Long Term Test: Nikon D3s vs Canon 1D Mk IV

Reviews of the Nikon D3s and the Canon 1D Mk IV have both been completed. Now that some time has passed since both have been written, a full comparison can be drawn. So let’s examine the features together. Both the Nikon D300s and the Canon 7D in a similar fashion. While you’re at it, check out my comparison of the Nikon D300s and the Canon 7D.

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Complete Postings

Nikon D3s

Day 1: Getting a feel for the camera again.

Vs the 5D Mk II

Day 2: Street sports shooting

Day 3: Candid street photography for photojournalists

Day 4: Used the D300s more

Day 5: Shooting a Pokemon launch party event for event and party photographers

Day 6: Testing the High ISO conditions in St. Patrick’s Cathedral for wedding photographers.

Day 7: Cosplay portraits at PAX East 2010

Day 8: Concert shooting at PAX East along with a video test

Day 9: Celebrity Candids with Adam Sessler

Canon 1D Mk IV

Day 1: Got a feel for the camera again since trying it at Photo Plus and other events.

Night 2: Shot three events in one night with the camera.

Pentax 645D: All images in this posting were shot with the Canon EOS 1D Mark IV.

Day 3: Street shooting.

Day 4: At the portrait photographer’s meetup. All present agreed that it is a great camera.

Day 5: The test for wedding photographers: high ISO shooting in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Day 6: Photographing some cute ducklings in Central Park and trying to ensure that the autofocus keeps up.

Day 7: Shooting a baseball game with the camera and an old lens.

Day 8: Shooting a soccer game with the camera and a new lens with USM (Canon EOS 1D Mark IV). Here I discovered that the focus tracking is much like Nikon’s.


Nikon’s autofocus system is still ahead of Canon’s. The hard work and development that they put into the camera deservedly gets the award for this. That doesn’t mean that Canon is totally out of the league though. During my review of the 1D Mk IV I concluded that the Nikon’s D3s has a more advanced and better autofocus system. After attaching a 24-105mm F4 L IS USM lens to the 1D Mk IV, that changed. Originally, I had been using my 80-200mm F2.8 L and before that my 85mm F1.8 USM and my 50mm F1.8. The 85mm was used on One Shot focusing vs AI Servo.

As it stands though, Canon did a major overhaul with the focusing system and it can now keep up with the photographers that need it so much in shooting sports, weddings, events, photojournalism, etc.

Be warned though, in low-light it is still hard to focus with this camera even with a great USM lens. In this aspect, Nikon D3S is still king. Focusing improves with a flash like the 430 EX II though for the Canon and even though I haven’t used any Nikon flashes in a while, I’m positive the same would occur for them.

Winner: Nikon

Video Modes

This is where the throwdown comes to a no contest. The Nikon D3s shoots 720p HD video at 24p along with a couple of other smaller modes including standard definition. Full manual control is allowed over the video though.

The Canon 1D Mk IV shoots 720p HD video at 60p, 1080p HD video at 24p and 30p and standard definition at 30p. Full manual control is allowed over the video, but not audio.

Winner: Canon


If you were to hand me each camera and tell me which one felt better in my hands, I’d say they feel the same. Change the question around a bit now: which camera is easier to use without moving your eye from the viewfinder.

This is a tricky question. With the exception of the goddamn ISO button being all the way on the bottom of the camera, the Nikon D3s wins.

Then there is the monkey wrench: Canon’s wonderful multi-control dial that controls the aperture and many other things.

It’s a tough question and the Nikon D3s great on me much more after using it for a month. The 1D Mk IV only got two week of full use.

Winner: Tie. Both systems have strengths and weaknesses.


Both cameras were designed very similarly in terms of construction and weather-sealing. As it is though, the Nikon D3s was dropped accidentally when it was too heavy for the strap.

The 1D Mk IV on the other hand spent all roughness in my camera bag. This cannot be clearly concluded on.

If you’re a photographer that will be using it to fight for truth, justice and the American way to whack evildoers in the face, then either one is nearly indestructible.

Just get the warranty.

Winner: Inconclusive

Image Quality

This is a bit technical. If you’re a photographer looking for more detail, go for the 1D Mk IV because of the higher megapixel count. If you want cleaner images, go for the Nikon D3s because of the 12MP sensor. If you want better images, it really depends on what lens is attached to the camera at the moment. For what it’s worth, both cameras will be able to tackle most of any project with no problem.

This is also a bit of a tough one. In terms of color quality, you’re really not going to see much of a difference except if one shoots in JPEG mode.

When in JPEG mode, the 1D Mk IV actually shows less noise.

In RAW mode, one really won’t be able to tell the difference between the two cameras unless you sit there everyday studying the way that the images are taken with both cameras in different situations. This becomes even more true with the use of modern day editing programs like Lightroom or Photoshop.

Where this does change though is in the sRAW and selective sensor-area modes. The 1D Mk IV images look better at smaller resolutions. However, the D3s has the ability to turn any lens into a cropped lens. Therefore, the images can actually be more useful as this feature gives your lenses more reach.

Winner: Tie

High ISOs

This is almost neck in neck. However, the 12MP sensor of the Nikon D3s coupled with the Full Frame sensor takes the lead for straight out of camera RAW files.

Both cameras can go up to ISO 12,800.

Take those files though and put them into Lightroom. Process them for image noise. In the end, you’ll see that the 16MP sensor images from the 1D Mk IV will still retain more detail than the D3s. Because of this, it is a very tough call.

Winner: Tie.

LCD Screen

The screens are essentially the same, really. Both cameras have large LCD screens designed to be utilized to check for minor details. Because of this, they are both of high pixel count.

It’s a tie in this case.

Winner: Tie


At this high up in the camera line, this isn’t really an issue anymore. Though for what it’s worth, I do feel that my 5D Mk II meters better with a 430 EX II flash than the 1D Mk IV did.

The Nikon D3s was not tested with a flash. So this same conclusion cannot be drawn.

Winner: Tie

RAW Image File Versatility

To be honest with you, they’re both the same at this stage in the game. Put either file through Lightroom or Photoshop for some editing and you’ll be able to achieve similar colors, dynamic ranges, contrast, etc. Much is possible with either file.

Winner: Tie


Get the camera that suits your system. If you’re a Nikon user, get the D3s. If you’re a Canon user, the 1D Mk IV is a great option. If you’re thinking of switching systems, remember that both cameras are still different beasts and can do different things. Make sure you know what your needs are before you purchase either one.

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Chris Gampat

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