Friday, February 12, 2010

Return of the Red Lip

This post is purely for the camera geeks out there so if you aren't one, you can probably skip it :)

Once again, it seems a Nikon body has managed to sneak into my camera bag, this time a Nikon D3s. Though the D3s was announced last October, it didn't start shipping until around December and is still heavily back ordered and very difficult to find. What can I say, I got lucky :)

There are several reasons I chose a D3s. One of them is simply to change things up a bit but the more practical reason was that I've been itching for a high speed FF body for quite some time. Its something that Canon sadly steadfastly refuses to give its shooters and after looking at the 1D Mark IV, decided that I won't be upgrading to their new line of pro bodies this cycle.

Ok so that's it for the whining, lets talk about the D3s. I have only spent a couple of hours shooting with the D3s and 70-200 f/2.8 VR II combo but my first impressions of both the body and this combo are excellent.

Having previously owned a D700 and aware that the D3s shared the same CAM 3500 AF system I was curious about the autofocus. Either my memory is shot or the D700 I used to have had issues because this D3s behaves nothing like my D700. It locks on the subject and won't let go, even in low light and even with the non cross sensitive AF points.

The image above is something I've tried taking many times with my Canon bodies and is usually nearly impossible with auto focus. The camera will immediately jump to the background (which was a well textured building). With the D3s, once the camera locked onto the bud, it stayed locked. Just awesome. By the way, if you look closely you can see the thin spider web that is holding that bud up.

One of the issues I had with the D700 was auto focus in very low light where the camera tended to hunt a lot and give up. The D3s seems to be quite different (again I don't know if this is an inherent difference between the D3 series and the D700/D300 or if it was just my previous D700 that was acting up). The above image was taken at a light level of ~ 2ev (ISO 12800, 1/80s, f/2.8), the AF locked onto Maya very quickly and stayed locked. Just awesome.

The second impressive aspect of the D3s is of course its crazy high ISO settings. With ISO expansion turned on, the camera will shoot at ISO 102400. The above image is a 100% crop of the image of Maya. The lighting was atrocious (mix of tungsten and whatever junk the TV was spewing out at the time), the settings are pretty much Lightroom defaults with just a touch of luminance noise applied. What I find impressive isn't the noise levels but the integrity of the colors and the dynamic range at these high ISOs.

It isn't just the stratospheric ISOs that are impressive with the D3s. The above image was taken at ISO 4500 (f/7.1, 1/125s) and what is fantastic that again along with the lack of noise, there is great detail and excellent color integrity. Here is a 100% crop:

This is with just the default Lightroom settings (no additional noise reduction or sharpening was done). I am confident that properly processed, even a 16x24 print of this image would withstand scrutiny. Looking back at my catalog of D700 images, I would say that at the highest ISOs the D3s easily has a 1 stop advantage (and at ISO 102400, its closer to a 2 stop advantage). The difference in noise levels at lower ISOs is much smaller, however there is a notable difference in color fidelity at those lower ISOs.

The D3s is the preeminent handheld photographer's camera. No tripods and no fast primes necessary which is one of the things I was looking for. Don't get me wrong, I love shooting my fast Canon L primes, but I don't want razor thin depth of field in every image I take (nor do I want only the eyelashes in focus in every image).

So does this mean I'll be switching to Nikon? No chance. My 1Ds3 doesn't stop working because of the D3s, neither does the 7D for that matter. The 1Ds3 + 800 combo is still something that produces beautiful images. Furthermore, the new Canon 17 TS-E and 24 TS-E II are stellar optics and the 1Ds3 enjoys a significant resolution advantage for macro, still life and landscape photography. Furthermore, the 800 + 7D combo gives me a fantastic amount of reach for those small birds. No, I think I'll enjoy using the best of both systems, a luxury which most people may not be able to appreciate but one for which I am grateful.
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