Nikon D3S vs Sony A6500
The Nikon D3S and the Sony Alpha A6500 are two digital cameras that were announced, respectively, in October 2009 and October 2016. The D3S is a DSLR, while the A6500 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The cameras are based on a full frame (D3S) and an APS-C (A6500) sensor. The Nikon has a resolution of 12.1 megapixels, whereas the Sony provides 24 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Nikon D3S and the Sony Alpha A6500? 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.
An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Nikon D3S and the Sony A6500 is provided in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Sony A6500 is considerably smaller (68 percent) than the Nikon D3S. Moreover, the A6500 is substantially lighter (63 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. A larger imaging sensor will tend to go along with bigger and heavier lenses, although exceptions exist. You can compare the optics available for the two cameras in the Nikon Lens Catalog (D3S) and the Sony E-Mount Lens Catalog (A6500). Mirrorless cameras, such as the A6500, have moreover the advantage that they can use many lenses from other systems via adapters, as they have a relatively short flange to focal plane distance.
Concerning battery life, the D3S gets 4200 shots out of its EN-EL4a battery, while the A6500 can take 350 images on a single charge of its NP-FW50 power pack. As can be seen in the images above, the D3S has a battery grip built in. This facilitates image-taking in portrait orientation and gives it additional battery power. In order to provide similar functionality for the A6500, there are third party battery grips available as optional accessories (see here on eBay). The power pack in the A6500 can be charged via the USB port, which can be very convenient when travelling.
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.
|Nikon D3S||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.5 in||43.7 oz||4200||Y||Oct 2009||5,199|
|Sony A6500||4.7 in||2.6 in||2.1 in||16.0 oz||350||Y||Oct 2016||1,399|
|Canon 1D Mark IV||6.1 in||6.2 in||3.1 in||43.4 oz||1500||Y||Oct 2009||4,999|
|Canon 1D Mark III||6.1 in||6.2 in||3.1 in||40.7 oz||2200||Y||Feb 2007||4,499|
|Nikon D5||6.3 in||6.3 in||3.6 in||49.9 oz||3780||Y||Jan 2016||6,499|
|Nikon D4S||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.6 in||47.6 oz||3020||Y||Feb 2014||6,499|
|Nikon D4||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.6 in||47.3 oz||2600||Y||Jan 2012||5,999|
|Nikon D300S||5.8 in||4.5 in||3.2 in||33.1 oz||950||Y||Jul 2009||1,799|
|Nikon D3X||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.5 in||44.4 oz||4400||Y||Dec 2008||7,999|
|Nikon D700||5.8 in||4.8 in||3.0 in||37.9 oz||1000||Y||Jul 2008||2,999|
|Nikon D3||6.3 in||6.2 in||3.5 in||45.9 oz||4300||Y||Aug 2007||4,999|
|Nikon D2Xs||6.2 in||5.9 in||3.4 in||44.2 oz||3800||Y||Jun 2006||4,699|
|Panasonic GX8||5.2 in||3.1 in||2.5 in||17.2 oz||330||Y||Jul 2015||1,199|
|Sony A6600||4.7 in||2.6 in||2.7 in||17.7 oz||810||Y||Aug 2019||1,399|
|Sony A6300||4.7 in||2.6 in||1.9 in||14.3 oz||400||Y||Feb 2016||999|
|Sony A77||5.6 in||4.1 in||3.2 in||25.8 oz||470||Y||Aug 2011||1,399|
|Sony NEX-7||4.7 in||2.6 in||1.7 in||14.1 oz||430||n||Aug 2011||1,349|
|Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
Any camera decision will obviously take relative prices into account. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The A6500 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 73 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.
The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors 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 more expensive and lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Of the two cameras under consideration, the Nikon D3S features a full frame sensor and the Sony A6500 an APS-C sensor. The sensor area in the A6500 is 57 percent smaller. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.0 and 1.5. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
In terms of underlying technology, both cameras are build around CMOS sensors.
Despite having a smaller sensor, the A6500 offers a higher resolution of 24 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 3.91μm versus 8.43μm for the D3S). However, it should be noted that the A6500 is much more recent (by 6 years and 11 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 Sony A6500 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the A6500 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 30 x 20 inches or 76.2 x 50.8 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 24 x 16 inches or 61 x 40.6 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 20 x 13.3 inches or 50.8 x 33.9 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 A6500 has on-sensor phase detect pixels, which results in fast and reliable autofocus acquisition even during live view operation.
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 Sony Alpha A6500 are ISO 100 to ISO 25600, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 100-51200.
Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. This service determines an overall sensor rating, as well as sub-scores for low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and color depth ("DXO Portrait"). The Overall DXO ratings for the two cameras under consideration are close, suggesting that they provide similar imaging performance. The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.
| DXO |
|Nikon D3S||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||720/24p||23.5||12.0||3253||82|
|Canon 1D Mark IV||APS-H||16.0||4896||3264||1080/30p||22.8||12.0||1320||74|
|Canon 1D Mark III||APS-H||10.1||3888||2592||none||22.7||11.7||1078||71|
|Nikon D5||Full Frame||20.7||5588||3712||4K/30p||25.1||12.3||2343||88|
|Nikon D4S||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||1080/60p||24.4||13.3||3074||89|
|Nikon D4||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||1080/30p||24.7||13.1||2965||89|
|Nikon D3X||Full Frame||24.4||6048||4032||none||24.7||13.7||1992||88|
|Nikon D700||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2303||80|
|Nikon D3||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2290||81|
|Panasonic GX8||Four Thirds||20.2||5184||3888||4K/30p||23.5||12.6||806||75|
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. Both cameras under consideration have a sensor with sufficiently fast read-out times for moving pictures, but the A6500 provides a better video resolution than the D3S. It can shoot movie footage at 4K/30p, while the Nikon is limited to 720/24p.
Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. For example, the A6500 has an electronic viewfinder (2359k dots), while the D3S has an optical one. Both systems have their advantages, with the electronic viewfinder making it possible to project supplementary shooting information into the framing view, whereas the optical viewfinder offers lag-free viewing and a very clear framing image. The viewfinders of both cameras offer the same field of view (100%), as well as the same magnification (0.70x). The following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Nikon D3S, the Sony A6500, and comparable cameras.
|Canon 1D Mark IV||optical||Y||3.0||920||fixed||n||1/8000s||10.0||n||n|
|Canon 1D Mark III||optical||Y||3.0||230||fixed||n||1/8000s||10.0||n||n|
One feature that is present on the D3S, but is missing on the A6500 is a top-level LCD. While being, of course, smaller than the rear screen, the control panel conveys some of the essential shooting information and can be convenient for quick and easy settings verification.
The reported shutter speed information refers to the use of the mechanical shutter. Yet, some cameras only have an electronic shutter, while others have an electronic shutter in addition to a mechanical one. In fact, the A6500 is one of those camera that have an additional electronic shutter, which makes completely silent shooting possible. However, this mode is less suitable for photographing moving objects (risk of rolling shutter) or shooting under artificial light sources (risk of flickering).
The Nikon D3S has 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 A6500 uses SDXC or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. The D3S features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the A6500 only has one slot.
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 Sony Alpha A6500 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
| WiFi |
| NFC |
|Canon 1D Mark IV||Y||stereo||-||Y||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|Canon 1D Mark III||Y||-||-||-||-||-||2.0||-||-||-|
It is notable that the A6500 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.
Studio photographers will appreciate that the Nikon D3S (unlike the A6500) features a PC Sync socket, so that professional strobe lights can be controlled by the camera.
Both the D3S and the A6500 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The D3S was replaced by the Nikon D4, while the A6500 was followed by the Sony A6600. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Nikon and Sony websites.
So how do things add up? Which of the two cameras – the Nikon D3S or the Sony A6500 – has the upper hand? Is one clearly better than the other? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.
Arguments in favor of the Nikon D3S:
- Better low-light sensitivity: Requires less light for good images (1.2 stops ISO advantage).
- Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
- Easier setting verification: Features an LCD display on top to control shooting parameters.
- Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/8000s vs 1/4000s) to freeze action.
- Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
- More portrait friendly: Features an integrated vertical grip for easier portrait shooting.
- Longer lasting: Can take more shots (4200 versus 350) on a single battery charge.
- Better studio light control: Has a PC Sync socket to connect to professional strobe lights.
- Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.
- More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in October 2009).
Reasons to prefer the Sony Alpha A6500:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (24 vs 12.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 41%.
- More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (1.7 EV of extra DR).
- Better video: Provides higher definition movie capture (4K/30p vs 720/24p).
- Better live-view autofocus: Features on-sensor phase-detection for more confident autofocus.
- Better sound: Can connect to an external microphone for higher quality sound recording.
- More framing info: Has an electronic viewfinder that displays shooting data.
- More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
- Fewer buttons to press: Has a touchscreen to facilitate handling and shooting adjustments.
- Less disturbing: Has an electronic shutter option for completely silent shooting.
- More compact: Is smaller (120x67mm vs 160x157mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 787g or 63 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- Easier travel charging: Can be conveniently charged via its USB port.
- Sharper images: Has stabilization technology built-in to reduce the impact of hand-shake.
- More legacy lens friendly: Can use many non-native lenses via adapters.
- Easier fill-in: Has a small integrated flash to brighten shadows of backlit subjects.
- Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
- Easier device pairing: Supports NFC for fast wireless image transfer over short distances.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (73 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Reflects 6 years and 11 months of technical progress since the D3S launch.
If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the A6500 is the clear winner of the contest (19 : 10 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding 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.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Nikon D3S and the Sony A6500 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera and Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera listings 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 remains partial and cannot reveal, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance when actually working with the D3S or the A6500. 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 where reviews by experts come in. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, and photographyblog). 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.
|Nikon D3S||..||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||Oct 2009||5,199|
|Sony A6500||+ +||85/100||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Oct 2016||1,399|
|Canon 1D Mark IV||..||89/100||..||5/5||..||Oct 2009||4,999|
|Canon 1D Mark III||..||..||..||o||..||Feb 2007||4,499|
|Nikon D5||..||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||Jan 2016||6,499|
|Nikon D4S||..||..||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2014||6,499|
|Nikon D4||..||..||4.5/5||..||4.5/5||Jan 2012||5,999|
|Nikon D300S||+ +||82/100||4/5||5/5||4.5/5||Jul 2009||1,799|
|Nikon D3X||..||86/100||4/5||5/5||5/5||Dec 2008||7,999|
|Nikon D700||89/100||+ +||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Jul 2008||2,999|
|Nikon D3||..||+ +||5/5||o||4.5/5||Aug 2007||4,999|
|Nikon D2Xs||..||..||..||o||..||Jun 2006||4,699|
|Panasonic GX8||+||82/100||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||Jul 2015||1,199|
|Sony A6600||+||83/100||4.5/5||..||4/5||Aug 2019||1,399|
|Sony A6300||+||85/100||5/5||5/5||5/5||Feb 2016||999|
|Sony A77||91/100||81/100||..||4.5/5||5/5||Aug 2011||1,399|
|Sony NEX-7||+ +||81/100||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||Aug 2011||1,349|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The assessments were made in relation to similar cameras of the same technological generation. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make your choice using the following search menu. As an alternative, you can also directly jump to any one of the listed comparisons that were previously generated by the CAM-parator tool.
Specifications: Nikon D3S vs Sony A6500
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 Model||Nikon D3S||Sony A6500|
|Camera Type||Digital single lens reflex||Mirrorless system camera|
|Camera Lens||Nikon F mount lenses||Sony E mount lenses|
|Launch Date||October 2009||October 2016|
|Launch Price||USD 5,199||USD 1,399|
|Sensor Specs||Nikon D3S||Sony A6500|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||APS-C Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 23.9 mm||23.5 x 15.6 mm|
|Sensor Area||860.4 mm2||366.6 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.2 mm||28.2 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||12.1 Megapixels||24 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||4256 x 2832 pixels||6000 x 4000 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||8.43 μm||3.91 μm|
|Pixel Density||1.40 MP/cm2||6.55 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 - 25,600 ISO|
|ISO Boost||100 - 102,400 ISO||100 - 51,200 ISO|
|Image Processor||EXPEED||BIONZ X|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||82||85|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||23.5||24.5|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||12.0||13.7|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||3253||1405|
|Screen Specs||Nikon D3S||Sony A6500|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Electronic viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||100%|
|Viewfinder Resolution||2359k dots|
|Top-Level Screen||Control Panel||no Top Display|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.0inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||921k dots||922k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Tilting screen|
|Touch Input||no Touchscreen||Touchscreen|
|Shooting Specs||Nikon D3S||Sony A6500|
|Focus System||Phase-detect AF||On-Sensor Phase-detect|
|Manual Focusing Aid||no Peaking Feature||Focus Peaking|
|Max Shutter Speed (mechanical)||1/8000s||1/4000s|
|Continuous Shooting||11 shutter flaps/s||11 shutter flaps/s|
|Shutter Life Expectancy||300 000 actuations||200 000 actuations|
|Electronic Shutter||no E-Shutter||YES|
|Time-Lapse Photography||Intervalometer built-in||no Intervalometer|
|Image Stabilization||Lens stabilization only||In-body stabilization|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||Build-in Flash|
|Storage Medium||CF cards||MS or SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots||Single card slot|
|Connectivity Specs||Nikon D3S||Sony A6500|
|Studio Flash||PC Sync socket||no PC Sync|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||mini HDMI||micro HDMI|
|Microphone Port||no MIC socket||External MIC port|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||Wifi built-in|
|Near-Field Communication||no NFC||NFC built-in|
|Body Specs||Nikon D3S||Sony A6500|
|Environmental Sealing||Weathersealed body||Weathersealed body|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||4200 shots per charge||350 shots per charge|
|In-Camera Charging||no USB charging||USB charging|
160 x 157 x 88 mm
(6.3 x 6.2 x 3.5 in)
120 x 67 x 53 mm
(4.7 x 2.6 x 2.1 in)
|Camera Weight||1240 g (43.7 oz)||453 g (16.0 oz)|
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