Saturday, January 7, 2012

Nikon D4 vs. D3/D3s: Should I Buy One or Wait for the D5?

The D4 is quite a camera, but it's not revolutionary like the D3.

Yesterday, Nikon announced its D4 dSLR, which the company labeled as 'multi-media' thanks to its much enhanced video capability. So, now that the 4 ½ year-old D3 is finally has a replacement (the D3s was a D3 with video), is the D4 a camera worth buying?

When looking at the spec sheet of the D4, one immediately notices one thing:
a lot has not changed 
from the D3s.

UPDATE: See how the D4 stacks up against the Canon 1Dx

Now, what does this mean for Nikon?

Answer: the battle for the 4
generation of pro digital cameras will come down to the high-resolution models that both Nikon and Canon have yet to launch.

When the Nikon D3 came out in fall, 2007, it completely blew away the Canon 1D Mark III in itself. Then, factor in the AF problems found on the Canon and the stupid 1.3x crop factor and, in one stroke, Nikon had, for the first time in 2 decades, a body that the pros really wanted. Want proof? Look at the photographer areas at sporting events. Before the D3, there used to be mostly white Canon glass. Now? There's a healthy mix of white Canons and black Nikkors. When Canon launched the 1D Mark IV in 2009, the, at the time, 2-year old D3 was still, in the eyes of many, overwhelmingly superior thanks to its larger sensor and better low-light performance. Then, throw in the just-announced D3s (a D3 with even higher ISO and video) and, guess what, Canon looked pretty antiquated.

Then came October, 2011 and
the Canon 1Dx, a high-speed, FF pro model designed to go head-to-head with Nikon's aging D3 line. On paper, the Canon 1Dx was extremely formidable, being the first do it all Canon camera as it combined high resolution (18Mp), the ability to shoot high speed (12fps), and full HD video capabilities (something the band-aid D3s couldn't do). Now, with the first real competition in years, Nikon had to pull out all the stops to keep its place in the Sun.

And what did they deliver? Yesterday's lunch (a D3/D3s) warmed over.

In the end, the debate of whether one should buy a D4 comes down to one simple question: how important is video? If video makes up a substantial part of your camera usage,  preorder a D4 right now before the “line” gets too long. If you are mainly a still shooter the D3/D3s is still a formidable camera that should allow you to happily keep clicking away until the D5 comes out, probably sometime in 2015.

As for who's king of the hill right now, it's hard to say. Both Nikon and Canon have pretty much equal high speed pro cameras (D4 and 1Dx) and an aging stable of other high-end cameras, most notably the big Mp flagship models (D3x and 1Ds Mark III). Also of note are the ancient (in digital terms) Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mark II, both 2008 releases though hardly direct competitors. Going older, both Nikon and Canon are still listing the D300s (Nikon) and 50D (Canon) on their websites, despite both being essentially made obsolete by 'lesser,' cheaper models (D7000 and 60D, respectively).

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see what both companies pull out of their sleeves in the coming months, especially now that both have put their cards on the table in the high speed pro market segment.

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