Nikon D4s Review

4.5
April 1, 2014 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

The new D4s is Nikon's new flagship DSLR camera for professional photographers. Aimed at sports, press and nature photographers, the 16 megapixel D4s builds on the success of the previous D4 camera with a wealth of improvements. Can the Nikon D4s possibly justify its eye-watering £5,199.99.99 / €6,199.00 / $6,499.95 price-tag? Find out by reading our Nikon D4s review...

The Nikon D4s is a new professional digital SLR camera with a newly designed 16.2 megapixel FX sensor, new EXPEED 4 processing engine, Multi-CAM 3500FX auto-focus module, a 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor and a weather-sealed magnesium alloy body. Key improvements include an expanded ISO range of 100–25600 which is extendable down to 50 and up to an industry-leading 409600 (equivalent), improved AF acquisition with the new Group Area AF mode, 30% faster processing times, ‘Raw Size S’ option for extended continuous raw shooting and accelerated image transfer, new shutter and mirror mechanism to help reduce mirror bounce, larger buffer capacity for JPEG and RAW files, and 1080/60p/50p Full HD movies with full control over gain, shutter speed, aperture and audio levels. The Nikon D4s comes with microphone and headphone jacks and an HDMI port that allows for the streaming of uncompressed video to an external recorder or monitor. Other highlights include a Kevlar reinforced shutter rated for 400,000 actuations, the ability to shoot full-resolution stills at up to 11fps, dual CF and XQD memory card slots, two ergonomically placed rear joysticks for quick AF point selection, two different LiveView capture modes, in-camera HDR exposure blending, a user configurable Exposure Delay Mode, a dual-axis Virtual Horizon and a 3.2” rear display. Powered by a EN-EL18 battery with a remarkable battery life of 3020 shots and outfitted with a Gigabit 100/1000TX Ethernet port, the Nikon D4s even allows you to assign it to its own IP address and operate it from a distance via a Web browser interface, using a PC, tablet or smartphone. As of writing, the Nikon D4s is available body-only for £5199.99.99 / €6199.00 / $6499.95 in the UK, Europe and USA, respectively.

Ease of Use

Like its predecessors, the Nikon D4s is a very large DSLR camera, but not quite as big or heavy as you would think based on the specs alone. In fact, the body ergonomics and the weight distribution of the D4s are so good that it feels perfectly balanced and very much like a natural extension of your hands. Nikon have only made a couple of small changes to the external design of the new D4s - adding a textured surface to the two joysticks on the back and changing the shape of the memory card door - which is testament to the proven handling of the D4.

The shutter release is angled forward at a comfortable 35°, which puts less of a strain on a photographer’s right hand during an extended shooting session. The integrated portrait grip features a programmable function button, an ergonomically placed AF-ON button and a thumb rest, alongside the duplicate shutter release and front/rear control wheels.

The Nikon D4s has a duo of small, newly textured joysticks whose primary aim is to make AF point selection easier, though each does double-duty as an (unmarked) AE Lock button too. The reason that there are two of them is that one is easier to reach in landscape orientation, while the other falls to hand better when the camera is held vertically. The joysticks are intuitive to use and work well, but are perhaps still a little too easy to bump by accident. It is possible to lock the position of the active focus point but then you need to remember to unlock it when you want to change it again. Additionally, you can (still) use the standard eight-way controller to set the desired AF point, as on the D3 series cameras, but said controller is unfortunately rather small and not particularly comfortable to use.

Speaking of the AF system, the Nikon D4s comes with an upgraded version of the Multi-CAM 3500FX auto-focus module that made its debut way back in the D3. Still featuring a total of 51 AF points, this newest edition boasts low sensitivity (down to -2EV) and support for lens-teleconverter combinations as slow as f/8. Changing the focus mode and the AF Area mode – single, 9-, 21- and 51-point dynamic, 3D tracking, Group Area AF and Auto Area – is done in a similar vein as on the Nikon D7100. New to the D4s is the Group Area AF mode, which lets you assign 5 AF points that can be moved across the 51-point array as the subject demands, making it easier to track smaller moving subjects. Face Detect AF can also now be toggled on or off while shooting through the viewfinder.

Nikon D4s Nikon D4s
Front Rear

There is a simple AF/MF switch underneath the lens release button, with a small focus mode button in the middle. You can toggle between AF-S and AF-C modes by holding down this button, with the switch in the ‘AF’ position, and turning the rear control wheel. To cycle through the available AF Area modes, use the sub command dial instead. The settings are displayed in the viewfinder and the top-mounted status LCD.

The D4s has a Live View button encircled by a two-way Live View mode selector. This control can be set to either “live view photography” or “movie live view”, each of which is denoted by a little, self-explanatory icon. The Nikon D4s's live view implementation is the same as on the D4. Gone are the old “hand-held” and “tripod” modes of the D3 series, with the D4s instead featuring a quiet and a silent mode, selectable from the menu. In quiet mode, the mirror remains up as long as you stay in live view, but the sound of the shutter can still be heard when capturing a photo.

Silent live view mode is what it says on the tin – once the mirror is raised, there is no more mirror slapping or mechanical shutter sound to be heard, thus taking a picture is indeed completely silent. The downside is that in this mode, the resolution is limited to 2.5 megapixels and you can’t shoot raw. Some other restrictions also apply, e.g. you cannot use multiple exposure, HDR or Active D-lighting. Still, we’d rate this feature among the most significant novelties of the Nikon D4s as it enables photojournalists to work in places where complete discretion is required, be it a concert hall, a theatre or church during a service. Two and a half megapixels may sound ridiculously low these days but it’s usually sufficient for newspaper work – and more than enough for online publications. (Whenever you do need more resolution you should of course make sure to choose the other mode instead.)

At the heart of the Nikon D4s live view experience is a the 3.2” LCD screen. This has the same specification as on the D4, with a resolution of 921,000 dots, a gel resin between the cover glass and the screen itself to combat the fogging that may result from sudden changes of temperature, and a light sensor to allow for automatic adjustment of the screen’s brightness, contrast, gamma and colour saturation. Architectural photographers will be glad to hear that the optional virtual horizon overlay is a dual-axis version. New to the D4s is the ability to fine-tune the colour balance and brightness of the LCD screen, good news for those users who experienced a green cast on the D4.

Nikon D4s Nikon D4s
Front Side

Compared to the Nikon D4, it’s the D4s's movie mode where you’ll find some of the biggest improvements. Where the D4 made do with 1080p HD video recording at 30/25/24fps, the Nikon D4s additionally offers Full HD movie capture at 60/50fps. Additionally 720p is still available at 50 and 60fps and again at two quality settings, High and Normal. For Full HD movies, you can also choose from three different crop modes, including FX, DX and a 2.7x crop mode, which uses the central 1920×1080 pixels of the sensor to record native 1080p footage that is not downsampled from a higher resolution. The maximum length of a clip is 29 minutes and 59 seconds for Normal and 20 minutes for High quality videos, unless you’re using an external recorder, and you can simultaneously record to the memory card and external HDMI device.

Manual exposure adjustment is available for movies – note that ISO, shutter speed and now Auto ISO control (from ISO 400 to Hi-4) are only adjustable in 'M' mode, while the aperture can be set in both 'A' and 'M' modes. You can also now adjust the size of the focus point during movie recording. The Nikon D4s features a built-in microphone with a selectable frequency range and the ability to adjust the levels and wind noise reduction during recording, but for professional-grade audio recording you’ll definitely want to use an external mic. In order to monitor the audio during movie capture, you can connect a pair of headphones to the camera. Input levels can be adjusted manually in 20 steps but can also be regulated by the Nikon D4s automatically. As is now the norm for virtually every digital camera, from compacts to CSCs to DSLRs, there’s a dedicated red movie-record button on the D4s, located right next to the shutter release (much like the D3200 and D5100). The Pv button found on the front panel of the camera can be used to add indices to specific frames during recording so that they are easier to locate in the editing phase.

Of course, the Nikon D4s is, first and foremost, a stills camera - so let us now take a look at how it performs at its more traditional functions. The optical viewfinder, which is one of the most important parts of any SLR, is huge and bright with 100% frame coverage, and has a fairly high eye-point too, which is great news for eyeglass wearers. The Nikon D4s has a Type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VIII focusing screen. Another welcome novelty is the availability of on-demand grid lines (Custom Setting d6).

You get direct access to metering modes via the dedicated button located left of the viewfinder, when viewed from behind. The Nikon D4s has the same 91000-pixel RGB metering sensor as its predecessor which also assists the camera in tracking subjects, detecting faces (when not using live view) and focusing. The metering sensor can operate down to -1EV (in 3D Colout Matrix III and centre-weighted modes).

Nikon D4s Nikon D4s
Top Side

The Nikon D4s also benefits from a few seemingly minor enhancements that are nevertheless worth being mentioned. Among these is the maximum continuous shooting speed which, at 11fps, may seem unchanged from the D4 until you realise that the D4 was only capable of delivering this speed by locking the autofocus and exposure at the first frame, whereas the D4s can also achieve this performance in full-resolution FX mode with the auto-focus and autoexposure remaining active during the burst. The buffer has also been expanded, meaning that the highest continuous shooting speed can be sustained for considerably more images (approximately 176 compressed 12-bit NEFs or up to 200 Large/Fine JPEGs when shooting with an XQD memory card). The new 'Raw Size S' option produces a 2464x1640 pixel file that's perfect for extended continuous raw shooting and speedier transfer.

 

The D4s' auto ISO sensitivity control enables the camera to determine the minimum shutter speed based on the focal length of the lens in use. This means that the camera may raise the ISO sensitivity if the shutter speed drops below 1/200 second when using a 200mm lens but leave it unchanged down to 1/50 second if a 50mm lens is attached (this can be fine-tuned by the user). In Exposure Delay Mode the user can set the amount of delay between mirror up and image capture (1, 2 or 3 seconds). Finally, the Nikon D4s adopts the concept of back-lit buttons, something that has largely escaped camera manufacturers. On the D4s, the backlighting of the two monochromatic LCD panels, the release mode dial and 16 buttons is activated by a flick of the power switch to the “lightbulb” position. Needless to say, this feature can be a godsend when working in near darkness.

The D4s' HDMI port can be used to stream uncompressed footage to an external recorder or monitor. Additionally, there's now a Giga bitEthernet connection port as well as a socket that allows the attachment of the separately sold WT-5 wireless transmitter. Both of these solutions can be used to download images to a laptop or an FTP serve. In HTTP server mode, you can view and even capture photos remotely from a computer, tablet or smartphone – all via a Web browser interface, i.e. without the need to use specialised/proprietary software. Given all this focus on connectivity we were somewhat surprised to find that the camera's USB port is still of the slower USB 2.0 variety, as opposed to the USB 3.0 SuperSpeed port found on the cheaper Nikon D800.

Nikon D4s Nikon D4s
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Like its forebear, the Nikon D4s features two memory card slots and two different types of card, namely, Compact Flash and XQD. The latter is a physically smaller card that has theoretically more potential for growth, both in terms of capacity and in terms of read/write speeds. The selection of currently available XQD cards is still extremely small, and these cards aren't really faster than the speediest CF cards in the market today. Additionally, with Lexar and SanDisk still having no plans to release XQD cards any time soon, the future of the format is veryuncertain.

The Nikon D4s runs on a brand new EN-EL18a battery which is more powerful than the battery pack used to power the D4. With a CIPA rating of 3,020 images per charge (up from the D4's 2,600 shots), it has a more than respectable battery life.

In use, the Nikon D4s proved to be a great tool, just like its very similar predecessor. It's an extremely responsive camera that seems to react instantly to anything you throw at it. Start-up feels instantaneous, there is no shutter lag to speak of and with the right lens mounted, focusing is also very fast. Those who have never used a full-frame DSLR before will be astounded at the huge viewfinder (and even those that have will welcome the excellent focusing screen and on-demand grid lines). Anyone who has a bit of experience with a recent Nikon dSLR will feel right at home in the menu, even if it's more exhaustive than that of a D5200 or D7100. The customisation options that might seem intimidating at first sight allow you to tailor the workings of the camera to your peculiar needs and tastes. The improvements to the body ergonomics, the video mode, the connectivity options, the burst shooting capabilities, processing speed and the focusing system are all welcome.

This concludes our evaluation of the Nikon D4s's ergonomics, handling and feature set. Let us now move on to the image quality assessment.

Entry Tags

review, samples, 16 megapixel, nikon, sample images, jpegs, RAW, DSLR, movies, digital SLR, professional, sports, pro, JPEG, SLR, mov, 11fps, raws, olympics, Nikon D4s Review, d4s, nikon d4s

Tracker Pixel for Entry