And here it is! The new flagship of Nikon’s camera range, the D4 (posed next to its upcoming nemises, the Canon 1D X).
When Canon announced their EOS-1D X in October, I made a quick side-by-side comparison with Nikon’s flagship at the time, the D3S. The new Canon featured a range of major improvements and was poised to make a grab at being the best 35mm professional DSLR money can buy. Notable was that the new Canon would only be available in March 2012, making the announcement a marketing move (for the time being). The question was what Nikon’s answer would be, since the D3S was still excellent, but already a few years old.
And now we know – on paper. The Nikon D4 narrows all of the gaps that existed between the D3S and the Canon 1DX, but the Canon still holds the specification crown. These numerical differences will probably be less important than how the features are implemented, and without a hands-on comparison we will still have to wait at bit. Notably, the new Nikon excels in its video features, for the first time surpassing Canon.
The significant stuff, in table form:
|(Max native ISO)
|# AF points
H.264 + RAW out
with face detection
with face detection
||3.2″, 921k dots||3.2″, 1040k dots|
|Memory card slots
||CF + XQD||CF + CF|
|Price (body)||$5999 (B&H)||$6800 (B&H)|
|Announcement date||Jan 2012
(available for pre-order)
(available March 2012)
DPReview covered the D4’s announcement in more detail, but I’ll just focus on the most important headline upgrades:
- Multimedia! The D4 supports high resolution video: H.264 1080p @ 30fps, 720p @ 60 fps + uncompressed HDMI video out
- Second card slot for the brand new industry-standard XQD card format
- A new 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor with face detection
Actually that is quite a short list. All the other improvements are incremental. Slightly larger LCD, improved AF sensor (with same number of points), higher resolution, improved processing power, and tweaked ergonomics. Not a bad thing since these were already excellent on the D3S. But not head-turners either.
The D3S was absolutely the best low-light performer of any full-frame DSLR, so if the D4 equals this it will still be great. One just can’t help noticing that Canon massively upped their game with the 1DX, and it seems that they might now have taken the lead – with a native ISO limit that is almost 4x that of the Nikon. One can’t help thinking that the D4’s boost range was doubled only so that the it could match the Canon’s 1D X impressive maximum ISO. What it will mean for noise I don’t yet know – we will have to wait for tests.
Interestingly the D4’s biggest selling-point now seems to be its video features. Ironic, since only a year ago the situation was reversed, with Canon being the DSLR videographer’s choice, and Nikon leading in still photography performance. But progress benefits us all, and professional video shooters will be ecstatic with the Nikon D4’s uncompressed HDMI out – up to now only available on expensive dedicated video equipment, and notably lacking on any Canon DSLR. And the XQD card slot will prove a huge advantage for storing all those massive video files.
Of course if you are already heavily invested in either manufacturer’s equipment, especially their expensive pro lenses, it might make little sense to consider a switch. But if you want to move into pro photography and have little or no existing commitment, this might be a moment to choose carefully.