Best full-frame DSLR: 8 cameras from Canon, Nikon and Sony compared

Top pro and consumer models rated

Best full-frame DSLR

Price: £4,250/US$6,000/AU$6,700 (body only)
Specs: 16.2MP, Full HD video: 1080p, 51-point AF, ISO 200-204800

Following in the footsteps of the Nikon D3 and Nikon D3s, the Nikon D4 offers a significant but not an overblown increase in resolution, from 12.1MP to 16.2MP. Coupled with the latest-generation Expeed 3 image processor, the aim is to deliver a fast 11fps maximum drive rate with excellent image quality, even at very high sensitivity settings. That's all very well, but the D4 is the lowest-pixel count camera on test.

For sensitivity, the D4 beats all other Nikon cameras in this group, with ISO 100-12800 in its standard range, rising to a maximum expanded equivalent of ISO 204800. Even so, standard-range sensitivity is eclipsed by all of the Canon cameras in this article, as well as by the Sony Alpha a99.

The Nikon D4's chunky, fully-pro build includes all the usual extras, such as duplicated controls for portrait-orientation shooting and an extra info screen around the back.

Best full-frame DSLR

Build quality is of battleship standards. Tough and weather-proofed on the outside, the Nikon D4 also includes a new Kevlar/carbon-fibre shutter unit with a life expectancy of 400,000 cycles (30% up on the Nikon D3x). The only slight frustration is its somewhat rattly memory card door.

There's a new 3D Colour Matrix III metering module, complete with full-time face recognition, along with 51-point autofocus. Handy for sports and wildlife photographers, the 15 cross-type points can be used with lenses and teleconverters that have a maximum aperture of f/8. However, both updated metering and autofocus systems also feature on the Nikon D800.

True to its promise, the Nikon D4 delivers super-smooth yet detailed image quality even at very high ISO settings, putting the D3x to shame. There's plenty of vibrancy but the D4 errs on the side of caution, resisting the temptation to bump up saturation in the way that some Nikon cameras do.

Performance is excellent in all areas, and the D4 works brilliantly in practically all shooting conditions. It's a sign of the times, though, that a resolution of 16.2MP can leave you feeling a little short-changed.

Outdoor images

Best full-frame DSLR

There's superb consistency in metering and white balance. Like with the other Nikon cameras, colour balance is quite warm in bright sun.

Resolution

Best full-frame DSLR

Despite having the lowest pixel count sensor in the group, the Nikon D4 keeps up with the Canon cameras, at least through low and medium ISOs.

Noise

Best full-frame DSLR
ISO 6400

Noise suppression is slightly better even than from the Canon EOS-1D X at ISO 3200, but it's not quite as impressive at ISO 6400.

Colour error

Best full-frame DSLR

The most natural of all the Nikon cameras in the group, there's not much difference between the D4 and the Canon EOS-1D X.

Image test verdict

Fabulous image quality is one of the hallmarks of the Nikon D4. What it lacks in pixel count, it makes up for in sharpness and low-noise performance.

Read our Nikon D4 review