Nikon D4s and 800mm f/5.6E Field Test

Before everybody kills me about hand-holding, I just have to say this – I was doing some personal testing / photography and wanted to see what this combination could do for me. So please be kind to me :) Let me be clear, the Nikon D4 is a dream camera and I loved that camera to death. I got the D4s, because a friend wanted my D4, so this deal worked out for both of us. Upon purchase, I found it hard to believe the D4 could be improved upon and it’s still too early for me to make a conclusion on that, as I have only had the camera for 2 days. I feel there is an improvement in ISO noise at higher levels, however, the new focusing system got me interested in this camera and today’s trip to the coast to shoot some owls was all about giving me a feel for what was possible. I hand-held this combination a lot today, because I tend to do that when shooting and I wanted to know if I could do it with the 800mm and also get a feel for the D4s abilities. Anyway, here are some real world shots from me, good or bad, it was awesome fun and I got some shots I am very happy with.

I think the Nikon D4s and 800mm might be a marriage made in heaven for me. The Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E snapped into focus on everything I threw at it and I feel it did better than the D4, which I wouldn’t have believed possible.

The first photo sample was taken just after sunrise. The mink was a fast little critter and hard to shoot, only showing himself for seconds at a time – I was panning to get this shot.

D4s - 800mm Sample Photos

NIKON D4S @ 800mm, ISO 640, 1/1600, f/5.6

D4s - -800mm Sample Photo 100 percent crop

After swimming, he slid in under some marsh grass and then ice covering the grass before appearing up through a hole in the ice. I still had the ISO and aperture settings from the water swimming shots, didn’t have time to change anything.

D4s - 800mm Sample Photos

NIKON D4S @ 800mm, ISO 640, 1/5000, f/5.6

The next shot is still in the morning about 8:30am, but it was a cloudless morning and the sun got harsh pretty quickly. The owl was fairly stationary here. I was able to get a few shots off before it flew and I found myself able to hand-hold the D4s / 800mm combo for quite some time before having to lower because of sore arms.

D4s - 800mm Handheld sample photo

D4s - -800mm Sample Photo 100 percent crop

The next shot happened not long after the one above and in approximately the same sunny light conditions. However, I am panning to get this shot.

D4s - 800mm Handheld sample photo

Lastly, I wanted to see what the camera / lens combination could do after dusk and at higher ISO’s. I was still hand-holding when I took these shots after dusk of the Rye Harbor owl.

The next two images are processed the way I normally would. I wanted to see if these high ISO’s would be usable for me.

ISO 3200 sample:

D4s - 800mm Handheld sample photo

ISO 6400 sample:

D4s - 800mm Handheld sample photo

I once limited myself to 1600 ISO max with the D3x, because I was concerned about noise. It’s rather incredible to me to talk about usable images at 3200 / 6400 ISO or greater! Keep in mind that I like to have very little noise in my images, so I always keep the ISO as low as possible!


D4s - 800mm High ISO Comparison

That’s it for this time, stay tuned for the next article from me very soon.

The article was updated to fix a couple of typos on the image descriptions (noted in the comments by readers), thanks everybody for helping me out. I was tired after a long day, up at 3:30am then finishing an article after midnight, it’s my excuse :)


  1. 1) Eric laquerre
    March 9, 2014 at 12:24 am

    Wow it does look be a great combo indeed! The d4s seems to be able to keep really clean image even to iso 6400! I don’t have a d4 but I am the same as you! I always tried to keep my iso really low. That is one of the reason I really like my 200 f2 for indoors shooting (Arena’s)

    Let us know about the d4s improve focus(faster acquisition, better afc)

    • March 9, 2014 at 6:12 am

      Thank you
      I will try and update you guys as I have more time with this new camera.


  2. 2) ram
    March 9, 2014 at 12:33 am

    HI Robert

    Your shots are great and stunning to look at. It is a superb combo. I wish i could afford such a combo.

    High ISO images are stunning as well. You seems to have got the ISO swapped out for the last two cropped images or am i reading it wrong?


    • March 9, 2014 at 6:13 am

      Thanks for noticing the mistake, I have fixed those items and the article is right now :)

      Sorry, it was a long day out and I got tired and didn’t notice the mistakes.


  3. 3) Edward
    March 9, 2014 at 1:34 am

    Great results! A 800mm, hand held!? You Must be working out in the gym every day to achieve that!

    • March 9, 2014 at 6:16 am

      Hehe, I think it’s more determination than anything else. Sometimes these moments are so short, you don’t have time to re-position tripods and all that jazz – the opportunity would be gone.

      So in a way, hand holding has just become an evil necessity for me to get the shots.


  4. 4) Colin Scott
    March 9, 2014 at 1:35 am

    Hi Robert,

    Very interesting to read your early impressions of the 4s. If Nikon have improved on AF speed, it must be amazing. If they have squeezed an extra stop in the ISO performance, who wouldn’t take it?

    In the UK, we have an ambiguous relationship with mink but, the lighting on that first shot is simply a delight. I love it.

    Hand held D4s and 800mm lens? Congratulations on getting the gear AND putting it to use with such great effect.

    • March 9, 2014 at 6:17 am

      Thank You and the lighting on the mink was awesome, I love the colors too.


  5. 5) SDavies
    March 9, 2014 at 3:18 am

    I think you have the labels backwards on the close-ups of the owl.

  6. 6) SDavies
    March 9, 2014 at 3:19 am

    Sorry, didn’t notice someone above already pointed this out.

    • March 9, 2014 at 6:19 am

      it’s cool – long tiring day for me, so the mistake was inevitable. Hoped you enjoyed the article.


  7. 7) Logan
    March 9, 2014 at 3:45 am

    All the info for the images says D4?

    • 7.1) Logan
      March 9, 2014 at 3:46 am

      The last 4 anyway…

    • March 9, 2014 at 4:02 am

      Logan, Robert just made an error – all images are taken with the Nikon D4s (you can check out the EXIF data).

    • March 9, 2014 at 6:20 am

      all images are D4s – it was a typo and has been fixed – sorry about that

      Thanks for pointing it out.


  8. 8) BDWT
    March 9, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Do you think you can put some links to the full size photos? I realize there’s one 1/1 crop comparison, but I wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of the shots at full size to really see the image quality and iso in it’s true form.

    • March 9, 2014 at 8:01 am

      I added another two 100% crop samples for you – I don’t want to float the full image on the internet because I actually like these images and I would be worried about their usage :)

      hope that helps you

  9. 9) Pablo Quiroga
    March 9, 2014 at 7:27 am

    I love all your post but this particular one, the pictures are amazing, but unfortunately I need about $ 29,000 more in camera body and a card for this optimal conditioned bestial Group

    • 9.1) Robert Andersen
      March 17, 2014 at 6:06 am

      Hello Pablo

      Thanks for your comments, as for the $29,000 well that’s getting optimal equipment and it took us many years to get there and most people don’t start photography with that equipment.

      Photography is about experiences and sharing those experiences with everyone and the challenges of getting the shots. There is great equipment available that costs a lot less that will get you well and truly going. maybe and 80-400mm (Nikon) lens attached to something like a D610 with a 1.4 TC (with acceptable quality) is a great starting package – add a 1.7Tc (not as sharp) and you still have a great birding / wildlife starting package – then slowly over the years upgrade bit by bit on areas you find lacking.

      get out there – have fun and challenge yourself :)


  10. 10) Bob Hench
    March 9, 2014 at 7:34 am

    I would like you to write a note for me:

    “Dear Mrs. Hench,
    As a professional photographer my opinion is that your husband requires a Nikon D4s and 800mm lens to continue living. ”

    Or something like that. I am really anxious to hear your feelings about the D4s tracking BIF – particularly the “low fliers” that drive me crazy because they seldom separate from the background.

    Thanks for your reviews and remember those of us who live vicariously through you.


    • March 9, 2014 at 8:04 am

      Dear Mrs Hench

      I strongly believe you should listen to your husbands needs and give him a wonderful gift he will cherish for the rest of his life. He is a great husband and deserves it :)

      PS: you are welcome, and yes I would love to post some BIF when I get the chance. We will be going after bald eagles and osprey shortly.


  11. 11) Gino
    March 9, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Does anyone know if there is an improvement in dynamic range with the new D4s sensor? thanks

    • 11.1) Robert Andersen
      March 9, 2014 at 11:33 pm


      I believe Nasim is waiting for his test D4s to arrive and is going to do some comprehensive testing and comparisons D4 to D4s and publish the results here.


  12. 12) WonderingPI
    March 9, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Ahh use that Lens and a D3s and you can get exactly the same results perty much… yes maybe slightly slightly easier on the d4s but plenty easy to achieve with a d3s, but not worth an upgrade imo.

    • 12.1) Gregor
      March 9, 2014 at 3:59 pm

      Ahhh care to back your comment with some of your work?

      @Robert Anderson
      Great shots and thanks for sharing. What a combo to shoot with, it really must a pleasure for you to see the results.

      • 12.1.1) Robert Andersen
        March 9, 2014 at 8:08 pm

        Thanks for your kind words

        This was my 1st outing with this camera lens combo – 2nd day owning the D4s so I was pretty excited to share this experience with everybody


  13. 13) WonderingPI
    March 9, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    On second thought…

    not trying to stir the pot but those photos don’t look particularly different then anyone else’s… so why worry about people using them as a staple?

    • 13.1) Robert Andersen
      March 9, 2014 at 2:05 pm

      Not sure what the point is to the comment, so I don’t exactly know how to respond.

      I am glad you are happy with the D3s and your gear, that is what photography is all about.

      I am not a guru, just a person like you, trying to get closer and good photography and I do that my way just like you.


  14. 14) wonderingPI
    March 9, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    Not rocket science…

    My response was why worry about posting full resolutions shots online… really those staple shots are meh.

    Go on px500 for that..

    My point is yes I use a d4 but a d3s gets you the same results I fell.for.the hype… and those shots a spectacularly unspectacular

    This isn’t the d2 to d3 gains anymore

  15. 15) Ron
    March 9, 2014 at 8:01 pm


    Wow, way to show respect and appreciation to those who bother to share actual experiences with us. If we’re asking why, then let me ask you something. What’s your point? It seems you have an agenda. Please employ it elsewhere and leave this forum to those who choose instead to share actual experience and relevant information. If you don’t share the OP’s opinion, well, so what?
    It says allot that you want to engage in challenging something as subjective as artistic preferences. Again, wow.
    Bad call my friend.

    • 15.1) Robert Andersen
      March 9, 2014 at 8:09 pm

      thank you !

      • 15.1.1) Ron
        March 10, 2014 at 5:26 pm

        No worries, Robert. An thanks for sharing your experience w/the D4s. Look forward to hearing more about it.

  16. 16) Paul
    March 10, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    Thanks for posting your initial thoughts. Interested to hear what you think about the Group AF feature.

    I thought I recognized that mink and then I realized it was the same mink I was shooting this weekend. I was positioned next to you.

    Glad the tip on finding the snowy on the dunes worked out for you.

    • 16.1) Robert Andersen
      March 10, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      Hello Paul

      It was a blast – he made my day – The owls didn’t want to put on much of a show for my first outing with the D4s, so I am glad the mink did :)

      Nice to meet you, hopefully see you there again sometime and thanks for the tip !

      We have been messing with AF fine tune ever since that trip – there is some issue I can’t resolve with the D800 and the 800mm – Those sunrise photos we were taking of that owl perched on a post were ALL soft – driving me crazy, 2nd set of shots we have lost because of the D800.


  17. 17) Lou Lu
    March 13, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Hi, Bob:

    Congratulations! Your photos taken with your new D4s are really awesome. Here, I have a question for you about importing D4s NEF files to lightroom and Photoshop. Lightroom version 4.4 and Photoshop version CS6 on my iMac computer do not recognize the NEF files from Nikon D4s. Would you please let me know what you have done with your D4s NEF files.



    • 17.1) Robert Andersen
      March 13, 2014 at 9:35 pm

      hey and Thanks

      Two ways you can handle this for now – open with ViewNX 2 – latest version then export

      If you want raw adjustments in PS 6 or open with PS 6 you need to download Raw 8.4 rc – its still in beta – Google it – but they will release the full soon


  18. March 14, 2014 at 2:15 am

    Thanks for posting. I receive my D4s today. I would not have upgraded from a D4 without compelling evidence to suggest it worthwhile but I currently shoot a D800 which is mainly for landscape but I do use it for wildlife too and I can wholeheartedly agree with your point about missing shots due to the AF with my 500 f4.
    I do find the AF misses a fair bit on the D800. It could be my bad technique I suppose but I don’t think so.
    Anyway I shall be doing some testing myself over the next couple of days and the group focus sounds interesting.
    Thanks again and it would be good to get an update when you get a bit more use out of the combo.


    • 18.1) Robert Andersen
      March 14, 2014 at 6:11 am

      Hey Steve and Thank You

      I am having BIG Focus issues with the D800 and the 800mm – I am waiting for the focus align kit to arrive to fine tune my AF but at this stage the D800 and 800mm cannot get sharp photos – even tripoded, release cable, VR off – I have lost some really nice shots due to the D800.

      I am just going to say this now and hop to turn out correct – If you can forget about the mega pixels, the D4 / D4s are amazingly perfect cameras for me – every pixel is a quality pixel, it has helped me get more shots than ever in all sorts of conditions – I know Mr D300s from above would dispute this, but when I was looking to upgrade from my D3x my choices at the time were D300s or wait and get the D4, I waited for the newer technology and don’t regret it.

      I will use the D800 for some wildlife shots, slow moving, up close, scenic or panoramic type wildlife shots – but not for High risk high speed captures – you will fall in love with the D4s – without a doubt.


      • 18.1.1) Steve Tucker
        March 14, 2014 at 6:51 am

        Hi Robert
        I too will continue to use the D800 for some wildlife shots, the ability to crop is so useful to get in close.
        Indeed I have friends who shoot with the D4 and I know what you mean about the quality. I have been flirting with buying one for some time but as I left it late I have gone with the latest D4s.
        I am looking forward to enjoying this camera.
        Come on postie, shake that ass where’s my D4s? ;)

        • Robert Andersen
          March 14, 2014 at 7:09 am

          I wouldn’t have upgraded if it wasn’t for a friend of mine who really wanted a D4, in effect I helped him and he helped me :) – worked nice that way.

          The more you use the D4, the less you will find the urge to grab the D800 (I am talking wildlife) – The new focus system is what interests me at this poit and I just have not had enough time to play and test it out. It’s kind of a tough time of year up here in NH for wildlife, if it wasn’t for the snowy owl irruption it would be dead quiet here.

  19. 19) Robert Andersen
    March 15, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    I am going out shooting in the morning – did some AF fine tuning using lens align – will be interesting to see how the photo quality has changed – the 800mm needed some adjustment – so we will see


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