Following in the footsteps of such aof professional SLRs isn't easy. Fortunately, the Nikon D4 offers enough important features like Ethernet and wireless connectivity, plus a huge improvement in video to make the upgrade very worthwhile.
Thewasn't particularly difficult or cumbersome to hold, but the D4 has received some fine-tuned ergonomic improvements to make the shooting experience even more enjoyable.
A thermal shield at the top of the camera protects the panel from heating up when used extensively outdoors — something that sports photographers will welcome. There's also an auto-dim sensor on the side of the (3.2-inch, 920,000-dot) LCD screen that detects the ambient light, and can automatically adjust screen brightness. The screen is very easy to see outdoors. There's also a new addition of a special gel layer between the plastic and the LCD itself to prevent fogging during temperature shifts.
There's a new rubberised focus point for vertical shooting, as well as improvements for vertical shooters where the same focus point is retained when the orientation is changed. The rubberised joysticks are precise, and give nice, tactile feedback when pressed or moved. A subtle adjustment has been made to the angle of the shutter button, moving to a 35-degree angle. It doesn't feel all that much different in regular use, but is welcomed after a long session of shooting. A small record button is located just behind the shutter button, and is very well placed, making it easy to instantly start shooting video.
Buttons at the back of the camera now glow ever so slightly in the dark when the backlight switch is triggered. Nikon has included the zoom buttons found on lower-end models of its SLRs, and the inclusion is much welcomed on the D4. We greatly prefer it to the odd method of zooming in and out using the one single button on the D3S.
The illuminated buttons on the back of the D4. (Credit: Nikon)
Two Live View modes are offered on the D4; one for video, and one for stills photography. The switch just underneath the LCD screen alternates between the two, with the centre button switching Live View on and off. You can take stills when recording video, but the recording will stop in order to take the photo. There's also two release modes available when shooting in photo Live View mode; quiet or silent. Activated from the menu, the silent photo mode snaps an image at 1920x1280, as opposed to the full-resolution shot when using the quiet option.
The D4 has an excellent time-lapse function, which allows you to set the interval at which photos are taken. Rather than just simply taking photos, though, the camera automatically puts them together in a finished movie, at a resolution of your choosing (selectable from the movie options tab).
The D4 breaks new ground in connectivity options, thanks to both a wired Ethernet and wireless transmitter (sold separately), which allow photographers to assign the D4 to its own IP address. The wireless transmitter is powered by the camera, and is a compact module that sits on the body, supporting IEEE 802.11n for fast data transfer. Unfortunately, we weren't supplied with the transmitter during our review period, so we can't comment on the wireless capabilities of the D4. We will update this review in due course when we have had access to a transmitter.
Connectivity options accessible from the D4.
We can, however, talk about the Ethernet connectivity on the D4. There are multiple ways of using the Ethernet connection, namely to view and transfer files from the memory card, FTP transfer or in HTTP server mode. HTTP mode lets you access the camera via browser or smartphone, and have basic camera control to take photos and video. The D4 doesn't have a built-in DHCP server, so in order to connect the camera directly to a laptop to interact with the camera, you need to set a static IP address on both the camera and the computer manually. Otherwise, for automatic configuration, you will need a DHCP server (such as a router) between the camera and computer.
Once the camera has been connected to your PC, you can view files on the camera's memory cards or access some basic controls (in Shooting Viewer mode) on the screen. This will show up shooting option, like full PASM and exposure control, a shutter release, metering options and autofocus options. You can activate Live View by clicking the "LV" icon at the bottom of the screen, and focus the camera by clicking anywhere in the Live View window. Live View does lag more than we would have imagined through the Ethernet connection, and the wired connection does eat away at battery life.
Depending on your shooting configuration, you may also need to configure the Wireless Transmitter Utility (download for Windows or Mac) to pair the camera with your PC.
General shooting metrics (in FPS)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- 0.080.150.20.01Nikon D4
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed
- 10Nikon D4
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Given that the XQD format is so new, we have yet to receive a test card, and therefore have been unable to assess the D4 based on its XQD performance. At the time of writing, only one manufacturer, Sony, is producing the format. All figures above were derived from testing the D4 in conjunction with a Lexar Professional CompactFlash 16GB 1000x card. We'll also update the performance chart when the Canon 1DX is available for comparison.
The D4 can take a burst of approximately 60 frames in JPEG at fine quality, and 53 in RAW before slowing to process them. It takes 22 seconds for the buffer to clear when shooting the D4's maximum burst of RAW images.
The focusing system of the D4 is absolutely excellent. It retains the same AF points (51) as the D3S, but is incredibly responsive, achieving and locking onto focus correctly even in very dark situations. The D4 also lets you use all 15 of the cross-type points when shooting on lenses with a maximum aperture of f/5.6.
It's a small irk, but given the increasing proliferation of USB 3.0 devices, we would have liked to see a USB 3.0 interface on the D4 as well.
The battery is rated at 2600 shots (CIPA), which is significantly less than the battery on the D3S. However, in this interview with a Nikon spokesperson, Nikon claims that the performance in continuous shooting actually allows the photographer to take more shots with the new D4 battery than with the D3S.
As would be expected from a professional SLR of this calibre, the D4 delivers impeccable photographs. Let's dig a little deeper, though, particularly in regards to ISO performance. The native ISO range has improved to 100-12,800, and is expandable even farther up to extremes of 50 and 204,800 in the low and high modes, respectively.
The D4's low ISO performance is excellent. The D4 delivers smooth, crisp and clean images all the way up to ISO 1600. In particular, the D4 does a very good job of keeping colour noise at bay as the ISO sensitivity increases. However, compared to the see-in-the-dark skills of the D3S, we didn't see a dramatic increase in the quality of images rendered by the D4 compared to the D3S at high ISO levels. Indeed, the D4's images looked just a tad softer and slightly more noisy (though without as much colour noise) as the D3S' images. It's definitely not a jump backwards in terms of image quality, but it's not enough of a step forward to warrant upgrading on this basis alone.