Hi, welcome to my Nikon D4s blog.
I'm going to use this blog to demonstrate and review the new Nikon D4s camera. My intention is to show it working in real situations, not in a controlled lighting environment with the camera attached to a tripod.
I've grown up using pretty much all of the Nikon film and digital cameras, and I've periodically upgraded my kit to stay up to date. This, as you can imagine is worthwhile, but expensive practice. When Nikon announced the D4, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out if it was worth the upgrading to from a D3s. The answer, at least just from blogs and reviews wasn't easy to find, almost all the image examples were taken in controlled lighting in an effort to 'show' the image noise and quality, and not necessarily by photographers who, like me, would be earning a living from the camera on a daily basis.
Having finally had a play with a D4, I decided that I'd stick with the D3s for now, and upgrade when the, perhaps, more refined D4s /D5 was released. So any comparisons will be made to the D3s or the D800. I'll be using the camera mostly for stills, however, I will be shooting video from time to time. I hardly ever use the D3s for video, I just don't like it, all of my video is shot using the D800.
It's probably worth noting that this is one of the first twenty bodies to hit the UK. It was supplied to me by the good folk of Grays Of Westminster. It makes me a little nervous having one of the first bodies, as I wouldn't be at all surprised if it still had 'development issues'.
But time, and use, will tell...........................
I've just photographed Duwayne Brooks, best friend of Stephen Lawrence. (He was with Stephen when he was killed). He was giving a guest lecture to some criminology students.
Now, the room he was presenting in was VERY dark, a little bit of light spilled in at the back around the drawn blinds, and there was a projector shining forwards, which provided a bit of reflected light. I'll be honest, my heart sank when I walked in, I didn't think I'd got a chance of getting anything useable. The first picture was taken hand held, 6400 ASA, 1/100th second at 2.8 on my 70-200 VR2. The second, was taken at 1600 ASA 1/125th second at 1.6 on my 85 1.2 G. Both pictures were shot on manual and have had a bit of post production work, but as I've said before, this is what the client sees, and ultimately, what can be produced. Now, I don't know about you, but I think the camera has performed brilliantly here, the WB is spot on, and the noise is very well controlled. Remember I'm coming at this from the perspective of a D3s owner, but I can tell you, I wouldn't have got anything this clean on the D3s. I hated taking the D3s above 4000 ASA, and now I'm dialling in 6400 without thinking. The D4s, in real world situations, seems at least a stop and a half cleaner than the D3s, perhaps even two stops.
Following my trip out to the basketball, I though I'd try the Nikon D4s at international wheelchair rugby. Team GB asked me along to shoot the official portraits and team picture, so I thought I'd stay and shoot a bit of action.
The team pictures was done on my D800, lit with three Elinchrom Quadra A Heads, but the action was shot on the D4s with a 70-200 VR2. I knew the leisure centre they were playing at and decided not to take my 300 2.8 VR, which with hindsight was probably a mistake as a lot of the action felt a little 'lose' at 200mm, and I could have done with losing more of the background. Note to self, take everything next time.
Wheelchair rugby isn't an easy thing to photograph, to try and convey the sort of emotions and movements that are plentiful in football and rugby; I didn't see any eye gouging, everyone was very sporting! The lighting at the leisure centre in question is very different to that of the basketball. Gone is the ghastly orange glow of the sodium bulbs, instead replaced with a more 'eye friendly' fluorescent tube. Basking, as I was, in the white balance success of the basketball, I just let the camera do it's thing, and I have too say, I was slightly less impressed. I'll put two slide shows up, the first is just one picture, the second a selection. Back to the first slide show, the image was shot at 6400 ASA on manual, probably about two thirds of a stop over exposed to compensate for the reflections the floor was throwing up. I'll include a RAW conversion with no adjustments, a post processed (in Adobe RAW 8.4 Beta) version where I've worked the levels, white balance, sharpness and noise, I've also cropped it a little... then I've cropped in tighter so you can look more closely at the quality. The exposure was 1/500 at 4, 155mm on the zoom. Now, while I was shooting, I kept an eye on the screen, and thought the images looked quite clean. When I started to view the pictures on my Mac, I started to bite my lip a little, they didn't look nearly as clean as I'd have expected. I relaxed a little though after I'd processed the example picture though. To my eye, the picture is still a little yellow, but I'm not sure if my eye is being thrown off balance by the sea of blue breeze-blocks and net covers. The trouble is, your eye sees the dark(ish) blue of the net covers, then it sees the light blue of the wall, then it tries to make sense of the yellow tops and the skin tones. I think it's all a little confusing to the eye, and without actually viewing the image at the scene, it's hard to know if everything is true to life. Next time I'll take my penknife and bring home a large sample of net cover and wall paint to colour match to!
The second slide show is just a small selection of pictures where I haven't changed the white balance, but I have adjusted the levels.
It's worth noting that the slideshow reduces the resolution, but you can click through to the files. Under normal circumstances, I'd crop the pictures to concentrate on any action.. I've left these whole though, and they were shot as a test. As for the panning pictures... close but no cigar.
See what you think.....
Basketball, as good a test for any camera's autofocus and sensor. Poor lighting and FAST players make for a difficult mix, not only that, the players aren't just fast, their movements are far less regular than, say, football or rugby players, and that's exasperated by using a medium length zoom rather than a nice flattening 3/400 prime on a long pitch.
The first thing you notice with the Nikon D4s, is that it fits the hand brilliantly. It's so much nicer to hold for a length of time than the D3s, and the controls are excellently positioned. I have noticed however that I seem to be able to press some of the back buttons with my nose, and I have a little nose, not one shaped like a finger! There were several times that I looked down, noticing out of the corner of my eye that the screen was on. I probably just need to train my nose to stay out of the way. It's funny, but the camera seems (in use) to feel much lighter than the D3s; not, however, lightweight like the D800 (with MB-D12). It also feels like the weight is distributed differently on the inside, which, if true, probably goes some way towards making it feel better in the hand.
I'm only going to touch on this, because it's early days, but the auto white balance seems to perform like magic. The lighting at the basketball was really very (photographically) poor. It was a typical old sports hall, with low-pressure sodium bulbs, only punctuated with a smidge of bright tungsten from a spot light. I did a test shot, expecting to have to dial in my own WB, but was so impressed, I left it alone. A quick test shot on the D3s showed just how much better it was.
OK, if you're reading this, you probably want to know what the AF, sensor and 'motor drive' were like.
In a word, bloody ACE! Ok, that's two words.
I tried the AF on various modes, 3D tracking, Auto-area AF, Group area and 9-point dynamic-area AF. Although the D4s's instruction book recommends 3D tracking for 'erratically moving subjects' it became confused my the mass of moving bodies it was presented with. Perhaps basketball isn't its 'game', it might fare much better where the subject is more clearly defined against the background, tennis perhaps.
Auto area AF is amazing to watch work, but not so great in use, at least with basketball. Here you look through the viewfinder, and instead of choosing a focus point, the camera does it for you. I find this a very strange idea... why would you want the camera to decide what you're going to have sharp? As you look through the camera, the red focus square jumps at an amazing pace from subject to subject, doing its best to understand what's going on in front of it, and what's the most prudent thing to focus on. As before, it might well work brilliantly with a clean background, for example if your model is running down the beach towards you. I'll find something to try this on later, so stay tuned.
Group area setting fares much better with tribulations of basketball. Here you are presented with a cross of four focus squares, this reduces the risk of the subject leaving the focus area, resulting in a nice sharp background. Generally it seemed to do very well, better I'd say with the 70-200 2.8 Vr2 than the 24-70 2.8. I could image this as very helpful for birds in flight as it gives you a bigger 'focus target' to place over the subject. I did have my concerns about it's limitations in basketball though, this is because as the players charge this way and that, they stoop forwards, here you could find yourself with the top focus point on the players face, but the lower point on his chest...which does the camera choose? * if you are in AF-S mode, it'll chose a face, but you'd only ever be using AF-C in sport.
9-point dynamic focus mode (21 and 51 are also available) is amazing. If you have the focus point on the subject, it's going to be sharp. Simple as that, and for the most of the time, it'll stay that way too. Moving from the D3s (which was very good) there is a marked improvement, not only that, it magically seems to hold focus even though the mirror is -all be it delicately- clattering away at a rate of knots.
Ah yes.... the shutter release/motor drive. All I can say is wow! The whole camera feels like it's chomping at the bit to get going. This is a proper thoroughbred in your hand that'll rear up, snort, and be charging along at full gallop before you know what's happened, It actually made me grin on more than one occasion and I thought that novelty had been lost to time some years ago. OK, some people are going to say, 'yeah, but who uses 11FPS every day?' And...I'd agree, to a point. I generally use my D3s on 'continuous low' , for most things, that's quite adequate, hell, I've even had it on 'single' sometimes! BUT, with the D4s the speed is there when you need it, not just for sport and alike, but for everything. You can feel the camera recycle to ready in a breath, ready for you to shoot the next frame when YOU are ready, and when you're shooting for a living, you need to capture exactly 'the' moment, and with the D4s you can.
Finally... the sensor. Well, I kinda want to hold back on that one at the minute, get used to the camera, and the results, that way I'll be ably to give you a more considered opinion. You can however look at the some of the basketball pics. They were all shot RAW and processed in Adobe RAW 8.4 (which by the way is a pre-release 'lab' version). Some noise reduction has been added, as has some sharpening. The colours are 'real'. Most of the pictures are full frame, two are cropped, these are obvious by their file name. The levels have been tweaked a little, but only a little. Notice how good the blacks look...full and noise free. All were shot at 8000 ASA ( I never used to take the D3s past 4000). Most of them are sharp, it's a fairly representative selection of what was taken. I'd say that 95% were easily sharp enough for newsprint, and probably 85% sharp enough on closer inspection to use in fine print. The first couple of frames were shot in almost total darkness, the subject lit with a soft red light and a spot light. The exposure was guessed, sorry, estimated.
I managed to get to a gig tonight with the sole intention of giving my new D4s an airing. I've got to say, it's a lovely thing to use. First impressions are.. Brilliant AF, easy to migrate to (from D3s), light weight, lovely sounding shutter/mirror box and it chews through frames with aplomb.
Here are a couple of example shots at high ISO. The ISO is in the file name. The picture of the man at the mixing desk was taken in what seemed like very low light. ISO 128000, 1/30 sec F5.6 on a Nikon 14-24 F2.8