With the debut of the Nikon D4, Nikon has introduced its new flagship, full-frame digital SLR camera. At 16.2 megapixels, this high-end professional model improves on the speed and accuracy of its predecessors by boosting image quality and low-light capability, adding full HD 1080p video recording to the mix, and offering a multitude of new features. Here are the highlights.

The camera sports a new Expeed 3 image processor, an expanded ISO range that auto adjusts based on lens focal length, and a burst mode of 10 fps in full frame format with continuous autofocus. It can shoot 200 frames continuously in normal JPEG mode.

The company employs its 51-point AF system to emphasize better focusing in low-light situations than its immediate predecessors, the D3 and D3s. You now get full autofocus at F8.0 or faster — an upgrade from F5.6 or faster in the previous flagship model. New controls make the camera easier and more convenient to operate, too: New joystick controls for the AF system and backlit controls on the camera aid usability in low-light shooting situations.

The D4 provides for full HD shooting of 1080p video at 30fps and 720p at 60fps. A crop mode for movies is available when the DX lens is attached. A new compression scheme for H.264 video gives you higher resolution and higher-quality movies without increasing file size. You can output from HDMI at 1080p, uncompressed, straight from Live View and you can now use cable releases to start and stop video. You can manually control video shooting, and even change the aperture while recording. Noise reduction is available in movie mode. Nikon didn't ignore audio: A headphone jack is built in.

The camera sports a fixed 3.2-inch LCD, 91,000-pixel RGB color matrix metering, a two-axis electronic level with pitch and yaw display, as well as a horizontal tilt. A silent shooting mode is available at 12 to 24 fps at reduced two-megapixel resolution.

It's rated at 2,600 shots per battery charge.

The camera is encased in a 2.29-pound, weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body. The unit has two card slots — one CompactFlash and one XQD (a new format that is faster than CompactFlash), that allows backup and copying between slots. A new wireless transmitter — WT-5A supports 802.11N protocol.

Speedy focusing system

Nikon has enhanced its 51-point Automatic Focusing (AF) System to offer continuous autofocus in a variety of shooting conditions, such as 10 frames per second burst mode. The 16.2-megapixel FX-format (36 x 23.9mm) CMOS sensor works with the camera's Expeed 3 image processing engine to help photographers shoot in extremely challenging environments and lighting conditions.

The unit has two card slots — one CompactFlash and one XQD (a new format that is faster than CompactFlash), that allows backup and copying between slots.

This customizable system lets shooters capture fast moving subjects, precisely track focus, or accurately select a single AF point. The Nikon D4 aligns 15 cross-type sensors in the center to detect contrast data in both vertical and horizontal planes. This sensor can accurately detect up to 16 human faces, even when shooting through the optical viewfinder, and facilitates correct exposure even with backlit subjects. Photographers can also select multiple AF modes, including normal, wide area, face tracking, and subject tracking. A silent shooting mode is available at 12 to 24 fps at reduced two-megapixel resolution.

The camera has a native ISO range of 100 to 12,800, however the ISO can be expanded to between 50 to 204,800 — a full stop above the previous model. The camera automatically adjusts ISO based on lens focal length and can also be used for recording video.

With the D4, Nikon has introduced its new 91,000-pixel 3D Color Matrix Metering System. According to Nikon, this system analyzes each scene for color and brightness, which are then interpreted and compared to the D4’s internal database to implement settings to reproduce color and balance exposure.

The camera stands ready to shoot in approximately 0.012 seconds and can capture full resolution JPEG or RAW files at up to 10 fps with full AF/AE or up to 11 fps with AF/AE locked.

Image data is funneled through a 16-bit pipeline and written to dual card slots that support the latest UDMA-7 Compact Flash cards, as well as the new, faster XQD memory card. You can back up and copy between slots.

The Nikon D4 provides variety of shooting options. In addition to standard NEF (RAW) files, the D4 can also shoot smaller compressed RAW files. The camera's High Dynamic Range (HDR) function merges consecutive exposures. Active D-Lighting can also be used to create balanced exposures. The camera features a dedicated button for quick access to Nikon’s Picture Controls, allowing users to quickly select one of six presets.

Construction

The D4's body is sealed and gasketed for resistance to dirt and moisture, aswell as electromagnetic interference. The bright optical viewfinder offers 100 percent frame coverage. The shutter can withstand 400,000 cycles, while sensor cleaning is done by vibrating the OLPF (optical low-pass filter). The self diagnostic shutter unit also features a mirror balancer to minimize the residual “bounce,” enhance AF, and extend viewing time, Nikon says. The viewfinder is coated with a new thermal shield finish which is designed to resist overheating during prolonged use.

This model also features refined button layouts with a quick AF mode selector placed near the lens mount for fast access. A new joystick style control at the rear of the camera facilitates AF point and option selection, and vertical controls have been enhanced. Key control buttons on the back of the camera can be illuminated for photographers who operate in complete darkness.

Nikon has added some convenient streamlining options. Press photographers, for example, can now automatically generate IPTC data for their images and image sets. A wired Ethernet port lets users shoot tethered and transfer images easily and quickly.

Nikon has also introduced the new WT-5A wireless file transmitter, which supports 802.11N, to transmit via FTP server or computer. The device can be set to transfer either automatically or manually selected images, and allows for remote operation of the camera using Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2 software.

A mobile application, now under development, would control the camera with this accessory, and would also be able to trigger the shutter and record video.

Professional multimedia features

The Nikon D4 caters to multimedia photographers who capture full HD video content from the field, providing footage suitable for broadcast.

The camera features full HD video recording, manual control of exposure, uncompressed output and simultaneous live view, professional audio recording, multi-area mode full HD video with FX/DX and 2.7x crop mode at 1080p video modes, simultaneous live view output without display or simultaneous monitor, full-time AF, new LCD screen, time lapse shooting, remote shutter operation, and NIKKOR lens compatibility.

With the D4, shooters can choose from various resolutions and frame rates, including 1080p at 30/24 fps and 720p at 60 fps. The camera’s new data compression scheme lets users record H.264/MPEG-4 AVC format video for up to 20 minutes per clip. This format allows for more accurate video data transfer with less memory while the sensor’s quick speed results in fewer instances of rolling shutter distortion, Nikon says. Users can adjust shutter speed, aperture, and ISO while recording. With the 2.7x crop, users can have ultra-telephoto effects in full HD resolution at 16:9 aspect ratio.

Using the camera’s HDMI port instead of the CF or XQD card, users can stream an uncompressed full HD signal directly out of the camera and footage can be ported into an LCD display or external recording device or routed through a monitor and then to the recording device, eliminating the need for multiple connections.

The Nikon D4 features a stereo headphone jack for accurate monitoring of audio levels while recording. You can adjust output up to 30 steps. The camera offers high-fidelity audio recording control with levels that can be set and monitored on the camera’s LCD screen. The microphone connected via the stereo mic jack can also be adjusted with up to 20 steps of sensitivity.

Shooters can send the display signal directly to an attached monitor via the HDMI port and that signal can be viewed simultaneously on the camera’s LCD screen and external monitor. Or the image data display can be cleared from the screen.

In addition to manual, the D4 offers four focus modes, including normal, wide area, face detection, and subject tracking, which uses fast contrast detect AF to focus while recording video and in live view. Users can also zoom in up to 46x to check HD focus.

A new time lapse photography feature combines a selected frame rate and shooting interval in a dedicated menu. Playback is available in a wide variety of speeds from 24x to 36,000x, while producing a fully finished movie file output. Using dedicated Movie Custom Settings, you can begin recording by the shutter release button, plus shooters can now use a variety of remote accessories to trigger video recording.

The D4 is compatible with Nikon's NIKKOR lens system, which has more than 50 lenses in a variety of focal lengths and features, including VR II vibration reduction.

New lens with that

In related news, Nikon announced the addition of the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G FX-format lens to its line of NIKKOR lenses. The new 85mm is a fast, fixed focal-length lens with medium telephoto capabilities and a large maximum aperture of f/1.8. This addition to Nikon’s line of prime lenses is designed for travel, general photography, low-light, landscape, portraiture, and capturing movies with extreme depth of field.

The lens is lightweight, easy to carry, and provides an equivalent focal length of 127mm when attached to a Nikon DX-format DSLR camera body. The 85mm is also designed to capture photos with enhanced image blur because of its large maximum aperture. The construction consists of nine optical elements, with a seven-blade diaphragm that contributes to a substantially more circular bokeh for a natural appearance to out-of-focus background elements.

The Nikon D4 will ship around February 16 for £3,999 plus VAT, €5,568 including VAT or around US$6,000. The AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G will be available in March for £392 plus VAT, €554 including VAT or around $500.