Nikon D4 review

Thursday March 15 2012

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

Nikon D4: The best Full-Frame overall score ever measured on DxOMark

Nikon D4
Nikon D4

The sensor results for the Nikon D4 are now available, and they do not disappoint!

  • With a DxOMark Overall score of 89, the Nikon D4 surpasses the next-best Full-Frame sensor by just one little point, the now second-place Nikon D3x.
  • The D4’s Low-Light ISO score of 2965 is barely 0.15 stop less than that of the best sensor analyzed up until now (the Nikon D3s).
  • Its Portrait (24.7) and Landscape (13.1) scores, while not exceptional, are still very high-level.

Nikon D4: a real success for Nikon

So the D4 is a big success for Nikon, who has succeeded in placing 4 its cameras among the top 10 best DxOMark sensor scores. Only Phase One is ahead with its high-resolution but expensive Phase One IQ 180.

The DxOMark Overall score is derived from three different “use case” scores — Portrait, Landscape, and Sports. These three scores let you get a better look at the specific characteristics of each sensor.

Portrait: 24.7 bits (tied for 4th overall; best Full-Frame score)

For the Portrait score, we analyzed the sensor’s ability to provide vivid, varied, and accurate colors under good lighting conditions (i.e., studio). The D4’s score is 24.7 bits — a remarkable score and identical to that achieved by the Nikon D3x. Only certain medium-format cameras (e.g., Phase One IQ 180 and P65 Plus) do better. This score is interesting particularly for those who take photographs under studio conditions without lighting constraints and who want optimal color rendering. The Nikon D4 can respond to the demand for good color, but its 16 Mpix sensor will be certainly limiting for this kind of use. — Good thing, since the D4 isn’t really intended for portrait photographers, who really should wait for the test results of the Nikon D800, which with its much better resolution perhaps comes a little closer to the best sensor in this area, the Phase One IQ 180’s.

Landscape: 13.1 EV (11th place)

For the Landscape score, it’s only the black and white dynamic range that counts — specifically, the maximum dynamic range that the sensor will be able to capture under good lighting conditions. This score will interest aficionados of landscape photos and strong contrasts. The Nikon D4 achieves 13.1: no problem here, high-contrast images (sunsets or back-lit, for example) can be shot with a maximum of details both for shadows and highlights. Still, the results are a bit disappointing: we expected much better from the new Full-Frame sensors. As things stand, the 16Mpix Sony APS-C sensor (in the Pentax K5 and the Nikon D7000) stays way ahead — nearly 1 stop better.

Sport: 2965 (2nd place)

The Sport score (alias Low-Light ISO score) lets you know how far you can go vis-à-vis ISO without compromising on image quality. This is the score we were particularly anxious to measure for the Nikon D4: its predecessor, the D3s, had blasted by its competitors with a dizzying score of 3253. Before this new camera appeared, Nikon already had the 3 best scores in this category for three cameras equipped with members of the same sensor family (the Nikon D3, D3s, and D700). The first non-Nikon camera in this category is the 5D Mark II, whose score equates to about 1 stop less (1815).

The Nikon D4 lives up to our expectations with a Low-Light ISO score of 2965, or roughly the same score as the D3s (0.15 stop difference).

ISO 204800: SNR = 11.6dB, DR = 5.04 EV, Color sensitivity: 9.4 bits

No surprise here, the extreme 204,800 ISO will be a real challenge to handle even for the best raw converters.

Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s: Progress?

The complete comparison is available here: Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s

For everything else that does not relate to sensor test results, see our previously-published Nikon D4 preview that lists all of the improvements and new features that the Nikon D4 brings with it with respect to the Nikon D3s.

The Nikon D4’s DxOMark sensor test score is indisputable:

Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s

Seven points better for the Overall score, and 1 stop better each for Portrait and Landscape, with an almost identical score for the Sport use case. The D4 is a real evolution — its new Full-Frame 16 Mpix sensor keeps all its promises. It succeeds in correcting certain weaknesses of the D3s (notably those affecting its Portrait scores).

Looking at the graphs a bit more closely, with the normalized SNR curves superimposed:

Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s: SNR 18% print mode
Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s: SNR 18% print mode

No improvement in terms of quantum efficiency — just a real, additional ISO in the lower realms (i.e., ISO 100) that will allow users to take full advantage of the sensor in good lighting conditions.

In terms of dynamic range, the Nikon D4 outperforms the D3s, especially for low ISO.

Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s : Dynamic Range print mode
Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s : Dynamic Range print mode

One easily gains 1 stop at ISO 200. Nikon has significantly improved its noise management in shadows — at least at ISO 200.

It’s the same story for color sensitivity— improvements are mainly up to ISO 800.

Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s : Color Sensitivity print mode
Nikon D4 vs Nikon D3s : Color Sensitivity print mode

In sum, this new 16 Mpix sensor brings with it some real improvements for low ISO (from 100 to 800). As for high ISO, its measurements are comparable to the Nikon D3s’s, which remains simply the best sensor in this area.

Nikon D4 vs Pentax K5 vs Nikon D7000

The comparison is available here: Nikon D4 vs Pentax K5 vs Nikon D7000

Nikon D4 vs Nikon D7000 vs Pentax K5

Just a note about the management of dynamic range for the Nikon D4: Even if the results are higher, we don’t reach the same heights as with the Pentax K5 and Nikon D7000.

However, at least for the moment, this APS-C sensor seems to be unequaled in terms of noise in shadows for low ISO, even taking into account the D4’s remarkable behavior.

Nikon D4 vs Canon EOS 1Dx

To end, here is the comparison that everyone’s been waiting for: Nikon D4 vs Canon EOS 1D-X.

We will have to wait a little while longer before drawing any hard and fast final conclusions. Nikon has set the bar high, but no doubt Canon’s first full-frame camera will provide a worthy response.