OK, settle in, cuz this is gonna be long-winded. I was anxious to be wowed when I opened the box, but a week with the D4, and sadly I am underwhelmed. Four of us here used it. I shot a familiar reparatory show that I had recently done for the new cast so I had D3s work to compare, and also with studio strobe & multiple CLS speedlights. All of us had similar conclusions.
Remember, these conclusions are based on using the D3s every working day for quite some time now, and I am expressing my comparative view when being asked for $6K per body. I do theatrical promotion, this entails live performance, staged and lit, location w. strobes, lots of portraits, headshots and interview work. Maybe 10% is commercial with some product/executive stuff from really old loyal clients. I don’t shoot landscapes, or wildlife, or outdoor sports, and I will own the best gear available that makes financial sense for my business. That said, YMMV of course.
So, in no apparent order, I went through the touted D4 major differences, and their use in my work.
1) Lower light focussing - despite the hype, I got a similar amount of critical focus keepers using continuous tracking from the D3s. The D4 has more going on in the display, and its computer…but for us the net effect was the same. Now while I own them, I RARELY use any TCs, and if I did it would be on a lens that was 2 or 2.8 to begin with, so I would never get to the “autofocus at f8” situation. NO APPARENT ADVANTAGE.
2) Ergonomics - liked the second joystick a lot, just not worth $6K. Lightup buttons, while they look pretty, are meaningless to me because if you cannot “touch-type” your camera in the dark without looking…well let’s just say you need a lot more practice before you want to do this for money. If I spent time looking for buttons in the middle of the shoot, I would be missing action…nuff said. The fact the camera is lighter means little to me because I am on a tripod most of the time. = NO SIGNIFICANT ADVANTAGE.
3) Video - really cool. Tried the HDMI out into a video recorder, quality awesome. Being able to monitor audio is a critical upgrade. Focussing while shooting greatly improved over D3s. Being able to create a megatele by cropping just the center 1080p portion of the sensor is cool. Unfortunately, it is not what I get paid to do, so as much as it impresses me, the businessman in me ain’t dropping the coin. - NO (MONETARY) ADVANTAGE.
4) The XQD cards - Friends, this is a mistake, period. How large a mistake, only time will tell. Two issues, equally bad in my eyes. FIRST, 2 different cards…why make ANYONE buy new cards and readers for NO REAL ADVANTAGE. Nikon should fire the product manager who did this. Two different cards is simply UNPROFESSIONAL, there, I said it. Plus, both Sandisk and Lexar have recently stated they have no plans to build these XQD things anytime soon (GUESS THEY SEEMED TO HAVE REACHED THE CONCLUSION THAT ONE $6K CAMERA AIN’T A MARKET WORTH SERVING AT THE MOMENT)…so with no competition we will be stuck with SONY, the patron saint of abandoned storage systems. Frankly, even 2 XQD cards would be better than this goofy setup. Arrgh!!! SECOND, today the XQD card suffers a number of issues vs. the 32GB 1000x LEXAR cards we have standardized on for event work. Right now the XQD are currently SLOWER, given the included reader, by about half going into the computer. They are $100 more money at Adorama for the 32GB XQD than the 32GB 1000x LEXAR. We mirror record everything onto 2 cards. If we are on the road, one gets downloaded, the other gets FEDEXed home. Cards are serialized and assigned to a job and are NEVER erased until the job is completely in the can. I own a pile of CF cards, 12-16 per shooter… that would be $4k per. 2 in the camera, 10 in the Pixel Pocket Rocket is a minimum loadout. PLUS, and I have said this before…in the D3s shooting RAW I have honestly NEVER experienced buffer overrun on a job (and I am shooting CHigh most of the time) AND 32GB is the sweet spot for storage on my jobs, never exceeded it…frankly 24GB would be about the high water mark for me for one shoot. This said, the camera does not need any faster cards than it already has for my work, and faster will only come with future versions of XQD. XQD is a solution without a problem IMO. - DISADVANTAGE, (frankly for everybody).
ACTUALLY…I want to go on record today as predicting the non-acceptance of XQD in the industry, at least not in its current form. To succeed as media, you have to offer a change that is so compelling devices are drawn to support it. That is not the case today. Also, as a pro, I try to buy only those things that translate to more money or better operation. XQD would cost me a lot in media and new readers, and offer less than nothing today…slower than my current gear. For those dropping $6K on the D4 I hope I am proven wrong.
4) 16MP files - Ho hum…while there are always some shots that call for rather severe cropping to serve their purpose…most of what I do is carefully composed and controlled on a gimbal arm tracking a subject whose movements I already know (actor or dancer), so crops are minimal. So in my work, an extra 4MP ain’t worth $6K - NO ADVANTAGE.
5) The D3s portrait - As I have said many times before, the D3s is my fav camera of all time, for a lot of reasons…BUT the one I really love is the “painterly” quality it imparts to portraiture. I just LOVE that look…and sadly, while very nice the D4 does not have that response. I won’t use the term intangible, because it is not, quite the opposite…maybe unquantifiable by technical means says it best. I own a MF camera that I am still making monthly lease payments on…yet I choose to shoot portraits with the D3s.- DISADVANTAGE.
6) WT-5 wireless with web server - Wow, fun stuff. Looks really cool on the new iPad…except shooting RAW it is a LOT slower than normal wired tethering, and I have no need for remote camera operation, as cool as that all is. So, showing remarkable restraint for the gee whiz gadget freak I admittedly am… NO ADVANTAGE.
7) HDR Automatically, time lapse, image editing toys - for me ya might as well add infrared too…NO ADVANTAGE. (Although an espresso maker might be a nice add)
8) Nikon EN-EL18 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery Pack - $170!!! and half the exposures of the $110 EN-EL4a (that I have a bunch of already, of course). PLUS, they are gouging you $350 for the MH-26 charger, as opposed to the already too expensive $210 for the MH-22. Neither charges 2 at a time, either. Since we have chargers both packed and at the storage lockers, I can’t get by with just the one that came with it…soo - more money and less performance - DISADVANTAGE.
9) D4 uses IR remote - So does the D70…again, nice but I use a cable release, and cannot see myself taking self portraits or triggering the camera for a group shot being worth much. - NO ADVANTAGE.
10) 1 more fps - Please…is there anyone to whom this is a deal maker? - NO ADVANTAGE.
BOTTOM LINE - I will be returning the D4, and I optioned one of 3 remaining new D3s bodies from my dealer, happily. I think the other thing this puts in perspective is this marks the first time I know of in professional digital gear where new does not mean automatically better for all. The D3s with this decision just reset my amortization schedule for its value to my business.
I can’t help but think of the F3 (superb, iconic), the F4 (decidedly not), and finally the indestructible monster F5. Now as then, I will be on the sidelines for this 4th version, without regret. Hope this diatribe helps those facing similar decisions.
Oh, and the D3s remains my fav camera, needless to say...