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Canon 5D Mark III versus Nikon D3S

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Nikon D3S are two professional cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in March 2012 and October 2009. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are equipped with a full frame sensor. The Canon has a resolution of 22.1 megapixel, whereas the Nikon provides 12.1 MP.

Body comparison

An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D3S is provided in the side-by-side display below. Three successive views from the front, the top, and the rear are shown. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also use the toggle button to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left – the 5D Mark III – represents 100 percent across all the size and weight measures).

Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D3S front
5D Mark III versus D3S top view
5D Mark III and D3S rear side
Body view (5D Mark III on the left)

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D3S is considerably larger (135 percent) than the Canon 5D Mark III. Moreover, the D3S is markedly heavier (31 percent) than the 5D Mark III. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Yet, since both cameras are based around a full frame sensor, their respective lenses will tend to have similar dimensions and heft. You can find an overview of optics for the two cameras in the Canon EF Lens Catalog (5D Mark III) and the Nikon Lens Catalog (D3S).

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
Camera Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Canon 5D Mark III (⇒ rgt) 152 mm 116 mm 76 mm 950 g 950 YES 2012 3,499discont. check
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft) 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1240 g 4200 YES 2009 5,199discont. check
Canon 6D Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) 144 mm 111 mm 75 mm 765 g 1200 YES 2017 1,999 latest check
Canon 5D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) 151 mm 116 mm 76 mm 890 g 900 YES 2016 3,499 latest check
Canon 1D X Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) 158 mm 168 mm 83 mm 1530 g 1210 YES 2016 5,999 latest check
Canon 5DS R (⇒ lft | rgt) 152 mm 116 mm 76 mm 930 g 700 YES 2015 3,699 latest check
Canon 5DS (⇒ lft | rgt) 152 mm 116 mm 76 mm 930 g 700 YES 2015 3,699 latest check
Canon 70D (⇒ lft | rgt) 139 mm 104 mm 79 mm 755 g 920 YES 2013 1,199discont. check
Canon 6D (⇒ lft | rgt) 145 mm 111 mm 71 mm 770 g 1090 YES 2012 2,099discont. check
Canon 1D X (⇒ lft | rgt) 158 mm 168 mm 83 mm 1551 g 1120 YES 2011 6,799discont. check
Canon 5D Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) 152 mm 114 mm 75 mm 850 g 850 YES 2008 3,499discont. check
Canon 5D (⇒ lft | rgt) 152 mm 113 mm 75 mm 895 g 400 YES 2005 3,299discont. check
Nikon D4S (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 91 mm 1350 g 3020 YES 2014 6,499discont. check
Nikon D4 (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 91 mm 1340 g 2600 YES 2012 5,999discont. check
Nikon D3X (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1260 g 4400 YES 2008 7,999discont. check
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) 147 mm 123 mm 77 mm 1074 g 1000 YES 2008 2,999discont. check
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft | rgt) 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1300 g 4300 YES 2007 4,999discont. check

The listed prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The 5D Mark III was launched at a markedly lower price (by 33 percent) than the D3S, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.

Sensor comparison

The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.

Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D3S sensor measures
Sensor size

With 22.1MP, the 5D Mark III offers a higher resolution than the D3S (12.1MP), but the 5D Mark III has smaller individual pixels (pixel pitch of 6.25μm versus 8.43μm for the D3S). However, the 5D Mark III is a somewhat more recent model (by 2 years and 4 months) than the D3S, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixels.

5D Mark III versus D3S MP
Sensor resolution

For most cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service is based on lab testing and assigns an overall score to each camera sensor, as well as ratings for dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), color depth ("DXO Portrait"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"). The Overall DXO ratings for the two cameras under consideration are close, suggesting that they provide similar image quality. The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.

Sensor Characteristics
Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(Megapixel)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Canon 5D Mark III (⇒ rgt) Full Frame 22.1 5760 3840 1080/30p 24 11.7 2293 81
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 720/24p 23.5 12.0 3253 82
Canon 6D Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 26.0 6240 4160 1080/60p 24.4 11.9 2862 85
Canon 5D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 30.1 6720 4480 4K/30p 24.8 13.6 2995 91
Canon 1D X Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 20.0 5472 3648 4K/60p 24.1 13.5 3207 88
Canon 5DS R (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 50.3 8688 5792 1080/60p 24.6 12.4 2308 86
Canon 5DS (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 50.3 8688 5792 1080/60p 24.7 12.4 2381 87
Canon 70D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 20.0 5472 3648 1080/30p 22.5 11.6 926 68
Canon 6D (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 20.0 5472 3648 1080/30p 23.8 12.1 2340 82
Canon 1D X (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 17.9 5184 3456 1080/30p 23.8 11.8 2786 82
Canon 5D Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 21.0 5616 3744 1080/30p 23.7 11.9 1815 79
Canon 5D (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.7 4368 2912 no 22.9 11.1 1368 71
Nikon D4S (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 16.2 4928 3280 1080/60p 24.4 13.3 3074 89
Nikon D4 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 16.2 4928 3280 1080/30p 24.7 13.1 2965 89
Nikon D3X (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032 no 24.7 13.7 1992 88
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 no 23.5 12.2 2303 80
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft | rgt) Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832 no 23.5 12.2 2290 81

Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. The two cameras under consideration both have sensors whose read-out speed is fast enough to capture moving pictures, but the 5D Mark III provides a higher video resolution than the D3S. It can shoot video footage at 1080/30p, while the Nikon is limited to 720/24p.

Feature comparison

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The 5D Mark III and the D3S are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D3S along with similar information for a selection of comparators. If you need more detail on the specs, you can find comprehensive listings, for example, in the dpreview camera hub.

Core Features
Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(Y/n)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(Y/n)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(GN)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Canon 5D Mark III (⇒ rgt) optical YES 3.2 1040 fixed no 8000 6.0 no no
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft) optical YES 3.0 921 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no
Canon 6D Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 1040 swivel YES 4000 6.5 no no
Canon 5D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 1620 fixed YES 8000 7.0 no no
Canon 1D X Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 1620 fixed YES 8000 16.0 no no
Canon 5DS R (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 1040 fixed no 8000 5.0 no no
Canon 5DS (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 1040 fixed no 8000 5.0 no no
Canon 70D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 1040 swivel YES 8000 7.0 12 no
Canon 6D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 1040 fixed no 4000 4.5 no no
Canon 1D X (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 1040 fixed no 8000 14.0 no no
Canon 5D Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 920 fixed no 8000 3.9 no no
Canon 5D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 2.5 230 fixed no 8000 3.0 no no
Nikon D4S (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 921 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no
Nikon D4 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 921 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no
Nikon D3X (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 5.0 no no
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 8.0 12 no
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 11.0 no no

Both the 5D Mark III and the D3S have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on ebay. The D3S was replaced by the Nikon D4, while the 5D Mark III was followed by the Canon 5D Mark IV.

Summary

So what conclusions can be drawn? Is the Canon 5D Mark III better than the Nikon D3S or vice versa? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.


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Arguments in favor of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III:

  • More detail: Offers more megapixels (22.1 vs 12.1MP) with a 35% higher linear resolution.
  • Better video: Provides higher definition movie capture (1080/30p vs 720/24p).
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (1040k vs 921k dots).
  • More compact: Is smaller (152x116mm vs 160x157mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
  • Less heavy: Is lighter (by 290g or 23 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (33 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Reflects 2 years and 4 months of technical progress since the D3S launch.

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Advantages of the Nikon D3S:

  • Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (0.5 stops ISO advantage).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (11 vs 6 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Longer lasting: Gets more shots (4200 versus 950) out of a single battery charge.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been around for much longer (launched in October 2009).

If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the 5D Mark III is the clear winner of the match-up (8 : 4 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs.

5D Mark III 08:04 D3S

In any case, while the comparison of technical specifications can provide a useful overview of the capabilities of different cameras, it remains partial and cannot reveal, for example, the handling experience and imaging performance when actually working with the 5D Mark III or the D3S. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate. This is why expert reviews are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites. The full reviews are available, respectively, at cameralabs.com, dpreview.com, ephotozine.com, imaging-resource.com, and photographyblog.com.

Review scores
Camera camera
labs
dp
review
ephoto
zine
imaging
resource
photography
blog
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Canon 5D Mark III (⇒ rgt) HiRec 82/100 Gold 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2012 3,499discont. check
Nikon D3S (⇒ lft) - 89/100 Gold 4.5/5 5/5 5/5 2009 5,199discont. check
Canon 6D Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) Rec 80/100 4.5/5 4/5 4/5 2017 1,999 latest check
Canon 5D Mark IV (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 87/100 Gold 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2016 3,499 latest check
Canon 1D X Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) - 89/100 Gold 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2016 5,999 latest check
Canon 5DS R (⇒ lft | rgt) Rec 83/100 Silver 5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2015 3,699 latest check
Canon 5DS (⇒ lft | rgt) Rec 83/100 Silver 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2015 3,699 latest check
Canon 70D (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 83/100 Gold 4.5/5 4.5/5 5/5 2013 1,199discont. check
Canon 6D (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 83/100 Silver 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2012 2,099discont. check
Canon 1D X (⇒ lft | rgt) - - 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2011 6,799discont. check
Canon 5D Mark II (⇒ lft | rgt) 91/100 79/100 HiRec 4/5 5/5 - 2008 3,499discont. check
Canon 5D (⇒ lft | rgt) 88/100 HiRec reviewed reviewed - 2005 3,299discont. check
Nikon D4S (⇒ lft | rgt) - - 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2014 6,499discont. check
Nikon D4 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - 4.5/5 - 4.5/5 2012 5,999discont. check
Nikon D3X (⇒ lft | rgt) - 86/100 4/5 5/5 5/5 2008 7,999discont. check
Nikon D700 (⇒ lft | rgt) 89/100 HiRec 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2008 2,999discont. check
Nikon D3 (⇒ lft | rgt) - HiRec 5/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2007 4,999discont. check

The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.

Other comparisons

In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored. If you do not see the camera that you are looking for, please contact me, and I will try to update the database with the necessary infos.

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