Nikon D4 Review

 
Camera Reviews / Nikon Cameras / Nikon D i Initial Test

Nikon D4 Video Recording

These days, movie capture is commonplace even for interchangeable-lens cameras aimed at consumers. For a professional model, it's absolutely obligatory, and as you'd expect, the Nikon D4 offers video recording capabilities with a rich feature set indeed.

As you'd expect of a camera aimed at pros, the Nikon D4 offers both automatic and manual exposure control, and supports both internal and external microphones. It also provides for full-time or single autofocus operations, and manual focusing. It's rarer in offering a headphone jack to monitor audio during capture, and a fairly fine-grained control over both microphone and headphone levels. Even rarer is the ability to capture video remotely via Ethernet or an optional WiFi adapter. Particularly interesting to pros is the opportunity to record an uncompressed video stream via HDMI, for recording on an external device. Perhaps the most unusual feature of all, though, is the ability to smoothly adjust aperture using two front-of-camera buttons, although this only works when recording with an external device. Otherwise, the camera reverts to a stepped aperture that is locked once capture commences.

Nikon D4 Basic Video Specs

  • 1080p (1,920 x 1,080) Full HD recording at 30 / 25 / 24 fps
  • 720p (1,280 x 720) HD recording at 60 / 50 / 30 / 25 fps
  • 640 x 424 SD recording at 30 / 25 fps
  • Clips limited to 4GB / 30 minutes, or 20 minutes for 1080p and 720p60/50
  • Supports FX-format lenses (but with a curious 1.1x crop) or DX-format lenses (1.5x focal length crop)
  • Optional crop function uses centermost 1,920 x 1,080 pixels from sensor, has 2.7x crop equivalent to that of the Nikon 1-mount cameras
  • H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression, .MOV container
  • Uncompressed 8-bit 4:2:2 output via HDMI port, but only when no flash cards are present in the camera body
  • Simultaneous display on camera's LCD during uncompressed output, but with added info overlay that's not present on the HDMI feed
  • Full-time live autofocus is possible during recording, including tracking and face detection, albeit with actuation noise levels depending on the lens used
  • Single-servo auto and manual focus also possible
  • AF point position and size can be manually controlled
  • Programmed-auto, aperture-priority, or manual exposure (set before recording starts; no shutter-priority)
  • Power Aperture function available, but only for uncompressed HDMI output, not when recording on-camera
  • Auto ISO sensitivity for program / aperture-priority, with adjustable upper limit (ISO 12,800 or Hi-4 / 204,800)
  • Manual ISO sensitivity for manual exposure
  • Exposure compensation and lock are both available
  • Image stabilization during video capture, if offered by lens
  • Picture control system provides creative options
  • Monaural audio recording via built-in microphone; stereo recording via external microphone jack
  • Audio monitoring via external headphone jack
  • Adjustable levels for both mic and headphone, fixed from start of recording
  • Time-lapse movie mode available without sound
  • Virtual horizon helps get level horizons
  • Can record remotely using remote cords, via ethernet or (with optional accessory) via WiFi
  • Index marking function makes it quick to return to up to 20 key moments in a movie clip
  • Flicker reduction function available
  • In-camera movie trimming possible

Nikon D4 Video: Image Size, Frame Rate, and Encoding

The Nikon D4 records movies at three progressive scan resolutions: either 1,920 x 1,080, 1,280 x 720, or 640 x 424 pixels. The highest resolution 1,920 x 1,080 pixel mode is commonly known as Full HD or 1,080p, and has a 16:9 aspect ratio. This offers a choice of three frame rates, nominally listed as 30, 25, and 24 frames per second, although the highest and lowest rates are actually 29.97 and 23.976 fps. As well as the standard field of view, a 2.7x crop is available in this mode. The intermediate 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution also has a 16:9 aspect ratio, and is better known as 720p. These also offers the nominal 30 and 25 frames per second rates, drops the 24 fps rate, and adds two more. A 60fps nominal rate equates to 59.94 fps actually, while the remaining 50 fps rate matches the nominal figure. When the D4's video output is set to the North American NTSC format, the 60fps, 30fps and 24fps movie recording rates are available. If switched to PAL format, the D4 offers a choice of 50, 25, or 24 fps rates. Finally, the non-standard 640 x 424 pixel mode has an approximate 3:2 aspect ratio. With this standard definition mode, recording frame rates are fixed at either 30 fps for NTSC, or 25fps for PAL.

Nikon D4: 2.7x Video Crop Mode
1,920 x 1,080 Uncropped
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080 Cropped
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080 Uncropped
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080 Cropped
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

For most resolutions and frame rates, recording times are limited to 29 minutes, 59 seconds or four gigabytes per clip, whichever limit is reached first. However, the highest-resolution 1080p modes and the high-framerate 50 / 60 fps 720p modes are limited to a clip length of 20 minutes. If you're shooting in high ambient temperatures, note that like all video-capable DSLRs, the D4 will monitor its internal temperature and cease video capture if a certain threshold is passed, to prevent damage to the sensor and other components. You're given a 30-second window in which to wrap up your shot after the shutdown warning is shown, if this is the case. You'll then need to wait for the camera's internals to cool sufficiently before another video capture can be started.

The Nikon D4 records movies using H.264/MPEG-4 AVC compression with Linear PCM audio, and stores them in .MOV files. Compared to the Motion JPEG format used by some cameras, H.264 is much more conservative of memory card space. It also avoids some of the severe image quality loss suffered by AVCHD cameras, when faced with significant amounts of change in image content between frames. (AVCHD uses a subset of the H.264 standard, which among other things mandates a limit in recording bandwidth, translating into a lesser ability to convey rapidly-changing detail.) The choice of H.264 comes with the requirement of greater processing power, though -- not only from the camera when recording, but also when playing back or editing videos. The more sophisticated encoding used in the H.264 standard requires quite a bit of processor power to pull it apart and put it back together again, so frame-accurate editing of H.264 requires a fast processor and capable editing program. That said, for the target customer, this is unlikely to be an issue; merely something to bear in mind.

Unlike some cameras using AVCHD recording, the Nikon D4's H.264 movies have relatively little lag in response to your starting or stopping recording. That's great news, because it means you're less likely to miss the start of the action, or have to trim the start and end of clips.

In addition to recording in-camera, the Nikon D4 provides another, much more rare option--but only when there are no flash cards in the camera body. If this is the case, the D4 can output an uncompressed, 8-bit, 4:2:2 video feed via the HDMI port, which can then be captured and stored with an external recorder such as an Atomos Ninja or similar. This lets you get at the uncompressed video, and it also provides a way to circumvent the clip length limitations (although you're still subject to sensor heating issues, so if the sensor gets too hot then live view will be stopped.) It's possible to adjust the aperture while outputting via HDMI, as described in the exposure control section below. Note that while the HDMI feed is active in this manner, no informational overlays are added to the output feed. The live view is mirrored on the camera's LCD, where the overlays are shown, letting you confirm settings etc. without affecting the recorded video.

Here's a list showing what to expect for file sizes with the Nikon D4's video recording:

Nikon D4 Video Options
H.264/MPEG-4 AVC Format (.MOV file container)
Resolution
Aspect Ratio
Quality
Encoding
Frame Rate
Max. Clip Length
Bitrate

1,920 x 1,080
(1,080p Full HD)

16:9

High

NTSC

30p
(29.97 fps)

20 minutes
or 4GB

24 Mbps

Normal

12 Mbps

High

PAL

25p
(25 fps)
24 Mbps

Normal

12 Mbps

High

NTSC / PAL

24p
(23.976 fps)
24 Mbps

Normal

12 Mbps

1,280 x 720
(720p HD)

16:9

High

NTSC

60p
(59.94 fps)

20 minutes
or 4GB

24 Mbps

Normal

12 Mbps

High

PAL

50p
(50 fps)
24 Mbps

Normal

12 Mbps

High

PAL

30p
(29.97 fps)

29 minutes,
59 seconds
or 4GB

12 Mbps

Normal

8 Mbps

High

PAL

25p
(25 fps)
12 Mbps

Normal

8 Mbps

640 x 424
(non-standard SD)

~3:2

High

NTSC

30p
(29.97 fps)

29 minutes,
59 seconds
or 4GB

5 Mbps

Normal

3 Mbps

High

PAL

25p
(25 fps)
5 Mbps

Normal

3 Mbps


Nikon D4 Sample Videos

Here are some examples of video from the Nikon D4, showing typical results under daylight and night conditions.

Nikon D4: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
640 x 424
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
640 x 424
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

Nikon D4 Video-Mode Focusing

The Nikon D4 performs autofocus in live view and movie modes using contrast detection, which operates based on data streaming from the image sensor. It's the same technique referred to as Tripod mode on earlier Nikon SLRs. As in other recent models, the Nikon D4 offers both single-servo and continuous-servo autofocus modes, and the latter bears a different name from its phase-detection equivalent. It's called Full-time Servo AF, or AF-F for short, as opposed to AF-C / Continuous-Servo AF for phase detection AF when shooting stills through the viewfinder. By design, contrast detection autofocus involves some hunting around the point of focus, and can lag behind changes in your subject's focus distance somewhat. If your subject is relatively static, you can instead opt for the Single-servo AF mode, which will still allow you to perform single autofocus operations during video capture by half-pressing the shutter button, or pressing the AF-ON button. Of course, pro videographers will almost certainly prefer to switch off autofocus altogether, and pull focus manually by appropriately setting the Focus-mode selector on the camera's front panel (as well as that on the lens, if applicable).

The D4 offers four AF-area modes for use during movie capture: Face-priority AF, Wide-area AF, Normal-area AF, and Subject-Tracking AF. The Wide and Normal-area modes are self-explanatory, providing two different focus area sizes, which can be manually positioned anywhere within the frame (and even moved during video capture.) Face-priority AF--which can identify up to 35 individual faces within the frame during live view, but an (undisclosed) lesser number during movie capture--will select the closest subject among the group when adjusting focus. This individual will be indicated by a double-yellow frame on the D4's LCD panel. Finally, the Subject-tracking AF function allows you to manually position the point from which autofocus tracking should commence, and to start or stop the function by pressing the center of the multi selector when your subject falls under the AF point. The D4 will then indicate the point at which it is currently tracking the subject with a focus frame that changes between either green to indicate a focus lock, or red to indicate that a focus lock hasn't currently been attained.

Like most interchangeable lens cameras capable of AF during video--and especially those using lenses that were designed for still imaging--the D4 has a tendency to pick up autofocus drive noise quite clearly in the audio track of its movie clips. This can be mitigated by use of an external microphone, and by adjusting the D4's manual gain control, however. You have a useful thirty-step gain control over the internal microphone, and a 20-step control over external mics, but note that you can't adjust the levels during capture. You can also disable audio capture altogether, and rely on an external device to record audio. Alternatively, you can let the D4 control levels automatically.

If AF noise is too much of an issue, you can of course focus manually, and the true manual operation of AF on Nikon's lenses means you can do this more or less silently, simply by being careful about turning the focus ring. (Some interchangeable lens cameras we've tested use "fly-by-wire" focusing, whereby the focus ring only instructs the camera to move the lens elements rather than moving them directly via a mechanical coupling. This can mean that focus operation is still audible, regardless of how slowly you turn the focus ring. With true manual operation of its lenses, the Nikon D4 doesn't have this problem, although it's possible that third-party or older Nikon lenses might produce audible noise while their focus was adjusted.)

As we've noted in other SLR reviews, the good news with focusing for video is that you can get surprisingly good depth of field in video mode by stopping the lens down, thanks to the relatively low resolution of the video image. With a pixel resolution of only 2.1 megapixels in the Nikon D4's highest-resolution 1,080p "Full HD" mode, 0.9 megapixels in 720p HD mode, and just 0.3 megapixels in the standard-definition mode, images that would be unacceptably blurred as 16 megapixel still shots look perfectly fine as video frames. This not only provides greater depth of field at any given aperture, but is also more forgiving of diffraction limiting at very small lens apertures. Diffraction at small apertures means you'd usually want to avoid f/16 or f/22 for still images, but again, the results generally look perfectly fine at video resolutions. Bottom line, with the Nikon D4's lens set to f/16 or f/22 (assuming you're shooting under fairly bright conditions), you'll be surprised by how little focus adjustment is needed during a typical video recording.

Nikon D4 Video Exposure Control

Nikon D4: Aperture Control / Depth-of-Field
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second, f/1.4
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 24 frames per second, f/16
Download Original

With the Nikon D4's exposure mode set to program or shutter priority, the main exposure variables--shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity--all remain under automatic control when recording movies. If the exposure mode is set appropriately, however, you can shoot movies in aperture-priority or manual modes. In all modes except manual, the ISO sensitivity is controlled automatically, although you can adjust the range of sensitivities available: either 200 to 12,800 equivalents, or 200 to 204,800 equivalents (aka Hi 4). The reverse is true of manual mode: ISO sensitivity can't be automatically controlled, and must be manually set. Regardless of exposure mode, user-adjustable exposure variables are locked from the start of video capture.

There is, however, one way to get around this limitation. If you remove the flash cards from the camera as noted previously, and use an external device to record the uncompressed HDMI stream, the Nikon D4 provides what the company terms as a power aperture function. This lets you configure the front-panel Function and Preview buttons to open and close the lens aperture, respectively. Unlike in other shooting modes, this aperture control is stepless. In manual mode, adjusting the aperture will simultaneously brighten or darken the video until you adjust the shutter speed or ISO sensitivity, while in aperture-priority mode, the camera will attempt to keep the same exposure level by adjusting these variables itself. Nikon cautions that there may be some flickering as this occurs. Power Aperture adjustments also produce some aperture mechanism noise that could be picked up by your microphone(s). Still, stepless aperture control is an interesting feature that's extremely rare among video-capable DSLRs. (It's more common on mirrorless models, where manufacturers have designed new optics from the ground up with video capture in mind.)

Regardless of the metering mode selected, movies will always be recorded using Matrix metering, with the Center-weighted and Spot options available only for still image capture. You can, however, adjust exposure compensation within a +/-3.0 EV range, and lock the metered exposure with the sub-selector's center button, if you wish. You can apply Nikon's Picture Controls and adjust white balance for movies, as long as they are selected before recording begins. This is useful if you'd like to for instance record in monochrome, with more saturated colors, emphasising the color of a sunset, etc.

Nikon also offers a flicker reduction feature in the D4, useful for taming flicker induced by fluorescent and mercury-vapor lighting. The camera can attempt to automatically select the correct flicker reduction frequency itself, or you can manually set this to 50 or 60Hz.

Not really an exposure feature per se, but the Nikon D4 also allows you to mark up to twenty 'index' points in each captured video clip. You can then return immediately to these points when editing your movie, if your chosen video editor recognizes the marks, making it quicker to edit clips together if you identify key points at capture time.

Nikon D4 Video: Audio recording

Connectivity. At top left is a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, allowing live audio monitoring. To the right is a 3.5mm stereo microphone jack, providing an alternative to the built-in monaural mic. At bottom are an ethernet jack and a Type-C Mini HDMI connector.

The Nikon D4 has an internal, monaural microphone comprising three holes located directly beneath the self-timer lamp and adjacent to the flash sync terminal on the camera's front panel. As noted previously, internal mics have a tendency to pick up camera handling and autofocus drive noise on the audio track of captured movie clips. The severity will vary significantly depending on the videographer, and the lens model in use. The D4 also provides for external stereo mics, courtesy of a 3.5mm input jack under a flap on the left side of the camera's body. Simply switching moving to a shoe-mount mic with some form of shock mount can do wonders for your DSLR audio, while moving the mic off camera at a distance can completely resolve the issue. Nikon recommends its ME-1 stereo mic for use with the D4, but you can of course use third party mics too.

Another feature that can help resolve audio problems is the adjustable sensitivity for the microphone. Internal and external mics are adjusted separately, and have varying levels of adjustment possible. For the internal mic, there are thirty sensitivity levels to choose from, along with Auto gain, and Off settings. For external mics, you can choose from Auto, Off, and twenty gain levels. A stereo level display on the LCD provides a 15-step visual cue for whether audio levels are too high, and the top of the scale is indicated in red to catch your attention. Unfortunately, the manually-selected level for either mic is fixed from the start of video capture, so you can't react to unanticipated changes in ambient noise levels without stopping and restarting capture.

A much rarer feature of the D4 is its external headphone jack. This lets you monitor audio levels on the fly during capture, so you should at least have an idea if they're out of whack. Again, levels can be manually adjusted in 30 steps. Nikon doesn't recommend any particular headphone type.

The D4's Linear PCM audio is recorded with a bit depth of 16-bits, and a sampling rate of 48 kHz, plenty enough for good quality audio.

Nikon D4 Time Lapse Movies

As well as standard movies with or without sound, the Nikon D4 can also assemble time-lapse movies in camera. Time lapse movies are recorded with the resolution and frame rate settings currently configured in the Movie Settings menu, and do not include sound. If the camera is set to manual exposure, it will show variations in ambient light levels faithfully; otherwise the exposure level will vary to cancel them out. Likewise, auto white balance will attempt to correct for changes in light color temperature (perhaps causing color shifts during the time-lapse sequence), while manual white balance will faithfully show changes in ambient light temperature throughout the movie.

Time lapse movies can have a duration of up to seven hours, 59 minutes, and both the interval and shooting time are configured manually. Multi-shot exposure modes aren't available, and nor are live view or bulb shooting. The camera ignores its standby timer, and if power runs out, the movie up to that point will be saved. If autofocus is enabled, frames where a focus lock can't be achieved are skipped. The viewfinder should be covered before exposure starts, and there's a three second delay before the first frame is captured.

Nikon D4 Remote Recording

The Nikon D4 is relatively rare in offering both built-in ethernet connectivity, and support for optional wireless transmitters. It's doubly unusual in allowing for movie recording via either connectivity type. With an Ethernet network configured, or the optional WT-4 or WT-5 wireless transmitter attached, you can record movies remotely via a built-in HTTP server and web browser, or using the optional Camera Control Pro 2 software. You can also upload existing movies from the camera to an FTP server, or to a computer.

If Custom Function g4 is configured appropriately, you can also use an optional remote cord to start movie live view, and to start and end movie capture.

Nikon D4 Movie Recording User Interface

The Nikon D4's movie recording functionality is accessed from Live view mode, by rotating the Live View selector to the Movie position. To start and stop capture, you simply press the red Movie Record button adjacent to the still image Shutter button, while live view is active. A Custom Function allows you to configure the Shutter button to start and stop video capture instead, although by default it simply captures a still image, ending movie capture first if necessary. (It can also be configured to capture a movie-resolution still without interrupting the video capture, if you prefer.)

The D4 groups several settings related to video capture in a dedicated Movie Settings menu, accessed from the last page of the Shooting menu. There are also several movie-related custom functions, grouped in the final page of the Custom Function menu. It also offers limited in-camera movie editing functionality. You can select either a start or end point for a video clip, and save the resulting trimmed video as a new file, and it's also possible to extract single frames from a video. These functions are accessed from the Playback mode's Retouch menu, or while viewing a movie in Playback mode.


Nikon D4 Shooting Menu Movie Settings
Top-Level
Selection
Second-Level
Notes
Frame Size / Frame Rate
- 1,920 x 1,080; 30 fps
- 1,920 x 1,080; 25 fps
- 1,920 x 1,080; 24 fps
- 1,280 x 720; 60 fps
- 1,280 x 720; 50 fps
- 1,280 x 720; 30 fps
- 1,280 x 720; 25 fps
- 640 x 424; 30 fps
- 640 x 424; 25 fps
- 1,920 x 1,080; 30 fps; crop
- 1,920 x 1,080; 25 fps; crop
- 1,920 x 1,080; 24 fps; crop
Crop modes have a 2.7x focal length crop.
Movie Quality
- High quality
- Normal
Microphone
- Auto sensitivity
- Manual sensitivity
- Microphone off
15-step stereo level display shown. Manual sensitivity is 30-step for internal mic, 20-step for external mic.
Destination
- XQD card slot
- CF card slot
Stills are always recorded on primary slot. Remaining time estimate shown at current settings for each slot, if card inserted.
ISO Sensitivity Range
- 200 to 12,800
- 200 to Hi 4
Hi 4 equates to ISO 204,800

 


Nikon D4 Shooting Menu Movie Settings
Top-Level
Selection
Second-Level
Notes
g1 Assign Fn Button
- Power aperture (open)
- Index marking
- View photo shooting info
- None
If set to power aperture, C.Fn g2 is also changed to the same.
g2 Assign Preview Button
- Power aperture (close)
- Index marking
- View photo shooting info
- None
If set to power aperture, C.Fn g1 is also changed to the same.
g3 Assign sub-selector button
- Index marking
- View photo shooting info
- AE/AF lock
- AE lock only
- AE lock (hold)
- AF lock only
- None
g4 Assign Shutter Button
- Take photos
- Record movies
- Live frame grab
Live frame grab records a still at movie resolution.

 

 

Rolling Shutter Artifacts ("Jello Effect")

Nikon D4: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 24 frames per second
Download Original
1,280 x 720
Progressive, 60 frames per second
Download Original
640 x 424
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080 Cropped
Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

Essentially every video capable digital SLR currently on the market exhibits motion-related distortions called rolling shutter artifacts. These are caused because the image data is captured and then read off the chip sequentially by rows, rather being captured all at once. In the case of the Nikon D4, with its variable frame rate, this means that image data for the last row of a given frame is captured and read out anywhere from 1/24th to 1/60th second after the data for the top row was captured. The effect on moving objects is similar to that of a focal plane shutter in an SLR, but more pronounced, because the video frame is read out much more slowly than the slit of a focal plane shutter moves across the sensor.

For a camera that scans video frames vertically (as all do that we're aware of), rolling shutter artifacts will be most noticeable for subjects that are moving rapidly side to side, or when the camera itself is being panned horizontally. Verticals in the scene will appear tilted to the right or left, depending on the direction of camera motion. As an example, consider the case of a camera being panned from left to right, with a flagpole or other vertical object in the middle of the scene when recording for a particular frame begins: If the top of the object was centered horizontally when the first line of the video frame is acquired, by the time the last line of the frame has been captured, the bottom of the object will have shifted to somewhere left of center: As a result, the vertical object would appear to be leaning to the right.

The D4's rolling shutter is most visible at 24 frames per second, less so at 30 frames per second, and by the time you reach the maximum frame rate of 60 fps in 720p mode, very little rolling shutter is present.

Computer Requirements for Viewing HD Video

A typical computer these days has little trouble dealing with still images, but high-definition video can be another matter. Depending on the file format involved, it can take a pretty beefy computer to handle HD-resolution video playback without stuttering or dropping frames. The H.264/MPEG-4 AVC image compression used by the Nikon D4 is one of the more compute-intensive formats, and its 1,920 x 1,080 (1080p) resolution means there's a lot of data in each frame to deal with at full resolution. The net result is that you'll want a relatively recent and powerful computer to play full-res high-def video files from the D4 on your computer. At lower resolutions, the requirements will be more modest. You can, of course, view your movies on an HDTV via the Type-C Mini HDMI output.

 

Print the video page for the Nikon D4 digital camera reviewPrint this Page

Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

Follow Imaging Resource

Purchase memory card for Nikon D4 digital camera
Enter this month to win:

1 $300 Adorama Gift Certificate

2 $200 Adorama Gift Certificate

3 $100 Adorama Gift Certificate