Nikon D4S Review
|Full model name:||Nikon D4S|
(36.0mm x 23.9mm)
|Viewfinder:||Optical / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 25,600|
|Extended ISO:||50 - 409,600|
|Shutter:||1/8000 - 30 seconds|
6.3 x 6.2 x 3.6 in.
(160 x 157 x 91 mm)
|Full specs:||Nikon D4S specifications|
There are no two ways about it: The Nikon D4S is one seriously impressive DSLR. That's to be expected, bearing in mind its heritage. But casting judgement on its greatness depends very much on perspective, so we looked at Nikon's new pro flagship through two different lenses: That of the enthusiast looking to step up their game, and that of the pro upgrading to the latest and greatest. Whichever camp you fall into, we've got your answer. Read our Nikon D4S review, and find out if it's time you bought yourself a new DSLR!Pros
Excellent, tank-like build quality; First-rate ergonomics a pro would expect; Superb performance with confident autofocus; Great image quality; Big, bright viewfinder with 100% coverage; Excellent battery life; Doubles as a powerful video capture toolCons
Fairly minor upgrade over the D4; Image quality improvements apply only to JPEG; XQD card format isn't broadly accepted; Consumer-friendly default JPEG processing may turn off some pros; Body is large and hefty (but that's normal for pro gear)Price and availability
The Nikon D4S began shipping in the US market from early March 2014. Sold body-only as you'd expect for a professional DSLR, it has a suggested retail price of around US$6,500.Imaging Resource rating
5.0 out of 5.0
$7999.00 (25% more)
18.1 MP (10% more)
Also has viewfinder
$2470.21 (143% less)
22.3 MP (27% more)
Also has viewfinder
$9999.99 (40% more)
37.5 MP (57% more)
Also has viewfinder
$1481.73 (305% less)
20.2 MP (20% more)
Also has viewfinder
Nikon D4S Review
04/18/2014: Field Test Blog Part I: Unexpected swans
07/11/2014: Field Test Blog Part II: Doing what it's made for
07/29/2014: Field Test Blog Part III: Shooting in the dark
07/31/2014: Conclusion posted and review finalized!
Taking Nikon's flagship, professional-level DSLR model to the next level, the newly-announced Nikon D4S aims to expand upon the company's top-ranking D4 with an improved autofocus system, an insanely high ISO range, better speed and performance, as well as beefed up video recording specs. Although, by appearances, the D4S is not strikingly different from the D4, its under-the-hood improvements to performance and a number of niche features aim to satisfy a wide variety of professional photographers, from sports and wildlife shooters to photojournalists and multimedia producers.
Although the Nikon D4S keeps the same 16.2-megapixel FX-format CMOS sensor resolution, the sensor itself has been redesigned and paired up with Nikon's latest EXPEED 4 image processor to provide 30% faster processing over the EXPEED 3. While the standard sensitivity range has been increased up to ISO 25,600 equivalent (up from ISO 12,800), the D4S is also capable of an expanded sensitivity up to an incredible ISO 409,600 equivalent. That's double the maximum sensitivity of the D4, making the D4S capable of producing images in some of the darkest of conditions.
Photographers of fast action will also welcome the increase to 11 frames per second burst shooting with continuous AF and auto exposure, up from 10 fps. (The D4 was capable of 11 fps shooting only with focus and exposure locked from the first frame).
Buffer depth improves to a 200-shot capacity for JPEGs of any size or resolution, versus 170 for the D4. In raw mode, Nikon rates the D4S as capable of 133 frames with lossless compression and a 12-bit depth, up from 92 frames for the D4. The improvement at 14-bit depth is more modest, up three frames to a total of 78 frames. The worst case is 60 uncompressed (down from 69), 14-bit raws, and the best case is 176 lossy 12-bit raws (up from 98).
All of these figures are manufacturer specs and at FX-format resolution; for DX-format shooting, you can expect 200 frames with all but 14-bit uncompressed and small 12-bit uncompressed raws. We only tested the depth with lossless raw+large/fine JPEG, where we managed an excellent 43 frames with our difficult-to-compress target.
The D4S brings over the Multi-CAM 3500FX 51-point autofocus system from the D4, but introduces a new "Group AF" mode, which activates the four surrounding AF points to a specific single AF point to help keep focus while tracking small, fast-moving subjects. If the subject moves out from behind the central AF point, the corresponding four AF points can help maintain focus. The Group AF system is reminiscent of Canon's AF Point Expansion mode on their high-end DSLRs.
The D4S also has what Nikon calls "AF point position memory," which keeps the AF point aligned respective to the frame when changing from landscape to portrait orientation and vice versa.
For many professional photographers -- and especially sports shooters -- speed and performance of the autofocus system and burst shooting is not the only critical feature they demand from their camera. The speed at which they can get images out of the camera and off to editors, clients and others is also very important. The D4 included a 100Base-T Ethernet jack for fast image transfers straight from the camera while shooting. The D4S now includes a 1000Base-T Gigabit Ethernet connection. Nikon rates it as good for a transfer rate of up to 185Mbps, up from a comparatively meager 60Mbps on the D4.
Other workflow-related improvements include a new "RAW SIZE S" file option, which produces 12-bit uncompressed NEF files at 2,464 x 1,640 pixels (or approximately half-resolution), with a file size of around 12MB. For those shooters who don't need full 16MP images or are trying to maximize the capacity of their memory cards while still wanting the editing flexibility of RAW, this is a beneficial feature.
Battery life has also been improved, not only thanks to the more power-efficient EXPEED 4 chip, but also a new EN-EL18a lithium-ion battery. The D4 has a CIPA-rated 3,020 shots/charge capacity, up from a CIPA-rated 2,600 shots on the Nikon D4.
It's worth noting that Nikon claims they are able to squeeze out a whopping 5,960 shots/charge using their own testing methodology. They have a fair point, because the CIPA test replicates something akin to a consumer photographer's behavior -- shoot one image every 30 seconds, turning the camera off and back on again after every tenth shot. Most likely, Nikon's own test simply involves shooting longer, high-speed bursts.
In the real world, you can probably expect something in between the two figures.
It's not only stills shooters that get performance and handling upgrades with the D4S -- video shooters should also welcome some notable improvements. First off, thanks to the new processor, the D4S can now shoot Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel; 1080p) video at up to 60 frames per second, though maximum clip length in this new mode is limited to 10 minutes at High Quality (42Mbps) and 20 minutes at Normal Quality (24Mbps).
For users on professional video productions, the D4S not only has the ability to output a clean, uncompressed 1080p60 video feed via HDMI for use in external recorders, but it can also simultaneously record H.264 video to the internal CompactFlash or XQD memory card.
The D4S also features improved exposure control for video, including the ability to use Auto ISO in full manual exposure mode for video recording. Sensitivity can range from a low of ISO 400 to a high of ISO 409,600 equivalent.
And for users shooting time-lapse and other interval-timed recordings, the D4S has a new auto-exposure feature to smoothly even out unforeseen changes in shot-to-shot exposures and avoid difficult or time-consuming exposure adjustments via post-processing.
Audio recording capabilities have also been given an upgrade, including selectable audio frequencies such as Wide Range and Vocal Range, letting the shooter more closely isolate the type or style of sound they want to record. Of course, like the previous model, the D4S includes a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack and 3.5mm stereo mic jack, and allows 30 steps of audio level adjustment. Unlike its predecessor, though, the D4S lets you adjust microphone sensitivity while recording.
All the small things
As we mentioned above, there are a host of small tweaks and changes to the Nikon D4S. And while they may not benefit every user of this camera, Nikon has taken suggestions from a variety of photographers and integrated these small features and improvements to make the D4S even more powerful and customizable to your shooting style and needs.
For photographers who, perhaps, print JPEGs regularly or need a more precise view of the colors when reviewing photos on the rear LCD, the D4S now lets you adjust the color tone of the 921k-dot, 3.2-inch LCD to more closely match studio monitors, or just to account for your personal tastes. The optical viewfinder, meanwhile, remains largely unchanged with large, bright 100% coverage and 0.70x magnification.
Nikon has also modified the mirror movement mechanism to improve viewfinder visibility by absorbing mirror slap, thereby minimizing viewfinder blackout time. Now, snapping photos -- especially at the full rate of 11 fps -- won't interrupt the scene in the viewfinder as much, making it easier to keep your subject framed as you want.
And speaking of snapping photos, the D4S now makes it simple and fast to toggle between the XQD and CompactFlash memory cards (yes, the D4S maintains the XQD/CF pairing, not two card slots of the same type). A quick two-button shortcut will switch to the other card.
The last little tweak we'll mention here is for telephoto shooters. Many Nikon telephoto lenses have a focus operation button on the barrel to activate AF or as a memory recall setting to quickly change to a certain focusing distance. The Nikon D4S now has a custom feature in the camera that lets photographers re-program this button to toggle through the different AF modes.
Moving from the interior out to the exterior, it's fairly obvious that the design of the Nikon D4S is not significantly different from the D4. The camera sports a weather-sealed, full magnesium alloy body that follows the D-series industrial design styling produced in collaboration with Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign firm. However, for the D4S, there have been a few subtle adjustments to the ergonomics and button layout.
The grip on the D4S has been narrowed slightly, while the space between the lens and your fingers has been increased slightly for more clearance -- a nice modification when you're shooting with larger, wider lenses and/or, perhaps, in colder conditions and wearing thick gloves. The built-in battery grip contours have also been redesigned with a larger, deeper thumb grip for added comfort.
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Nikon D4S Tech Info
Sensor. The Nikon D4S is based around a newly-developed, full-frame (or FX-format, in Nikon parlance) CMOS image sensor. Effective resolution is unchanged from that used in the earlier Nikon D4, at 16.2 megapixels. Total resolution of the sensor, which has dimensions of 36.0 x 23.9 millimeters, is 16.6 megapixels. Unlike many current DSLRs, the D4S' sensor still sits beneath an optical low-pass filter that subtly blurs incoming light, helping to reduce the frequency of moiré and false color artifacts.
In the sensor's native 3:2 aspect ratio, the Nikon D4S outputs images at resolutions up to 4,928 x 3,280 pixels. There are also two cropped 3:2 aspect ratio modes which yield an effective 1.2x or 1.5x focal length crop, and a 5:4 aspect ratio mode which uses the full height of the image sensor, but trims the sides.
Processor. In place of the EXPEED 3 image processor used in the D4, the Nikon D4S is based around a next-generation EXPEED 4 processor. The company says that the newer chip has 30% greater performance, and allows for better noise-reduction processing thanks to updated algorithms.
Sensitivity. A significant difference from the earlier camera can be found in the sensitivity range of the Nikon D4S, backing up the claims of improved noise processing. The new camera now offers a standard ISO sensitivity range of 100 to 25,600 equivalents, a full stop above the D4's range, which was curtailed at ISO 12,800 equivalent.
Click to read more detailed Nikon D4S tech info!
Nikon D4S Field Test Part I
A full-on professional camera like the Nikon's D4S presents a dilemma for a reviewer. Its primary target customers — pro photographers — are already extremely knowledgeable and don't need much help from me. Plus, their concerns are often very specific to their type of shooting. It would be great, for example, if I could prove whether the D4S is the best, or second best, or third best DSLR for autofocusing sports, but that's not gonna happen. To even take a stab at testing such a thing would require several experienced pro sports photographers, a truckload of equipment and months of shooting a wide variety of different top-tier sporting events. Is the D4S the best war photographer's camera or wedding camera or aerial camera? Again, even if I was qualified to judge these things, testing them is beyond the scope of this report.
But pro shooters are not the only photographers who buy pro cameras. Many advanced amateurs buy them, and many more wonder what they might gain if they took the plunge. So I'm approaching this shooter's report partly from that angle: what would you get if you “moved up" to a Nikon D4S from your mid-level or advanced amateur DSLR?
Handling. Well, one thing you get is weight. Even though I knew what to expect, I still groaned when I dragged the Nikon D4S out of its box. Obviously, this is just the price you pay for supreme ruggedness, a full-featured integrated vertical grip, an abundance of connection ports, a high-capacity battery and more, all wrapped up in a full-frame DSLR. My brain understands that, but my shoulder isn’t thrilled. In the same box was an also hefty AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED and an AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G. Nice.
Read our first Nikon D4S Field Test installment!
Nikon D4S Field Test Part II
Doing what it's made for
I mentioned in Part I of my Field Test that I would not be trying to settle the question of whether the Nikon D4S is the very best camera for any particular kind of professional photography, be it sports, weddings, or anything else. But it would be a crime if I didn’t use the D4S for some of the things it was born to do, just as it would to use a Ferrari only to fetch the groceries. So I've photographed a lot of sports with the D4S, and also used it to shoot an evening literary event -- an environment not too different from a wedding reception.
In seven different outings, I used the Nikon D4S to shoot flying birds, running dogs, soccer (or football, if you prefer), American-style touch football, sprinters, bicyclists, and semi-pro basketball. Nikon was smart enough to supply me with pro-level lenses to match the camera, including an AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II to go along with the AF-S 24-70mm and AF-S 50mm optics I already mentioned in the first Field Test blog.
I'll start by getting the easy stuff out of the way. In my shooting of what I'll call "single-player" sports with relatively constant motion -- runners and bicyclists, primarily -- I could not stress the Nikon D4S enough to really test it. It ate everything for lunch and asked for more. I have numerous 30 and 40 shot sequences of bicyclists, shot at 11 frames per second with the AF-S 70-200mm lens wide open or at f/4, where every image is sharp. In the "bad" sequences, 90% are sharp. With sprinters, I got a few more soft frames but not many.
Click the link below to find out how the Nikon D4S performs when it's really in its element!
Nikon D4S Field Test Part III
Shooting in the dark
For one of my last shoots with the Nikon D4S, I decided to do a little quasi-documentary photography around Greenwich Village. I specifically chose to shoot from late afternoon into the evening in order to put the camera's amazing high ISO capabilities to the test.
I began in Hudson River Park, where I found a nice flowerbed -- but it was in the shade and there was a brisk wind. It was 7pm, so still fairly light, yet this was a situation that called for a fairly high sensitivity. I needed to set a narrow f-stop of f/8.0 for adequate depth-of-field, and a high shutter speed of 1/320 second to freeze the wind-blown flowers.
To make that possible, I had to turn the Nikon D4S' sensitivity up to ISO 1250 equivalent. Shown above, the resulting image is almost completely free of noise. It has the smooth tonality and rich color saturation that you'd have expected at ISO 100 or 200 when shooting with cameras from just a few years ago.
Is the Nikon D4S' low-light shooting capability as epic as you've heard? Read on and find out!
Nikon D4S Conclusion
A worthy heir to the flagship throne?
Given its heritage and flagship status, it was clear coming into our Nikon D4S review that the question we'd be looking to answer wasn't so much whether this was a great camera, as how great it might be. From our time with the earlier Nikon D4 -- and our experience of Nikon's professional cameras to date -- we were fully expecting to enjoy shooting with the Nikon D4S, and we certainly did.
The Nikon D4S' greatness, we realize, depends somewhat on your perspective. If you're coming from an enthusiast-grade camera, and you're prepared to accept the added heft of a pro shooter with a body that could hammer in tent pegs, you'll doubtless find it to be a spectacular upgrade. The D4S pairs truly great image quality with superb performance.
There's no question about it: This really is one heck of a camera. It can't make you an instant pro, but once you've become familiar with it, the D4S can give you the same shooting experience pros demand, and let you focus on your images. (Of course, that's a double-edged sword: There's no blaming your camera if you miss the shot with gear like this!)
Does the D4S have what it takes to reign supreme? We've cast judgement on the new flagship!
In the Box
The Nikon D4S retail box ships with the following items:
- Nikon D4S camera body
- BF-1B body cap
- EN-EL18a lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack
- MH-26a battery charger
- AN-DC11 shoulder strap
- UC-E15 USB cable
- USB cable clip
- HDMI cable clip
- UF-2 connector cover for stereo mini plug
- BS-2 hot shoe cover
- BL-6 battery chamber cover
- NikonView NX2 CD ROM
- Instruction manual
- Warranty card
- Extra EN-EL18a lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity CompactFlash and XQD memory cards. Given the high resolution and large file sizes of the D4S, 32GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity. If you plan to capture high-definition movie clips, shoot image bursts, or shoot in RAW format, look for cards with markings indicating 30MB/s (200x) or higher. (Smaller numbers are slower cards.)
- External shoe mount flash (SB-910 AF, SB-700 AF), macro light (R1C1, R1), wireless commander (SU-800) or other accessory flash
- EH-6b AC adapter with EP-6 power supply connector for studio shooting
- ME-1 external stereo microphone or other mic with 3.5mm stereo or mono jack
- WT-5A or WT-4A wireless transmitter
- UT-1 communication unit
- WR-1 and/or WR-R10/T10/A10 wireless remote adapter set
- MC-36A or MC-30A cabled remote control
- GP-1A GPS unit
- DK-17C correction eyepiece (if you're an eyeglass-wearer and the built-in diopter correction isn't sufficient)
- DK-17M magnifying eyepiece, DG-2 eyepiece magnifier, or DR-5 screw-in right-angle viewfinder
- Medium to large camera bag