D4 offers little for still photographers

Started Jan 9, 2012 | Discussions thread
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calson
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D4 offers little for still photographers
Jan 9, 2012

I shoot weddings and came back to Nikon from Canon with the introduction of the D3 and the 14-24 and 24-70 lenses. I had a priority order for a D4 in with NPS but after reviewing the technical specs I decided to cancel it.

If I shot video the D4 would be an improvement over the D3/D3s cameras but as I do not it is really a step sideways. It offers a couple of minor benefits and two big drawbacks to the D3 cameras, while maintaining the same limitations with the AF system.

The minor benefits include the sensor dust removal system (if it works), 5EV bracketing, a 1-stop gain in ISO capabilities, and 15% increase in resolution (barely enough to be noticeable).

Two big drawbacks for me are the introduction of yet a third and lower capacity battery type, and the loss of a duplicate CF I card slot. I shoot with both a FX and a DX camera, wide angle lenses on the FX and telephoto lenses on the DX camera. With the D4 I would have my D3 backup, my D300, and need 3 different sets of batteries that will need to be recharged on 3 different chargers.

The change in the card slots to provide for video is yet another symptom of how Nikon is creating a camera for a specific type of shooter that ignores its core base. It is good news for SanDisk which will get to sell a lot more cards to Nikon shooters. I always make use of the two CF I card slots with the D3 cameras but with the 1D Mark III I never used the second slot as it took a different type of card and I was not about to start managing two sets of flash cards while shooting a wedding where mistakes are not an option.

Canon continues to enhance the autofocus system for its pro cameras and in particular it continues to increase the number of AF sensors and the number of cross type AF sensors (1DX will have 41 such sensors) and the amount of the viewfinder that is covered with AF sensors. Nikon is going in the opposite direction, first reducing the area of the viewfinder covered with the D3 compared to the D2 cameras and then concentrating the cross type sensors in the center 3 columns which cover only 20% of the viewfinder's axis. I was greatly surprised to see that with the D4 this 15 cross type AF sensor design was continued. Adding a row of f8 capable non-cross type AF sensors will be helpful for sports shooters but adds nothing for people needing fast AF in low light.

The lack of improved low light AF really defeats a good deal of the benefit of a higher ISO setting and that is all it really is, a higher setting. Nikon managed to maintain the noise performance at ISO 6400 of the D3s in spite of smaller photosites but it is not really the improvement that is being advertised. I get excellent IQ with the D3 at ISO 6400 with tungsten light sources and the light level at which I need this ISO setting the real challenge is getting the camera to focus. This is where the camera needs the IR AF assist provided by a Nikon Speedlight.

My Canon 1D Mark III was noticeably better in its low light AF capabilities compared to my D3 cameras. The Canon could quickly lock focus on low contrast subjects or subjects without a strong vertical line (this is where cross type AF sensors come into play) while the Nikon with the same subject in the same lighting would fail completely in locking focus. I learned to get around that by focusing on something in the same plane as my subject but with a strong vertical edge to help the camera and then lock focus, reframe, and shoot. The only problem with the 1D Mark III was that it lacked a full frame sensor.

What is truly sad is that after 3 full years from the introduction of the D3 camera this is what Nikon gives its pro shooters. During that same time period Canon has gone from the 1D Mark II to the 1D Mark III to the 1D Mark IV to the 1DX. What is even sadder from the perspective of a Nikon shooter is that there is still no Nikon equivalent to the Canon 5D Mark II camera selling for $2175 other than the D3x selling for $7999.95. No doubt the D800 will be a 16MP camera with the same AF shortcomings of the D4. If it is then I will be switching back to Canon. I can buy a new 5D Mark II and spend $2,800 on new Canon lenses and be $5,000 ahead.

With the slow development of new products and the sky high prices with the D4 costing more than the pro D1x did in 2002, we all pay a hefty price for the duopoly of Canon and Nikon with regard to the pro photographer market. Many photographers will sell their D3 generation cameras and buy the D4's and they will convince themselves that the $6K per camera plus new batteries and new CF cards was worth it but their clients will never be able to see the difference.

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