The D4, Nikon’s new flagship DSLR camera, was just announced last month. This camera is an update to the Nikon D3s. It has the same resolution as the D7000 16.2 megapixels, but has more speed and durability than the D7000. Also it is has full frame FX sensor as opposed to the 2/3 frame DX sensor of the D7000. While full frame is usually considered better, it is actually highly debatable. While many new cameras do seem to be moving in that direction, and it is of course no surprise that this $6,000 top of the line camera would of course have it, it is interesting that the resolution is exactly the same as the D7000 has in the DX sensor. For some this modest resolution boost (especially in light of the D800’s leap to 36.2 megapixels) may come as a slight disappointment, but for most print needs the resolution is enough.
Full frame only means that the digital sensor is the same size as a 35mm film frame. With technology advances which control noise much better some of the 2/3 sensors are actually better than previous generation full frame sensors in many respects. The 2/3 sensor also allows greater resolution in many instances when using the telephotos lens, which means that if you need the extra reach the 2/3 frame sensor can help. The full frame does add benefits, but it is a little silly to think that full is in someway the same as whole, because there are larger sensor sizes still in medium format systems, and many people are simply not interested in them because the larger size doesn’t offer that much more for the price. Often times the reasons for the higher price of these sensors is that it takes more to make chips that size.
Accordingly, they often pair the full frame sensor with greater camera features such as the D4’s carbon fiber and Kevlar composite shutter rated to 400,000 actuations (100,000 more than the D3s). With the full frame and modest megapixel increase they have also boosted the maximum ISO to 204,800, but with only 12,800 usable ISO. Still it is an improve over the 6400 of the D3 but not really over the D3s which had usable ISO up to 12,800. The D4 also caps usable ISO at 12,800 but it is somewhat of an improvement in the extreme expandable range, which was only at 102,400 on the D3s. Logic suggests that since they increased the range a bit in the extreme, then there should at least be a slight improvement within the usable range, with more acceptable noise levels at higher ISOs.
I actually haven’t been able to get my hands on one of these cameras to test it yet. So while there is no official improvement in usable ISO range the expandable ISO is certainly good news if you do surveillance work with your camera, but otherwise it is not really a large improvement.
However, the speed increase to 10 frames per second is useful for sports and media, but is hardly an improvement over the 9 fps of the D3s.
So basically they increased the speed, resolution, and durability a little, all of which are helpful if you want to move up into these pro cameras, but if you already have a D3s there is not a lot of really new and thrilling improvements, except in the video area which they finally moved up to 1080P and added more features to for better broadcast quality.
However, the new memory card slot comes as a larger disappointment, as things look at this point in time. While there is a possibility it may catch on like Sony’s blu ray, right now it looks like another mistake along the same lines of Sony’s memory stick format, or the Olympus and Fujifilm xD format, but only time will tell. This new memory format only takes one of the two cards slots, so the other one still takes standard compact flash, so it is not a complete deal breaker. The new format is called XQD and is supposed to support transfer speed up to 125 MB/s, but is really not that much faster than top of the line compact flash cards which are now at about 100 MB/s, and could potentially be pushed to faster speeds in the future. Both of the leading memory card manufacturers, Lexar and Scandisk, are still feeling out the waters on this format, and have not decided whether they will make the cards.
All in all the Nikon D4 is good camera, but a lot remains to be seen about where this memory card format will go, and it will be a big investment to add the XQD cards, in order to take advantage of the extra memory slot. It is a good choice coming from the a smaller to mid-range model, but coming from a flagship model it seems like a pass. Even looking at it from the perspective of a mid-range model the D800 looks much more attractive, with the only potential deal breaker being the slow 4 fps frame rate.