Nikon is on track to beat Canon in the race to release rival flagship DSLRs in time for this summer?s London 2012 Olympics. Nikon will next month launch the D4, a new 16.2-million-pixel full-frame professional DSLR that replaces the D3S and is designed to autofocus even in ?moonlight? conditions.

Nikon plans to debut the D4 in February, ahead of Canon?s 18.1MP full-frame EOS-1D X which is not due to go on sale until March.

Claimed to set a new benchmark in low-light performance, the Nikon D4 boasts a shooting rate of up to 11 frames per second.

Equivalent ISO sensitivity can be extended to a maximum of ISO 204,800 and, following demands from photographers, down to ISO 50.

?This camera can truly see in the dark,? said James Banfield, Nikon UK?s group support and training manager.

?This is as big a leap forward for professional photography as the D3. This is a camera created by photographers.?

The FX-format D4 borrows its Expeed 3 image processor from Nikon’s recently launched Nikon 1 CSC models.

?High-speed 16-bit processing follows the 14-bit A/D conversion to deliver submission-ready JPEGs straight out of the camera,? claims Nikon.

Also new is a 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor designed to ?meticulously analyse each scene for outstanding accuracy?, plus improved 3D tracking, claimed to be particularly useful for focusing on smaller subjects.

Nikon says it has ?re-engineered? the Multi-Cam3500FX AF sensor for faster subject detection. The AF is quicker than that on board the D3s and can operate in ?moonlight conditions? – akin to ?minus 2EV?, according to Banfield.

Like the D3, it offers 51 AF points but the D4 promises a ?big jump for sports photographers? by incorporating an f/8 compatible cross-type sensor among its 11 central AF sensors.

This is said to provide a new level of AF detection when using, for example, a Nikon 2x teleconverter and 600mm f/4 lens.

Banfield explained that this means sports photographers won?t need to carry as many lenses with them when travelling to the London 2012 Olympics – a key target market for the D4.

Using a redesigned AF control switch, Nikon says photographers will be able to quickly switch AF modes without taking their eye away from the viewfinder.

New AF control switches aim to allow fast repositioning of the AF point. And the focus point automatically repositions itself when the camera is switched to vertical orientation.

The D4 will be compatible with the new high-speed, high-capacity XQD memory card format, as well as traditional CompactFlash cards.

The camera also features a new, longer-life (400,000 release cycle) shutter, a top shutter speed of 1/8000sec and a ’60g lighter’ magnesium-alloy body.

In a bid to improve the photographer?s workflow, time-lapse movies can be played back in-camera, dispensing with the need for a computer.

The newcomer will be compatible with a new optional WT-5 wireless transmitter that allows the camera to be controlled remotely from an Apple iPad tablet or iPhone. Video can also be started and stopped in this way.

Other tweaks include a ?two-axis virtual horizon? that can be viewed on the 3.2in LCD (921,000 dot resolution) monitor or on the viewfinder. The monitor itself boasts a ?vastly improved? colour range, in addition to autobrightness control.

To cater for the growing market for DSLR-using videographers, the D4 includes a Full HD (1920x1080p) movie mode and, for the first time in a DSLR, a video sound ?out? port for use with headphones. There is also a slow motion movie option, delivering 60/50 frames per second.

Video length has been expanded to a 29min 59sec record time and equivalent ISO sensitivity of 200-204,800 also applies to video recording.

Nikon claims that the Expeed 3 processor delivers ?cleaner movie files even using very high ISO settings?.

The camera?s claimed ability to offer a ?live view feed without compression? (at 1080x720p, via the HDMI port) is designed to be suitable for broadcast purposes. A sensor will activate to prevent the camera from overheating when shooting video, said Banfield.

Handling benefits over the D3 include illumination of the control buttons (including those on the top plate) to help photographers in low-light conditions.

Nikon claims that, despite the camera?s new ?lower-capacity battery?, it will outperform the D3s in continuous mode to deliver around 5,500 frames.

The company explained that higher-capacity batteries, such as that inside the D3S, are now banned under recently introduced Japanese laws.

In an interview with Amateur Photographer, Banfield hinted that technology, such as the sound output with video, is likely to trickle down to future consumer-level DSLRs.

The D4 is expected to go on sale in the UK on 16 February priced £4,799.99, body only.

Nikon has also announced a new AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 G lens, billed as the ideal optic for portraits.

It is expected out in late March priced £469.99.

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