When the Nikon D4 was first announced the specification did not, on initial inspection, look to be significantly better than that of its immediate predecessor, the Nikon D3S.
The D3S at the time looked pretty much the pinnacle of digital SLR technology as far as speed of operation is concerned, as well as its amazing ability in low light photography.
With a usable ISO speed of 6,400 and with a bit of processing 12,800 I felt initially that it was unlikely there would be any great benefit in spending the additional money required to buy the D4.
However, once the camera became available it was apparent that here was a significant step up not only with a slightly larger pixel count going up to 16MP from 12MP, but with a faster burst speed of 10 to 11 frames per second, slightly up on the nine frames per second of the D3S.
The killer feature however, is 1080p video at different frame rates 24, 25 or 30 at a quality which is outstanding. I recently used the D4 for some cutaway shots at a Wedding I was videoing and was delighted with the results which cut into other HD Video seamlessly.
Apart from the fact it is possible to use auto focus whilst filming with the D4, the ease with which the D4 can be used to film is night and day compared to the D3S where frankly video always looked like a bit of an after-thought.
Clearly Nikon have looked at the current video market leader Canon with their 5D and 7D, and have made sure that all the features of these two cameras are included in the D4 with some extras such as sound monitoring.
There is now a dedicated Video record button and switching to live view is facilitated by a lever below the viewfinder. For serious Filmmaking a rig of some sort and one of the many accessory viewfinders would be needed because focusing is difficult even on the 3.2 inch screen
In theory the sensitivity of the camera is as high as 204,800 ISO but in the same way that the previous top sensitivity of the D3S of 102,400 was only usable in exceptional circumstances, the same applies to the higher sensitivity of the D4.
In practice I might go as high as 25,600 at a pinch, but files would need heavy processing in noise reduction software and the grainy effect which these settings give is not especially attractive.
In practice, for the type of photography I undertake, which does involve a great deal of low and mixed lighting in theatres, 6,400 or 12,800 is usually adequate.
Apart from the new video capabilities, one of the major improvements, once you get used to it, is the ability to change focus modes from the viewfinder menu, ie by pressing a button and turning the control wheels at the front and back of the camera. This also allows for control of exposure points, making the use of the camera in fast moving situations even more functional than the D3S.
The biggest problem with the D3S was that working in low light sometimes it could be difficult to change settings because whilst it was obvious where all the buttons were, it wasn’t necessary quite so obvious which direction they had to move in.
None of these problems prevail with the D4 where, for example, to change focus points the button which previously was a switch on the D3S to the bottom right hand side of the camera (viewed from the front) has now taken over the function of allowing single or continuous focus .
The camera however is not without its faults. Some of them were outwith the control of Nikon, including the need to have a slightly smaller battery than the D3S because of new Japanese regulations concerning battery capacity. In addition, Nikon have also decided to abandon dual compact flash slots in favour of one compact flash slot and one XQD slot which is essentially a new form of SD card which, surprise surprise, is considerably more expensive than SD but promises much higher shooting speeds.
The frustration with these cards at the launch of the camera is that not only are they horrendously expensive, but they are also extremely difficult to track down.
To date it has been an inconvenience to have only two of these cards to hand, and I have had additional cards on order for three months.
There is no doubt that once the format develops it will probably, eventually, take over from compact flash for high end applications but in the mean time there is the inconvenience of having to carry multiple format cards. It might have made more sense to incorporate Dual XQD slots and have ensured that the cards were available at launch at a non-exorbitant cost, some hope.
At the present moment I have in my camera bag SD cards, compact flash cards and XQD cards to cover the needs of my D4, my D800 and my Fuji XP1.
It is unfair to criticise Nikon for trying to progress, but at the same time there could have perhaps been a more elegant solution to introducing this new style of memory. The camera feels slightly lighter than the D3S but just as well made. The new WT5 wireless transmitter is superb in that it connects directly to the camera with no cabling, unlike the WT4 which can be a bit of a pest. The only observation about the WT5 is it does seem slightly fragile attached to the side of the camera and sticking out like a giant blackhead.
It is difficult to see where camera manufacturers need to go in order to continue selling high end cameras, because certainly for the time being the D4 has set a standard where the quality available is quite stunning.
Elsewhere on this website are literally hundreds of photographs which have been taken in the past few months using the D4 and the quality, many of them taken in extremely difficult lighting circumstances, speaks for itself.
I would imagine that all the major companies are constantly working on new sensor technology and I have no doubt that in the same way that the D800 has been launched in a version with the anti alias filter removed we will at some point see a version of the D4 similar to the D3X with extra pixels designed for the portrait and studio photographer.
The D800 is an excellent camera, but I suspect there would be sufficient demand for the same sort of innards in a D4 style body.
Canon have produced a 4K version of their new camera aimed at Video and Filmmakers’, I imagine that now Nikon are (presumably with reluctance) in the Filmmaking hardware business we can expect them to follow suit.
Perhaps we will also see the introduction of a specific Film Camera style camera body similar to Canon’s Cinema EOS line.
In the meantime we have the new pinnacle of DSLR technology represented by Nikon with the D4 and Canon with their EOS1-Dx.