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My Completely Biased Opinion of D4 versus D3s and D800e

spiritualized67

Western PA, US
3290 posts

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spiritualized67 Moderator Awarded for his high level of expertise in various areas, most notably in Street & Landscape Photography Nikonian since 01st Mar 2007
Mon 17-Dec-12 07:56 PM

I’ve only had my D4 for a few days, so I can only offer up initial “from the gut” observations on how this new model compares to my previous D3s (which I recently sold) and a D800e that I owned for a short while (before returning it to B&H because of quality issues).

Truth be told, I had no good reason to sell my D3s other than the lure of moving closer to medium format territory – especially for my landscape work. I admit, the NAS was strong.

Of course, my D800e experience was a near disaster. Although I didn’t have the dreaded left focus misalignment issue, focus tests did reveal unacceptable softness in most focus points outside of center(using pro glass). My D3s was spot on and never required lens fine tuning (and my new D4 appears to be the same). It’s possible I got a lemon – although widespread quality reports across the Internet tell me otherwise.

I also had an LCD that made every shot look like I was in a glowing green room. Yes, some have argued that this green tint is in fact more accurate – and that may very well be the case. But as I jokingly explained to another poster in a different photo forum, green eggs and ham may taste like eggs and ham, but you’ll probably get nauseous eating it, lol. My new D4 has no such color tint.

Adding insult to injury, most of the D800e shots seemed to meter way hot, which required me to dial down EV just to obtain proper exposure.

Although I did admire the additional DR and 36MP real estate (but not the huge file size), I never quite felt like the D800e image had the same “painterly” look as my D3s. It’s hard to explain, but the D3s NEF files just looked better, even after down sampling the D800e files. This was disappointing.

In hindsight, I probably should have rented the D800e before selling my trusty D3s, but my impulsive side got the better of me. So I did what any sane-minded person with NAS would do – I returned the D800e and purchased a new D4.

After running the D4 through my initial testing paces (which I do for all my new cameras), I’m pleased to report that it has passed with flying colors – other than a few dust bunnies on the new sensor (nothing that Eclipse/copper hill couldn’t fix). Now come on Nikon???

So, is it worth the upgrade from a D3s? I would say yes. No doubt, it’s more of an evolution than a revolution as others have suggested – but some of the differences are, quite frankly, very nice!

- Skin tones and color depth seem much better on D4 compared to D3s, especially at higher ISOs like 3200. In fact, skin tones are downright beautiful.

- White balance appears to be more accurate in my estimation.

- Not enough info to truly gauge high ISO compared to D3s, although I’m getting some gorgeous crisp images with wonderful color fidelity at high ISOs. At the very least, I’d say they are comparable – although the slightly better DR, better color depth and better skin tones (not to mention extra MP) puts the clear advantage in the D4 corner IMHO.

- Focus in low light and general autofocus accuracy and speed – WOW! The D3s was stellar. The D4 is epic.

- Backlit buttons. Don’t undersell this feature – especially if you do low-light and/or night work. Re-worked virtual horizon works great too!

- Great ergonomics. D4 is more comfortable to hold and just feels better. Will have to get used to new button layout, although I like how easy it is to access some key AF features and pix controls. Camera feels a touch lighter, but when it’s this big to begin with (and you’ve got a Kirk L-Bracket on it), it’s still honking big, lol.

- Bigger screen and slightly enhanced menu icons are a plus.

Once I conduct some more real-world shooting, I’m sure this list will expand. Whether it’s worth the upgrade from a D3s is a completely subjective thing – especially when you weigh cost against personal benefit/creative goals. Finances aside, I do feel like it is inherently a better camera with slightly better image quality than its predecessor – and some extra MP thrown in for good measure. Some of the new features are a welcome addition too, such as the backlit buttons and improved AF system.

As for whether it’s a better camera than the D800e, I’d say for me, definitely yes. Now mind you, I’m sure there are many happy D800/D800e owners out there getting splendiferous images – but when you’re a multi-genre (landscape and street/environmental portraiture) shooter like me with shaky “coffee” hands, you need the rock solid “nail every shot” AF consistency & high ISO quality that only a D3s or D4 can deliver. And at least from where I’m sitting, the 16.2 MP image quality doesn’t look too shabby either.

~Dan
www.danielstainer.com

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