This year, Nikon released the D4 at the top of their DSLR lineup, and as usual the web exploded with opinions and reviews. I started shooting with the camera, but it seemed as though I was using a different camera than was being reviewed.
First, there were the image tests. Reviewers took test photos with the Nikon D4 side by side with the last top dog from Nikon, the D3s, and found there is no major improvement in image quality. They tested the video and found it wasn’t as perfect as they had hoped. Like the stock market, people’s expectations for new cameras seem to matter more than true value.
I went out and captured photos with the D4 that led me to an entirely different conclusion: for outdoor adventure, action, and nature photography, as well as indoor photography with difficult lighting, the D4 is probably the best camera ever made.
Sure, images produced with the D3s are superb, but what I found with the D4 is that I am getting the results I want with much less effort than would have been necessary with the D3s in similar conditions, allowing me to pay attention to my own creativity rather than camera management.
For example, the 3D focus tracking, which uses the colours surrounding the focus point to predict the next in-focus point, is so accurate and so fast that it allows me to pay attention to composition and timing rather than focus, and results in action sequences with 100% of the images in focus.
Sure, the pundits will argue that auto focus is a different category from image quality, and in the lab I’m sure it is, but in the real world I beg to differ. For me, an adventure and lifestyle photographer, all the aspects of a camera are intertwined and image quality is the complicated sum of the camera’s various technologies and my own creative ability.
Then there are the video reviews, which reported some of the D4 video settings aren’t as good as hoped. No surprise there. DSLR video is still new, and each generation is taking big steps. The D4 has a 2.7x cropped sensor setting that delivers spectacular video results, while the other settings are not as good. Perfect - I’ll use the spectacular setting.
Then there is the discussion around the light meter. The D3s was the first pro camera that I described as the ultimate point-and-shoot. And it was, but now the D4 nails perfect exposure and focus in difficult lighting situations more of the time with less effort. Sure, I still mess with exposure and focus for different results, but when I pull the D4 out of the bag and fire away without paying attention to anything except the shutter button and composition, like for the above photo of my son running on a dike in northern Germany, the results are drastically better than the D3s.
The D4 is the first camera that has an auto ISO that I’m willing to use - its parameters can be customized and automatically changes with the length of the lens attached to the camera.
It is also the first professional camera that I would highly recommend to amateur photographers because it is so easy to use. Let’s say you are going on the world’s most beautiful holiday and you love photography - then why not take the best camera that is also the easiest to use?
The D4 is a major game-changer for me. Right now I’m in Europe, visiting the in-laws, traveling, and taking photos of whatever I please. On similar trips in the past, I always took a smaller, lighter camera kit and saved my professional gear for professional assignments. This time, I couldn’t leave home without the D4 for one simple reason: The Nikon D4 makes photography easier.
Finally there is the debate between the D800 and the D4. In the real world, there is no debate. If you’re a diverse professional or amateur who can afford both, you’ll buy both - they serve two entirely different purposes. If you are a specialist, you should know which camera is best for you.
From my favourite pocket camera, the Canon S95, to my professional Nikon kit, I do the same thing: learn the limitations of the camera and push my own limits within them. Every camera has limits, and next time I get the chance to go into the wilderness to document some of the word’s most photogenic adventures, I know I will be able to raise my own standards of photography by exploring the limits of the Nikon D4.