped the megapixels to 24.5 (and the cost by a few thousand dollars) just over a year later when the D3X took its place on the red carpet. Now it's the turn of the D3S to enter the limelight.

Enter stage left

As well as retaining the original D3 moniker and the familiar ergonomic body shape, Nikon has also returned to a 12.1Mp sensor for the latest evolution in the D3 family. The 36 by 24mm FX-format CMOS sensor includes a "Multi-CAM 3500FX focus module, with 51 AF points, 15 cross type sensors and 36 horizontal sensors that easily track and lock onto moving subjects" making for accurate, fast autofocus and high quality full frame images.

But it's the camera's huge ISO sensitivity range which seems to be grabbing all of the headlines. The base sensitivity ranges from ISO 200 to 12800 but choosing to extend this by opting for the Hi3 setting allows for six figure sensitivity - an immense ISO 102,400, which should offer photo opportunities in near dark lighting conditions. Nikon claims that the camera's low light sensitivity can "challenge even the human eye's ability to discern subject content."

Demonstrating the D3S

Although Nikon appears to have gone to a lot of trouble to try and reduce signal to noise ratios by developing improved processing algorithms, how much noise will creep into photos taken at the higher ISO settings is going to be a case of wait and see. But if the promotional videos below are anything to go by then I for one can't wait to give one of the D3Ss a test drive.

Vincent Munier - Summer Variations - Nikon D3S:


Bill Frakes - All over Australia - Nikon D3S:

HD Video

Another headline-grabbing feature of the D3S is the ability to shoot high definition video. It turns out that pre-launch rumors about full 1080p HD recording were just that, Nikon believes that photo journalists neither want nor need full HD so offer 720p at 24 frames per second (fps). Whether that assumption from Nikon is correct or not, journalists should benefit from the ability to shoot low light footage using similarly high ISO options available for still images.

New algorithms abound as Nikon also claims to have dealt with the problem of rolling shutter artifacts appearing during panning at 24 fps by employing a new method which, it says, " severely reduces" the likelihood of such things happening.

The new D-SLR also features an auto or manual image sensor cleaning function that sees the optical low pass filter vibrate at "four specific frequencies to release particles that would disrupt image quality". There's a "new 1.2x crop mode for a modest telephoto effect", the ability to edit RAW images in-camera, an increase to the buffer memory to give a burst frame rate of 9fps in the FX-format (rising up to an impressive 11fps in the DX crop mode), a quiet shutter mode (a la D300) to help reduce noise from the mirror-down cycle and the same Active D-Lighting setup as seen in the D3X.

Also housed in the moisture, dust and shock resistant magnesium alloy body are two card slots that can be synchronized for continuous video recording, a mini-HDMI output and a stereo mic input to supplement the built-in mono microphone. The 921,000 dot 3in LCD monitor should give excellent 100% frame viewing of stills or video and the Li-ion battery is claimed to be good for over 4000 shots per charge.

The summing up

Edward Fasano, general manager for Marketing, SLR Systems Products at Nikon Inc., summed up the release by saying: "The ruggedly constructed D3S was engineered to address the real-world needs of professional photographers and provides them with a tool that, when combined with their skills, delivers stunning images in a broad range of shooting conditions and assignment requirements."

There's a lot more going on inside Nikon's new box of tricks of course and you can find huge amounts of technical information at the company's product news page.

Ahead of next month's release, the D3S certainly looks like one mighty powerful professional camera but at an estimated price tag of around US$5200 (body only) you'd better start being very nice to the person in charge of paying expenses.

It will be interesting to see if Canon will take the opportunity to engage in a bit of one-upmanship with its rumored forthcoming upgrade to its professional range. But that's not likely to happen just yet. For now Nikon's release looks like it's set to move well up the pro-photography tree and blow huge ISO raspberries at everyone else.

View gallery - 7 images