Nikon D4S Review - The Nikon D4S sits at the top of Nikon's DSLR tree, aiming to offer everything that the professional photographer could need and more. The question is - does it build on its predecessor?
The Nikon D4S is to the D4 what the Nikon D3S was to the D3 – namely an update that takes all of the best features from its predecessor, while building upon those which are placed at a premium from professional photographers.
With that being said, there’s not a great deal of difference between the pair, and at a list price of nearly £5,200 the D4S represents a serious investment even for professional photographers who make a living from their camera.
Let’s take a closer look and see if it’s a worthy upgrade…
Watch Our First Look Video of the Nikon D4S
Nikon D4S Review – Features
If you’re a professional sports photographer, the performance of your camera when shooting at high speeds is always going to be an area of focus.
The is something Nikon is clearly aware of as the D4S features improvement with regards to its continuous shooting speed. The model is now capable of shooting up to 11fps with both metering and continuous AF enabled.
This jump in speed, paired with continuous AF performance is no doubt in some part enabled by under-the-hood tweaks to the camera’s AF performance.
What’s perhaps more impressive is the camera’s processing power. The D4S has the processing power to maintain the 11fps shooting rate for up to 104 14-bit Raw images or 200 fine large JPEG files when shooting with an XQD memory card.
It’s not like the D4S compromises on image size to reach these speeds and burst depth either, as the model inherits the same 16.2MP full frame CMOS sensor as found in the D4.
The sensor features an increased base ISO range of 100-25,600, with a new ‘Hi4’ extended ISO setting of a quite staggering ISO 409,600 – one that will essentially allow you to shoot in near total darkness.
This increase in ISO range, as well as the aforementioned boost in capture speed, is facilitated by the introduction of Nikon’s latest Expeed 4 image processor – one which the manufacturer claims offers speeds around 30% faster than its predecessor.
Another welcome improvement for professional photographers concerns the camera’s battery life. A new EN-EL18a battery takes the place of the D4’s EN-EL14, and with it comes an increase in battery life from 2,600 shots up to 3,020, an improvement that could make the difference between capturing the award winning shot and missing it.
Although the D4S doesn’t feature built-in Wi-fi connectivity – a feature not commonly included in a professional DSLR – it can be added through the option Nikon WT-5 wireless connector.
The D4S does feature a new super-fast 1000 Base-T Gigabit Ethernet socket to allow for fast transfer of images straight from the camera back to press offices.
On the rear of the camera things remain much the same as on the Nikon D4, with the model featuring the same 3.2in, 921k-dot LCD screen, although it does now feature auto brightness adjustment when it’s required.
The D4S’s video capture, however, has been substantially improved to bring it in line with some of the better DSLRs on the market.
The model now offers 1920 x 1080 video capture at both 60 and 50p frame rates, as well as the 30, 25 and 24p seen on the Nikon D4. As before, the D4S also facilitates separate audio recording through an external stereo microphone socket.
Nikon D4S Review – Design
In terms of the look and feel of the camera, it’s very much a case of as you were with the Nikon D4, although there have been a few subtle modifications made.
The buttons on the rear of the camera, for example, are slightly different to those on the D4. Nikon has dispensed with the raised crowns of the joystick controls on the camera’s predecessor, with those on the D4S now featuring a more tactile textured finish.
There are a host of other smaller changes to the buttons, all of which Nikon states have been made based upon feedback from professional photographers, with the main focus being improving the handling of the camera when wearing gloves.
Ease of operation
Despite the myriad buttons such an advanced camera necessitates the operation of the D4S is actually rather straight forward, with all of the main functionality featuring dedicated access through designated controls.
This ease of use is further enhanced by the presence of a small LCDs located on both the rear and the top plate of the camera, displaying the current shooting settings selected.
Another of these slight modifications is found on the handgrip of the Nikon D4S. The handgrip’s contours have been altered so as to offer a marginally better grip of the camera – a modification which is welcome when you consider the 1350g weight of the model.
As before, and as you would expect from a flagship DSLR, the Nikon D4S is fully weather sealed thanks to a magnesium alloy construction, and as such it should be more than capable to facing all professional photographers will throw at it.
Nikon D4S Review – Performance
As well as the lightning fast continuous shooting speed, one of the major demands from professional photographers is that the camera’s AF system is both reliable and able to cope with fast moving subjects.
The D4S utilises the same Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX system as seen on its predecessor and its 51 AF point and 3D tracking once again offers an impressive level of performance.
When shooting moving targets at the highest 11fps continuous shooting speed, the D4S copes effortlessly and delivers a burst of shots which are all in focus. A nice touch is that the viewfinder displays the AF point as its moving around the frame.
There’s also a pleasing amount of different AF modes – including an impressive new ‘Group Optimised AF’ setting – so if you want to customise the settings even more to suit your subject there is that option.
One previous complaint, or concern, with the Nikon D4 was the presence of a slight green cast on the model’s LCD screen. Thankfully the D4S now offers the option to fine tune the colours on the rear display, and as such any issues with colour reproduction should be avoidable.
Much like the model’s predecessor, the D4S is also pleasingly reliable when it comes to the camera’s metering system. It features a 91k pixel RGB set-up featuring scene recognition capabilities and in general use it exhibits an almost second sense in terms of picking the right exposure on a scene.
Nikon D4S Review – Image Quality
Colour and white balance
Nikon DSLRs can be said to have quite a specific colour palette and way of capturing the colours in a scene. The Nikon D4S – as you would expect for a camera at the top of the range – exhibits all of these hallmarks in delivering a natural and realistic set of colours.
If you’re looking for a more vibrant set of colours, it could be an idea to switch to the ‘Vivid’ colour mode for certain settings.
In terms of white balance, you can rely upon the D4S’s auto white balance system to deliver an accurate setting in most scenes. As well as a host of presets, professional photographers will no doubt welcome the 6 customisable white balance settings which accompany them.
As mentioned previously, the camera’s metering system and scene recognition set-up works fantastically well, delivering accurate exposures in a range of different settings.
The D4S is intelligent enough to take highlights right to the point of clipping in a scene, and thus allow for a great deal of detail to be captured in shadow areas, and as a result the balance between highlights and shadows is almost perfect.
As you might expect for a camera with a 16.2MP resolution, the Nikon D4S doesn’t particularly excel in this regard, resolving at around 28lpmm in our test charts at base ISO.
The fact is, however, that for most professional photographers high resolution isn’t the key concern – it’s speed. Most images will either be used in newspapers or online, rather than large scale reproductions, and as a result the 16.2MP images offer more than enough scope for cropping where needed.
While resolution might not be a pressing concern, one area that certainly is is noise at higher ISO settings, and the good news is that this is an area where the D4S excels.
Throughout the ISO range there’s very little sign of noise, with a key reference point for this being that the model resolves almost the same amount of detail at ISO 12,800 as it does at ISO 100.
Raw vs. JPEG
It’s worth noting that the D4S delivers excellent JPEG files straight out of the camera, a fact worth noting as a lot of professional photographers will rely upon JPEGs so they can get their images to their employers as fast as possible.
Nikon D4S Review – Verdict
While the D4S is be no means a major overhaul of its predecessor – the Nikon D4, there are certainly a host of refinements.
The jump in continuous shooting speed of a frame a second might not sound like much, but it will certainly be good news for professionals, while the similar improvement in AF performance will also be welcome.
Although there’s no huge upgrade in image quality on its predecessor, the D4S does deliver improved images at lower to mid ISO settings.
So while at £5000 the Nikon D4S is very much a camera out of the price range of the enthusiast photographer, it offers a complete package for the professional.
Nikon D4S Review – Sample Image Gallery
This is just a small selection of images captured with the Nikon D4S. For more images, head on over to the Nikon D4S review sample image gallery.
The camera announcement that received the most interest at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was undoubtably Nikon’s new flagship model – the Nikon D4S, which was showcased in the centre of the manufacturers stand for all to see.
Successor to the Nikon D4 in the company’s DSLR lineup, details of the camera were thin on the ground at the time of announcement, however Nikon promises that the D4S will utilise a new image processing engine, presumably the EXPEED 4 image processor as found within the recent Nikon D5300 and Nikon D3300 – an entry-level DSLR also unveiled to the press for the first time at CES.
As well as a new image processor, Nikon claim that the D4S will feature a more advanced autofocus performance to ensure it’s the first choice for professional sports, nature, and event photographers who demand nothing but the best.
A close study of the Nikon D4S in the glass cabinet at CES revealed very subtle differences to the Nikon D4. Other than the ‘S’ in the model name, we could only spot minor changes to the body, including what appeared to be renewed AF target controls at the rear with improved grip. Despite our efforts and request to view the Nikon D4S out of the cabinet, Nikon refused any press to get hands on with the product until the specification is officially released – expected in the next few weeks.
As stated in the official statement, as released by Nikon USA on 6th January, The Nikon D4S represents a concentration of Nikon’s advanced camera development technologies and legacy as a leader in imaging. The D4S will further expand the possibilities for professional photographers who demand the best possible performance and image quality in challenging environments. The Nikon D4S will build upon the success of the acclaimed Nikon D4, a camera highly regarded for its speed, unrivaled low-light ability and amazing image quality that made it the choice of professionals and advanced amateurs around the world.
Pricing and availabilty of the Nikon D4S was still to be announced at the time of writing (14th Jan 2014).