Is The D4S The Worst Performer?
I have been shooting with the D4S for the past month and have had mixed opinions on it. Since I currently own the Nikon DF and D800E, I have been making comparisons between the 3 very different camera bodies. Being that the D4S is the flagship camera, and most expensive option currently offered by Nikon, my expectations were pretty high. I love my Df, and with the D4S having the same sensor just tweaked a little differently via software, I expected image quality between the two to be similar with a slight advantage going to the D4S.
My initial thoughts on the D4S were that I loved it. I loved the speed it offered. I loved the solid feel, button layout, and…well, that’s about it. The extremely high ISO is nice, but I only care about the ISO ranges that I actually use, and how well it does when in that range. I had initially planned on purchasing the D4S once my month of testing this particular loaner was up, but I have changed my mind. Not only have I changed my mind, but with my last in-studio dynamic range testing, I’m actually pretty disappointed in Nikon’s flagship $6500 camera. I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot the new D810, but now seeing how well the D800E stacked up against the D4S in dynamic range and ISO performance I will be giving it a try.
I usually don’t do any “brick wall” testing when I do reviews, I try to only use real life examples. Because of a few shots that I had under exposed with the D4S, I had some concerns with banding when bringing up shadows. In real life, when exposure is on point, dynamic range shouldn’t ever really have to be pushed this much. But, when reviewing a camera, especially one like the flagship D4S, I like to push them to their limits to see how they perform. I brought the D4S, Df, D800E, and even the 5D MarkIII into the studio to test the dynamic range and ISO. I shot all of the cameras at ISO 100, 1/100sec, 0EV, and f/1.8. The D4S and D800E with the 85mm f/1.8G and the Df with the 58mm f/1.4G. I shot the 5D with the same settings, just with the 50mm f/1.2L. All were shot at f/1.8. The main test was between the D4S and the D800E, I threw the Df in once I seen how much the D800E outperformed the D4S.
My main concern with the D4S is the banding that I noticed over the past month of shooting with it, I noticed it several times when bringing up shadows. Banding has never been an issue with my D800 or D800E, I had only ever noticed it with my Canon bodies. I never noticed it with the Df until this test was done, and it’s very very slight, no where near as noticeable as with the D4S.
Here’s the thing, and don’t get me wrong, the dynamic range is still very good with the D4S. I am just surprised to see that as Nikon’s flagship camera body, it doesn’t perform better. The reason I even did this test was because I had noticed the banding in the shadows and was curious about the dynamic range performance. I also wasn’t overly impressed with the ISO performance. I don’t care how high the ISO can go if it doesn’t do a better job at the ISO ranges that I use in real life. In my ISO testing, it performed the same as the Df and D800E until it reached extremely high ranges that I just never use in real life shooting.
As you can see in the test results below, the D800E handled bringing up shadows at ISO 100 the best. There is barely any noise at all, and no banding. The Df did a slightly better job than the D4S, but still not as good as the D800E. How the Df does a better job than the D4S at cleanly pulling detail out of shadows seems a little odd to me since they are the same sensor. One thing that can definitely be concluded is that all 3 of the Nikon cameras do an awesome job of shooting in the dark, and all 3 are impressive. I just expected the one that is 3 times the price to be a little better then it’s cheaper siblings.
The only thing done in post was raised the exposure +5, exactly the same on all of them. No other adjustments made. Take a look…
Speaking with other Nikon shooters, a few had mentioned seeing this at ISO 100, but thought that it went away as ISO went up. I noticed it at all different ISOs. Here is another example of the banding I noticed with the D4S at ISO 800. This is a shot that I accidentally fired off during a shoot which is extremely underexposed. You can see the banding along the top once exposure is brought up in Lightroom. You can also see the color in the banding in this example. This is ISO 800 - 85mm at f/1.8 - 1/8000 sec
ISO 6400 COMPARISON
The shots at ISO below 6400 are identical, but as you can see, when shot at ISO 6400, the D4S has a slight edge over the D800E. The Df is identical to the D4S at 6400. Even though the D4S has a slight edge here at 6400, that is still a little disappointing, I expected to see more of a difference than what you can see below. In real life shooting, I didn't notice any real advantage of high ISO shooting with the D4S over both the Df and the D800E.
This is a test, and just a test. I usually stay away from showing these kind of test results because they show what happens when these sensors are pushed to their limits. In real life shooting, you should never really have to push it this far and if your exposure is on point, all of these cameras are excellent. With that being said, there are times when we need to push these cameras, maybe not to these extremes, but they are pushed. The D4S is Nikon’s flagship camera, and it is touted as the best for many reasons…its price tag reflects that. The reason I brought the D4S into the studio and ran this test was because I noticed the banding while shooting in the field. Would I have noticed it if I nailed my exposure, absolutely not. The D4S has excellent dynamic range, but when pushed, I didn’t expect to see it out performed by its less expensive siblings. If you don’t need the speed of D4S, you are mainly concerned with its image quality. As a flagship camera, it should be the best, and for the price…it better be.
I had planned on purchasing the D4S, yet there were many reasons I decided against it. I don’t need the speed and it failed to impress me with image quality for its price when compared to the other cameras that I already own. As far as the banding goes, and how much importance I actually put on pushing a camera to is extremes like this, I can tell you this. Dynamic range is important to me, and its one of the reasons I shoot Nikon. With that being said, the 5D MarkIII performed the worst out of all the cameras, yet it is one of my favorite cameras alongside of the Df. The importance of these results are up to you, but if you are spending $6500 on a camera, you might expect to see a little better.