The Nikon D4 sets a new benchmark in the companyu2019s 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’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 1920×1080 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…


    TO THE REVIEW EDITOR: Please help to clarify this for us: If the camera has an ethernet port, and can connect directly through the internet, it would have to have an ETHERNET ADDRESS. If it has, say a STATIC IP or ETHERNET ADDRESS and can bypass a computer, then the address would IDENTIFY the CAMERA and/or the user, and with that IDENTIFICATION using stolen equipment, would be a thing of the past. The camera could not go onto the internet without being seen. If I’m right about this, how come it hasn’t been explained. I believe your review was not only faster, but also more complete than what we have been provided in the US. and as you may have noticed, I’ve been impatiently waiting for this camera, and I have listened to your 2 part review, but the accent does make it difficult for me to hear. I would greatly appreciate a little more explanation. From the news of this camera, I knew it was several steps ahead of anything we’ve had before and it’s what many of us were waiting for, but they could have released a better description for us as we have been loyal users for many years. Thank You, JOE PRETE


    M.D. RUSSELL, The cameras megapixel rating is relative to the size & quality of the sensor & the size of the pixels themselves. Having a higher pixel count does not mean it’s better. This was the NIKON Method from the start. Having too many pixels, that are not letting in enough light causes Digital “noise” effect and having a camera that can only shoot at ISO 200 or 400 (daylight) If you notice, newer models are coming out with a lower pixel count, and they are all doing it now. ISO was how film speed was rated. It stood for International Standards Organization. Here in the US, we used ASA (American standards association) We adopted their wider used term ISO as a way of rating the speed of the sensor and processor, & how a camera performed in different lighting situations. Not too long ago, NIKON’S PRO Cameras had a rating of (approx.) 2.3MP and they were very effective. If you rate a car, by it’s horsepower, you would have to factor in the weight, aerodynamics, gear size and even wheel size. (there’s more, but I think it’s good enough for comparison. A lot of thought went into both the CANON 1 DX & the NIKON D4, and a lot was learned from their previous cameras. In NIKON’S D4 I think the D7000 Had a lot of influence. I hope this at least gives you a better sense of understanding, unless some one else can explain it better. As MR Wood was saying, it’s going to be a real showdown at the 2012 Olympics. The D4 is the only camera to have both UDMA Compact Flash & the new XQD MEDIA Card. If you have questions, there’s a good group at this site, so just ask. … JOE PRETE


    JAMES WOOD, I stand corrected, the Canon EOS 1 DX does use Dual CF Cards, and appears extremely close to the Nikon D4 spec. for spec. What the 1 DX LACKS is FCC Approval and a few minor Specifications ie. % of view finder coverage and camera weight The NIKON D4 is the only camera to use the new XQD storage media & CF Card. It appears that these cameras were build with the same build sheet, aside from the Still unused XQD Card.


    James, I don’t think the Canon will be ready. When I saw it, the storage media door was sealed- or never cut open! They haven’t said much about it. It may be due to the dispute between CF, SDHC & XQD (Nikon is the only camera to accept XQD)

  • James Wood – UnitedByPhotography

    It will be an Olympic shoot out between the Nikon D4 & Canon 1DX

  • james d

    lol thats soooo true ! but im still 5th in line on the order books of my local dealer and cant bloody wait

  • M.D.Russell

    I suppose the 36 megapixel unit will be known as the D4x and come out just after people have bought the D4.

  • Rob Mowat

    I have been looking forward to the replacement for the D3 and this seems to be pretty good. But, how many pro’s will actually use the video facility, and how many will still be looking for sensor sizes in excess of 20mp for ultimate quality? and will the ones looking for quality for landscapes etc just switch to medium format? Canon and Nikon both seem to be going down the same road!! and I wonder if they have got it right??

  • Tom

    Great! It’s about time. Will this translate to an upgrade to the D700?