Ryu: Nikon D4, review by a sports photographer (part 1)

Hello friends.

I’m about to go onto the pitch to shoot the Women’s Champions League Final. I have no idea why they all have to be in capital letters, but now that UEFA and I are in somewhat speaking terms, I’m not going to screw things up like someone I know. :) Let’s all hope that I’ll get to shoot the Europa League Final before the D5 comes out.

Yes, lets talk about the D4, which I got to replace my ageing D3s. Not the D3s, but plural D3sss. Nothing wrong with my D3, but in this business you have to upgrade when you can afford to. I bought one without robbing a bank or selling all of my AAPL stocks. But the other one was given to me by my boss. Yup, he gave it to me. I guess I must have done something good in my previous life or maybe he wants me to work for him for free until the D4s comes out.

Before I got the D4, I looked for reviews by a sports photographer and found none. Which sucks, because then I’ll have to do one myself. Therefore this is a D4 review from a sports photography point of view. There will at least be a part 2 to this review and if I’ve got more to add then it can become a trilogy. Without further nonsense, here’s D4.

1. Weight
Professional photography equipment is extremely heavy. So much so that if you work as a sports photographer, you will have guns without spending money on HGH. It’s not uncommon for people to look at my arms, what I’m wearing and say “Manual labourer?”. I was very surprised that when I first picked up the D4, that is the first thing I noticed. It is lighter than the D3 or the D3s. This could mean 2 things: That I will not be mistaken as a construction worker any longer and it will allow me to not get tired during a shoot. Shooting football, basketball, or hockey to name a few, that’s fine. They only last for about 2 hours and that’s about it. But how about tennis in the earlier rounds where they play all day long? How about golf where you have to carry that crap all around the course all day long? I think this weight loss of the D4 is a very big deal for sports photographers. Even the fat ones. Especially the fat ones. The other thing I don’t understand is that we are in the 21st century and they have yet to discover materials that are lighter than magnesium.

2. Buttons
Sports photography is about reaction and anticipation. Ball goes there, you react. Player runs forward, you anticipate his next action. I feel that it is imperative that you know what you are doing with your equipment. If you press this button, this happens. If you turn this dial, that happens. The feel of the buttons is very important. The second thing I noticed about the D4 is that the buttons are very flimsy. This is akin to D300’s flimsy button fiasco and needless to say, I sold it on ebay few weeks later. There is way too much play on the shutter release. My D3 had feather triggers, but with the D4 you have to really depress it for it to start taking pictures. I’m an AF-ON focusing kind of guy and this one is also different from the D3 or the D3s. It feels cheap and too light.

By the way, the sound of the mirror going up and down is now significantly less noisy than the D3, but that’s for another day.

I’m sure you read it somewhere, but there are now two more multi-selector buttons. I guess Canon is the only company in the world that can use the big dial on a machine and Nikon’s engineer thought, “Hey, what’s better than one multi-selector button? 3!!!”. Holy shit. Ever since I had them in my hands, I have been wondering what I can use these buttons for. The only viable solution I came up with is for them to act exactly like the main multi-selector. Hey, better to have 3 things that does exactly the same thing than only 1, right?

3. Menu system
It’s been 5 years since the D3 came out. Lot longer since the D2 series came out. I’d think that is enough time to come up with another menu system that is easier and more logical. More intuitive, wont’ be so bad either. “But you’re a professional sports photographer Ryu. You should be able to recite the menu system by heart, just like Matt recited the Koran for his bar mitzvah.”

Last time I checked, I wasn’t Jewish and I take pictures so that I can feed my cat. I am not against the number of functions the menu system has as customisation is integral in an equipment at this level. No one photographer shoots the same way. But customisation for the sake of “Look how many functions we have crammed in our camera!” is bad. I’m glad Nikon decide to put more without sacrificing their wonderful and logical layout of their vintage menu system. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Look what happened to the Macintosh with OS9. Enough said.

For example, it took me forever to find out the option to change the direction to cycle through the photos on the LCD screen. D3 series and even the D2 series allowed you to change it. After I went through all the menu functions at least 8 times, I decided that I needed help. I took a swig from the bottle of orange juice and asked my overlord, Google, for some answers. Suffice to say, I wasn’t the only one with this problem. They took this function away and I honestly hope that was an honest / stupid mistake by them. Because if they took it out thinking every photographer uses left right to view photos, Nikon should be sticking their collective heads further down the toilet.

That will be enough for now and don’t get me started o the XQD slot. Trust me, there are lots of good things about this camera, but I needed to share my frustrations with my friends. :)

Now, it’s time to shoot some women on women action… on the pitch.

Ryu, sometimes male chauvinistic new D4 user.

*Please Read Below*
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4 thoughts on “Ryu: Nikon D4, review by a sports photographer (part 1)

  1. Ah, Koran is the term in Islam, Torah is the Jewish name for the first five books of the Bible. Since Matt recited this for his bar mitzvah, I’m assuming that he is most probably a Jew.

    I don’t use left right to view either so that doesn’t make me too happy, but at least I know now not to go searching for ways to change it.

    Still waiting for my D4 to arrive,


  2. Damn it Stew, you are right. I converted Matt into Islam without him knowing.
    The left right key thing is so annoying that I’m sure Nikon will fix it with the next firmware update.

    If they don’t, I’ll sell my D4.

    I’m just kidding.

  3. After shooting a triathlon yesterday I pondered buying a D4 as a companion to my D3s. Thank you for this article, I will not buy the D4. Seems that Nikon is degrading their flagship line.

  4. Robert,

    I personally think it’s not such a bad camera. It’s definitely a step up from D3s in terms of function and tech. But would I sell a D3s to get it? No.


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