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Box Photo

Included in the box with the D4 are the following accessories:

*AN-DC7 strap

*EN-EL18 Rechargeable Li-ion Battery

*MH-26 Battery Charger

*UC-E15 USB Cable

*USB Cable Clip

*BF-1B Body Cap

*BS-2 Accessory Shoe Cover

*UF-2 Connector cover for stereo mini plug cable

*UF-1 Connector cover for USB cable

*Nikon View NX2 CD ROM

*transmitter Utility CD

The Nikon D4 does not come with a kit lens, despite its $6000 price. This isn't unexpected, though, as the lenses that will most likely be used with the D4 aren't really kit lens material. As a professional camera, it would be a little off putting to slap a standard 18-55mm kit lens on and call it a day. It does mean that those looking to start a photography business or get into that level of shooting will have to invest heavily if they want to complement the D4 with high quality lenses.

The Nikon D4 is the head of Nikon's line of DSLRs, but includes the same F mount that has appeared on most Nikon DSLRs since it was released in 1959. This gives you the option of using just about every Nikon lens (with varying levels of compatibility) since that time. The mount itself features a lens release on the front of the body, with markings on lens and body that indicate where the two line up.

Lens Mount Photo

Classic Pentax lenses can be mounted with readily available adapters.

The image sensor in the Nikon D4 is the same size as was found in the D3s, though it has seen a resolution bump from 12.1 megapixels to 16.2. In addition, it shows the benefit of several years of pixel-level developments and processing, as shown in our high ISO noise tests. The sensor's native ISO is now 100-12800 (as opposed to 200-12800 on the D3s), and can be pushed to a max of HI-4, which corresponds to 204,800. At that level noise is very significant, but it'll function for video and for use in surveillance situations.

Convergence areas of different sensor sizes compared

The Nikon D4's sensor is a full-frame FX sensor, with an actual size of 36.0mm x 23.9mm. The sensor is significantly larger than the one you'll find on most mid-level and entry-level Nikon DSLRs, which have APS-C sensors and a DX designation. This means that DX lenses will not make use of the full resolution of the camera. If you're using FX lenses you can still opt for a DX crop of the sensor, which will effectively give you a 1.5x crop zoom.

The viewfinder on the Nikon D4 is, in a word, fantastic. It's bright and clear, with an intelligent information design, comfortable placement, and useful AF point illumination. Around the edges of the viewfinder, the D4 offers the basic shooting information (exposure settings, ISO, current mode, exposures remaining/frame count), with the exposure compensation meter on the right side of the finder. If you're used to seeing the exposure compensation meter beneath the finder this is a change, but it's actually easier in the long run as it's out of the way when you want to focus on other settings. When there's no exposure compensation set, the meter simply turns off so you can't see it.

In addition to all that, the viewfinder also has a plastic sheath that can be closed, useful for blocking light from entering through the finder during long bulb exposures. If you're planning on using the camera for low light, timelapse, or astrophotography, this will at least save you some money in gaffer's tape.

The Nikon D4 gets a small spec bump on its rear LCD, going from 3 inches to a full 3.2-inch, 921k-dot display. The display is quite accurate to our eyes (though the white balance of the actual photos is another story that we'll get to), with 100% coverage useful for framing. The LCD's brightness can be changed on a +/- 5-stop scale, or automatically set depending on the brightness of the room.

Secondary Display

The D4 also sports both a rear secondary and top-plate display, with informational readout on the camera's current settings. Both are monochrome LCDs, displaying various bits of shooting information. The LCD on the back shows current image size, area, and quality settings along with ISO and white balance information. Beneath this LCD are the corresponding buttons of these features, letting you change all three without going into the menu.

The top plate LCD has information on the amount of exposures remaining, battery life readout, exposure compensation settings, current shooting mode, which menu bank you are currently employing and focus/metering mode. Both LCDs can be illuminated with a green backlight, making them readable in the dark. This function has to be turned on in the menu, though, as there's no direct panel light button as you'll find on the Canon 5D Mark III, for example.

Secondary Display Photo

The mono LCD display is small and disappointing.

The Nikon D4 doesn't feature a built-in flash, but it does offer a standard hot shoe atop the camera, functional with Nikon-series flashes. The camera has a flash sync speed that maxes out at 1/250th of a second (1/8000th with flash pulse), flash exposure comp (-3 to +1 EV), flash bracketing, and compatibility with Nikon's creative lighting system.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

The Nikon D4 features numerous ports to aid professional workflows, including a standard mini-USB and mini-HDMI port, 3.5mm mic jack, 3.5mm headphone jack, wired Ethernet port, and remote peripheral socket. On the front of the camera you'll find the ten-pin socket and flash sync terminals as well.

The addition of the headphone and mic jacks are very welcome for those looking to do some video shooting with the D4, as the built-in mic for video on the front is placed just out of the way, while the rear mic is really there just for voice memos on still images. The Ethernet port is also going to be very welcome, especially for photographers on assignment.

The Ethernet functionality lets you do some interesting things, such as upload directly to an FTP, control the camera via Camera Control Pro 2 software (optional), or use the camera as an HTTP server, letting you browse photos from a phone or computer. All these functions also work with the WT-5 wireless transfer unit, with the WT-5 also able to control multiple slave cameras from a single controlling camera, allowing for some very interesting setups. The Nikon WT-4 is also compatible, though with less interesting functionality.

The D4's built in portrait grip allows it to house a substantially larger battery than smaller DSLRs, with a Nikon EN-EL18 rechargeable Lithium-ion battery in tow. The EN-EL18 is removed via a small plastic screw key that locks in the battery chamber cover on the bottom right side of the camera. The battery locks into this chamber cover and can then be re-inserted into the camera, with the screw key locking it back in place. The camera ships with just a single battery, but offers a dual battery charger with lights indicating the level of charge.

By CIPA standards the Nikon D4 is rated to last just 2600 shots, which is a significant step down from the 4200 shots per charge that the Nikon D3s achieved by the same standard. The downturn is mostly subject to two things, according to Nikon. The first is that the camera's battery has been tuned to perform better in cold weather and when shooting continuously, without the frequent powering on and off that CIPA standards call for. Second, the latest regulations on batteries in Japan required a certain change in the battery's design that performed worse in the CIPA test, though again that test doesn't replicate real-world shooting conditions. In our time with the camera we only had to charge the battery twice, and that was with taking a few thousand photos, as well as a great deal of video. While the CIPA rating is worrisome, we didn't find the battery's performance to be all that different from the Nikon D3s.

Battery Photo

The Nikon D4 includes dual card slots built into the body of the camera, with one slot each for Compact Flash and the new XQD memory cards. Our Nikon D4 came packaged with a USB 3.0 card reader for the XQD cards (as have a few of the first shipments), but this is not something Nikon is continuing in later shipments. The XQD cards are smaller, can achieve faster speeds than CF (currently only with Sony's S-series of XQD cards), and the pins in the camera are far more durable than Compact Flash.

The change in card types is going to be a pain for those who want to upgrade to a Nikon D4 and have a host of Compact Flash memory laying around already. While the benefits of XQD will outweigh the pain in the long term, it's tough of Nikon to ask their users to upgrade cards and card readers just to use the new format, especially as the only manufacturer (as of this writing) making XQD cards is Sony.

It was always going to be a camera like this that forced its users to jump into a new smaller, faster, more durable memory format, but that doesn't mean there's not still inconvenience associated with being an early adopter.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

The Nikon D4 is a powerhouse of a camera. It shoots incredibly fast, can produce visible images with very little light, will autofocus quickly and accurately in almost any conditions, features remarkable dynamic range, and features a host of custom user controls to tune white and color balance to your heart's content. The Nikon D4 produces some fantastic images that don't compromise accuracy for speed of capture. We were a little dismayed by the inconsistent white balance and relatively soft images produced by the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens we tested with, but with sharper lenses and under friendlier conditions the D4 did very well.

Under lab conditions, shooting JPEGs with the 24-70mm lens on the Nikon D4 we were able to pry solid sharpness results from the Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at most settings. We noticed the lens struggled primarily at its wide focal length away from the center, with optimal sharpness on the D4 around f/8. At the full focal length of 70mm the lens began to to much better, with consistently good sharpness through the whole frame at most apertures. The D4's sensor acquitted itself well overall, though, with accurate autofocus that kept up with moving subjects easily. More on how we test sharpness.

The Nikon D4 features a set of standard color modes, including the usual suspects: standard, neutral, vivid, landscape, portrait, and monochrome. The modes can all be directly accessed by pressing the picture control button on the left side of the LCD screen. From there you can adjust any of the default modes (with options for sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation, and hue) or create custom modes that you can label yourself. More on how we test color.

Of the default modes, we found the neutral mode to be the most accurate, with a color error of just 2.17 and a near-perfect saturation level of 100.6%, though the portrait mode was a close second with near perfect saturation. As you'd expect the landscape, and vivid modes aren't the most accurate, favoring more vibrant hues. The standard mode is quite good, with saturation just pushed slightly. We should note that these are all at the default settings, and you may have even better accuracy by processing RAW images yourself or tweaking settings to your liking.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Compared to similar models, the Nikon D4's accuracy is right on par with the better cameras, as you'd expect. Its large sensor particularly does well in assigning accurate colors under low light conditions and in darker patches. Frequently cameras are very good from neutral gray to white, but struggle with colors that don't give off as much light. Here the full frame sensor shines, with a well-controlled magenta and yellow values. We should note that inconsistent white balance results can really plague performance here, though, with a particularly nasty habit of preserving a green tint under fluorescent lighting when not using a white card and taking a direct white balance measurement.

In the menu there are two picture control options that you can select from, one that lets you edit default picture controls and another that lets you create and save custom controls based on those default values. You can save up to nine of these custom modes, with a full slate of characters so you can name them whatever you like. In either menu you can view all the picture controls on a grid that plots all the modes contrast and saturation, including the custom ones.

The D4 offers manual white balance measurement, custom kelvin temperature entry, and a set of standard, adjustable white balance presets. The white balance on the Nikon D4 allows for a great deal of customization and control, but we found that most of that control is hidden behind a confusing layout that could really do with some simplification.

For example, setting a manual white balance can be done in two ways, either from an image on the memory card or by direct measurement. The problem with either setting is that the camera doesn't seem to draw measurements from the center of the image, but the whole frame. With a full frame camera, that's frequently a lot of frame to cover. Not doing so often resulted in a bias that threw off the results by a few hundred kelvin.

We found the direct white balance measurement to be absolutely superior to the alternative of using an image on the card. Unlike other cameras (namely Canon bodies) that draw white balance information from a photograph of a white or neutral gray object off the card, the Nikon D4 isn't taking a new measurement, but instead merely applying the same white balance information as was used for that photo. This means that in order to get an accurate white balance with this method, you'd have to first tune white balance perfectly, take a photo, then use that photo to recall the white balance settings you just tuned by hand.

The direct measurement system is simple, easy, and accurate. The alternative is only useful if you've gotten white balance correct under a particular light source, left, assigned the four in-camera white balance presets to other values, and want to recall the white balance settings from the original light source. With direct measurement taking three seconds to gather a new reading, we say stick to direct measurement and forget the rest.

Automatic White Balance ()

The automatic white balance on the D4 worked well in most scenarios. While out shooting with the camera we found that it was able to replicate skin tones perfectly in a variety of conditions. In our test we found it only struggled under tungsten lighting, as the auto white balance is only tuned to go between 3500 and 8000 kelvin, which doesn't cover the full range of tungsten lighting. Under daylight conditions we saw a marked improvement, with an average error of less than 100 kelvin.

Fluorescent lighting was another story, with the D4 producing incredibly accurate (off by less than 50 kelvin) and incredibly inaccurate (off by more than 500 kelvin) results. This may be a matter of a camera being too accurate for its own good, especially with fluorescent lighting pulsing the way it does. In running our test multiple times we saw a green tint in several images taken under compact white fluorescent lighting, with the results otherwise being quite acceptable. It's a minor issue, to be sure, but we'd recommend shooting both RAW and JPEG under fluorescent conditions, just to be safe.

Custom White Balance ()

When taking a custom white balance with direct measurement, the D4 was, as you'd expect, remarkable accurate. We found that under tungsten, compact white fluorescent, and daylight conditions the camera never produced results that were off by more than 150 kelvin. In mixed lighting you may have slightly trickier results, though the camera's ability to fine-tune performance on an ABGM scale allow you to make the adjustments necessary under almost any lighting condition.

The Nikon D4 includes three high ISO noise reduction settings, though they barely kick in before ISO 3200. The settings are the typical low, normal, and high, though you can deactivate noise reduction entirely if you wish. We did find that the "NR off" setting returned lower noise results than the "NR Normal" setting once you get beyond ISO 12800, so there's likely some level of noise reduction being applied in JPEGs by default. This only really occurs at ISO 25600 and 51200, though, so it's probably more of a software aberration in the camera than anything else. More on how we test noise.

The Nikon D4 didn't show significant detail loss at the bottom two levels of noise reduction, though we noticed it at the NR high setting. NR high is still very useful if you're looking to employ ISO levels of 102,400 or 204,800, or if your final image is going to be downscaled on the web. At the lower web resolutions, you won't notice the detail loss at that setting, but the reduction in noise levels may improve certain parts of your image.

The Nikon D4 has a native ISO range that extends from 100-12800, with options to extend that as high as 204,800 or as low as ISO 50. The high options we've discussed above. With noise reduction turned all the way to high, we'd recommend keeping it to ISO 51200. At that speed the high setting returns just 1.78% noise, which is acceptable (though that is bought at the expense of fine detail in the image). The low ISO setting is mostly a trick of the camera, as it is merely ISO 100, but with a lower tonal curve applied to the image. The low ISO will expose a given scene at the same settings as ISO 100, but the resulting image tones down highlights to retain more detail (though dynamic range is actually less than ISO 50).

We found that the Nikon D4 offered one of the best dynamic range scores that we've seen yet, with its full frame sensor providing an exceptional amount of great dynamic range. We hold cameras to a higher standard than most, and the D4 doesn't disappoint in this regard. We found that it had very little falloff in tonal response right through ISO 800, with acceptable print-quality range through ISO 6400. Above this, ISO 12800 and 25600 are usable, though beyond that we'd caution that your image quality wlll take a pretty severe hit. That still gives the D4 a wider usable ISO range than just about any other camera on the market that we've tested to this point. More on how we test dynamic range.

With a whole new generation of full frame cameras just now hitting the market, we expect dynamic range scores to climb this year. The Nikon D4 has already outdone the Canon 5D Mark III, offering superb low light shooting ability leading to fantastic dynamic range. The Mark III actually matches the D4 for dynamic range at ISO 100, but the D4 does better at the mid to low ISOs. While the D4's headline feature is its raw speed, this image sensor is about as good as it gets on the market right now.

The Nikon D4 houses a large full frame image sensor with the ability to push its ISO all the way up to 204,800. The focus sensor is also very accurate, able to find focus quickly and accurately with very little hunting even in extremely low light. The most limiting factor we saw in shooting with the D4 was our own visual acuity in low light.

In our noise performance testing, we were impressed by the D4's ability to capture in low light. While we wouldn't recommend the maximum ISO speeds for printable photos, they do allow for handheld shooting in extreme situations where light is under 100 lux. For surveillance or law enforcement purposes, however, we think the D4's highest ISO settings and superb low light focus performance would be a boon.

The Nikon D4 includes three high ISO noise reduction settings, though they barely kick in before ISO 3200. The settings are the typical low, normal, and high, though you can deactivate noise reduction entirely if you wish. We did find that the "NR off" setting returned lower noise results than the "NR Normal" setting once you get beyond ISO 12800, so there's likely some level of noise reduction being applied in JPEGs by default. This only really occurs at ISO 25600 and 51200, though, so it's probably more of a software aberration in the camera than anything else. More on how we test noise.

The Nikon D4 has a native ISO range that extends from 100-12800, with options to extend that as high as 204,800 or as low as ISO 50. The high options we've discussed above. With noise reduction turned all the way to high, we'd recommend keeping it to ISO 51200. At that speed the high setting returns just 1.78% noise, which is acceptable (though that is bought at the expense of fine detail in the image). The low ISO setting is mostly a trick of the camera, as it is merely ISO 100, but with a lower tonal curve applied to the image. The low ISO will expose a given scene at the same settings as ISO 100, but the resulting image tones down highlights to retain more detail (though dynamic range is actually less than ISO 50).

The Nikon D4 focuses very quickly, with a 51-point autofocus sensor that is sensitive even in extremely limited light. We found it was able to track moving subjects even while firing at full speed, with plenty of focus options for fine-tuning performance. In low light the camera rarely hunted past the point of focus, though using a set focus point on a high-contrast edge improved that substantially. In shooting sports, we found the focus point wrap-around feature to be a great help, especially for subjects where you have to pan in order to keep them in the frame.

To put it completely plainly: the Nikon D4 can see in the dark. In our low light sensitivity test we shoot a standard white/black target and use a waveform monitor to detect at what lux level the camera produces an image of less than 50 IRE. With our lux meters reading 0 lux (with our eyes still able to see the chart), the D4 still produced an image of 70-80IRE. Human vision is limited to around 0.3lux and the image did bottom out once we turned the lights almost completely off. With the option to shoot video at the extreme ISO speed of 204,800, these results aren't a huge surprise, but it's still an incredible showing from the D4.

Chromatic aberration on the 24-70mm AF-S f/2.8 Nikkor lens was not an issue, with the camera rarely showing color fringing near high contrast edges. The lens does suffer from some vignetting, though this is correctable right in the camera (we turn all lens correction options off for our testing). We did notice that sharpness began to suffer near the edges of the frame, especially for wide angle shots, which did not always show up as color fringing in naturalistic settings. This still impacts sharpness, however, with the focusing errors resulting in a softer edge than you'd like to see.

The 24-70mm lens we tested on the D4 showed some significant distortion in our testing, mostly at the wide end of its focal range. At 24mm the lens suffered from 3.29% barrel distortion on the full-frame D4, though this quickly leveled out and became a pincushion distortion by the middle focal lengths. At 44mm we detected a 1.57% pincushion distortion, which is barely noticeable, which became even less of a problem at the full telephoto reach of 70mm.

The Nikon D4 renders motion beautifully, with very little trailing or signal interference, and little visible artifacting in the image. It produces a nice sharp image that just barely out-renders the Canon 5D Mark III for sharpness. In our motion test, which you can see below (through youtube's unfortunate compression), the biggest issue is with the monochrome pinwheel. The RGB pinwheel doesn't have as much of the usual bleeding that we see. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Compared to the Canon 5D Mark III, motion isn't much different, though the bump in sharpness is noticeable. The Mark III offers both IPB and ALL-I compression, which can be a real boon to professional workflows, but the actual quality of video was very close. We were particularly impressed with the gradual and subtle falloff in the shadows on the D4, with both cameras also keeping colors very accurate despite these tougher, high-contrast shooting conditions.

The Nikon D4 was able to render 700 LPPH vertical and 600 LPPH horizontal sharpness in our test video under bright, 3000lux shooting conditions at 1080/30p. In the cropped 1080/30p mode the lens produced a more narrow field of view while we found that sharpness improved slightly, but still wasn't able to render more than 700 LPPH in either direction. For comparison's sake, high-end consumer camcorders in the $1000 and up range consistently produce 900+ LPPH of sharpness, though without the benefit of narrow depth of field.

Moire was significantly improved on the D4 over previous Nikon cameras. The 1080p crop mode did produce somewhat less moire than the full frame shot, though all the videos had some visible moire at frequencies between 700-1000 LPPH. We haven't done any extensive editing to the D4's footage, so there's still the question of how well it holds up to color grading, sharpening, and other facets of post-production. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Under 60lux lighting conditions we found that sharpness dropped only slightly, producing 600 LPPH horizontal and 625 LPPH vertical sharpness. This occasionally improved at specific angles with the 24-70mm lens, but never to any significant degree. You may have better results with a different lens, as we also got a somewhat soft image from the lens in our still sharpness testing.

To put it completely plainly: the Nikon D4 can see in the dark. In our low light sensitivity test we shoot a standard white/black target and use a waveform monitor to detect at what lux level the camera produces an image of less than 50 IRE. With our lux meters reading 0 lux (with our eyes still able to see the chart), the D4 still produced an image of 70-80IRE. Human vision is limited to around 0.3lux and the image did bottom out once we turned the lights almost completely off. With the option to shoot video at the extreme ISO speed of 204,800, these results aren't a huge surprise, but it's still an incredible showing from the D4.

The Nikon D4 builds impressively on the Nikon D3s's control scheme, with the addition of two sub-selectors (one for portrait, one for vertical orientation), a programmable function button on the portrait grip, and improved video controls across the board. The incredible level of customization on offer is just what a professional needs, though there's still the split between Nikon (with savable menu banks) and Canon (three custom shooting mode "states") with how to establish specific camera-wide use cases. We prefer the Nikon menu bank method, though the actual Nikon menus themselves are still a long list that is difficult to navigate. Whether you're a seasoned Nikon pro or jumping over from another system, understand that the D4 is a blank canvas that will take some time to set up in the way that best serves you.

The Nikon D4 features an impressive combination of 91k-pixel RGB metering system, 51-point autofocus sensor, and EXPEED3 image processor allowing for fast, accurate photos in the majority of lighting conditions. The camera is certainly not for beginners, and even enthusiast photographers might have trouble knowing just where to begin. The D4 is designed to aid a professional's workflow, to be a tool that can be picked up and adjusted to work and work quickly.

The large body of the D4 allows buttons to be comfortable spaced apart, with both portrait and landscape grips receiving dedicated controls. Both grips benefit from command and sub-command dials, a programmable function button, AF-ON button, sub-selector joystick, and shutter release. The vertical grip's shutter release also has a release lock, and the general layout of the controls is similar regardless of how you're holding the camera, with small differences. All the grip-centric buttons are well-designed, with legible labels and large buttons. The controls don't have much travel, and don't offer much of a haptic response. This keeps things quiet, but sometimes you're left wondering if you fully depressed the AF-ON button, for example.

The menu on the Nikon D4 is just as we've seen on previous Nikon cameras: tabs aligned vertically on the left side of the screen, each housing a long list of options. By default this is a brutal pain, because the multi-selector and sub-selector controls are poor for repeating the same motion many times, as you often have to do to scroll through a menu. Luckily, you can assign menu navigation to the rear control dial, which lets you quickly shuttle down the long lists of camera options. We've sounded this complaint in most of our Nikon reviews, but both Canon and Samsung feature menus that are far quicker to navigate, only calling into sharp relief how cumbersome Nikon's design is.

In totality though, the D4's menu can be customized to limit the effect of this. Nikon allows for menu banks to be savable, with the option to switch between several different banks without having to actually go into the menu. In addition, the camera features a customizable "My Menu" feature, where you can assign menu functions that you adjust often. This is a great place to put the camera's movie settings, as you can assign the sub-selector to bring you directly to this menu.

The printed manual that comes with the Nikon D4 is as extensive as you'd expect from a $6000 camera. The English manual alone is 456 pages long. Nikon also provides .pdf versions that are easier to search on a phone or computer, while the manual itself is pretty straightforward and organized with a helpful index at the back. We do wish the table of contents explained specific use cases a little more clearly. A perfect example of this is the "lens" part of the table, which has information on pages 28-29, 228, 359, and 385.

If you wanted to know, say, what lenses are compatible with the D4, you'd have to turn to page 385, but you may go to the first four references first before you find what you want. A simpler way would just say "Lens...", and then explain what each individual reference was for, as in any encyclopedia. Yes, it'd make the index 2-3 pages longer, but in a 456-page tome, that's hardly of much consequence. What's perhaps worse is that I've been informed by my German-speaking colleague and managing editor of our German site that the Nikon D4's German manual already does this. Wunderbar.

Also available for the D4 are a selection of online learning tools, called the Digitutor (careful, there's sound associated with it). The Digitutor explains the camera's many features, but also goes into depth with some key techniques from professional photographers. It's a useful tool for understanding some of the finer points of the camera, though there's not the same level of explanation that the printed manual gives you.

The Nikon D4 has a large body that accomodates its many controls. Like the Canon 1D series and previous flagship D-series Nikons before it, the portrait grip is built right into the body. Both grips are large, though the standard grip has significantly more depth to it than the portrait grip. It's so large that it can be difficult for those with smaller hands to utilize the preview and function buttons on the front of the camera without sacrificing grip. The portrait grip is much better suited to people with smaller hands, but the depth of field preview is out of reach in that scenario.

Handling Photo 1

The material on the D4 offers a great deal of purchase, and the camera won't easily part from your hands in spite of its weight. The rear thumb rest extends into the memory compartment on the back of the camera, offering greater surface area to control the camera. The camera's weight with the 24-70mm f/2.8G lens isn't too problematic if you're just shooting for a short period of the time, and most of that weight comes from the lens itself. We did notice that if you find yourself alternating between adjusting the settings in the menu and shooting that your wrist tends to cramp up, but this is less of a problem once the camera is configured to your liking.

Handling Photo 2

In general the Nikon D4 does a good job of spacing the controls out such that handling the camera isn't a problem. There are some hitches with the overall control scheme, though, especially the ISO, white balance, and picture quality buttons. As on the D3s they're presumable placed on the bottom of the back of the camera so they're usable when in the portrait grip, but you still have to take your hand off the grip to reach them. The problem is when using that grip, holding the ISO button and adjusting the rear dial is almost impossible, requiring two hands to get the job done. The quality and white balance buttons are activated by the control dial by the portrait grip's shutter release, but even that's difficult to reach for anyone who doesn't have large hands.

Handling Photo 3

The large body of the D4 allows buttons to be comfortable spaced apart, with both portrait and landscape grips receiving dedicated controls. Both grips benefit from command and sub-command dials, a programmable function button, AF-ON button, sub-selector joystick, and shutter release. The vertical grip's shutter release also has a release lock, and the general layout of the controls is similar regardless of how you're holding the camera, with small differences. All the grip-centric buttons are well-designed, with legible labels and large buttons. The controls don't have much travel, and don't offer much of a haptic response. This keeps things quiet, but sometimes you're left wondering if you fully depressed the AF-ON button, for example.

Buttons Photo 1

The left side of the LCD is similar to the D3s, with the addition of a picture control button offering instant access to the different color modes. The other large change is the AF mode selector on the front of the camera, sitting where your off-hand's thumb would normally rest when supporting the camera. The mode selector now has two positions (AF and MF), with a center button that can be held while a dial is turned to select AF mode. The main benefit of this is during video recording, where changing AF mode from full-time servo AF to single-shot AF is quieter than if you had to adjust a resistant lever.

Buttons Photo 2

The Nikon D4 gets a small spec bump on its rear LCD, going from 3 inches to a full 3.2-inch, 921k-dot display. The display is quite accurate to our eyes (though the white balance of the actual photos is another story that we'll get to), with 100% coverage useful for framing. The LCD's brightness can be changed on a +/- 5-stop scale, or automatically set depending on the brightness of the room.

Secondary Display

The D4 also sports both a rear secondary and top-plate display, with informational readout on the camera's current settings. Both are monochrome LCDs, displaying various bits of shooting information. The LCD on the back shows current image size, area, and quality settings along with ISO and white balance information. Beneath this LCD are the corresponding buttons of these features, letting you change all three without going into the menu.

The top plate LCD has information on the amount of exposures remaining, battery life readout, exposure compensation settings, current shooting mode, which menu bank you are currently employing and focus/metering mode. Both LCDs can be illuminated with a green backlight, making them readable in the dark. This function has to be turned on in the menu, though, as there's no direct panel light button as you'll find on the Canon 5D Mark III, for example.

Secondary Display Photo

The mono LCD display is small and disappointing.

The viewfinder on the Nikon D4 is, in a word, fantastic. It's bright and clear, with an intelligent information design, comfortable placement, and useful AF point illumination. Around the edges of the viewfinder, the D4 offers the basic shooting information (exposure settings, ISO, current mode, exposures remaining/frame count), with the exposure compensation meter on the right side of the finder. If you're used to seeing the exposure compensation meter beneath the finder this is a change, but it's actually easier in the long run as it's out of the way when you want to focus on other settings. When there's no exposure compensation set, the meter simply turns off so you can't see it.

In addition to all that, the viewfinder also has a plastic sheath that can be closed, useful for blocking light from entering through the finder during long bulb exposures. If you're planning on using the camera for low light, timelapse, or astrophotography, this will at least save you some money in gaffer's tape.

The Nikon D4 features just the basic four shooting modes: program auto, shutter speed priority, aperture priority, and manual mode. The program mode can be shifted to your liking but relies on the camera's metering settings and sensor. The shutter and aperture priority modes also rely on the metering sensor, but you set either shutter speed or aperture manually. The full manual mode has the user setting aperture and shutter speed both manually, with ISO set either manually or automatically in all four modes. The shooting mode is changed by holding the "MODE" button on the top plate of the camera and adjusting the rear control dial.

The Nikon D4 has a ton of manual control options, though there's some significant customization that needs to be done before the camera will be set up optimally. There are two function buttons that are programmable, one on the front of the camera and another by the vertical shutter release. They can be programmed differently or share the same function, allowing you to switch orientations on the fly without changing your control scheme.

The control layout on the back of the camera is fine, for the most part, though placing the ISO, quality, and white balance buttons on the bottom beneath the rear LCDs does make some gymnastics necessary at times. The biggest change we think every user should make right off the bat (and really should be a default) is using the rear control dial for menu navigation. That speeds up menu navigation significantly, which makes combing through the many menu options much easier.

The Nikon D4 focuses very quickly, with a 51-point autofocus sensor that is sensitive even in extremely limited light. We found it was able to track moving subjects even while firing at full speed, with plenty of focus options for fine-tuning performance. In low light the camera rarely hunted past the point of focus, though using a set focus point on a high-contrast edge improved that substantially. In shooting sports, we found the focus point wrap-around feature to be a great help, especially for subjects where you have to pan in order to keep them in the frame.

The Nikon D4 utilizes a 51-point AF system, with options for both single and continuous AF. The AF menu isn't quite as substantial as the one found on the full frame Canon cameras (for example, the camera lacks the multiple user-savable use cases, though you can save the entire camera state), but it has enough options to suit professional needs in most cases.

When shooting on the Nikon D4 you are given the option of capturing images in NEF RAW (12 or 14 bit), JPEG (fine, basic, normal), TIFF (RGB), or RAW+JPEG (fine, basic, normal). The dual card slots on the D4 allow you to designate which files go to which card, though with one slot XQD and the other CF you will have to make a decision based on system compatibility as well as speed, depending on your workflow.

The D4 shoots at a maximum resolution of 16.2 megapixels (4928x3280), with options for medium (3696x2456) and small (2464x1640) shots available. You can also decide what area of the image sensor you wish to shoot on, though this does shrink the resolution when cropping out portions of the sensor. The image area options are full-frame (FX), 1.2x (30x20), 1.5x (DX, used automatically with DX lenses), and 5:4 (30x24).

The Nikon D4 includes both image adjustment controls and controls for timelapse, multiple shot recording, and an intervalometer built into the camera.

Time-lapse Photography

In the Nikon D4's menu, the option for setting up a timelapse session is available. Much like the interval shooting mode, time-lapse photography lets you designate an interval (maximum of 10 minutes) and shoot time (maximum of eight hours) and joins all those shots into a video using the settings that are currently established in the camera's "movie settings" menu. This makes time-lapse shooting very easy, though it lacks the fine control (or expansive time frame) that you can use with the interval shooting mode.

If you want to make higher quality timelapse movies, you may want to go with the interval shooting mode, as that will not only give you more control, but will also provide you with full-resolution shots. You can then shrink those shots down to 4K or 5K resolution, allowing you to do things such as make a 1080/30p video that will pan across a given frame as the timelapse progresses.

The Nikon D4 is one of the fastest DSLRs on the market, with the company claiming the camera's capabilities allow it to shoot full resolution frames at up to 11fps. It features two continuous modes (low speed and high speed), along with single shot mode and quiet shutter mode. The camera also features manual lockup, self-timer options, and a built-in intervalometer for timelapse shooting.

The Nikon D4 features a drive mode dial located on the top plate of the camera just under the bracket/flash/metering mode. The dial has a locking button just above it, preventing you from accidentally switching modes. The shutter itself is normally quite loud, but that noise is significantly suppressed when firing in the quiet mode. In addition, when shooting in live view mode you can activate "silent shooting," which will let you hold own the shutter button while the camera records up to 5 seconds of continuously shot JPEG images. It records JPEGs at up to 24fps, with a maximum size of 1920x1080 (or a full HD signal).

In our testing, we were able to get the Nikon D4 to fire at a rate as high as 12.1 frames per second over a five shot burst, with single shot differentials ranging between 0.1 and 0.066 seconds between exposures. This puts the D4 among the fastest cameras that we have ever tested, especially considering these are full resolution shots taken using a mechanical shutter. If you're shooting over a longer period or counting more exposures, that average speed will drop to around 11fps (or 10fps, depending on menu settings).

The Nikon D4 features fully customizable self-timer options, allowing you to set a self-timer that will take up to nine shots after a delay of two, five, 10, or 20 seconds. You can even customize the delay between shots, with options for 0.5, one, two, or three seconds of delay. These options are all found in the custom menu under the timers tab, though there are also options for both timelapse and interval timer shooting.

Timelapse shooting will allow you to tell the camera how long you would like to shoot for and how long of a delay you want between shots. The camera will then take all these images and stitch them into a movie using the current video settings (such as ISO level and destination), though there's no sound recorded. This lets you easily take a timelapse video of any event, though the built-in inverval timer also allows you to accomplish this feat.

The interval shooting mode lets you force the camera to take up to nine shot bursts up to 999 times, with a set interval between each burst. These shots are full resolution stills and are recorded as such. The benefit to doing a timelapse in this manner is it will allow you to downsize and stitch together your video after the fact, giving you much more leeway in the editing room.

The Nikon D4 focuses very quickly, with a 51-point autofocus sensor that is sensitive even in extremely limited light. We found it was able to track moving subjects even while firing at full speed, with plenty of focus options for fine-tuning performance. In low light the camera rarely hunted past the point of focus, though using a set focus point on a high-contrast edge improved that substantially. In shooting sports, we found the focus point wrap-around feature to be a great help, especially for subjects where you have to pan in order to keep them in the frame.

The Nikon D4 utilizes a 51-point AF system, with options for both single and continuous AF. The AF menu isn't quite as substantial as the one found on the full frame Canon cameras (for example, the camera lacks the multiple user-savable use cases, though you can save the entire camera state), but it has enough options to suit professional needs in most cases.

The Nikon D4 houses a remarkable feature set, as you would expect from a $6000 professional camera. In addition to the blistering shot-to-shot speed, the Nikon D4's 51-point autofocus system provides accurate AF with most lenses in even very limited light. The camera's improved image sensor and processing not only maintains accurate colors, but we also found it produced low noise and expansive dynamic range through its native ISO range of 12800. Its high ISO settings are also of great benefit, with the camera able to use the full ISO range of 204,800 even when recording video. Whether you're interested in the camera for news assignments, sports shoots, wildlife treks, or surveillance, the Nikon D4 has the speed, control, accuracy, and low light ability to keep pace with you.

The Nikon D4 features H.264 AVCHD video compression with linear PCM audio encoding in a .MOV container. The camera has a maximum video resolution of 1080/30p, with options for 25 and 24p as well. In addition, the camera can shoot at 720p, with frame rate options of 60, 50, 30, and 25fps.

You can also record in a smaller 640x424 mode in 30 or 25p. The Nikon D4 also features a 1920x1080 crop mode, with 30, 25, and 24fps frame rate options that uses a 1920x1080 portion of the image sensor to record a (zoomed in) image that is slightly sharper.

The full HD video modes all feature a bitrate of 24Mbps (12 when on "normal" quality), with 12Mbps and 5Mbps respectively for the 720p and 424p modes. The Nikon D4 also features uncompressed HD output from its HDMI cable, letting you bypass in-camera compression in favor of a clean signal that can be converted later. This can be recorded directly to a hard drive while a live view preview is also pushed to an external monitor. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

The D4 allows full manual control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO, autofocus, and monitor brightness while recording video. You can also adjust audio levels (on a 20-stop scale, with options to do levels automatically or turn sound off completely), though not while recording. When using program auto mode to record video you can also control exposure compensation, even while recording, though video exposure compensation is only available on a +/- 3-stop scale instead of the full five stop scale.

Auto Controls

Since the Nikon D4 doesn't have a dedicated video mode, it will automatically inherit whatever exposure settings you (or the camera) have chosen when you begin a recording. The only limit to this is shutter speeds slower than 1/30th of a second. The camera doesn't feature any creative filters or scene modes, but the camera's picture control settings (color modes) do go into effect even while recording video. While shooting in video live view you can adjust these controls right on the screen, just as you would in the full menu.

Zoom

The Nikon D4 doesn't feature any zoom toggle on the camera body itself, with zoom all tied manually to the lens itself (as you'd expect). The camera does allow you to pick various crops though, including the full 1080/30p crop mode in the movie settings of the camera. This only uses the center portion of the camera's sensor, which in effect creates a digital zoom that doesn't downscale resolution from the full sensor as the normal video modes do.

Focus

Full-time autofocus is available on the D4, with options for single-shot AF (just when you press the shutter button or AF-ON button) as well. You can adjust these focus settings on the fly, or switch to manual focus and override the settings with many Nikon lenses. The autofocus on the D4 is much smoother in video than it is on the Canon and, despite being a contrast detection system, doesn't hunt past the point of focus very much.

Video AF on the D4 is usable in a pinch, though for any professional videography we'd obviously suggest sticking to manual focus. The D4 also can use face-detection AF in live view and when recording video, which follows faces well but needs a second to pick them up initially.

Exposure Controls

In video mode the full suite of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed settings, with some small limitations. Video ISO is limited to 200 and above (but goes to the full 204,800 setting), and shutter speeds have to be 1/30th of a second or faster (1/60th or faster in 720/60p mode). Otherwise you have full control over exposure settings when recording video, though only in the manual shooting mode.

Other Controls

Video is accessed on the D4 by turning the live view/video dial on the back of the camera to the video setting and pressing the LV button, activating video live view. You can then press the record button on the top of the camera to begin recording a video, with a maximum clip length of 20 minutes. This is an annoying limitation, but given that the duty on video-cameras doesn't kick in until 30 minutes, we imagine it's an actual hardware limitation rather than one imposed by Nikon for tax reasons.

Once in video live view you can hit the "info" key on the back of the camera to scroll through various display options. These include an electronic level, audio level display, histogram, and rule of thirds grid to help aid framing.

The Nikon D4 records audio in a linear PCM compression, but only features a monaural microphone built into the back of the camera. Obviously, that's not the ideal place to record audio from, and it's mostly just there for voice memos for photographers looking to capture a quick note to themselves about a shot. The camera does feature both a 3.5mm mic jack and a 3.5mm headphone jack though, which will allow you to record and monitor audio quite well, even when stuck in the field without much support.

Mic Photo

In today's world of multimedia, where every platform and touchpoint is essential to getting your message across, the Nikon D4 stands as a referendum on both camera design and the professionals that use them. With still performance among the best we have tested to date and video that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the Canon 5D Mark III, we have to give the D4 top marks.

The more we shot with the camera, the more we were impressed with the ease with which it juggles priorities that, just four short years ago, seemed worlds apart. While there have been some sacrifices made to still control in favor of video functionality, the Nikon D4 is just the sort of still shooting powerhouse that news and sports photographers crave.

At $6000 body-only ($2500 more than the Mark III) the Nikon D4 is not going to be the first choice for most videographers. For the ever-converging world of media, though, it's certainly going to look appealing. That price is going to put it out of reach for many, and for video alone the Mark III is a better buy, but if you need a device that does stills and videos at a pro level with pro-level control, the D4 is as the best we've seen to date.

That isn't to say the D4 is a perfect camera; we found it produced rather soft images with the 24-70mm AF-S Nikkor lens we used in testing, had some white balance consistency issues under artificial lighting, and has a significant setup time even for a professional. That being said, among cameras we have tested it beat out its nearest competitor—the Canon 5D Mark III—by a pretty wide margin.

The most impressive thing about the D4, however, is how well it performed in challenging light conditions. While the Canon 5D Mark III matched it at low ISOs, the D4 surged ahead in every category where mid and high ISO settings came into play. Its 51-point autofocus system and 91k-pixel metering sensor ran laps around the 5D Mark III in low light. In addition, the D4 is extremely responsive, shoots amazingly fast, and offers some of the best dynamic range scores we've seen yet.

There are photographers who will need much more resolution than what the D4 can offer, but for anyone who works in a field where a camera has to be as adaptable as possible, the D4 currently stands alone.

With smart additions such as Ethernet connectivity, a headphone jack, uncompressed HD video output, full-time AF during video recording, automatic time-lapse shooting, and additional portrait grip controls, Nikon has clearly gone beyond the token update.

The Canon 1D X and Nikon D800 both will certainly have something to say before the year is out, but after roundly besting the Canon 5D Mark III, the Nikon D4 is already in the running as camera of the year for 2012.

Meet the testers

TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews

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