The Nikon D4 is a serious photographic tool at a serious price. At $6000 the D4 is twice the cost of the recently-released D800, and offers just under half of its pixel count. But it's what the D4 does with its pixels - and how quickly and reliably it does it - which makes it so potentially attractive to working professionals. The D4 is built for speed and versatility. It might not offer the highest resolution on the market, but it is designed to deliver its 16MP images at a rate of 11 per second in all winds and weathers. 

A few days ago we took delivery of a factory-fresh production D4 in our Seattle offices and it's hardly been turned off since. We've already published a detailed overview of the D4, and we've also asked a group of professional photographers what they think, but in this article, I'll be explaining what the D4 is actually like to use, as we move forward towards a full, in-depth review. 

Full disclosure here, I use a D3S regularly, and outside of my day to day shooting for dpreview, much of my personal and professional photography over the past five years has been shot using either the D3 or D3S. Like all camera reviewers I swap between different systems constantly, but I happen to know the D3 and D3S very well.

The New York Dolls, 2009, taken on a Nikon D3S at ISO 8000 (processed Raw)  Denmark Hill, 2010, taken on a Nikon D3X at ISO 320 (Processed Raw) 
Biffy Clyro, 2010, taken on a Nikon D3S at ISO 6400 (Processed Raw)  Kentish Town, 2009, taken on a Nikon D3 at ISO 400 (Processed Raw)

That said, bear in mind that this article is not a review. That's in the pipeline. Also, I don't pretend to speak for all photographers, so if you think I've got something wrong, or I haven't mentioned something that you really like (or don't like) in this article feel free to leave a comment. You'll find four pages in this article, the first three comprise a quick overview of my early impressions of the camera, both good and bad, and page four is reserved for samples - studio, real-world and video clips. 

Overview

The D4 is a heavy, chunky camera, just like the D3S which it replaces. But whereas the D3S inherited the 2007-vintage D3 chassis, the D4 brings new ergonomics as well as an updated specification. Cosmetically, the D4 is curvier and more streamlined than its predecessors, and slightly lighter, too. The D4's battery is new, and is not compatible with the older type used in the D3 and D3S. The same applies to the D4's battery compartment door, which looks like it might be interchangeable with that from the older models, but is actually a slightly different size. 

Although most of its controls are in basically the same places compared to the D3 and D3S the D4 feels subtly different in use thanks in part to the redesigned hand grip and the steeper angle of the main shutter release.

Compared to the D3S, the D4 looks slightly different when viewed from the top. A red movie shooting button is an obvious addition to the right hand side of the top plate but in this view you can also see that the 3-position metering switch has been removed and metering mode added to the cluster of controls on the upper left. Changes have been made to the D4's rear controls and control layout as well - two new 'sub-selector' joysticks have been added for horizontal and vertical format shooting and a new live view switch (the same as that used on the recently announced D800) has been added below the LCD screen. 

Key Specifications:

  • 16.2 effective megapixel, full-frame sensor (16.6MP total)
  • 10fps shooting with AF and AE, 11fps with focus and exposure locked, 24fps 2.5MP grabs
  • 91,000 pixel sensor for metering, white balance, flash exposure, face detection and active d-lighting
  • ISO Range 100-12,800 (extendable from 50 – 204,800)
  • MultiCAM 3500FX Autofocus sensor works in lower light and with smaller apertures
  • Two sub-selector joystick/buttons for shooting orientation
  • 1080p30 HD video at up to 24Mbps with uncompressed video output
  • New EN-EL18 battery (21.6Wh capacity, CIPA-rated at 2600 shots)
  • Twin card slots - one Compact Flash and one XQD