Last night, I had the opportunity to do a few quick test with the D3s. Having played a few times with my friends’ D3, I was already comfortable with its weight/balance/ everything is the opposite of Canon features so no shock there.
I tested the camera with a 14-24f2.8 and a 24-70f2.8 which are both regarded as very good Nikon lenses. I just wish I had a nice big prime to shoot at f1.4.
My tests shots were very limited and in an environment without much control over lights and subjects. Hell, it was shot 5 minutes before the start of the HDSLR conference! So keep that in mind, I probably missed some important details.
Shooting a clip with the D3s is very easy. You can start the recording either by pressing the button at the back of the camera or from one in front (Nikon users love buttons!) and auto focus (contrast based) is managed via another button (like the AF-ON button of the 5D). All good and easy so far.
The exposure is either full auto or ‘manual‘. I quoted manual because, while you can set the shutter speed and aperture, the ISO is assigned automatically either in the low (ISO under 6400 I think) or high setting (12,800 to ridiculous) and will adjust itself according to the subject illumination unless you use the exposure lock.
While this might be useful for a casual shooter, it is a real pain for someone taking video seriously! To make matter worst (unless it is hidden somewhere in the menus) there is no way to know the ISO while you are recording. The number that is displayed on the LCD is the ISO you would have to use to take a picture, not the one used in the recording. Why?
This mean that, while the camera decides what will be a good exposure, you have no idea what it is an even worst, it will be very hard to reproduce the same exposure afterward. And dont forget to press that exposure lock button too!
The contrast based auto focus works well and is smooth enough to be usable. Not as good as the AF of the GH1 but still decent.
I kept this topic for last because this is where the camera really shines. While reviewing the video below, understand that the only source of light in the room is the projector and it was not as bright as what it seems in the clip. It was dark, very dark and the camera was set to f3.5 (by accident). Notice how the ISO is increasing as I am going toward the darker part of the room. The ISO probably started at around 25k and finishes at 102k, so the noise has to be expected. This video is straight out of the camera.
The interesting thing here is not the quality of the image at ISO 102,400. It is the amount of details and information the sensor is able to get! The camera actually saw stuff that my eyes couldn’t! Shooting at this ISO might not bring you an award for best picture, but it will allow you to shoot what no one can!
Should you get one? Since it will not be available for a while (until the end of the 2010 Olympics), you still have some time to think about it. By that time, the Canon 1DMrkIV should be out so both company will have an offering in the ISO 102k range so it will be interesting to do a comparison between the two.
Is it better than the 5D, 7D ? To shoot pictures, there is no doubt in my mind that it is. For video, that is another story. There are too many limitations (720p, auto ISO, etc..) to make this a pro level video camera. On the other end, Nikon never said it was. They position this product as a tool for journalists and at such, I think it does a great job.