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Working professionals with a sizable Nikon lens investment—especially journalists and sports photographers—are sure to love the Nikon D4. Its list of features read like a wish list for pro action shooters. At an advertised 10 frames-per-second the D4 is blazing fast. More impressive is how the camera works to deliver top-notch results while shooting at full speed. Nikon designed this camera for action shooting.
The 2012 release price of $5,999.95 puts the D4 in a market dominated by similar high-level performers. The older Nikon D3S from 2009 (the camera the D4 replaces) has similar features for around $800 less. The D4's cheaper cousin the Nikon D800 has twice the resolution of the D4 (without the speed) for around $3000 less. Canon offers a number of similar options including the EOS 5D Mark III (currently selling for around $2,500 less than the D4) and the flagship EOS-1D X that are definitely close competitors in both action shooting and video performance—these Canon offerings are powerful enough to keep photographers invested in Canon glass from switching to Nikon products.
There were 17 real customer reviews of the Nikon D4 all giving it 4-5 star rating. If you would like to read these reviews you can do so here.
In some respects the D4 is a good update on the older D3S it was designed to replace. It is lighter and it provides a few functionality and speed improvements. Unfortunately, the D4 will not have the same impact on photographers who prefer Nikon cameras that the D3S had when it was released in 2009. At that time, the release of the D3S revolutionized the low-light photography world providing extendable ISO features that allowed handheld shots in almost complete darkness—for under $6,000. The D4 lacks a single ground-breaking feature that will redefine photography for professionals or advanced enthusiasts. It is, however, a worthy successor to the D3S and a solid addition to any professional action photographer's arsenal.
-16.2 effective megapixel, full-frame CMOS sensor (total 16.6 megapixel)
-10 fps shooting with AF and AE
-11 fps with exposure locked
-91,000 pixel sensor to control metering, white balance, flash exposure, face detection and 'Active D-Lighting.'
-ISO Range of 100-12,800 native (extendable to 50-204,800)
-1080p30 video at up to 24Mbps with uncompressed video output
-Twin card slots—one Compact Flash (CF) and one XQDNikon D4 16.2 MP CMOS FX Digital SLR with Full 1080p HD Video (Body Only)
The D4 feels quite similar to the older D3S model, including the expected built-in vertical grip with two sets of programmable controls and shutter releases. Rear buttons are now back-lit by LEDs—a feature that is nice but occasionally finicky.
Nikon went far enough into re-designing ergonomics to change the coating of the rear LCD screen to reduce smudges from a photographer's nose while in use. The camera back now has two sub-selector "jog" buttons to the left of the LCD that are default-programmed to select AF points or to activate AF/AEL. These buttons are positioned for use either in vertical or horizontal shooting mode. While the camera is resting around a user's neck, these sub-selectors tend to get moved.
A few upgrades from the D3S are intended to give users a more comfortable photography experience. There is a new thumb rest for vertical shooting and the angle of the shutter button was adjusted from 29 degrees to 35 degrees in an attempt to produce a more comfortable shooting position. The change is hardly noticeable—but Nikon seems to believe that photographers who work from the viewfinder for extended periods of time will appreciate the feature.
Unfortunately, it will be difficult to get too much steady work in without changing the battery. The Nikon D4 has a new battery that is not cross compatible with the older D3S. The D4 also eats up power. Instead of the old 4,200 exposure rated capability of the D3S, the D4 battery is only rated for 2,600 exposures.
CF and XQD Card Slot
Instead of two CF slots, the Nikon D4 has one CF and one XQD slot for storage.
Some die-hard users of the now 19 year old CF standard will be disappointed at the loss of one CF slot. Nikon is committed, however, to making XQD the future of digital photo storage. It is definitely fast at 125Mbps and it is definitely part of digital photography's future.
Have you ever wanted a way to record notes without a pen and paper? Working photographers have this problem all the time. Two days later in post processing many professionals sit and ask themselves, "Who was this a picture of?"
Nikon hopes to solve this problem with the introduction of audio notes. On the D4, users can press a 'MIC' button on the camera back to record a WAV audio file that is matched to the image they just took. The image and WAV file names are saved with identical suffixes.
Nikon did not spend all of its time just making the D4 more ergonomically friendly. After soliciting feedback from many professional photographers, Nikon redesigned several technical elements of the D4—from the metering system, processor and sensor to the autofocus, the D4 has been re-designed as a new camera from the ground-up.
Some basic improvements include a durable carbon fiber shutter rated for 400,000 actuations and a built-in Ethernet jack for faster latency while shooting tethered to a computer.
Nikon introduced a new 91,000 pixel RGB metering system for the D4—an improvement over the 1005 pixel system of its predecessor. It is difficult to notice the difference between the new and old metering system unless you are using TLL flash or i-TTL-BL mode.
The metering system does allow users to independently adjust flash exposure compensation and camera compensation simultaneously. Nikon cameras prior to this metering system were unable to independently adjust both of these values. Increasing camera exposure would result in increased flash exposure.
The D4 has a brand-new 16.2 megapixel full frame CMOS sensor, an increase from the 12.1 megapixel sensors used in previous models.
The native 3:2 aspect ratio produces image resolutions up to 4,928 x 3,280 pixels.
EXPEED 3 Processor:
Processing power makes a huge leap forward with the EXPEED 3—Nikon reports that the new processor is 1.3 times faster than the older EXPEED 2 used in the D3 series. This should account for a 30% increase in processing power.
The EXPEED 3 is designed to work seamlessly with the new XQD card technology to increase shooting speed and frames-per-second. Nikon did not increase the size of the D4's image buffer from the D3—they instead increased bus speed and used the XQD/CF card to offload the buffer.
In 14-bit RAW, you can capture 70 images (10 seconds of shooting) without having to release the shutter button. In 12-bit RAW the D4 manages 13 seconds or 100 shots. If you set the camera to large jpeg mode, it will let you hold down the shutter release for 200 images before breaking a sweat.
You can now "spray and prey" your way to hundreds of images a second—a remarkable feature. In the hands of an experienced action photographer this feature will be of some use. Amateur photographers with little knowledge will have little use for this feature. It is capable of producing great images for 20 seconds at 10fps in the right hands—you still have to know what you are doing to get your images to look good.
Nikon improved the autofocus system allowing better response and more accurate focus in difficult lighting conditions. The result of this will be better performance with teleconverters.
Prime lenses demonstrate the supreme accuracy of the D4 autofocus the best. The old days of double-tapping to adjust focus are numbered—the new autofocus system nails it almost every time. The D4 even captures subjects in motion with ease.
While models tested provided good results, some consumers have reported autofocus problems with the D4. Current firmware updates are apparently working to correct some of the problems users have faced. It is difficult to say at this time if autofocus problems are a wide-spread issue or if they are limited to a few copies of the camera or due to user error.
When compared to the D3S, high ISO performance is similar. The D4 offers a native 100-12800 ISO range that is extendable from 50 to 204800. This an astronomical ISO range—and a feature that was popular with the D3S when it was released in 2009.
Most images up to 51200 are clear of noticeable high-ISO noise and they are definitely useable for everyday applications. You are not going to be able to blow images at ISO 25600 or 51200 up to poster size without noticeable grain effects, but without size modification images taken in these high ranges are acceptable.
The D3S made huge advancements in high ISO image quality, something that the D4 does not really improve on. Images from the D4 and the D3S are quite similar—even at the highest ISO settings. The D4 gets a slight bump on image detail quality across the entire ISO range. It also handles color noise better at extreme ISOs—above 51200.
In this case, the improved 16 mp sensor in the D4 (a 4mp improvement over the D3S) accounts for the slight improvements in ISO performance. The jump in image detail and quality is quite slight across the board. The D4 does not re-write the book on performance like the D3S did.
HD Video Capture and Performance:
The D4 is capable of capturing 1080p video at 24 or 30 frames per second—a feature offered on many rival Canon DSLRs and one lacking on the older D3S. While the D4 can capture around 30 minutes of 1080p video where the D3S could only capture five. The D4 also includes an external microphone input. Video performance is near seamless and with the correct settings and skill it is possible to capture beautiful video images that rival any digital video camera on the market.
Nikon clearly wants to get into the HD video world, but right now Canon appears to have the market cornered. It is difficult to understand why someone would purchase a D4 just to shoot video. At the cost of a D4, many videographers might be tempted to spend a little extra money on two Canon Mark IIIs so they could shoot multi-angle videos. Nikon includes excellent HD video ability, but it mostly exists to give Nikon shooters more creative options outside still shooting—this camera is not intended for stand-alone video purposes. That said, if you have the money it can shoot video with the best of the pack.
The Nikon D4 is worthy of any professional action photographer's camera bag. It offers a new image sensor, processor, metering and autofocus system that integrates with a faster bus speed to shoot images with speed and precision. It matches many of the needs and desires that action photographers want. In the right hands it can produce 200 quality images in 20 seconds. Nikon ergonomically constructed the camera to match the needs of day-long shooters. Image quality and ISO performance are stellar—matched to the best of today's modern DSLRs. The D4 makes huge improvements in HD video capability. While the autofocus performed great for most every reviewer, some consumers have reported autofocus trouble—a problem that Nikon is sure to fix or one that could be generated through user error.
This camera is a professional tool and it comes at a professional price. There are Nikon and Canon alternatives that perform similarly for much less money. Most videographers have already conscripted themselves to Canon—so this camera will not be for the hardcore video shooter. It isn't for the budget conscious either. The D3S is a solid performer with comparable—if not identical specs for around $800 less and while lacking the speed, the Nikon D800 has a larger megapixel sensor for $3000 less. Budget conscious consumers and amateurs will likely stay away from the D4.
If you are a working professional action photographer who requires the latest in technology this might be the camera for you. It would be even better if you can add it to a company invoice and not pay for it out of pocket.
All photos © 2012 Nikon Corporation