Nikon D4 vs D3s

Many of the current Nikon D3s owners like me probably wonder about the differences between the new Nikon D4 and the now obsolete Nikon D3s DSLR cameras. While I do not yet have the Nikon D4 to do more in-depth side by side comparisons, I decided to write about differences in body design and specifications between the two. More details about the Nikon D4 will be published in my upcoming Nikon D4 review.

Nikon D4 vs D3s

First, let’s talk about differences in camera body design.

Nikon D4 vs D3s Camera Body Design Comparison

As expected, the Nikon D4 went through rather significant changes in camera body design. The overall shape of the camera has been completely changed and it now looks more curved than the D3/D3s/D3x models. Let’s start from the front of the camera, which went through the least number of changes. The only major change I see on the front is the C/S/M focus lever (bottom left side of the camera) that has been modified to adapt to the same switch we see on the Nikon D7000 DSLR. This was a good design change, because it will prevent accidental changes to autofocus when you pull the camera out of the bag. Now the switch only has two options – AF for autofocus and M for manual focus. The button on top of the switch replaces the AF mode switch on the back of the camera. Now you can switch between the different AF modes (single, dynamic and 3D) by pressing this button and rotating the camera dial. Oh and it looks like the grip is shaped a little differently, which should help with handling the camera a little more.

Now on to the camera left side:

Nikon D4 vs D3s Side View

There are some noticeable changes to the camera connector panels – the Nikon D4 has everything separated out by groups, while the Nikon D3s has a more consolidated look. The top left round connection is for the new WT-5a wireless unit. The bottom connection on the D4 shows Ethernet + HDMI connections. The Nikon D3s does not have an Ethernet port.

The top of the camera went through significant design changes:

Nikon D4 vs D3s Top View

Let’s start from the left, the camera dial. The front of the dial is fully closed and only the rear of the dial is exposed. The dial modes are the same, but there is a change on the top buttons – the useless “Lock” button on the D3/D3s/D3x has been replaced with a metering mode button. I really like this idea, because the metering mode switch on the right side has been eliminated as well! Now that I see this change, I started to realize how much I hate the old metering mode switch on the D3/D3s cameras. Pressing the button and then rotating the metering mode dial was never comfortable. I am glad that this annoyance has been finally taken care of. The right side of the camera has also been redesigned. The shutter release is now located at a lower angle for comfort and the camera mode and exposure compensation buttons have been moved up a little to make room for the new and small video recording button.

Now let’s talk about the back of the camera, which went through the most number of changes:

Nikon D4 vs D3s Back View

There are things I really like about what Nikon did with the D4 back layout/design and things I don’t. Let’s start from what I believe are good changes. Compared to the D3s, there is one extra button on the back of the D4. Finally, Nikon adapted a similar layout as the D700, which is the ability to zoom in out by pressing a button. I remember when I first held the D3s on my hand, I could not figure out how to zoom in. I then realized that I have to press the zoom button and then use the dial on the back of the camera to zoom in and out. What a pain! Now this pain goes away, because you just press the zoom in and zoom out buttons without having to rotate any dials! The lock/help button has been moved up right under the Menu button, which I would rather have on the bottom, because I never use it. In addition, all the new buttons are back-lit, which is great news for those of us that shoot in low-light or at night.

Let’s move to the LCD. The new LCD on the back of the camera has the same 921,000 dot resolution as the one on the D3s, but is now a little bigger in size (by 0.2 inches diagonal). While Nikon says that they always individually calibrate these screens, it is still the same old LCD technology we see on all other cameras. We are in 2012 now, come on, why doesn’t Nikon use higher-end screens on their new cameras? OLED is not cheap, but it uses a lot less energy than LCD and it lasts forever.

The button placement under the LCD, also went through some changes. While the ISO / QUAL / WB buttons are still in their respective places (come on Nikon, that QUAL button is evil! – see my Nikon D3s Review why), the audio record button has been moved to sit together in the same group. I don’t really care about this button, because I never use it. The Live View button has moved a little to the left now and has a lever for selecting between photo and video live view modes.

The vertical grip should now be a lot more comfortable, because the AF-ON button has been moved deeper into the camera body. This is great news, because the old AF-ON placement was never good to start with – I kept on accidentally hitting it while shooting horizontally and had to constantly turn it off when I was not using it. AF-ON should have been where it is now on the D3/D3s/D3x models.

Finally, let’s talk about the rest of the buttons to the right side of the body and LCD. Similar to the Canon DSLRs, we now have two joysticks (the joystick is borrowed from the MB-D10 grip) – one to use in horizontal position and one to use in vertical position. The top joystick replaces the customizable AE-L/AF-L button (still wondering where it went). I don’t know about others, but I hate joysticks. If we have to use a joystick to move the AF point now, what is the purpose of having the bigger dial? Is there there now to move around while viewing pictures? I very much hope that I can still use the big dial to select AF points. Joysticks are the reason why I do not like the ergonomics of many Canon DSLRs. It is sad to see Nikon trying to copy Canon in that regard.

OK, let’s move on to differences in camera specifications. The below specifications comparison only shows differences between the two cameras – identical information has been intentionally removed.

Nikon D4 vs D3s Specification Comparison

Camera FeatureNikon D4Nikon D3s
Sensor Resolution16.2 Million12.1 Million
Total Pixels16.6 Million12.87 Million
Sensor Pixel Size7.3µm8.45µm
Image Size4,928 x 3,2804,256 x 2,832
Storage Media1x Compact Flash and 1x XQD2x Compact Flash
Buffer CapacityUp to 100 12-bit RAW
Up to 70 14-bit uncompressed RAW
Up to 200 JPEG Large
Up to 43 12-bit RAW
Up to 36 14-bit uncompressed RAW
Up to 78 JPEG Large
EXIF Version2.32.21
Focusing ScreenBriteView Clear Matte Mark VIIIBriteView Clear Matte VI
Continuous Shooting Speed10 FPS, 11 FPS with AE/AF Locked9 FPS
Shutter Durability400,000 cycles300,000 cycles
Shutter Lag0.042 seconds0.04 seconds
Exposure Metering Sensor91,000-pixel RGB sensor1,005-pixel RGB sensor
Metering Range-1 ± 20 EV0 to 20 EV
Base ISOISO 100ISO 200
Native ISO SensitivityISO 100-12,800ISO 100-12,800
Boosted ISO SensitivityISO 50, ISO 25,600-204,800ISO 100, ISO 25,600-102,400
D-Lighting BracketingYesNo
Autofocus SystemAdvanced Multi-CAM 3500FXMulti-CAM 3500FX
AF DetectionUp to f/8Up to f/5.6
Focus ModesAF-A
AF-S
AF-C
Face-Priority AF
M
Normal Area
Wide Area
AF-S
AF-C
M
Flash Sync ModesFront-curtain sync
Rear-curtain sync
Red-eye reduction
Red-eye reduction with slow sync
Slow rear-curtain sync
Slow sync
Front-curtain sync
Rear-curtain sync
Red-eye reduction
Red-eye reduction with slow sync
Slow sync
Flash CompensationYes, -3 to +1 EVNo
Flash-ready IndicatorYesNo
Live View Shooting ModesPhotography Mode
Movie Mode
Handheld Mode
Tripod Mode
Live View Lens ServoAF
AF-S
AF-F
MF
N/A
Live View AF Area ModeFace-priority AF
Wide-area AF
Normal-area AF
Subject-tracking AF
N/A
Video OutputMOV, Compressed and UncompressedAVI, Compressed
Video Maximum Record Time20 min in 24p, 30 min in 30p5 min
Video Maximum Resolution1920×1080 (1080p)1280×720 (720p)
Audio RecordingBuilt-in microphone
External stereo microphone (optional)
Built-in microphone
LCD Size3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD3.0″ diagonal TFT-LCD
LCD Adjustments5 Levels7 Levels
Playback FunctionsAuto Image Rotation
Full-Frame and Thumbnail
GPS data display
Highlights
Histogram Display
Image Comment
IPTC Information
Movie Playback
Movie Slideshow
Photo information
Playback with Zoom
Slideshow
Voice Memo
Auto Image Rotation
Full-Frame and Thumbnail
Highlights
Histogram Display
Image Comment
Movie Playback
Shooting Data
Slideshow
Voice Memo
Zoom
In-Camera Image EditingColor Balance
Color Outline
Color Sketch
D-Lighting
Distortion Control
Edit Movie
Filter Effects
Fisheye
Image Overlay
Miniature Effect
Monochrome
NEF (RAW) Processing
Perspective Control
Quick Retouch
Red-eye Correction
Resize
Selective Color
Side-by-Side Comparison
Straighten
Trim
Color Balance
D-Lighting
Edit Movie with Save Selected Frame
Filter Effects
Image Overlay
Monochrome
NEF (RAW) Processing
Red-eye Correction
Resize
Side-by-Side Comparison
Trim
HDR SupportYesNo
InterfaceHDMI output: Type C mini-pin HDMI connector
Headphone Connector
NTSC
Stereo Microphone Input
Super Speed USB 2.0
10-pin Terminal
HDMI
Hi-speed USB
NTSC
PAL
Wi-Fi FunctionalityWT-5A, WT-4AFTP and PTP/IP with WT-4A
Total Custom Settings5846
Built-in LANYesNo
Remote Shutter Release CompatibilityCorded and infra-redCorded-only
Supported LanguagesArabic
Chinese (Simplified and Traditional)
Czech
Danish
Dutch
English
Finnish
French
German
Indonesian
Italian
Japanese
Korean
Norweigan
Polish
Portuguese
Romanian
Russian
Spanish
Swedish
Thai
Turkish
Ukrainian
Chinese (Simplified and Traditional)
Dutch
English
Finnish
French
German
Italian
Japanese
Korean
Polish
Portuguese
Russian
Swedish
Spanish
BatteryEN-EL18 Lithium-ion BatteryEN-EL4 Lithium-ion Battery
EN-EL4a Lithium-ion Battery
Battery Life2,600 shots (CIPA)4,200 shots (CIPA)
AC AdapterEH-6b AC AdapterEH-6 AC Adapter
Battery ChargerMH-26 Quick ChargerMH-21 Quick Charger
MH-22 Quick Charger
DimensionsWidth 6.3 in. (160mm)
Height 6.2 in. (156.5mm)
Depth 3.6 in. (90.5mm)
Width 6.3 in. (159.5mm)
Height 6.2 in. (157mm)
Depth 3.4 in. (87.5mm)
Weight (Body Only)41.6 oz. (1,180g)43.7 oz. (1,240g)
MSRP Price$5,999$5,199

Something in favor of the D3s is its battery life. I understand that there are some new battery requirements in Asia, but it is sad to see D4 have almost half the battery life of the D3s. This is a serious disadvantage, especially when shooting in cold environments where batteries die quickly. The new wireless WT-5a wireless transmitter also draws power from the camera, so expect to have even worse battery life with the WT-5a attached.

You can find more information on the Nikon D4, along with my thoughts on its features in the Nikon D4 article I posted earlier. A comparison between the Nikon D4 vs Canon 1D X is also coming.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Dana
    January 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Hi,

    Regarding zooming in/out on the D3s, I have mine set up to where I can use the multi-selector center button…..f1 in the Controls menu, then go to Playback mode and you can set it there. Works like a champ :).

    Dana

    • January 7, 2012 at 7:32 pm

      Dana, I also have mine set-up the same way, where it immediately zooms in to 100%, but I still find it cumbersome when I need to zoom out and zoom in more. The new change is wonderful! :)

  2. January 7, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I believe the D4 also has a pentaprism viewfinder; pentamirror would be very odd on a high end pro camera. I too have been wondering about the lack of a dedicated AE-L button, strange. I wish they had allowed more than 1EV stop for bracketing, so you could take 5 photos instead of 9 to get the same range for HDR. Oh well, that’s what Promote Controls are for! Everything else looks very, very impressive!

    • January 7, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      Aaron, after Googling for a little and looking at all the press-releases, I am now 100% confident that the D4 uses a pentaprism, not a pentamirror – it is a serious copy-paste mistake on NikonUSA.com! I fixed the article and removed the pentaprism/pentamirror specs.

  3. January 7, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    While the D4 certainly brings several good stuff. I think I will be missing the separate AF-L button. How this feature will be implemented with the new joystick, is not clear for me. I have read a lot reviews, but have not found info on this. Second, a thing I know really don’t like is that you need both hands to change AF-mode. I use a lot big lenses 70-200 and bigger tele, and have to move the left hand back from holding the lens to push the D7000 AF-button (and then with the right hand change the command-dial) is for me a pain. This is one reason I sold my D7000 and is now more happy with a D300. What do you think?

    Best regards, Gregor Bergquist

    • January 7, 2012 at 9:29 pm

      Gregor, I am also puzzled about the lack of the AF-L button. The marketing material points to AF-L functionality (11 frames with AF-L), but I don’t see it anywhere…

      As for the AF mode dial, I actually really like the D7000 implementation. Yes, you need two hands to change it, but then for me it is better than the dedicated switch on the back of the camera – now I can switch AF modes while looking through the viewfinder…

      • January 7, 2012 at 10:34 pm

        Found this:

        Exposure lock: Luminosity locked at detected value with the center of the sub-selector
        Focus lock: Focus can be locked by pressing shutter-release button halfway (single-servo autofocus)
        or by pressing the center of the sub-selector

        I was sloppy, info was there. I´m actually mostly only using AE-L, seldom AF-L. Hope it works well having it on the center of sub-selector. I guess Nikon and theirs prof. photografers have tried it out well.

        • January 8, 2012 at 2:43 am

          Gregor, thank you for the info! I hope the center button can be configured like the current one now – I use it to zoom into images at 100%.

  4. January 7, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    Looking forward to reading the review of the D4. Based on what I’m seeing and hearing, most D3s owners like myself seem pretty content sticking with what we have – which is pretty amazing to begin with. Don’t think native ISO IQ will change all that much. On the plus side, love the illuminated buttons on the D4 for night work (and the built-in HDR, which is still in its infancy though). On the minus side, battery life is cut in half (plus the new memory card hassles).

    It all boils down to the image quality though – and D4 won’t blow D3s out of the water IMHO. It’s a nice evolutionary upgrade with better video, metering and slightly more real estate, but not enough to warrant trading in my D3s. I’ll hold out for the D5.

    • January 7, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      Daniel, I agree, the Nikon D4 is an evolutionary update, not revolutionary like Nikon D3 was when it came out :) The battery life is a real bummer. Always thought newer batteries are supposed to be better, but it is not the case with the D4.

  5. 11
    ) Roman
    January 8, 2012 at 3:47 am

    That AE-L button, it’s the first thing I noticed. It’s gone. Personally, I almost always shoot manual, yet it’s such a trivial function I can’t believe it was left out. For some, this alone will be a deal breaker.

    I also agree about the screen. It’s not so expensive – many mobile phones in very different price segments have much better, sharper screens out there. They pushed the price up by 700$ – although I see no reason to, as this camera is just up-to-date, which shouldn’t make it more expensive to produce or buy – they could have at least given it a better screen.

    What I see now is normal evolution in image quality, yet a slight degradation from a basic technological and ergonomic point, once summed up.

    I hope that D800 doesn’t loose it’s AE-L. It would be a dream if they’d change the positioning of the ISO button to the right-hand side as well – one should be able to change that with one hand!

  6. 12
    ) Jett
    January 8, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    I for one can appreciate the joystick set up on the D4. As for image quality….. I don’t believe anything will ever “blow the D3s out of the water”! Image quality these days are at a peak with this kind of technology! Just different and more efficient camera bodies. This D4 looks to be a pretty amazing piece of equipment, indeed!

  7. 13
    ) Peter
    January 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Hi Nasim, I have read all your recent articles on the D3S, D4, D700, D800 and high res. sensors.

    I currently own a D700 and a lot of fast lenses. I would be interested in your thoughts on the following:
    At native/base ISO, would you expect the D4 to give substantially better image quality than the D700?
    The D700 has a larger pixel but the D4 has more megapixels with an improved image processor.

    I am debating on getting a D4 for wildlife photography and while the D4 would be great for action/low light I really want to understand how the image quality would compare to that of D700 when taking a shot on a tripod of a non-moving object in normal daylight.

    Thanks, Peter

  8. 14
    ) Bill
    January 10, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Looks like a great camera, but not enough for the upgrade from my D3s. In fact I recently purchased a mint copy F5, and seem to be using that more and more..

  9. 15
    ) Wild Bill, polo photographer
    January 10, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Am considering the D4, but want to wait till actual specs (not just rumors) are released for D800. I shoot close to 200,000 photos of polo per year, mostly with a D3X, in DX mode, using an 80-400 lens. With the D4 that would make my files only 6.7MP instead of 10MP, however IF the D800 is 36MP, then DX mode will produce 15MP files. Improvement to 14 Bit NEFs at 10 FPS, however, would be nice, and the D800 will not be 10 FPS, even in DX mode. XQD cards are still unproven in the field for longevity. Understand Lexar has just released a faster CF card (with approx same speed as 1st gen XQD cards). Why didn’t Nikon just make a 24MP version of the D3S?

  10. 16
    ) Nikos
    January 12, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Dear Nazim,

    should we assume that the D4 could auto-focus with 200-400 PLUS TC20II, beeng F8?

    Thanks for great review.

    Best Regards,

    Nikos

    • 19
      ) Nikos
      January 16, 2012 at 2:34 am

      correction:

      I mean TC20E of course…

      BR
      NIKOS

  11. 17
    ) Carsten Lennert-Petersen
    January 12, 2012 at 6:39 am

    Haha, funny about the added joysticks and how different peoples needs are. Coming from several Canon bodies to the D7000 the one thing I immediately missed was the joystick for AF point selection. That’s the reason why I never display the image I just took on the LCD because if I need to take another shot framed differently with another AF point, I need to half press the shutter first and then move the AF point with the multi selector.

    So the joysticks on the D4 are very welcome although I could never afford it :).

    Thank you for a great website. I really enjoy it and I visit it almost every day.

    Cheers from Denmark.

    • 18
      ) nikos
      January 12, 2012 at 11:16 am

      Hi,

      I thought I am only guy who is going “backwards”. I just bought new F6 and I am very happy with this piece of art. I hope we wan’t be left without media… films too soon…

      Regards,

      Nikos

  12. 20
    ) Lou
    January 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Nasim:

    I noticed an error in your side-by-side comparison of the D4 and D3s. The native ISO of the D3s is 200-12800, not 100 to 12,800. Also, I use my Auto Exposure lock button all the time when I meter then re-frame the shot . . which I do often . . can you tell me where can I find more info on the D4’s ability to lock exposure and then recompose the shot? Thank you, great site by the way! LOU

  13. 21
    ) Vijayakumar
    January 20, 2012 at 5:28 am

    Nasim :
    Is Pentaprism (used in D3), superior to Pentamirror (used in D4) ? If Yes, will this affect the view finder feel. What are the pros and cons of both , please elaborate.

  14. 22
    ) Adam
    January 23, 2012 at 8:24 am

    Hi there,

    Quick question about the joysticks, because I hate the joystick on the D700 battery grip. I mean, I really hate it. It’s so stiff that it hurts my thumb to use it. Not only that, but you seem to have to push so hard to move the focal point, that sometimes it performs a centre click. It’s anything but easy to use.

    Please tell me the joysticks on the D4 at least have a nice feel to them.

    Pretty please?

    Regards,

    Adam

    • 23
      ) Adam
      January 25, 2012 at 4:54 am

      Hello, it’s me again.

      To answer my own question (in case anyone else is wondering), I’ve read that the joysticks (sub-controllers) on the D4 are a rubbery material, whereas the joystick on the battery grip for the D700 is plastic.

      This gives me hope!

      All the best,

      Adam

  15. 24
    ) Allan
    January 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    Is it worth it to upgrade from D3s to D4
    I take a lot of sports (High School and College) for fun.
    Thanks

  16. February 3, 2012 at 3:13 am

    As an event photographer often in very low light situations ( awards, school balls, etc) I can wait to get my hands on the D4. Yes I am paying for the extra video functionality – which I won’t use. But my work will be 10 x better.

  17. 26
    ) leek
    February 8, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I don’t like the changes of the D4.

    1. I liked being able to zoom with a dial rather than pushing buttons as I have to on a D700/D800/D4. A dial allows me to quickly zoom in and zoom back out if I go too far, while hitting buttons takes a lot longer and if I mess up I have to switch buttons. If I took a picture of someone and then wanted to show them a closeup of their face, it would take a lot longer with buttons than with the zoom dial. With the zoom dial I just turn the camera, hold my left thumb on the zoom button, and use my right thumb on the dial and the direction pad to hone on their face in almost no time. With the D700’s buttons I have to click, click, click, apologize the the person waiting that I zoomed in wrong, zoom back out, and then finally show it to them. The zoom dial is very handy, once you get used to it. Lots of past D700 reviewers agreed with me than the D700 zoom buttons were less friendly than the D3’s zoom dial.

    2. I agree that the joystick is a bad idea. That’s one reason I don’t like Canon cameras. Their joysticks also have rough plastic sticking out which literally hurts my fingers to touch. I hope the D4 isn’t doing this.

    3. The D4’s battery life decreasing compared to the D3s, due to stupid regulations, is really bad. I have been able to shoot hundreds of shots during a whole day (10 hours) on a single EL-EN4a charge.

    4. I prefer the D3s’s consolidated jack cover. Note that contrary to what’s implied by your table, the D3s has an external stereo microphone jack. I have used a flash mount microphone for superior video recordings, although I mainly use my D3s for still photos, which is what it’s really designed for.

    5. The D4 cannot accept two flash memory cards of the same type. For backup or overflow mode you must buy two different kinds of memory. I will stick with Compact Flash, thank you.

    Based on all these shortcomings, I will not upgrade my D3s to a D4. A D800e would be a much better investment to complement the D3s than a D4.

  18. February 27, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    I can’t wait for your hands on review! I want to upgrade from my D700 to D4 or D3s. I have no real video interest (have a camcorder for that).

    Am also dying to find out how the D800 compares. I am not into pixel peeping, and especially interested in D4 vs D800 for AF tracking/speed and clean pixels. The D800 price can’t be ignored.

  19. 28
    ) Gandalf
    March 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    I think the D4 is on pair with the D3s in iso-performance, according to what I have seen at the net, and that is fine regarding to the more pixels.

    But it will be VERY interesting, if the D4 has the same fantastic skin tone and overall same performance in low iso-performance= I am not 100 % sure after looking at some pictures, but we will see.

    It is a dissapointment, that you can NOT set your camera to ev. minus and plus 2 and shoot only 3 shots, but has to shoot 5 shots to get that = The Nikon D7000 allready have that = I like to shoot my bracketed sbots in NEF and not jpg (I am aware of the HDR-possibility in jpg).

    I know the D3s and D3x also not have this, but I thought this would be changed after the D7000, which has it so fine.

  20. 29
    ) Alex
    March 20, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    I have read that you can change the AF points with the older control pad and the joy sticks. Also the AE-L/AF-L is the same as pressing the joystick down.

    From what I have seen the D4 ISO performs about the same as the D3s

    What I really want to know is how much better is the AF system in low light and normal light. Supposedly it’s around 20% faster from what I have read and that -2EV does help in the dark. This could be a big enough reason to upgrade if you are finding you are missing shots in low lighting with the current D3s. I would also like to know how the D4 feels in the vertical shooting position. I find the D3s vertical very different compared to horizontal. The grip feels very skinny and not nearly as comfortable. I wonder if the D4 has been improved in this aspect.

  21. April 30, 2012 at 2:57 am

    “the useless “Lock” button on the D3/D3s/D3x has been replaced with a metering mode button”

    – actually that useless button is one that Pro’s enjoyed using, and a distinct advantage over Canon, which doesn’t have this. There are many Pro’s that shoot in manual and when lighting isn’t changing, it is a very valuable button to have as it allows the photographer to lock down the aperture and shutter values, without the possibility of accidentally knocking the dials and changing exposure while shooting. I for one miss that button very much. I can’t count the amount of time I’ve accidentally adjusted an exposure without knowing while shooting in manual.

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