Nikon’s New D3S Still/Video Camera

Posted Jun. 4th, 2010 by Daniel J. Cox

Harlequin Ducks with the Nikon D3S

I’ve just returned from the Alaska tundra where I was producing material for a new book project on documenting the changing arctic for Polar Bears International. Before I left Nikon was kind enough to send me their newest digital SLR the D3S for testing and evaluation. I was most interested in the video features so much of this blog will relate to that. There are numerous web sites that go into lengthy details about this camera so this is a relatively short but real world analysis of this amazing new camera.

Overall I was quite impressed with the new D3S. My role as a still photographer has changed dramatically in the last year and in fact I no longer consider myself a producer of just that medium. The future is all about multimedia and so my interest in the D3S revolves around the fact it can capture both fabulous stills and spectacular video.

Capturing moving images with the D3S is simple and straight forward. The buttons on the back of the camera are adequately placed although in a perfect world I would love to see the Live View button combined with the video activation button which starts the video capture process. Currently the Live View is an inch or so below the video start button and I’ve seen other cameras that have the two combined making it even more quick and easy to start the video capture process. It’s a small issue but one that can make a huge difference when that decisive moment takes place whether it’s a still or moving image.

The D3S records video in the AVI format which is easily accepted by all programs that I’m currently working with including all of the Apple programs such as Final Cut Pro, IMovie 09 and the newest version of Aperture. This is a bonus since I’ve experienced the better quality but more difficult format of Panasonic’s AVCHD video format. AVCHD is a higher quality compression but so far many software vendors aren’t writing for it. I hope that changes. But as I said the D3S makes this a simple process by creating files that are AVI.

Arctic Documentary Project produced with the Nikon D3S

The quality of the 720P files are simply astounding. I’ve included a couple of samples for you to review. Admittedly you won’t see the true quality of these images since you’ll be seeing them on your computer and they were exported for small viewing screens but trust me they are incredably beautiful. Would I like 1080P? Absolutely but for now 720P is plenty, especially for most of the projects I’ll be using it for. Would I be excited if Nikon brings us 1080P in a a new body? Most assuredly I would. Lets hope for something that tops even the stunning results I’m already seeing in the D3S. One thing to keep in mind that many people don’t know about Nikon Video cameras is that they shoot in nonlongop format. What does this mean. I’ll try and explain. Many videop and DSLR cameras shoot what is called LONGOP video files. I’m not quite sure what the acronym LONGOP means but what it does is this. When the camera begins to record a scene it shoots one frame and then interpolates 15 additional frames. This allows many more frames to be captured quickly. The opposite of this type of video capture is where the camera captures one specific frame for each frame needed in a specific scene. The downside with this is that in Nikon’s case where they use the nonLONGOP technology, they are not able to use the 1080P capture. The upside is that since they are capturing an absolute frame for each frame in the scene, the quality of each video is higher than what you would expect for 720P as an example. This is the reason Nikon’s 720P is as good quality wise as Canon’s 1080P. However, people understand numbers and 1080P is easier to wrap your mind around than understanding what nonLONGOP technology is. It’s another marketing trick like so many that have come before. Do you all recall when everyone wanted to have the most megapixel sensors possible? Nikon has always believed its the quality of the sensor as opposed to the size of the sensor.  this may not be the most eloquent  description of the LONGOP and nonLONGOP technology so if anyone can send me a more scientific description I would love to see it. I’ve looked throughout the web to come up with a better way to explain this technology but can’t find anything on this subject.

The true and real advantage of Nikon creating this new video tool is the ability to use the incredibly diverse, exceptional high quality lens system Nikon has. This is especially true in the super telephoto category. For years I struggled and was always disappointed with the small camcorders that I’m sure we’re all familiar with. They were easy to carry but their ability to capture quality imagery, especially of wildlife at long ranges, was next to useless. The advent of the digital SLR video camera has turned that issue on its head. Not only is the quality far superior to anything I could capture in the past but the ability to change from capturing stills to video and back again is simply unequaled in the older video camera options. When shooting the D3S, or D300 which I’ve also shot, you can being taking still images and immediately slip over to capturing video within seconds of hitting the video capture button. It’s literally about a two second procedure. In the old world of having a sill camera and a video camera I was constantly frustrated by how slow a video camera was to startup. By the time the video camera was ready the video moment was gone. Additionally, not only did you miss the video opportunity but I was cursing the stills I had missed waiting for the video to fire up. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Thankfully that has all changed and I’m loving the new opportunities.

The new world of still shooters producing multimedia is upon us and I’m having the time of my life with not just stills but video, sound, narration and final productions that incorporate all of the above. I recently received an invitation from Apple to present my  new Arctic Documentary Project at the upcoming Canadian Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) conference. They saw some of my work produced with the many facets of new media I’ve discussed above and were excited to allow me to tell my story. It’s an awesome opportunity to be around some of Canada s top and most respected educators, a chance to share my enthusiasm for the new world of multimedia and most importantly to spread the word about how climate change is affecting the polar bear and its arctic environment. It’s a great new day!

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