Digital Cameras Guide

Nikon D4 review

Nikon D4 - The Low-Light Action Master

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Overall rating 9.5/10
Low noise at ultra-high ISOs
Fast frame-rates for action
Fast and accurate auto-focus
Improved handling and comfortable grip
ISO performance only slightly cleaner than D3S
XQD card-slot forces users to upgrade

Image Performance

Image Performance

Images straight out of the D4 are just as we expected: Clean, crisp with vibrant color and good skin tones. Besides a little recovery and heightened contrast, there is little need to tweak the images, which is good news for sports photographers who need to transmit quickly.

Clarity scores a high 2400 LPH horizontal by 2200 LPH vertical on our resolution charts. The D4 gains a slightly higher megapixel count at 16MP compared to the D3S' 12MP, which should give photographers more room to crop. If 16MP was the best balance that could be found between high frame-rates and ISO performance, it's a good enough resolution that we think most users can live with. 

Images from ISO100 to ISO3200 are very clean, in fact it's at ISO3200 where we first see any noticeable noise in the dark areas, and most should be quite comfortable shooting up to ISO6400 and reaching up to ISO12,800 at times. It's certainly quite possible to shoot from there upwards, and depending on your output resolution and how heavily you're willing to work noise reduction, the D4 can shoot up to ridiculously high ISO levels. We'd go so far as to say that in certain situations, it's possible to shoot up to as high as ISO51,200 (Hi2 in the expandable range) if you're willing to do some noise reduction in post.

Not everyone will need to shoot at such a high ISO setting, but we've found it to be a lifesaver in dim sporting situations where a fast shutter speed was essential. It's also useful when you absolutely need to shoot in dark situations, this is literally a camera that can see in the dark: It's amazing how the D4 can make some night shots look like day, seeing details even your eye can't see. Like we mentioned before, the D4's auto-focus performs admirably, it's able to focus fast and accurately before and in-between the fast 10 frames-per-second shots. But we're not sure if Nikon's claim that the new AF system can focus on faces holds true, as we've experienced the D4 preferring near subjects compared to faces in over-the-shoulder type shots.

We found that video also benefits from the high ISO capability of the D4, and depending on your output, it's quite possible to shoot at high ISO settings, which means more natural light and less need for additional lights. Our video production team shot this interview of British shoe designer Charlotte Dellal entirely on a D4:

There's a limit to how far the D4's ISO sensitivities can go though. ISO102,400 and ISO204,800, while remarkable for their ability to grab details in very dark places, are so noisy as to be unusable. While we didn't have a D3S to test the D4 against, both Fstoppers and Mansurovs Photography have done so and found that while the D4 doesn't seem to have significantly cleaner images at high ISO settings, it's still a hair better. DxOMark has found that the D4 offers higher dynamic range than the D3S, easily one stop difference at low ISO settings.