Nikon D4S Review
|Full model name:||Nikon D4S|
|Viewfinder:||Optical / LCD|
|Dimensions:||6.3 x 6.2 x 3.6 in.
(160 x 157 x 91 mm)
|Weight:||47.8 oz (1,356 g)
|Full specs:||Nikon D4S specifications|
Nikon D4S Review -- Now Shooting
04/18/2014: Shooter's Report Blog Part I: Unexpected swans
07/11/2014: Shooter's Report Blog Part II: Doing what it's made for
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 ISO range has been increased up to 25,600 (from 12,800), the D4S is also capable of an expanded ISO up to an incredible 409,600 (double that 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 10fps; the D4 was capable of 11fps only with AF/AE locked). Buffer depth improves to a 200-shot capacity for full-resolution Fine JPEGs versus 170 for the D4 -- no word on buffer capacity for RAWs yet, however.
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 4 AF points can help maintain focus. The Group AF system is reminiscent of Canon's 4-point 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, such as sports shooters, speed and performance of the AF system and burst shooting is not the only critical feature they demand from their camera, but 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 providing 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 2464 x 1640 (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, which has a CIPA-rated 3,020 shots/charge capacity. (Although Nikon claims they are able to squeeze out a whopping 5,960 shots/charge using their own testing methodology.)
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 1080p HD video at up to 60fps, 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 clean, uncompressed 1080p60 video via HDMI for use in external recorders, but it can also simultaneously record H.264 video to the internal CF 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 (ISO 400-409,600). 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 headphone jack and mic jack as well as up to 30 steps of audio level adjustment, but unlike its predecessor 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 for your personal tastes. The optical viewfinder itself remains largely unchanged with its 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. Now, snapping photos -- especially at 11fps -- won't interrupt the scene in the viewfinder as much, making it easier to keep your subject in view through the OVF.
And speaking of snapping photos, the D4S now makes it simple and fast to toggle between the XQD and CF memory cards (yes, the D4S maintains the XQD/CF pair, 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.
The Nikon D4S DSLR is set to be available from March 6, 2014 for a suggested retail price of US$6499.95.
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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 Shooter's Report 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 Shooter's Report installment!
Nikon D4S Shooter's Report Part II
Doing what it's made for
I mentioned in Part I of my Shooter's Report 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 Shooter's Report 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!
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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.