It's not just the world's top athletes preparing for the London Olympics in 2012: photographers are also getting ready to capture the action. And just as the runners and jumpers want microfibre unitards and shoes made of kevlar and unicorn feathers, top snappers want the best camera kit too. Enter the Nikon D4, Nikon's new full-frame flagship.
The D4 is a 16-megapixel professional dSLR that costs £4,800. It's available in the UK on 16 February, and provides stiff competition to rival flagship camera the Canon EOS-1D X.
Design and specs
Our first impression upon picking up the D4 is that it's surprisingly light. With its dual grip and heavyweight specs, we expected it to be much weightier than it is -- but with a smaller pancake lens on the front we were able to move with the grace of a gymnast in that event with the twirly ribbons.
The D4 contains a 16.2-megapixel full-frame sensor, known by Nikon as FX-format. Inside is a speedy Expeed3 processor.
It won't just be the sprinters impressing off the line at the London games: Nikon claims the D4 starts up in 0.12 seconds and shutter lag is just 0.042 seconds. And it fires a blisteringly fast 11 frames per second -- crucial for sports photographers when action occurs in a split second, giving snappers a choice of pictures even when the action is over in an instant. Blink and you'll miss it, but not with 11 photos from a moment's movement.
The quick and powerful processor is designed to think fast. The chip offers 16-bit image processing and 14-bit A/D conversion, and as well as being fast, it can handle increasingly complex tasks -- such as cleaning up noise in pictures taken at high sensitivity or processing pictures with lots of extra dynamic range information packed in. High dynamic range shots can be combined from two pictures at up to 3 stops apart.
Sensitivity in low light goes up to ISO 12,800, or with tinkering from the processor can be boosted to the equivalent of ISO 204,800 -- which is just a silly number, frankly. Nikon claims the camera can combat noise without softening and smearing the image too much.
Video is good enough to go straight to your TV. Broadcast-quality 1080p high-definition video at 30p, 25p and 24p captures every bead of sweat on an athlete's face.
Switch to 720p and you can shoot at 60p, 50p, 30p or 25p. Each video can be up to 30 minutes long, and you can place markers in the video as you shoot to make it easier to edit.
The D4 is the first dSLR to output uncompressed video live to a recorder or monitor via HDMI. The video output only includes the scene being shot, and not the icons and information that appear on top of the scene as you look through the viewfinder or at the screen.
You can also connect the D4 to the Internet with a built-in Ethernet socket, just like the Canon EOS-1D X. Wi-FI and GPS attachments are available too.
The D4 looks to faithfully capture every grunt of exertion and scream of triumph with an external stereo microphone input, and an audio out for headphones so you can check and adjust sound levels.
Inside the D4 is a 91,000-pixel RGB sensor that scrutinises the scene so the camera can automatically switch to the optimum settings for the lighting conditions and type of action. Movement and faces can be tracked round the frame in both live view mode and when shooting with the optical viewfinder.
The Multi-CAM3500FX auto-focus sensor module lets you configure and choose from nine, 21 or 51 focus points, which you can select without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. Nikon reckons the camera will find and focus on subjects even in the darkest situations, and even at lower apertures.
The D4 is the first camera to use the new high-capacity XQD memory card, a new type of card from the people behind Compact Flash. There's a second slot for CF cards so you can still use your current cards.
The controls are laid out the same way whether you hold the camera horizontally or vertically, so you always have the right control at your fingertips no matter how you hold it. Buttons are softly backlit so you can find them in the dark, but not so brightly lit you compromise your night vision.
There's a dedicated button for controls such as sharpness, saturation and hue so you don't have to delve into menus. Once you've captured a snap, you can edit it right there in the camera, processing raw files, resizing and correcting distortion among other options.
The viewfinder offers 100 per cent coverage, or there's a 3.2-inch screen displaying around 921,000-dot resolution. You can zoom in up to 46 times on snaps you've taken to check focus, and we're impressed with how little lag there is when zooming in and out and moving round the frame.
Nikon is at the top of its game with the D4, a fast and powerful dSLR that's looking to lead the field. It's £500 cheaper than the rival Canon EOS- 1D X, which could earn it a gold medal. Let the games begin.