1D X and D4: Kings of the Hill?

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We are going to kick off here by comparing two top-of-the-line sports cameras from Canon and Nikon – the 1D X and the D4. For real-world testing, we shot some indoor sports in pretty lousy lighting; there will also be some pixel-peeping for noise, raw file flexibility and video quality.

We also shot these cameras in a studio setting and compared them to several other full-frame models and a lonely APS-C contender we had lying around – that was never going to be a pretty sight. We’ll be talking about how these cameras were to shoot with and provide our answer to the big question – are these beasts worth their 6000 euro asking prices?

First, a bit of background on both cameras.

The Nikon D4 was announced in January 2012 and became available a month later. Its predecessor, the D3, was Nikon’s first full-frame digital camera when introduced in 2007. The D3 and especially its updated version, the D3S, were considered the best high-ISO cameras available, so the D4 had some big shoes to fill. The updates were pretty incremental, though. Resolution was increased from 12 MP to 16 MP, metering was improved and screen size increased. Maximum frame rate remained at 10 fps (11 fps with locked AF and metering), but maximum available ISO was increased by one stop, to 204K. Video features were significantly upgraded, finally catching up with the Canons’ Full HD (D3S was limited to 720p). The D4 also became the first (and to date, the only) DSLR to use the new, faster XQD cards for storage in addition to traditional CF media.

The Canon 1D X was announced in October 2011, but true to Canon’s way of teasing people with new products and not actually releasing them (200-400 F4, anyone?), it did not become available until months later, in Q2 2012. Unlike Nikon, Canon had been making full-frame digital cameras since 2002, but the full frame 1Ds line was separate from the 1D series of “action” cameras that had smaller 1.3 crop factor APS-H sensors. All this changed with the 1D X series, which merged the previous 1Ds Mark III (21MP, 5 fps, max. ISO 3200) and 1D Mark IV (16MP, 10 fps, max. ISO 102K) into an 18MP full-frame camera capable of 12 fps (14 with no AF and JPEG only) and ISO 204K. 1Ds users were concerned that they were losing megapixels and 1D users were worried about losing reach compared to the earlier crop sensor models, but at least the second camp seems pretty happy now; some of the Ds users may have defected to the Nikon side, lured by the 36MP D800.

So how do these cameras perform? Do these crazy six-figure ISO-s actually work and provide usable images? Up next, a lot of ISO testing, with some more affordable alternatives from both Nikon and Canon thrown in for comparison.

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