When Nikon launched the D3 a couple of years ago, the combination of enough-but-not-too-many pixels, high speed, great dynamic range and frankly astonishing high ISO performance won it many fans. It's continued to set the standard for clean high ISO files ever since, but things have moved on and some of the (indirect) competition offers similar high ISO specs with higher pixel counts. Oh, and video. Ya gotta have video these days (apparently).
Enter the imaginatively named D3S. Yes, it's got video (but, disappointingly, only 720p). It also has a completely redesigned sensor with the ability to shoot at up to ISO 102,400. Eek.
Over the past year-and-a-bit that I've been shooting with the D3 I've become a huge fan of its ability to deliver clean files full of detail in lighting conditions that would've been near impossible to shoot in just a few years ago. Although I was sceptical at first that it would make any real difference to my photography, I just take this low light performance for granted now. I routinely find myself in some shaded, wooded corner, shooting happily away at ISO 1600 - or even higher - happy in the knowledge that no-one but me will know. It's that good.
The less-publicised side benefit of the D3's extraordinarily well-behaved sensor is its incredible dynamic range, which has also changed the way I shoot. It's straightforward to recover at least 2/3 stop of 'lost' highlight detail from the D3's files, which makes it possible for me to deliver shots with detail-rich skies to an extent that simply wasn't possible before. A subtle improvement? Sure, but it's the small details like these that count.
Although I won't be rushing out to buy a D3S (particularly at the suggested retail price of over £4000), it's clear that Nikon intend to maintain the camera's reputation for ultimate high ISO performance. All I can say is that the hype about the D3 is all true, which gives the D3S a high bar to climb over. By my reckoning ISO 102,400 should allow pictures in conditions that it's hard to even see (or focus) in. If the resulting images are in any way usable, that's a remarkable achievement.