Photo answers review
Photo answers rating
Speed, ease of use and image quality are the three main ingredients needed from a sports photographer’s camera. Speed, because they don’t want to miss any action at that decisive moment. Ease of use, as fiddling with controls can be the difference between getting the main back page image or not. And image quality, because pin-sharp, colourful shots will catch the picture editor’s eye, and pitch their images above the next photographer. So which camera fits the bill on all counts? The Nikon D4 – 16.2MP of full-frame muscle.
There isn’t too much difference between the D4 and its predecessor, the D3S, but with some little tweaks on the back of the camera to improve control and speed of use, this is the camera that will be in the hands of many sports photographers covering the Olympics in London this year.
And one of those photographers will be Andy Hooper, four times Sports Photographer of the Year. Who better to test out the D4 for us to see what this 11fps beast is capable of? And as you can see (right) the image results were outstanding.
The test arena was White Hart Lane and a Premiership game between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City. The stadium at White Hart Lane is notorious for bad lighting conditions, making it the perfect place to look at how the D4 handled this with its much-acclaimed ISO range. Andy also put the camera through its paces at Loughborough University, the training base for Team GB, on a portrait shoot with an Olympic swimmer.
Features & handling
In keeping with its lifelong philosophy of producing hardy and reliable cameras, Nikon has retained the durability of previous D models. “You know you’re holding a real camera with the D4,” says Andy. “One of the first things I noticed was how light it was – noticeably lighter than the D3S yet with a bigger feel to it.
“There was a time when Canon was renowned for its advances in technology and the smoothness of its camera bodies, while Nikon stood firmly by a motto of making equipment that concentrated on taking the punishment commonly endured by working cameras. But with Nikon’s own progress in technology, and its retention of build quality, the D4 is definitely the ‘must-have’ sports camera today.”
When the D3 hit the headlines it was its low light abilities that pitched it head and shoulders above its peers, and the same was true of the D3S on its launch. Now the D4 is pushing the ISO limits and this is music to the ears of sports photographers who, when shooting indoor events, will often require high ISO settings so they can use fast shutter speeds to capture the action.
“In the days when we used film, it was a case of pushing it to the absolute limit in order to get decent action shots at indoor events,” adds Andy. “This could often be a bit hit-or-miss and they don’t compare in any way to what digital cameras can produce today. Before digital, using a shutter speed of 1/400sec was pushing it. Nowadays you can happily bump this up to 1/1000sec without any fear of losing picture quality. It allows you to do things that are against the fundamental rules learnt by all who grew up on film photography.”
Tucked near the corner spot and facing the Stoke attack, it literally took Andy 15 minutes of photographing the warm-up to get accustomed to the camera and its new tweaks. Having used the D4 to shoot some portraits earlier in the day at Loughborough (above) this match was the camera’s real test.
“Three things hit home straight away – the frame rate, the clarity of the LCD, and the speed of autofocusing,” says Andy. “It was like rattling off a machine gun. If, for example, I was shooting Usain Bolt finishing first in the Olympic 100m, I don’t think I’d miss much with the D4. It would be perfect for capturing pin-sharp images of the emotion. The burst speed is a great improvement. Even shooting JPEG and RAW together, the burst speed is phenomenal. The colour reproduction seems accurate and, especially in RAW, the quality is second-to-none.”
The sport photography community is tightly knit, while at the same time being as competitive as whatever sporting event they are photographing. The swapping of camera settings and techniques is the norm, and Andy and his colleagues will customise their D4’s to their own specifications. “It’s a very intuitive piece of kit. Obviously I’ve only had it in hand for a limited period, but I’d already feel confident shooting an important event with it. The two toggles for moving the focus point are great and really useful when shooting on the hoof. The focusing system is faster than the D3’s and seems a lot more sensitive. It’s hard for a camera to keep up with a subject running straight at you but the D4 handles this very well. As a photographer, you need to be able to stay with the action. If you don’t, the camera could be too fast for you and you might end up capturing images of the surrounding players rather than the one you want.”
Like any photographer, once you get something in the hand that you really like it’s very hard to let it go. And Andy gave us a verdict (below) that really sums up this monster of a camera...
For more of Andy’s work go to www.andyhooper.co.uk
In my eyes, this DSLR is unbeatable. It’s the best camera for capturing action, and I haven’t handled anything else that comes close. And when you’re photographing something like the Olympics, especially this one on home soil, you don’t want to miss a thing. The D4 will ensure this doesn’t happen. I can’t wait to get my own.
Street price: £5290
Body type: Magnesium alloy
Effective resolution: 16.2MP
Sensor type: 36x23.9mm CMOS (full-frame)
ISO range: 100-12,800 (204,800 extended)
Viewfinder: Optical (pentaprism)
Metering: Multi, centre-weighted, spot
LCD size: 3.2in 922,000 dots
Recording formats: RAW & JPEG
Shooting speed: 11fps
Video: Full HD (1080p)
As featured in the May 2012 issue of Practical Photography. For a back issue copy of the magazine please contact 0844 848 8872.