Is The Top of the Range Really Top Dog?

So Nikon’s new top of the range digital SLR is the D4, but is the D4 the camera which most Nikon owners will lust after? The reason I ask is that at the same time as releasing the D4, give or take a few days, they also released the D800. The D4 is obviously aimed at professional photographers, in particular sports photographers and the press however the D800 seems to be better than the D4 in some ways which is strange since it is far cheaper.

I won’t go into great detail about the specifications of these two cameras but here are the basics:

Nikon D4

  • Full frame 16MP
  • ISO 100 – 12,800 (expandable from 50 to 20,480)
  • 51 point AF1
  • 100% coverage viewfinder
  • 10 frames per second
  • 1,920 × 1,080 video
  • 3.2″ 921,000 pixel LCD
  • Dual cards (1 CF, 1 XQD)
  • 6.3 × 6.2 × 3.6 inches
  • 1.34kg
  • $6,000 or £5,100

Nikon D800

  • Full frame 36MP
  • ISO 100 – 6,400 (expandable from 50 to 25,600)
  • 51 point AF
  • 100% coverage viewfinder
  • 4 frames per second FX (6 frames with battery grip)
  • 1080p video
  • 3.2″ 921,000 pixel LCD
  • Dual cards (1 CF, 1 SD)
  • 4.8 x 5.7 × 3.2 inches
  • 1kg with battery
  • $3,000 or £2,600

It seems to me that unless you need the high frame rate of the D4 or require its extra ruggedness the sensible money is in the D800. I couldn’t particularly care less about how many megapixels a camera has, I am happy enough with the 10MP I have got and my PC couldn’t cope with processing 36MP anyway, what is important to me is the quality of each of those pixels, in other words I want the best quality sensor which has the best dynamic range and the best low light performance.

So which sensor is getting the best reviews? 36MP on a camera costing $3,000 or 16MP on a camera costing twice that? Very surprisingly the D800’s sensor seems to outperform the sensor of the D4. The well respected DxO Labs have tested both sensors and concluded that the sensor in the D800 is theoretically better than that of the D4. It has been suggested that the D800 brings into question the need for digital medium format cameras at all.

So why have Nikon done this? I don’t like to be cynical but my guess is that in 18 months time they will be launching a D4s or D4x which happens to have a 36MP sensor. That way they have three bites at the cherry – people will buy the D800 now, others will buy the D4 now, both groups may upgrade to the D4x when it is released.

So which would you buy if you had the cash?

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One thought on “Is The Top of the Range Really Top Dog?

  1. Today Nikon’s official website in Japan listed the 24MP D3x as being discontinued. Since the D3s has already gone studio and landscape photographers (who the D3x is aimed at) are left with a choice of the 36MP D800 or the 16MP D4. Would these people really spend a fortune on a D4 which has far fewer pixels? I think not so are even Nikon telling us that the D4 is not always top of the range?

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