Nikon D3s samples! The camera that can see in the dark.

I have had a Nikon D3s here for two or three days and have only been able to shoot a few samples so far but let me tell you…this thing can see in the freaking dark! It is amazing. With barely ANY light available it will Auto Focus FAST (and I mean FAST) and I am using an old el-cheap-o 50 1.8 lens. Coming from a manual focus Leica M9, this thing feels like a ferrari in use. Here are a couple of high ISO samples.

I took a drive this morning in pitch blackness. I had the D3s set to 12,800 ISO and the lens at 1.8. I saw a bit of light on this building and snapped. Wow. SO crisp, SO sharp and so NOISE FREE!


Last night just for fun I told my son to turn off all the lights and sit down with his laptop open. The ONLY light in my entire house was from this laptop on his lap (that you do not see in the image). Again, ISO 12,800 and the 50 1.8 at 1.8 and BINGO. AF locks on and the image is in the bag. This camera sucks in the light and I can only imagine what it would be like with a nice lens on it.


I would guess that the D3s would make for a lovely wedding, sports or wildlife camera. Just from the two or three days I have had it I can say that it is the most capable camera I have ever laid my hands on. The only problem for ME is the size. Its HUGE and HEAVY as hell though I do think the D3s with 50 1.8 is about the same weight as my M9 and 50 Noctilux. I’ll have to weigh them and see 🙂 The D3s is available for pre-order at B&H Photo now for a cool $5199.95.

I hope to have a full review of the D3s soon but I also have a Nikon D300s, Canon 7D, Leica X1 and a Leica 75 Summicron here to review as well. Fun, fun fun!


  1. This is the only review i’ve ever seen that articulates my concern about the D3S: the images appear “flat” to me. I really want the low light capabilities but don’t want to sacrifice the art of the shot. Also, what’s with the chartreuse greens and aqua blues i keep seeing in sample images? I bought one (on order for next week) but am still unsure that it was the right choice.

  2. Adam,

    If having the camera with you at all times and get the shot is most important, then the M9 makes more sense. One thing is for sure, you won’t be lugging around a D3 every day unless you are a pro doing studio work, or sports, concerts, etc. What is most important to you? Base your decision upon that.

  3. I’m completely torn. I’ve got the D3 and was going to get the D3S. The M9 has thrown a huge spanner in the works however. The compact size is alluring. The lenses even more so. With the M9 I could carry the camera around almost permanently……..with the D3, I’ve got speed, low light capabilitly and one of the best sensors around. Torn, torn, torn!

  4. Hello All

    Yes I like this discussion here now.
    I agree on many of you, different tools for need. At the moment I travel around in Thailand for 6 weekm carrying my MKII 5D, Zeiss 18/3.5, 50/1.4, Canon 135/2.0, 24-105 IS 4.0 and an extender and of course the additional stuff around it…

    Yesterday in Chian Mai on the market i meet a lady fro the US…with a M8 (chrome) and 35/2.0 Cron, just like I have … home….
    I must say I almost cry…..but I do also make here movies with de 5D and work on them with my MacBook and iMovie

    Ans MAX I do have a Telecaster and recently a 3000 euro Gretsch 6120 Country Tennessee, and I am not the greatest guitar player in the world, not even in the first 1000 I guess, but you should see me smile when I touch her (it’s a she..)

    That is what I have with my M8 as well..this ‘happy touching smile’..
    I had several lenses, also the 50/1.0 noct, but I sold that one…to heavy…and DoF on 1.0 is about 12 mm on 3 meters….and RF ….there I go for my 5D with AF.

    But the M8 with my 35/2.0 will stay…..I am not sure if I will have more joy with the M9 and a 50/1.4 …..The case is that on my 5D my favorite lens is the Carl Zeiss 50/1.4… autofocus….but the 5D has a supporting ‘green dot’
    So kind of Leica on Canon… hmmm

    Oh yeah MAX, nice memo to Ken… he is something…and now he’s a Leica fan as well…. he hates Canon for it’s ergonomics and Nikon for It’s menu’s…I agree that Leica did a good job their, what more do you need.
    Although with Ken Rockwell’s guide to the Nikon D700 I did manage my D700 in 2 hours…after that I sold it.

    Ans what about Film, sure `i still have my Mamiya 7II 6×7 120 rolfilm….great camera, like a leica almost… But I hardly use is, the Canon 5D with21mp is getting close and for 50% crops more than enough and for 40-50cm prints as well. I get addicted by working on my photo’s and film the same day after shooting, sending it by the internet etc. It will have it’s purpose…film, but it’s the last days of it….better for the planet too.

    So from a warm Thailand…all the best for 2010 and may all your (phot) dreams may come trough.

  5. Different tools for different needs – exactly! With the D3 I would be able to shoot @ 1/400 sec, 6400 ISO, f4, no noise with my 80-200mm or 300mm in the dimly-lit gyms and ball fields that I have to work with instead of a 200th of a sec @ f2.8 at 1600 with noise (that is correctable with noise correction software).

    But for fun and challenge, I drag out my dad’s old Yashica GS35 rf loaded with Tri-X (my favorite film) to keep my wits a little shaper. Like morgan says – his rangefiner is a great teacher. My dad’s Yashica forces me to slow down and pay attention which is a big help when I am trying to work fast with the dslr.

    As far as the need to constantly upgrade, it is the fortunes of war. Before we would just “upgrade” to a new film. Now we have to upgrade to a new body. The cost of doing business I guess.

    Happy New Year and may you find your dream camera in 2010.

  6. max,

    your hardly a bad customer when you own three of a manufacturers bodies plus glass. 😉

    as far as what i wrote goes, i wasn’t talking about the d3s, i didn’t even mention that specific body, which surely is almost in the same league as leica’s m9, but dslr systems in general – many of which is very affordable these days.

    the dslr vs rangefinder discussion is just getting a bit old.

    different tools for different work. it’s as simple as that. if you think a dslr is heavy – go lighter. if rangefinders are what gets your bells whistling (is that the expression?) – go for it.

    for me – i need both. i love the dslr for versatility – speed, macro, zoom – and i love the rangefinder because it is a great teacher. it limits me as well as it sets me free.

    merry christmas all and may the force be with you in 2010.


  7. Thanks cidereye. Yes, Leica made their best camera 55 years ago with the M3. How do you improve from there? Let’s face it, the basics are simple and you can’t change that. Shutter speed, aperture, focus. What else do you need? BUT, they have to stay in business so digital gives camera manufacturers the opportunity to dish out small improvements in different packages, in small doses, to keep people buying. As you notice, still not quite close to film in quality because otherwise…what’s the point? Once you reach the pinnacle, where do you go? I have already accepted that the M system is the best FOR ME and I own all the cameras and lenses that I will EVER need with an M3, an M9 and M7 when I feel a little lazier. I am a camera manufacturer’s worst customer!

  8. Very good analogy that Max about your Telecaster. When you think on that level Fender launched two guitars over a period of what …. less than a decade? And “almost” everything else since then by most other companies has been a copy of these two designs.

    Cameras:- SLR, RF, P&S = Pretty much it I guess and even today almost everything is a copy of these basic designs. My argument is not, as some seem to see it for whatever reasons, who makes the damn camera (I REALLY could not care less!) but does it meet my needs, is it portable? The trouble with cameras like the D3 is their sheer bulk & weight and if we are honest only certain types of photographers really need to use them most of the time. Surely they should be getting smaller & lighter and not bigger and heavier in our modern age? Sure I have a DSLR, I sold off all my Nikon DSLR kit to buy a tiny Olympus E-410 which fits in my coat pocket, Leica M’s which fit in same pocket, excellent little Ricoh GX200 which fits guess where?, Contax G’s for film which also fit guess where?

    For people that need big/heavy Pro DSLR’s fine, understandable sure -but *most* of us certainly don’t need to use such a camera, it’s like cracking a peanut with a lump hammer! Fact is, If I’ve got to lump around a whacking great big case I’d better be flying off on holiday some place warm – Not just going out to shoot a few pics.

  9. This is an email I sent Ken Rockwell after reading one of his articles titled “Digital Rot”. In many ways, it applies to a lot of things and what we talk about here. Remember, this is a business BUT it takes big balls to re-invent the wheel every year for these camera manufacturers to keep us coming back for more. Ask yourself..DO YOU REALLY NEED IT?


    Always appreciate your insight and article. I was reading once again “Digita Rot” after receiving my M9 last week. After spending $7K and truly enjoying it (although I enjoy more my MP, M3 and M7 loaded with Velvia, TriX and TMax), I can’t help but think…why are these camera considered rot after 1-2 years? From a monetary standpoint, I would certainly agree, since the next model will certainly turn the previous one to mush. BUT, in the end, it is all of us who turn these cameras into “rot”. The camera doesn’t change, we do. Will an M9 or a lowly Canon S90 of today take a different picture in two years? Should it be less appreciated because something new and “supposedly” better came along? It’s US and our state of mind that these camera manufacturers play with to keep us spending for a new model.
    I compare Nikon and Canon especially to pharmaceutical companies. As we all know, there is no money in CURES but there are billions to be made with “managing” diseases, to keep us coming for the drugs we need. Digital cameras are drugs that each year get that small improvement that we THINK we need to manage our disease called “consumerism” and feed our constantly confused state to accept that more and different has to be better. More megapixels, more memory, more complicated menus. At the same time, the pinnacle was always there and was achieved 50 years ago with the best film cameras. But there is no money for manufacturers in that and with Digital, they take our money every 18 months playing with our incorrect assumption that there is a different, better product.

    So, the next M digital will have 25 megapixels and a crystal screen, improved menus and a faster firmware. Does it mean the pictures of the current M9 are instantly turned into shit? No. We simply are suckered into the wrong notion that the newer product is actually better and will help us take better pictures. It’s funny that a 1959 M3 with a 50mm Summicron loaded with TMax 100 can take a kick ass picture that will run circles around many of today’s digitals, or a kid can take an incredible picture with an iPhone with some thought into composition and lighting. Are we trying to re-invent the wheel here? I have also been playing and collecting guitars for 20 years. I still have a 1953 Fender Telecaster and as of this day, there is NOTHING out there that sounds like it. Surely there have been thousands of models and supposed improvement on a classic guitar but in the end, you can’t re-invent the wheel and if WE could only understand that, none of these manufacturers of digital cameras, or guitars, would survive another year.

    Everything we need to take a great picture is here today and was already here 50 years ago. The rest is all BS.”


  10. Like you said – “this thing can see in the freaking dark!”. As someone who got caught up in the newspaper layoffs and had to go back to a previous career to pay the bills, I am still shooting with D2H bodies. BUT this D3s (or even “just” a D3) is amazing and I am drooling. Now all I have to do is convince the “boss” (i.e., my wife) that I will sell all “unnecessary” gear (like there is such a thing) to buy just one D3 (or D700 w/MB-D10 battery pack) body!! As much as I love the imagery coming from the M9, I agree with Max, it is not about the gear but how you are going to apply it. I still shoot a lot of local prep sports so having something with a FAST autofocus is perfect. Since I am restricted to a max of 1600 ISO (even with Nik Dfine, I don’t care to shoot at HI-1/3200 or HI-2/6400 because of the digital noise), I would love to have a couple of extra stops of range to push my shutter speed up.
    Anywa, thanks for a great site. I forget how I ran across your URL but I am sure glad I did. The stuff you post is an inspiration.

  11. Morgan,

    You see, this is not nice..

    “it’s important that we are enthusiastic about a relatively little company like leica, but let’s not turn into rabid fanboys who can’t stand all the people who’s ’stupid enough to carry all that cheap, heavy crap around while we fondle our expensive, lightweight Leica’s’.”

    A D3s is still $5200 and with a decent lens you’re at $7K so it is far from cheap. Heavy, yes. Cheap, no. Leica is expensive? I paid $600 for my 1959 M3 and $200 for a clean Summitar 50mm from 1942. Can still take a damn fine picture with that.

    No, it is not about the gear. There are choices to be made based on one’s need and preference, that’s all.

  12. i have to say that i agree with TV.

    while i continue to be amazed by the iq the leica glass gives you, an m9 can never replace a dslr system. they are different tools for different kinds of work.

    i think it’s important to realize that these are tools that help us all getting closer to the images we want to capture.

    it’s like the story steve told about his shoot for seal – sure, he brought his expensive leica – and he brought a lot cheaper nikon, if i remember correctly. and which camera produced the shot that ended up in the seal’s tour book? the shot from the nikon.

    i’m not a photographer by trade, but a producer/musician and if it’s one thing i’ve learned it’s that it’s all about the artist and almost never about the tools.

    i’ve got crazy expensive microphones, pre-amps and guitars, but they don’t help me or anyone else sing better, play better or make better songs. great songs and performances transcend equipment. look at the white stripes and their song ‘seven nation army’. the whole album that song was a part of, cost like $5000 to produce. less than an m9 body. it went platinum in multiple countries multiple times. he plays a plastic guitar that”s out of tune on it.

    but – he paints his vision with it. it’s his tool of choice.

    i love photography, i love gear, i love leica, i love canon…i don’t care if i have to cary a 2lb dslr if it ensures me The Shot.

    it’s important that we are enthusiastic about a relatively little company like leica, but let’s not turn into rabid fanboys who can’t stand all the people who’s ‘stupid enough to carry all that cheap, heavy crap around while we fondle our expensive, lightweight Leica’s’.

    just a thought.

  13. Hans,

    No need to get defensive. No one is calling Nikon or Canon garbage, better, worse. They are different systems and both have their merits. The reality though is that the M design has not changed in 50 years and there are limits to what can be included in the actual body. Nevertheless, Leica was able to accomplish an amazing feat by incorporating a full frame sensor with no anti-alias filter and out-resolve most competitors with cameras that are much bigger and heavier. Yes, the screen could be better but so what? I love to shoot my M3 because it has no damn screen and I am not distracted every five seconds after taking each picture. In fact, I don’t even look at it except for settings.

    Then there are menus…you really want to tell me that we all NEED all the crap, menus, sub-menus, in Nikons and Canons to take a great picture? A camera like the D3 is HUGE because it’s a computer for goodness sake. Do you need a small desktop to carry around with 10 pages of menus to take a picture? I am not being sarcastic here but I can take fine pictures with a 1959 M3 and film and just set my aperture, shutter speed and focus. My 10 year old figured out how to navigate the menu of the M9 and it took me three weeks to fine-tune my D700. Come on really. Again, to each his own but let’s be honest: it is a lot easier to carry around an M than most DSLR and the end of the day, you still have great images, assuming you know what you’re doing. Thank God Leica has stuck to its roots with the M system and gave photographers a very simple, yet powerful tool like the M9. Like I said above, I carry my Ms everywhere I go now and, when I owned a D2X, I either left it home, or looked like a wanna-be pro with that monster around my shoulder plus a bag to carry two decent lenses. That’s not what I want but for some people it’s fine. That what makes the world go ’round.


  14. I don’t see the wolrd as being binary – I have both a RF and a SLR system and you need both. It is horses for courses.. I do prefer the look and feel of the files from the M system but it is not perfect. Nothing in life is…… Canon and Nikon have not become large and successful organisations for selling “crap”.

  15. It’s all about the picture….

    Nikon, Canon and Olympus giving the photographer the tools he/she needs
    Leica lenses are nice (I have a few) but so are Zeiss (I have a few to for my 5DMKII, and Canon L lenses and Nikon lenses aren’t bad at all

    I wrote it before here in the holy shrine of Leica people…. it is 2010 (almost)
    The technology is there, so why is Leica putting outdated technology (CCD in stead of CMOS ect, no 920K dot screen etc… in their M9 after the first M8 mistake (Which I still have and cost me 4200 euro!)

    Why? because competing with Canon, NIkon and Olympus is not possible, to small, no R&D budget and resources..
    So leica stciks with the 50-ties approach and calls it available light photography, with Highspeed lenses etc…
    Look at the D3x…High speed ISO…. wil be in every DSLR within 2 years, with in camera processing of every error/mistake…..this is the era of changing the paradigm of photographic technology, not changing the making of the picture, but supporting the photographer….all the way….

    This will make Leica a product for rather wealthy people and when they die it’s over…

    Sure I will cry a tear or 2…

    ps I am not cynical but realistic

  16. [quote]I think more people are coming to this realization. Let’s face it, if one has $5-7K to spend and does not shoot sports, or wildlife, why bother with a monster like the D3s? [/quote]

    Exactly how I see it too, too many of us have been taken in for far too long by the camera makers telling us we need to buy and carry around all this crap when we so obviously do not ….. only most of us (and I include myself in this!) have just worked it out.

    Way I see it life’s far too short to cripple yourself carrying around some stupid backpack full of crap, like I still see so many doing, when I can stick my Leica with 35mm lens in one pocket of my jacket and carry spare lens of choice in my other pocket and still cope with almost everything that comes my way.

  17. Steve,

    I think more people are coming to this realization. Let’s face it, if one has $5-7K to spend and does not shoot sports, or wildlife, why bother with a monster like the D3s? The D700 is also very capable and a great camera and I’m sure they’ll stick crazy ISO in the the D700s as well. Still, I look at my D700 files and comparing to the M9…there is no comparison and it’s not about megapixels. The life-like images that Leica glass can give just can’t be beat.

  18. As good as this D3s is in low light, my M9 is in no danger of being replaced by it. For what I shoot the M9 is PERFECT. The D3s is HUGE, HEAVY and although incredible with its low light ability, my M9 files are richer, more 3D and to my eyes it is no contest. BUT, if I were a sports, wildlife or convert shooter I would own a D3s in a heartbeat.

  19. Per,

    Yes, do miss sometimes the low light capabilities of these Nikons but for me it has come down to having my camera with me all the time or not. My Nikons were a burden and never felt like carrying them around, where an M is like wearing your favorite t-shirt. It feels good and natural. Plus, with a fast lens and no flipping mirrors we can certainly get clean shots with shutter speeds that would be unusable with a DSLR. In the end, there are trade-offs and, as always, to each his own. If one likes a small animal dangling from his neck and need 102,000 ISO, then by no means buy a D3 :))

  20. Per,

    Used my D700 yesterday for the first time in a while and it felt like I was carrying two bricks. No going back for me either. There are pros and cons about both systems obviously but I prefer going light and Leica glass.

  21. It would be interesting to see how a Leica lens performs on the D3s. You can convert Leica R primes with a Leitax bayonet. I know this to give great results as I converted several like the great 80mm Summilux-R

  22. pixelmixture,

    An M9 and Noct F1 can do low light/intimate no problem, and it looks gorgeous. I was doing some side by side with my M9 and Noct at ISO 2500 and the D3s with the 50 1.8 at ISO 4000. M9 won hands down for overall beauty of the image.

    BUT for low low light a D3s can’t be beat. Its fast as lightning as well.

  23. i would trade the sharpness of the M9 for this High iso capability … The M9 is built to take photos in intimate places with no light but can’t … the D3s can but is a beast ….

    Leica: Build a M10 with a CMOS sensor

  24. Yeah, Batman needs a D3s for evidence gathering in the night too coz it’s just that good! 😛

    I am also very, very interested what kind of lens you’ll be able to test out on the D3s and D300s with too because unlike the beautiful Leica lenses you’ve been raving about, I can actually afford Nikkor lenses! Hahaha! 😀

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