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Nikon D4 Digital Camera Review$5,999.95
The Nikon D4 has a large body that accomodates its many controls. Like the Canon 1D series and previous flagship D-series Nikons before it, the portrait grip is built right into the body. Both grips are large, though the standard grip has significantly more depth to it than the portrait grip. It's so large that it can be difficult for those with smaller hands to utilize the preview and function buttons on the front of the camera without sacrificing grip. The portrait grip is much better suited to people with smaller hands, but the depth of field preview is out of reach in that scenario.
The material on the D4 offers a great deal of purchase, and the camera won't easily part from your hands in spite of its weight. The rear thumb rest extends into the memory compartment on the back of the camera, offering greater surface area to control the camera. The camera's weight with the 24-70mm f/2.8G lens isn't too problematic if you're just shooting for a short period of the time, and most of that weight comes from the lens itself. We did notice that if you find yourself alternating between adjusting the settings in the menu and shooting that your wrist tends to cramp up, but this is less of a problem once the camera is configured to your liking.
In general the Nikon D4 does a good job of spacing the controls out such that handling the camera isn't a problem. There are some hitches with the overall control scheme, though, especially the ISO, white balance, and picture quality buttons. As on the D3s they're presumable placed on the bottom of the back of the camera so they're usable when in the portrait grip, but you still have to take your hand off the grip to reach them. The problem is when using that grip, holding the ISO button and adjusting the rear dial is almost impossible, requiring two hands to get the job done. The quality and white balance buttons are activated by the control dial by the portrait grip's shutter release, but even that's difficult to reach for anyone who doesn't have large hands.
Buttons & Dials
The large body of the D4 allows buttons to be comfortable spaced apart, with both portrait and landscape grips receiving dedicated controls. Both grips benefit from command and sub-command dials, a programmable function button, AF-ON button, sub-selector joystick, and shutter release. The vertical grip's shutter release also has a release lock, and the general layout of the controls is similar regardless of how you're holding the camera, with small differences. All the grip-centric buttons are well-designed, with legible labels and large buttons. The controls don't have much travel, and don't offer much of a haptic response. This keeps things quiet, but sometimes you're left wondering if you fully depressed the AF-ON button, for example.
The left side of the LCD is similar to the D3s, with the addition of a picture control button offering instant access to the different color modes. The other large change is the AF mode selector on the front of the camera, sitting where your off-hand's thumb would normally rest when supporting the camera. The mode selector now has two positions (AF and MF), with a center button that can be held while a dial is turned to select AF mode. The main benefit of this is during video recording, where changing AF mode from full-time servo AF to single-shot AF is quieter than if you had to adjust a resistant lever.
The Nikon D4 gets a small spec bump on its rear LCD, going from 3 inches to a full 3.2-inch, 921k-dot display. The display is quite accurate to our eyes (though the white balance of the actual photos is another story that we'll get to), with 100% coverage useful for framing. The LCD's brightness can be changed on a +/- 5-stop scale, or automatically set depending on the brightness of the room.
The D4 also sports both a rear secondary and top-plate display, with informational readout on the camera's current settings. Both are monochrome LCDs, displaying various bits of shooting information. The LCD on the back shows current image size, area, and quality settings along with ISO and white balance information. Beneath this LCD are the corresponding buttons of these features, letting you change all three without going into the menu.
The top plate LCD has information on the amount of exposures remaining, battery life readout, exposure compensation settings, current shooting mode, which menu bank you are currently employing and focus/metering mode. Both LCDs can be illuminated with a green backlight, making them readable in the dark. This function has to be turned on in the menu, though, as there's no direct panel light button as you'll find on the Canon 5D Mark III, for example.
The viewfinder on the Nikon D4 is, in a word, fantastic. It's bright and clear, with an intelligent information design, comfortable placement, and useful AF point illumination. Around the edges of the viewfinder, the D4 offers the basic shooting information (exposure settings, ISO, current mode, exposures remaining/frame count), with the exposure compensation meter on the right side of the finder. If you're used to seeing the exposure compensation meter beneath the finder this is a change, but it's actually easier in the long run as it's out of the way when you want to focus on other settings. When there's no exposure compensation set, the meter simply turns off so you can't see it.
In addition to all that, the viewfinder also has a plastic sheath that can be closed, useful for blocking light from entering through the finder during long bulb exposures. If you're planning on using the camera for low light, timelapse, or astrophotography, this will at least save you some money in gaffer's tape.