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The Latest Nikon Flagship: The D4

Nikon’s pro series of camera bodies have always had a reputation for being extremely reliable workhorses. The newest iteration, the D4, will be no exception. It also appears to benefit from solid evolutionary developments in sensor technology and image processing that result in class leading image quality.

These Pro bodies are never going to be mistaken for being petite or lightweight, but the new Nikon does feel comfortable in the hand and offers a nice pallet of technology. For underwater photographers, the big improvements are a significant 33% bump in resolution to 16MP, a very fast 10+ frames per second shutter capability and better high ISO performance then the well respected D3s. Video is now a full 24/30 FPS 1080p HD with 60 FPS possible in 720p mode; all viewable on a new 3.2” LCD. A new 91,000 pixel “metering” system replaces the 1005 pixel sensor used in previous pro bodies. To call this merely a metering system is a bit of an understatement, as this sensor also plays a key role in autofocus subject tracking and white balance. There are also a host of subtler improvements including better auto focus, enhanced joystick navigation, even more extensive in-camera image editing and several cropped sensor shooting modes. Another Nikon first on the D4 is the introduction with Sony of a new storage media: XQD Type Memory. At first glance this appears to be a very robust and fast new format well suited the D4’s substantial performance. Compact Flash cards are also still supported, though the D4 only seems happy with newer high speed CF cards.

A beefy pro camera like the D4 with its requisite larger underwater housing is definitely not for everybody, but does offer some unique virtues for certain shooters. The large, bright, 100% coverage viewfinder is noticeably easier to use than many smaller DSLRs. This can be a significant asset in detail critical shooting such as shallow depth of field macro photography. The camera’s super fast frame rate will be welcomed by those shooting fast moving marine life and ambient light shooters will certainly appreciate the broad ISO latitude. Traditionally, underwater images have been shot with flash at low ISO, but the D4 allows ISO to be pushed into the 6400-12800 range while maintaining printable quality. This ISO reach means that ambient and flash fill light can be balanced in almost any situation, and challenging ambient light shots are possible in darker conditions. The newly refined AF system is noticeably better at focus tracking than the D3, which hopefully equates to better AF with super macro accessories and tricky fleeting subjects.

The video refinements are no doubt in response to Canon’s success in the video production field with 5D Mk II, and they are well executed. Video from the camera has extremely low noise, and color is pleasingly not oversaturated. Preset white balance is extremely accurate in air, and rolling shutter artifacts and moiré are well controlled.

Dr. Alex Mustard on the Nikon D4:

"I am excited about reviewing the D4 because it is an amazing device for creating images, a massive step from the D3. The image quality is phenomenal and the despite the AF system has blown me away, despite being on paper the same as the D3/D700/D800. But for underwater photography its little brother, the D800 matches it in many areas and actually has a feature set that I think is more suited to most underwater photography. I'll get into that in the review when I have had the chance to test it in a variety of conditions (but I hope that the review is also relevant for D800 users and they see much of their new tech used underwater for the first time)."

"Anyway, I am pleased with the first day's performance of the camera. Still unsure of which AF modes I prefer - as they all just work."

"These were shot on AUTO area!"

"This was late afternoon. Light was fading and clouds building. I also switched over to a rectilinear lens (16-35mm). Non fisheye wide angles can be difficult to get good corner sharpness with underwater. The solution is to use a good dome (I used Zen 230) and kept the lens stopped down. In such dark conditions this meant pushing the ISO up to get useable shutter speeds. I shot between ISO 1600 and 2500."

 

Subal ND4 for Nikon D4




 Subal’s quality control is legendary. Housings are machined from a seawater resistant aluminum alloy, hard coated, then painted. The powder painting process used is the best in the business, and even old housings with thousands of dives on them look great.

We love the attention to the ergonomic enhancements of this housing. Subal has traditionally placed the core still photo controls comfortably within reach on the housings, but under the leadership of documentary film maker Harald Karl (Subal’s owner since Jan 2011), video functionality has been taken to another level. Still photographers will appreciate the traditional Subal feel, with fingetip right handle access to shutter release, f-stop, shutter speed, and AF-ON (customizable to focus and exposure lock). Video start/stop is enabled by a trigger at the right handle, as is a rocker lever accessing the Pv and Fn controls on the front of the camera. These can be assigned to a number of custom functions, including power iris. Two Nikonos flash connectors are standard on this housing (Ikelite and Subtronic S6 are available optionally), and there are two spare 14mm threaded holes for attaching a hydrophone, video out cable, or optional electrically connected remote release.


This Computer Aided Design generated image illustrates control layout.


Users can also self-install Subal’s Prism Finder. The Prism Finder blocks the camera’s optical viewfinder, but provides a waist level viewing option of the live view display used for video shooting, providing a comfortable in water shooting position.

 

Nauticam NA-D4

Nauticam has released sneak peak photos of their ND4 housing, and it looks like another excellent option. During the development phase, Edward Lai, founder of Nauticam suggested the D4 “is by far the best DSLR I have ever used. The files are incredibly clean and smooth, while the DR and color gradation are simply amazing.”




Nauticam has refined their front command wheel control for D4, using a larger diameter knob that offers easier “one finger” exposure changes. In addition to the core still photo and video controls, there are some notable control enhancements..

Live View is routed out to the right handle for easy access.




The Info Button, which brings up the camera shooting data and provides quick access to some camera features is available via a lever at the left thumb.



Dr. Alexander Mustard with Nikon D4, Nauticam NA-D4 housing, and Zen Underwater 230mm Optical Glass Super Dome.

Nauticam has also unveiled a new multi-controller design that provides access to the diagonal focus point movements. Traditional systems have only offered up/down/left/right control, which can make moving focus points with 51 sensors an arduous task. This new assembly should make quick AF-area changes much easier.

Nauticam is expected to start shipping the D4 housing by May 1 at a price of $5100

Even More Demystification...
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