Nikon D4s Review: Do you need such a DSLR?

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Nikon D4s - First Dance D4s as you may already know, is Nikon’s new flagship camera (2014) replacing it’s 3 year old brother, the Nikon D4. It is a camera that most amateur/enthusiast and pros (mostly Nikon users) dream of owning and yes I can’t say I’m not one of them.

A few years back when I just started out in photography, I dreamed and drooled about owning one of these babies (back then it was the D3s, then the D4). Now fast forward to mid 2014 and shooting full-time professionally, I finally can afford to… HIRE one! (I have learnt to try before buying).

This camera was initially hired for 2 days, but unfortunately one wedding was called off with short notice (I do hope everything is ok) so I only have 1 day of usage with this camera to show you.

Over the years I have grown out of being a “specs lover”… mostly, so my review will be based on my real life usage with an ISO test too. As for specifications of this device, you can find it right here at Nikon.

Nikon D4s Review

*Note: All links to online stores are NOT affiliated. I’m not a regular reviewer, but I just do it for the fun of it.

How much does it the D4s cost?

In Perth Western Australia, this huge chunk of metal, silicone and plastic costs FROM $6800 onwards, where as you lucky Americans can get it cheaper from B&H.

D4s’ Looks, size and cosmetics

[metaslider id=504]

How does the D4s handle?

How it handles is a tough one and you have to decide for yourself, but I found that I dislike carrying big chunky cameras, let alone a king sized mammoth of a D4s.

I bought into Nikon because I loved how the hand grip sits in my small hands and I’m happy to say that it’s still as good. As for control placements, coming from a D700/D800E combo, I learn really quickly as to where the controls are placed (maybe because I’m still young) and I’m happy with where they are all placed. The only thing I would say that Nikon should have added is maybe a programming button left of the AF-On button but that’s a really small gripe.

Like the D4, the D4s has light up buttons! I think every camera should have that because it is so helpful on dark locations like reception venues or outdoor in the evening.

D4s light up buttons

Bracketing exposures is pretty much like the rest of the previous flagships, that you can bracket at 1/3rd or 2/3rds of a stop… AWESOME! and things like shutter speeds, flash sync and all that are just the same old stuff.

I liked that you could change the crop size and the view finder will put a black mask on the unused portion (same as all flagships). The D800E can do this but at a cost of turning off the af-point light up.

D4s Shutter speed?

See, the thing is I never owned a D3-D4 (I’ve used them though) so I still find the 11fps a rather fascinating thing. I don’t use it much but it’s really handy catching brides throwing their bouquet in the air.

11fps is really addictive!

Listen to the sound of the mirror flipping up and down like a machine-gun in the video below:

Has the D4s’ Autofocus improved?

I’ve included a high resolution GIF file below, and to my eye it tracks very well when subjects are coming towards you.

AFC

What I found is that the AF system has an issue with tracking people running or even walking across the frame (sorry I deleted some frames during the shoot by accident so I can’t show it to you) and the hit rate was roughly the same as my D800E’s AF-C (75%ish). <— Canon.. I bow down to you here.

In low to semi-low light situations I still find that the AF is not as good as it’s been hyped about. Only slightly better than my D800E I reckon but hey, it could be because I have had a preconceived idea.

D4s Image quality

Now we are talking. This is what the D4s is built for!…. besides being a tank and a gun.

I’m not afraid of noise or colour noise nowadays because Adobe Lightroom 5 does a really good job in solving that issue but check those images out! I had to pixel peep on this because it is exciting isn’t it? All these ISO test images are straight Raw-Jpeg converts with no correcting processing what so ever.

http://adriantanportfolio.zenfolio.com/p368675728/slideshow

  • Native ISO100-3200: It looks pretty much the same… I mean… WOW! The “Lo-ISOs” are pretty much the same too but I didn’t test them in extreme conditions.
  • ISO4000-8000: Only a tiny bit of noise is introduced to the shadows with details still being spectacular and still full of colour.
  • ISO10000-20000: More noise in the shadow regions but details are still sharp as hell and colours are starting to become a little faded.
  • ISO25600: Thats the D4s’ highest native ISO and it looks like a D800’s ISO6400. That’s just amazing!
  • ISO32254-51200: Now we are getting into the “Hi-ISO” territory and I can say is for web use and small prints + a bit of aggressive noise reduction, it would still be very usable. Surprisingly, there is no sign of colour noise which gets a big WOW from me.
  • ISO102400-409600: At ISO 102400, a purple cast is introduces and a lot of noise and it progressively gets worse. ISO204800 and above is pretty much crap, I wouldn’t use it unless you really need to use it in the dark to spy on something (Please don’t). I’ve saved you folks some time by giving you 100% crops, but if you must pixel peep yourself, here is the full resolution downloads.

Below is an image I took, showing off to Jason (Jason Tey Photography) that I don’t need flash… seriously… use flash because it looks better, but I was trying to make a point.. haha..

Other things to add

The D4s has a really cool feature called Virtual Horizon where you can level the D4s on 2 axis (Pitch and Yaw). This can be activated in "Live View" and "Movie" as an overlay on the LCD.

I also haven't talked about the video quality at all because I don't use it, but below I've included a short clip.

Just two more things I want to add. First of all, the battery life only lasted me ~1300 shots which is a little disappointing because my D700's EN-EL4A can last me 2 weddings! Lastly, I do wish that the D4s had either card slots being both CF or XQD because it is a bit of a pain owning so many different cards.

So who is the D4s made for?

Really all I can say is that the D4s is made for abuse and speed and perfect for sports photographers. I personally wouldn’t use the ISO over 6400 anyway so I wouldn’t be buying one of these but you really have to try it out before making a plunge for it.

Conclusion

D4s is heavy, has a superb ISO range and is fast thanks to the shutter and the new EXPEED 4 processor. As much as people may drool over the D4s, it isn’t for everyone. I found that I really don't like holding the weight for a whole day... you know me being an ectomorph (skinny in other words), plus I don't really need the pro features of 11fps nor the need for ISO higher than 6400.

What I will miss is the light-up buttons which I really wished Nikon had put onto the D800 and the ability to customise lots of buttons.

All I can do now is wish that Nikon creates this rumoured D800s with sRaw, because I'd be all over that! Hopefully light-up buttons too? (getting to greedy there).

Hope you've enjoyed reading this article and hopefully I can find more time to write.

 

Happy Easter!!

Adrian Tan