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Nikon D3S vs D6

The Nikon D3S and the Nikon D6 are two professional cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in October 2009 and February 2020. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are equipped with a full frame sensor. The D3S has a resolution of 12.1 megapixels, whereas the D6 provides 20.7 MP.

Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.

Headline Specifications
Nikon D3S
versus
Nikon D6
Nikon D3S Nikon D6
Digital single lens reflex Digital single lens reflex
Nikon F mount lenses Nikon F mount lenses
12.1 MP, Full Frame Sensor 20.7 MP, Full Frame Sensor
720/24p Video 4K/30p Video
ISO 200-12,800 (100 - 102,400) ISO 100-102,400 (50 - 3,280,000)
Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
3.0 LCD, 921k dots 3.2 LCD, 2359k dots
Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive) Fixed touchscreen
11 shutter flaps per second 14 shutter flaps per second
Weathersealed bodyWeathersealed body
4200 shots per battery charge3580 shots per battery charge
160 x 157 x 88 mm, 1240 g 160 x 163 x 92 mm, 1270 g

Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Nikon D3S and the Nikon D6? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison

The physical size and weight of the Nikon D3S and the Nikon D6 are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three successive views from the front, the top, and the rear are shown. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

Size Nikon D3S vs Nikon D6
Compare D3S versus D6 top
Comparison D3S or D6 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D6 is somewhat larger (4 percent) than the Nikon D3S. Moreover, the D6 is slightly heavier (2 percent) than the D3S. 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. In this particular case, both cameras feature the same lens mount, so that they can use the same lenses. You can compare the optics available in the Nikon Lens Catalog.

Concerning battery life, the D3S gets 4200 shots out of its EN-EL4a battery, while the D6 can take 3580 images on a single charge of its EN-EL18c power pack. As can be seen in the images above, both cameras have a battery grip built in. This facilitates image-taking in portrait orientation and gives it additional battery power.

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, you can move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.

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Body Specifications
    Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
Weather
Sealing
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
1.
 
Nikon D3S 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1240 g 4200 Y Oct 2009 5,199 i
2.
 
Nikon D6 160 mm 163 mm 92 mm 1270 g 3580 Y Feb 2020 6,499 i
3.
 
Canon 1D Mark IV 156 mm 157 mm 80 mm 1230 g 1500 Y Oct 2009 4,999 i
4.
 
Canon 1D Mark III 156 mm 157 mm 80 mm 1155 g 2200 Y Feb 2007 4,499 i
5.
 
Nikon D780 144 mm 116 mm 76 mm 840 g 2260 Y Jan 2020 2,299 i
6.
 
Nikon D5 160 mm 159 mm 92 mm 1415 g 3780 Y Jan 2016 6,499 i
7.
 
Nikon D4S 160 mm 157 mm 91 mm 1350 g 3020 Y Feb 2014 6,499 i
8.
 
Nikon D4 160 mm 157 mm 91 mm 1340 g 2600 Y Jan 2012 5,999 i
9.
 
Nikon D300S 147 mm 115 mm 81 mm 938 g 950 Y Jul 2009 1,799 i
10.
 
Nikon D3X 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1260 g 4400 Y Dec 2008 7,999 i
11.
 
Nikon D700 147 mm 123 mm 77 mm 1074 g 1000 Y Jul 2008 2,999 i
12.
 
Nikon D3 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1300 g 4300 Y Aug 2007 4,999 i
13.
 
Nikon D2Xs 158 mm 150 mm 86 mm 1252 g 3800 Y Jun 2006 4,699 i
Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.

The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The D3S was launched at a somewhat lower price (by 20 percent) than the D6, which makes it more attractive for photographers on a tight budget. 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.

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Sensor comparison

The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be more expensive and lead to bigger and heavier cameras 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.

Technology-wise, the D6 uses a more advanced image processing engine (EXPEED 6) than the D3S (EXPEED), with benefits for noise reduction, color accuracy, and processing speed.

Nikon D3S and Nikon D6 sensor measures

Despite having a slightly smaller sensor, the D6 offers a higher resolution of 20.7 megapixels, compared with 12.1 MP of the D3S. This megapixels advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 6.44μm versus 8.43μm for the D3S). However, it should be noted that the D6 is much more recent (by 10 years and 4 months) than the D3S, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that make it possible to gather light more efficiently.

The resolution advantage of the Nikon D6 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the D6 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 27.8 x 18.6 inches or 70.7 x 47.1 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 22.3 x 14.8 inches or 56.6 x 37.7 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 18.6 x 12.4 inches or 47.1 x 31.4 cm. The corresponding values for the Nikon D3S are 21.3 x 14.2 inches or 54.1 x 36 cm for good quality, 17 x 11.3 inches or 43.2 x 28.8 cm for very good quality, and 14.2 x 9.4 inches or 36 x 24 cm for excellent quality prints.

The Nikon D3S has a native sensitivity range from ISO 200 to ISO 12800, which can be extended to ISO 100-102400. The corresponding ISO settings for the Nikon D6 are ISO 100 to ISO 102400, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 50-3280000.

D3S versus D6 MP

Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for many cameras. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. The table below summarizes the physical sensor characteristics and sensor quality findings and compares them across a set of similar cameras.

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Sensor Characteristics
    Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
1.
 
Nikon D3S Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832720/24p23.512.03253 82
2.
 
Nikon D6 Full Frame 20.7 5568 37124K/30p...... ..
3.
 
Canon 1D Mark IV APS-H 16.0 4896 32641080/30p22.812.01320 74
4.
 
Canon 1D Mark III APS-H 10.1 3888 2592none22.711.71078 71
5.
 
Nikon D780 Full Frame 24.3 6048 40244K/30p...... ..
6.
 
Nikon D5 Full Frame 20.7 5588 37124K/30p25.112.32343 88
7.
 
Nikon D4S Full Frame 16.2 4928 32801080/60p24.413.33074 89
8.
 
Nikon D4 Full Frame 16.2 4928 32801080/30p24.713.12965 89
9.
 
Nikon D300S APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.512.2787 70
10.
 
Nikon D3X Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none24.713.71992 88
11.
 
Nikon D700 Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832none23.512.22303 80
12.
 
Nikon D3 Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832none23.512.22290 81
13.
 
Nikon D2Xs APS-C 12.2 4288 2848none22.210.9489 59

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. Both cameras under consideration have a sensor with sufficiently fast read-out times for moving pictures, but the D6 provides a better video resolution than the D3S. It can shoot movie footage at 4K/30p, while the D3S is limited to 720/24p.

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Feature comparison

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The D3S and the D6 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 viewfinders of both cameras offer the same field of view (100%), but the viewfinder of the D6 has a higher magnification than the one of the D3S (0.72x vs 0.70x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Nikon D3S and Nikon D6 along with similar information for a selection of comparators.

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Core Features
    Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
(000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Mech
Shutter
Speed
Shutter
Flaps
(1/sec)
Built-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Built-in
Image
Stab
1.
 
Nikon D3Soptical Y 3.0 921 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0 n n
2.
 
Nikon D6optical Y 3.2 2359 fixed Y 1/8000s 14.0 n n
3.
 
Canon 1D Mark IVoptical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 1/8000s 10.0 n n
4.
 
Canon 1D Mark IIIoptical Y 3.0 230 fixed n 1/8000s 10.0 n n
5.
 
Nikon D780optical Y 3.2 2359 tilting Y 1/8000s 12.0 n n
6.
 
Nikon D5optical Y 3.2 2359 fixed Y 1/8000s 14.0 n n
7.
 
Nikon D4Soptical Y 3.2 921 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0 n n
8.
 
Nikon D4optical Y 3.2 921 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0 n n
9.
 
Nikon D300Soptical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 1/8000s 7.0 Y n
10.
 
Nikon D3Xoptical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 n n
11.
 
Nikon D700optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 8.0 Y n
12.
 
Nikon D3optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0 n n
13.
 
Nikon D2Xsoptical Y 2.5 230 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 n n

One differentiating feature between the two cameras concerns the touch sensitivity of the rear screen. The D6 has a touchscreen, while the D3S has a conventional panel. Touch control can be particularly helpful, for example, for setting the focus point.

The Nikon D3S and the Nikon D6 both have an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.

The D3S writes its imaging data to Compact Flash cards, while the D6 uses CFexpress or XQD cards. Both cameras feature dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails.

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Connectivity comparison

For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Nikon D3S and Nikon D6 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.

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Input-Output Connections
    Camera
Model
Hotshoe
Port
Internal
Microphone
Internal
Speaker
Microphone
Port
Headphone
Port
HDMI
Port
USB
Port
WiFi
Support
NFC
Support
Bluetooth
Support
1.
 
Nikon D3SYstereo---mini2.0---
2.
 
Nikon D6YstereomonoYYmini3.1Y-Y
3.
 
Canon 1D Mark IVYstereo-Y-mini2.0---
4.
 
Canon 1D Mark IIIY-----2.0---
5.
 
Nikon D780YstereomonoYYmini3.1Y-Y
6.
 
Nikon D5YstereomonoYYmini3.0---
7.
 
Nikon D4SYmonomonoYYmini2.0---
8.
 
Nikon D4YmonomonoYYmicro2.0---
9.
 
Nikon D300SYstereomonoY-mini2.0---
10.
 
Nikon D3XY----mini2.0---
11.
 
Nikon D700Y----mini2.0---
12.
 
Nikon D3Y----mini2.0---
13.
 
Nikon D2XsY-----2.0---

It is notable that the D6 offers wifi support, which can be a very convenient means to transfer image data to an off-camera location. In contrast, the D3S does not provide wifi capability.

Both cameras feature a PC Sync terminal to control professional strobe lights, which will be appreciated by studio photographers.

The D6 is a recent model that features in the current product line-up of Nikon. In contrast, the D3S has been discontinued (but can be found pre-owned on eBay). As a replacement in the same line of cameras, the D3S was succeeded by the Nikon D4. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Nikon website.

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Review summary

So what is the bottom line? Is the Nikon D3S better than the Nikon D6 or vice versa? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.


Advantages of the Nikon D3S:

  • Longer lasting: Can take more shots (4200 versus 3580) on a single battery charge.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced segment (20 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in October 2009).


Arguments in favor of the Nikon D6:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (20.7 vs 12.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 31%.
  • Better jpgs: Has a more modern image processing engine (EXPEED 6 vs EXPEED).
  • Better video: Provides higher definition movie capture (4K/30p vs 720/24p).
  • Better sound: Can connect to an external microphone for higher quality sound recording.
  • Better sound control: Has a headphone port that enables audio monitoring while recording.
  • Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.72x vs 0.70x).
  • 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 (2359k vs 921k dots).
  • Fewer buttons to press: Has a touchscreen to facilitate handling and shooting adjustments.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (14 vs 11 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Faster data transfer: Supports a more advanced USB protocol (3.1 vs 2.0).
  • Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
  • Easier wireless transfer: Supports Bluetooth for image sharing without cables.
  • More modern: Reflects 10 years and 4 months of technical progress since the D3S launch.

If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D6 is the clear winner of the contest (14 : 3 points). However, the relative importance of the various individual camera aspects will vary according to personal preferences and needs, so that you might like to apply corresponding weights to the particular features before making a decision on a new camera. A professional wedding photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a travel photog, and a person interested in cityscapes has distinct needs from a macro shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.

D3S 03:14 D6

How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Nikon D3S and the Nikon D6 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera listing whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.

In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras can be instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it says little about, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance of the D3S and the D6 in practical situations. 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.

Expert reviews

This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.

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Expert Camera Reviews
     Camera 
 Model 
 AP 
 score 
 CL 
 score 
 DPR 
 score 
 EPZ 
 score 
 PB 
 score 
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
1.
 
Nikon D3S5/5..89/1004.5/55/5 Oct 2009 5,199 i
2.
 
Nikon D6......4.5/54.5/5 Feb 2020 6,499 i
3.
 
Canon 1D Mark IV5/5..89/100.... Oct 2009 4,999 i
4.
 
Canon 1D Mark III.......... Feb 2007 4,499 i
5.
 
Nikon D7805/5..87/1004.5/54.5/5 Jan 2020 2,299 i
6.
 
Nikon D5....89/1004.5/55/5 Jan 2016 6,499 i
7.
 
Nikon D4S5/5....4.5/54.5/5 Feb 2014 6,499 i
8.
 
Nikon D4......4.5/54.5/5 Jan 2012 5,999 i
9.
 
Nikon D300S5/5+ +82/1004/54.5/5 Jul 2009 1,799 i
10.
 
Nikon D3X....86/1004/55/5 Dec 2008 7,999 i
11.
 
Nikon D700..89/100+ +4.5/54.5/5 Jul 2008 2,999 i
12.
 
Nikon D3....+ +5/54.5/5 Aug 2007 4,999 i
13.
 
Nikon D2Xs.......... Jun 2006 4,699 i
Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.

Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.

Nikon D3S:
Check Ebay offers
Nikon D6:
Check Amazon price

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, just use the search menu below. As an alternative, you can also directly jump to any one of the listed comparisons that were previously generated by the CAM-parator tool.

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    Specifications: Nikon D3S vs Nikon D6

    Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.

    Camera Specifications
    Camera Model Nikon D3S Nikon D6
    Camera Type Digital single lens reflex Digital single lens reflex
    Camera Lens Nikon F mount lenses Nikon F mount lenses
    Launch Date October 2009 February 2020
    Launch Price USD 5,199 USD 6,499
    Sensor Specs Nikon D3S Nikon D6
    Sensor Technology CMOS CMOS
    Sensor Format Full Frame Sensor Full Frame Sensor
    Sensor Size 36.0 x 23.9 mm 35.9 x 23.9 mm
    Sensor Area 860.4 mm2 858.01 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 43.2 mm 43.1 mm
    Crop Factor 1.0x 1.0x
    Sensor Resolution 12.1 Megapixels 20.7 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 4256 x 2832 pixels 5568 x 3712 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 8.43 μm 6.44 μm
    Pixel Density 1.40 MP/cm2 2.41 MP/cm2
    Moiré control Anti-Alias filter Anti-Alias filter
    Movie Capability 720/24p Video 4K/30p Video
    ISO Setting 200 - 12,800 ISO 100 - 102,400 ISO
    ISO Boost 100 - 102,400 ISO 50 - 3,280,000 ISO
    Image Processor EXPEED EXPEED 6
    DXO Sensor Quality (score) 82 ..
    DXO Color Depth (bits) 23.5 ..
    DXO Dynamic Range (EV) 12.0 ..
    DXO Low Light (ISO) 3253 ..
    Screen Specs Nikon D3S Nikon D6
    Viewfinder Type Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
    Viewfinder Field of View 100% 100%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.70x 0.72x
    Top-Level Screen Control Panel Control Panel
    LCD Framing Live View Live View
    Rear LCD Size 3.0inch 3.2inch
    LCD Resolution 921k dots 2359k dots
    LCD Attachment Fixed screen Fixed screen
    Touch Input no Touchscreen Touchscreen
    Shooting Specs Nikon D3S Nikon D6
    Focus System Phase-detect AF Phase-detect AF
    Manual Focusing Aidno Peaking FeatureFocus Peaking
    Max Shutter Speed (mechanical) 1/8000s 1/8000s
    Continuous Shooting 11 shutter flaps/s 14 shutter flaps/s
    Shutter Life Expectancy300 000 actuations400 000 actuations
    Time-Lapse PhotographyIntervalometer built-inIntervalometer built-in
    Fill Flash no On-Board Flash no On-Board Flash
    Storage Medium CF cards CFexpress or XQD cards
    Second Storage Option Dual card slots Dual card slots
    Connectivity Specs Nikon D3S Nikon D6
    External Flash Hotshoe Hotshoe
    Studio Flash PC Sync socket PC Sync socket
    USB Connector USB 2.0 USB 3.1
    HDMI Port mini HDMI mini HDMI
    Microphone Port no MIC socket External MIC port
    Headphone Socket no Headphone port Headphone port
    Wifi Support no Wifi Wifi built-in
    Bluetooth Support no Bluetooth Bluetooth built-in
    Body Specs Nikon D3S Nikon D6
    Environmental SealingWeathersealed bodyWeathersealed body
    Battery Type EN-EL4a EN-EL18c
    Battery Life (CIPA)4200 shots per charge3580 shots per charge
    Body Dimensions 160 x 157 x 88 mm
    (6.3 x 6.2 x 3.5 in)
    160 x 163 x 92 mm
    (6.3 x 6.4 x 3.6 in)
    Camera Weight 1240 g (43.7 oz) 1270 g (44.8 oz)

    Did you notice an error on this page? If so, please get in touch, so that we can correct the information.

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