Side by side: Nikon D4 Vs. Canon EOS 1D X – which should you buy?

by planetmitch12 Comments

Last week Nikon announced the new HDSLR the Nikon D4 and the world shook… did you feel it? I sure did… And why? This sure was a shot across the Canon bow (should I have used a cannon pun there? HA!) and of course we need to compare the D4 to the Canon EOS-1D X as they are similar models and price points.

I’ve seen some folks trying to compare the Nikon D4 to the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, but that’s not fair – the 5D2 is 3 years old and only $2500 – obviously not a fair comparison!

Obviously, Nikon has had 3+ years to get it right – and since they were the first to even release an HDSLR (the Nikon D90), we thought all along that they’d make a killer HDSLR before this. Sure, there’s the D7000, but it still wasn’t quite the competitor to the Canon line. After all, Nikon was still putting out sensors that had more jello than Bill Cosby (only the old folks will get that reference).

In this post, we'll cover the new features of the Nikon D4 (we already covered the new features in the Canon EOS-1D X here and here), and then we'll post some differences, then comes the big table o' features, and finally a summary of which you should buy… it is a long post!

Other planet5D posts on the new Nikon D4:
30 minute product demo from FroKnowsPhoto and USA press release
Europe press release with tons of video info and several product videos

Interesting features of the Nikon D4

First, what are the exciting bits about the Nikon D4 (we’ll do a table with feature comparisons in a bit)?

  • The biggest feature everyone is so excited about is the ‘uncompressed clean HDMI out’ (note: uncompressed specifically means not using the in-camera H.264 compression) – something the Canon EOS-1D X should have as well as any future HDSLR… Hello Canon? Of course, to deal with this, you’ll need an external recorder.
    • interesting tidbit here is that in order to get the HDMI output to be uncompressed, you've got to remove both memory cards, otherwise, you'll get the compressed video without on screen text/graphics
  • The buttons in the back of the camera are backlit like the Apple laptops – brilliant!
  • Dual card slots – but one of them is the new XQD format – a CF card replacement
  • Intervalometer is built in (Canon listening?) but there’s still no internal GPS (an iPhone can do it, why not a DSLR?) – and you have the option to cread a movie of your timelapse directly in camera
  • Controllable with an iPhone or iPad with the wireless accessory
  • Option to ‘zoom’ to a 1.5 or 2.7 crop factor (even in video) – this can extend the range of your lenses
  • silent mode for stills – using the movie pipeline to give the images, these stills are roughly 2 megs and jpeg only. It's available in FX Mode, DX mode, 1.2x mode, 5:4 mode

For video folks:

  • The Nikon D4 is the first HDSLR with a headphone jack!
  • Smart tracking of faces and autofocus is available in video as well (we’ve yet to see how good their autofocus in video mode is).
  • shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity to be changed during recording
  • full-time contrast detection autofocus capability, operating either in face detection, wide area, normal, or subject tracking modes, as well as the ability to focus manually
  • There is a 60fps video option, but like the Canon EOS-1D X, it is only available in 720
  • Clip length is 20 or 29 minutes depending on resolutions
  • Nikon says they’ve greatly reduced jello and moire, but we’ll have to see (the few samples that are available seem to be much better)
  • Video is 8-bit (that is a limitation of the codec we’ve heard) 4:2:2

There are some detractors there in the video aspects tho… we've got to get hands on to see whether these are real impacts

  • Tho there is HDMI out and the LCD doesn't switch off while using an external monitor, Nikon says the HDMI quality is “is only suitable for monitoring purposes” (see imaging-resource article on the Nikon D4)
  • it still bugs me that the only way to turn on the “uncompressed HDMI output” is to remove the memory cards – meaning you can't do dual recording – and that's just a plain stupid way to turn something ‘on'.
  • EOSHD found: “The downsampling of the sensor is similar to the Nikon J1, a $499 mirrorless camera.” – read more about the implications in the EOSHD article


Side by Side!

Ok, on to the comparison… First let me say that in the video aspects of the Canon EOS-1D X were initially a disappointment until we saw the Canon EOS C300 – again not that the Canon EOS C300 is a competitor to the Canon EOS-1D X, but that we now know more about the plans Canon has for the HDSLR line (here, I’m referring to the cinema EOS dslr as well).

About this table… I've gone beyond most of the usual spec comparisons (at least I think I have) to add some of the more important features not usually listed in ‘specs' – and this is a subset of a bigger table I've been working on with all of the HDSLRs which I hope to post soon.

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CRITERIA

EOS-1D X

D4

Price (body only US$)

$6,800

$6,000

General/Photography Settings

Articulated LCD

no

no

LCD Size

3.2” 1.04 million dots

3.2” 921,000 dots

Image Stabilization in body

no

no

Max Resolution

5184 x 3456

4928 x 3280

Autofocus points

61

Cross points: 21@f6, 20@f4, 5@f2.8

51

Cross points: 9 up to f8

Raw stills support

yes

yes

AE Lock

Manual: AE lock button

yes

ISO Range

100-51,200 (expand to 50-204,800)

100-12,800 (expand to 50-204,800)

Maximum frames per sec

12 (14 in jpeg)

10 (11 with AF disabled)

MicroAdjustment for lenses

yes

no

Metering

100,000 pixel with dedicated DIGIC 4 processor

91,000 pixel

Sensor size

Full Frame

Full Frame

Sensor mp rating

18.1

16.2

Processor

Dual DIGIC V + DIGIC IV dedicated to metering, color, and face detection

Expeed 3

Lens mounts

Canon EOS EF

Nikon F

Weather Resistant

yes (water and dust resistant)

yes (water and dust sealed)

Memory card

Dual CF

Dual (1XQD + 1CF)

Popup Flash

no

no

Weight (with battery)

TBA

1340 g (2.95 lb / 47.27 oz)

Battery

LP-E4n

EN-EL18

Battery Grip

included

included

Custom Functions

yes

Automatic sensor cleaning

Wave Motion Cleaning

yes

Viewfinder coverage

100%

100%

Ethernet port

yes

yes

multi-exposure

yes (up to 9 exposures)

no

Horizon level

dual axis leveling

no

Face Detection

yes, live view only

 yes 

locks on specific face even if face leaves frame & comes back in 1 sec

GPS location

external device

external device

AE Bracket

±3 (2, 3, 5, 7 frames at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV steps)

(2, 3, 5, 7 frames at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV, 2/3 EV steps)

Shutter life

400,000 actuations

400,000 actuations

Silent shooting

in live view only

yes (2mp jpg @24fps)

zoom in camera (not lens based)

no

can shoot in DX mode with video giving 1.5x crop and also has 2.7x crop in video

Timelapse support

no

yes (+ if you do jpeg, after shooting, it will give you a 1080 movie of your timelapse not RAW)

Multifunction lock

yes

no

Video functions:

Video (1080)

29.97, 25 and 23.98

29.97, 25 and 23.99

Video (720)

60, 50

60, 50, 29.97, 25 fps

Video (640)

30, 25

25 and 23.98

Video (320)

n/a

n/a

Longest clip

29 minutes 59 seconds

(split into 3 continuous clips)

29 minutes 59 seconds

NTSC / PAL

both

both

Microphone

internal mono only

internal mono only

Headphone Jack

no

yes

Audio level control

yes + while recording

yes + while recording

Video autofocus

no

yes

Dedicated Video button

yes, programmable

yes

Video Recording format

H.264

H.264

Video compression

IPB or ALL-I

b frame

Uncompressed HDMI out

HDMI out but it is compressed

yes (8bit 4:2:2)

Aperture control in video

no

smooth

Histogram display during video

yes

yes

Waveform for video 

no

no

Time code support

Rec Run and Free Run

no

LCD blocked during HDMI output

yes

no

Chromatic Aberration fix in video

yes

no

Sources:
Dan Carr side by side
DPreview D4 article
imaging-resource article on the Nikon D4
Live Q&A with Nikon reveals D4 video shortcomings

Summary and choice

Wow, that's a lot to take in – and deciding which camera to buy if you're a pro will obviously depend on your needs. For me, and many of you as well, the decision comes down to your investment in lenses and at this point, I'm a Canon shooter.

I've been intrigued by some of the chatter I've seen where people say the Nikon D4 trumps the Canon EOS-1D X, but in reality, I see that it comes down to maybe one or two features that people see (like the uncompressed HDMI output and/or the headphone jack) that seem to sway things toward the new Nikon. But it again depends on your needs.

And, if you look up and down the specs, it seems there are quite a few interesting things that people ignore or forget when comparing – specifically, Canon “wins” on the megapixels (18 ‘beats' 16 right?), burst (fps), ISO is 2 stops better (without expansion), timecode, multi-exposures, dual axis leveling, and others. Nikon “wins” with timelapse support, HDMI output, headphone jack, in camera zoom, possibly autofocus (we'll have to see on that!), and others.

So we're still lucky that we have 2 huge competitors fighting it out with features because this means we get better cameras every couple of years.

And, we've still got a very interesting year to come! We know Canon has the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Cinema EOS DSLR still to come this year.

Sorry to tease you with the title – of course I'm not going to pick for you – it all depends on your needs and current equipment. But hopefully this gives you a consolidated list of features to help you pick.

disclaimer: I don't know if every fact above is correct, if you see an error, please let me know

(cover photo credit: snap from Nikon and Canon)

Comments

  1. Don’t forget Nikon also has the D800 coming, which should compete with the 5D, one would think.

  2. I also wanted to mention, in the review and listed in the frame rates for Nikon you wrote 23.99. Is that right or should it be 23.98.

  3. im a nikon shooter and i have been waiting for some serious camera from nikon for years, to me the features that really won me are:

    -Uncompressed HDMI output, yeah you have to remove the internal memory but nothing that cant be fixed with firmware update

    -Headphone output, so you can hear what the mic is picking so is easier to make adjustments on the go and avoid surprises in PP

    -Video zoom, imagine being able to shoot with a 24mm f/1.4 and being able to turn it into a 36mm and 64.8mm. and not to mention having an amazing extra reach with the 85mm f/1.4 up to a 229.5mm f/1.4! Just that feature alone is enough to make me buy two D4 this year.

    In the ISO rank, the D3s had an amazing clean high ISO, so much that I shot an entire wedding at ISO 10,000 without a worry. And if Nikon claims this is 1 stop better I don’t see why you cant shoot video above ISO 6400 with a pretty clean output.

    Remember is not how far can the “native” ISO go, but the highest you can go and still have a clean image either in stills or video

    isaac

    1. I’ nikon and Canon shooter. In video (DSRL) only Canon. The differences between the two are minor, but I agree that the ability to crop on sensor is superb. Good lenses cost a fortune and sometimes owning a full frame is bad for tele and having a DX is bad for wide. D4 can offer both worlds. I think this should be one of the great advantages of a Full frame. Being Full ou Dx, without compromisses. HDMI output is great. You can use D4 for live events with an external recorder. And imagine that the autofocus is great while recording?. Just missing a focus peak and a zebra indicator. Just minor things that turns your operation more smooth and secure trought a video shooting session. Canon get in the race…

  4. Been following both cameras for a while, and for me the I would buy the Canon if it had the uncompressed out.
    Re the Nikon HDMI out needing to take the cards out. its a pain, but if you are primarily using it as a camcorder its not an issue. A lot of us do this now with Sony F3s and AF100s.

    The D800 may well be the best value, but I also shoot stills as well, so the still features of the D4 make a ton of sense. Also, although i’ve been a Canon shooter these last 3 years, my primes are all old Nikons. And if this camera and the D800 take off, I imagine the RedRock Livelens will be adapted to fit Nikons :-)

    Anyway, its been a great year for kit and its only January.

  5. These both cameras are amazing machines, BUT there are still some additional and VERY IMPORTANT possible improvements that CAN be implemented via Firmware Update.

    Let’s hope that both Nikon and Canon do it, to give the FULL POTENTIAL of these cameras AND the “small” brothers D800 and 5D Mark III to their customers.

    For instance, some of the most demanded and useful functions:

    – 1080p50/60 (slow motion at Full HD):
    With such powerful processors/engines, these cameras could deliver 1080p60, which even camcorders under $800 are capable of since years ago! Slow motion is being used now more than ever.

    – “Hot Pixel Remap function” available to the user:
    This is SO ESSENTIAL (especially for video!) since every digital camera has defective pixels (many already hidden from factory), and may get more over time. That would save lot of money to Nikon & Canon from returned cameras and tech service during warranty.

    Canon offers “Dust Delete Data feature” (to hide the dust spots) on many DSLRs, so WHY not to offer similar feature for Hot Pixel where you could select and tell the camera the hot pixel to be hidden (by average of surrounding pixels)?

    It’s unbelievable at this point of “digital camera era” that this feature is not yet implemented!

    – Peaking:
    If you’re spending on a multi-thousand dollars camera, manufacturers could bet “kind” enough to implement it via Firmware… Hacked firmware has already proven that it is possible with “old” cameras, so this new generation should be more than capable to offer this basic and ESSENTIAL focusing aid for Movie/Video users

    – Rack Focus / Presets:
    This is completely possible too.

    – More frames in Bracketing mode (for Canon):
    They should also give more frames in Bracketing mode for the “small” brothers. Until now, the only camera with more than 3 frames in Bracketing mode is the 1D line (UNLESS you use a Hacked Firmware!)

    Of course there are lot of other possible improvements and features implementation. The question now is not if they are possible, but if the manufacturers are willing to give their customers the HUGE potential these cameras have inside.

    – LIST of REQUESTED FEATURES: Just as reference, we posted it long ago (which is a compilation from an older list, indeed) in the article titled “Canon EOS-1D X Needs Firmware Update”:

    www.hdcamteam.com/2011/10/20/canon-eos-1d-x-needs-firmware-update/

    We all sincerely hope that manufacturers implement and improve features via FIRMWARE UPDATE. Canon has been more flexible in this regard, although there are still LOT more they CAN do.

    Thanks to Planet5D for posting this article! Competition DOES always help to get better and more featured cameras at better prices.

    Cheers.

  6. regarding the D4 specs..

    it does have virtual horizon level, both horizontal or forward (www.nikonusa.com/Nikon-Products/Product/Digital-SLR-Cameras/25482/D4.html)

    multi-exposure: not sure what you mean.. but D4 does have exposure bracketing (2 to 9 frames), as well as built in HDR (combines two exposures into 1.. also specified in the above link)

    face detection: up to 16 faces, and possible through viewfinder, not just liveview

    also.. not sure why you mentioned no built in gps where as an iPhone does. i thought this was comparing the D4 to 1Dx. as far as i know the 1Dx does not have built in GPS either.

  7. If the Nikon D4 do not have multiple exposure (please do not confuse it with HDR or exposure bracketing), this would be the very first Nikon pro camera not to have it – even the D5100 have it, so many of the entry Nikon cameras also have it.

    But I must say and admit, that after searching the net I can not find 100 % input, if the D4 have it – very strange ?

    But Canon have not had it before – I think the 1Dx and 5DIII is the very first ?

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