The new D4 comes with a lot of hype. Nikon officially announced it's release on January 6th, 2012. Sure it's the new Nikon flagship. But with all that hype, it is hard to determine what is useful and what is not, where it truly performs and where it lacks. For each photographer, their view is different, their needs are different. There will be both negative and positive comments from many. Before reading this, remember that what matters to you is ultimately important. Is the D4 going to allow you to take better photographs?
NOTE: Nikon has not shipped the D4 yet, so no one has actually had the ability to write a complete review. Currently this review only covers the known features, differences, and new capability of the D4. Along the way, I make comparisons to the D3S and D3 to highlight the differences in the D4. Although I have pre-ordered the Nikon D4, I do not excpect it to arrive until late February. At that time I will provide an in-depth analysis of the entire camera system.
For those that feel the Nikon D4 does not meet their needs, the Nikon D800 should be announced February 7th, 2012.
WHAT I FIND USEFUL
To me, what I find useful about the new Nikon D4 is the subtleties. Sure the improved ISO and more megapixels is nice, but what's even nicer is the improved ergonomics, controls, autofocus, metering, illuminated buttons, processing (EXPEED 3), and even video capabilities with the full HD-SLR.
Additionally, Nikon has paid close attention over the years to photographers rants and likes. The new D4 now lets you vary its auto ISO based on the focal length. The auto ISO concept is great, but it was always lacking that varying shutter threshold, dependent upon the focal length. With zooms it was a disaster.
Also, the D4 is compatible with the ML-L3 Remote!
When recording video, you can see the audio levels on the rear display. These are just some simple things that seperate it from the D3 generation.
The overall shape of the camera has not changed much from the D3 or D3s, however, the controls and ergonomics are a bit different. The Nikon D4 now provides better control when the camera is used in the portrait orientation. The joystick and autofocus control is closer and easy to control now when held vertically. The only consequence is your thumb has to reach a bit more when positioned horizontally. Obviously Nikon has better accommodated the photojournalist, wedding, and sports photography community.
Additionally, there are more customizable buttons, a new autofocus 'on' button, and a new function button just next to the vertical shutter release. The vertical grip now includes a small thumb grip next to the rear dial.
Obviously, much like the D3, it is built touch and can handle a good amount of abuse. Nikon has made the overall feel more comfortable for shooting in both landscape or portrait orientations.
CONTROLS - DIFFERENCES FROM D3S
There has been some control repositioning from the D3s, beyond just the vertical portrait control repositioning. The new Nikon D4's shutter release button is now positioned at 35 degrees as oppose to 29 of the D3. Not is this more comfortable, it provides faster movement to the front dial and shutter release. This is a nice plus from the D3.
Clearly the back has a bit of change from the previous D3s setup. What happened to the AE-L/AF-L button? Well Nikon ditched it for better support of vertical or portrait use. The protect button is now overloaded, and is used for picture controls when in shooting mode. They have added a video / still image lever, with the live-view button in the center. The info button is the same. The Zoom is no longer controlled by the dial. Nikon has adapted the D700 style zoom buttons.
Nikon has implemented a D7000 autofocus control, which allows you to adjust autofocus settings all from the font AF switch. Press it and move the dial to change between autofocus area modes. This allows you to change the autofocus behavior while maintaining your eye on the viewfinder.
Overall these changes bring powerful control. Nikon has placed significant effort on control, so you can keep your eye on the subject.
At the top, you can see they have removed the metering control to the right of the prism. Instead they have moved it to the old command lock button of the D3S. So where is the lock button now?, it no longer there. Further there is some more shielding of the drive mode dial, which helps with unintended adjustment. Lastly you can see the added record button on the top right, next to the shutter release. This is for video recording, but can be customized.
NEW 3.2' LCD
The LCD is a big upgrade. The new 3.2 inch LCD has improved brightness and added control. Nikon has used a gel laminate inside the LCD to provide improved angle of view, and clarity. Further, Nikon has improved the color, mostly in the blues, achieving near full sRGB spectrum. Although it has the same 912K dots of the D3S' LCD, the larger brighter screen will improve both live view and visibility in bright sunlight. Lastly, you can zoom in up to 46 times to check autofocus accuracy.
IMAGE QUALITY - NEW SENSOR
I won't know the full image quality until I receive the D4. However, given Nikon's reputation on quality, I suspect it will be superb. Better than anything we've seen before. You have to ask yourself, does this matter? Sure to professional photojournalists or sports photographers, but to the average wedding photographer? Probably not. If you already have an FX camera, the image quality is already beyond fantastic. The D4 just brings it a notch up. If you're considering the D4 just because of its image quality, I would look elsewhere. Sure it's impressive, but you have to admit that the previous FX camera's Nikon has delivered are powerhouses that can take excellent photographs.
The Nikon D4 16.2MP sensor can output images up to 4,928 x 3,280 pixels, at 3:2 aspect ratio. The sensor has an pixel size of 7.3 microns, which is a bit smaller than the predecessor D3S, and D3 of 8.45 microns. Will the smaller pixel size affect its ISO performance? Probably so, this is mostly about physics and less about electrical engineering, contrary to what marketing would like you to believe.
What about the pixel integrity compared to the D3S? If the D4 is similar, this should be considered an improvement, because the D4 has additional mega pixels. I believe the D4 will have a similar ISO performance to the D3S, but with 7.3 micron size pixels. Again, this is an improvement. See more below about the ISO and Dynamic Range.
You can read full Nikon D4 review.
DYNAMIC RANGE - ISO PERFORMANCE
The new D4 sensor is expected to have an increased dynamic range over the D3S, particularly in the shadow detail. The D4 has a native ISO down to 100, where the D3S is only 200. However, this is actually misleading. I suspect the D4's natural base ISO to be around ISO 140, and not 100. ISO 100 is used for simplicity, but it's more like a LO 0.3, which means it adjusts the gain or attenuation of the sensor.
The higher ISO is the tricky part. I bet the D3S has slightly better ISO performance around 25,600. However, the D4 may have better performance beyond that, hence, the HI4.0 at ISO 204,800. Ultimately this is going to come down to some rigid accurate testing. The detail may be too painful for some. But I hope to provide this information soon.
The D4 has plenty of connectivity. To name a few, it has new Ethernet jack (full-size), along with a proprietary connector for the new TW-5A WiFi adapter. For studio use, the new full size ethernet will be much appreciated. Copper is always faster than wireless. The D4 can be networked and remotely controlled via software for PC and MAC, along with iPads, and iPhones!
Additionally, it will have better audio connection, with microphone stereo input, and headphone jack for monitoring audio during video recordings. Also a mini-USB and an uncompressed HDMI (mini-C) port, for use with live video recording and playback.
There is not much info yet about the expected battery life of the Nikon D4. Nonetheless, there is some info about its new battery, the EN-EL18. Apparently Japan has issued more stringent regulations, so the newer EN-EL18 battery has slightly less capacity (2000 mAh)than the previous EN-EL4 (2500 mAh) of the D3. It also comes at an increased cost. Adorama is showing $170 for it. You can read more about the new battery from Nikon's engineer here.
At 11 FPS, the D4's shutter better be durable. Nikon rates it at 400,000 cycles. Now this is a statistical reliability number, and is probably the 2 sigma point. I suspect many D4's will last well beyond 400,000 cycles.
The shutter's top speed is 1/8000 seconds
Much like the D5100 and D5000, the D4 now features a 'Quiet' Mode. This will fire the shutter slower, but helpful for situations where sound is undesirable (church, library, etc).
NIKON D4 WEIGHT
The Nikon D4 is about 5% lighter than the previous D3s and D3. 5 percent is just enough to be noticable. The new Nikon D4 weighs 1180 grams (41.6 oz). The D3s weighs 1240 grams (43.7 oz). More capbility, better control, all in a lighter package! I like it.
NEW XQD MEMORY CARD
A Gift and a curse, the D4 has new CompactFlash memory slots for the new XQD standard. This allows for high speed DMA transfers for both video and still image buffer off loading. However, what am I going to do with all my current CF cards?? Well luckily Nikon has made the secondary card slot for standard CompactFlash. You can see the slots to the image on the right.
By the way, these memory cards aint cheap either.. Below is a video by Sony that shows the hype about the new memory card.
The EXPEED 3 processing claims to be 1.3 times faster than the EXPEED 2 of the D3s, or 30%. Keep in mind the EXPEED 3 is not equivalent to the Nikon 1 system. Sure the technology is similar, but the D4 has a more beefy implementation, with larger cache sizes compared to the Nikon 1's EXPEED 3 system.
Using the new XQD cards, we should expect 110 raw 14 bit buffered images. The Nikon D4 can shoot at 10fps, or 11fps with autofocus and exposure locked on the initial frame. What's most interesting, is the D4 is relying mostly on the XQD card to offload the buffer, as Nikon has not expanded the size of the buffer from the D3s, instead only the speed.
Nikon has improved the autofocus system drastically. Yes they have kept a 51-point autofocus, however it can operate in much lower light. Rated at -2EV, it can handle an f/8 lens. This allows you to finally use that 2.0x tele-converter on that crappy lens of yours. Listen if you buy a D4, you need to upgrade your lenses too.
The bottom line is that this is a huge advantage, especially for sports and weddings, etc. When you're depending on your autofocus system in low-light situations, the D4's autofocus will assure greater and faster accuracy over the D3s.
METERING - NEW 91K PIXEL RGB SENSOR
The metering worked great on the D3S and D3. So why did Nikon upgrade the metering? Because of improved flash exposure performance with i-TTL-BL and i-TTL (aka through the lens metering).
The D4 is the first Nikon DSLR to independently control flash exposure compensation and camera exposure compensation. On previous cameras, increasing camera exposure would also increase the flash exposure, when shooting in a non manual mode. Now, the extra step of compensating for both is removed with the D4's uncoupled flash exposure compensation. Finally! Read more at Nikon's website.
THE VIDEO - FULL HD
Nikon is a little late for full HD capability. But this new camera doesn't fall short, with improved processing, H.264 encoding, 1080p 30fps, 720p 60fps, uncompressed hdmi 422 8-bit output, optional 2.7x crop factor of 16:9 ratio. Rolling shutter will no longer be an issue, as the D4 has incredible fast bus speeds to offload sensor data. Also, unlike the D7000, you will be able to overlay a histogram in liveview during recording.
More control is provided than ever before. You can adjust the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO on the fly while recording. The audio fidelity has been improved as well. A headphone jack is available for audio monitoring, and the audio levels can be seen from the rear LCD during live video recording.
However, obviously when comparing it to RED or Canon Cinema EOS, Nikon has no shot here, as these are in a different league of video competency. But as an intended DSLR sill camera, it is probably Nikon's best, and equivalent or better to Canon's 1D X. Remember that Nikon introduced video to DLSRs with the introduction of the Nikon D90.
Keep in mind there is a 60 minute timeout for live view with HDMI output. So when using external recording device, you will have to re-record after the timeout. The normal internal memory card recording of the camera is only ~29 minutes.