Nikon D4 Hands-On First Look Review

The Nikon D4 sets a new benchmark in the company’s full-frame FX camera stable. Some exceptional features and world firsts head up the spec list. The What Digital Camera Nikon D4 Hands-On First Look Review...

Nikon D4 front view
Nikon D4 front view Nikon D4 front three quarter product shot Nikon D4 rear three quarter product shot Nikon D4 top down view Nikon D4 ethernet and other ports Nikon D4 illuminated buttons Nikon D4 lens compatibility chart

Nikon's D4 has been a long time coming. So was it worth the wait? The latest in Nikon's full-frame FX range, the D4 has plenty of new features that better the Nikon D3s in almost every department. The company has also taken on feedback from a variety of working professionals that's helped to shape the camera's new design. We're not talking re-inventing the wheel, of course, but a variety of subtle changes which make for a more immersive experience that, in short, will help seasoned pros achieve those equally well-seasoned shots.

Nikon D4: At A Glance

 - 16.2MP full-frame FX sensor
 - ISO 100-12,800 (50-204,800 extended)
 - EXPEED 3 image processing engine
 - 91,000 pixel metering sensor and Advanced Recognition System
 - 11fps burst mode (10fps with full AF/AE control)
 - 100% field of view optical viewfinder
 - 3.2in, 921k-dot LCD
 - 1080p HD movie at 30/25/24fps
 - Microphone input and headphone output plus on-screen levels
 - Built-in Ethernet output

Nikon D4 Guided Tour: Part One

Nikon D4 Guided Tour: Part Two

 

Nikon D4: New features

At the D4's heart is a brand new 16.2-megapixel full-frame sensor, not the ultra-high resolution 36-megapixel one that's been rumoured for some time, but, we think, a much more sensible and workable solution. The sensor is paired with the latest EXPEED 3 processing engine and can deliver shots from ISO 100-12,800 as standard, or from ISO 50-204,800 extended. Improved processing algorithms promise better image quality than any Nikon other DSLR - and if the D3s's image quality was anything to go by, then this next generation model should be mighty impressive.

Keeping the resolution to a workable level is one way to keep the amount of data being processed and streamed to a memory card to within certain parameters. In the D4's case the camera can shoot at up to 11 frames per second (11fps), though this is cut to 10fps when making full use of AF/AE. Fast though this is, sharp-eyed readers will be aware of the Canon 1D X's 12fps capabilities, so Nikon fans may be a little disappointed that there's any gap to be found between the two competitors. Still, both cameras are incredibly fast.

Next up is a brand new metering system with no less than 91,000 pixels - that trumps the D3s's 1,005-pixel system by quite some margin. Nikon stresses that every pixel is put to use for metering, plus there's also the benefit of feeding data to the camera in real time to provide valuable information to the Advanced Recognition System. This means the likes of face detection, backlighting, and other tricky scenarios are dealt with before you've even pressed the shutter, as the camera is always readying itself based on that data stream. Good though the higher figure sounds, we've not yet been able to test its accuracy with the limited time we've had with the camera - something that we're keen to do given the D7000's 2,016 pixel RGB sensor's tendency to overexpose in some scenarios.

The Multi-CAM 3500 system, as found in the D3s, has been improved for its implementation in the D4. Now called the Advanced Multi-CAM 3500, the same 51-points remain, but now the 15 cross-type sensors are sensitive up to f/8 - very impressive for long-lens shooting or when using a teleconverter that forces you to stop down. But that's not all, the Advanced system is not only faster than its predecessor, but is far more proficient in low light, capable of shooting in conditions as dark as -2EV. That's about the same as moonlight. A new AF switch design also means you'll never need to take your eye away from the viewfinder whilst switching between various focus array or single point setups.

On the D4's rear is a new 3.2in, 921k-dot LCD screen with a colour gamut close to sRGB for accurate on-screen reproduction and a gel layer to limit unwanted reflections. The output is assessed and adjusted via an illumination detector for the best possible image preview. Above this screen is the same 100% field of view, 0.7x optical viewfinder as found in the D3s. 

Nikon D4: Movie Makeover

Nikon may have been the first manufacturer to introduce HD movie recording in a DSLR, but many older releases were restricted by resolution, frame rate, file type and quality. Not so with the D4. The camera can capture 1080p movies at 30/25/24fps using H.264 compression, or 720p files at 60/50fps for fluid half-time playback in editing. A 1920x1080 mode can also capture pixel-to-pixel shots with a 2.7x magnification as a way of getting yet more magnification out of your lenses.

All of that may sound fairly standard by today's measuring stick, but it's the inclusion of not only a microphone input (with 20 adjustment levels) but a headphones output (with 30 adjustment levels) that sees the D4 excel. No other DSLR has this. Add on-screen audio monitoring and this could well be the best-equipped DSLR for capturing movies. It sure looks like it from the preview clips we've seen.

Nikon D4: New design

The D4's design doesn't reinvent the wheel, but makes subtle changes that will make a big difference overall. For example the rear buttons illuminate for use in the dark - an essential feature given that the camera is said to operate in moonlight.

Internally the shutter is tested to 400,000 cycles, providing longevity above and beyond most other Nikon DSLR cameras (although tested to the same number of actuations as the D3s, the D4's shutter is newly developed for improved performance and lower power consumption).

Compared to the D3s the D4 has a layout that's more symmetrical whether shooting in portrait or landscape orientation. The grouping of thumbwheel, AF-ON and new AF control switches for adjusting AF point is reproduced in both vertical and horizontal formats.

There's also now a movie record button by the shutter button, the latter of which has been angled to 35° compared to the D3s's 28° for more comfortable use over long periods.

Nikon D4: A DSLR For The New Age

Part of the D4's ethos is to remove the necessity of a laptop. A built-in Ethernet port means you're ready to send files to clients, news desks, or anywhere required directly from the camera. Wired LAN with 10 BaseT and 100 Base TX support is built in and there's a new network setup wizard to help keep things easy. Add the Nikon GP-1 GPS unit and clock settings down to the second can auto-apply to an image's metadata. Speaking of which the ability to add IPTC core information (14 fields and 10 presets) internal to the camera will, for many, further reduce the necessity for a laptop - crucial when dealing with picture desks where delivering a shot minutes before another candidate can make or break the chance of its use. 

The D4's HDMI output can also send an uncompressed live feed (at 1080 or 720) for a real time preview - ideal for using a third party video monitor mounted on camera or similar.

But what will really excite the gadget geeks out there is the inclusion of iPhone and iPad support when using the new Nikon WT-5 wireless adapter. It's possible to control the D4 remotely using either Apple device. And we're not talking a simple turn on or off. Far from it - there's the ability to click on the screen to move the focus point, change the ISO sensitivity, focus type and numerous other settings.

The D4 also introduces the new XQD card format. Touted as the successor to CompactFlash, XQD is capable of speeds that outdo CF's UDMA 7 and will continue to improve as the technology develops. Nikon claims the D4 can shoot 170 JPEG shots in 17 seconds with no letup in speed - something not possible with any other card format. There is, of course, also a CF slot built into the D4.

Nikon D4: In Conclusion

Professionals impressed with the D3s will find the D4's £4,800 body-only price a tempting prospect. The promise of a better sensor, faster focusing and an improved metering system all add up to the potential for better pictures. The D4 may not be the super-high resolution that's been rumoured for so long, but it's still a mighty impressive DSLR. WDC will have a full review towards the end of February 2012...

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