Nikon D3s with manual video control

Update #3: another post from a reader on this topic from 3 weeks ago.

Update #2: Another reader reported that got an official confirmation from Nikon Professional Services on the D3s manual video control:

“As soon as the live-view mode in the shooting menu is set to “tripod” and the camera to manual mode (M), it is possible to manually set and adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO-value manually, before and during videorecording.
Automatic focussing is possible using the AF-ON button (even while recording).
Additionally, for optimal exposure of the video, an exposure scale is available for you at the right edge of the Image on the Camera screen.”

Update #1: A reader just submitted this video where James Banfield (Nikon UK support an training manager) clearly says there is no manual control in video mode (5:59 mark). Anyone from Nikon care to clarify this for us? Thanks.

Multiple readers have asked me about the manual video control of the Nikon D3s. The camera has a full manual video mode (ISO, shutter, aperture)... and this is not in the manual - on page 66 of the manual it says "The camera adjust shutter speed and ISO sensitivity automatically", but if you put the camera in manual mode and hit the OK button you can manual adjust at will. I am not sure why Nikon did not advertise this clearly from the very beginning and why they did not make it clear in the manual (I admit, I have not read the whole manual, maybe I am missing it - please correct me if I am wrong), but it is a fact that many people were confused on this topic.

This video shows manual shutter speed and ISO changes:

d3s shutter speed test from 3space on Vimeo.

Some more interesting D3s videos from the same author after the break (click on the link to continue reading) - Red One & Nikon D3s comparison @ 720p:

Red One & Nikon D3s @ 720p from 3space on Vimeo.

Canon 5D mk2 vs Nikon D3s low light comparison:

5D/3s lowlight test from 3space on Vimeo.

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  • D40-owner

    Well, I can’t see any difference between the MkII and D3s video compare…

    • Look for the increase in chroma noise – it’s there in a big way for the MkII but the D3s has it well under control. The OOF areas and shadows are where it is most visible.

      • alex

        the test is favoring canon. if you resize to 720p you get rid of some noise, just like with images. a true test would be only without resize or canon has to get a higher iso when shooting to match after resize

        • Ronan

          The test is favoring Nikon…

          Do you even know the difference between 720p and 1080p?

          • Jay

            360p lol.

        • 3space

          thats why there is a 1080p crop test on the last part of the video.; so you can see what the canon looks like at 1 to1. I thank its fair to consider the 5D mk2 at 720… sure canon has an advantage, in that resizing down hides many sins. But with the canon you have that option so we should consider it.

          But nikon’s 720 resolution is tight and holds it own even when scaled up 150% to 1080p. The nikon seems to have more dynamic range which to some is more important then resolution.

  • They should have shoot at at least ISO 25.600 to compare high ISO.
    All modern cameras, even consumer level cameras, handle ISO 6400 at only 1-2 MP, which is basically what 720P and 1080P is about.

    • WoutK89

      Does the 5DmkII do ISO 25.600 movie shooting?

      • GlobalGuy

        Shoulda woulda coulda.

  • low

    d3s ftw

  • John

    It’s kinda hard doing video comparisons when the video is compress. It will be more helpful if the video was raw.

    • Thats exactly what I was thinking
      The compressed video gets hard to distinguish between pixelation and chroma noise.

      But awesome to see it is being done – Anywhere we can download this comparison in High so it can be better analyzed?

  • Does the D300s have full manual control as well? And if not can it be updatable via firmware?

    • Wayne

      I was wondering the same thing? I’m out of town now and wont be able to try it until I get home Wednesday.

    • No, It hasn’t full manual control. All you can do is select aperture before hit the record button, and then use the exposure compensation and AE-Lock. That’s all

  • Vic

    I looked at both and noticed that the test was done with the canon lens 28-70 f2.8, I think you mean the canon 24-70 f2.8 L series len. This is a good comparison to the d3s shot with the 24-70 f2.8 nikon len. I liked the comparison, very good, both the 5d II and D3s are in very acceptable range. I’m curious to see the comparison, done at 1080 with the 5d II. I wish you had more comparisons and shots with 5d II vs d3s. I currently shoot with 5d II and D700, Thanks for the comparison, good job.

    • low

      would like to hear your comparo shots between your 5dii and your d700?

    • 3space

      at the last part… the 5D video is scaled to 100 percent… the edge crops out but you can see the pixels one to one… The D3s is then scaled up and you can see how it works out being scaled from 720 to 1080…

      view the download if you want to pixel peep… very close to the source quality.

    • Anonymous

      The only 24-70 that Canon makes is an L.

      Are you going to correct people each time they forget the L?

      Have you considered painting a red stripe on your head?

  • brian

    Thats cool, I like the fast shutter speed look. I have a D90 and a D700, Nikon better either improve the firmware for the d90/ d300s soon or come out with something to blow the canons away otherwise I am moving to a 7D, its getting ridiculous how unwilling Nikon seems to be at giving us manual control in video when they have always been about cameras with excellent control. It is so frustrating to be able to capture very high quality video only to have it ruined by a very “stepped” look due to auto exposure, not to mention holding the AE-L button to stop this makes using a steady cam impossible.

    • low

      not sure why you would wait…get started now and buy your 7D?

      • Mike

        If you want to pursue videography so much… just buy yourself a real video camera lolz….

      • Ronan

        7D would be a downgrade.

        I agree with Mike, if you want to concentrate on videography, get a real video camera.

        • brian

          Yeah thanks for the advice, fact is I have done video production for years with high end dedicated video cameras and while good for things like autofocus they suck in low light and have no depth of field. What I want is what the market is just starting to put out, digital capture devices that can be used for both. I really enjoy how many photo enthusiasts are absolutely offended by the idea that some professional photographers might want to do video, the fact is its just exciting to push ourselves creatively in a new medium that before wasn’t accessible in any kind of decent way with worthwhile results.

    • Aypeus

      Here is the thing my friend who so eger want’s to go and get the latest hype (it’s a good camera, worth your money and all but hear me out first) Nikon introduces movie mode in DSLR with D90, they improve it so you cant tell the difference between the D3s and the Red which is used by the motion picture industry, (keep up now, they have a camera that cost something like half if not less than half of that Red camera) and so if they are going to implant yet another aspect of recording more 60fps or so in either FX or DX they want to OUTSHINE Canon and give you as a consumer MORE not LESS. Keep that in mind and then through you toys out of the window and get new toys.

      I’m so darn tired of people who use “specification” of there SLR cameras mostly in front of their computers in some corner of the net, get the **** out and shoot. And if you wish to “record” as in recording then get a cam recorder, a professional one which will give you all that you need, hopefully. Because what you apparently want “auto focus” is going to remain impossible while there is the MIRROR as long as this stays the “traditional” -SLR foundation.

      • M!


      • Adam


      • brian

        Didn’t mean to get everybody all upset. I agree the 7d is a downgrade from the d700, the fact is though I make my living as a photographer and a journalist, I put 125,000 shots on my d700 this year, all of them assignments. I’m not trying to say Nikon won’t come out with something and I really hope they do, I have a lot invested in lenses and speedlights that I really don’t want to give up. My basic point was simply canon came out with the 5d mkii after the d90 and then later released a firmware update to give more manual control, I just want to see nikon do the same a measure that they are committed to video as well and I think the D3s with manual control is partially a good statement of this. The fact is anyone clinging to the idea that a DSLR is just a camera and doesn’t need to have a video capability is lying to themselves, the industry is moving toward more of a digital capture device rather than just a camera and this is a good thing, I just want to make sure nikon is committed to these ends.

    • Quatschmacher

      Well, you can set the AE-L button to HOLD. That way you only need press it once to lock exposure rather than having to hold it down all the time.

      • brian

        Thanks so much for the tip, I never realized you could hold the exposure with it in video, huge help!

    • afterdarkernikon

      Don’t know why people complain about DSLR not producing good videos or why Nikon is not releasing Videos.

      Crap I just bought a Canon HD camcorder less than 900 Euros and DSLR will not match this one in the next 5 years or so. DSLR is for taking pictures. Does 7D match the quality of this camcorder? Hell No!

      Go buy 7D and don’t whine here if you want to switch to canon we don’t want to here this.

  • M!

    a little OT, but i have my D3S for a few days now and i am not really using it to shoot video anyways. While I am amazed at the picture quality at the high ISO, even at its Hi2 setting, now it becomes a problem for the camera to Autofocus in these lighting situations, even when i m using these f2.8 lenses. Nikon should have put in at least an el-cheapo AF assist light from the lower end DSLRs to allow the D3S to autofocus in these situations.

    • Ronan

      I don’t think anyone would buy a DSLR just for the video capacity… It would be dumb.

      • brian

        Sure they would, take a look around at all the people who are using their video enabled DSLR’s all the time, vincent laforet is doing amazing stuff with the 5d mkii, chase jarvis with the d90 and d300s and I assume d3s. DSLR’s are the cheapest and sometimes only way (short of the red cam) way to produce a really good picture in video with low depth of field and good sensitivity in low light, even $4000 DV cams can’t do that.

      • M!

        @Ronan, I am not talking about AF for video, as a matter of fact, i said i don’t even use it for video. why did you reply to my respond with “I don’t think anyone would buy a DSLR just for the video capacity… It would be dumb.”

      • Why would it be dumb? – there is a massive market out there to make mo ney from shooting video on these DSLRs – more thn half my current work is video shot on a 5D2 because the footage – even with some technical problems – looks so much better to the client! And yep = I bouhgt it just fro the video! The clients love it – the cameras pay themsleves off very quickly! I’ll also use the D3s fro video – but got it more for stills – great resultds at 12800 ISO etc

    • I was wondering about this earlier. The AF does very well in low light, but the sensor “sees” more than the af sensor sees. The sensor is outstripping the AF system. Even with fast glass.

      For kicks, try focus/recompose with tracking, starting on one of the cross sensors. I’ve found with 1.4 and 1.8 glass it’ll track low contrast/low light stuff out to the line af sensors, but only if you start on a cross sensor.

    • David C

      Throw one of your speedlights on and you should get focus assist with it.

      • M!

        yes thank you and i think most D3S owners would have come up with that thought and then quickly dismissed it.
        why would i want to attach a speedlight on the already heavy D3S to get AF to work properly? when the intention of buying such a camera with great ISO sensitivity is to shoot without flash. Adding a flash to get AF Assist is such a damage control / after thought.
        having said that, the smallest thing i can think of is the SC-29

    • M!

      Thank you, and please read my reply above.

  • Flip

    This is a POOR comparison, they moved the light-candle ( on the right side), for the Canon; the light was in front of the subject. When they tested the Nikon, they moved the light in back of the subject? Why not leave the light in the exact same spot, and use a TRIPOD for both cameras. This Test must be thrown out and redone. Then repost and lets see the new results

    • Anonymous

      the camera’s where on the same tripod at the same location. I state on my page that I moved the candles… I had to blow the candles out between set ups and one candles I had to empty the wax…

      If I had to do over I would just use consistent lighting… but I did this test for me to see how the noise patterns looked in the light to shadow fall off with a high ISO setting… I know this isn’t a perfect test but I got the info I needed and just thought I would share…

      BTW the right candle move hurt the nikon most…. the dolls face on the canon setup was wrapped more in light… I’ll try to be more consistent on the resolution, dynamic range test II’m shooting on wednesday.

  • Blackbeard Ben

    What Nikon really ought to do now is make a dedicated video camera using its D3s sensor – basically just the mirror-less guts of a D3s rearranged to fit in a professional camcorder body shape (Canon XL series or similar). There’d have to be some work on the electronics though – it would need to be at least 1080p @ 60, 30 & 24 fps capable, preferably in multiple recording formats.

    Add a shotgun mic and multiple recording media support (CF, SDHC, even MiniDV), and with the F mount you have a Canon and Sony professional camcorder killer. Of course, it would be capable of taking stills while recording too.

    I bet Nikon could sell this for around $6000 and make a huge dent in the professional HD camcorder world. Full interchangeability for lenses between SLRs and a dedicated video camera would be killer.

    I wonder if throwing in a whole bunch more processing power would allow Nikon to increase the resolution to compete with the RED One at a fraction of the price. Maybe there could even be an option for a modular high-res processing unit that could be added later to get video at the full 12 MP resolution of the sensor. Currently I don’t think Nikon could make such a powerful processing unit economically (look at the price of the RED One), but building modularity in for new image processing units and even sensors would be a huge selling point.

    Despite the potential profits, I don’t think Nikon is thinking along the lines of taking some of the professional camcorder market. Expanding in to new markets is think kind of thing it ought to be doing right now, but the immediate expense will probably keep them from doing so. Nikon is rather conservative when it comes to expanding its product lines in to entirely new markets.

  • NikonShooter4Fun

    I would never, repeat NEVER buy a DSLR for it’s video/camcorder capabilities. I, like some others who have posted here would purchase a quality Camcorder to take videos if taking videos were high on my Priority list. My Gosh, if you can afford a D3s surely you can afford a decent camcorder. I am not for one moment interested in any type of DSLR that does video, I would like a D800 or something like it, with better Dynamic Range, lower noise, Higher MP, and can I wish for a OLED display…. I believe OLED will make it into Nikon’s lineup before long. I am sure that some, but very few photographers will use the video feature, I surely won’t be any time soon. Can’t wait to see what 2010 brings us. Thanks Admin for your hard work this year. You do a FANTASTIC JOB.. Many Thanks….

  • F-stop

    I know this is about the D3s but has anyone tried this with the D300s?

  • “My Gosh, if you can afford a D3s surely you can afford a decent camcorder.”

    D3s owners – photojournalists, event photographers, etc. and their employers may be able to afford a good HD camcorder – or they may not because their profit margins are already small enough. Regardless of the price, the problem is often one of weight, space and usability. Carrying (and using) a professional camcorder as additional equipment would be entirely unfeasible for a single working photographer.

    On the other hand, having the ability built in to a camera you already use opens up entirely new avenues. Suddenly you have the ability to take short clips of video any time you are working – using all of the same gear you would otherwise have for just stills. For single event photographers and photojournalists this is almost a necessity today in order to provide web content and a full multimedia package to clients. The delivery of news is changing in a big way, and papers are having to find new ways of making profit through online content delivery – or face going out of business. In the same vein, having the ability to easily take videos for an event photographer can be a “make it or break it” effect on those looking to hire him/her.

    On the consumer end – you may not be interested in video but the response by consumers to video-capable entry-level DSLRs indicate otherwise. Tons of parents want to take HD videos of their kids, and more than a few budding cinematographers have seized the opportunity to get professional looking video (i.e. HD and low depth of field) from cameras that cost as low as $600 (The Pentax K-x stands out at this price point). On the higher end it seems that more experienced cinematographers on a budget are taking the 5D Mk II seriously. With no comparably priced camcorder can you get such high sensitivity and extreme depth of field control.

    My point is, the inclusion of video into DSLRs doesn’t appeal to everyone – but it does attract a wide spectrum of users. Some wouldn’t buy DSLRs otherwise, but to other current DSLR users it means a competitive edge to take advantage of. Heck, you may find it appealing after trying it on your new D800 or whatever. When I first heard about the D90 and its video I thought it was kind of pointless, but after seeing examples of DSLR video (and home video in general) I’ve become more interested.

  • alex

    search on vimeo for “d3s moving camera test” movie. the author comments this:

    “this camera is not suppose to have a manual video mode. But if you…

    – set liveView to tripod mode (default)
    – put the camera in manual mode
    – activate liveView, the camera will go into a semi automatic mode
    – now if you hit the OK button the camera exits the automatic mode and you now have full control over the big three (ISO,shutter,f-stop). The control settings and exposure meter update in realtime. All exposure controls work before and during record. Hit OK again and the camera takes control again. The only thing you loose is autofocus in video mode….

    total cool… i bet a nikon engineer let it slip past the top brass… :)”

    • J. Selman

      Interesting Lol… Thanks for confirming that for me… I have something else to be excited about in my New Nikon D3S!!!

  • J. Selman

    My Nikon D3S was delivered to me Tuesday, December 8, 2009. I haven’t had a chance to use it yet because i am still waiting on my Nikon 70-200mm VR II to get here. During the wait I’ve read through the entire D3S manual & the administrator is right it mentions nothing about manual controls in video mode. If this is true then this is very exciting news even though I am still way more excited about the photography aspect of the camera. But I am asking myself the same question the administrator is asking… Why would Nikon not market this important feature? Why would representatives specifically say that control over the shutter speed was automated? Check out this link In this video Nikon Representative (James Banfield) clearly stated that there was no manual control over the shutter speed in video mode… So hearing otherwise is bit confusing. Which leads me to the most obvious question… Can my D3S really shoot video with full manual controls or is someone mistaken?

    • alex

      maybe they plan to put full manual controls directly selectable in a future product (maybe even firmware) and then market it as a distinc feature. otherwise some sort of almost-full-manual or little-hack would upset customers.

    • Ken Elliott

      Three possible reasons for undocumented features.

      Sometimes a late bug is found, so they simply remove it from the manual. The partially working feature is still there, but no mention means they keep expectations down.

      Or they didn’t have it working in the firmware by the drop-dead date for the printed manual, thus no mention. If they got it working before the camera was finalized, but after the print date, you’d have this situation.

      Or it was not in the final spec for the camera, and it is just there because the programmers added it as an out-of-spec feature, or did not remove a dropped feature.

      • T140Rider

        Some of us are old enough to remember all the undocumented ‘features’ that were in TI Calculators of the mid to late 1970’s. This is nothing new.

    • I just watch the video – why are they hiding the manual video control? Or maybe they just don’t know?

  • inagitation
    • J. Selman

      This is great news for Nikon Users! It should let everyone know that Nikon isn’t as far behind with these video features as everyone thought. All that is left to do is get rid of the 5 min. limit & 1080p (for those whining about it), which I think Nikon is fully capable of doing. I think we should expect great improvements from Nikon in this up & coming year… Exciting Times.

  • I have a D5000, I follow the instruction.

    put the camera in Live View mode is the host menu to “stand” and the camera to manual mode (M) has been made, it is possible before and during the video aperture, shutter speed value set manually

    But, I don’t see any diference or change, in the video incidense. Only in P mode I can change the +/- botton with incidense.

  • Taurui

    So Nikon added AF in D3s movie mode without anyone even noticing til now? Awesome.
    @ William: I don’t think any of the above info matters for the D5000 …

  • Anonymous

    RE: Update 2
    are they too lazy to translate themselves to english (google translate *cough*), or are they just real bad at english?

    • Canon Fangirly

      Perfect Denglish if you ask me.

  • Chris

    I was at the USA vs Canada Women’s Hockey game this past weekend in Denver and stood next to some Sports Illustrated photographers. One of them has a D3s coupled with a 400mm 2.8. I almost wet myself…

    • Anonymous

      Who wouldnt at women’s hockey 😀 oh wait, you are talking about the camera and lens 😛

    • Jay

      You need to find a girl man…..

  • Here’s a real translation of the slashcam NPS Response:

    “As soon as the live-view mode in the shooting menu is set to “tripod” and the camera to manual mode (M), it is possible to manually set and adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO-value manually, before and during videorecording.
    Automatic focussing is possible using the AF-ON button (even while recording).
    Additionally, for optimal exposure of the video, an exposure scale is available for you at the right edge of the Image on the Camera screen.”

  • WoutK89

    Thanks for that, sounds lots more logical now

  • andres

    when’s my d90 getting that….its my only question

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