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Compared to...

The D3 was Nikon's first FX format DSLR when it was announced in 2007, and it set new standards for versatility - particularly image quality at high ISO settings - that since then have made it indispensable to many professional photographers worldwide, not to mention hugely desirable to countless enthusiasts.

The D3S enters a different marketplace than the D3 - one where even entry-level cameras like the Pentax K-X offer ISO sensitivity settings that would have been unheard of a couple of years ago, and one in which video is rapidly becoming the norm for high-end DSLRs rather than the exception. Here, I'm comparing the D3S against the original D3, and the new Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. The 1D Mark IV replaces the 1D Mark III, and in many ways represents Canon's answer to the advancements made by Nikon in the D3. Despite its higher resolution (16MP) and slightly smaller (APS-H format) CMOS sensor, its ISO span is slightly wider than the D3S, from ISO 50-102,400 including expansion settings. Like the D3S it can also shoot video, but the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV's video mode is full HD (1080p) and it can also shoot still images slightly faster at its maximum resolution, at 10 frames per second with AF tracking. The D3S can manage 9fps in FX mode.

On paper then, the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV is more than a match for the D3S, and would appear to roundly better the older D3. We'll see how the three models stack up in terms of performance and image quality in the following pages, but for now, here's the breakdown of their key specifications.

Camera B/O
price
Live
view
Video LCD Anti
Shake
Sensor
(effective pixels)
Nikon D3S $5,199 Yes 720p 3.0" / 920k dots Lens option 12.3 MP CMOS (1x crop)
Canon EOS-1D IV $4,999 Yes 1080p 3.0" / 920k dots Lens option 16.0 MP CMOS (1.3x crop)
Nikon D3X $7,469 Yes No 3.0" / 920k dots Lens option 24.5 MP CMOS (1x crop)
Canon EOS-1Ds III $6,114 Yes No 3.0" / 230k dots Lens option 21.1 MP CMOS (1x crop)
Sony Alpha 900 $2699 No No 3" / 920k dots In-body 24.5 MP CMOS (1x crop)

In terms of headline specification, only two of these cameras are directly comparable, and even then, only just. The Nikon D3S and Canon EOS 1D Mark IV go head to head as pro cameras that are both designed for maximum speed and maximum versatility. This is in contrast to the flagship cameras of their respective marques, the Nikon D3X and Canon EOS 1D Mark III, which are intended as studio workhorses, where resolution is paramount. However, they're not competing on an entirely level playing field, because whilst the D3S has a full-frame CMOS sensor, the EOS 1D Mark IV has an effective crop factor of 1.3x. The Sony Alpha 900 is closer to the D3S and EOS 1D Mark IV in terms of price, (it is actually significantly cheaper) but its higher resolution, slower processor and lack of ultra high-ISO shooting options puts it closer to the D3X and EOS 1Ds Mark III in terms of its design intent.

Nikon D3S advantages

  • Dual media with definable behavior
  • Very wide ISO span, up to ISO 102,400 (equivalent)
  • 51-point AF system with 3D-tracking

Nikon D3S disadvantages

  • 720p movie footage not as impressive as 1080p from Canon's best DSLRs.
  • Fairly low resolution of 12 million pixels compared to the competition
  • Full-frame not always ideal for sports/action where a crop factor might be advantageous
 
Nikon D3S

Nikon D3

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV
Price
(body only)
US: $5199 [check price] US: $3300 [check price] US: $4999 [check price]
Sensor • 36 x 23.9 mm CMOS
• 12.1 million effective pixels
• 12.98 million total pixels
• 36 x 23.9 mm CMOS
• 12.1 million effective pixels
• 12.98 million total pixels
• 27.9 x 18.6 mm CMOS
• 16.1 million effective pixels
• 17 million total pixels
Body Magnesium alloy Magnesium alloy Magnesium alloy
Dust reduction • Low pass filter vibration
• Dust reference image (requires Capture NX2)
• Dust reference image (requires Capture NX2) • Low pass filter vibration
• Dust data removal (requires Digital Photo Professional)
Native image size 4256 x 2832
(3:2 ratio)
4256 x 2832
(3:2 ratio)
4896x3264
(3:2 ratio)
Video

720p @ 24 fps

None

1080p @ 30 fps, 720p at up to 60fps (50fps in some territories)

FOV crop 1x 1x 1.3x
In-body shake reduction No No No
Live view Yes Yes Yes
File formats • RAW (lossless or lossy comp, 12 or 14 bit)
• JPEG (3 levels)
• RAW (lossless or lossy comp, 12 or 14 bit)
• JPEG (3 levels)
• RAW/sRAW (14 bit)
• JPEG (10 levels)
Auto focus • 51 area TTL
• 15 Cross-type sensors
• Range: -1 to +19 EV
• Contrast detect AF in live view/video mode
• 51 area TTL
• 15 Cross-type sensors
• Range: -1 to +19 EV
• Contrast detect AF in live view/video mode
• 45 area TTL
• 39 Cross-type sensors
• Range: -1 to +18 EV
• Contrast detect AF in live view/vide mode
AF illuminator Via external flash Via external flash Via external flash
Metering sensor • 1005 pixel RGB sensor
• 0 - 20 EV working range
• 1005 pixel RGB sensor
• 0 - 20 EV working range
• 63 zone sensor
• 0 - 20 EV working range
EV steps 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV 1/3, 1/2 or 1 EV
Sensitivity • ISO 200 - 12,800
(extendable to 100-102,400 equiv)
• ISO 200 - 6400
(extendable to 100-25,600 equiv)
• ISO 100 - 12800
(extendable to 50-102,400 equiv)
Auto ISO User definable maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed User definable maximum ISO and minimum shutter speed Yes, limited by ISO settings available for manual selection
High- ISO NR Yes (4 levels) Yes (4 levels) Yes (4 levels)
Shutter speed • 30 - 1/8000 sec / Bulb
• 1/250 sec Flash sync
• 30 - 1/8000 sec / Bulb
• 1/250 sec Flash sync
• 30 - 1/8000 sec / Bulb
• 1/300 sec Flash sync
Max Continuous
shooting

9 fps (up to 11 fps in DX format in Single AF mode)

9 fps (up to 11 fps in DX format in single AF mode) 10 fps at full resolution
Viewfinder • Pentaprism
• Eyepoint 18mm
• Frame coverage 100%
• Magnification approx 0.7x
(using 50mm lens)
• Pentaprism
• Eyepoint 18mm
• Frame coverage 100%
• Magnification approx 0.7x
(using 50mm lens)

• Pentaprism
• Eyepoint 18 mm
• Frame coverage 100%
• Magnification approx 0.76x (using 50mm lens)

LCD monitor • 3.0 " TFT LCD
• 920,000 dots
• 3.0 " TFT LCD
• 920,000 dots
• 3.0 " TFT LCD
• 920,000 dots
Other features • On-demand electronic level
• GPS with optional GP-1
• In-camera RAW conversion
• Custom 'My Menu'
• 'Quiet' single frame advance
• On-demand electronic level
• GPS with optional GP-1
• Custom 'My menu'
• Auto Lighting Optimizer
• New Servo II AF system
• Orientation linked AF points
• Custom 'My Menu'
• 'Silent' single frame advance
Storage • Dual Compact Flash card slots
• Dual Compact Flash card slots
• Compact Flash/SD/SDHC card
Software • Nikon Transfer
• ViewNX
• Nikon Transfer
• ViewNX
• ZoomBrowser EX
• EOS Utility
• Digital Photo Professional
Dimensions 160 x 157 x 88 mm (6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 in) 160 x 157 x 88 mm (6.3 x 6.2 x 3.4 in) 156 x 157 x 80 mm (6.2 x 6.2 x 3.1 in)
Weight (no batt) 1240 g (2.7 lb) 1240 g (2.7 lb) 1180 g (2.6 lb)
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