Nikon D4 review

Nikon D4 beats D3x, D700, Canon DSLRs in lab test

Nikon D4 beats D3x, D700, Canon DSLRs in lab test

The Nikon D4 is the camera that Nikon is hoping will be the camera of choice for professional sports photographers and photo journalists shooting the Olympic Games in London this summer.

Consequently, it is designed as an all-purpose, go anywhere, shoot anything camera with improved low-light shooting capability and enhanced video technology.

While the Nikon D4 replaces the D3S in the Nikon DSLR lineup, the 24MP Nikon D3X continues as the company’s flagship camera – even if its pixel count is now dwarfed by that of the Nikon D800.

Nikon D4 review

While the Nikon D4 has plenty to get excited about, its pixel count is arguably not one of them. However, with ‘just’ 16.2 million effective pixels on its full-frame (36 x 23.9mm or FX format) CMOS sensor, the Nikon D4 should be capable of producing relatively clean images at high sensitivities.

This is just as well, given that it has a maximum native sensitivity setting of ISO 12800 and extension settings up to the equivalent of ISO 204,800. Nikon D3s owners, however, may be a little more excited about the Nikon D4’s pixel count, since it represents a big jump from 12.1MP to 16.2MP.

Despite the increase in the resolution of the sensor, and thanks to its EXPEED 3 image processing engine, the Nikon D4 is capable of shooting continuously at 10fps with full autofocus function. The D3s can only achieve 9fps at full resolution, or 11fps lower resolution images in DX mode.

If you are prepared to lose AF and exposure control, the Nikon D4’s full resolution continuous shooting rate can also be pushed up to 11fps. The EXPEED 3 engine also enables 14-bit A/D conversion and 16-bit processing for better colours and smoother tonal gradations.

Another key upgrade from the D3s is the move from a 1,005 pixel metering system to a 91,000 pixel system. As before, this is linked to Nikon’s Advanced Scene Recognition System to help inform the white balance, flash exposure, face detection and AF system.

Although Nikon has stuck with the Multi-CAM3500FX AF system that first emerged in the D3 and was continued into the D3s, it has given it something of a tune-up for the Nikon D4.

There are still 51 AF points, but the central 15 cross-type points are sensitive down to f/8. This means that the Nikon D4’s AF system will continue to work with long telephoto lens and teleconverter arrangements that have an effective maximum aperture of f/8.

This is great news for wildlife photographers, because it enables more affordable and lighter weight optics to be used. It is also something that the Canon EOS-1DX cannot match.

Nikon D4 review

The Nikon D4 Verdict

Our testing team put the Nikon D4 through its paces, which you can read about in full over on our sister site, TechRadar. If you want some of the key points from the full test and the final verdict on the Nikon D4, here is what our head of testing had to say:

On Build & Handling…
To sum up, there are no major surprises in the build of the Nikon D4, and it feels solid and made to withstand some serious use. There are seals around all the joints and controls to ensure that it can cope with the usual rigours of life as a professional photographer’s tool.

On Performance…
Images look good straight from the Nikon D4 – on the whole they are well exposed when the general purpose matrix metering system is used, and the colours and contrast look natural. There is also an impressive amount of detail visible in images taken throughout the native sensitivity range. As we might expect, however, the 16MP Nikon D4 can’t quite match the 24MP Nikon D800 for detail resolution at the lower sensitivity settings.

Nikon’s decision to restrict the Nikon D4’s effective pixel count to 16.2 million appears to be a wise one, since noise is extremely well controlled throughout the native sensitivity range. Even images captured at ISO 6400 and ISO 12800 look great when sized to make A3 prints. The dynamic range is also impressive and shadows can be lightened significantly without fear of revealing noise or missing detail.

On Noise and Dynamic Range..
TIFF images (after conversion from raw) show that the Nikon D4, has better signal to noise ratio than all but the Canon EOS 5D MK II between ISO 1600 and 6400. The Nikon D700 also just betters the D4 in this test at ISO 6400.


Final Verdict
Nikon has succeeded in building upon the D3s to produce a versatile camera that is suitable for use by professional photographers in a wide range of situations.
The Nikon D4 may not have the highest resolution, but it has lightening-quick responses, a fantastically high maximum shooting rate and is capable of capturing an impressive amount of detail across a huge sensitivity range.

The Nikon D4 is the first of the recently announced high-end cameras to go through our testing procedure, and consequently we are so far unable to compare it with its main rival, the Canon EOS-1DX. However, we will do this as soon as we get our hands on a 1DX.

The design changes made since the D3s make a significant and positive impact on the handling of the Nikon D4. Those upgrading may find it takes a while to get used to using the mini-joystick controllers to set the AF point, but they make it quicker and easier in the long run – especially when shooting in portrait format.

Nikon has produced a solid workhorse of a DSLR that professionals can depend upon to deliver good results even in low lighting conditions. Image quality is high and results look great straight from the camera.

We liked
A great AF system, good noise control and huge sensitivity range are contained in an ergonomically arranged body

We disliked
Slight movement in the memory card bay is a little disconcerting. The AF system is complex, and its various options could be made clearer in the menu for the uninitiated. There may be 51 AF points, but they are all clustered around the centre of the frame and within the DX crop.
Read the full Nikon D4 review on TechRadar and see sample photos and more.