Nikon D4 sensor review : DxOMark benchmark


Just got the final test results of the 16-megapixel CMOS sensor of the Nikon D4 pro DSLR. My friends at have benchmarked the new generation Full Frame sensor. We won’t have the CanonEOS-1D X available for review before it is officially shipped and therefore, we won’t be able to compare the Nikon D4’s sensor to its direct competitor but we can measure the progress brought by the D4 in terms of low-light ISO performance, color depth and dynamic range. (Here is the Nikon D800 sensor review : huge surprise inside !)

Nikon D4 sensor : areas of progress vs the D3s

It was logical, but has been measured : the Nikon D4 sensor offers globaly higher performances over the D3s, itself better than the D3 sensor from whitch it actually was an evolution. But the D3/D3s sensor was 5 years old… The D4 sensor gives an advantage over the d3s in two main areas :

  • Dynamic Range : the Nikon D4 gets 1EV more dynamic Range headroom than the D3s to reach 13.1EV, which is still ower than the impressive 13.9EV of the APS-C sensor of the D7000, D5100, Pentax K-01, Sony SLt-A57… which has the same design as the sensor placed in the D800 which sounds great for this camera. Anamyzing further the curve of the dynamic range of the D4, I found out that the DR was not improved at ISO 100 compared to ISO 200 which is probably why it doesn’t beat the D7000’s sensor. Also, on the other end of the curve, note that after ISO 3,200, the dynamic range of the D4 is the same as the D3s.
  • Color depth : the color depth of the D3s was measured at 23.5-bit while the D4 offers 24.7-bit.

On both areas, the D3s was not improving over the D3 and what has been measured here may be duplicate to compare your old Nikon D3 and this new D4. (see all measures on website)


With a DxOMark Score 7 points above the D3s, the Nikon D4's sensor brings overall higher performances


The average 1EV higher dynamic range offered by the Nikon D4 will be appreciated. The DR does not benefit from the ISO 100 setting availability.

Nikon D4 sensor review : sensibility

Remember that the D4’s sensor has a nominal sensbility ranging from ISO 100 to 12,800 and it can be extended untill ISO 200,400. With a pixel surface narrower than on the D3s because of a higher pixel density (16 vs 12 MP on the same surface), I thought that the D4’s sensor would have benefited from its newer design. But actually, the smaller pixel pitch of the D4 (7,2µm) compared to the D3s (8,4µm) does not allow the camera to progress in low-light ISO.  The D4 has been measured at ISO 2965 when the d3s had obtained ISO 3253. But this lower score is only 1/5EV away from the d3s ad that won’t be noticed on prints. Better : I know that Nikon has improved its in-camera JPEG process and if you are shooting RAW, you can also count on better noise reduction algorithms of Lightroom 4 and the yet to come Aperture 4. So, no drama here, the D4 is slightly not as good as the D3s (which was gifted with an exceptional sensor) but this is balanced by image processing progress and the extra 4 megapixels of resolution which give the D4 a more versatile character.
Also note that the D4 offers an ISO 100 setting, unavailable on the D3 and D3s whith cleaner signal. (45.4dB vs 42.6dB).

The signal to noise ratio curve of the Nikon D4 is very similar to the D3s one but the extra ISO 100 setting will offer a 3DB cleaner signal at lower sensibility.

Nikon D4 sensor review : conclusion

While we are still expecting DxO to receive its Nikon D800 and Canon EOS-1D X test cameras for their sensor review to get the entire family portrait, this first D4 benchmark allowed me to measure the progress brought by the D4 over the previous generation of Nikon pro DSLR in terms of sensor performance with some progress in color depth and dynamic range while its sensibility is slightly regressing, but it is so tight that it can be considered as a stagnation, a stagnation that will be offset by the extra definition and new generation noise reduction algorythm.
(see all measures on website)

We talked about sensor today, but keep in mind that aside from sensor, the Nikon D4 brings 25 improvements.

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