Exactly after two years since the Nikon D4 announcement, Nikon made the D4s public at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on January 6, 2014. Although the camera was not ready for a full announcement, Nikon wanted to have something to show at the CES, so it only hinted about the development of the camera and its intentions to preview it. The camera was officially announced at the end of February and the first units started to ship shortly after in March. The Nikon D4s is a modest upgrade over the D4, with very slight ergonomic changes, expanded ISO range, faster image processor, faster wired / Ethernet speed, improved battery capacity and a bunch of new firmware options. As an incremental update, the Nikon D4s basically solidified the already superb D4 and made it even better.
Although I had plans to review the D4s earlier this year, my hectic summer schedule and work commitments kept me too busy and I was not able to get it published. I wrote some notes from using the camera when I had it for a few months, then went back and added more again after getting my hands on the camera again later. Since my time with the camera was rather limited, I requested our wildlife gurus Thomas Redd and John Lawson to use the camera and provide their feedback on what they liked and did not about the camera. Thus, this review is yet another collective effort from our team, which hopefully makes it more balanced and objective than if I were to solely do it by myself.
Without a doubt, the top-of-the-line Nikon DSLR line is the most feature-rich, responsive and most capable cameras, and the D4s is not an exception. While the exterior of the D4s is practically identical to the D4, the inner core is where the camera got the most upgrades. The 16.2 MP sensor got a boost in native sensitivity range, going from ISO 100 to 25,600, which is a stop higher than what the D4 had. The camera’s metering and white balance systems got tweaked with more features. The autofocus system was improved with more features and faster shooting rate of 11 fps with full time autofocus (versus 10 fps on the D4). While these might look like very small incremental changes that are not worth upgrading for, even slight improvements in autofocus performance might pay the price of the camera for a working professional. And that’s where the Nikon D4s delivers. Thanks to the new EXPEED 4 processor that is 30% faster than its predecessor, the camera can handle data much faster, giving a significant boost in overall performance. And this is not coming from Nikon’s specifications or data sheets – our team immediately noticed the camera to be faster and more responsive in autofocus operation, particularly in continuously tracking fast-moving subjects. The faster processor also allowed Nikon to push more data for capturing high definition video and the D4s is now capable of recording HD videos at up to 60 frames per second. Along with the ability to pick different crop modes, full exposure control, uncompressed HDMI output and the ability to record videos to both internal memory and external recorders, the Nikon D4s is also a very capable camera for videography needs. Sadly, despite the industry’s push to ultra high resolution 4K video, the D4s still lags behind when compared to other manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic.
However, all these nice changes come at a cost – at $6,500, the D4s is not a cheap camera. It is the second most expensive DSLR in Nikon’s history after the ridiculously expensive D3x (which was priced at $7,999 MSRP when it was announced and still currently sells for $6,999). If we roll the date back to 2007, we can see that the original D3 was priced at $5K. When the D3s came out in 2009, Nikon raised the camera’s price by $200 to $5,199. Three years down the road, the new and shiny D4 comes out with a $6K price tag attached to it – an $800 increase. And finally, the D4s gets another $500 increase on top. Compared to the original D3, that’s a $1500 price difference! If we adjust prices for inflation since 2007 (without taking into account currency conversions), the D4s should have been around $5,700 – $800 lower than what Nikon wants for the camera. Nikon knows that those who own their top-of-the-line cameras will want to continue upgrading when new models come out. Plus, by intentionally crippling lower-end FX camera bodies and holding off on high-end DX line, Nikon has been trying to get as many people as possible to move up to the D4 line. I also suspect that the Nikon D4s pricing was increased in response to Canon’s $6800 price on its 1D X camera, since they are the same class cameras.
1) Nikon D4s Specifications
- Sensor: 16.2 MP FX, 7.3µ pixel size
- Native ISO Sensitivity: 100-25,600
- Boost Low ISO Sensitivity: 50
- Boost High ISO Sensitivity: 51,200-409,600
- Processor: EXPEED 4
- Dust Reduction: Yes
- Shutter: Up to 1/8000 and 30 sec exposure, self-diagnostic shutter monitor
- Shutter Durability: 400,000 cycles
- Camera Lag: 0.012 seconds
- Storage: 1x Compact Flash slot and 1x XQD slot
- Viewfinder Coverage: 100%
- Speed: 11 FPS
- Exposure Meter: 91,000 pixel RGB sensor
- Autofocus System: Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX with 51 focus points and 15 cross-type sensors
- AF Detection: Up to f/8 with 11 focus points (5 in the center, 3 on the left and right)
- LCD Screen: 3.2 inch diagonal with 921,000 dots
- LCD Screen Calibration: Yes
- Movie Modes: Full 1080p HD @ 60 fps max
- Movie Exposure Control: Full
- Movie Output: MOV, Compressed and Uncompressed
- Wired LAN: Built-in Gigabit RJ-45 LAN port
- WiFi: Not built-in, requires WT-5a and older wireless transmitters
- GPS: Not built-in, requires GP-1 GPS unit
- Battery Type: EN-EL18a
- Battery Life: 3,020 shots
- Weight: 1,180g
- Price: $6,499.95 MSRP
Detailed camera specifications can be found at Nikon USA.
2) Nikon D4s versus D4
Our team member Thomas Redd provided some feedback on the D4s after he used the camera for about a month and sent me his notes comparing the D4s to his D4, which I am providing below.
At first, when the D4s was announced, I thought that the improvements would be incremental and not really substantial, so I was not that interested in upgrading from the D4. The improvement in fps of 1 additional frame per second is of no real excitement to me. The ISO improvement, at least on paper, didn’t excite me. The processor improvement was interesting, but I wasn’t sure other than buffer size how it would impact the camera’s overall handling. The single most intriguing feature was the new “Group” AF feature.
When I first got the D4s to try out, I started using it in continuous AF-C and Group mode to see if I could tell a difference. I was shooting the D4 in Dynamic 9 AF-C mode for comparison, since it was either that or the single point mode. At first, I didn’t see much difference in initial focus acquisition, but it seemed that I was getting better focus tracking in bursts. Later, when using the D4s in very low light on an early evening with low clouds and snow off and on, both initial focus acquisition and tracking of birds in flight seemed quicker. Initially, my thoughts were maybe 20-30% faster than the D4 which again, was using Dynamic 9 point autofocus.
As I used the D4s more, I decided to use it in AF-C with 9 AF points active so it could be compared to the D4 more directly. As I used it more and more, it seemed that it did indeed acquire initial focus faster than the D4. How much faster? Well, of course that is subjective and so I will throw out a totally unscientific judgement of maybe 10-15 percent faster – again, it is hard to give a fair assessment except that I found the D4 struggling to lock on noticeably more when shooting birds in flight, than I did with the D4s. There were times I was shooting buffleheads (which fly at a fairly quick speed) and I would turn, point and shoot and the D4s would lock on faster than the D4 and in some cases, faster than I would have expected either camera to do so.
Once the camera was locked on, it seemed to stay locked on in Continuous-Hi mode/ high frame rate bursts better than the D4. In the field, I wasn’t sure if it was just me imagining it or if it was real, but when I got home to review the images I was amazed at the D4s, it seemed that the sequences of bird in flight shots were consistently more in focus than with the D4. I am referring to once locked on, the D4s seemed to remain locked on and in focus better and longer than the D4.
The camera froze once, which was odd and unexpected. When photographing flying ducks, I would shoot a quick burst, I would then “bump” the focus to reacquire focus and then go to shoot another burst and it would only take one single frame. The Nikon D4s did this 3 times and then it froze up completely. There was an “ERR” error message on the screen. Removing the battery would not reset it. I tried dismounting and remounting the lens and the teleconverter (twice) and removing the XQD card (no Lexar card used, no CF card in the CF slot) – nothing unlocked the camera. I then depressed the shutter button and it sounded like the mirror when back down and then the camera started to work again. My guess is that the 3 times that I could only shoot a single frame after the burst, the mirror was not re-seating properly. Then when it locked for good, the mirror was probably jammed halfway. John Lawson had the same unit freeze on him and he reported similar steps taken to free up the camera.
As I have already mentioned above, the exterior of the D4s is not much different from the D4. There are a couple of changes to ergonomics and those are discussed further down below. Since the D4s mostly contains firmware and internal feature updates, let’s go over those instead. Here is a short summary of differences between the two cameras compiled in a table:
|Camera Feature||Nikon D4s||Nikon D4|
|Image Processing Engine||EXPEED 4||EXPEED 3|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-25,600||ISO 100-12,800|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 50, ISO 51,200-409,600||ISO 100, ISO 25,600-204,800|
|RAW SIZE S||Yes||No|
|Advanced Scene Recognition System||Yes, Group Area AF added||Yes|
|Face Priority analysis for viewfinder shooting||On/Off possible with custom setting||Always On|
|Spot White Balance when using Live View||Yes||No|
|Preset White Balance||1-6 possible||1-3 possible|
|Frame Advance Rate||11 fps with AF/AE||10 fps with AF/AE|
|Group Area AF||Yes, 5 AF Sensors||No|
|Wired LAN||1000 Base T Support||100 Base T Support|
|Buffer Capacity||200 JPEG Fine L|
133 12-bit lossless compressed RAW
176 12-bit compressed RAW
104 14-bit compressed RAW
|170 JPEG Fine L|
92 12-bit lossless compressed RAW
92 12-bit compressed RAW
76 14-bit compressed RAW
|Fine Tune LCD Color||Yes||No|
|Full aperture metering during Live View for stills||Yes||No|
|Video Recording||1920×1080 @ 60/50/30/25/24p||1920×1080 @ 30/25/24p|
|Change Focus point size in Live View Movie||Yes||No|
|Video Recording image area options||FX, DX, 2.7x Crop Selectable||Not selectable|
|ISO Auto Control for Manual Exposure||Yes||No|
|Simultaneous recording to memory card and external recorder||Yes||No|
|View simultaneous live view output and record uncompressed video via HDMI||Yes||No|
|Selectable audio frequency range in video recording||Yes, Wide/Voice||No|
|Audio adjusted during video recording||Yes||No|
|Interval timer / Time lapse movie||Up to 9999 shots||Up to 999 shots|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||3,020 shots||2,600 shots|
|Time-lapse Interval Timers Exposure Smoothening||Yes||No|
As you can see, hardware changes are pretty minimal. Aside from the faster processor, bigger memory buffer, Gigabit Ethernet port and a more efficient battery, most of the changes are firmware tweaks.
3) Nikon D4s versus D800 / D810
My good friend John Lawson had an opportunity to shoot with the D4s earlier this year and here are some of his thoughts that he was kind enough to send me, comparing his experience with the camera and his Nikon D800 that he has been using for his wildlife photography needs. Most of his thoughts would apply towards the D810 as well.
The Nikon D4S is an impressive machine in many ways. Having the D800 as my everyday camera, I can say that most of what the D4s does well the D800 also does fairly well. But there are some standout differences. The most obvious is the speed of the D4s. Shooting at 11 frames per second is something of a revelation when you’re used to the D800 clunking along at just 4 frames per second. Thank goodness we’re not burning through film at that rate.
Another interesting difference was that I altered my attitude toward ISO with the D4s. Partly because I felt more confident in the results I would get and partly because I wanted to push its capabilities, I was pretty relaxed about letting the ISO climb up to heights I would not dream of going to with the D800. And the results, within reason, were impressive. I had Auto-ISO maximum ISO set to 12800. On the D800, I don’t like to go above 1600. The D4s sensor is not a magic wand and the high ISO shots need help in post with noise reduction, but the results at 12800 and 25600 can be surprisingly good and 6400 looks great. Dynamic range should and does, based on online research, degrade linearly at high ISOs for both the D4s and the D800 at 1 stop of DR lost for each 1 stop increase in ISO. This makes me think that perhaps I should be pushing the D800 higher to see how closely I can match the D4s results. I normally use little to no noise reduction and I think there may be some unexplored potential in the D800 at high ISO settings.
A difference between the two camera bodies that is about as glaring as the frame rate difference is the resolution difference. The drop from 36 MP to 16 MP is dramatic and quite frankly a little hard to handle. The common cry in defense of the “low resolution” sensor is that 16 million pixels are enough. I might be inclined to agree if I could always use all of those 16 million pixels. When shooting wildlife, the constant challenge is in getting close enough to your subject to fill the frame (assuming that is the kind of shot you’re after) and when you need to crop because you couldn’t get close enough, you quickly start running out of pixels and resolution. Having 36 megapixels to play with is an absolute luxury and I absolutely love it.
An unforeseen consequence of cropping D4s images (images from any camera in fact) is that apparent noise increases as you reach pixel level and so the excellent noise characteristics of the sensor are negated somewhat by the fact that the fewer pixels in the final image must be magnified more (along with the noise) for a given output size. The point is that when assessing the truly outstanding noise performance of the D4s by viewing a full-frame 16 MP image shot at a high ISO, one must bear in mind that images shot at the same ISO will appear noisier if they are tightly cropped.
Autofocus performance is outstanding. Focus acquisition is lightning fast and tracking at 11 fps is very impressive. But it’s not fool-proof. A Ferrari is only as good as the person driving it. If focus is missed it is probably your fault. I’m really not sure what to make of the new (old) Group-Area AF setting. I tried it, but for some reason I found myself always switching back to 9-point dynamic-area AF. I felt a little more confident with Dynamic 9 and I’ll leave it to others to determine how good Group-Area AF really is in practice. One thing I did notice, is that in Group mode you are restricted in your focus point selection such that you cannot move the center of the focus group diamond to the edge of the 51 point array. The other modes allow selecting a point right on the edge in which case you lose some of the surrounding support points. E.g. If the focus point is centered, in Dynamic 9 (or 21, or 51) you can shift the point upwards twice, to the very edge of the array. In Group-Area AF, you can only shift upwards once. That tells me that the points in Group mode are all primary focus points unlike the Dynamic modes where there is a single central primary focus point with surrounding secondary points. I would recommend to read Nasim’s detailed guide on Group-Area AF, where he explains how it really works and the situations that it is best suited for.
On ergonomics… For me, the D800 scores some points here. The multi-selector (8-way switch with central button) on the camera back is smaller on the D4s than on the D800 and I found it significantly more difficult to use, especially when wearing gloves. I think it needs to be smaller because the memory card door is on the rear rather than the side. I hope Nikon moves the memory card slots and door to the side and makes the multi-selector as large as possible on future models. Another issue apparently related to the memory card door is the location of the vertical AF-ON button which is further to the left and lower down in relation to the rear command dial than the horizontal configuration. I got lost looking for this button on many occasions. I really wish Nikon would take a look at what Canon has done with the 1D X and ensure that the available controls (buttons and dials), the layout and spacing of those controls is as close to identical as possible between horizontal and vertical shooting positions. The vertical grip is not deep enough for my liking. I could not grip it as confidently as my D800 which has the MB-D12 grip attached. It’s not terrible by any means, but I think it could be better. The release mode dial (on the top left of the body, for selecting single or continuous shooting) was redesigned for the D800. That dial has been a pain-in-the-rear to operate going all the way back to my old F4s from the 80’s (it used to be the film speed selector). The new D800 design is significantly easier to operate. The D4s has the old design.
These ergonomic criticisms probably just sound like nitpicking, but for me they are small but significant factors in operation. A not-so-small factor is the differing implementation of the electronic level between the two bodies. I use the built-in level almost constantly. It is particularly important when shooting subjects on or above water. Crooked water stands out like a sore thumb and it’s not a good look. I’ve come to depend on the level and I’d be lost without it. The D800’s level is a dedicated LCD meter at the bottom and side of the viewfinder. It works very well, although I wish it were illuminated. The D4s level is illuminated which is great but it is not a dedicated meter. It uses the focus point indicators in the middle of the viewfinder, meaning that when the level is activated, your focus point cannot be displayed. And when your focus point is displayed, your level disappears. In my opinion, it is kind of a disaster. When I am panning to follow a duck swimming on water and changing the focus point as I compose and shoot, I also need to be able to see that I am level to the water. Can’t do that with the D4s.
On the up-side for the D4s, the backlit buttons are a great idea and something I really wish the D800 had. Because I always use the vertical grip with the D800, I would prefer the integrated body design of the D4s and the extra control panel on the lower rear of the body. If the mythical D400 ever shows up, I would love to see an integrated vertical grip on that body, but I’m doubtful Nikon would do it that way. They’ll make more money selling accessory grips to people like me who consider them essential.
The D4 and the D800 were announced and released at roughly the same time. And so it might be reasonable to assume that they were designed and developed at roughly the same time. They are contemporaries. The gripes I have about the ergonomics of the D4s, as far as I know, also apply to the D4. Why are there seemingly unnecessary design differences between the D4 and D800? One has a completely different, and in my opinion far superior, implementation of an electronic level than the other. The release mode dial was redesigned and improved on one but not the other. One has USB3 and the other USB2. Were there two different design teams working independently at Nikon? It sure looks like it. It’s a shame the best ideas from each were not combined for consistent and improved products.
Okay, enough nitpicking. Overall, the D4s body is a well thought-out, mature and user-friendly design. And for the most part, it is a pleasure to work with. I do get the feeling when using high-end Nikon camera bodies such as the D300, D800, D4, etc. something like what Apple products are renowned for. It’s the sense of intuitiveness where it just works the way you think it should naturally work. There aren’t too many of the “what were they thinking?” design decisions that seem to be quite common among smaller format cameras that haven’t had time to mature into stable and sensible forms.
I was a little concerned when I got my hands on the D4s that I would be so blown away by it that I would be compelled to shell out for one of my own. However, I was surprised (and relieved) to find that is not the case. For sure I would like to own one. It does some things I cannot currently do with the equipment I have. But if offered a straight swap for my D800, I would not take it. That’s not a slam on the D4s. It is an exceptionally good camera and no-one needs me to tell them that. But for what I do, the D800 is just that good. I’m sure it’s heresy to some that I rate the D800 above the D4s for wildlife photography, but that is the conclusion I have come to.
Another great take on how the D4s compares to the Nikon D810 and D600 cameras for photographing wildlife was written by John Sherman. Take a look at his detailed article that compares the D4s, D810 and D600, where he shared his thoughts on pros and cons of cropping versus lower noise.
And if you are wondering what the main differences between the D4s and the D810 are, take a look at the below chart where I summarized it for you:
|Camera Feature||Nikon D4s||Nikon D810|
|Sensor Resolution||16.2 MP||36.3 MP|
|Image Size||4,928 x 3,280||7,360 x 4,912|
|Sensor Pixel Size||7.3µ||4.9µ|
|Low Pass / AA Filter||Yes||No|
|Image Processing Engine||EXPEED 4||EXPEED 4|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-25,600||ISO 64-12,800|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 50, ISO 51,200-409,600||ISO 32, ISO 25,600-51,200|
|Frame Advance Rate||11 fps||5 FPS, 6 FPS in DX mode, 7 FPS with MB-D12 battery grip|
|Memory Card Slots||1x CF, 1x XQD||1x CF, 1x SD|
|Wired LAN||1000 Base T Support||N/A|
|Buffer Capacity||200 JPEG Fine L|
133 12-bit lossless compressed RAW
176 12-bit compressed RAW
104 14-bit compressed RAW
|100 JPEG Fine L|
47 12-bit lossless compressed RAW
58 12-bit compressed RAW
35 14-bit compressed RAW
|Shutter Durability||400,000 cycles||200,000 cycles|
|Electronic Front-curtain Shutter||No||Yes|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||3,020 shots||1,200 shots|
|Dimensions||160 x 156.5 x 90.5mm||146 x 123 x 81.5mm|
|Weight (Body Only)||1,180g||880g|
4) Nikon D4s versus D750
If you are considering a lower budget option than the D4s, the newly announced Nikon D750 (which I have already reviewed) in my opinion is the second best choice for sports and wildlife photography needs. Its 24 MP sensor is excellent – a sweet middle between what the D4s and D810 can deliver. You don’t lose as much in terms of crop options and you don’t lose as much pixel-level IQ. The Nikon D750 has a great balance of image quality, autofocus and fps, but its biggest weakness is the small buffer. As long as you shoot in bursts and use fast memory cards, the buffer issue is not felt as badly as say on the D7100 (which has a puny buffer).
John Sherman wrote another killer article on the D750 for wildlife photography, which I highly recommend to read. You can also read my thoughts on the D750’s autofocus system for different needs, along with a comparison of its buffer on the fourth page of my detailed Nikon D750 review.
Here is a table that summarizes key differences between the D4s and the D750:
|Camera Feature||Nikon D4s||Nikon D750|
|Sensor Resolution||16.2 MP||24.3 MP|
|Image Size||4,928 x 3,280||6,016 x 4,016|
|Sensor Pixel Size||7.3µ||5.9µ|
|Image Processing Engine||EXPEED 4||EXPEED 4|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-25,600||ISO 100-12,800|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 50, ISO 51,200-409,600||ISO 50, ISO 25,600-51,200|
|Frame Advance Rate||11 fps||6 fps|
|Memory Card Slots||1x CF, 1x XQD||2x SD|
|Wired LAN||1000 Base T Support||N/A|
|Buffer Capacity||200 JPEG Fine L|
133 12-bit lossless compressed RAW
176 12-bit compressed RAW
104 14-bit compressed RAW
|87 JPEG Fine L|
25 12-bit lossless compressed RAW
33 12-bit compressed RAW
21 14-bit compressed RAW
|Shutter Durability||400,000 cycles||150,000 cycles|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||3,020 shots||1,230 shots|
|Dimensions||160 x 156.5 x 90.5mm||140.5 x 113 x 78mm|
|Weight (Body Only)||1,180g||750g|
If you would like to see a comparison of buffer capacities of all current and older Nikon DSLRs, take a look at our Nikon DSLR buffer comparison article.
5) Camera Construction and Handling
Just like all top-of-the-line Nikon DSLRs, the D4s has a full magnesium alloy and weather sealed construction that is designed to withstand all kinds of physical abuse. I have seen photographers accidentally drop their high-end D3/D3s/D4 cameras (I once dropped a D3s from 3 feet high), bump them against hard surfaces or get every hole filled up with dust when photographing Burning Man and those cameras continued to work without any problems. Cameras like D4s are designed to be used heavily by professionals for many years, so they are built like tanks. That’s why working pros prefer D4s-like cameras, as they know they can rely on them in the most challenging conditions.
As I have already pointed out earlier, the D4s is very similar in terms of handling and ergonomics when compared to the D4. The cameras look almost identical when looked from the front. The only difference is the grip – it is shaped a little differently and should be more comfortable to hold per Nikon (although I personally did not feel any difference whatsoever). Here is how the two compare when viewed from the front:
The back of the camera looks mostly the same, except for two changes – the memory card door is now shaped slightly differently on the top and the surface of the two smaller joysticks (for vertical and horizontal grip) has been redesigned for more comfort. I personally don’t care for the door, but the joystick change is a great improvement in my opinion, since I did not like the first version of joysticks on the D4, as explained in my D4 review. Here is the comparison of the back of the two cameras (Left: Nikon D4s, Right: Nikon D4):
Together with the change in the joystick surface texture, Nikon must have improved the joystick connection in the camera, because I have not heard of any reports of it falling off. The top-of-the-line Nikon cameras are usually very solid in construction, so I was rather surprised to see the poorly implemented joysticks that first appeared on the D4. Hopefully that was a good lesson learned for Nikon and we won’t see such problems again in the future. If you own a D4s and your joysticks come off, please report it in the comments section of this review and I will update this paragraph accordingly.
Handling-wise, the D4s is superb, with the exception of its heavy weight and bulk for those that hand-hold cameras a lot. At 1.2 kilos, the D4s is much heavier than the new Nikon D750, which only weighs 750 grams – and those figures are without the large EN-EL18a battery that weighs way more than the twice smaller EN-EL15. True, the D4s does yield a lot more shots than the D750 on paper, but that’s with a CIPA rating, which includes moderate live view and flash usage. Without flash, the D750 will probably yield at least half as many shots as the D4s. While I loved the image quality of my previous Nikon D3s, neither Lola nor I were happy with its weight when shooting those all day weddings, especially when coupling the camera with something like the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and a speedlight. My neck and my back would get sore by the end of the day with all that weight. Yes, I am comparing two different cameras with and without battery grips, but that’s the part that you have to figure out for yourself – if using a standard profile DSLR with a battery grip does not bother you, you will love the D4s. I personally quit using battery grips a while ago, because I prefer the smaller and lighter cameras for my style of shooting.
At the same time, the weight and bulk of professional camera bodies balance very well with long super telephoto lenses. This goes for both hand-held and tripod shooting. When mounting the D4s on a gimbal head, it balances easier than something like the D750 and you do not have to move the tripod leg to its tip just to get the balance right. Hand-holding something like the Nikkor 200-400mm f/4G with the D4s is also easier on your hands, because the setup is not front-heavy. Although Nikon has been redesigning their super telephoto line with lightweight fluorite elements, making them comfortable to use with lighter camera bodies, the older super telephoto lenses were all front-heavy.
Just like all other top-of-the-line Nikon DSLRs, the Nikon D4s does not come with a built-in flash. While this is done primarily for better weather-sealing, it is a definite disadvantage if you have been using a built-in flash in emergency situations or perhaps as a master to trigger off-camera speedlights. It does not come with an AF assist lamp either, so you will have to use the IR beam of your speedlight when focusing in extremely dark environments, as explained in this article.
One issue that popped up in the first D4s that I had on a loaner was a freezing / locking problem. When shooting at 11 fps continuous shooting mode, the camera would randomly freeze and refuse to work, with all controls unresponsive, except the shutter button. The top display would show a blinking “ERR” message. Removing the lens, battery, card would accomplish nothing and the only way to fix the issue was to press the shutter button again, which would reset everything back to normal. Judging by the noise, there must have been some sort of an issue with the mirror getting stuck when the camera malfunctioned. The issue was very random, but it did take place at least 3-4 times during the time we tested the D4s sample. Although Nikon later reported that some Lexar cards had problems with the D4s, this particular issue had nothing to do with that. We’ve tried using SanDisk CF and Sony XQD cards and the problem came back on practically every card we used. This particular issue was an isolated case related to the sample we were testing, since the second D4s sample did not have this issue.
John Sherman also reported autofocusing problems with his first D4s unit, which he exchanged for another one. His second unit also had some problems initially, but they disappeared after John updated firmware to 1.10 version.
6) Camera Menu Changes
While most of the menu settings on the D4s are the same as on the D4, there are a few changes that Nikon incorporated into the camera menu. The “PLAYBACK” menu stayed mostly the same and now there are two additional menu items: “Slide show” for making slideshows and “DPOF print order” for printing needs.
The “SHOOTING” menu has been reordered and reorganized a little. “NEF (RAW) recording” now contains “Image size” for shooting in full-size RAW (RAW L – 4928×3280 / 16.2 MP) and sRAW (RAW S – 2464×1640 / 4 MP). If you do not know what the sRAW format is for, it is explained in detail further down below.
The “CUSTOM SETTINGS” menu has new options: “A11: Limit AF-area mode selection”, where you can pick between Dynamic 9, 21, 51, 3D, Group and Auto-area AF, and “A12: Autofocus mode restrictions”, where you can pick between AF-S, AF-C and No restrictions. These two new settings are useful for those, that want to limit the number of choices to a few that they actually use. This is a great feature, because once you make the change, you do not have to toggle between all the focus modes on the camera that you never touch. For example, if you only shoot in Dynamic 9 and Group Area AF, you can pick those two and exclude everything else. When you press the focus selector button on the front of the camera and use the dial to scroll between the focus modes, now you will only see the options you picked – the rest will not even show up as an option. The same with restrictions – if you never use AF-S, you can restrict the camera to only AF-C mode, so you don’t have to worry about making accidental changes. Another new option is “Matrix metering” with Face detection, which I actually found to work pretty well when photographing people. Basically, if the camera identifies a face in a scene, it will prioritize the subject instead of the surrounding scene. For example, if you are photographing a person in a shadow area, the camera will calculate the exposure based on the person’s face, which might overexpose the brighter background.
The “Controls” sub-menu has a few new options as well. If you never shoot in Live View mode and want to turn it off completely, you can now select “Disable” under “Live view button options”. Another new ability is to be able to actually program the focus function buttons on select lenses that have them (available on expensive super telephoto lenses) – you can now program those buttons for AE/AF lock, AF-area mode, etc.
Under “SETUP” menu, you can now calibrate the rear LCD under “Monitor color balance”. So if you see any color issues like the “green tint” problem reported on some Nikon DSLR cameras previously, you can now adjust the screen to display colors properly. Some rearrangements have been also carried out in the SETUP menu – for example, “Network” for the built-in Ethernet port has been moved to the bottom of the menu, while the “GPS” menu option has been renamed to “Location data”.
7) XQD Memory Slot
One of the issues I had with the D4 was its memory card slots. The D4 was Nikon’s first experiment to try the faster XQD format memory. For backwards compatibility reasons, Nikon incorporated one CF and one XQD slot, which in my opinion became a real nuisance for proper workflow. I was really hoping that the D4s would have dual XQD slots, but Nikon decided to keep both CF and XQD formats again. Why mess with different card formats? Being a high-end professional camera, the D4s should have either had two CF card slots or two XQD card slots, but not one of each.
8) Image Sensor
Although the resolution of the camera at 16 MP might not sound as impressive as 36 MP by today’s standards, the sensor of the D4s (designed and manufactured by Nikon) has amazing pixel-level quality with very little noise – something that higher resolution sensors can only achieve when down-sampled / resized. Thanks to the low noise levels, the D4s’ native ISO sensitivity goes from ISO 100 to 25,600 and can be “boosted” all the way to staggering ISO 409,600 (although completely unusable at that speed). The smaller 16 MP resolution also allows the Nikon D4s to process images insanely fast, enabling continuous shooting speeds up to 11 frames per second.
Smaller files are easier and faster to post-process and can look great right out of the camera, something many sports shooters want when photographing live matches and submitting images during games. Because of this, many photographers like and prefer working with 16 MP images compared to 24 MP or 36 MP. At the same time, 16 MP cameras do not give as much room for cropping as higher resolution ones, so that’s their biggest disadvantage.
When it comes to noise levels / SNR, Nikon’s sensors perform very similarly, as long as images are normalized to the same resolution (which is the proper way to compare sensor performance).
Despite the increase of native ISO range by a full stop, the Nikon D4s seems to yield similar results as the D4, with no more than 2/3 of a stop difference at very high ISO settings. As I have written in other reviews and articles, we have pretty much hit the innovation wall in current CMOS sensor technology, so Nikon has been mostly optimizing the sensor output with better noise suppression algorithms. The biggest jump that we have previously seen on Nikon’s full-frame DSLRs was from the D3 to the D3s, where the latter was noticeably cleaner than its predecessor, by roughly 1.5 stops above ISO 1600. Since the D3s, we have not seen such changes in noise performance. Aside from higher resolution, the D4 did not offer significant changes in noise performance and the D4s does not either.
9) sRAW Format
The D4s was the first Nikon DSLR to ship with the sRAW format option. If you have never heard of the sRAW format, it is basically a down-sampled / down-sized version of the full RAW file to 1/4 the resolution. As you may already know, taking a large resolution file and down-sizing it in software results in reduced noise. In addition, this process also potentially hides such problems as camera shake and slight focus problems, because you are looking at a much lower resolution file. I decided to test the sRAW format in different scenarios and see how it compared to a RAW file. My research lead to the sRAW format explained article, where I shared disappointing results, showing that sRAW was in fact not a real RAW file, but rather an 11-bit processed (demosaiced) file with limited options. On top of this, losing 3/4 of the resolution on the D4s means that the camera can only capture sRAW files at mere 4 MP, which is just too little to be of practical use.
10) Autofocus Performance
Since the original D3 was released back in 2007, Nikon has been progressively updating the 51-point autofocus system in newer cameras. As a result, the Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus module has been going through a number of changes (some of which were rather significant), bringing faster and more accurate focus acquisition and tracking capabilities. The Nikon D4s shipped with an updated “Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX” autofocus system, which for the most part is not that much different than what the D4 had, except for one new feature – Group Area AF. Actually, Group Area AF is not a new feature. It existed back in the Nikon D200 and D2x days and used to be called “Group Dynamic AF”. The difference between the Group mode compared to Single or Dynamic modes, is that the Group mode activates several focus points simultaneously, instead of giving priority to one focus point and then tracking the movement with the surrounding focus points. If you do not understand what this all means, please read my article on Nikon Group Area Autofocus, where I explain how this mode works and what situations it is most suited for. A more extensive and generic article that discusses all focus modes of modern DSLRs might be useful to read as well.
If you are moving up from a D700, D3 or D3s camera, the D4s’ focus system has a lot to offer in comparison. The focus system is more sensitive to light, with the focus detection range expanded by a full stop from -1 EV to -2 EV. This not only opens up opportunities for focusing with slower lens + teleconverter combinations at smaller apertures than f/5.6, but it also makes every lens focus better and more accurately in low-light situations. On top of this, the new EXPEED 4 processor truly does make a difference in autofocus performance. As reported by John Lawson and Thomas Redd, the difference in autofocus speed and accuracy between the D4 and the D4s was quite noticeable, especially when actively tracking moving subjects. Everyone I know that moved up from the D4 to the D4s actually felt the difference too, reporting higher keeper rates with the D4s. How much higher? That’s a tough question to answer, because it is hard to quantify that due to the many variables involved. Thomas Redd, for example, reported between 10-15% faster performance, while others claimed as much as 30%. To me, the difference between the D4 and the D4s was as much as the difference between the D800 and the D810, which is significant – closer to the 30% mark I would say. John Bosley summed up his thoughts on the difference in his Nikon D810 for Weddings article and a number of others, including myself, reported similar results.
Here is what John Lawson had to say about the autofocus performance of the D4s when shooting a baseball game in low light:
I found a local baseball game one evening and decided to test the speed and accuracy of auto-focus on the D4S. This was by no means a torture test for the camera but the results were impressive nonetheless. Of the 769 shots taken during the game exactly 2 were out of focus, and I’m pretty sure they were my fault. One unforeseen challenge was how little light I had to work with. I shot wide open at f/4 on my 600mm and the ISO was up around 12800. The sample images have no noise reduction applied.
And here are some of the shots from that baseball game:
11) Metering and Exposure
What about metering and exposure accuracy? The Nikon D4s ships with the most advanced 91,000 pixel RGB sensor, so its metering performance is superb, whether shooting landscapes, portraits, sports or wildlife. This intelligent metering sensor allows the camera to properly expose scenes and subjects even in the most complex environments. Aside from the advanced scene recognition system that incorporates the new Group-area AF feature, the D4s also comes with a face recognition system that automatically prioritizes faces and skin tones when calculating proper exposure. As I have pointed out earlier, there is a new setting in the CUSTOM SETTINGS menu called “Matrix metering” that allows turning Face detection on and off. Once turned on, if the camera detects faces in a scene, it will expose for the subjects, rather than the brighter or darker background. I found this feature to be particularly useful when photographing weddings. With face detection turned on, I photographed newlyweds going from a sun-lit ceremony area to a pretty dark shade and I did not have to adjust my exposure settings – the camera did a wonderful job with keeping the couple properly exposed in both environments.
12) Continuous Shooting Speed
Although on paper the Nikon D4s only gained a single fps more than the D4 for continuous shooting speed with full time autofocus, Nikon actually used a brand new mirror balancer mechanism that reduces mirror bounce when the camera shoots at such high speeds. Why is this important? Because if the mirror bounces several times after each shot, the secondary mirror that communicates with the autofocus system will also bounce, making autofocus less reliable for continuous shooting. Remember, the secondary mirror is the key element that passes the light to the phase detection sensors located on the bottom of the camera chamber. See my article on how phase detection autofocus works and you will realize why this is important. How big is the difference? Take a look at the comparison of the mirror mechanism between the D4 and the D4s that was made by Nikon Europe:
Notice how the mirror bounces 3-4 times when it comes down on the D4 and only bounces twice on the D4s. That’s a pretty significant change, because if the secondary mirror is in position faster, the AF system can shoot and track subjects more accurately.
This means that the autofocus system performance boost that our team at Photography Life saw on the D4s could actually be a result of not just a faster processor, but also a superior mirror mechanism that allows for better tracking while shooting fast action scenes at 11 fps.
13) Battery Life
Many D3 and D3s owners were quite disappointed when they found out that Nikon changed the battery type on the D4 and made it smaller in terms of capacity. While the Nikon D3s could shoot well over 4 thousand images, the D4’s battery could only handle about 2600 shots (CIPA). That was due to the fact that the older EN-EL4a battery was rated at 2500mAh, while the EN-EL18 battery on the D4 was rated at 2000mAh. With the D4s, Nikon went back to using 2500mAh batteries, so the new EN-EL18a battery for the D4s can now extend the battery life to over 3 thousand shots. Now keep in mind that CIPA rating is based on camera usage with and without Image Playback and Live View, so if you have those turned off, you should have no problems squeezing over 4 thousand images out of the D4s.
14) Buffer Capacity
As I have already shown earlier, the buffer capacity of the Nikon D4s has been increased when compared to the D4. When shooting at 11 fps and 14-bit Lossless Compressed RAW format, the camera can handle a total of 78 images, which roughly equates to 7 seconds of continuous shooting. That’s a long time for capturing action and something no other Nikon DSLR can accomplish at that speed. If 7 seconds is not enough, you could switch to Compressed 12-bit RAW and you could shoot a total of 176 images, which is 16 seconds of continuous shooting. And if you want even longer shooting to perhaps make a high resolution movie at 11 fps, you could switch to JPEG and shoot until the card fills up!
To see a complete listing of Nikon DSLR camera buffers, see my Nikon DSLR buffer comparison article, where I list all current DSLR models with their shooting speed and buffer sizes for different image formats.
15) Movie Recording
The Nikon D4s is also quite an attractive camera for videographers as well. Thanks to the much faster EXPEED 4 processor, the D4s is capable of shooting high definition 1920×1080 videos at up to 60 frames per second. While HD at 60 fps has become pretty standard on many modern digital cameras, the Nikon D4s can do a few things that most other cameras cannot – output uncompressed video through its HDMI port and write video to a memory card simultaneously. On top of that, you can now actually select between different crop modes for shooting video (FX, DX, 2.7x Crop), with the 2.7x crop giving pixel-level quality from the sensor. Auto ISO can also now be set for video, which works the same way it does for stills by automatically adjusting the camera’s sensitivity depending on the brightness of the scene. Sadly, the Nikon D4s does not shoot 4K video, so Sony and Panasonic are ahead of the game in that regard.
16) Dynamic Range
Just like other modern Nikon sensors, the D4s has impressive dynamic range. While it is not as good as what the Nikon D810 can do, the D4s was measured at 13.3 EVs (total stops) by folks at DxOMark, placing the Nikon D4s at 29th spot among all tested cameras. In comparison, the Nikon D810 (which is currently the king of dynamic range) was measured at 14.8 EVs. With approximately a stop and a half of dynamic range difference, the D4s might look a bit weak compared to the D810, but if you factor in its resolution, the camera is actually ranked first among similar 16-18 MP full-frame cameras. So it is still the best camera in its class not only in noise performance, but also in dynamic range. Keep in mind that dynamic range drops rapidly as ISO is increased, so your best options for recovery will be at the ISO 100-800 range – anything beyond ISO 800 will decrease dynamic range dramatically, especially above ISO 1600.
Take a look at the below shot of a Great Horned Owl that John captured:
And see his notes on the bottom of the recovered image:
That’s pretty impressive for an action camera!
17) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
- White Balance: Custom
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Focusing was performed through Live-View Contrast Detect
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO NR: Off
- Active D-Lighting: Off
- Image Format: RAW, 14-bit Uncompressed
- Converted RAW images to TIFF using Nikon Capture NX-D 1.0.3 then imported into Lightroom 5.6 for cropping
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
- Cameras were mounted on the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
Let’s take a look at how the Nikon D4s performs at low ISOs. Here are some crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
As expected, the Nikon D4s produces very clean images at low ISOs – there is no visible difference in noise between ISO 100 and 800.
18) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-204800)
High ISO performance is a very important measure of DSLR sensor quality for low-light photography. Here is how the Nikon D4s performs at high ISO levels between ISO 1600 and 409600:
ISO 1600 introduces a hint of noise, but the image is still very clean. At ISO 3200, we see more noise being added in the image, especially in the shadows. Both are perfectly usable though, since there is no loss of color or details.
ISO 6400 is still very impressive despite the added noise throughout the image. There is virtually no chroma noise present, even in the dark shadows. The first hints of chroma noise appear at ISO 12800 though, which looks significantly worse than ISO 6400. Still, with a bit of down-sampling and noise reduction, one could get pretty impressive results even at ISO 12800.
Things get progressively worse from there. At ISO 25600, there are plenty of artifacts throughout the image, some of which can be automatically eliminated as part of RAW processing when imported into Lightroom (Capture NX-D does not map out hot pixels at high ISOs). Although ISO 25600 is already beyond my comfort level, I have seen some images shot at ISO 25600 that looked pretty darn good when cleaned up in post.
Anything above 25600 looks like trash due to heavy loss of colors, dynamic range and noise + artifacts.
And I cannot understand why Nikon even made ISO 409600 available – it is completely unusable and there is nothing you can do in post to clean it up.
19) ISO Performance Summary
As expected, the Nikon D4s produces very clean images at pixel level. There is practically no visible noise between ISO 100 and 1600 and images are perfectly usable all the way to ISO 12800 and sometimes even ISO 25600, especially once noise reduction is applied. Above ISO 25600 is where things look pretty bad, with a heavy loss of colors, details and dynamic range. The “boosted” ISO numbers are only somewhat usable below ISO 51200, if down-sampled and cleaned up. Anything higher than that is plain unusable. Personally, I would not hesitate to shoot from ISO 100 to 12800, but anything above that is outside of my comfort zone. When shooting with the D4s, I usually have it set to 12800 as “Maximum ISO sensitivity” under Auto ISO.
John Lawson did a test to see how much he can squeeze out from an ISO 25600 image. Take a look at the shot of a Great Horned Owl that he captured at night:
And below the cleaned up image, you will find his notes:
That’s a pretty aggressive use of noise reduction, but the end result is what matters – I love his cleaned up version of the owl! I don’t think I have ever seen a shot of a wild owl with bokeh highlights in the back…
It is hard to judge the performance of the Nikon D4s without direct comparison against other cameras, which is why you should definitely check out the next section of this review.
While testing the ISO performance of the Nikon D4s and the D4 in my lab, I realized that neither Capture NX-D, nor Adobe Camera RAW conversions were providing consistent results for proper evaluation of noise performance between the two cameras. I could not figure out why, but Capture NX-D was converting D4s images differently than the D4, with all settings being identical between the cameras. While Adobe Camera RAW / Lightroom did not apply adjustments and shots looked consistent between the two, the noise patterns look very different in Adobe, as I have previously mentioned. As a result, I decided to post images from both Capture NX-D and Adobe Camera RAW conversions for your viewing pleasure and assessment.
20) Nikon D4s vs D4 Low ISO Comparison (Capture NX-D)
If you look closely, you will realize that the images from the D4 look completely different than on the D4s – that’s the result of inconsistent conversion by Capture NX-D. Although the D4s conversion closely matched that of the D750 and D810, the D4 conversion looked completely different. I do not know the source of this problem, but I tested the same scenario several times and the output was the same.
Despite differences in colors and sharpness, the noise levels are practically identical between the two cameras at low ISOs.
21) Nikon D4s vs D4 High ISO Comparison (Capture NX-D)
While the noise performance between the two cameras is very similar at ISO 1600 and 3200, there are certainly subtle differences at ISO 6400, with the D4s performing a tad better. The same thing is observed at ISO 12800, where the D4s appears slightly cleaner in the shadows.
Things look pretty different at ISO 25600 and this is where I believe something odd is going on with the conversion in Capture NX-D. First of all, it is clear that NX-D is mapping hot pixels on the D4 and not doing it on the D4s. As a result, you see bright dots all over the D4s image, making the D4s appear worse.
However, once ISO is pushed to 51200, the situation is immediately flipped – now the D4s appears visibly cleaner, with less artificial color noise appearing in images.
And at ISO 102400 performance is again in favor of the D4s.
Lastly, although both cameras produce completely unusable files at ISO 204800, the image from the D4s looks a bit cleaner.
22) Nikon D4s vs D4 Low ISO Comparison (Adobe Camera RAW)
Now let’s take a look at how the cameras compare when RAW images are converted by Adobe Camera RAW / Lightroom:
The interesting thing is, all images for Capture NX-D and Adobe conversion are the same and yet the output is completely different. Adobe seems to be much more consistent than Capture NX-D in rendering of the RAW files and it is pretty clear here that the exposure and brightness from both cameras was identical.
As before, I cannot see any differences in noise performance between the two cameras at low ISOs.
23) Nikon D4s vs D4 High ISO Comparison (Adobe Camera RAW)
Again, ISO 1600 and 3200 look very similar on both cameras.
The same is true at ISO 6400 – I cannot see any difference. At ISO 12800, the D4s seems to have a slight edge over the D4, with slightly cleaner shadows and less artifacts.
At ISO 25600, the Nikon D4s appears a bit cleaner with smaller grain, but the difference is very subtle.
Pushing the cameras to ISO 51200, we can now see that the D4s definitely produces smaller grain, which produces cleaner shadows and shows slightly more details.
The same thing is observed at ISO 102400 and 204800, with the D4s appearing just a tad cleaner in comparison.
24) Nikon D4s vs D4 Summary
Whether you choose to convert RAW images with Capture NX-D or Adobe Camera RAW, it is pretty clear that the Nikon D4s does not offer significant advantages in terms of noise performance when compared to the D4. The difference that I can see is limited to 1/3 of a stop on behalf of the D4s and only at ISO 6400 and above, which is too little to truly matter. Nikon certainly did its best to provide the cleanest images possible from the D4s, but looks like we are pretty much maxed out in current CMOS technology. Despite the fact that Nikon raised the native ISO sensitivity by a full stop, there is certainly no full stop advantage on behalf of the D4s. The new ISO 409600 is nothing more than a marketing gimmick – it is completely unusable.
Now if you are wondering how images look at high ISO in real life, take a look at the below shots of a gray fox captured by John Lawson that showcase ISO 3200 through ISO 409600:
The above are obviously heavily down-sampled images that show performance at low web resolution. Here are 100% crops of the same shots (please save and view to see in full size):
A note from John:
I shot this gray fox one evening lit with a halogen floodlight. These are not flash exposures. I started with ISO 3200 and ramped all the way up to 409600, as high as the D4s will go – and clearly higher than it really ought to go :) The raw files have no adjustments applied (no noise reduction, no sharpening, etc.). I used my 200-400mm @ 300mm and f/4. Shutter speed varied with ISO.
Images are pretty impressive all the way to ISO 25600. Anything higher than that has too much noise and impacts sharpness greatly.
25) Nikon D4s vs D750 Low ISO Comparison
Let’s see how the D4s compares to the newly announced D750 (Converted with Capture NX-D):
Again, I do not see any differences in performance between the D4s and D750 at lower ISOs.
26) Nikon D4s vs D750 High ISO Comparison
ISO 1600 looks identical on both cameras.
The same goes for ISO 3200.
Aside from a few artifacts here and there, the D4S appears just a tad better in the shadow areas, but the difference is too small to matter.
Hard to say which one looks better, but I personally prefer the output from the D750.
And at ISO 25600, I also prefer the image from the D750 – less artifacts to see, although the amount of chroma noise on the D750 is a bit higher in the shadows.
Where the Nikon D4s clearly does better is ISO 51200, but that’s way beyond my comfort level anyway…
27) Nikon D4s vs D750 Summary
Based on the above comparison, I can say that Nikon’s 16 MP sensor does not offer any practical advantage over higher resolution 24 MP sensors, aside from smaller files. As I have said before, it looks like we have reached the innovation wall with the current CMOS sensor technology and Nikon is simply using smarter noise reduction methods on its newer generation 16 MP, 24 MP and 36 MP cameras. For me personally, the usable ISO range with any modern camera is around 100-6400 (with occasional max ISO 12800) and that’s where the D750 delivers, even when compared to the $6500 D4s.
28) Nikon D4s vs D810 Low ISO Comparison
Once again, both cameras look practically identical from ISO 100 to 800. The Nikon D810 obviously looks sharper due to the down-sampling algorithm, but the noise levels are practically the same.
29) Nikon D4s vs D810 High ISO Comparison
ISO 1600 looks pretty similar, but the D4s seems to be a tad cleaner in the shadows.
We can see similar behavior at ISO 3200, with very little difference between the two.
When ISO is increased to 6400, the D810 seems to produce a bit more chroma noise in the shadows and we can now see some traces of artifacts.
The same behavior occurs at ISO 12800, where the D4s seems to produce slightly cleaner images.
Although ISO 25600 is already beyond my comfort zone on the D810, the comparison is still an interesting one to look at. Seems like the D810 shows a lot more chroma noise, especially in the shadows.
Lastly, at ISO 51200, it is pretty clear that the D4s performs much better overall, retaining more details, colors and dynamic range.
30) Nikon D4s vs D810 Summary
As we have seen a number of times before, the super high 36 MP resolution sensor is very capable at lower ISOs, making very clean images when down-sampled / resized to 16 MP. This is certainly true from ISO 100 all the way to ISO 3200. However, once you push ISO to 6400 and above, the D810 starts losing in dynamic range and noise levels, producing more chroma noise and artifacts. At ISO 12800 and above, the D810 loses by about a full stop in noise performance when compared to the D4s. What does this all mean? If you find yourself shooting a lot at ISO 6400 and higher, the D4s would be a better candidate than the D810 due to its cleaner handling of noise.
Despite the fact that the Nikon D4s does not offer significant advantages in image quality when compared to the D4, Nikon incorporated a few important changes to the D4s that make the flagship camera noticeably better than its predecessor. The biggest change is in the autofocus department – thanks to the much faster EXPEED 4 processor and the newly designed mirror mechanism, autofocus performance is certainly better and more reliable, especially when tracking fast-moving subjects. Our team collectively came to the conclusion that images resulting from the D4s definitely have a better keeper rate than the D4. Although it is hard to quantify the difference in numbers, our numbers ranged between 10% on the low-end to as much as 30% for actively tracking subjects – a rather significant change for an action camera. Combined with its huge buffer, autofocus improvements, better battery life and various firmware improvements, the D4s is, without a doubt, Nikon’s best action camera to date.
However, this does come at a cost – at $6,500, the D4s is not a small pill to swallow for most photographers out there. Nikon has been raising the price of its flagship DSLR with every update and the D4s is now the second most expensive camera in Nikon’s history after the D3x. While the price is certainly a limiting factor, Nikon knows that those who shoot sports, news or wildlife professionally, or have deep pockets, will still end up getting the D4s, because it pushes their limits even further and unlocks more possibilities. Sadly, with Nikon intentionally crippling its lower-end cameras with slower frame rates and smaller buffer capacities, and refusing to release a high-end DX update, the current budget-friendly options are rather limited. On the lower-end of the scale we have the 24 MP Nikon D7100 DX camera at 6 fps, with its puny 6 RAW image buffer that does not last more than a second before the buffer fills up. Next, we have the 24 MP Nikon D750 FX camera, which shoots a tad quicker at 6.5 fps and can fit about 15 images in its buffer, giving less than 3 seconds of continuous shooting time. Lastly, we have the resolution monster, the 36 MP Nikon D810 FX camera, with a 5 fps shooting speed and a more respectable 28 RAW image buffer. So for a sub $3,500 budget option, the choice is currently limited to either lower megapixel cameras with small buffers, or a high resolution camera that has a workable buffer. It is pretty clear that Nikon does not want its lower-end cameras to compete in any way with the D4s…
Overall, like its predecessors, the D4s is an amazing camera – a work of art on its own, built to serve for many years. It might not be of great value with its steep price, but it is not a camera for everyone to begin with. Those who buy such fine tools as the D4s know their needs and they know very well that they can rely on Nikon’s best.
32) Where to buy and availability
The Nikon D4s is available at B&H Photo Video for $6,496.95 and is currently in stock (as of 10/26/2014).
33) More image samples
All Images Copyright © Nasim Mansurov, John Lawson, John Sherman, Thomas Redd and Robert Andersen. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission.
- Build Quality
- Focus Speed and Accuracy
- Image Quality
- High ISO Performance
- Size and Weight
- Metering and Exposure
- Movie Recording Features
- Dynamic Range
- Weather Sealing
Photography Life Overall Rating