Nikon D4 review

Thursday March 15 2012

Camera Review
Introduction | Nikon D4 Preview | Nikon D4 Hands-on | Nikon D4 versus competition | Nikon D4 Sensor performance | Nikon D4 Lens Recommendations
Nikon D4

Nikon’s newest professional digital SLR, the D4, arrived on the world stage just in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Sports and news photographers traveling to the XXX Olympiad using Nikon’s flagship camera will find it’s a workhorse, and even worthy of a few gold medals.

For starters, the D4 is capable of snapping 10 frames per second (depending on mode), with the ability of sustaining this rapid succession for up to 20 seconds. This means the camera won’t skip a beat during Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s quest for more Olympic glory in the 100 and 200 meter sprint contests.

Its 16.2-megapixel sensor also produces high quality images to back up its $6,000 (USD) price tag. This is what we discovered back in the spring when we put the D4 through DxOMark’s sensor quality drill.

DxOMark has assembled lens recommendations for those who own, or are thinking of purchasing the D4. These lenses, when combined with the D4, will provide photographers with the strong image quality that they so universally demand. These recommendations are compared with different lenses, so consumers can better understand the differences in lens quality, but are also supplied with alternatives.

Lenses for sports and wildlife photographers

Telephoto lenses are one of the most important pieces of glass in a sports and wildlife photographer’s bag of lenses. They provide shooters with a much needed magnified zoom that aid in creating sharp and in-focus pictures of subjects that are often hundreds of meters away.

Midrange telephoto lenses – glass that is between 70 to 300mm in focal length – are not as exhausting on a photographer’s body, or their budget, compared to fixed focal-length lenses that are 300mm and above – the latter sometimes cost more than the D4 itself.

Nikon’s AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED
Nikon’s AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED received top marks against its competitors for overall image quality.

For D4 photographers looking for a flexible midrange telephoto lens, DxOMark recommends Nikon’s AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED. During DxOMark testing, the lens reached a high score of 30 and notched better overall image quality score compared to similar lenses made by competitor Sigma.

The Nikon’s AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED received high marks for its resolution, especially at the shallow focal length of 70mm. However, the lens’ resolution began to dull at longer focal lengths and even began to lag some of its Sigma rivals. The Nikon 70-200mm’s follow-up, the 2009 released Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II, may have remedied these resolution weaknesses (and we’ll be sure to check as soon as we get our hands on this newer lens).

But Sigma’s 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM wasn’t that far behind Nikon’s 70-200mm in resolution quality and even bested the Nikon’s 70-200mm at the longest focal length of 200mm. It would make a good alternative lens for sports photographers who most frequently rely on the longer focal lengths.

Limiting resolution map in the image field at focal length 70mm and aperture 2.8
From left to right, resolution performances in the Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, and the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM.
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM
While not as strong in picture resolution as Nikon's 70-200mm, the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM would make a great lens for sports photographers looking to get the best performance in dark conditions - like at an evening sports game.

If you’re looking for a bright midrange telephoto lens that performs well during a nighttime soccer game, you should consider the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM. It had brighter transmission, besting its own 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM and blinding Nikon’s 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED. Its transmission score of 3 T-stop topped its sibling’s 3.2 T-stop and Nikon’s 3.4 T-stop. The lens also notched the top prize in controlling chromatic aberration.

Show Nikon vs. Sigma chart here.

The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM and Nikon AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED produced very good image quality, but their high price might be out of reach for some photographers. Sigma’s nearly 15-year-old 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO HSM for Nikon might be an affordable alternative; costing $880 (USD), it is nearly a thousand dollars less than the Nikon 70-200mm, and nearly $800 cheaper than its younger sibling. However, note the lens is susceptible to strong chromatic aberration, that pesky effect that creates color fringing typically found at edges where dark and bright contrast meet.

Lens suggestions for portrait photographers

Nikon’s AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF
Nikon’s AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF may be nearly 2 decades old, but it keeps up with even its most youthful direct competitors.

Portrait photographers are often drawn to medium-focal-length lenses that are between 85 to 135mm – at least that’s the common wisdom. That’s because these lenses do a great job of limiting distortion that is so prevalent with wide-angles. They are also preferred over telephoto lenses because they help close the gap between photographer and subject, helping to create a better connection and sense of intimacy between the model and the consumers of the picture.

DxOMark recommends portrait photographers consider Nikon’s two-decade-old Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF for their next portraiture lens purchase. The lens produced high quality images during testing that came close to equalizing its 2010 sibling, the Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G, and Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Nikon.

The lens was in the middle, tied, or on top of every image DxOMark quality category. It even bested Nikon’s 2010 85mm f/1.4 G and Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4 EX DG in the all-important category of image sharpness and resolution.

As an added bonus, its $1,230 price tag makes it nearly a $1,000 cheaper than the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G! For those looking to save even more green, consider Sigma’s 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM. It costs about $970 and also has helps create quality images.

Show three way comparison here.

Fixed Prime Lens Recommendation

Prime lenses, like the 50mm, offer stunningly crisp images thanks to their optical quality and extra-wide apertures. These combined features allow the 50mm to produce photos with unique bokeh, or the esthetic quality of a lens’ blur. The low apertures available on most 50mm lenses, which are often f/2 and lower, also give photographers extra wiggle room in lowlight environments.

The Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D
The Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D provides an excellent bang for your buck.

Fifty-millimeter prime lenses are typically much more compact, lighter, and cheaper than their peers. For example, the Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D – DxOMark’s top pick for pairing with the D4 – costs about $135 (USD) and is an unobtrusive everyday (or night) companion for a photographer looking to pack light and run wild.

The Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D received an overall score of 27 on DxOMark’s optics review. This was 3-points below its relative, the Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G and its rival, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM for Nikon.

But the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D could not be beaten in its value. Buying two of these lenses would still be cheaper than just one Nikon 50mm f/1.4G or Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4.

In its dual with its more expensive competitors, the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D managed to produce images with sharper image quality, and better controlled distortion, vignetting, and chromatic aberration. Its only weakness was that it had slightly dimmer brightness.

Show three-way comparison chart here.

If you’re shopping for the brightest standard lens, both Sigma’s 50mm and Nikon’s 50mm f/1.4G are equally bright, and have transmission scores measured at 1.6 T-stops. The Sigma wins the tiebreaker between the two with just a tad better resolution and much stronger control of vignetting.

The ultimate wide-angle lens for landscape photographers

Wide-angle zoom lenses allow photographers the ability to take sweeping images of nature’s beauty; and they can help illustrate the human imagination through photographs of our architecture and skylines. Wide-angle lenses also allow shooters to perform acrobatics by getting low, high, against the wall, in the corner, in a tree, and everywhere in between. Simply put, the possibilities seem endless in what a photographer can explore and document using these lenses.

IMG

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED
The Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED is one of the brightest wide-angle lenses on the market. It’s also one of the most expensive.

DxOMark recommends the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED for D4 users looking to make a new wide-angle purchase. The lens complimented the Nikon D4 nicely in our optics tests, and swept its nearly 2-decade old relative, the Nikon AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D, and competitor Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical, in four out of five DxOMark categories.

The lens’ really wide aperture helped it gain a transmission score of 1.7 T-stops, making it one of the brightest wide-angle lenses in the field and an ideal accessory for photographers who love to take landscape pictures in dark conditions like underneath a starry sky.

The Nikon 24mm also led the pack in controlling vignetting, chromatic aberration, and distortion. The latter is a common problem with wide-angles, especially in Samyang’s super-wide fisheye-like 14mm, as noted in the distortion grids below.

Straight grid as seen by camera
From left to right, distortion samples for the Nikon 24mm, Nikon 20mm, and Samyang 14mm.

There’s a high price to pay for the quality optics and extra wide aperture of the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED. Brace yourself. The lens’ retail value is $2,200, making it about $1,500 dollars more expensive than the Nikon AF Nikkor 20mm f/2.8D or Samyang’s 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical.

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical
The Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical is an affordable alternative to other high-end wide-angle lenses.

This makes the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical an interesting alternative. The lenses affordable price of about $400, which can largely be attributed to its manual-only focus, makes it a steal. The lens’ extra wide photographic perspective of the world also makes it a compelling and close second place to Nikon’s pricey Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED, especially if you note that its optics scored highest in image resolution among the three lenses in this comparison. But again, as noted in the graphs above, the lens produces images with strong distortion.

Insert three-way comparison found here.

Micro lens recommendation

Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED
Micro Lens Pick: Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED

The micro, or macro lens, is the biggest weapon in an insect or plant photographers’ arsenal of lenses. These types of lenses allow for the unseen to be seen; a micro can capture the fine hair of a tarantula spider with amazing detail, making the arthropod look more like a mammal than an arachnid.

DxOMark recommends the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED for photographers looking to stalk alien-like insects using a micro lens. It is a solid piece of glass that during testing produced images with extremely sharp resolution – a must for insect and plant photographers who demand lenses retain even the smallest of details. This ability to preserve details elevated Nikon’s 105mm above comparable lenses made by Sigma and Tamron. The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro for Nikon lens and the Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro for Nikon lens had notably weaker resolution at the widest aperture of f/2.8.

Limiting resolution map in the image field at selected focal lengths and aperture 2.8
From left to right, resolution performances in the Nikon 105mm, the Tamron 90 mm, and Sigma 105mm.

All three lenses remained close in score when measuring distortion. The trio also had similar brightness with transmission scores of around 3.1 T-stop.

Photographers looking to save a little dough, but retain lens quality should consider Sigma’s 105mm. At $640 (USD), it shaves off about $250 from the cost of Nikon’s 105mm, and still manages to keep close with the lens quality of Nikon’s micro.

At $460, Tamron 90mm is the cheapest and most lightweight micro (a dainty 405 grams) of the bunch.

Show comparison chart between three lenses here.

Great value. Great Price.

Photography is an expensive profession. Combined costs – the purchase of a high-end camera like the Nikon D4, acquiring a complete kit of lenses, plus lighting gear – can easily approach the value of a new car.

But there are affordable lenses on the market that can help bring this daunting investment down in price without sacrificing any of the quality.

Here are a few lenses that caught our attention for their low prices and their high marks on the D4.

Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX

Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX

The Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 PRO FX would make a quality wide-angle zoom lens for shopping photographers. It complimented the Nikon D4 nicely in our optics tests, aided by its bright optics and excellent image resolution. It even outperformed many pricier and more popular Nikon lenses in the same wide-angle zoom lens category. An additional bonus of the lens is its affordability. It’s priced around $850 (USD), nearly $1,000 cheaper than similar Nikon wide-angle zoom lenses.

Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF

Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF

Samyang’s 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF for Nikon produces high quality images that are just as good, if not better than many similar Nikon and Sigma lenses. It has bright optics that produce images with high resolution and low distortion and vignetting. Priced at just $330, it’s also a steal compared to similar Nikon lenses that can cost nearly $2,000 more!

However, the Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherical IF for Nikon does have a drawback. It only shoots in manual mode, there is no autofocus, so photographers who don’t trust their eyes may want an alternative lens.

Conclusion

DxOMark’s lens recommendations are intended to help Nikon D4 photographers achieve the best image quality using a diverse pool of lenses. Undoubtedly there are many more lens choices. In the coming months, DxOMark will add more lens data for consumers to compare and contrast lenses for the D4. We’ll also be providing similar information for other popular brands, including Canon and Sony cameras.