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Nikon D4 Digital Camera Review$5,999.95
The Nikon D4 features a set of standard color modes, including the usual suspects: standard, neutral, vivid, landscape, portrait, and monochrome. The modes can all be directly accessed by pressing the picture control button on the left side of the LCD screen. From there you can adjust any of the default modes (with options for sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue) or create custom modes that you can label yourself. More on how we test color.
Of the default modes, we found the neutral mode to be the most accurate, with a color error of just 2.17 and a near-perfect saturation level of 100.6%, though the portrait mode was a close second with near perfect saturation. As you'd expect the landscape, and vivid modes aren't the most accurate, favoring more vibrant hues. The standard mode is quite good, with saturation just pushed slightly. We should note that these are all at the default settings, and you may have even better accuracy by processing RAW images yourself or tweaking settings to your liking.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
Compared to similar models, the Nikon D4's accuracy is right on par with the better cameras, as you'd expect. Its large sensor particularly does well in assigning accurate colors under low light conditions and in darker patches. Frequently cameras are very good from neutral gray to white, but struggle with colors that don't give off as much light. Here the full frame sensor shines, with a well-controlled magenta and yellow values. We should note that inconsistent white balance results can really plague performance here, though, with a particularly nasty habit of preserving a green tint under fluorescent lighting when not using a white card and taking a direct white balance measurement.
In the menu there are two picture control options that you can select from, one that lets you edit default picture controls and another that lets you create and save custom controls based on those default values. You can save up to nine of these custom modes, with a full slate of characters so you can name them whatever you like. In either menu you can view all the picture controls on a grid that plots all the modes contrast and saturation, including the custom ones.
The D4 offers manual white balance measurement, custom kelvin temperature entry, and a set of standard, adjustable white balance presets. The white balance on the Nikon D4 allows for a great deal of customization and control, but we found that most of that control is hidden behind a confusing layout that could really do with some simplification.
For example, setting a manual white balance can be done in two ways, either from an image on the memory card or by direct measurement. The problem with either setting is that the camera doesn't seem to draw measurements from the center of the image, but the whole frame. With a full frame camera, that's frequently a lot of frame to cover. Not doing so often resulted in a bias that threw off the results by a few hundred kelvin.
We found the direct white balance measurement to be absolutely superior to the alternative of using an image on the card. Unlike other cameras (namely Canon bodies) that draw white balance information from a photograph of a white or neutral gray object off the card, the Nikon D4 isn't taking a new measurement, but instead merely applying the same white balance information as was used for that photo. This means that in order to get an accurate white balance with this method, you'd have to first tune white balance perfectly, take a photo, then use that photo to recall the white balance settings you just tuned by hand.
The direct measurement system is simple, easy, and accurate. The alternative is only useful if you've gotten white balance correct under a particular light source, left, assigned the four in-camera white balance presets to other values, and want to recall the white balance settings from the original light source. With direct measurement taking three seconds to gather a new reading, we say stick to direct measurement and forget the rest.
Automatic White Balance ()
The automatic white balance on the D4 worked well in most scenarios. While out shooting with the camera we found that it was able to replicate skin tones perfectly in a variety of conditions. In our test we found it only struggled under tungsten lighting, as the auto white balance is only tuned to go between 3500 and 8000 kelvin, which doesn't cover the full range of tungsten lighting. Under daylight conditions we saw a marked improvement, with an average error of less than 100 kelvin.
Fluorescent lighting was another story, with the D4 producing incredibly accurate (off by less than 50 kelvin) and incredibly inaccurate (off by more than 500 kelvin) results. This may be a matter of a camera being too accurate for its own good, especially with fluorescent lighting pulsing the way it does. In running our test multiple times we saw a green tint in several images taken under compact white fluorescent lighting, with the results otherwise being quite acceptable. It's a minor issue, to be sure, but we'd recommend shooting both RAW and JPEG under fluorescent conditions, just to be safe.
Custom White Balance ()
When taking a custom white balance with direct measurement, the D4 was, as you'd expect, remarkable accurate. We found that under tungsten, compact white fluorescent, and daylight conditions the camera never produced results that were off by more than 150 kelvin. In mixed lighting you may have slightly trickier results, though the camera's ability to fine-tune performance on an ABGM scale allow you to make the adjustments necessary under almost any lighting condition.