Gear Reviews

Gear Review: Nikon D4 SLR Camera

It’s a difficult thing to review a camera body. There are so many features and aspects to take into account that it’s nearly impossible to keep it simple, but I’m going to try. This isn’t a pixel peeping minutia filled tech-y review. It’s a real world, impartial, honest review from a working photographer that has already taken nearly 10,000 frames with the camera in the first week of use.

The Quick

If you’re moving from anything other than the Nikon D3s then buy it. If you’re a D3s owner then you’ll probably be okay without the D4, however I do believe I take pictures more easily with the D4 because of its improved live view mode.

 

The Build

The camera is built like a tank… just like any other pro nikon body. The ergonomics have changed a bit from the d3 and d3s. The D4 is a bit beefier feeling. It’s got some serious grip and the contours just seem to fit my hand more comfortably than my D3s.

They added a lot of buttons and moved some others around. There’s a nice little switch around the Live View button to quickly change in and out of tripod and handheld mode, which you previously had to dig in the menus to change.

There are two new joysticks and one is for use with the vertical grip so you no longer have to awkwardly reach for the d-pad when shooting vertically.

There’s a dedicated record button for video. It’s directly next to the shutter, which is way more appropriate than previous locations.

To change focus point configurations you now press a little button in the AF/M switch and use the thumb/index finger scroll wheels to adjust the various setups (3d, af-s, af-c, afa, single point, 9 point, 21 point, and 51 point)

Video folks… and those thinking about transitioning to video someday… will appreciate the isolated port covers vs. the one huge flap that would eventually never close on the D3s.

The Use

The image quality of the Nikon d3s was never something I had an issue with. The ISO performance, FPS, battery life, mega-pixels, color, etc were all perfectly fine and really all anyone ever needs to make a compelling image in a professional environment. Don’t get the D4 if you’re hoping for a  huge difference in dynamic range (even though it is a bit better) or because you think all your images will magically look more colorful.

Some things to quickly point out:

  • Battery life is just as good as Nikon D3s & D3, however if you start using live view more heavily you’ll absolutely need a second battery
  • The shutter sound is a lot different and a good bit quieter even without quiet mode enabled
  • The facial recognition is great and works as advertised
  • The ISO performance is fantastic. My hard and fast comparisons put it at the same or a bit better than the D3s, but it really doesn’t matter.
  • The Sony XQD card is incredibly fast read and writing. Unloading images to my computer is noticeably faster
  • White balance seems to be a lot more accurate, however that could just be placebo. I’ve just noticed I’ve had to do a lot less white balance adjusting in post

There are already tons of reviews on the internet comparing the ISO, sharpness, skin tones… blah blah. I’m not going to go on about those things. I’m going to speak about the primary difference between the D4 and every other nikon camera to date… live view.

Last year when I started using my Fuji X100 (reviewed here) I became incredibly addicted to its electronic viewfinder. The ability to see a true representation of the bokeh and exposure before taking an image revolutionized the way I saw images in that camera. Well, the D4 doesn’t have an electronic viewfinder, but it’s got the next best thing… and that’s an incredibly fast, accurate, and easy to use live view mode.

Watch the video to see an example of the Live view in use. It’s fast. It’s largely made possible by the Sony XDQ memory card that’s along side the standard Compact Flash. I can tell a slower response time with the live view when using just a compact flash card.

I’m not very good at pre-visualizing an image with all the bokeh and limited dynamic range of SLR cameras so having a quick way to see it all in nearly real time has completely changed me. Also, I feel like my clients are more comfortable in front of the camera because it’s not blocking my entire face as I look through the viewfinder.

Let me just keep it simple for you. The ability to see the exact focus point, bokeh, freelensing focus plane, flare, and general view of a scene has literally revolutionized how I take images with my camera. Every image below was taken in live view and would have been much much more difficult to capture without the nikon d4. Yes, the d3s can take the same images at basically the same quality (at less mega pixels), but it would have been more difficult, and I might not have realized the image to begin with.

(Click images to view them larger)

The Tips

  • Use the live view mode
  • Try the live view in Silent Mode. Check out the Tip below about how this might be useful.
  • Buy a dedicated manual focus lens as auto focusing in live view is not very practical… though much improved over previous iterations. I purchased the $3,000 noct-nikkor 58mm f/1.2 manual focus lens and I literally can’t imagine a better combination. If that’s a bit steep for you then go for the also spectacular Nikon 50mm f/1.2 (reviewed here)
  • Buy a second battery if you get as addicted to live view shooting as I have
  • Buy a second Sony XQD reader (they’re incredibly fast)

Here are some more D4 images. I tried to pick a few heavily back-lit or high contrast images too in order to show how well highly dynamic images are handled. Does a great job, but I’d say about the same or marginally better than the D3s in that aspect.

(Click images to view them larger)

The Conclusion

To wrap up… I’m keeping mine. I’m selling my D3s and never looking back.

If you’re currently a D3s owner I suggest you never hold the D4 in your hands unless you’re ready to fork over $6,000.

Summary

Rating

Moving from the D700, D3 or finally buying your first full frame DSLR? Get the D4. Already own the D3s? Get if you can afford it.

  • Price
    $5,999.95
  • Uses
    Sports, Weddings, Low Light
  • In my bag?
    Absolutely.
About Sam Hurd

Sam is a professional wedding and editorial photographer based in the Washington DC area. He photographs 40+ weddings a year, press events, commercial portraiture, and regularly hosts workshops in his Baltimore MD studio and around the world. His work has been published internationally including the Wall Street Journal, the NYTimes, and the Washington Post. He's available for commissions worldwide.

Blog Comments

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  1. great review, Sam! live-view is really cool for manual focus, but did you see any AF improvement for those of us with a D3S and all AF lenses? not that the D3S NEEDs any AF improvement…

  2. Great review Sam! The main thing I don’t like about it is that here in Australia it’s going to take waaaaay longer to get my hands on one. I’m so jealous man! :)

  3. Skip the technical stuff (a million others are doing that). We want real world reviews. Great write up!

  4. Also, I remember talking to you about the D3s loud Live view…someone up there must’ve heard your prayers. I can only imagine what is to come with the D800′s live view AF!

  5. killer review Sam. I can’t wait until you review the D800. That’s crazy that you shot 10k frames with it in a week!

  6. nice review! i might have to buy the D4 based on your photo of it alone. great post work!

  7. Nice review, Sam! I found your link via Fstoppers. Always great to meet another Nikonian. Right now, however, I’m liking MF digital with PhaseOne :)

  8. Really helpful reviews on the D4 & D800. Thanks. I currently shoot wedding, political events and portraits with the D700. I’ve been struggling with my next purchase. Looks like I need to pull the trigger and go for the D4.

  9. Hi Sam.
    If u do do u shoot in kelvins? Please let me know the skin tones quality vs the Nikon d3s?

    Thanks

  10. Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Many thanks, However I am having troubles with your RSS.
    I don’t understand the reason why I am unable to subscribe to it. Is there anybody else having the same RSS issues? Anybody who knows the answer will you kindly respond? Thanx!!

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