Field Review: Nikon D3s (Day 8)

The review of the Nikon D3s is nearing an end, and of all the cameras I am reviewing at the moment it is the camera that I have been most impressed with so far. I went to PAX East this past weekend and shot a couple of concerts. As you know, I am a concert photographer and have been for some time now. The D3s blew away my expectations for concert shooting. Here’s how.

FYI: These are my images and are being published under my copyright. If you want to reproduce them, please shoot me an email at chrisgampat[at]gmail.com and then I will grant you permission to cite me, Chris Gampat as the photographer.

As a guy that’s been shooting concerts for a while, I’ve realized that there are critical things that are needed: great high ISO output, fast shutter speeds, stellar autofocus abilities, and that’s really about it. After using it at PAX East this past weekend, I can see why Todd Owyoung uses the D3s.

Tracking musicians that are constantly moving around the stage can be hard to do. You’d think that most autofocusing abilities should be able to nail it no problem, right? Wrong. The only cameras I’ve seen that could potentially keep up are the Canon 7D or the 1D Mk IV. Autofocus abilities have only recently come this far in their advances. Even so, I still had to do a bit of manual focusing myself. But this time it’s only a bit. This is great as my vision is getting worse.

What was really cool was the video ability. The Nikon D3s shoots 720p HD video at 24p. While the video looked awesome, I was very concerned about sound quality. The sound was excellent, and I was literally right up against a speaker shooting this. That outdoes my Canon 5D Mk II with a Rode Shotgun mic when I tried shooting a metal show months back. To be fair though, the new firmware update with manual sound control wasn’t out yet and the Rode doesn’t have manual sound control. The Nikon D3s ships with it and it is stellar. It only makes me more curious as to how the Canon will do as I still feel that even though the Nikon’s is very nice at high ISOs, the Canon DSLRs still do capture better video image quality.

Overall, the video ability of the Nikon is feel is truly underrated. There was only “jello” when I was shaky. Otherwise, everything was spot on.

High ISOs are important in concert shooting as the lighting is always changing. The Nikon D3s kept up well and still delivered very usable images. Everything was shot in JPEG for tests to show noise quality. I understand that most people will probably not use this camera in JPEG mode, but when you’re on deadlines for a publication, you’re going to try to emphasize speed at certain times over others. Plus when the camera is coupled with the 24-70mm F2.8 ED, you’ll ensure that you can still keep the ISO kind of low while ensuring fast shutter speeds.

The cameras toughness also proved valuable. When you have to plow through fans in order to get different views of the action from location to location, your camera may take a couple of bumps. The camera and lens were both fine.

Do I recommend the Nikon D3s for shooting concerts?

Heck yes.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.