March 28, 2012

Nikon D4 Mini Review

Photo by Scott Bourne - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons - Nikon D4 - Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 - Nikkor 1.4 TC - ISO 280 - 280mm focal length - Shutter Priority - 1/4000th Sec - f/4 - hand held

NOTE: All images captured in RAW – Adobe RGB color space. Colors, clarity and apparent exposure may vary depending on your monitor – All images converted using Aperture with minimal adjustments such as cropping, basic edge sharpening, exposure correction. On average less than 30 seconds was spent on each image in post.

If you’ve been paying attention here at Photofocus you know I am in Alaska testing both the Canon 5D MK III and the Nikon D4.

I’ve had enough time with the Nikon D4 to formulate some opinions about it that I think might be valuable to others.

As with all my reviews, I base my review on actually using the camera in real-world situations rather than reading and relying on press releases or fancy tests. (I’d like to thank my pals at BorrowLenses.com for getting me the first D4 they had shipped to them. It made doing this test so much easier than waiting for the camera I have on order.)

Photo by Scott Bourne - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons - Nikon D4 - Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 - Nikkor 1.4 TC - ISO 400 - 270mm focal length - Shutter Priority - +067 EV - 1/750th Sec - f/6.7 - hand held

I shot the D4 with everything from a Nikon 300mm f/4 to a Nikon 500 f/4, Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 zoom and a couple of Sigma zooms; the 50-500 f/4.5-6.3 and the 120-300mm f/2.8 respectively.

What’s new about the D4? It’s $6000! Oh and it’s bloody fast. The new Expeed 3 processor has really made this camera sing. I set mine to 11 FPS and NEVER once on the trip filled the buffer. You can keep your finger on the shutter button for what feels like an eternity and never fill the buffer. If you’re a wildlife or sports shooter this WILL impress you.

If you’re used to shooting D3 or D3s bodies (and I am) you have some new ergonomics to learn, mainly two mini-joysticks and some new buttons and menus. These were hard for me to master. My muscle memory needs to be re-trained because so many of the controls are new. There are all sorts of jacks, ports and plugs including an ethernet port. Yep – an ethernet port. Ummm wi-fi anyone?

There’s a fancy new option that lets you illuminate all the buttons on the camera which is sort of like having a backlit laptop keyboard. I really like this feature.

Photo by Scott Bourne - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons - Nikon D4 - Nikon AF-S Nikkor 500 f/4 - Nikkor 1.4 TC - ISO 400 - 700mm focal length - Shutter Priority - 1/2000th Sec - f/6.7 - Mounted on Gitzo tripod w/gimbal head

The camera is, as you may expect, rock solid. It’s well built with an anti-reflection LCD that is an improvement. The camera has an improved Auto ISO and it also has better autofocus. Unlike the 5D MK III which has a monumentally-better AF, the D4′s AF is only incrementally better than the D3 or D3s. But that said, it’s an amazing and capable autofocus system that just works every time. The new AF works better in low-light and will not disappoint even the most demanding user. Subject acquisition is rapid and reliable. The dynamic mode works. That’s saying something.

Nikon is finally waking up to the fact that photographers now often need to shoot high-quality video on DSLRs so the D4 has better video shooting ergonomics. There are true HD capabilities but sadly, no SMPTE time code. There is uncompressed HD out and better audio control. I shot only a few minutes of test video to confirm Nikon’s advertised specs and the video looked great to me. I am sure the full-time video experts will have more to say about this feature than I do.

What really made me happy was that there is more detail in the images coming from the D4 than the D3s. In the past, Nikon’s had the reputation for making the best low-light cameras, but that has come at the expense of detail. With slightly more resolution than the old camera and the new processor, image quality has been improved, but not by a huge amount. Low-light performance on the D4 is perhaps not quite as good as the D3s. Some would say it’s almost JUST THERE but the added pixels mean more noise. The additional detail gained may come at some low-light response. I’d say that for me, it’s a push. Either way, I think Canon is catching up when it comes to low-light performance. The differences aren’t as vast as they used to be in this area but Nikon still has a very, very, slight edge. (That said – I haven’t tested the 1DX yet so I reserve the right to re-evaluate that opinion.)

Photo by Scott Bourne - Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons - Nikon D4 - Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200 f/2.8 - Nikkor 1.4 TC - ISO 400 - 280mm focal length - Shutter Priority - -0.33 EV - 1/2000th Sec - f/9.5 - hand held

Complaints? Battery life is significantly shorter. In the old days I could never shoot down a D3/s battery in one day. I did that on the first day with the new D4. The new ergonomics of the D4 bother me. I guess I am just too used to the old system and find myself constantly hunting for the right button. The new price is also a problem, given it’s $1000 higher than the D3/s.

And now for the biggie – I just don’t understand the XQD memory slot. NOBODY has any of these cards for sale (at least as of last week.) The format is not widely supported. I’d MUCH rather have a second CF card slot or even an SD slot. I have no idea if this memory format will take hold and I wish that space were better used.

Yep that's me - And yep it's cold!

CONCLUSION

Overall, the 16.2 megapixel D4 is an incremental upgrade rather than a major upgrade. It is an excellent camera but it is expensive. For pros with the budget or for those who shoot video, want the incredible 11 FPS with virtually limitless buffer and better autofocus, it’s probably worth considering.

I usually buy every new camera but have decided that I’m going to stick with my D3s bodies with the exception of one D4, just because that 11 FPS with a virtually unlimited buffer is so tempting.

I like this camera but due to the problems I mentioned above and the high cost, I can only give it a Recommended rating versus my highest rating of HIGHLY Recommended. It’s a great camera. If you buy one, you will not be disappointed, but if you already have D3s bodies, I’d think long and hard about waiting for the D4s or D5.

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