Overall image quality of the D4 is exactly what you would expect of a professional-grade, flagship DSLR, which is to say first class. Detail from the new sensor is excellent, especially at the lower ISOs, while tonal gradation, colour accuracy when shooting Raw, white balance accuracy and ISO performance are all highly impressive too.
The 91,000-pixel metering system offers a choice between 3D Color Matrix Metering III (the latest generation of Nikon's multi-zone metering system), Centre-weighted or Spot. Used in 3D Color Matrix mode the D4 copes very well – even under tricky conditions. For example, when shooting a backlit portrait the system is clever enough to balance the exposure, giving prominence to the face. There’s also a dedicated HDR mode (JPEG only), with the choice of 1, 2 or 3 EV exposure differential, as well as Auto.
The tonal range of images produced by the D4 is very good, with smooth graduations in colour. When shooting Raw colour reproduction remains pleasingly neutral, allowing plenty of scope to boost or mute vibrancy and saturation levels in post-production as you see fit. Should you want to alter the look and feel of processed JPEGs then you’ll find a more immediate tool to hand in the form of six Picture Control presets: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape. With each of these presets, you can opt to adjust the individual Sharpening, Contrast, Brightness, Saturation and Hue settings. You can even save your own custom presets to recall at a later date.
Testing the D4’s Automatic White Balance (AWB) setting we encountered no problems with the camera delivering consistently pleasing, neutral results. If the results are too neutral for you however, then the D4 also offers a secondary Auto White Balance that aims to keep warm lighting colours. Should you want to take the camera out of AWB and manage the white balance settings yourself you’ll find a generous range of built-in colour temperature presets (Incandescent, Sunny, Shade, Cloudy etc) or you can just set a specific kelvin temperature value.
In the past few years Nikon has deservedly gained a reputation for manufacturing DSLRs with excellent ISO performance and the D4 is no exception. Indeed, we’d even go so far as to say that the D4 offers slightly better ISO performance than the D3s – primarily on account of being able to offer the same high level of noise control while simultaneously offering more resolution.
At lower ISO settings noise is absent from images and it’s only really once you hit ISO 3200 that it starts to become noticeable. Above that, as you might expect, noise does become more prominent, however even ISO 51,200 displays a reasonable amount of detail. That said the extended limits of the D4’s ISO range should only be used as a last resort, even though it’s certainly comforting to have them to hand should you really need them.
Raw files are recorded in Nikon’s proprietary .NEF format, which is now completely compatible with Adobe and Apple image editing software. In addition, Nikon also bundles a copy of their own NX2 Raw conversion software with the camera. As is commonplace, processed JPEG files tend to display more in the way of noise control over their Raw counterparts, along with a boost in colour saturation (depending, of course, on the Picture Control setting you are using the camera in). The flipside is that unprocessed Raw files display greater levels of detail – especially at higher ISO settings.
The D4’s movie capabilities offer a big step-up over the D3s in terms of quality and features. Movies shot at 1080p Full HD look very good, at up to 24Mbps. While it's probably not enough to make Canon videographers make the leap over to Nikon, the D4 (and also the D800) look set to chip away at Canon's dominance in this sector.
Bettering the D3s was always going to be a hard task, but with the D4, Nikon has achieved it – every element of the older model appears to have been scrutinised and improved on in some way. The new sensor is better than the 12.1MP chip found inside the D3s, while video quality has also been significantly improved upon. The end result is a fantastic DSLR that performs flawlessly and delivers excellent image quality. While the £4700 price tag puts the camera out of reach for many, the D4 remains one of the best DSLRs we've yet seen and sets a new benchmark for what a professional camera can and should deliver.