Nikon D4 & D800: What do the Professionals Think?
It's been a busy couple of months for Nikon, during which the Japanese camera maker has announced two new models, the D4, a 16MP professional workhorse intended for hard use in a wide range of shooting environments, and the 36.3MP D800 - the long-awaited successor to the 12MP D700. With these two models Nikon has introduced some significant new technology to its high-end DSLR lineup, perhaps the most significant of which is a very impressive-looking video specification. Both cameras offer full HD video with live audio monitoring and the option to record uncompressed footage to a harddrive via the built-in HDMI port.
As far as the D4 is concerned, the improved video specification is arguably the most significant change to the spec sheet compared to the D3S. It gets a small resolution boost, from 12MP to 16, and improved high ISO performance but other refinements are relatively subtle. The D800 on the other hand (and it's near-twin the D800E) breaks through a major barrier, offering a currently unmatched pixel count of 36.3MP for $3000 - half the cost of the D4. Despite the cost and resolution disparity though, the two cameras have a lot in common.
Click here for our detailed first impressions (including samples) of using the D4
And here for our overview of the Nikon D4
And here for our in-depth preview of the Nikon D800
Following our announcement and preview content of these cameras, we wanted to get a feel for what professional Nikon shooters think. We asked four photographers, whose work and expertise spans a wide variety of genres to tell us what they think of the D800 and D4. Our own in-depth reviews will follow in the coming weeks.
The Sports and News Photographer: Leon Neal
I've been waiting for the D4 for some time but, unlike previous product refreshes, the D3s had never really left me crying out for anything apart from improved video. I was pretty sure that full HD video would be included in the D4,and handling a pre-production camera it was a real pleasure to finally see "1080p" displayed on the screen while shooting video.
|August 2011. The morning after serious violence in central London which resulted in the destruction of several homes and businesses. Shot with a Nikon D3S and AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8|
In my normal stills shooting though it's the little things that make a difference. The D4's screen, for example now has a resin coating between the plates which, Nikon claims, will eliminate fogging when the cameras have got wet. This might not sound significant but I have two D3 bodies that have never recovered from shooting one particularly wet job, so I'm pleased to see that changes have been made.
Likewise, the D4's time-lapse feature takes the maths out of the process, simply asking you how often you want to shoot and then displaying how long the finalised clip will be, depending on the interval that you currently have set. Not only that, but on completion, the D4 stitches the sequence together and outputs a high-quality movie file. No more messing around in Quicktime Pro...
I haven't been able to shoot any images on a production camera yet but just from looking at pictures on the LCD screen I could see that the noise levels produced in the higher ISO ranges were definitely improved, even compared to the D3s. Having shot quite a bit of low-light sport recently, I'm impressed with what the D3s can produce but with the D4 I'm looking forward to shooting at ISO 12,800 hopefully without needing to worry about noise affecting detail.
I honestly can't wait to use the D4 in anger at the London Olympics later this year if it's as good as it looks so far. The D4 has come along at a good time for me because I'll be shooting swimming and several other indoor events so I'll need the best image quality possible at high ISO settings. The 2012 Olympics will also be 'wired' so I'm really pleased that Nikon has added an Ethernet port to the D4. Also, as a regular user of the WT-4 wireless transmitter, it's great to hear about the new smaller-form WT-5 unit. Less gear to carry is always a plus point, no matter what other features it has!'
As for video, I regularly shoot 'webclips' for my employer Agence France-Presse which involve creating short 1-2 minute clips that can be used online to support text and photo stories. I've also shot footage for broadcast though, at last year's riots in inner London, for example. I like the fact that video is more tightly integrated into the D4 than the D3S and I'm really pleased to see that as well as full HD output, a headphone output has now been added for live audio monitoring. It's such a simple thing but the video teams at AFP were always astounded that the D3S didn't allow me to monitor my audio in any way. As well as 24, 25 and 30 frames per second, the D4 also allows 60 frames per second at the reduced 720p quality, which will allow me to capture slow-motion footage in camera - potentially very useful.
As for the D800, I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on one. A more compact form factor, incredible pixel count and full HD video makes it very very appealing for general-purpose stills and video work. I've always loved the size of the D700 and if the D800 can maintain D3-like image quality with three times the pixel count, it could feasibly end up being the more exciting of the two cameras. Bring it on!
|Leon Neal is a staff photographer for international news agency Agence France-Presse. Leon shoots everything that comes his way including news, sport, features, fashion and live music. Although mainly based in the UK, foreign assignments include the revolution in Libya and the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
To see more of his work visit www.leonneal.com
The Multimedia Photojournalist: Dan Chung
The Nikon D4 and D800 are very interesting to me. I was running both Canon and Nikon systems side by side for ages - Nikon for stills and Canon for stills and video, but a couple of months ago I finally got rid of my Nikon bodies, mainly because I just wasn’t really shooting on them. I kept all my Nikon glass though, so if I decide to get another Nikon body I’ll be ready to start shooting again immediately.
One of the main things I liked about the D700 for stills was it's faster frame rate compared to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The D800 is a slower camera than the D700, but the biggest draw compared to the 5D Mark II is the more advanced video specification.
Both Canon and Nikon are producing great cameras now that you can shoot excellent video footage with. The difference obviously is that Canon is better established in that field. The D4 and D800 are still unknown quantities for now, but I know I could go on a broadcast shoot with a Canon EOS C300 tomorrow, and mix the footage in with video from the 1 DX or 5D Mark II and it would work.
This is why right now I would consider myself a Canon shooter. Until to the launch of the D4 and D800 there’s been no other choice for DSLR video really. Sony’s DSLR video stuff doesn’t quite cut it, and the Nikon D3S didn’t really cut it either - it didn’t have enough video resolution, the frame rates weren’t there, and frankly the image quality in video mode just wasn’t up to the same level as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. As a stills camera the D3S is lovely but right now I need a video camera that shoots stills, not a stills camera that shoots video.
|Shot on the Nikon D700 and AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8, this image is part of a 2009 case study of Hasina Begum, Char Atra, Bangladesh, taken by Dan for Oxfam.|
That's why I think the new Nikons look really interesting. I will definitely be looking at the D4 and D800 in more detail because I can’t afford not to. But I’d say the same thing about the Canon EOS-1 DX as well. There are a couple of key features missing from the Canon EOS-1 DX though that the Nikons have got - a headphone jack, and clean HDMI output. The headphone jack is something that I’ve been asking both Canon and Nikon to put on their DSLRs for a long time, and I hope that it’ll become a standard feature.
I think we’re getting to the stage now where the video functionality isn’t something that a multimedia photojournalist would switch systems for, as I've been forced to do in the past. So if you’re a Nikon shooter and you’re deeply invested in Nikon then there’s probably no need any more to go to Canon purely for video. Whatever system you use, video is definitely here to stay in DSLRs. Even for broadcast and movie professionals using RED or Cinema EOS equipment, cameras like the D4, D800 or EOS-1 DX could potentially be really interesting as B units or C units. The form factor is nice and compared to the pro video equipment they're attractively priced, too.
I need to see more footage though - only when I'm confident that video quality from the D800 and D4 is comparable to what I've seen from the EOS-1D X and whatever replaces the 5D Mark II will I really be able to decide which works for me. I've got some tough decisions to make but I'll definitely be spending some money soon!
|Award-winning photojournalist and videomaker Dan Chung made his name as a photographer for The Guardian and Reuters news agency, and has since pioneered the use of DSLRs in filmmaking, particularly in news coverage. Dan lives and works in China, but travels the world on assignment.
Dan also runs the industry blog www.dslrnewsshooter.com
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by dpreview.com or any affiliated companies.