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Nikon D4 Digital Camera Review$5,999.95
Low Light Performance
The Nikon D4 houses a large full frame image sensor with the ability to push its ISO all the way up to 204,800. The focus sensor is also very accurate, able to find focus quickly and accurately with very little hunting even in extremely low light. The most limiting factor we saw in shooting with the D4 was our own visual acuity in low light.
In our noise performance testing, we were impressed by the D4's ability to capture in low light. While we wouldn't recommend the maximum ISO speeds for printable photos, they do allow for handheld shooting in extreme situations where light is under 100 lux. For surveillance or law enforcement purposes, however, we think the D4's highest ISO settings and superb low light focus performance would be a boon.
The Nikon D4 includes three high ISO noise reduction settings, though they barely kick in before ISO 3200. The settings are the typical low, normal, and high, though you can deactivate noise reduction entirely if you wish. We did find that the "NR off" setting returned lower noise results than the "NR Normal" setting once you get beyond ISO 12800, so there's likely some level of noise reduction being applied in JPEGs by default. This only really occurs at ISO 25600 and 51200, though, so it's probably more of a software aberration in the camera than anything else. More on how we test noise.
The Nikon D4 has a native ISO range that extends from 100-12800, with options to extend that as high as 204,800 or as low as ISO 50. The high options we've discussed above. With noise reduction turned all the way to high, we'd recommend keeping it to ISO 51200. At that speed the high setting returns just 1.78% noise, which is acceptable (though that is bought at the expense of fine detail in the image). The low ISO setting is mostly a trick of the camera, as it is merely ISO 100, but with a lower tonal curve applied to the image. The low ISO will expose a given scene at the same settings as ISO 100, but the resulting image tones down highlights to retain more detail (though dynamic range is actually less than ISO 50).
The Nikon D4 focuses very quickly, with a 51-point autofocus sensor that is sensitive even in extremely limited light. We found it was able to track moving subjects even while firing at full speed, with plenty of focus options for fine-tuning performance. In low light the camera rarely hunted past the point of focus, though using a set focus point on a high-contrast edge improved that substantially. In shooting sports, we found the focus point wrap-around feature to be a great help, especially for subjects where you have to pan in order to keep them in the frame.
Video: Low Light Sensitivity
To put it completely plainly: the Nikon D4 can see in the dark. In our low light sensitivity test we shoot a standard white/black target and use a waveform monitor to detect at what lux level the camera produces an image of less than 50 IRE. With our lux meters reading 0 lux (with our eyes still able to see the chart), the D4 still produced an image of 70-80IRE. Human vision is limited to around 0.3lux and the image did bottom out once we turned the lights almost completely off. With the option to shoot video at the extreme ISO speed of 204,800, these results aren't a huge surprise, but it's still an incredible showing from the D4.