Nikon D4 Field Review

Nikon D4 Field Review.
By Alex Mustard.


A brand new Nikon flagship is a rare treat and an enticing prospect to review, both in itself and because much of the technology it showcases will rapidly be handed down through the Nikon range. The new D4 is aimed squarely at the professional shooter, promoted on speed, accuracy and reliability. Nikon claim this is “the world’s ultimate imaging machine”. But this quality comes with a hefty price ($6000 USD).

Nikon’s new D4 camera.

Headline stats include 16MP FX sensor, ISO 100-12800 (expandable further), updated AF system, EXPEED 3 image processing allowing shooting at 10 frames per second, full HD video (including uncompressed HDMI output) and extensive connectability with many accessories.

On the face of it, these seem useful but not revolutionary upgrades on the D3 series (D3, D3s and D3x). An impression reinforced when you see a camera looking very similar to a D3. However, shoot the D4 and you quickly realize that small improvements across the board add up to big returns. It is much larger step on than I expected. For actually getting the shot, capturing that decisive moment, this is most capable camera I have ever used.

The D4 is all about producing stunning images irrespective of the conditions. Does it deliver when these conditions include underwater? Nikon D4 + Nikon 16mm. 1/80th @ f/14. ISO 1000. Silfra, Iceland.

At present there isn’t a direct competitor from Canon. Rumormongers claim that Canon, on hearing the D4 was imminent, announced their 1DX in October (three months before the D4 was eventually announced), but it still has not appeared. Some suggest the delay is not unrelated to strength of the D4.

Unusually, then, the main challenge to its supremacy doesn’t come from Canon. The elephant in the room at the D4’s launch party is its little brother. The D800 may be smaller is size and half the price, but it casts a very large shadow over the D4, particularly for underwater use.

Nauticam’s NA-D4 on ice in Iceland.

There aren’t yet any housings available for the D800, so I have not yet shot them both side by side underwater. But I had the chance to use the D800 in the field back in January (a pre-production camera) and with so many similarities to the D4 I will comment on how I expect the two to compare for underwater photography. Wetpixel will be bringing a detailed D800 review as soon as we can.

The D4 has only recently been released and is still backordered at most retailers. Despite this Nauticam have already produced a working pre-production housing, which I used for this review. Nikon’s tagline for the D4 is “I AM PUSHING LIMITS” and with this in mind I didn’t want to just roll into the Red Sea for this test. Fittingly, I took the camera to Iceland and put it through its paces in very challenging conditions (for the camera, housing and photographer).

Shooting splits with the D4 in pancake ice, Iceland.

Since the D4 is designed for professionals I decided to plunge it straight into the deep end of assignment shooting, to find out if it sinks or swims. This review is not full of objective testing of every feature. It is an evaluation of the features of the camera while taking real (and hopefully memorable) photos. I will also add some comments on favoured modes for autofocus and some thoughts on shooting FX for those used to DX Nikons underwater.

Nudibranch portrait (actually taken close to the previous shot). The D4 is going to be used professionally and therefore won’t do that much macro. But I have given it a workout. Nikon D4 + 105mm & Subsee +5. 1/250th @ f/29. ISO 200.

My inbox makes it clear that people are very keen to read my findings. However, I am in the field still (shooting in Scotland – and yes I have the D4 with me). So I will deliver this review in the following sections (hopefully daily):

1) Introduction.
2) Camera and housing overview.
2) ISO, image quality and shooting FX.
3) Autofocus and shooting experience (macro and wide, stills and video).
4) Comparisons with other cameras and conclusion.

Alex Mustard. April 2012.


Thank you to Edward Lai and Jacqueline Lai of Nauticam, Ryan Canon of Reef Photo and Video and Alex Tattersall of Nauticam UK for their help in lending me the housing for this review.

Thank you to all at London Camera Exchange (Southampton) and Nikon UK. Nikon D4 was purchased by Alex.

I am also very grateful to all in Iceland. A big, big thank you to my buddy Gisli Gudmundsson (Gassa on Wetpixel) of Dive The North and to Nina Olafsdottir, who modeled in chilly waters for many of the photos. I would also like to thank Erla and Valdi for posing too. I am also grateful to all at North Sailing for a wonderful adventure to photograph cod off the north coast of Iceland.

Finally, a quick thank you to Martin Edge for allowing me to join one of his workshop pool sessions to make my first tests of the D4 underwater.

(1) Introduction.
(2) Camera and housing overview: Part 1 D4 camera.
(3) Camera and housing overview: Part 2 NA-D4 housing.
(4) ISO, image quality and shooting FX
(5) Autofocus and shooting experience (macro and wide, stills and video).
(6) Comparisons with other cameras and conclusion.