Nikon D4S at a glance:

  • 16.2-million-pixel, FX (full-frame) CMOS sensor
  • Expeed 4 image processor
  • ISO 50-409,600 (extended)
  • Improved AF
  • 11fps shooting with AF and metering
  • Small raw images
  • 3,020 shots per full charge
  • Full HD 1920×1080-pixel movies at 60p/50p
  • Street price around £5,199 body only

Nikon D4S review – Introduction

At a cost of £5,199 body only, the Nikon D4S is a lot of money. For most enthusiast photographers, that sort of money could buy several cameras and lenses. But for sports photographers and photojournalists, the cost must be weighed against the amount of money they might earn during the camera’s lifetime. One well-timed, exclusive photograph could pay for a large chunk of the cost of the D4S, so it is important that it is able to focus and shoot quickly.

That’s as may be, but as an AP reader it is likely that you are an enthusiast photographer and may wonder why we are reviewing a professional-level camera. Well, the Nikon D4S takes the best of the Nikon D4 and improves upon those features that professionals demand most. These are likely to one day turn up in high-end enthusiast cameras, so what you read about here may in two years, say, be in your next camera.

To look at, the D4 and D4S are virtually indistinguishable, but some significant changes have been made to the image processing, shooting rate and autofocus, as well as a host of other alterations that affect the ease of use and handling of the camera.

Nikon D4S review – Features

Nikon’s new D4S features the same 16.2-million-pixel, full-frame (36×23.9mm) CMOS sensor as the original D4, but now it makes use of a new Expeed 4 processor, which has enabled a number of changes to be made. This new processor is 30% faster than its predecessor, which increases the speed of image capture and improves image processing speed and quality.

The improved image processing means that Nikon has been able to increase the camera’s sensitivity from ISO 100-12,800 in the D4 to ISO 100-25,600 in the D4S. The extended sensitivity settings have also been improved, and now a new Hi4 extended mode offers the equivalent of an incredible ISO 409,600.

Speed is the name of the game when it comes to professional DSLRs, and the improvements that Nikon has made here allow the D4S to shoot at up to 11 frames per second, with both metering and autofocus acquisition operational. However, although this is 1fps faster than the D4, it still lags 1fps behind the Canon EOS-1D X. Even at this fastest frame rate, the improved processing speed allows the D4S to shoot up to 200 fine large JPEGs or 104 uncompressed 14-bit raw images with a XQD memory card. To keep up with the shooting rate, there have been a few tweaks made to the AF system to increase its speed and accuracy, including the addition of AF group selection, but more on this later.

Among the smaller features are a new interval timer and time-lapse image capture. Those who want to shoot such footage will be pleased to learn that the battery life of the D4S’s new EN-EL18a battery extends to 3,020 shots, compared with 2,600 for the D4 and its EN-EL14 battery.

As with most professional DSLRs, Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t built-in, though it is available via the Nikon WT-5 wireless transmitter (around £500). Press photographers who want to send their images quickly can make use of the D4S’s new 1000Base-T (gigabit) ethernet socket to transfer images back to a press office.

By utilising the WT-5 wireless transmitter, the original D4 is able to trigger multiple cameras with a press of the shutter. This facility has been taken a step further in the Nikon D4S by allowing one of the camera’s function buttons to fire the remote cameras separately, without actually shooting the commander D4S camera. This saves time, as the photographer doesn’t have to wade through images on the original camera when they only need those from the remote kit. Little touches such as this, and the refinements they provide, may appear trivial to the enthusiast photographer, but they can make a big difference to photographers who are working to tight deadlines.

Nikon D4S review – Build and handling

There is very little in their appearance to tell the D4 and D4S apart; a glance at the designation is the only obvious identifier. If you look a little more closely, however, you’ll notice some tiny modifications. For example, the contours of the grip have been altered slightly, making the hefty 1,350g DSLR a little more comfortable to hold.

There have also been some minor modifications to the buttons of the D4S. The rear joystick controls now have a textured finish, as opposed to the raised crowns on the D4. Nikon says that the tiny changes have been made based on feedback from photographers, and although they are small, they should make it easier to operate the camera when wearing gloves.

As you would expect from Nikon’s flagship DSLR, the D4S is manufactured from magnesium alloy and has a fully weather-sealed body, so professional photographers can feel confident using the camera whatever the conditions.

Although the myriad buttons adorning the camera body may appear perplexing at first, the D4S is actually quite straightforward to use. All the main functions have a dedicated button or control, and the small rear and top-plate LCD panels mean that all the settings currently in use are displayed – there is no need to delve deep into the menu system to find them. Every setting you might wish to change while out shooting can be easily adjusted.

That is not to say that the D4S is a simple machine. The menu system has a huge number of features that can be set to your individual taste, and most professionals buying the D4S will no doubt head straight to the camera’s autofocus settings to tailor them to their requirements.

Nikon D4S review – Autofocus

Once again, the D4S employs a system used in the D4 – in this case, Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX autofocus, which has 51 points and 3D tracking. Having used variations of this system on a number of different cameras, I had high expectations for the Nikon D4S, and it didn’t disappoint.

I took the D4S to photograph deer in a country park and found that, with the AF set to continuous and 3D tracking, the camera was able to comfortably shoot at a rate of 11fps and track a trotting deer, with all frames sharp and in focus. What is particularly impressive is that when you are in 51-point 3D tracking mode, you can see the AF point changing in the viewfinder as the camera shoots its 11fps burst.

More of a challenge than trotting deer were galloping horses heading down the finishing straight at Lingfield Park race course in Surrey. These provided an altogether tougher challenge for the D4S. From around 100m away from the finish line, I was able to use a 300mm lens and 3D tracking to identify a horse and track it as it got closer, firing a sequence of 11 images that were all in focus. As the horses got closer, I fired off a second burst; on this occasion, the 3D tracking jumped from one horse to another halfway through the sequence. This was a challenging test for the camera, and using centre spot AF rather than 3D tracking, or limiting the 3D tracking to 11 points rather than 51, or changing the speed of the 3D tracking, can all resolve this issue. In fact, the sheer variety of ways in which the AF can be set up means that you have to spend time working out how best to use the options available.

One of these options is the new group-optimised AF, which uses a group of five points and switches between them when focusing. This is a great option when photographing at an event, for example, where a subject will always remain in roughly the same point in the frame.

Images: In less than 0.5sec the D4S was able to take this sequence of images, and make slight changes to the focus each time to ensure sharp images

Nikon D4S review – Metering

I used the D4S in a variety of conditions, including dawn in central London, a sunny afternoon in a country park, and a bright but overcast day at the races. In each scenario the camera’s 91,000-pixel RGB metering system worked excellently. Nikon would appear to have improved its scene-recognition technology, with the camera almost second-guessing exactly how I wanted an image to be exposed.

Shooting the horse racing, the resulting images were bright, with the highlights in the sky taken to the point of clipping, and leaving plenty of detail in the horses and foreground. However, shooting an early morning cityscape, the D4S again took the highlights to the point of clipping. This resulted in some lovely detail in the sky, with a more brooding foreground that was a little underexposed.

The balance between highlights and shadows is almost perfect, and is helped by a nice JPEG tone curve when in the standard image mode. Switching on the Active D-Lighting just helps to lift the shadows, with little risk of introducing noise.

Dynamic range

With only a moderately populated full-frame sensor, you would expect the dynamic range of the D4S to be very good, and indeed it is. We measured the maximum dynamic range to be 12.75EV at ISO 50, and even at ISO 3200 it measures 11.12EV.

What this means in practice is that there is plenty of detail in highlight areas, though because of the excellent low-light capabilities of the sensor, it records a great amount of detail in shadow areas too.

Nikon D4S review – White balance and colour

If you have used a Nikon DSLR, you will be familiar with the colours produced by the D4S. Personally, I prefer the blues and greens rendered by Canon cameras when in their standard setting, but I do think that Nikon’s colours are slightly more realistic.

Although I had little reason to switch from the D4S’s standard colour setting, I did also use the vivid mode on occasion. This adds a good level of punch to the colour saturation without going too over the top.

The automatic white balance also works well, and once again there is a choice of two tungsten options, depending on whether you want to retain or remove the warm colours that are characteristic of this lighting. If you regularly shoot in particular lighting conditions, or use the white balance setting for special effects, such as making a sunset extra vivid or an early morning appear cold, the there are now six customisable white-balance settings available.

Although colour may seem trivial when most enthusiast photographers shoot raw, for a pro, the ability to produce a good JPEG is crucial. The smaller file size makes the them easier to transfer, and it can be quicker to edit JPEGs than raw files. This is why it is vital for the D4S to have excellent colour and contrast out of the box – and it does.

Nikon D4S review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

Images: Noise is low at standard sensitivities, though the extended Hi settings are still a stretch

With the D4S using a tweaked version of the 16.2-million-pixel sensor from the Nikon D4, the amount of detail that can be resolved is obviously about the same. The D4S is capable of resolving up to almost 26 on our resolution chart, which is a standard result for a 16.2-million-pixel camera, though it pales in comparison with the 20-million-pixel-plus sensors that are increasingly becoming the standard.

However, the D4S isn’t about resolution – it is about speed. Most of the photographers using the D4S will be news and sports journalists for whom capturing the image in focus is more important than anything else. Their images will largely be used in newspapers and online, and not printed to a huge size, so a 16.2-million-pixel resolution leaves plenty of options for cropping and yet still printing at a suitable size.

One area where the D4S excels is low-light performance. The large photosites of its sensor not only provide a good dynamic range, but also capture a lot of photons in low light. This helps to keep noise to a minimum at sensitivities at which images from other cameras would be unusable.

Although I was unable to perform a side-by-side image comparison with the D4, having tested the older camera I feel that JPEG images from the D4S are better at each given sensitivity, particularly higher standard settings. Looking at and editing raw files, there is a little less difference, though they still show an improvement in noise levels in the D4S. It is impressive that the D4S resolves almost as much detail at ISO 12,800 as it does at ISO 100. It is only after this point that luminance noise begins to reduce the level of detail.

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Sigma 105mm set to f/5.6 . We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.

Nikon D4S review – Viewfinder, LCD, live view and video

The 0.70x magnification and 100% coverage of the D4S’s viewfinder is the same as its predecessor. It is large enough to really allow the eye to look around the scene, and bright enough to manually focus, especially with the focus indicator in the bottom of the viewfinder window.

For those who like to take long-exposure images, the viewfinder also has a useful shutter that prevents any light from entering the camera through the viewfinder during extremely long exposures.

As for the rear LCD screen, it is the same 3.2in, 921,000-dot screen as used on the D4, but as well as featuring an automatic brightness adjustment, the D4S now offers the ability to fine tune the colour of the screen. This has no doubt been added after reports that some original D4 cameras showed a slight green tint on the LCD.

One of the big features of the D4 was its video capability, but now, a few years on, the competition has more than caught up. The new D4S has therefore added the much needed 1920×1080-pixel-resolution video with 60p/50p frame rate. This builds upon the 24p/25p/30p rates that the D4 is capable of shooting.

As with the D4, the D4S has a stereo microphone socket that has the option of adjusting the recording sensitivity level. However, unlike the D4, the volume can be altered during recording, whereas before it was fixed when shooting. Uncompressed footage can be output from the camera’s HDMI socket to an external recording device, while also being able to record the compressed footage simultaneously to the camera’s memory card.

Nikon D4S review – The competition

At this end of the market, a new camera can often cause a photographer to switch systems, as many Canon photographers did when Nikon launched the D3, and later the D3S. I’m not sure that there is enough about the D4S to warrant a switch from the 18-million-pixel Canon EOS-1D X – most photographers wanting to do so would have with the release of the D4. So the chief competitor to the D4S will be the Nikon D4 itself.

Most retailers have already stopped listing the D4, but if you look around it can still be found for about £600 less than the D4S, and obviously used examples are even cheaper, closer to £1,000 less. Professional photographers who haven’t taken the plunge may just take advantage of the drop in price for a new Nikon D4 while they can.

Nikon D4S review – Our verdict

In terms of handling, little has changed since the original Nikon D4, though the few refinements to the D4S’s AF and shooting rate are enough to make a difference. The autofocus system on the newer camera is one of the best I have ever tested.

Where the D3S benefitted from a huge upgrade in image quality over that of the D3, the improvements in image quality between the D4 and the D4S are a little more subtle. Images straight from the camera look cleaner at higher-sensitivity settings, but the extended settings are still only really usable as a last resort.

What is impressive is that ISO 3200 and 6400 are, in the D4S, usable settings. For sports photographers, that extra sensitivity may make the difference between the shot being usable straight out of the camera or not.

Overall, the Nikon D4S is an excellent camera, with the kind of low-light, high-sensitivity image quality that many enthusiast photographers can only dream of. However, with a cost of more than £5,000, it is still very much in the domain of the professional. Those looking for similar image quality at a lower price should consider the Nikon Df.

Nikon D4S review – Key features

Raw size S
Nikon has introduced a smaller raw file format. When set to raw size S 12-bit 2464×1640 pixel raw images are created.

Gigabit Ethernet
Built into the D4S is a 1000Base-T (gigabit) Ethernet connection to allow photographers to quickly transfer data from the camera.

AF Position
The D4S will maintain a relative AF point if you switch orientation. If you are using a focus point on the left in landscape, a point on the left will still be selected in portrait.

As a professional DSLR, the Nikon D4S does not have a built-in pop-up flash. It’s hotshoe is compatible with Nikon SB flashguns.

For those using the D4S to shoot video, the camera has the ability to fine-tune the audio frequencies captured, with Wide Range and Vocal Range options available.

Nikon D4S review – The professional view

Nikon ambassador and professional sports photographer Mark Pain has been one of the first to use  the Nikon D4S

Award-winning sports photographer Mark Pain had been shooting extensively with the D4 before getting his hands on the D4S prior to its official launch. Mark has now used the D4S on a number of assignments, including this year’s Six Nations rugby tournament and FA Cup matches, so he is in a fantastic position to provide some feedback on how the camera performs and compares with its predecessor.

‘The D4S feels massively more dynamic and responsive than the D4, which is quite something as the D4 was a big jump,’ says Mark. ‘In layman’s terms, it’s like the camera has found an extra gear. The D4 was doing everything brilliantly, but you felt like you were pushing it to the limits. With the D4S, thanks in part to the new Expeed 4 image processor, it feels that bit faster and more capable – everything it does seems to be cruising along.’

Delving deeper, Mark reveals that it’s the small things. ‘Going from 10fps burst shooting to 11fps is a boost,’ he says, ‘while the new mirror box sees the mirror travel more quickly, so that the camera’s got more time to acquire focus as well as process that information quicker.’

The AF in particular impressed Mark, especially when it comes to tracking subjects. ‘The focusing is very interesting, especially with the new group area AF mode. We normally choose a central single focus point, but this new mode allows us to use five AF fields that I’ve found deliver much better acquisition of moving subjects.’

The uprated 16.2-million-pixel sensor is also singled out. Mark find ‘files straight out of camera to be much more lifelike. The raw files, for example, need very little or no work whatsoever. I think Nikon understands that sports photographers have to send images very quickly. I don’t want a bigger file size – it’s brilliant as it is.’

Image: The AF system of the Nikon D4S can keep up even with the erratic movement of a rugby match

Future improvements

There’s still some room for improvement from Mark’s perspective: he wants to see the inclusion of built-in Wi-Fi, while he’d also like to see a touchscreen on the back. ‘This would allow me to quickly add a caption such as ‘Rooney hat-trick’ on an iPhone-like keyboard, as opposed to having to go into the menu and do it manually. That would be very useful, but I’m sure the next-generation camera will move that on.’

Visit for more of his work.

Hands-on review

Nikon D4S at a glance:

  • 16.2-million-pixel, FX CMOS sensor
  • Expeed 4 image processor
  • ISO 50-409,600 (extended)
  • Faster autofocus performance
  • 11fps shooting with full metering and frame-by-frame AF
  • Raw S offers smaller uncompressed 12-bit image
  • EN-EL18a battery rated at 3,020 shots on a full charge
  • Full HD 1920×1080-pixel recording at 60p/50p
  • Price around £5,199 body only

Nikon D4S – Introduction

Nikon is once again staking its claim as the professional imaging camera manufacturer of choice with its new 16.2-million-pixel D4S. Based on its previous flagship model, the new D4S isn’t an entirely new camera, but rather a finely tuned incarnation of the award-winning D4.  Since the D4’s release in 2012, the firm has been using feedback from professionals to test and explore new ways of tackling the tough and highly pressurised environments that they face.

The D4S is the result of that work, and James Banfield, group support and training manager at Nikon UK, told me that the D4S will respond better than its predecessor to the demands and needs of the pro photographer, whether in terms of improving their workflow, capturing the action or operating in severe weather conditions.

As well as developing a new processor for the D4S, Nikon has revisited the CMOS FX-format sensor it created for the D4 and made improvements, as well as refining the camera’s AF algorithms to make the autofocus snappier. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see a comparable improvement in AF during the brief time I had with the D4S, but I have seen results from real-world testing at a Nikon event of the camera tracking fast-moving subjects. Looking at a series of images shot on a single high-speed trigger, of 15 frames, all but two appeared to be spot-on.

I’m looking forward to the D4S being put through its paces when we get it in for a full review, and seeing if we can replicate such promising performance.

Nikon D4S – Features

Comparing specifications, it really is hard to spot the differences between the D4S and the earlier D4. They are almost identical, although the most significant improvement appears to be in image processing. The Expeed 4 image processor not only has exceptional processing speed but also boasts class-leading low-light shooting capabilities, featuring an expanded ISO sensitivity of ISO 409,600. In comparison to the Nikon D4, the new D4S achieves +1EV better noise performance across all ISO sensitivities. The new processor also enables the D4S to apply sophisticated area-specific noise reduction, edge sharpening and increased tone control.

Improved lock-on capabilities and AF tracking with up to 51 points and at 11 frames per second make the D4S the fastest AF-enabled DSLR Nikon has ever made. Meanwhile, group AF selection with five points will give photographers even finer control over the AF area.

Some Nikon D3 and D3S users were reluctant to upgrade to the D4, as the image quality of those cameras is already excellent. However, the addition of a gigabit 100/1000TX ethernet port, and the smaller uncompressed raw S file format option in the D4S will provide accelerated image-transfer options that will give press and sports photographers in particular a genuine edge over photographers still using the older models.

Nikon D4S – Customisation

Customisable function buttons and intelligent assignment of trigger options mean that photographers will be able to utilise a range of productivity-boosting tweaks. For example, if the older D4 is wirelessly linked to other units, these units can only be triggered by firing the shutter button on the primary camera, but now in the D4S that action can be assigned to a function button that is available on selected lenses or on the front of the camera. This seemingly minor adjustment will prevent countless wasted frames.

The newly designed EN-EL18a battery and the D4S’s improved power management may not be a headline feature, but in practical terms it is one of the most important introductions to the new model. Nikon’s new 2,500mAh battery can shoot 5,960 frames in continuous mode, or 3,020 in single-shot (CIPA standard). At its minimum, the D4S will have almost three times the shooting stamina of Canon’s LP-E4N battery in the EOS-1D X.

Image: The new D4S features a gigabit 100/1000TX ethernet port for even faster file transfer speeds 

Nikon D4S – Build and operation

The D4 is built like a tank, and the full metal, weather-sealed body of the D4S is no different. From the front, both cameras are distinguishable only by their name plates. However, a closer look reveals slight changes to the contours of the grip sections and button design.

On the rear of the camera, the selection buttons have been given a slightly different texture and the area around them has been raised to allow for easier use while wearing gloves. These changes, although minimal, make it easier to operate the camera in both landscape and portrait orientation. Being able to accurately access the functions you need while under pressure will mean the difference between getting the shot and not getting the shot.

As the first camera manufacturer to utilise the technology in a DSLR, Nikon has stuck with providing a high-speed XQD slot, along with support for the more widely used CompactFlash card. It could be argued that two XQD slots, or UHS-II SD card support as featured in Fujifilm’s new X-T1, would have made better use of the D4S’s speed-demon credentials. But with that said, many photographers, particularly professionals, still use CF cards.

When looking through the D4S’s viewfinder, the revamped shutter and mirror mechanism significantly reduces mirror bounce, minimising blackout when shooting in burst mode. This is another subtle change, but it will have a big impact on the ability to compose, focus and capture shots when working at pace.

Nikon D4S – Final thoughts

Replacing the D4, the new Nikon D4S stacks up much better when compared to its natural adversary, the 18.1-million-pixel Canon EOS-1D X, which has 61-point AF, and shoots at 12fps as standard.

With stiff competition owing to the technological advances of other manufacturers, Nikon has raised the bar that it set with the D4 a bit higher. However, with Panasonic and Canon already offering 4K video capabilities in interchangeable-lens cameras that offer professional imaging solutions in great bodies, has Nikon missed a trick by not including 4K video in the D4S?

One thing that is certain is that the D4 the new D4S is replacing is still an outstanding camera. But with improvements made in image processing, image quality, autofocus, shutter speed and ergonomics, Nikon’s updated flagship ensures that the firm continues to provide one of the strongest professional cameras on the market.

Image: Minor but highly effective adjustments have been made to the button and grip design. The memory card door is also slightly larger