Sunday, March 9, 2014

Nikon D4 vs D4s: is the New Camera Worth the Extra Money?

D4s ('s' for 'stopgap')or D4: which should I buy? That's a hard question to answer as Nikon recently announced the D4s, the new top of the line dSLR in its lineup, which builds upon the 'multimedia' D4, announced back in 2012. The individual areas of improvements over its predecessor are small but, according to Nikon, together, they were enough to warrant the creation of a new model. So, is the D4s, priced $500 more than the D4, worth the cost of an upgrade?

Well, let's see.

For starters, there is the sensor and processor itself. While still having the same 16Mp resolution as the D4, Nikon claims the D4s has a new sensor. As an aside to speculation, there's no word if it shares the same chip that the retro DF uses or an even newer chip. To accommodate the new chip and increase in continuous drive as well as the buffer, Nikon has developed a new processor, the Expeed 4, which Nikon claims ha a 30% processing power advantage over the D4. As a last improvement, the D4s has a H4 ISO setting, which translates into a jaw-dropping ISO 409,600, which looks good on a spec sheet but like crap in real life.

Oh yes, I've never played with the D4s but have had enough cameras to know that the top 2, or even top 3 ISO settings are always various levels of unusable.

To make use of all of the above, Nikon has improved the AF system, too. As a base, Nikon used the proven Multi-CAM 3500 FX AF sensor incorporated in the D4 but has recalibrated the AF algorithms for even faster, more accurate focus. As something new, the D4s has a Group AF mode that utilizes five AF points to assist the main point in achieving focus. This improved AF (along with processor) was one of the reasons that Nikon decided to up the continuous drive at full-frame to 11fps.

Outside the camera, workflow speed can be an issue, and is one that Nikon has addressed with the D4s. Feeling bogged down by massive RAW files? Well, no more with the D4s as Nikon has included a Small RAW option wherein one can shoot RAW pictures at approximately half the full resolution. File transmission speed an issue? When connected via LAN, users can now transmit files using Gigabit Ethernet (1000 Base-T LAN), which promises a huge boost in transfer speed. As an added plus, Nikon has reworked the D4S to be remarkably power-efficient. Thanks to the development of a new EN-EL18a Lithium-Ion battery, the D4S can go up to 3,020 shots (CIPA rating) shots in single mode and 5,960 shots (Nikon testing) in continuous mode on a single battery.

My take: if Nikon was worried about workflow, it should just have added wi-fi capability. Look for thus feature on the D5.

On the video front, Nikon has been hard at work as well. For starters, the D4s is capable of streaming uncompressed video via HDMI at up to the new rate of 60fps at 1080p HD. Additionally, the D4s can simultaneously stream to an external recorder via HDMI and record on its memory card at the same time, too. In the past, Nikon has allowed for shooting video with a crop mode, but only now has the company created a setting to view (in Live View Mode) the actual view as will be recorded by the camera. For anyone liking to do time-lapse videos, Nikon claims the D4s can do the transition from one shot to the other with extreme smoothness.

As for mechanical touches, the D4s has been tested to 400,000 shutter cycles and the mirror mechanism has been redesigned to minimize viewfinder blackout, too. Lastly, the LCD has the ability to auto adjust its brightness for a given amount of ambient light.

So, is the D4s worth it?

My advice here is to look at what kind of photography you do as even all pros won't be needing these new features. If you will be using your camera to make a living, ask yourself a question: will the new features on the D4s help me make money? If yes, by all mean buy it. If no, don't bother. As for all the serious hobbyists out there, with there being no revolutionary changes, save up and wait for the D5, which should bring bigger changes as the odd numbered D# line models have tended to be a lot more groundbreaking in their improvements than the even numbered ones.

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