More on what a D400 could have above and beyond the D7100 based on info from the D4s

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More on what a D400 could have above and beyond the D7100 based on info from the D4s
5 months ago

Now that our next peek at Nikon's latest tech is out in the D4s, we can do a little run-down of what technology Nikon has in the box that they could put in a D400 that would make it quite a bit different than a D7100 with a larger buffer. Now, I still have no idea if Nikon even cares about a D400 any more (it seems less and less likely as more and more time goes by), but here's what could be in a D400 (pretty much all the same arguments apply to a D750 also):

  • Improved high ISO. Nikon claims to have improved the D4s high ISO support over the D4 (lower noise and better color rendition at very high ISO). If Nikon can eek more out of the fairly well optimized D4 sensor, then they certainly could eek more out of the sensor in the D7100 (or whatever APS-C sensor comes next). So, though high ISO improvements are no longer coming in big chunks, there may still be more room to go, even at the APS-C sensor size.
  • Large buffer. The EXPEED 4 has a much, much larger built-in buffer. While the D4 may be using some off-chip supplemental buffer memory, the EXPEED 4 has plenty of built-in buffer memory for a good sized RAW buffer on a D400.
  • Fast fps. The data sheet for the Fujitsu core in the EXPEED 4 can do 12fps at 24M. So, whether a D400 was 16MP or 24MP, it seems like the EXPEED 4 could certainly keep up with 8fps or even 9 or 10 if that's what Nikon wanted to endow a D400 with.
  • s-RAW. With the D4s, Nikon dipped their toe in the water with a reduced size RAW. I haven't yet seen any data on whether it's binned, downsampled or just every other pixel read or something else and it appears to be only be 12-bit, but at least it's there. I've long though that one of the solutions to the ever increasing pixel counts in cameras these says is a user-selectable RAW resolution so you could someday have a 54MP sensor, but decide to just record 16MP RAW-like images, but from the full sensor (not cropped). This would create a much more flexible camera that could both record very high resolution when that was useful (macro, landscapes, super large prints, heavy cropping, etc...), but could also be more practical for things like sports shooting where you really don't want to sort through 800 54MP images from a soccer tournament. Why, oh why does Nikon only supports this reduced pixel count RAW s version in uncompressed mode, I have no idea. It seems like maybe it's only half implemented so far. It should be available in 14-bit and compressed.  I don't personally feel like s-RAW is all that important for a D400 (it probably matters more for a D800 or D800s), but it is a direction that Nikon is going.
  • Matrix metering III. The D7100 has Matrix Metering II with a 2016 pixel RGB sensor. The D4s has the next generation Matrix Metering III with a 91,000 pixel RGB sensor. You can certainly discern much finer level detail and patterns with the higher pixel metering sensor. This should lead to better detection of smaller highlight areas and better pattern recognition and just generally richer data that goes into the exposure processing and perhaps into AF tracking too since the advanced AF tracking modes also use subject color information from the matrix metering sensor.
  • Improved battery life. My understanding is that the EXPEED 4 consumes a ton less power than the EXPEED 3, particuarly when going fast. This is likely one of the contributors to the improved battery life in the D4s.
  • Many video improvements. The EXPEED 4 enables a number of video improvements. Since I'm not much of a video person, I won't comment on them here, but there's a significant list of new video features.
  • Improved Auto-Focus Tracking. Nikon claims new AF algorithms along with enhanced processing speed from the EXPEED 4. The benefits they claim are: The proven Multi-CAM 3500 FX AF sensor module’s thoroughly recalibrated AF algorithms quickly zero in on its intended target— no matter how near, far, or abruptly a subject appears in the frame.
  • Auto-Focus Group Mode. Uses 5 AF points to provide increased stability while tracking subjects and enhanced accuracy by reducing instances of background focus. In situations where the background is bright with strong contrasting colors, photographers can now feel more confident, knowing that small, distant and fast-moving objects can be rendered sharper, faster and more frequently.
  • Improved Auto-Focus Lock-On. Nikon’s AF Lock-on technology is also upgraded, shortening time in reverting from focus interruptions, such as a referee running into the frame.
  • Improved AF at max fps. Nikon claims the D4s has also improved tracking while shooting at max fps. The D4S has a newly designed mirror-moving mechanism, which uniformly and effectively absorbs mirror slap to minimize viewfinder blackout time.  This would give the camera more time to collect AF data between frames and Nikon claims it makes it easier to track your subject through the viewfinder since the viewfinder image is stable for longer between frames.  In addition, we know that the focus processing speed has been improved so that could also allow more focus data to be processed when the mirror is down.

Now, obviously a D400 is not going to be a D4s and won't do everything it does, but just with a smaller sensor.  But, the point of this post is that if Nikon wanted to hit a home run with a great D400 or D750, that was significantly above a D7100 or a D600, there is a lot of ammo in the toolbox that they could use to differentiate a new camera from it's existing brethren.

And I'll repeat, it seems less and less likely that Nikon will actually do a D400 or even a D750, but I still like to think about what it could be if Nikon wanted to make it awesome.

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