[Gear] A Review of the Biggest Week in Electronics

Between Nikon's D4 announcement at the end of last week and this week at CES, it's been (and will continue to be) an exciting time of imaging innovation. In this post, we'll re-cap some of the top innovations that have been introduced recently and what these new features mean for you -- in the real world.

Before we jump in, let's remember that we're at a certain zenith in digital imaging history. We've reached a point at which we really wouldn't need more, but where more is simply 'nice.' For me, since the D3 came out, I won't be 'needing' anything more. All I'd 'like' is to have the price drop so I can have as many as I want. I'm getting the D4 because it's nice to have and I've saved; but the 'need' has long been fulfilled. And for the average consumer, few actually use more than 5 megapixels. More pixels allow for further editing without visible degradation as consumers become more adept with image editing platforms. But in reality, the average family doesn't get prints larger than 8x10. They don't even get 4x6s! -- they just post them to Facebook or the family blog. It's great to have the newest gear. So I'm not exactly concentrating on the reasons to buy this gear... Hopefully this post will give you just a little more information from a different perspective to help you decide what's right for your application. So here we go.

Nikon D4:

Overview: The D4 is amazing, but comes at a cost, no doubt. If you're a heavy user, the extra little features that'll save you time in the end are well worth the premium. If not (or if you need a camera 'yesterday' and not in a few months), get a D3s for now and if you absolutely must, get a D4 in six months or so. The D3s is still an amazing camera, but the D4 has a bunch of "Finallies" that bring it completely into the modern era of the DSLR.

Pre-Order the Nikon D4 at Adorama or at B&H.
Order the D3S at Adorama or at B&H.

Further explanation:

Of course, the biggest announcement these last few days was that of the Nikon D4. Between resolution (16MP) and frame-rate (10/11fps), the D4, feature-wise, is a well-placed successor to the D3s. Likewise, the one-stop (or so) improvement in ISO sensitivity never hurts, and it doesn't leave anyone wanting more, especially against the legacy of the D3s' already-amazing performance. Landscape and high-fashion photographers will still want to hold out for the D4x while holding onto their D3x or medium format systems, but that was all expected. So now for the unexpected.

If you were following the rumors, the $6000 price tag wasn't too much of a surprise; but in the light of Nikon's past flagship bodies, it's a hefty premium compared to the 5000-dollar standard that Nikon had set for itself in previous years. Canon's nearest competitor to the D4, the 1D X (due out after the D4) is even more at $6800; but for many Nikon shooters, the D4 price is a huge disappointment. However, the price of the D4 will drive down that of the D3s (which is anything BUT obsolete….sorry, but it's still an EXCELLENT camera that, in all honesty, offers little less than the D4 for almost two thirds of the price, used). That said, the D4 has tons of little things that, when added together, can save the heavy user a headache or ten.

Simplicity is beautiful. That's what I love about the added backlights on some of the D4's buttons. Why it couldn't be everywhere I'm not quite sure, but the introduction of backlit 'main' buttons is a very nice 'bonus' for me.

Additionally, little things like the improved shutter rating of 400,000 cycles should save some maintenance (which I'll take the chance, here, to remind everyone to do every now and again…if you'd take your car in for maintenance, why wouldn't you take in your $5000+ body?). The added ethernet, clean HDMI out, and audio monitoring solutions all help bring the Nikon flagship into the realm of modern connectivity, and it's about time.

Nikon introduced 1080p video recording for the first time in this pro-body DSLR. However, while the chances were low, some held out for hope that it might do 60 frames at 1080p. And at only 30, the D4 let us down with only a 60fps option in 720p. So no full HD slow motion for the D4 without other neat software-based tricks, unfortunately. Still, some Nikon pros that have been spending time with the D4 pre release have been raving about the image quality -- and that's what Nikon's all about.

I'll add again that, for the price-conscientious buyer, the D4 is a tough sell. Not only do you have to drop a large sum to start, but Nikon doesn't give anyone a break on the accessories, either. The battery is about $170, the dual charger is $350 (both on Adorama, though one of each comes with the D4), and the WT-5 wireless transmitter (if you're interested) has a suggested retail price on Nikon's site of $877, though the prices Nikon displays are often different than actual prices online.

Another surprise comes with the introduction of the XQD format. This card is currently only produced by Sony and offers great speeds, allowing the D4 to take 100 frames at the full 10fps speed. However, you can't have dual XQD cards, and you can't have dual CF cards either. If you want two cards at the same time, you need one of each. When the XQD rumor came out, I was hoping Nikon would find a way to make both slots compatible with both formats. Unfortunately, that never happened. And this new setup is a little weird. Sports shooters will love the 100 continuous frames (you're welcome if you're covering the Olympics this summer), but the rest of us don't really need all that, do we? For the heavy user, the increased speed is a nice feature for offloading large amounts of data quickly, and the XQD seems cost-effective against the new 1000x Lexar CF cards that offer just a little more speed. XQD may be the future (if so, I hope the format doesn't slip between my fingers…I'll see when I hold one for the first time in a month or two), but part of me wishes Nikon gave us one or the other, and not half of each.

I ranted a lot on price here, but this should all be kept in proportion. This business isn't cheap. And for what you get, the D4 is no let-down. If money is no object, then the D4 is the camera to get -- period. And if money is an obstacle, then it's the only one. If you can do it, get the D4, an XQD card, an extra battery, and enjoy! It won't disappoint.

Canon EOS-1D X:

Overview: I won't be covering much on the 1D X, since most who are interested already know all about it; and my time here on Fstoppers started the day the D4 was announced -- long after the 1D X announcement (although you can see a quick comparison chart I created in an earlier post the Nikon D4). I'll say quickly that the 1D X offers some wonderful features for the Canon shooter, but I don't have an extra $6800 to shell out just for kicks. No pre-oders available yet, unfortunately, but stay tuned for updates.

Fuji X-Pro1 APS-C Mirrorless Rangefinder

Overview: If you've been waiting for the perfect modern rangefinder, this may well be it. The most exciting thing about this camera is its new sensor technology that allows for crisp images that rival the quality of those taken with larger, 35mm sensors. Features like a neat hybrid viewfinder and a small but good range of available lenses (18mm, 35mm, and 60mm macro) for the X-Pro1 are appreciated, as well. It's easy for manufacturers to rely heavily on one new innovation (especially with an innovation as exciting as Fuji's new sensor) while dropping other functionalities that would make it a fantastic machine -- that's not the case, here, though.

There is no pre-order information on the X-Pro1 available yet.

Further explanation:

The X-Pro1 is a 16-megapixel camera with a decent-sized APS-C sensor. Generally speaking, the larger the sensor, the better the image quality, the better the light sensitivity, etc. And that still stands true, unless you're up against Fuji's new X-Trans sensor technology that's seeing its introduction in the X-Pro1. This new technology allows for the removal of the anti-aliasing filter (AA filter) that is normally in every digital camera. This is generally necessary to eliminate moire, etc., but does so essentially by blurring the image slightly. Thus, without the filter, Fuji is able to create a sensor that can capture images at the true resolving power of their lenses (and Fuji knows how to make glass…let's not forget they make some great glass for Hasselblad). All I can say is that I hope this technology gets licensed out to some other companies (Nikon, Canon…..).

As with any rangefinder, the X-Pro1 features a no-frills body with simple, yet practical ergonomics. With a number of small accessories coming out to add to the 'experience,' the Fuji X-Pro1 should be great fun to shoot with.

Canon PowerShot G1 X

Overview: A larger sensor in Canon's popular PowerShot G series allows for a greater sensitivity without sacrificing portability. The 14 megapixels that the G1 X offers is more than enough to blow up prints for anyone that wants enlargements, and a few extra features are nice to have. For Mom and Dad, not only is there 1080p video recording, but there's even a way to make sure your youngest is always in focus. Call it creepy, but Canon (and parents) might call it pure genius. Some will choose to stick with the $500 G12, but if you want the best of what you can get today, the G1 X is a great upgrade.

Pre-Order the Canon PowerShot G1 X at Adorama or B&H.

Further explanation:

The best part is arguably the ISO sensitivity of the G1 X. It's supposed to be better than that of the 7D, which is groundbreaking for a compact digital camera! That's always the downfall of this class, but apparently Canon and Fuji (with the X-Pro1) are changing the game. There's not much more to the Canon, so I'll leave it at that.

Sony XQD Memory Card:

Unlike the SDHC, SDXC, and UHS-1 classifications for SD cards, the XQD builds on no standard before it -- it's a completely new standard in tech and in its physical format. Eventually, products formerly using the popular compact flash format will likely update product lines with XQD compatibility as models become updated, but for now, those getting the Nikon D4 (the only camera currently announced to accept the new format) will have to invest in a new kind of card (though they can use their usual CF cards in a second slot). In the long run, I could see the XQD phasing out the CF card, but both will likely live in tandem for quite some time. Thankfully, I've read that one advantage of the XQD format is lower manufacturing cost. Hopefully this will be passed onto the consumer in the end (at least to some extent, it seems as though it is, according to prices announced in the press release). Still, the CF card feels substantial your hand. It's there. Even if SD cards were as unbreakable, I doubt many pros would prefer a card much smaller simply because it's important to feel the confidence that a CF card gives. The XQD card isn't too different, based on photos, but it's a change. I hope it doesn't change too much -- CF cards are already easy enough to lose track of.

In the end, I fear this may be the future:

Pricing info: 16GB XQD for $129.99, 32GB XQD for $229.99, both available at the end of January.

Lexar Memory Cards -- 1000x and the First 256GB CF:

Lexar introduced the industry's first 1000x cards, capable of transfer rates of up to 150MB/s, outpacing even the new XQD cards. In addition, Lexar also recently came out with the industry's first 256GB CF card. While transfer rates may help offload files more quickly when pressed for time, as discussed in the section on the XQD, there's a limit to the ability of these cards to prove themselves necessary. High-end video professionals record directly to entire solid-state hard drives, so a 256GB card translates as a risky trap to most photographers, as losing all of that data if a card fails (it happens) may be too much to sacrifice. It's why industry professionals often stick with 16GB or even 8GB cards, max. For very specific tasks or projects, both the high-capicity and high-speed versions of these cards may fit the bill, but for the rest of us, we'll stick with lower prices on those still-fast 100MB/s cards. Tell us what what your plan for use is in the comments section if you plan to get one! They aren't available for pre-order quite yet, but pricing details are below.

Pricing info: 16GB for $169.99, 32GB for $399.99, and 64GB for $529.99 available in February; and 128GB for $899.99, available in April

Sigma 180mm f2.8 Macro:

Sigma introduced the world's first 180mm f2.8 Macro lens this week. Nikon and Canon each have a similar lens; but at f/4 and f/3.5, respectively, the Sigma is as much as a stop faster than any previous 180mm macro.

The Rumor Mill:

Nikon D800:

In other news, Nikon is rumored to have yet another announcement on February 7th, which will hopefully bring light to the much-awaited successor to the D700, the D800. The D800 is rumored to have an astounding 36 megapixels and full 1080p video. Other features include a combination of CF and SD card slots, USB 3.0, and clean HDMI out (as with the Nikon D4). These are all just rumors, of course, but the D800 should be quite the workhorse in a fairly portable package. And you can bet that we'll be covering the release as soon as it comes out, so stay tuned.

Canon Mirrorless:

Sony, Nikon, Fuji, and all the other major players except Canon already have a mirrorless camera out on the market. Rumors of a Canon mirrorless camera have been circulating for a while now, so expect that announcement later this year.

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2 Comments

Tim Woodard's picture

Great post. I wanted to mention that photography is actually a fairly inexpensive business to get into. I can think of many other businesses that require much more expensive equipment than a 6k camera body. You by the D4 use it for 2-3 years than you will sell it for 4k and buy
the upgrade. Lenses are a huge expense up front but you buy those for
life...hopefully. My full time profession for example tends to be much more expensive to get into. I am a fishing guide and after I purchase my 7k drift(row) boat, put my clients in a 20k pickup truck buy a handful of fly rods at $500 a piece and than have thousands of flies at $2/fly. The most money I make in a day is $350 with good tip. Although I agree that 6k for a camera body is expensive, in relation to other careers photography isn't that bad. I totally believe that most people do not need the the D4 including myself they're plenty of other camera bodies that will produce great images. Do I want one? Absolutely! However its not a need and I am not in the position to invest that kind of money into a D4. Those who need will gladly pay for it and those who don't wont. The rest of us will just bitch about how expensive it is and unfortunately that gets in the way of admiring a pretty freaking sweet camera!

Tim Woodard's picture

Great post. I wanted to mention that photography is actually a fairly inexpensive business to get into. I can think of many other businesses that require much more expensive equipment than a 6k camera body. You by the D4 use it for 2-3 years than you will sell it for 4k and buy
the upgrade. Lenses are a huge expense up front but you buy those for
life...hopefully. My full time profession for example tends to be much more expensive to get into. I am a fishing guide and after I purchase my 7k drift(row) boat, put my clients in a 20k pickup truck buy a handful of fly rods at $500 a piece and than have thousands of flies at $2/fly. The most money I make in a day is $350 with good tip. Although I agree that 6k for a camera body is expensive, in relation to other careers photography isn't that bad. I totally believe that most people do not need the the D4 including myself they're plenty of other camera bodies that will produce great images. Do I want one? Absolutely! However its not a need and I am not in the position to invest that kind of money into a D4. Those who need will gladly pay for it and those who don't wont. The rest of us will just bitch about how expensive it is and unfortunately that gets in the way of admiring a pretty freaking sweet camera!