The Nikon D4 ($5,999.95 list, body only) represents the dream camera of many a professional photographer. It’s a huge beast that can rattle off shots at an impressive 10 frames per second, focus with speed and accuracy, and do just about anything else you need it to. On the sidelines of an NFL game? Pop on a telephoto lens and plug a cable into the Ethernet port—your photos will go straight to the wire service. Covering a wedding in available light? Reach for the 35mm f/1.4 lens and shoot at just about any ISO you can imagine—the resulting images will be printable. This is not to say that the D4 is the perfect photographic tool for every occasion—no camera is. Landscape photographers may opt for a D-SLR with an ultra-high-resolution sensor, like the 36-megapixel Nikon D800 ($2,995.95), and working pros with an investment in Canon glass are probably more interested in the EOS-1D X ($6,799) or 5D Mark III ($3,499). As it stands, the D4 is a worthy follow up to the company’s D3s, easily earning our Editors’ Choice award for full frame D-SLRs.
Design and Features
Far from a small camera, the D4′s full-frame sensor necessitates a large, heavy optical viewfinder—one that is stunning when compared with even the finders in the best APS-C cameras. And, because the image sensor is the same size as a 35mm film frame, there is no “crop factor” when talking about lenses—your 28mm wide angle is still a wide angle, not a standard angle lens as it is on a camera with a smaller image sensor like the Nikon D5100 ($899.99, 4.5 stars). An integrated vertical grip houses the camera’s huge battery and includes dual control wheels and a shutter release to help improve ergonomics when shooting in portrait orientation. The D4 measures 6.2 by 6.3 by 3.6 inches (HWD) and weighs a whopping 2.6 pounds, and that’s without a lens. The D800, which features a full frame sensor but lacks a vertical grip, is quite a bit smaller. That camera measures 4.8 by 4.7 by 3.2 inches (HWD) and weighs just under 2 pounds.
Listing all of the physical controls that are packed into the D4′s body would require quite a bit of space, but rest assured that if you need to adjust a setting while shooting, chances are that it’s at your fingertips. The camera’s fixed rear LCD is 3.2 inches and packs 920k dots. It isn’t the highest resolution display you can find—the rear LCD on the Canon EOS-1D X matches the Nikon’s in size but betters it in resolution with 1.04 million dots. The D4 also has two monochrome information displays—one on top and one on the rear. The top LCD displays much of the information that is visible at the bottom of the viewfinder, including the current shooting mode, shutter speed, and aperture. The rear monochrome display shows the ISO and memory card status—it’s located directly above the ISO button, so you can get some visual feedback as you adjust it when the camera is not raised to your eye.
You’ll have access to the full library of Nikon lenses, including those designed for the smaller APS-C DX sensor format. When you use one of those lenses with the camera, the area that the lens cannot cover is dimmed in the viewfinder and the resulting photo is only 6.8 megapixels in resolution. The camera can even work with very old manual focus Nikon AI lenses—it can store the focal length and aperture information for up to nine non-CPU lenses. When shooting with older lenses you’ll be limited to the Aperture Priority and Manual shooting modes. Every Nikon lens produced after 1988 has a built-in CPU, but lenses produced between 1977 and 1988 do not. Lenses produced before 1977 shouldn’t be mounted to the D4 without modification, as they can damage the camera.
Nikon refers to the D4 as a multimedia camera—its video capability is almost as impressive as its still features. It can record 1080p footage at 30, 25, and 24 frames per second, and supports 720p capture at 60, 50, 30, and 25 frames per second. The camera uses the QuickTime format with H.264 B-Frame compression when recording to a memory card and supports uncompressed video output via its mini HDMI port, so you can connect it to an Aja Ki Pro ($3,995) or similar field recorder so you can capture the video in the format of your choice.
The D4 can autofocus when recording video, although you’ll have to trigger the function manually—it doesn’t offer automatic continuous autofocus like our Editors’ Choice APS-C SLR, the Sony Alpha 77 ($1,999.99, 4.5 stars). Depending on which lens you use, the sound of the focus motor can be audible, and the camera can hunt back and forth for a second before locking focus. The D4 does support a standard mic input and also includes a headphone jack so you can monitor audio while recording. The full frame sensor makes it possible to achieve a very shallow depth of field, which can give your video a true cinematic look. The D4 also has a unique video recording mode that isn’t available on other cameras—it can grab 1080p footage from the exact center of its image sensor. This results in a 2.7x crop factor, which is a boon for videographers who are in need of extreme telephoto reach.
Pros who have invested heavily in CompactFlash memory have taken notice that the D4 only has one CF slot. As the first camera to support the new XQD card format, Nikon opted to release a camera that supports two different memory card formats. Our tests show that XQD delivers its promised performance, but anyone with thousands of dollars worth of CF cards is sure to look at a new format with some trepidation. The silver lining in all of this is that CF cards will still work with the D4, so you can hold off on investing heavily into the XQD format until it’s clear whether or not it will take hold.