RobGalbraith.com
Go to advertiser website.
     Home
     RSS
     CF/SD/XQD
     About
     Contact
Go
Go to advertiser website.
 
A first look at Nikon D3S high ISO image quality, plus the new 70-200mm f/2.8  
Thursday, November 5, 2009 | by Rob Galbraith
A Nikon gathering in New York recently proved to be a fantastic opportunity to test out the high ISO capabilities of the upcoming Nikon D3S digital SLR, as well as try the new AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II for the first time.

The setting was a dress rehearsal for the Big Apple Circus, held under the big top on the grounds of Damrosch Park in Manhattan. What follows is 40 downloadable full-resolution photos taken with a near-final D3S, as well as some early impressions of the camera. Nikon USA also had on hand the revamped AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, a welcome update of the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR that promises both better handling and improved optical quality. Through the course of the evening we shot with both the earlier and new 70-200mm lenses, plus the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED.

Open in new window
Open in new window
Ribbons: Nikon D3S + AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 102mm, ISO 5000, +1.5 software exposure compensation. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media) Backlit: Nikon D3S + AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II at 92mm, ISO 4000. Click photo to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

D3S high ISO image quality and the new 70-200mm f/2.8

For those familiar with the D3, the D3S needs little introduction. The D3S is a D3 with 720p video, larger image buffer, a number of small but welcome feature refinements and a revamped image sensor designed to improve high ISO image quality in particular. A night at the circus gave an opportunity to see whether low light pictures from the D3S are in fact superior to the D3, which was already a fine high ISO performer.

As you'll see in the downloadable files, the answer is yes. The high ISO image quality improvements in the D3S are real, and they're substantial. Based on what we shot that evening it's safe to expect at least a one stop improvement, maybe more. In other words, overall image quality at ISO 6400 on the D3S is at least as good as ISO 3200 on the D3. And perhaps better, as you'll notice if you look at the photos we shot with both cameras at ISO 1600 and up.

The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR, which went on sale beginning in 2003, is not one of our favourite lenses. At some focal lengths and at wider apertures, it's noticeably soft on the edges on full-frame Nikons, vignetting is pronounced, the slightest grazing of the focus ring will cause the AF system to switch from autofocus to manual focus when you don't want it to and its image stabilization is the least effective of any pro-level Canon or Nikon lens we currently own.

Bread and Butter: The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II. Click photo to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)
The AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II is shaping up to be an entirely different product than the lens it replaces. After an hour of shooting with it we had no desire to return to its predecessor.

The addition of a less-sensitive A/M focus override mode seems to remove the possibility of accidentally switching to manual focus at the wrong moment, vignetting is reduced and the VR II image stabilization is markedly more stable.

The shooting environment was such that we couldn't really determine whether it's sharper well out from the centre than the earlier lens, or if it's as sharp or sharper in the centre (where the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR excels). Overall, though, the new lens makes a heck of a first impression.

The Nikon D3S and AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II teamed up to make for a fun couple of hours of circus photography.

Downloadable files

All photos linked to below are full-resolution JPEGs created from 14-bit Lossless Compressed NEFs converted by Nikon ViewNX 1.5.0 for Mac (the only Nikon software currently capable of processing D3S NEFs). All are in the Adobe RGB colour space, and are best viewed in Photoshop or a photo browser that honours embedded colour space profiles.

The first four rows contain a mix of Nikon D3 and D3S photos of the same scene and shot on identical settings, for direct comparison of the high ISO improvements in the newer Nikon relative to the model being replaced. The remainder of the photos are from the D3S exclusively.

metadata.jpg
Metadata: The full-resolution downloadable JPEGs contain an embedded metadata banner displaying key shooting and processing settings
Most photos have been converted from NEF to finished file at the same settings as captured, with two settings exceptions: software exposure compensation (called SEC in the captions beneath the thumbnails below) and Shadow Protection (which is Nikon-speak for shadow lightening).

These controls in ViewNX were adjusted as needed to correct for exposure error, or to open up shadows that were too dense. Only a handful of files required this help, and they are marked as such in the metadata in the upper left corner of each full-resolution picture (an example is at right).

Two of the photos, slugged Ribbons and End, were lightened 1.5 stops and 2.0 stops, respectively. Ribbons in particular is a good one to look at to see how well the D3S handles heavy underexposure, even when it's set to ISO 5000.

Rather than indicate the numeric position of the Shadow Protection slider, which won't have much meaning for you unless you're familiar with ViewNX, we've instead given a subjective impression of how much shadow opening was applied. Low means just a little bit, Medium means a fair bit (and therefore shadow noise, if present, will be noticeably more visible) and High means that shadows have been lightened dramatically (with a commensurate big boost in shadow noise visibility).

The ISO 2500 photo slugged Shadow is an example of High Shadow Protection; the right side of the performer's face (on your left in the photo) was almost completely plugged before this adjustment.

High ISO NR was set to Low in both the D3 and D3S. ViewNX honoured this in-camera setting during the conversion step, which means all D3 photos at ISO 2000 and up had High ISO NR filtering applied, while all D3S photos at ISO 4000 and up got the same treatment. It's not possible, in ViewNX, to override this, so that both cameras' files could get the same treatment at ISO 2000 through 3200. This would seem to give the D3 an advantage in this ISO range in this comparison, but the reality is the D3S still produces the better-looking file. Nikon appears to have upped the High ISO NR crossover point to ISO 4000 for the D3S with good reason.

Most files received no other explicit noise reduction. Those that did were run through PictureCode Software's Noise Ninja. The thumbnail captions and metadata note when Noise Ninja was applied.

A modified version of the Neutral Picture Style was used for all conversions. Sharpening was set to 0, Hue was set to +1 and all other parameters were on their defaults. The Color Booster control in ViewNX was used to introduce a little more punch into some frames, but the saturation bump was negligible in all cases.

The excellent Smart Sharpen filter in Photoshop CS4 was applied to almost all files.

Some photos could use a bit more contrast. This is the result of a contrast-killing fog machine being fired up liberally during the event, and not something strange happening in the D3S.

Right-click on a thumbnail below, then choose your web browser's save-to-disk option, to download.

Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Ring: Nikon D3, ISO 1600
Ring: Nikon D3, ISO 3200
Ring: Nikon D3, ISO 6400
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Ring: Nikon D3, ISO 12800
Ring: Nikon D3, ISO 25600
Ring: Nikon D3S, ISO 1600
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Ring: Nikon D3S, ISO 3200
Ring: Nikon D3S, ISO 6400
Ring: Nikon D3S, ISO 12800
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Ring: Nikon D3S, ISO 25600
Ring: Nikon D3S, ISO 51200
Ring: Nikon D3S, ISO 102400
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Up Down: Nikon D3S, ISO 102400
Up Down: Nikon D3S, ISO 102400, Noise Ninja processing
Round: Nikon D3S, ISO 12800
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Plate: Nikon D3S, ISO 12800, +0.5 SEC
Announcer: Nikon D3S, ISO 12800
Announcer: Nikon D3S, ISO 12800, Noise Ninja processing
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Trio: Nikon D3S, ISO 12800
Dancer: Nikon D3S, ISO 12800
Bow: Nikon D3S, ISO 10000
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Balloon: Nikon D3S, ISO 10000, +0.7 SEC
Dance: Nikon D3S, ISO 10000
Moody: Nikon D3S, ISO 10000
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
End: Nikon D3S, ISO 6400, +2.0 SEC, Noise Ninja processing
High Five: Nikon D3S, ISO 6400, -0.7 SEC
Hands: Nikon D3S, ISO 6400
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Hands: Nikon D3S, ISO 6400, Noise Ninja processing
Climb: Nikon D3S, ISO 6400
Ribbons: Nikon D3S, ISO 5000, +1.5 SEC
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Ribbons: Nikon D3S, ISO 5000, +1.5 SEC, Noise Ninja processing
Twins: Nikon D3S, ISO 5000
Backlit: Nikon D3S, ISO 4000
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Blue: Nikon D3S, ISO 4000
Fog: Nikon D3S, ISO 3200
Lights: Nikon D3S, ISO 3200
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Pong: Nikon D3S, ISO 3200, +0.7 SEC
Clown: Nikon D3S, ISO 3200
Server: Nikon D3S, ISO 3200
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Can: Nikon D3S, ISO 3200, -0.3 SEC
Unfurl: Nikon D3S, ISO 3200
Shadow: Nikon D3S, ISO 2500
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Trampoline: Nikon D3S, ISO 1600
Spotlight: Nikon D3S, ISO 1600
Kick: Nikon D3S, ISO 1600
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Click to download full-resolution JPEG
Dog: Nikon D3S, ISO 1600, -0.5 SEC
Leap: Nikon D3S, ISO 1600
Balance: Nikon D3S, ISO 400, -0.5 SEC

Send this page to: Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook Google Bookmarks Google Bookmarks Email Email
Go to advertiser website.
2000-2013 Little Guy Media. Not to be reproduced without written permission.