Nikon D4 : 28 new things and improvements

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Let me introduce you all to the new pro DSLR : the Nikon D4, that I met just before Christmas for a quick hands-on preview (and a second time on Nikon booth during the CES 2012 for a second hands-on of the D4). Thomas, the product manager at Nikon in charge of the professional photographers is pretty proud of the demonstration of the R&D power of Nikon that the D4 can be seen as, a company that has been flooded in Thailand and that has been severely hit by the Earthquake/Tsunami of March 2011. All these event had delayed the announcement of the D4 but here it is now and I had the opportunity to try it for a few moments.

– New FX (Full Frame Sensor of 16 megapixels / CMOS technology

– The sensor has been developed to optimize its battery consumption.

– The D4 ISO settings start at ISO 100 (vs ISO 200 on the D3s)

– New Expeed 3 processor that does a lot of things from 16 bits treatment of the signal to color management, Active D-Lighting calculation, scene analysis and recognition, HD video computing, and so on.

– New scene recognition sensor of 91,000 pixels (the D7000’s sensor has 2000). This sensor detects the scene and helps getting the right exposure, reduces the focusing time and the subject tracking of the autofocus.

– The exposure is now held by the 3D color Matrix III

– On the Nikon D4, face detection can be active when shooting via the optical viewfinder, a world premiere and that is thanks to this new 91,000 pixels scene recognition sensor.

– The D4 can shoot HDR : it takes two images in a raw at 0EV and +3V and then fuses their exposures to get a HDR image, directly from the camera.

– The Nikon D4 can shoot Full HD movies. Either you record them on a memory card at 30p, 25p por 24p or you connect an HDMI video recorder which will then swallow the uncompressed video flow out of the sensor for a 180-200 mbs nitrate to give you an idea of the quality level you can expect. This feature is broadcast compatible. This means that we could see the Nikon D4 on some TV sets !

– The video of the D4 offers various aspect ratios : in addition to the FX, full frame mode, you can go for the DX ratio which is 1.5 (equivalent to the Super35 format) or you can only take the 1920×1080 pixels of th center of the 16 megapixels CMOS sensor to end up with a 2.7x ratio.

– Time lapse : yes, trendy ! Nikon has implemented the ability to record time lapse videos on the D4. Its is highly flexible. I think I remember you can record as long as a week or a month and the camera pastes the captures images into one video sequence.

– The autofocus of the D4, gets the same sensor number (51) and name (Multi-Cam 3500FX) as on the D3/D3s, but Thomas from Nikon said it is a new autofocus module. First, it is more light sensitive meaning that it is able to focus efficiently until 2EV of illumination which is very dim light, like moonlight… It gets 15 cross type sensors.

– When you change the orientation of the DSLR, the active AF sensor changes accordingly to remain on the same portion of the frame. Smart. That was really missing to the D3s.

– The shutter has been tested 400,000 cycles

– The D4 is NOISY. I tried it, believe me, it is a war weapon, but it is noisy. Yet, Nikon has improved the Quiet mode, which is smoother than the Q mode of the D3.

– For 100% silent shots, you can use the electronic shutter, which will not make any noise, juste like on a compact digital camera. But you loose 4 times the resolution.

– Nikon has added backlit control buttons that wil change photographers life when shooting in the dark or low-light.  (Apple users know what I mean if you are used working on a MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air at night)

– The Nikon D4 can shoot at 10 fps with AF tracking on and reaches 11 fps with AF  tracking off.

– As long as a D4 copy will age, its shutter loss of speed is offset by a faster speed, automatically. That will be useful to agencies with a lot of staff shooting over 100,000 photos per semester.

– When shooting movies, you can fine tune the exposure by 1/8EV thanks to the two  buttons on the side of the lens : the DOF tester and the Fn button. Unfortunately, this only works in video mode and not for stills.

– The D4 gets 2 joysticks, quite useful to choose the AF sensor.

– When holding the D4 in portrait orientation, the replicated controls are at the exact same location. That was not the case with the D3 on which you had to look for the buttons in portrait.

– Don’t ask me why, but Nikon redesigned the pentaprism of the D4 while it offers the same comfort as the D3’s : a 100% coverage and a 0.7x magnification.

– The D4 gets an Ethernet connexion in addition to its USB, HDMI… outputs.

– Nikon has thought adding a minijack earphone plug was a good idea to check the quality and level of the audio recorded by the mic. And we also do.

– It gets a dual memory card slot, one CompactFlash and one XQD, the new format engineered by Nikon and Sony that should offer transfer speeds of 720 Mbps at launch.

– EN-EL18 : that is the name of the new battery Nikon had to design for the D4 in order to comply with some new Japanese regulations. It is less powerful than the previous model ( 2000 mAh), but the battery life of the D4 measured by CIPA is of 3,500 shots (vs 4200 shots on the D3s, that is definitely not an improvement). You will also need to use the news battery charger MH-26.

– With the new Wi-Fi transmitter WT-5 plugged-in, the D4 can interact with any smartphone or tablet on the market through their web browser to display the images in http mode. Isn’t that neat ? But they have even better to come with an iPhone / iPad app which will allow photographers, not only to display images captured by they DSLR, they will be able to control it. I really do foresee myself controlling my D4 with my iPad ! By the way, they also updated Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 to add the control of the D4 when recording video sequences.

Are you as convinced as I am ? I find the number of new things impressive although it remains in the tracks of the D3s. I could take a few shots with it and also test the face detection when shooting from the viewfinder. It works, tracks the subjects, locks on it real quick and follows it even when it is from profile, wait when the subjects is out of the frame and locks back on it when it sees it back. It really works. The high ISO shots seem pretty good in spite of the extra resolution of the news sensor (which can be extended to 200,000 ISO).

The good news is that the D4 is on its way and will hit the shelves on February 16th.

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