The Freaks Come Out at Night! Field Testing the Nikon D4.


When a new camera is announced I tend to get very excited and jump around making grunting noises and pointing wildly.  Once that settles down a bit I pour over the demo shots put out by the manufacturer, particularly those shot at high ISO for a taste of what it is in store.   The demo shots invariably always look very pretty and clean and often not all that applicable to the real world.

Knowing that I had received one of the first Nikon D4′s to get into the hands of end users I wanted to put it through some real world shooting and share the results with my readers.

Like a few others I got my notice from NPS on March 14th that my camera had shipped to my dealer, in this case I went through Adorama.  Not wanting to wait I called my rep Jeff Snyder to make sure I had overnight shipping so I could have it as soon as possible.  Just before 11 am on Friday the 16th my camera arrived (thanks Jeff!).  I had a Spring Training game at 1 pm that same day and I wanted to try it out.

I had originally planned to use my old D700/D3 batteries but I did not pay attention to the earlier writings stating the D4 would use a new battery and charger that was not backwards compatible.  Crap!  The new battery did not come with a charge and I had a game in 2 hours.   Not a problem, working off road races and transmitting from the field means I have a lot of tools in my truck and one of them is a 1000 watt inverter.  I plugged the charger into the power strip in my truck and put the battery on and then drove to the stadium.  Once there I sat in the parking lot looking through the D4 manual while the battery charged.  With 30 minutes to go before the first pitch I popped the battery in, did a quick setup of the camera for my preferences like reverse dials and func button  and hit the field.

As this was a day game it would not be much of a workout for the D4 but for those interested you can see the photo set here.  Just some standard editorial baseball photos.

Except for a handful of wide shots they were all done with the D4, a 200-400/f4 lens at 400ISO, 1/1000th and various apertures.

The camera performed admirably, fast sharp focus, good controls and all the other things you would expect from a flagship pro camera, but I was left wanting.   I wanted to give the D4 a real test, in low light and something that was hard to shoot.

I was off on the 17th and when I am not shooting sports or full size racecars I like to go out and race toy cars.  It’s a good way for me to get my mind off business and have fun while indulging my competitive nature.  Make no mistake, racing toy cars is SERIOUS BUSINESS!  I packed all my race gear and my camera and drove down to Scottsdale RC Speedway.

If you have ever tried to shoot RC cars before you know how hard it is.  Cameras have a hell of a time focusing on small objects (the cars are about 14 inches long) that move, accelerate an change direction very quickly.   This would be a great test for any camera and lens, especially since we would be racing into the night.  The track is very poorly lit for shooting, like a horrible high school football stadium.  Huge color shift in the lights, the bright spots not very bright and lots of dark shadowy patches of gloom and doom.

Between my races I would grab the camera and shoot the other heats.  I started with some simple daylight shots.  As expected it was almost as hard as I remember to get focus on the cars, especially after they hit the big triple jump and were  flying 10 feet in the air at 20+ mph right at me from 20 feet away.  Making it tougher is the fact that as they approach the jump, the cars disappear from view so you have to pick them up through the lens mid air and try to focus.  The D4 could not catch focus on all the cars but it did far better than any other body I have used in the past for shooting RC cars.

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, 1/800th, ISO 400, F8


Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, 1/800th, ISO 400, F8

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, 1/1000th, ISO 400, F7.1

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, 1/500th, ISO 400, F10


After the sun went down I excitedly went back to try and shoot some more action.  Shooting the cars in sunlight was tough but at night it was stupid hard.  Even so the D4 managed to pull out some respectable shots.

I cranked the ISO right up to 12800 to check out the noise.  When I saw them on the LCD I was pretty disappointed, they looked very noisy, I tried some more at H3 and H7 and they looked to me to be total junk.  I brought it back down to 6400 and still saw lots of noise on the LCD.

However, when I opened the shots on my computer this morning I was pleasantly surprised and they looked far better than on the LCD last night.   I’ll have to try some shooting at H3 and above soon now that I know the LCD makes them look worse than they are. The D4 has quite a bit less noise than the D700′s I use now and the focus was a lot faster.


None of the shots below have had any noise reduction or filtering done.  High ISO noise reduction was turned off in camera.  They all have some basic toning and fair amount of crop but that’s about it.

A corner with decent light

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, TC1.4, 1/640TH, ISO 12800, F4

Under an overhead light in the pits

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, TC1.4, 1/500th, ISO 12800, F4


On the driver’s stand there is very little light, the only light its gets is a little bit of ambient light from the track lights.

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, TC1.4, 1/250th, ISO 12800, F4


A corner with medium light

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, TC1.4, 1/800th, ISO 12800, F4


Medium light

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, 1/500th, ISO 6400, F2.8

Good light on the car

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, 1/500th, ISO 6400, F2.8

Medium light

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, 1/800th, ISO 6400, F2.8

Medium light

Nikon D4, 70-200 VR1, 1/500th, ISO 6400, F2.8

Here is a mega crop of just the car from the above photo

Overall I am quite pleased with the results, especially at night with the D4.  What I shot last night was darker and harder to shoot than just about anything else I do and the D4 should kick ass and take names with my regular photo assignments.  The only real question left for me if how it will handle shooting for hours in clouds of dirt and silt.

Examples of my usual shooting environment in the desert from the SCORE San Felipe 250 in San Felipe, Mexico last week.  As you can see it’s hell on camera gear.

D700, 70-200VR1, 1.4TC, 1/1000th, ISO 200, F9


Nikon D700, 70-200 VR1, 1.4TC, 1/1000th, ISO200, F9


Comment Pages

There are 1 Comments to "The Freaks Come Out at Night! Field Testing the Nikon D4."

  • GARY HUDGINS says:

    Wow, If I had to shoot in that dust, I think I would use some rain gear for my camera. It would not keep out all the dust, but maybe help some.

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