The Nikon D4 (a year later…)

Almost a year ago two things happened that totally changed my world.  The first and most importantly being a little over a year ago, my engagement to Shannon; the love of my life.  For now though we are going to keep it photo related because this is primarily a photography blog, and because we’ll revisit that again soon since we’re getting married right around the corner in May.  The Photo related thing that happened a little under a year ago is the purchase of my Nikon D4.  I happened to be in the first batch of NPS allotted cameras sent to Roberts Camera that came with the XQD Card reader and card.  Got the call, traded in my D3s, and haven’t thought back about it since.  Really if I can name one piece of gear from 2012 that stands out, it was my D4.  Not to say that the gear matters, but damn; this camera is something else.  That’s why we are going to take a look back.

Shot that last year at the state fair, could the D3 or D3s have gotten it?  Absolutely, in fact Shannon’s D7000 probably could have taken a nice version of it too.  Nice bright sunny day, but for seems like the first time I don’t recall one frame being out of focus.  At all actually.  Wanted to get more peak action above the Coliseum sign, but the ramp was at such an angle that there was a telephone pole blocking out some of the letters, and this was the best angle I could get.  Shot this during a break in the storm clouds, as that day had some nice sunny skies, mixed with some really nasty clouds.  In fact I was supposed to cover the Hot air Balloon launch that night but it was cancelled due to weather.  Bummer.

Shot that at a high school football game last year while watching my friend James Willis’s son play.  For re-peat readers, yes I was at the superbowl too; but not in the game due to an unfortunate timekeeping issue with the Indystar.  Anyway, as I said in my original D4 review; every Nikon camera I’ve owned has been the best camera I’ve ever owned.  A year later, this camera doesn’t change that even though I’ve learned a few more things about it since I got it; including things like the removal of ‘Lock’ button on top of the command dial on the top left of the camera.  The fact that this is  missing; annoys me greatly.  Many don’t realize that the little “L” on the top of the camera will allow the photographer to lock the Shutterspeed and/or the aperture in place while in Manual Mode.  It’s easy to walk around and change your settings, only to lift your camera and miss the shot because you’re shooting in broad daylight at F2.8 1/30th of a second.  Nice white frames for sure.  It’s an easy fix as you can make one of your function buttons the lock, but then you give up one of the function buttons.  Your call on that one.

You can learn a lot about a camera at just over 40k clicks.  I know that my original assessment was that the D4 was better to auto-focus in low/awful light; and that was absolutely spot on.  That’s especially with  my fast (F1.4) Primes.  That shot above was with the 24F1.4 back lit horribly while using a speedlight to reveal Brier and her husband to be.  My D3 and D3s always made me wonder a little with the focus in awkward light; but not my D4.  Low light, back light, bright light makes no difference it’s where it needs to be.  This camera has been there for me for the last year and it hungers for more.  Not only does it do what I want it to do; but it’s fast at it too.

Shot that on top of a parking garage last year (as should be evident by the concrete wall).  I had hoped for a more epic sky when this shoot was planned out as there had been much more epic skies out there almost every night prior to this one; but this is what was there the day of the shoot.  You can verify that with this test shot from a few days prior taken with my iPhone.  One thing the D4 can’t do is make something appear more epic than it actually is, like with the sky above.  White cars are exceedingly difficult to photograph too, in fact I’m planning on making arrangements to try this shoot again since it didn’t quite come out close to how I had hoped.  I guess that’s where the photographer matters more than the gear anyway right?  I had to use a bunch of my Formatt HiTech Graduated ND filters for that shove above, and the camera focused through the ND filters in low light for that frame as the sun was setting.  Light was low enough I’d venture to guess the D3 would have had a little trouble, but not the D4.  I’ve used my ND filters lots of times on my Canon 5D Mark II, and it just won’t grab focus.  The D4 does with no problems.  Speaking of things that other cameras can’t do (actually at the time of this writing NO other camera can do this); the D4 has an XQD card slot.  Lot of Skepticism over this considering that no other camera uses these, but there’s got to be a market out there since Lexar announced and has released their line of XQD cards.  That besides the point; the XQD cards are fast enough that I’m hooked.  I did a test after I got the camera.  As I recall at 10fps, I was able to get to 82 RAW+L-JPEG before I filled the buffer; then roughly 3 seconds later I had enough clear to blast away a little more.  I never shoot like that, in fact not even remotely close; it’s just nice to know that you can sometimes though right?   I’ve got one in my D4 every time I’m out “Capturing moment like they are endangered species” as Shannon likes to put it.

David and Stacy got married yesterday in what was a beautiful day for both of them.  Lots of shots in brightly lit areas, and a few in some not so brightly lit ones.  They had a beautiful venue named Laurel Hall which is now owned by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity but was previously a mansion belonging to the Lilly family here in Indianapolis, so it was pretty epic.  In low light and autofocus the D4 can’t be beat as far as I’m concerned.  I haven’t spent any great amount of time with the Canon 1DX, or the Canon 5D Mark III, but personally I think that the 16mp files are the sweet spot in terms of High ISO noise to go along with it.   That being said, another area where the D4 really shines is video.  I’ve shot quite a few videos with the D4 to this point, and the implementation of the video to this SLR is right where it needs to be.  I’ve had a little trouble with the video record button up by the shutter release, as it’s where the mode button used to be; but that’s minor.  Here’s a video I did last year using primarily the D4.

I’d have loved to put up a much newer video that I produced using the D4, but unfortunately it is yet to be released and I can’t scoop my publisher.  Keep your eyes open for the Adventuress stories at the Indystar though.  Most of the Adventuress videos that I have shot were with the D4, and can easily say that I prefer to use it over my Canon 5D2.  Supposedly the D800 is aimed more at video shooters. I don’t know as I don’t own one and only have a limited experience with the one my friend Brad owns.

So how am I going to tie this all up you ask?  With that shot above.  That photo is a test shot for this one of Stacy and David that I posted on my facebook page last night.  Good friend Mike Guio was back in town from Seattle as David’s Best Man and he couldn’t help but be part of some photo sheneganry.  Nikki has worked with David in various Indy Fashion Wrap up projects and both of which were eager to oblige as models in a test shot.  The shot is pretty close to straight out of camera, but I was pleased with it to say the least.  David really wanted a shot on the stairs and I told him to give me a few minutes.  This is what Mike and I came up with.  Ambient light in this location was 1/100th, F2.8 at 25,000ISO.  3 speedlights later we had the shot above at 1/80th F5 at 800.

The D4 has definitely kept Nikon’s tradition of keeping the furthest reaches of creativity in the hands of photographers.  When I use my D4, I feel like there is no photo I can’t make without a little bit of planning or work.  That’s the way it should be.  Any camera is going to be different than the last one, and there will always be changes that annoy you going from one camera to another.  That’s the nature of change.  A year later and I haven’t sold my D4 for two D800’s which is what I thought I would do if I didn’t like it, and to me that’s a big sign that the D4 is the right camera for me.  I never have any doubts about it’s capabilities when I am using it, and when I’m done shooting one project it’s always  ready to come back for more.  If I could afford several more of them I’d have bought them already.  In fact, my experiences with the camera have even pushed others like my friend Mike from Hilton Head to make the jump; and he had a D800 to start with!  Since Mike traded up he hasn’t looked back either, and who can blame him?  The D4 is just that good.  I’m still interested in a D800 with it’s 36 mind bending megapixels even though I have yet to actually put one through it’s paces.  I wouldn’t get rid of a camera for a D800 though, it would be to add to the gear instead of cycling out like I’ve done the last several cameras I’ve owned.  Before I can buy one though I’ve got something and someone much more important to spend the money on.  May 4th is closing in quickly.  I’ll tell you what; I’ve done a lot of neat things for work, for fun and otherwise.  I’m looking forward to my wedding in May more than anything.  That’s how I know it’s right for me too.  More soon.