Review: Nikon D4 – The master of the dark arts (Part 1)

6/5/2012 3:49:42 PM

THE NIKON D4 is aimed at meeting the needs of press, sports and wildlife photographers requiring a mix of ultra-fast performance and high image quality. It replaces the D3s, which has proven incredibly popular with professional sports photographers in particular and boasts several enhancements and improvements to keep it atthe cutting edge of this highly competitive sector of the market. To ensure we gained a real expert opinion on how it performs, we asked The Sun's Chief Sports Photographer Dickie Pelham to test it!

Description: Nikon D4

Dream machine: The Nikon D4 is built to survive the rigours of pro use and boasts an updated AF system and a 10fps motordrive.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: I've only had the Nikon D4 for a fortnight and have only used it in anger a handful of times, so I'll need more time to thoroughly put it to the test. But, that said, there isn't more of a baptism of fire then using the camera 'straight out of the box' to shoot the fast-paced action of Premier League football teams battling it out. I received my Nikon D4 on a Tuesday morning and after charging the battery for a few hours, I was straight on to the M25 heading to White Hart Lane to shoot an FA Cup tie between Tottenham Hotspurs and Bolton.

As it turned out, the match ended before half-time due to the tragic circumstances surrounding Fabrice Muamba's cardiac arrest on the pitch. It was terrible watching the medical staff working effortlessly at reviving the Bolton player before rushing him off to hospital. Everyone in the stadium was in shock, but along with all the other press at the game, I had to maintain my professionalism and take pictures. I avoided taking any shots of the player on the ground and focused instead on the onlookers. The most effective image was one of Bolton manager Owen Coyle, taken using the 60mm f/4 telephoto lens wide open so that the resultant shallow depth-of-field threw everything but the manager out of focus.

Since this game. I've used it to cover a further four premiership games and a couple of press conferences and interviews, so I've had the opportunity to fire off a couple of thousand frames - that's certainly enough to gain a decent first impression of the camera!

Description: Nikon D4

When the D3s arrived, I wondered how Nikon could better the D3 and I was very pleasantly surprised. The D3s is a formidable bit of kit so I wasn't expecting any major improvements on the D4 but, again, Nikon has raised the bar still further.

There are no surprises in terms of the build quality - the D4 is beautifully made and very tough. Some of the guys in the office who have picked up the camera have commented that they find its weight is balanced to the right side, but I think this helps the overall handling of the camera when used with a heavy fast-aperture lens.

All the controls are a good size and most are in their usual position, although a few have new locations to improve speed of use - the new position of the second AF-On button being a real bonus. When shooting with the camera in the upright position, I can rest my thumb against a small but pronounced ridge, knowing that I only need to move it slightly to press the AF-On button to activate the focus. It's a simple little change of position, but with sports photography, it really helps improve the rate of success. Adding an extra joystick also helps speed up camera operation.

On the D3s, I was regularly knocking the LiveView/Video button, but this has been redesigned so that it's far more secure. The AF button on the front has also had a redesign to prevent the AF mode being changed accidentally. These are subtle changes but make a big difference to the handling and speed of use of the D4.

A mode that has been retained from the D3s is the Quiet Mode, which allows for discreet shooting. While primarily aimed at wildlife and surveillance photographers, it's a useful function for me when I'm shooting players that are being interviewed by a Sun journalist. A shutter rattling away in the background is a major distraction to both parties, but by using the Quiet Mode, I can keep shooting without causing a problem.

Body only: $7680 (Guide) / $7680 (Street)

Image sensor: FX-format CMOS (56x25.9mm)

Image resolution: 16.2-meqapixels

LCD: 5.2in TFT (921,000 dots)

Storage: CompactFlash and XQD

Weight: 1,180g (without battery and card)

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