Last Friday we had the chance to attend the Nikon press conference introducing the Nikon D4 and lay our hands on a pre-production model used for filming and broadcasting the conference live on the web.

The first thing that struck us when holding the D4 with the new AF-S 85mm f/1.8G lens mounted is that the couple feels incredibly light. Of course, we’re talking about a camera that weighs 1340g without a lens, but it is well-balanced and fits perfectly in your hand. A Nikon official told us that the weight was reduced by about 60g compared to the D3s, and that they had a hard time doing so since the D3s was already very optimized on this point.

When putting your eye to the viewfinder, you discover a large and bright image — no improvement over the D3s there, but still a very pleasing experience, especially when you are used to APS-C cameras. The camera is extremely responsive, and even in the poor lighting conditions, the autofocus responds instantly with perfect accuracy.

Among the small details and improvements we were shown, we liked the new joystick that lets you choose your autofocus point from among the 51 available very quickly. Its shape will be familiar to Canon users, and the fact that it is repeated at the back of the camera (for portrait shots) is a welcome addition (one shared with the Canon EOS 1D X). The joystick can also be used for scrolling through an image in playback mode. We also liked the fact that the autofocus mode (AF-S or AF-C) is indicated in the viewfinder and can be changed very easily without taking your eye from the viewfinder.

When looking at the pictures we shot on the 3.2" LCD screen, we found the high ISO performance to be satisfying. Of course, ISO 208,400 photos are not noiseless, and we could even see some mild banding, but it was already a miracle that the image was not drowned out by noise at such a high sensitivity! (Remember that we’re working with JPEG images shot with a pre-production camera, and since we were not allowed to take any images back home, we will have to wait until we have a production camera and RAW images to pass along definitive advice.) Apart from that, the screen itself looks well-defined, maybe a bit dull — but nothing to worry about.

The WT-5 Wireless Transmitter on a Nikon D4

One of the most highlighted features was the new WiFi module that allows using any WiFi device as a file browser and as a remote control for the camera. Attendees were invited to connect to the camera to their iPhone to try it for themselves, and the feature was also demonstrated on an iPad.

The most impressive thing about this new feature is that you really do have full control over the camera through a simple web browser. You can see the live-view image at a decent frame rate, change shooting parameters, shoot pictures, and even shoot videos without having to install anything! We were told that iPhone and iPad applications are under development to make the user experience even better on these platforms.

All in all, from what we could see, the Nikon D4 brings improvements to almost every feature that previously existed, and includes everything you could expect from a camera at this price tag. It will be very interesting to see how well its sensor performance competes against the Canon EOS 1D X, which should be available a bit later. We cannot wait to see these two models in our laboratory!