Nikon D4s and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4

What do you do when you have two low-light kings, the Nikon D4s and the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4? You take them for a night shoot of course! After receiving both for some testing / reviews, I took off to photograph Denver downtown at night. It was way past the sunset time, so I knew that I would only have street lights to illuminate my subjects. Since the Zeiss Otus is an insanely sharp lens wide open, I set its aperture to f/1.4 and only changed it a couple of times during the night in order to increase depth of field and ISO. Interestingly, at such a large aperture, I found myself often shooting at pretty low ISO levels – generally under ISO 3200. So it was nice to be able to push my shutter speeds as high as 1/400 for freezing motion:

Nikon D4s and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Image Samples (4)

Although ISO is relatively high at ISO 11400, running a single pass of noise reduction, down-sampling to 2048 pixels long and sharpening the image a little makes it perfectly usable in my opinion. The Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 was a little tough to focus with initially, but once I got used to its position where it gave me perfect focus, it was not too bad (f/1.4, 1/60, ISO 900):

Nikon D4s and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Image Samples (3)

Unfortunately, one cannot purely rely on the optical viewfinder or the green focus confirmation dot, especially with longer manual focus lenses that have razor thin depth of field. The viewfinder makes it hard to see perfect focus, while the green focus confirmation dot just has too much “play”. This play is especially bad at f/1.4 – I could have both a blurry and a sharp image while the camera thinks that the subject is in good focus at both positions. Gladly, it did not take much effort to realize that critical focus was very close to the right side of the green dot. And if you have accuracy issues with the green focus confirmation dot, manual focus lenses can also be calibrated similar to autofocus lenses using the AF Fine Tune feature.

Photographing anything moving with manual focus was out of question, but static subjects worked pretty well, especially when I used Live View to obtain critical focus (f/1.4, 1/60, ISO 900):

Nikon D4s and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Image Samples (2)

Auto ISO worked like a charm, managing my exposure and keeping the shutter speeds at 1/60 and above.

Here is an example of what the camera can do at ISO 25,600 (f/5.6, 1/125):

Nikon D4s and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Image Samples (5)

Not the cleanest image in the world, but still quite impressive! All these images are re-sized to 2048 pixels long, so if you do not have a large monitor, definitely download and check them out! Here is the last sample, captured at f/1.4, 1/60, ISO 500:

Nikon D4s and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Image Samples (1)

I am currently working on doing a lab comparison between the Nikon D4, D4s and Df, so stay tuned for a detailed comparison between the three (planning on publishing it tomorrow). It will be interesting to see how the D4s does against its predecessor and the Df!

  • Autofocusross

    Very interesting to see the image quality on the pairing. Thanks, very informative.

    I look forward to the lab comparisons you are working on, but I was hoping you’d have included the D800 or D800E rather than the Df (are they still selling the Df?)


    • Stephen Hung

      I would agree as well. Since many of your readers have a D800 or D600/610, it would be nice to see a comparison. If I ever I find $6000 laying around, I will probably choose a 300mm f2.8 before replacing my D800 :)

      • Nasim Mansurov

        Absolutely! I have the D800E and the D600, so adding the D800E to the mix won’t hurt :)

        • AutofocusRoss

          Stephen, you hit the nail on the head, existing owners of the D800/e probably bought into the system for several reasons, image quality, I would imagine, being among the top, but low light image quality, also. Of course there are still uncomitted, would-be, buyers of a new camera who want to see Nasim’s comparisons before reaching for the credit card.

          The coupling of this new Zeiss f1.4 to these bodies in particular, is interesting, as the lens is clearly designed for low-light use. Results can be unexpected so it will be interesting to see what comes out of the tests. I use a lowly D5200 with a 50mm F1.8G for most of my travel / leisure photography, and was considering a move to the 5300 when it arrived ‘without Anti-Aliasing filter’ late last year. What stopped me was the DXOMark tests which scored the body lower when used with a consistent lens. (when you search their site, look at lenses rather than bodies, and then you can ‘switch’ the results of the lens across the board, with lots of the current models, plus quite a few older bodies).

          Since seeing that result it makes me wary of making a purchase of anything, until independent testing, like Nasim here, and DXOmark, Image Resource and a few others have had a look at the products and given their verdicts.

          Photo gear is notoriously expensive, and like Hi-Fi systems, a tiny improvement from the basic models attracts a huge price premium, so it is great people like Nasim are out there, spending valuable time conducting the research and reporting the results. So easy to buy a dud, while thinking it’s a diamond!

          Still greatly looking forward to seeing the results – my savings are almost ready for the D800… just a few more hundred £ !

  • Fons S’Jegers

    Hi Nasim,

    thanks for the report. This ISO range on the Nikon D4s (and D4) is impressive and renders the use of flashlights almost obsolete.
    I’m quite satisfied with my D4. Even in sunset conditions, shooting high continuous bursts at birds still provides impressive results.
    Looking forward to reading your report D4 vs D4S.

    Good luck,

    • Nasim Mansurov

      Fons, the D4 is an amazing tool! Have both the D4s and the D4 on my table right now, now I need to do the tests!

  • Tore Helming

    Are these shot in jpg or NEF? If shot in raw what converter was used?

    • Nasim Mansurov

      RAW, 14-bit. Processed in Photoshop Camera RAW

  • Andrea

    Hi Nasim, I just bought D4s and found that the green dot is not match with the live view for both Nikon AF lenses and Manual lenses.
    I tried to focus with the live view first to get the perfect focus and then I check the green dot was not even reach a dot, still an arrow sign. If I focus using the view finder and got the green dot, it won’t get perfect focus. My D4s always front focus.

    You said that this problem can be solved using the AF fine tune feature, I already tried it but didn’t give any changes. Can you help me explain how to solve this problem?
    I test shoot with static object.

    Thank you for your help.

    • Nasim Mansurov

      Andrea, is this happening with only one lens or all lenses?

      The AF Fine Tune feature works with both autofocus and manual focus lenses. You will need a test chart printed, which you need to shoot diagonally to determine the best focus. The best tool for the job is something like LensAlign, which will simplify the process.

      • Andrea

        Yes Nasim I test it using Spyder LensAlign and the result was 1 cm front focus.
        I test using 2 nikon AF lens 58mm f/1.4 & 85mm f/1.4, also Leica manual lens R 50mm f/1.4
        I think it happened with all lenses.
        I already tried using the AF fine tune but I can’t find any difference.
        Which one will change? The focus on the live view or the green dot on the viewfinder?
        I also have D4 and it focus perfectly on D4. The green dot will match the focus on the live view.
        Thanks again for your fast reply Nasim.

  • Orest

    Hi Nasim,

    On a slightly different topic, any word on your CamRanger review. I have been eagerly waiting as I want to buy one, but need a good review first. Thanks.

    • Nasim Mansurov

      Orest, I sent two emails to CamRanger and they never got back to me :(

  • Jason

    Hi Nasim,

    me too….;) I can’t wait to see your Nikkor 35 1.8 FX review especially in comparison to the Sigma 35 1.4 Art….I think I’m not the only one who is excited about this review ….35 mm focal length is a potential and general walkaround lens beyond a “nifty fifty”;)….hopefully within / still in March….i know lots of stuff to do and the day should have 48hours….;)

    Thank you!


    • Nasim Mansurov

      Jason, I will post some info on the 35mm f/1.8G FX tonight. Don’t have the resolution tests done yet, but planning to do that later this week!

  • Luc

    Hi Nasim
    Particularly interested in your comparison test, and why not experiment with using “PRIME DENOISER” from DXo optics 9 .

    • Nasim Mansurov

      Luc, I try not to use noise reduction tools when comparing cameras to make the comparisons fair.

      • Luc

        Nasim your site is still the best.

        To your response true, but my comment was more to be sure we really need to spend in low-light situation the money for a high price camera when this new raw denoiser is available. So far the only problem I have with PRIME is that it takes at least 5 minutes per pic to process a 24 mpx pics. If we denoise all the choosen cameras for the test how much better the D4 pics will be ?

        Have a great day

  • Dick

    I wish I had the split-screen option on my D800 and Zeiss 100mm like my first Canon Ftb in 1972.

  • arash

    Hi Nasim, what an impressive set of pictures in low light…were you in auto white balance mode? on of the issues I find in low light is how the colors are not quite right with my D800. Also, would you think that if you took the same camera but with one of the Nikon’s prime 1.4 lenses you would get approx. same results?

  • abdullah

    Hi Nasim, you are a great photographer. please tell me how can I order D4S.I liv e in Pakistan.