it’s been more than three years since Nikon set the D3s loose on the world. In that time, we’ve used one as a test body for numerous lens tests and have captured countless images that left us wondering what Nikon could do next with this line of cameras.
Nikon’s response, the D4 ($6,000, street, body only), refines the D3s’s still image capabilities while adding state-of-the-art video capture with options to satisfy both casual and professional videographers. The sensitivity range has been
expanded by 1 stop at both the top and bottom of the scale, matching the versatility offered by Canon’s 18.1MP EOS-1D X ($6,799, street, body only). Both cameras have full-frame sensors and represent the sturdiest workhorses of the photo world. If you shoot in the most extreme conditions, you’ll likely use either the Nikon D4, its competitor, or one of their predecessors.
How did this new Nikon tank fare in our tests? Read on.
In the Test Lab
With 4.1MP more than the D3s, the 16.2MP D4 showed just enough resolution to earn it an Excellent rating in overall image quality. Moreover, while keeping noise to a Low or better rating, it held enough resolution to maintain that image quality rating from its lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 50 up through ISO 800. To compare, the D3s earned an Extremely High rating from its base of ISO 100 through 800, while Canon’s older EOS-1D Mark IV scored Extremely High from ISO 50 through 1600.
Resolution is the main factor in our image quality ratings, though the difference between the D4 and 1D Mark IV is not that large: They fall on either side of our threshold of 2500 lines for an Excellent rating. The D4 captured 2530 lines per picture height at ISO 50 and didn’t drop below it until ISO 1600; the 1D Mark IV fell just barely short of an Excellent rating with 2490 lines at ISO 50. Meanwhile, Nikon’s D3s managed to resolve 2330 lines at ISO 100. (To its credit, that’s quite a good score, considering that it has only a 12.1MP sensor.)
We were impressed to see that the D4 held enough resolution to keep an Extremely High rating all the way up to ISO 12,800, where it churned out 2360 lines. From there, resolution drops precipitously to 2200 lines at ISO 25,600, to 2070 lines at ISO 51,200, to 2000 lines at ISO 102,400, and 1810 lines at ISO 204,800. But considering that many compact cameras can’t deliver more than 1800 lines at all, this level of performance is mighty fine indeed.
The D4 easily earned an Excellent rating for color accuracy. In our test, it showed an average Delta E of 7.0—well under our cutoff of 8.0 for top honors. This is no surprise, as most interchangeable-lens cameras we test earn Excellent scores here. Indeed, the D3s scored an even better 6.2, while the Canon 1D Mark IV scored a 6.6.
We can’t assume an Excellent rating all the time, though—Fujifilm’s X-Pro1 (see page 82), with its very new approach to color filter arrays, scored 9.3. Keep in mind that most films had average Delta Es of more than 10, and many reversal films would score 13 or higher in this test. In digital, where you can choose a color palette based on your vision for a photo, the ability to reproduce colors accurately merely provides you a better starting point, even when you don’t necessarily want a perfectly true representation of color.
Noise results show that the D4 isn’t as clean an imager as the D3s was at the lowest ISOs. But it remains in acceptable territory for one extra stop at the high end, making ISO 6400 more usable than ever for this class of Nikon shooters. All shared sensitivities higher than ISO 400 showed less noise than the D3s. But ISO 204,800 (Hi4 in Nikon’s lingo) is still quite noisy, with one of the highest noise scores we’ve seen in quite some time. Of course, we did not expect images at this high an ISO to be very clean, and if it’s the difference between getting a shot or not, we’re happy to see that it is an option.
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