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- Nikon D4
- Read on for our full performance breakdown of Nikon's new flagship.
Nikon D4 Digital Camera Review$5,999.95
Kit Lens & Mount
The Nikon D4 does not come with a kit lens, despite its $6000 price. This isn't unexpected, though, as the lenses that will most likely be used with the D4 aren't really kit lens material. As a professional camera, it would be a little off putting to slap a standard 18-55mm kit lens on and call it a day. It does mean that those looking to start a photography business or get into that level of shooting will have to invest heavily if they want to complement the D4 with high quality lenses.
The Nikon D4 is the head of Nikon's line of DSLRs, but includes the same F mount that has appeared on most Nikon DSLRs since it was released in 1959. This gives you the option of using just about every Nikon lens (with varying levels of compatibility) since that time. The mount itself features a lens release on the front of the body, with markings on lens and body that indicate where the two line up.
The image sensor in the Nikon D4 is the same size as was found in the D3s, though it has seen a resolution bump from 12.1 megapixels to 16.2. In addition, it shows the benefit of several years of pixel-level developments and processing, as shown in our high ISO noise tests. The sensor's native ISO is now 100-12800 (as opposed to 200-12800 on the D3s), and can be pushed to a max of HI-4, which corresponds to 204,800. At that level noise is very significant, but it'll function for video and for use in surveillance situations.
Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared
The Nikon D4's sensor is a full-frame FX sensor, with an actual size of 36.0mm x 23.9mm. The sensor is significantly larger than the one you'll find on most mid-level and entry-level Nikon DSLRs, which have APS-C sensors and a DX designation. This means that DX lenses will not make use of the full resolution of the camera. If you're using FX lenses you can still opt for a DX crop of the sensor, which will effectively give you a 1.5x crop zoom.
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.
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 Nikon D4 doesn't feature a built-in flash, but it does offer a standard hot shoe atop the camera, functional with Nikon-series flashes. The camera has a flash sync speed that maxes out at 1/250th of a second (1/8000th with flash pulse), flash exposure comp (-3 to +1 EV), flash bracketing, and compatibility with Nikon's creative lighting system.
The Nikon D4 features numerous ports to aid professional workflows, including a standard mini-USB and mini-HDMI port, 3.5mm mic jack, 3.5mm headphone jack, wired Ethernet port, and remote peripheral socket. On the front of the camera you'll find the ten-pin socket and flash sync terminals as well.
The addition of the headphone and mic jacks are very welcome for those looking to do some video shooting with the D4, as the built-in mic for video on the front is placed just out of the way, while the rear mic is really there just for voice memos on still images. The Ethernet port is also going to be very welcome, especially for photographers on assignment.
The Ethernet functionality lets you do some interesting things, such as upload directly to an FTP, control the camera via Camera Control Pro 2 software (optional), or use the camera as an HTTP server, letting you browse photos from a phone or computer. All these functions also work with the WT-5 wireless transfer unit, with the WT-5 also able to control multiple slave cameras from a single controlling camera, allowing for some very interesting setups. The Nikon WT-4 is also compatible, though with less interesting functionality.
The D4's built in portrait grip allows it to house a substantially larger battery than smaller DSLRs, with a Nikon EN-EL18 rechargeable Lithium-ion battery in tow. The EN-EL18 is removed via a small plastic screw key that locks in the battery chamber cover on the bottom right side of the camera. The battery locks into this chamber cover and can then be re-inserted into the camera, with the screw key locking it back in place. The camera ships with just a single battery, but offers a dual battery charger with lights indicating the level of charge.
By CIPA standards the Nikon D4 is rated to last just 2600 shots, which is a significant step down from the 4200 shots per charge that the Nikon D3s achieved by the same standard. The downturn is mostly subject to two things, according to Nikon. The first is that the camera's battery has been tuned to perform better in cold weather and when shooting continuously, without the frequent powering on and off that CIPA standards call for. Second, the latest regulations on batteries in Japan required a certain change in the battery's design that performed worse in the CIPA test, though again that test doesn't replicate real-world shooting conditions. In our time with the camera we only had to charge the battery twice, and that was with taking a few thousand photos, as well as a great deal of video. While the CIPA rating is worrisome, we didn't find the battery's performance to be all that different from the Nikon D3s.
The Nikon D4 includes dual card slots built into the body of the camera, with one slot each for Compact Flash and the new XQD memory cards. Our Nikon D4 came packaged with a USB 3.0 card reader for the XQD cards (as have a few of the first shipments), but this is not something Nikon is continuing in later shipments. The XQD cards are smaller, can achieve faster speeds than CF (currently only with Sony's S-series of XQD cards), and the pins in the camera are far more durable than Compact Flash.
The change in card types is going to be a pain for those who want to upgrade to a Nikon D4 and have a host of Compact Flash memory laying around already. While the benefits of XQD will outweigh the pain in the long term, it's tough of Nikon to ask their users to upgrade cards and card readers just to use the new format, especially as the only manufacturer (as of this writing) making XQD cards is Sony.
It was always going to be a camera like this that forced its users to jump into a new smaller, faster, more durable memory format, but that doesn't mean there's not still inconvenience associated with being an early adopter.