The Nikon D4s is out — does it deliver the goods?

So, the long-awaited Nikon D4s is finally out and replacing the D4 as Nikon’s new flagship professional DSLR! But how good is she and does she offer at least some of the features everyone was hoping for?

Image courtesy of Nikon USA
Image courtesy of Nikon USA

Traditionally, Nikon has kept the improvements small for their mid-cycle upgrades, which makes great sense economically. However, they have always had something that made them good enough for professionals to want to upgrade, such as the considerably improved ISO capability from the D3s compared to the D3.

How about the D4s now?

The sensor has stayed pretty much the same. Officially it’s a redesigned version of the D4 sensor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was just some changes in the circuit board and not the CMOS sensor itself. Nevertheless, DxOMark reports a slight improvement in dynamic range, so the D4s should be able to hold even more details in the shadows without blowing out the highlights than the D4. Many photographers have been loving the D4 sensor, including myself, so I am confident the D4s sensor will not disappoint.
Even though many would have liked to see an increase to 24 Mpx (especially with the newly added S-RAW option that allows to take RAW images at one quarter the native resolution), 16 Mpx is still plenty. The new S-RAW (which Canon cameras have had for years btw.) is most useful for photojournalists who don’t care too much about resolution, but need small file sizes for quickly uploading pictures to news agencies.

One thing that has increased compared to the D4 is the native ISO range, which now goes from ISO 100 to 25,600. This is a one-stop improvement over the D4, and although most websites just highlight the new push-ISO number of 409,600 (simply because it’s higher than everything else there was before), I am actually more interested in the increase in image quality around ISO 1,600 to 6,400, which remains to be seen. The fact that the D4s has a new image processing pipeline with the Expeed 4 processor at its core hints towards a one-stop noise improvement in the lower ISO range, which might explain why the native range has been boosted by one stop up from 12,800 to 25,600.

Image courtesy of Nikon USA
Image courtesy of Nikon USA

The color metering system still consists of the 91,000 pixel RGB sensor from the D4, which worked great, so no issues with that. Interestingly, since a few photographers were unhappy with the color display at the back of the camera, it is now possible to fine-tune the tone of that display (without affecting the actual colors of the image).
So Nikon is definitely listening to their customers. One thing they didn’t change though are the memory card slots. We still got one CF plus one XQD, so I guess Nikon is still counting on XQD being the future (which it likely is), while wanting to not scare-away CF-card owners who don’t have the necessary cash left over for buying a pile of XQD cards, which are still rather expensive compared to CF. As long as one doesn’t need the in-camera backup functionality that a dual-card system offers, one can simply rely on the CF slot and wait with purchasing XQD cards until they become more affordable.

In the autofocus department, I was actually hoping for an entirely new AF module, but apparently Nikon wants to keep that as part of a major upgrade in the D5, which is expected to be announced in two years or so from now on. So, unfortunately we still have the 51 point AF system from the D4, not that it is particularly bad, it just feels a little outdated by now compared to the 61 point AF module from the Canon 5D Mark III and 1DX, which offers 41 crosstype sensors compared to only 15 in Nikon’s module.
Crosstype sensors are so much better in locking onto a subject (especially in low light), but not to forget the AF algorithms, which play a big role as well, and those have apparently been updated in the D4s. With this I don’t mean the added group AF mode (where the four surrounding sensors of the selected one also help in focusing), but the way the camera achieves and locks focus.
On the D4, there was always a bit of hunting or AF fine-tuning involved that made it slower to focus that its predecessor, the D3s. Hopefully, this has been fixed now and the D4s is back up to speed in that regard.

Linked to the speed topic, the D4s can shoot at 11 fps with AF-tracking (compared to 10 fps of the D4), which should make action and sports photographers happy, who were often longing for the 12 fps the Canon 1DX can produce.
Other nice improvements include a faster LAN connection (which is great for tethered shooting, when you don’t want to have to wait long until your just-shot image appears on the computer screen), a longer-lasting battery (the EN-EL18a), allowing over 3,000 frames on a single charge, and the ability to shoot full HD video at 60 fps.
Unfortunately, there is still no built-in WIFI, my guess is that feature is also reserved for the D5 in a couple of years.

Image courtesy of Nikon USA
Image courtesy of Nikon USA

More interesting for me personally, is the rumor that the grip has been slightly redesigned to make it more comfortable to hold the camera for a longer period of time (ergonomics are very important for me when I am shooting).
On top of that, the mirror-bounce was said to be reduced in the D4s, which might mean that the camera is slightly quieter than the D4, which I would also like.
The control joysticks at the back of the camera, which are used for focus-point selection have been redesigned as well and should now be more responsive.

The Nikon D4 used to be my main workhorse camera and I would pick it over the Canon 1DX anytime (more on this in a later post). Will I upgrade to the D4s? Absolutely, YES!
Although ‘D4s’ almost sounds like ‘divorce’, I preordered the camera and expect to receive it in a couple of days (fortunately my wife didn’t divorce me yet ;-).
I am confident it will be a worthy successor to the D4 and help me capture many beautiful images. If Nikon fixed the AF issues of the previous model, that would already be worth the upgrade. Stay tuned for a personal review of the D4s once it is in my hands.

Hit me in the comments with any questions you have or things you would like me to cover in my upcoming review, and let me know what you think about Nikon’s new flagship camera.


Will the new Nikon D4s bring us what we want?

I consider the current Nikon D4 to be the best professional DSLR out there at the moment, followed closely by the Canon 1DX.
Now, the Canon 1DX has somewhat better specs on paper, such as a faster shutter speed and a better autofocus system, and most people prefer dual CF card slots over the 1CF+1XQD of the D4. But the D4 just has this much better viewfinder, where eyeglass wearers can still see the whole image, and that bullseye-shaped eyepiece that fits much better against a pair of eyeglasses than the plastic attachment of the 1DX. There are other things I like about both cameras, but I’ll leave that for a future post.

image courtesy of Nikon USA

Now back to the D4s, why would I want one?

There was this one small sentence in the product pre-announcement from Nikon that caught my eye: improved AF performance. This is actually an area where Nikon always used to be better than the competition, but was recently trumped by Canon with their state-of-the-art AF system in the 5D Mark III and 1DX, featuring 60 AF sensors, spread over a wide area of the frame, 41 of which are superior cross-type sensors.

Nikon’s D4 on the other hand only features 51 AF points and only 15 of them are cross-type. Definitely something they could have improved on coming from the D3s, but I guess they didn’t see the need to do that, since the competition had a much worse AF sensor layout.
But of course, time has changed and more AF points is generally better (especially for subject tracking), and also AF accuracy becomes much better once you have cross-type sensors. So I really hope that Nikon will not only improve their AF algorithms on the software side, but use the occasion and make the D4s a really interesting camera by featuring a completely new AF module that can rival the one of the 1DX.

This is not to say that the AF algorithms should not be improved, they definitely should! The D4 is often hunting a little before acquiring focus, it’s like it is trying to fine-tune the plane of focus, but it’s really annoying and not nearly as snappy as the new AF system of the canon pro bodies. AF just needs to get snappier and more spot-on, not only with f/2.8 zooms, but also with f/1.4 primes.

Another thing that the D4s could fix is the dual card slots issue of the D4. It is always more convenient for the photographer to have to bring only one type of card reader and one type of memory cards. CF is becoming faster and faster, so I would be happy if they’d go for 2CF slots, but in principle the XQD cards are better, because they don’t have any pins that could bend during card insertion, so dual XQD would also make sense. With 1CF+1XQD though, it’s just not consistent, although I can see people being happy if they can use their old CF cards and don’t have to buy into the XQD system, which is still quite expensive…so here it’s more difficult to make everyone happy.

During the next few hours, we will hopefully see a more detailed announcement from Nikon, fingers crossed that the D4s has what I would like to see, especially in the AF department on both software and hardware sides.
If not, I am definitely more likely to skip this iteration of their flagship and wait for the D5, which should come out in about 2 years…

Hit me in the comments with what you think of the D4s announcement, which things you are looking for in that new camera and whether you plan to go for it or wait for the next big thing. I am looking forward to your opinions!