Nikon unveiled its newest flagship digital SLR tonight, the D4S, which seems, on paper, to be a minor upgrade to the previous model. (PDN was pre-briefed on the Nikon D4S, under NDA, prior to tonight’s launch but we were not given any hands-on time with the camera.) Like the D4, which was introduced in 2012, the new D4S uses a 16.2-megapixel, FX-format (full-frame) sensor, which Nikon describes as “newly designed.”
The revamped imaging chip in the D4S has an expanded ISO range, going all the way up to ISO 409,600 (Hi-4), which should be able to let it capture visible subject matter in near total darkness for forensic photography and other scientific applications. That extremely high ISO range could also, potentially, have photojournalistic applications such as war photography when flash is not permitted or advisable.
The Nikon D4S also has a new EXPEED 4 image processing engine designed to cut down on image noise when shooting at high ISOs in low light, and for better HD video quality and improved overall performance speed. The Nikon D4S can shoot at 11 frames per second with full autofocus (AF) and auto exposure (AE). (The previous camera could shoot at 11fps but AF and AE were locked on the first frame.) Nikon says the D4S has an “overall 30% increase in processing power.”
New Autofocus Features
Like its predecessor, the D4S features a 51-point AF system but includes a new Group AF function. The Group AF mode uses five AF points for better stability when tracking subjects and improved accuracy by cutting down on background focus, Nikon said.
As it was explained to us during an NDA call with Nikon on the new D4S, Group AF will help isolate and lock in on a subject, even when the background is bright with heavy contrasting colors, which can cause some cameras to back focus.
Steve Heiner, Nikon’s Senior Technology Manager, said he’s seen the Group AF system tested on a ski slope, and the D4S was able to easily lock in its AF on a speeding skier despite the contrasty background of the mountain. “I was quite impressed,” he said. “It works really well for sports photography, since it keeps a larger cluster of AF points on your subject, which maintain focus.”
We asked Heiner to share photos of the test shoot with the skier for this article but images were not provided to us at press time. (UPDATE: Nikon has posted sample photos shot with the D4S, including one image of a skier, on its Flickr stream and the Nikon Japan website.)
Nikon’s AF Lock-on technology in the D4S has also been upgraded. The revamped technology has reportedly shortened the time the camera reverts from focus interruptions, such as when a referees runs into the frame when shooting a game.
Time Lapse and Video Tweaks
Other changes to the Nikon D4S include enhanced Standard Picture Control, for better skin tones in portrait photography; finer white balance adjustments; better visibility through the viewfinder with less blackout time; and a tweak that maintains your focus points when you switch from horizontal to vertical shooting.
Time lapse shooters will like that the new Nikon D4S has exposure smoothing in time lapse movie mode, and the ability to shoot 9,999 pictures total in interval time lapse sequences. There’s now a new smaller RAW Size S image file option, which captures 12-bit uncompressed RAW/NEF files at half the resolution of a normal NEF.
New video features on Nikon D4S include the ability to shoot at 1080p HD at 60p, along with 30p, 24p, and 25p; auto ISO exposure control in manual mode; and simultaneous uncompressed recording from the D4S’ HDMI port out for broadcast, and compressed recording to memory cards. (And yes, like the D4, the D4S sports dual memory cards slots: one for CompactFlash cards and one for those less common — and less popular — XQD cards.)
There’s also a wider frequency range for sound recording on the D4S, that lets you narrow it for voice recording, such as when you’re shooting interviews.
Subtle Design Changes
In terms of physical design, the Nikon D4S’ grip has been changed slightly to make it easier to hold. Meanwhile, the thumb bump on back of the camera has been tweaked, to make it easier to shoot with vertically. The knobs on the camera are also, reportedly, easier to adjust and are more durable.
Those are main changes to the Nikon D4S and while they may seem minor, it’s hard to tell how much of an improvement they will offer until we get a chance to actually test the camera. One other thing that has changed with the new Nikon D4S is the price: it will retail for $6,499 (body only) when it goes on sale on March 6, 2014. That’s approximately $500 more than the Nikon D4 debuted at in 2012.