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Nikon announces 16.16 million image pixel, 10fps D4 digital SLR - Continued
Sporty: The D4 + AF-S 200-400mm f/4G VR II. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)

51-point AF

A new, more light sensitive AF sensor module underpins the AF system in the D4, though it retains the same Multi-CAM 3500FX name, the same 51-point arrangement with 15 cross-type points and many of same AF options such as single point as well as 9, 21 and 51-point Dynamic AF clusters. The new AF sensor does bring with it two notable specification improvements:
  • The minimum light level for AF detection, at EV-2, is one stop better than the D3S' EV-1. This is promised to result in improved focus in low light, including outdoors at night and in places such as dim hotel ballrooms. This sort of specification change usually prompts faster focus acquisition in good light too, and Nikon's marketing description seems to back this up: "Its faster initial AF detection captures decisive moments like never before..."

    Autofocus with lenses or lens + teleconverter combos whose maximum aperture exceeds f/5.6. With the D3S, and many other Nikon digital SLR models past and present, attaching something like a 600mm f/4 + 1.7x teleconverter would result in sub-par autofocus or no autofocus, because this combination is beyond the f/5.6 AF limit of most Nikon models. The D4 can autofocus properly to f/8, the first Nikon digital SLR to be rated to do so, as long as your composition keeps the subject within a subset of the AF array's 51 points.

    If the maximum aperture of the lens or combo is between f/5.6 and f/8, the number of AF points that retain their cross-type performance drops to nine, while six others, left and right of centre, operate with single line sensitivity only. The remaining 37 AF points in the array may function, but may not detect focus distance properly if they do.

    If the maximum aperture of the lens or combo is f/8, the total number of properly-operating points is 11, with the centre-most AF point retaining its cross-type sensitivity. Again, other points might function, but might not function well.
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Into Focus: The optimal AF points available to f/5.6 or faster lenses, left, between f/5.6 and f/8, middle, and f/8, right. Orange indicates cross-type sensitivity (Graphics courtesy Nikon)

Note that the D4 doesn't prevent the user from selecting a non-optimal AF point. If you plan to hook up a long lens and teleconverter that puts you into the beyond-f/5.6 territory, you'll want to pay special attention to which of the 51 AF points work best.
We've highlighted the change to the AF mode selector already, as well as the use of face detection data from the 91,000-pixel RGB sensor within the Auto-Area AF mode (which, in a few minutes of trying it, worked really well). Other AF changes include the following:
  • The D4 will show all the active points in a Dynamic AF grouping. If, for example, the camera is set to 9-point, the central point in the group will appear as a red square, while eight small red dots will light up around it. This is an optional feature; if you want the D4 to work just like the D3S, where only the primary AF point in the Dynamic AF group is illuminated, you can still do that.

  • AF-C Priority Selection, the Custom Setting that dictates whether priority will be given to release (and maintaining a high frame rate) or focus (and slowing the frame rate, if necessary) when tracking a subject, gains a fourth option. Joining Release, Focus and Release + Focus is a setting called Focus + Release. Nikon describes the new setting this way: "This option prioritizes focus over release in the first frame, and then prioritizes frame rate from the second frame, when shooting a low-contrast and low-lit subject. It is effective for high-speed continuous shooting with the emphasis on the focusing rate of the first frame."

  • The active focus point can automatically change with the orientation of the camera, from horizontal to vertical left or vertical right. The vertical implementation is especially smart: if you turn the D4 from one vertical orientation to the opposite vertical orientation, the selected AF point will switch to its mirror-image equivalent.
Both site co-editor Mike Sturk and I consider the D3S to be the finest sports autofocus camera we've ever used, one that can also focus reliably on subjects that aren't moving. Its AF system isn't perfect, however: the D3S is slightly slow to acquire focus initially, plus it tends to track somewhat better during night games than at sunlit day games, which has always been puzzling. If Nikon has been able to improve their 51-point AF system in either of these areas, while retaining what was already very good about it, that will be great.

Update, January 14, 2012: We've published an interview with Nikon D4 engineer Toshiaki Akagi that has his take on the autofocus tracking improvements in the D4.

Linked In: The D4's Ethernet port, with Ethernet cable inserted. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
Wired and wireless networking

In what we hope is the start of a trend, the D4 is the second announced camera to incorporate a built-in Ethernet port (Canon's EOS-1D X was the first, back in October). Nikon has also developed a dedicated wireless unit for the D4, called Wireless Transmitter WT-5.

The available information on both the D4's wired and wireless networking is a little slim, but here's what we've gotten so far:

  • Built-in Ethernet The D4's Ethernet is 100Base-T, meaning the maximum possible sustained throughput will be a bit under 12MB/s (Nikon has not said what the actual throughput of the camera's Ethernet port will be or whether it will reach the maximum possible). The Ethernet connector itself is a standard RJ-45 jack.

    Most of the operating modes are similar to that of the WT-4, plus there's one new and very cool one.

    It's possible to transfer pictures from the camera to a server (FTP or, new in the D4, SFTP), control the camera with an upcoming version of Nikon's Camera Control Pro software and see thumbnail previews from a computer. And, thanks to the new HTTP Server mode, you can control the camera from a web browser too.

    We were able to give HTTP Server mode a try, briefly. With a wired/wireless router connected to the camera's Ethernet port, it was possible to link over Wi-Fi to the router and through to the camera from both Firefox on a MacBook Pro 15-inch and also from Safari on an iPad, then see and change shutter speed and other settings, receive a Live View feed and trip the shutter. While in HTTP Server mode, it's also possible to browse the contents of the memory cards inside the D4, and transfer selected frames.

    One other notable change: it's possible to password protect the network settings in the D4, so that's it's not possible for an unauthorized person to view or change those settings or save a profile to a memory card. For semi-secure remote camera installations, such as large sporting events, this is a smart new feature.

  • Wireless Transmitter WT-5 The D4's dedicated wireless transmitter attaches and links to the body through a proprietary threaded port on its side, drawing power from the camera's battery.
Side Saddle: Wireless Transmitter WT-5 attached to a D4. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)

We could determine from the networking-related menus in the D4 that the operating modes for the WT-5 and built-in Ethernet are very similar or maybe even identical.

It will supports 802.11n wireless networking, plus it will have a feature that will enable the simultaneous triggering of up to 10 transmitter-equipped D4 bodies.

In addition, a Nikon USA press release mentions this in regards to the WT-5: "A mobile application is also in development to control the camera using this accessory, which will include the ability to trigger the shutter and record video, making this a must-have remote accessory for many professionals."

The video below shows HTTP Server mode in action.

Controlled: HTTP Server mode demonstration (Video courtesy ePHOTOzine)

Wireless Transmitter WT-4 is also compatible with the D4.

Video

The D4 represents Nikon's biggest push, by far, to establish its digital SLRs as tools for filmmakers. Which, to date, have largely flocked to Canon and models like the EOS 5D Mark II. If your resumé doesn't say cinematographer, but you need strong video capabilities for news and event coverage, you're also likely to find the D4's video features compelling. Here's a rundown:
  • Video can be recorded at the following output settings:
    • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 30fps (actually 29.97fps)
    • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 25fps
    • 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels at 24fps (actually 23.976fps)
    • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels at 60fps (actually 59.94fps)
    • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels at 50fps
    • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps (actually 29.97fps)
    • 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels at 25fps
    • SD: 640 x 480 pixels at 30fps (actually 29.97fps)
    • SD: 640 x 480 pixels at 25fps
  • Clips can be up to 20 minutes long, regardless of the resolution and frame rate chosen, when the D4 is set to High video quality. Switching to Normal quality extends the clip length to a maximum of 29:59.
  • The D4's H.264 video quality is said to be noticeably better, including finer detail rendering and fewer instances of jaggies within clips, thanks in part to the use of a B-frame compression scheme. The rolling shutter or jello effect has also been reduced, relative to the D3S. The D4 is the first Nikon digital SLR to offer real-time noise reduction during video capture.

  • Up to 1080p video can be recorded from nearly the full width of the sensor, or from within a 1.5X-cropped area if the D4's image area is on DX Format, or an actual 1920 x 1080 pixel crop in the centre of the sensor if the camera is set to the new 2.7X video capture option.

  • It's possible to output uncompressed (8-bit, 4:2:2 colour sampling) video for the best possible quality. By removing the memory cards from the camera, and connecting an external data recorder to the HDMI port, the D4 will automatically send an uncompressed 1080p signal through the HDMI connection. Set like this, you don't actually start and stop recording with the camera itself. With Live View on, the D4 streams its uncompressed signal continuously, and the record start/stop controls on the external recorder take over responsibility for beginning and ending the capture of that signal.

    This also means that the D4's clip length limit doesn't apply. The continuous recording time for a single clip will instead be capped by one of three things: the external recorder's capacity, the battery life in both the camera and the recorder (if working away from AC power) and the duration for which Live View can be kept active, which is generally about an hour but is dictated in part by the camera's internal temperature.

  • When an HDMI monitor is connected, the rear LCD doesn't turn off and stay off. Both it and the external monitor stay on and active simultaneously.

  • The D4 has a powered 3.5mm stereo mic input jack. Audio levels are set automatically, or manually in 20 increments. While in video mode, an audio overlay on the rear LCD shows a stereo levels meter and provides direct adjustment of audio recording levels. The D3S, along with most or all other Canon and Nikon digital SLRs, contains a poor-quality mic pre-amp that can introduce significant hiss into recordings. We don't know if this component in the D4 has been improved.

  • Headphones or speakers, for monitoring audio as it's being recorded, can be plugged into the camera's 3.5mm stereo output jack. Volume is adjustable, in 30 increments, via an overlay on the rear LCD.

  • Shutter speed, aperture and ISO can be changed independently, both before and during recording.

  • Manual focus as well as full-time autofocus with face detection is possible as video is being captured.

  • As already mentioned, the D4 body has new, video-specific controls, including a recording start/stop button near the horizontal shutter release.

  • The aperture diaphragm can be smoothly driven from one aperture setting to another with the D4's new Power Aperture feature (in use, the Function and Depth of Field preview buttons on the front of the camera open and close the aperture while pressed). In non-final D4 bodies running non-final firmware, this ability is effectively only usable during video capture when the D4 is configured to output video through the HDMI port, but not when it's recording video to XQD or CompactFlash cards inside the camera. We don't know whether production bodies with production firmware will enable Power Aperture during both out-to-HDMI and memory card-based video recording. The slow, seamless aperture shift is a nice visual effect, so we sure hope so.

  • The D4 does not have the ability to embed timecodes.
The video below was recorded with the D4.

Extreme: Video shot with the D4 (Video courtesy Nikon Asia)

Memory cards

The D4 retains the two-card-slot approach of the D3S. This time around, however, both slots are not for the same memory card type. In the D4, one is a CompactFlash Type I slot and the other is for the recently-announced XQD format.

Side by Side: The XQD (1) and CompactFlash (2) slots in the D4. Click to enlarge (Photo courtesy Nikon)
There are no shipping XQD cards yet, though Sony has today announced that 16GB and 32GB cards, as well as a USB 3.0 reader and ExpressCard/34 adapter, will be out in February.

During our briefing on the D4, we saw and tried an unmarked prototype XQD card, as well as an unmarked USB 3.0 reader and unmarked ExpressCard/34 adapter for it (the XQD card's size enables it to fit completely inside the adapter). These were almost certainly the products Sony has now unveiled.

Fast card write speeds are expected, from the XQD slot as well as from the CompactFlash slot, thanks to the camera's support of the UDMA 7 CompactFlash data timing protocol.

The D4 has the same two-card configuration options as before, including writing different file formats to each card, mirroring the same files across both and switching to the second card automatically when the first fills up.

Battery

Electrifying: A pair of EN-EL18 batteries on Battery Charger MH-26. Click to enlarge (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)
The D4 uses a new and, oddly, lower capacity battery than the D3S. Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL18 for the D4 is a 10.8V/2000mAh pack that, while very similar in size, shape and overall design to the D3S' 11.1V/2500mAh EN-EL4a, is not backwards-compatible. Nor can the EN-EL4a be used in the D4, as the battery connector is in a different location.

The battery change brings with it a drop in specification for the number of frames per charge, from 4200 frames with the D3S and its EN-EL4a to 2600 frames with the D4 and its EN-EL18.

The EN-EL18 comes with a new charger, the dual-slot Battery Charger MH-26, which looks almost identical in appearance and function to the D3S' Quick Charger MH-22, but the two are not interoperable.

Update, January 12, 2012: We've published an article entitled Understanding the Nikon D4 battery's lower capacity rating that discusses the EN-EL18 and MH-26 in more detail.

Other changes

Nikon has woven several other changes into the D4, including:
  • The delay interval for the D4's Exposure Delay Custom Setting can be set to 1s, 2s or 3s, rather than being fixed at about 1s, as it is in the D3S.

  • The self-timer can be configured to take up to nine pictures in a row, at intervals of 0.5s, 1s, 2s or 3s.

  • A full set of IPTC metadata can be embedded into picture files as they're shot. Nikon is developing software to manage the creation of IPTC metadata profiles that can be loaded into the D4. There are ten profile slots in all, and over a dozen IPTC fields.

  • For the first time in a Nikon digital SLR it's possible to decouple ambient exposure compensation from Speedlight exposure compensation. A setting in the D4 enables you to choose between having ambient exposure compensation applied to on-camera Speedlight output (this has long been the way it works in Nikons), or to have ambient exposure compensation affect the ambient exposure only.

  • While in Live View, the camera can be configured to shoot up to 1920 x 1080 pixel JPEGs, at either 12fps or 24fps, without making a sound. Set this way, the D4's mirror stays up and the shutter is not used to control the exposure time, so the picture taking process is truly silent. The D4 can shoot continuous bursts for several seconds in this mode.

  • The Maximum Continuous Release setting now tops out at 200 consecutive frames, up from 130 in the D3S. Update: While the non-final firmware in a non-final D4 body we handled set this limit at 150 frames, Nikon has confirmed that production cameras with release-ready firmware will have a limit of 200.

  • New in the D4 is a slick time lapse feature that handles both the shooting and the creation of a time lapse movie, right in the camera. You choose the interval between pictures, how long you want the camera to keep capturing, the output resolution and frame rate of the video to be created and the camera does the rest. The D4 assembles the movie as the pictures are being shot, so at the end of the process it only takes a short time for the movie building to complete. It can be played back in the camera, or transferred to the computer and viewed there.

    The original still pictures are not kept in this mode, however, so you can't manually build another time lapse from the same source files later. For that, you're better off using the camera's intervalometer to shoot the timelapse sequence.
Menu screenshots

A gallery of menu screenshots, highlighting many of the D4's new or updated features, is below.

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Price and ship date

In the U.S., the Nikon D4 is slated to ship in the middle of February at an expected street price of US$5999.95. In Canada, the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) has been set at CDN$6299.95 and shipping is scheduled to commence on February 16. Also in Canada, the MSRP for Wireless Transmitter WT-5 has been set at CDN$899.95. Update, February 6, 2012: Nikon USA has given the WT-5 an expected street price of US$877.

A PDF brochure on the D4 is here. Low-resolution photos taken with the camera are here. A full-resolution ISO 6400 photo shot with the D4 is here (direct link). Comments by photographer Joe McNally, who has shot with the camera for Nikon, are here. A brief video tour of the camera is here.

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Twosome: The D4 and card wallet (Photo by Rob Galbraith/Little Guy Media)

Thanks to Mike Finch, Steve Heiner, Mark Cruz and Geoff Coalter for their assistance with this article.
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