Jan 122012

Before we even get started, let me say this; This is not a review. There is no measurable technobabble to follow. Not talk of megapixels or battery capacity or memory card formats. This is my first impression of a pretty kick-ass camera. With that out of the way, let’s go…

I had the opportunity to sit down with my good friends at Nikon in Toronto yesterday to have some hands-on time with the new D4 body. It was a pre-production sample and one of only three in the country.

Nikon has long ruled the ergonomics game, but the D4 makes their previous cameras look like bricks. This thing just fits as though it was molded for my hand. All of the controls seem to fall right under my fingers. Most notably, I’ve always had an issue with where the vertical AF-ON button was located. Over a year ago I had a conversation with Toronto’s Nikon Professional Services (NPS) wunderkind Amanda about it & even sent her a picture of where I thought it should go…which is exactly where it is on the D4. Where do I send my design invoice?

I’m not really a sports shooter any more, so crazy-fast frame rates don’t get me particularly excited. I do like that with the D4 the native ISO range is now 100 (in the D3-series it was 200) which is great for my portrait work, to 12,800. This range can be extended on both ends from 50 on the low end to 204,800. I grew up shooting film in Nikon FM bodies and it was a pretty big deal when Kodak announced their ground-breaking T-Max P3200. It was an incredible breakthrough for shooting indoor sports and in other low light conditions. But 204,800? That’s approaching superpower-see-in-the-dark range. Somewhere in the middle will be the ideal ISO for shooting live music even in the darkest of small venues.

Oh, and how about a carbon fibre shutter rated for 400,000 cycles? Or how about a Silent Mode? And it’s not quiet. It truly is silent. Like check the back of the camera to make sure it actually took an image silent. Now granted Silent only gives you a 1920×1080 pixel frame capture, but there will definitely be uses for it. There’s also a Quiet Mode that locks up the mirror and uses Live View for framing. It’s still much more quiet than a standard shutter cycle because the mirror flapping up and down is taken out of the equation.

There is one especially cool feature built into the D4; it has a Timelapse Mode. You dial in your exposure interval and how long you want it to run. When it’s done, it assembles all of the images and spits out timelapse .MOV file right in the camera. That’s cool.

There are a lot of new video-centric features in the D4. I’m not a video guy and I don’t play one on TV, but some of the new tools crammed into the D4 make me want to shoot video. For example, when Nikon introduced their first full-frame DSLR body, they kept the ability for the user to effectively use a cropped, or DX sensor (the sensor that is in the D2-series, the D300 bodies and most of their prosumer and consumer models). Shooting video with the D4, you have that option, but you also have another one; a 2.7x crop. Here’s the thing…shooting stills, when you go from full frame to DX-mode, you lose resolution simply because you’re using less of the physical sensor. When you’re shooting video with the D4, you retain full 1080p HD resolution regardless what your crop setting is. Now that is crazy. It also has on-board audio level meters and a headphone jack so you can monitor the audio that’s being recorded.

I wasn’t able to shoot any images with the camera that can be published because Nikon is still updating firmware to make little tweaks and functional refinements & they’re very strict about it – every single image that is published out of a pre-release body has to be approved by Nikon in Japan.

I’m really looking forward to getting one out of an office at Nikon and into my makeshift studio to shoot a backstage portrait. Or in the pit at a live show. Or, well, really anywhere outside of an office at Nikon.

This camera is something sweet. My bank account is nervous.