Nikon D4 and D800 launch in South Africa

Nikon Camera

The Nikon D4 (pictured above, courtesy of Nikon) is Awesome! But is it perfect? On the stills side of things, getting pretty close. On the video side? Not yet.

Having been a major Nikon ambassador for fifteen years, with an arsenal of published work and pro gear to prove it, I was fired up for the official D4 launch, which I attended at Nikon SA head office a couple of days ago. After months of suspense, I was not too impressed with the effort they went to in making the high-profile audience feel that this was a world-class product launch of the highly anticipated new flagship for Nikon. The MC was funny, but neither he nor the Nikon representatives were adequately technically qualified to answer the many questions the pro’s had to ask. Not their fault directly, I feel, rather management not implementing adequate preparation and study material to equip their representatives.Disappointing. Anyway, it was pleasant enough and we got to see the new hardware first hand. They also had the new D800 on debut to make it more interesting.

With the D4, it appears that Nikon has squarely placed its priority on image detail and low-light performance, which I think is great. By contrast, too much emphasis has generally been placed in the industry on “Megabyte Mania”, at the expense of getting the maximum detail available from each pixel. This logically means the bigger the pixel, the more info you have to work with. Period. And the bigger the sensor, the bigger the pixel. No rocket science here, but the consumer public are often misled by marketing blurb about huge megapixels on tiny sensors. Very naughty. The D4 has gone up from 12Mb to a 16Mb FX sensor, with the advance in technology enabling the Nikon engineers to give us even better low-light performance by increasing the base High ISO to 12800, extendable to ISO 204,800!! Can’t wait to test that. Mind-blowing!

On the other hand, the D800 falls into the “Megabyte Mania” trap. It will be interesting to see how many pro’s and studio photographers are less than impressed with their new 36Mb D800’s. I suspect the performance will be good from a camera in this price range, but not up to pro standards. IMHO. We will see. I hope not too many people bang their heads, trying to get D4 performance out of the D800, ’cause it won’t happen. Sorry guys, you get what you pay for. I may be wrong, but if comparing the D300s to the D3s is anything to go by, I am spot on. My wife switched some time ago from a D300s to one of my D3’s in our studio, and was amazed by the huge leap in results. Now I have only one D3, hence my excitement about the arrival of my new D4. True!!

Don’t get me wrong, the D300s and I am sure the D800, are great prosumer cameras, but the D3 and D4 are in a different league. Period. The ergonomics, handling and thought that have gone into making the D4 even better are brilliant, with attention to detail paid in many small ways, just refining an already exceptional stills camera.

That brings me to what I was really excited about on the new D4. True HD Video on a Fx sensor! With full autofocus? The Nikon reps assured me the AF is full-time and awesome. How? I don’t know. Have they trounced Canon and their soon upcoming 5D Mk3? I’m afraid it looks like they have not. In my video business, I have just upgraded to the awesome new Canon XF300 and XF100 video cameras. They are outstanding. Why?

Canon have sat back and watched the rest develop the SSD (Solid State Drives, eg. Panasonic P2, Sony SxS, etc.) movement, and have finally launched compact flash-based cameras, which is brilliant, as CF is cheap, industry standard and super-fast these days. Secondly, they have embraced 4.2.2 codec, which doubles image info, and their new cameras shoot at 50Mb/sec – almost twice the bit rate of most of their competitors. Apparently this will be the spec in the new 5D Mk3. Clever Canon! Will they address the AF issue? I would imagine so.

This brings me back to the D4 video spec. H.264 and 24Mb bit rate. Not good guys. Inferior codec and slow bit rate, where they could easily have adopted the 4.2.2 and 50Mb/sec., which is the standard now, officially approved by the BBC as full broadcast spec. Round 2 to Canon. I am disappointed, to say the least. All is not lost though, as the current Canon D5 uses H.264 at up to 38Mb/sec. and the results are stunning, due to the huge DSLR FX sensor size. So the D4 results will still be great, I am sure, but they could easily have trumped the opposition by adopting the industry standard Codec and Bit Rate. Imagine the results on the new Canon 5D if the predictions are right.

Oh well, we will have to wait for the D4s to play catch up. Come on Nikon, I am your biggest advocate and we trust you to be ahead of the game. DSLR video is so important now, it is going to affect your market share dramatically. And keep your pro’s happy (or NOT).

Am I buying a D4. Definitely, but it saddens me to think I will have to upgrade again soon when Nikon adopt the proper Video Codec and Bit Rate. Now all I have to do is wait for the box to arrive at the door, which will enable me to make objective comment and add another arrow to my Nikon Quiver.

You can go to this link to see the DP Review: Nikon D4 Overview