The New Nikon D4s…

For a photographer, getting a new camera can be a tough yet exciting thing.  Really it only happens once every so often, kind of like buying a Car.  (At the Nikon D4s Price tag of $6500, it’s eerily like buying a car actually…).  I don’t remember who said it to me first, but it has still held true through all the years that you Date your cameras but you Marry your lenses.  When it’s time to upgrade your camera you can’t be too attached to the old one, because the newer ones are always better than the older ones and if you’re going to stay relevant in this world of photography; sometimes you need to spend the money to upgrade.  I personally leapfrog bodies.  Until I got my D4s I was using a Nikon D3 and D4 for my photography.  When I decided to buy the D4s, the D3 is the camera that was sold.  Selling old gear is an easy way to help afford new gear and unless you’re super attached to something for some reason, you should be ready to dump the old for the new when it’s time.  You can do this to save yourself money and to keep your gear up to date at the same time!  I like to take my gear to Roberts Camera where I buy about 95% of my gear where they put my gear into the Used Photo Pro stuff.  When I buy used gear I buy it from them because it comes with a 6 month Warranty.  I digress though.  When using a camera everybody is different but one thing that lots of people have asked since I bought the D4s is this: “Is it worth it?”.  What a great question, and there are going to be a lot of points in this blog to answer it, so keep reading.


Before I get into anything I should mention I’m not paid for this review (which I have already agreed to be re-posted on Robert’s Camera’s blog).  I have been paid by Roberts Camera in the past, but I host workshops with their Education program.  This is not part of that in any way.  Simple as that.  There will be positives and negatives about the Nikon D4s camera in this review but it is all my OPINION.  If you don’t like my opinion that’s fine, I probably still like you.  That’s how opinions work.  There will probably also be quite a few grammatical errors and misspellings as well.  Just fore-warning anybody reading it now.  Now that the disclaimer part is out of the way, lets do this.


(Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Taken the old Fashioned way… With a Tripod.
(Nikon D4s, 100ISO, Nikon 24-70F2.8N@34mm.  13 Seconds @F14.  Manfrotto Tripod and head)

As I said in my Nikon D4 review two years ago I’ve owned lots of Nikon flagship Camera bodies.  I shot Canon (which I was provided) when I worked for the Indianapolis Star, so I’m very familiar with their lineup but yet I still bought Nikon for myself.  Not to say Canon is bad, because that’s blatantly not true.  I’ve always just preferred Nikon the way that I shoot.   With that, I’ve never thought anything was wrong with any Nikon Camera that I’ve owned until the next one has come out.  When I had my D2x I couldn’t figure how they would have improved the Autofocus with the D3.  But they did.  When the D4 replaced the D3s, it was the same as it is now with the D4s replacing the D4.  I didn’t think my D4 did anything poorly or wrong until I got the D4s in my hands.  Not to say that the D4 does things poorly or wrong, it just does them differently.  A good way to describe this would be to say that the D4s is a very optimized version of the D4.  All of the technology has been fully realized inside of the D4 and now is operating at it’s full potential.  It’s kind of like when the Original Xbox came out all those years ago and the games looked good, but 5 years later the games looked 1000 times better even though it was the same console using the same hardware.  Things get refined as time goes, and technology’s true potential is unlocked as new technologies are developed.  This is absolutely the case with the Nikon D4s in that while it’s still very much a D4; this one has been washed, waxed, and has a brand new Corvette engine under the hood.


(Nikon D4s, 320ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR2@122mm.  1/250th@F5.6.  Two Paul C Buff Einsteins with Sport Reflectors set up to light the track set to 1/4 power.  Lights triggered via Pocket Wizard Plus X Transceivers from on the camera Hot shoe)

If you look at the straight nerd numbers the Nikon D4 and D4s have the same hardware running the Autofocus.  The Multicam 3500FX platform.  I am not exactly sure what that means, but I know my D2x had the Multicam 2000 in it, so I’m guessing that bigger numbers are better.  Nikon says that the D4s’s autofocus is faster than the D4, and I wondered how that could be.  As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t exactly have lots of problems with my D4 the way that it is.  The real difference is the Expeed 4 processor in the D4s which is supposedly 30% faster than the Expeed 3 in the D4.  Essentially Nikon is making the most out of what they already had, which is smart.  That means that the D4s does not acquire focus any faster than the D4 did, nor does its initial accuracy in low light situations increase.  It does however do more thinking every second, which means that while things are moving and the camera grabs focus IT STAYS THERE.


(Nikon D4s, 1250ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR with TC20eIII Extender for a total of 800mm.  1/1600th@F8)

I really love the new Group Area AF.  It basically takes 5 points and uses them to grab and track whatever you’re shooting.  I never felt as though my D4 was deficient in tracking using the 9 Point AF-C by any stretch. I am only accustomed to assuming that all cameras miss a frame from time to time while shooting a 8-12 fps sequence.  I’ve seen it with any Nikon or Canon body that I’ve ever used, including the 1Dx.  I’m sure that the D4s is capable of missing focus from time to time, but it’s a lot more rare now.  It used to be that right in the  middle of a sequence you would have a frame or two that would be just slightly out of focus (or in Canon’s case wildly out of focus) and then it would snap back into sharp for the rest of the sequence.  This is no longer the case with the D4s, especially not with the New Group AF.  (For clarification; I was using my Go To settings for team sports on my D4s, which you can read more about in this blog post from last year.)  So I said that the D4s is essentially the same hardware, so you may be wondering why this works better?  It’s the Expeed 4.  It’s gotta be.  It’s a lot faster, so it’s doing a lot more Autofocusing every second than the Expeed 3 could.  In computers, two years is more than a lifetime.  Nikon knows this, and that’s why they do a refresh of their flagship with the ‘s’ moniker every two years.


(Nikon D4s, 1800A-ISO, Nikon 24-70F2.8N@70mm.  1/320th@F22)

So now anybody reading this is wondering when I’m going to get to High ISO and Image quality.  (Assuming you didn’t Command+F when you got to this page to jump right to it).  Nikon Touts that there is a 1 stop advantage in High ISO to the D4s over the D4.  They are right, and they aren’t.  Years and Years ago, as I recall the story, Kodak hired some scientists someplace (they probably all looked like Doc Brown) to determine the best resolution for a Digital camera sensor.  To that recollection Kodak decided that 11-12 Megapixels was the Sweet spot in terms of resolution for the size of the pixels in the sensor to best absorb light and digitally record a scene in in almost any light.  When the D4 came out people were upset because it was supposedly only “As Good” as the D3s in terms of High Iso when viewed at 100%.  Yes, it was “As Good”, but it was also at 33% higher resolution than that 12 megapixel maximum that Kodak projected years ago.  That means in reality if you sized the D4 images down from 16 to 12 megapixels, you easily got another stop of High ISO out of it.  I’ve never hesitated when I’ve needed to push my D4 up to 12k ISO, and have even, on occasion, pushed it up to 25,600 with very acceptable results.  The shot below is of Roofus the stray cat that I made while shooting birds in our back yard.  We call him Roofus because he likes to sit on our roof and look in the window at us, but I digress.  To get started, this is a full resolution frame at 25,800ISO in good healthy light outside.  I wouldn’t be a halfway decent photographer if I didn’t have a cat photo in this review. (Duh).  Secondly, I would normally crop into this image a little bit on the top, but then it wouldn’t be a full resolution image now would it?


(click to ultra biggify to 100%) Roofus at 25k.
(Nikon D4s, 25,600ISO, Nikon 400mmF2.8VR with TC20eIII making 800mm.  1/2000th@F6.3)

With the Nikon D4s, I feel as though there is some good AND bad news when it comes to High ISO.  The good news is that the D4s does indeed provide 1 stop better High ISO than the Nikon D4, but maybe not in the way that you expect.  When you’re shooting at 25,600ISO you have to assume that the camera is going to make up some information and there WILL be grain.  I mean, come on, in the image of the street below I was shooting hand held in the dark.  Grain is in fact the sensor making up information, which is why detail is lost and ect.  If you are looking to buy a Nikon D4s and assume that 12,800ISO is equal to the D4 at 6400 you might be a bit disappointed.  Nikon D4s’s images are 1 stop better actual quality throughout the range but the actual grain still remains at about the same level between the cameras.  You may be saying; wait, the grain is the same but the pictures are better? How?  Well, the Expeed 4 processor has done quite a bit to wrangle noise, and in quite a few cases there is a noise improvement, but where the Expeed 4 really stands out is in what it does for color depth, tonal range, and the kind of grain you will find in your images.   Where the D4 favored less grain over detail, the D4s maintains the level of grain, but increases the level of detail.


(Nikon D4s, 25,800ISO, 1/20th@F2.8.  Nikon 24-70F2.8N@55mm shot hand held with only minor editing in Photoshop CC)

I shot the frame above coming home from shooting a video at the NCAA Tournament of a reporter from the Detroit Free Press (more on video in a bit).  It was a hand held snap.  While there is still grain in the image at 100% crop; look a all the color that’s still there!  That frame would have equaled somewhere between 400 and 800ISO on my Nikon D2x back in 2005 (assuming the D2x was having a good day and the frame was lit really well).  Plus look at the fact that you can still read the “St Joseph St” on the street sign even at this lower resolution saved at a level 9 in photoshop!  That’s what the Expeed 4 is doing, and that’s what’s giving he D4s it’s claim to a 1 stop better High ISO.  Lets jump a few stops….. below is a photo of my Friend Tom at 102,400ISO with a 100% crop view.  You can see that at normal web viewing size, the noise is acceptable, but at 100% you lose a lot of detail.  Regardless, I’d have NEVER taken my D3s or D4 out to 102,400ISO.  The D4s though, makes me think that there may be life that far out into space.

_M4S0791(Tom with detail at 100k ISO….Click to biggify)

The Nikon D4s is capable of an expanded range of ISO’s up to 409,600+ ISO.  This is in the expanded range, which means once you pass 25,600, it reads H1, H2, H3, and H4.  Honestly Nikon should have had the back LCD read WTF instead of H4 when it got to that point.  In my opinion 409,600 ISO is completely unusable under any circumstance.  This is a shot of  Tom at that setting.


 H4, or 409,600ISO is Nikon just going for Bragging rights over the 1Dx.  Click this for the full size image because you obviously have trouble seeing the grain in this smaller one….

(If you’re wondering it was shot with the Nikon D4s, 409,600ISo, Nikon 24-70F2.8N@24mm.  1/8000th@F10)

Lets face it; this is a golden age for photography.  If you would have told someone 15 years ago that Nikon would produce a camera with a useable 25,600ISO, that would let you shoot handheld in the dark they would have laughed and said they hope they live to see the day.  That day is here.  I did have a theory, that the Noise Reduction would be better on Jpeg images with the Expeed 4 than on RAW images.  That remains somewhat inconclusive because while the jpeg images seemed slightly cleaner out of the camera, but they had more color related noise as well as had quite a bit less latitude to work with in post.


(Another (slightly cropped) full res image at 51,200ISO under crummy Florescent lights)

(Nikon D4s, 51,200ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR2@200mm.  1/5000th@F3.5)

While you can see in the shot above, when the light is crummy the noise can be crummy as well. The noise is very useable, but at 100% you’re missing details.  Someplace that doesn’t really matter as much is with Video.  Not all photographers do video, but I can tell you when it comes to video this camera is equally a video camera as it is a still camera.  I am personally a big fan of Corey Rich’s photography and he is doing a launch video for this camera for Nikon.  He followed around Dave Black, Robert Beck, and George Karbus and did video of them doing what they do best.  Shooting action sports.  Those guys are good, check out their work.  My video experience wasn’t to that level of setup and intensity; however mine was as any news shooter’s would be.  Last minute, and working with what I had.

That video was shot using nothing but street lights on my Nikon D4s set to 1/30th, F4 at 16,000ISO.  Audio was recorded with  Sennheiser G3 lav mic, which fed directly into the Stereo jack on the D4s (which is also why the sound only comes out of one channel. The file is straight out of the camera).  If you shoot a lot of video.  This thing is a game changer.  While it doesn’t shoot at 4k, most devices can still only display at 1080P anyway.  I haven’t pushed it, but I would imagine that even 51,600ISO (Maybe even 102,400) is very useable at HD video size.  This is certainly going to take film making to a whole new level.

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 10.07.42 PM(If you can’t make that youtube link large enough, try clicking on the screencap)

So wow.  That’s been a lot of info, in not a lot of time.  Well, not a lot of time for you, at the time that I’m to this part of the review my wordpress has informed me I’m on 44 revisions.  I suppose the conclusion from my initial question above is YES.  Is the D4s worth it?  YES.  Yes it is.  To each their own, but I find the added features of the D4s camera to be worth the money to get it.  The video aspect of it, as well as the extra speed and processing inside the body will go greatly over the next few years where it is my primary camera shooting everything from landscapes, portraits, and product, to sports of all kinds.  The Extra dynamic range and detail inside the High ISO does indeed stand up to Nikon’s claim of 1 stop better High ISO, and I look forward to how that is going to impact my photography.  I had my NPS allotment sent to Roberts Camera here in Indy where I buy most of my gear, and you should too; because they are great people.  They are always ready and willing to help me solve a problem and on one occasion I had someone on their staff bring me things on location in a bind; without asking them to do it.  It’s that kind of extra mile that makes me shop there, over and over again.  They are good Great people, and I always try to push great people.  Get your links below.  Mores Soon.

Nikon D4s Preorder