Hands-On Review: the Nikon D4S Digital Camera
From the moment I took the D4S out of the box, there was one word to describe how I felt: envious. There’s nothing like opening a box and taking a brand-new camera out for the first time, especially when it’s Nikon’s new flagship D4S. This camera is a beast, in every way. It’s big, solid, and heavy duty, definitely an everyday workhorse, but it somehow manages to be all of those things without feeling too heavy. That was the first thing I noticed about the D4S, how much bigger it was than my D7000, but somehow it still felt perfectly manageable in my hands. The grips are hefty and comfortable, and handling the camera was second nature, even though it is about twice the size of what I’m used to shooting with.
Once I was finished admiring the physical attributes of the camera, I decided I should actually turn it on. Of course, the first thing I wanted to witness was the camera's ability to shoot at 11 frames per second. That sound is just so impressive—every time I was shooting with the D4S and people heard those actuations, even if they weren’t photographers, they couldn’t help but ask questions.
11 frames, compared to the 10 frames per second of the D4, may not seem like a huge difference, but as I can tell you from shooting some touch-football games, every extra frame counts. It was so amazing shooting 11 RAW file frames per second without ever once stopping for buffering, thanks to another update to the D4S, which is the EXPEED 4 processor. The new processor is responsible for the bulk of what makes the D4S so great.
Faster RAW Capture and Incredible ISO Performance
Not only does the EXPEED 4 allow the camera to shoot up to 104 uncompressed 14-bit RAW files, and up to 200 JPEG fine large files continuously, it also adds 30% overall processor speed as compared to the D4, which can really be seen when it comes to things like shooting without buffering. I think Nikon deserves credit for not adding to the megapixels, but rather concentrating on making the 16.2MP that the camera does have, and making them count.
|ISO 16000||ISO 25600||ISO 51200|
The sensor and EXPEED 4 processor combine to allow the camera to shoot with a native ISO range of 100-25600 and an expanded range of 50-409600. I shot throughout the native range, and while the higher end of this spectrum was impressive, I wouldn’t use it unless I was shooting in almost absolute darkness where it was really necessary. While there may not be much noise at ISO 25600, there isn’t much sharpness either. Nonetheless, shooting at ISO 25600 makes perfectly acceptable images for magazine, newspaper, or online publications. You only start to notice the noise and lack of detail when you really zoom in, or if you were to make large prints. For every application I used the camera for, which included shooting in a very dark bowling alley, the ISO performance was incredible. I didn’t have to worry about noise, and could still have a fast enough shutter speed to freeze my subjects. The higher expanded sensitivity range sounds impressive, but the noise and color shifts become pretty extreme, and I can’t see many times I would actually need to shoot at ISO 409600, although it is nice to have if you’re in a pinch.
Shooting Fast-Moving Subjects is a Breeze
Another case where the D4S really shines is the improved autofocus. It has the same 51-point autofocus area as its predecessor, but it adds a couple of new features that make it stand above the D4. The first is the Group AF mode, which uses five autofocus sensors as a single autofocus point. The other new feature is the autofocus point position memory. This feature allows the camera to keep your focal point in the same area of the frame when you change from landscape to portrait position. For example, if you’re taking a head shot and your autofocus point is on the person’s right eye in portrait mode, when you turn the camera to landscape mode the camera will automatically adjust the point to the same area over the person’s right eye. This saves you from having to move the point with your thumb until you get it back to where you need it.
These new features, combined with the already great autofocus system from the D4, make this camera a breeze to shoot fast-moving subjects. I didn’t have to worry about whether the football players running at full speed toward me were in focus or not; I knew the camera would take care of it.
Improvements in Video Capture
"..include being able to record to a memory card and an external recorder simultaneously.."
Even though I’m primarily a still photographer, I wanted to test out the video capabilities of the D4S. The biggest changes here are the addition of 50 and 60 frames per second in full HD 1080p quality, as well as the ability to select between full frame (FX), crop sensor (DX), and 2.7x crop while in live view. Other new features include auto ISO while shooting video in manual mode, selectable audio frequency range, and adjustable audio while recording. Some other important features for pro video shooters include being able to record to a memory card and an external recorder simultaneously, as well as viewing your live view output while recording uncompressed video via HDMI.
Even though most of these features are beyond the scope of my video needs, I can tell you that shooting video in very low light with the auto ISO was amazing, and the video files came out looking beautiful.
While most of the upgrades to the D4S are about shooting, Nikon also gave us some great features to help on the back end of things. First, the addition of a small RAW file size allows you to shoot 12-bit uncompressed RAW files that are much smaller than the regular full-sized RAW files. This saves you time when transferring files, and saves you space on your hard drive while still giving you the same control of your images in post-processing. Another time-saving feature of the D4S is the new 1000Base-T LAN Gigabit Ethernet connection. This lets you transfer image and video files must faster than the D4’s 100Base-T LAN connection.
A much talked-about feature on this camera is its ability to fine-tune the color of the camera’s LCD screen, to remove color casts. This comes in very handy when working under strange lighting conditions such as fluorescent lights. You will be able to correct the images in post, but now you can remove any apparent color casts on the back of your LCD screen as well.
Although I didn’t get to see the full potential of the battery’s long life, Nikon does claim that the new battery will provide enough power to shoot up to 3,020 photos; that’s 420 more than the D4. Since the camera comes with a dual battery charger, with the purchase of a second battery you should have more than enough power for most situations.
I have to admit that before I got the chance to shoot with the D4S, I didn’t think I would ever want to own it. It just seemed like it would be too much camera for my needs. I don’t regularly shoot sports, action, or low-light events like theater, so I thought it would be a nice camera to test, but then I would be happy going back to my D7000, and my arsenal of film cameras. When I had to hand that camera back to its rightful owner, though, I must say I was more than a little sad to see it go. The D4S is a thing of beauty, and shooting any other camera after it is like going from a Ferrari to an Oldsmobile.
Nikon D4S Sample Images
|Lens Mount||Nikon F|
|Image Sensor||CMOS; 36 x 23.9mm (FX format)|
|Maximum Resolution||4928 x 3280|
|Aspect Ratio||3:2, 5:4|
|Still Image File Format||JPEG, RAW (NEF), TIFF|
|Storage Media||CompactFlash (Type I, compliant with UDMA), XQD|
|Card Slot||1x CompactFlash, 1x XQD|
|Viewfinder Type||Eye-level pentaprism single-lens reflex viewfinder|
|Frame Coverage||100% (FX)|
|Diopter Adjustment||-3 to +1 m|
|Shutter Type||Electronically controlled vertical-travel focal-plane|
|Shutter Speed||30 sec. to 1/8000 sec., bulb|
|Flash Sync Speed||Up to 1/250 sec.|
|Drive Modes||Continuous low-speed mode (CL)
Continuous high-speed mode (CH)
Mirror-up mode (Mup)
Quiet Shutter Release
Single-frame mode (S)
|Top Continuous Shooting Rate||Up to 11 fps|
|Self-Timer||2, 5, 10, 20 sec.; 1-9 exposures at 0.5, 1, 2, or 3 sec. intervals|
|Exposure Metering System||TTL exposure metering using 91,000-pixel RGB sensor|
3D Color Matrix Metering III
|Metering Range||-1 to +20 EV (matrix or center-weighted)
2 to 20 EV (spot)
|Exposure Modes||Aperture-Priority (A)
Programmed auto with flexible program (P)
Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
|Exposure Compensation||+/- 5 EV in 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV steps|
|Exposure Bracketing||2 to 9 frames in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, or 1 EV steps|
|ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-25600 (expandable to ISO 50-409600)|
|Autofocus System||Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection|
|Number of Focus Points||51|
|Focus Modes||Continuous-servo (AF-C)
Face-Priority AF available in live view only and D-Movie only
Full-time Servo (AF-F) available in live view only
Manual (M) with electronic rangefinder
Single-servo AF (AF-S)
|Autofocus Sensitivity||-2 to +19 EV (ISO 100, 68°F / 20°C)|
|Flash Control||iTTL flash control using 91,000-pixel RGB sensor|
|Flash Modes||Auto FP High-Speed Sync supported
Front-curtain sync (normal)
Red-Eye reduction with slow sync
Slow rear-curtain sync
|Top FP High Speed Sync||1/8000 sec.|
|Flash Compensation||-3 to +1 EV in 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV steps|
|Flash Bracketing||2 to 9 frames in 1/3, 1/2, 2/3, or 1 EV steps|
|External Flash Interface||Hot shoe, flash sync terminal|
|White Balance Modes||Auto (2 types), Color Temperature (2500-10000K), Cloudy, Direct Sunlight, Flash, Fluorescent (7 types), Incandescent, Preset Manual (up to 6 values), Shade|
|White Balance Bracketing||2 to 9 frames in 1, 2, or 3 EV steps|
|Movie Recording||1920 x 1080; 60, 50, 30, 25, 24 fps
1280 x 720; 60, 50 fps
640 x 424; 30, 25 fps
|Movie Metering||TTL exposure metering using main image sensor|
|Audio Recording||Built-in monaural microphone, optional external stereo microphone|
|Audio File Format||Linear PCM|
|Maximum Recording Time||29 min. 59 sec. (at normal quality, except 1920 x 1080; 60/50 fps)|
|Monitor||3.2" 921k-dot LCD|
|Monitor Viewing Angle||170°|
|Interface||USB 2.0, HDMI mini (Type C), 10-pin remote terminal, headphone output, microphone input, 1000 Base-T wired LAN ethernet, NTSC|
|Wi-Fi||With optional WT-5A or WT-4A|
|GPS||With optional GP-1A GPS unit|
|Power Source||EN-EL18a rechargeable lithium-ion battery|
|Battery Life||3,020 shots (CIPA)|
|Operating Environment||32-104°F / 0-40°C|
|Dimensions||6.3 x 6.2 x 3.6" / 160 x 156.5 x 90.5mm|
|Weight||2.6 lb / 1.2 kg|