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Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia here I come…

By 2009-11-01October 15th, 2010One Comment

I am very privileged to be employed by Nikon to go up into Africa to go and do a shoot on their behalf. I will be gone for two weeks and will post some pictures when I am back. I will be spending most of my time on a specialised bote specific for photographers on the Chobe.

I am also very excited to tell that I will have two of the very first batch of Nikon D3s that arrive in the country by the end of the month. This is the newest camera that from Nikon that were announced a few days ago. I will post some stuff the moment I have them in my hands.

Late next month Nikon will ship the D3S, an update of its venerable D3 digital SLR that features improved high-ISO image quality (and an eye-popping top ISO of 102,400), a 720p D-Movie mode with external stereo mic jack, approximately double the burst depth of the D3, a useful 1.2x crop mode and various other refinements.

The Nikon D3s

Like its predecessor, the D3S is aimed at the working photojournalist. To create the new model, Nikon started by keeping the D3 hardware mostly intact; the D3S’ 12.05 million image pixel CMOS image sensor is the only truly-new core hardware component in the camera, and is responsible for its promised improved image quality at stratospheric ISO levels.

To its credit, Nikon has figured out that great high ISO performance is important to their target customer for this camera, and as such they’ve chosen to make that the key focus of this digital SLR update rather than an ever-increasing numbers of pixels. With a standard ISO range of 200-12,800, and an extended ISO range of 100-102,400, Nikon is signaling that the D3S is going to produce better pictures in available darkness than the D3, which is already a killer camera in this regard.

The full list of what’s new is ahead. First, here’s what either unchanged or slightly modified from the D3s’ predecessor: in a body that’s almost identical to the D3, the D3S incorporates 16-bit EXPEED image processing with 12 or 14 bit A/D conversion, 51-area Multi-CAM 3500FX AF system, 9 fps maximum shooting rate (plus 10fps and 11fps with limitations), 300,000-cycle shutter, 1005-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering II, Scene Recognition System, 100% coverage viewfinder, individually-calibrated 921,000-dot rear LCD, twin CompactFlash card slots, LiveView, HDMI video out, features such as a single-axis Virtual Horizon indicator and compatibility with the WT-4/4A Wireless Transmitter and GP-1 GPS Unit.

The D3S is powered by the same EN-EL4a Rechargeable Li-Ion Battery as the D3 too.

Put another way, the experience of picking up and shooting the D3S, says Nikon USA Senior Technical Manager Lindsay Silverman, is effectively the same as the camera it replaces. Except for some tweaks of the knobs and buttons, the real changes to the D3S are on the inside. The list of what’s new or refined includes the following:

New image sensor To extend the upper ISO limit of the D3S to a whopping 102,400, Nikon has developed a new, self-cleaning FX Format CMOS image sensor for the camera (as with the D3, the sensor design is all Nikon’s, but its manufacture is being handled by an unspecified third party). The sensor’s basic specifications are the same as the earlier model, including a capture area of 36mm x 23.9mm, a pixel pitch of 8.45┬Ám, 12-channel readout and FX Format image dimensions of 4256 x 2832 pixels. An improved microlens array on the sensor, plus revised internal circuitry meant to counter image noise, contribute to the D3S’ ISO range boost, says Nikon USA’s Silverman.

The ISO range of the D3S is the broadest of any Canon or Nikon digital SLR to date. Its standard ISO range is 200-12,800 in 1/3 step increments (the camera can be configured for 1/2 and full step increments as well). Its extended ISO range is 100-102,400, in 1/3 step increments from 100-25,600, plus 51,200 and 102,400. Nikon hasn’t given us specific guidance as to how much better pictures will look at high ISO settings, though obviously the big ISO number at the top end is meant to suggest an equally big improvement.

EXPEED image processing, while still a 16-bit processing path, has been sped up in the D3S, as has the performance of the Scene Recognition System. Auto White Balance is said to have been improved as well.

1.2x crop mode Call this EOS-1D Mark II N Compatibility Mode. Like the D3, you can choose from full-frame FX, 1.5x DX and 5:4 crop modes. The D3S adds a 1.2x crop mode, designed to capture within a 30mm x 20mm area of the image sensor. This is pretty darn close to the 28.7mm x 19.1mm sensor size of Canon’s previous-generation news and sports camera. Plus, with a resolution of 8.41 million image pixels (3552 x 2368) when set this way, the D3S’s 1.2x crop mode is also pretty darn close to the EOS-1D Mark II N and its 8.19 million image pixel (3504 x 2336) resolution.

Whether Canon was the inspiration or not, the 1.2x crop mode feature of the D3S may well be the sleeper hit of the camera, at least among certain long lens shooters. It should allow a little more telephoto reach (a 400mm becomes about a 480mm, for example) and slightly smaller file sizes to manage on deadline without sacrificing too much resolution or making the capture area in the viewfinder unpleasantly small. The 1.2x crop mode in the D3S is a great idea.

Beefier buffer The D3S will be able to capture roughly double the number of frames in an extended burst than a D3 – at least a D3 that has not been through the buffer memory expansion service. Nikon’s burst depth specifications are as follows (FX Format, UDMA memory card):

  • 12-bit Lossless Compressed NEF, 42 frames
  • 14-bit Lossless Compressed NEF, 36 frames
  • 12-bit Compressed NEF, 43 frames
  • 14-bit Compressed NEF, 36 frames
  • 12-bit Uncompressed NEF, 38 frames
  • 14-bit Uncompressed NEF, 35 frames
  • JPEG Fine, Large, 82 frames (all other JPEG settings are 122 frames or higher)

Faster Tripod Mode Contrast detect autofocus during LiveView has been sped up by 30-40%, relative to the D3. LiveView continues to operate at 15fps.

720p video recording The video capture features of the D3S closely match those of the D300s, including up to 1280 x 720 pixel (720p), 24fps recording with Motion JPEG encoding, 16 bit/11.025kHz mono audio when using the built-in mic and video files with a .avi extension.

Contrast detect AF can be engaged either before or during video recording, and is expected to be a bit quicker to acquire focus than other video-capable Nikons. The usable aperture range is from f/1.4 to f/16 in D-Movie mode, the camera includes both a built-in mono mic and a miniphone jack for connecting an external mic (the camera captures 16 bit/44.100kHz stereo audio via this jack) and offers both automatic and manual audio level control. Audio recording can be turned off as well.

Video clip trimming from within the D3S is possible, as is the extraction of a 1280 x 720 pixel still image (JPEG Basic quality). The camera can be configured to optionally write still photos to one card slot and video to the other.

D3S clips will look similar to, but not exactly the same as, video captured with the D300s. There are three reasons for that:

  • The larger image sensor of the new camera means depth of field will be shallower for a given field of view
  • Nikon has implemented a new algorithm into the D3S designed to minimize the rolling shutter phenomenon while panning
  • Low light video quality will almost certainly be a notch or two better, owing to the expected clean high ISO performance of the D3S. To emphasize the point, Nikon has provided two selectable automatic ISO ranges for the D3S’ video mode: ISO 200-12,800 and ISO 6400-102,400.

Video resolution options are 1280 x 720 pixels, 640 x 424 pixels and 320 x 216 pixels, all at 24fps.

Dedicated LiveView button, slightly revised button layout The D3S sports a dedicated LiveView button on the back. An Info button, also new and also on the back, gives quick access to options such as Picture Control and Noise Reduction (in addition to displaying information about the way the camera is currently configured). It’s also possible now – like certain Nikons other than the D3 – to configure the front FUNC or depth of field buttons to jump directly to the top item in My Menu.

Smaller HDMI port The D3 has a Type A HDMI port, while the D3S is outfitted with a smaller Type C port (seen at right in the lower right corner of the photo).

Quiet Shutter Mode When enabled, Quiet Shutter Mode separates the shutter action from the resetting of the mirror. The shutter opens when the shutter button is fully depressed, but the mirror holds in its upright position until the shutter button is released. This means you can delay the mirror return part of the exposure sound until you’ve turned away or otherwise muffled the camera body.

Quiet Shutter Mode is switched on by selecting “Q” on the Release Mode dial on the top of the camera.

Active D-Lighting Bracketing Either two or five Active D-Lighting settings – Low, Normal, High, Extra High and Off – can be applied in a bracketing sequence. If two is chosen, one of the two is always Off.

Expanded Retouch Menu Resizing and RAW conversion functions are now included.

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