Nikon D4 vs Sony A7S
The Nikon D4 and the Sony Alpha A7S are two professional cameras that were announced, respectively, in January 2012 and April 2014. The D4 is a DSLR, while the A7S is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Both cameras are equipped with a full frame sensor. The Nikon has a resolution of 16.2 megapixels, whereas the Sony provides 12 MP.
Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.
Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Nikon D4 and the Sony Alpha A7S? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.
The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Nikon D4 and the Sony A7S. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three successive views from the front, the top, and the rear are shown. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Sony A7S is considerably smaller (52 percent) than the Nikon D4. Moreover, the A7S is substantially lighter (64 percent) than the D4. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Both cameras have similarly sized sensors, but DSLRs have a larger flange-to-focal plane distance than mirrorless cameras, which imposes contraints on the optical engineering process and generally leads to bigger and heavier lenses. You can compare the optics available for the two cameras in the Nikon Lens Catalog (D4) and the Sony FE Lens Catalog (A7S). Mirrorless cameras, such as the A7S, have moreover the advantage that they can use many lenses from other systems via adapters, as they have a relatively short flange to focal plane distance.
Concerning battery life, the D4 gets 2600 shots out of its EN-EL18 battery, while the A7S can take 380 images on a single charge of its NP-FW50 power pack. As can be seen in the images above, the D4 has a battery grip built in. This facilitates image-taking in portrait orientation and gives it additional battery power. In order to provide similar functionality for the A7S, Sony provides the VG-C1EM vertical grip as an optional accessory (see here on eBay). The power pack in the A7S can be charged via the USB port, which can be very convenient when travelling.
The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, you can move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.
|1.||Nikon D4||160 mm||157 mm||91 mm||1340 g||2600||Y||Jan 2012||5,999|
|2.||Sony A7S||127 mm||94 mm||48 mm||489 g||380||Y||Apr 2014||2,499|
|3.||Canon 1D X||158 mm||168 mm||83 mm||1551 g||1120||Y||Oct 2011||6,799|
|4.||Nikon D5||160 mm||159 mm||92 mm||1415 g||3780||Y||Jan 2016||6,499|
|5.||Nikon D4S||160 mm||157 mm||91 mm||1350 g||3020||Y||Feb 2014||6,499|
|6.||Nikon Df||144 mm||110 mm||67 mm||760 g||1400||Y||Nov 2013||2,749|
|7.||Nikon D600||141 mm||113 mm||82 mm||850 g||900||Y||Sep 2012||2,099|
|8.||Nikon D800||146 mm||123 mm||82 mm||1000 g||900||Y||Feb 2012||2,999|
|9.||Nikon D800E||146 mm||123 mm||82 mm||1000 g||900||Y||Feb 2012||3,299|
|10.||Nikon D3S||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1240 g||4200||Y||Oct 2009||5,199|
|11.||Nikon D3X||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1260 g||4400||Y||Dec 2008||7,999|
|12.||Nikon D3||160 mm||157 mm||88 mm||1300 g||4300||Y||Aug 2007||4,999|
|13.||Sony A7S II||127 mm||96 mm||60 mm||627 g||370||Y||Sep 2015||2,999|
|14.||Sony A7 II||127 mm||96 mm||60 mm||599 g||350||Y||Nov 2014||1,999|
|15.||Sony A7||127 mm||94 mm||48 mm||474 g||340||Y||Oct 2013||1,699|
|16.||Sony A7R||127 mm||94 mm||48 mm||465 g||340||Y||Oct 2013||2,299|
|Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.|
The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices give an idea on the placement of the camera in the maker’s lineup and the broader market. The A7S was launched at a markedly lower price (by 58 percent) than the D4, which puts it into a different market segment. Normally, street prices remain initially close to the MSRP, but after a couple of months, the first discounts appear. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down.
The imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be more expensive and lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
In terms of underlying technology, both cameras are build around CMOS sensors.
With 16.2MP, the D4 offers a higher resolution than the A7S (12MP), but the D4 has smaller individual pixels (pixel pitch of 7.29μm versus 8.45μm for the A7S). Moreover, the A7S is a much more recent model (by 2 years and 2 months) than the D4, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixels.
The resolution advantage of the Nikon D4 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the D4 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 24.6 x 16.4 inches or 62.6 x 41.7 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 19.7 x 13.1 inches or 50.1 x 33.3 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 16.4 x 10.9 inches or 41.7 x 27.8 cm. The corresponding values for the Sony A7S are 21.2 x 14.2 inches or 53.8 x 36 cm for good quality, 17 x 11.3 inches or 43.1 x 28.8 cm for very good quality, and 14.1 x 9.4 inches or 35.9 x 24 cm for excellent quality prints.
The Nikon D4 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 100 to ISO 12800, which can be extended to ISO 50-204800. The corresponding ISO settings for the Sony Alpha A7S are ISO 100 to ISO 102400, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 50-409600.
For many cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. The Overall DXO ratings for the two cameras under consideration are close, suggesting that they provide similar imaging performance. The table below summarizes the physical sensor characteristics and sensor quality findings and compares them across a set of similar cameras.
| DXO |
|1.||Nikon D4||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||1080/30p||24.7||13.1||2965||89|
|2.||Sony A7S||Full Frame||12.0||4240||2832||1080/60p||23.9||13.2||3702||87|
|3.||Canon 1D X||Full Frame||17.9||5184||3456||1080/30p||23.8||11.8||2786||82|
|4.||Nikon D5||Full Frame||20.7||5588||3712||4K/30p||25.1||12.3||2343||88|
|5.||Nikon D4S||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||1080/60p||24.4||13.3||3074||89|
|6.||Nikon Df||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||none||24.6||13.1||3279||89|
|7.||Nikon D600||Full Frame||24.2||6016||4016||1080/30p||25.1||14.2||2980||94|
|8.||Nikon D800||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/30p||25.3||14.4||2853||95|
|9.||Nikon D800E||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/30p||25.6||14.3||2979||96|
|10.||Nikon D3S||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||720/24p||23.5||12.0||3253||82|
|11.||Nikon D3X||Full Frame||24.4||6048||4032||none||24.7||13.7||1992||88|
|12.||Nikon D3||Full Frame||12.1||4256||2832||none||23.5||12.2||2290||81|
|13.||Sony A7S II||Full Frame||12.0||4240||2832||4K/30p||23.6||13.3||2993||85|
|14.||Sony A7 II||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||1080/60p||24.9||13.6||2449||90|
|15.||Sony A7||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||1080/60p||24.8||14.2||2248||90|
|16.||Sony A7R||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/60p||25.6||14.1||2746||95|
Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. Both cameras under consideration are equipped with sensors that have a sufficiently high read-out speed for moving images, but the A7S provides a faster frame rate than the D4. It can shoot movie footage at 1080/60p, while the Nikon is limited to 1080/30p.
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. For example, the A7S has an electronic viewfinder (2400k dots), while the D4 has an optical one. Both systems have their advantages, with the electronic viewfinder making it possible to project supplementary shooting information into the framing view, whereas the optical viewfinder offers lag-free viewing and a very clear framing image. The viewfinders of both cameras offer the same field of view (100%), but the viewfinder of the A7S has a higher magnification than the one of the D4 (0.71x vs 0.70x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Nikon D4, the Sony A7S, and comparable cameras.
|3.||Canon 1D X||optical||Y||3.2||1040||fixed||n||1/8000s||14.0||n||n|
|13.||Sony A7S II||2400||n||3.0||1229||tilting||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||Y|
|14.||Sony A7 II||2400||n||3.0||1230||tilting||n||1/8000s||5.0||n||Y|
One feature that is present on the D4, but is missing on the A7S is a top-level LCD. While being, of course, smaller than the rear screen, the control panel conveys some of the essential shooting information and can be convenient for quick and easy settings verification.
The reported shutter speed information refers to the use of the mechanical shutter. Yet, some cameras only have an electronic shutter, while others have an electronic shutter in addition to a mechanical one. In fact, the A7S is one of those camera that have an additional electronic shutter, which makes completely silent shooting possible. However, this mode is less suitable for photographing moving objects (risk of rolling shutter) or shooting under artificial light sources (risk of flickering).
The Nikon D4 has an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.
The D4 writes its imaging data to Compact Flash or XQD cards, while the A7S uses SDXC or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. The D4 features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the A7S only has one slot.
For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Nikon D4 and Sony Alpha A7S and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.
| WiFi |
| NFC |
|3.||Canon 1D X||Y||mono||-||Y||-||mini||2.0||-||-||-|
|13.||Sony A7S II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
|14.||Sony A7 II||Y||stereo||mono||Y||Y||micro||2.0||Y||Y||-|
It is notable that the A7S offers wifi support, which can be a very convenient means to transfer image data to an off-camera location. In contrast, the D4 does not provide wifi capability.
Studio photographers will appreciate that the Nikon D4 (unlike the A7S) features a PC Sync socket, so that professional strobe lights can be controlled by the camera.
Both the D4 and the A7S have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The D4 was replaced by the Nikon D4S, while the A7S was followed by the Sony A7S II. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Nikon and Sony websites.
So how do things add up? Is the Nikon D4 better than the Sony A7S or vice versa? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.
Reasons to prefer the Nikon D4:
- More detail: Offers more megapixels (16.2 vs 12MP) with a 16% higher linear resolution.
- Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
- Easier setting verification: Features an LCD display on top to control shooting parameters.
- Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (11 vs 5 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
- More portrait friendly: Features an integrated vertical grip for easier portrait shooting.
- Longer lasting: Can take more shots (2600 versus 380) on a single battery charge.
- Better studio light control: Has a PC Sync socket to connect to professional strobe lights.
- Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.
- More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in January 2012).
Arguments in favor of the Sony Alpha A7S:
- Better video: Provides higher movie framerates (1080/60p versus 1080/30p).
- More framing info: Has an electronic viewfinder that displays shooting data.
- Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.71x vs 0.70x).
- More flexible LCD: Has a tilting screen for odd-angle shots in landscape orientation.
- Less disturbing: Has an electronic shutter option for completely silent shooting.
- More compact: Is smaller (127x94mm vs 160x157mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
- Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 851g or 64 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
- Easier travel charging: Can be conveniently charged via its USB port.
- More legacy lens friendly: Can use many non-native lenses via adapters.
- Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
- Easier device pairing: Supports NFC for fast wireless image transfer over short distances.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (58 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Reflects 2 years and 2 months of technical progress since the D4 launch.
If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the A7S emerges as the winner of the match-up (13 : 11 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding on a new camera. A professional sports photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a street photog, and a person interested in family portraits has distinct needs from a landscape shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.
How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Nikon D4 and the Sony A7S place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera and Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera listings whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.
In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the D4 or the A7S perform in practice. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate.
This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.
|1.||Nikon D4||..||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Jan 2012||5,999|
|2.||Sony A7S||4/5||..||86/100||4.5/5||5/5||Apr 2014||2,499|
|3.||Canon 1D X||5/5||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Oct 2011||6,799|
|4.||Nikon D5||..||..||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||Jan 2016||6,499|
|5.||Nikon D4S||5/5||..||..||4.5/5||4.5/5||Feb 2014||6,499|
|6.||Nikon Df||4/5||..||81/100||4/5||4/5||Nov 2013||2,749|
|7.||Nikon D600||4/5||+ +||87/100||5/5||4.5/5||Sep 2012||2,099|
|8.||Nikon D800||5/5||+ +||82/100||5/5||5/5||Feb 2012||2,999|
|9.||Nikon D800E||..||..||84/100||5/5||5/5||Feb 2012||3,299|
|10.||Nikon D3S||5/5||..||89/100||4.5/5||5/5||Oct 2009||5,199|
|11.||Nikon D3X||..||..||86/100||4/5||5/5||Dec 2008||7,999|
|12.||Nikon D3||..||..||+ +||5/5||4.5/5||Aug 2007||4,999|
|13.||Sony A7S II||5/5||+||..||4.5/5||5/5||Sep 2015||2,999|
|14.||Sony A7 II||5/5||+||82/100||4.5/5||5/5||Nov 2014||1,999|
|15.||Sony A7||5/5||+ +||80/100||5/5||5/5||Oct 2013||1,699|
|16.||Sony A7R||5/5||+ +||82/100||4.5/5||5/5||Oct 2013||2,299|
|Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.|
The above review scores should be interpreted with care, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.
Other camera comparisons
Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored.
Specifications: Nikon D4 vs Sony A7S
Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.
|Camera Model||Nikon D4||Sony A7S|
|Camera Type||Digital single lens reflex||Mirrorless system camera|
|Camera Lens||Nikon F mount lenses||Sony E mount lenses|
|Launch Date||January 2012||April 2014|
|Launch Price||USD 5,999||USD 2,499|
|Sensor Specs||Nikon D4||Sony A7S|
|Sensor Format||Full Frame Sensor||Full Frame Sensor|
|Sensor Size||36.0 x 23.9 mm||35.8 x 23.9 mm|
|Sensor Area||860.4 mm2||855.62 mm2|
|Sensor Diagonal||43.2 mm||43 mm|
|Sensor Resolution||16.2 Megapixels||12 Megapixels|
|Image Resolution||4928 x 3280 pixels||4240 x 2832 pixels|
|Pixel Pitch||7.29 μm||8.45 μm|
|Pixel Density||1.88 MP/cm2||1.40 MP/cm2|
|Moiré control||Anti-Alias filter||Anti-Alias filter|
|Movie Capability||1080/30p Video||1080/60p Video|
|ISO Setting||100 - 12,800 ISO||100 - 102,400 ISO|
|ISO Boost||50 - 204,800 ISO||50 - 409,600 ISO|
|Image Processor||EXPEED 3||BIONZ X|
|DXO Sensor Quality (score)||89||87|
|DXO Color Depth (bits)||24.7||23.9|
|DXO Dynamic Range (EV)||13.1||13.2|
|DXO Low Light (ISO)||2965||3702|
|Screen Specs||Nikon D4||Sony A7S|
|Viewfinder Type||Optical viewfinder||Electronic viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Field of View||100%||100%|
|Viewfinder Resolution||2400k dots|
|Top-Level Screen||Control Panel||no Top Display|
|LCD Framing||Live View||Live View|
|Rear LCD Size||3.2inch||3.0inch|
|LCD Resolution||921k dots||921k dots|
|LCD Attachment||Fixed screen||Tilting screen|
|Shooting Specs||Nikon D4||Sony A7S|
|Focus System||Phase-detect AF||Contrast-detect AF|
|Manual Focusing Aid||no Peaking Feature||Focus Peaking|
|Max Shutter Speed (mechanical)||1/8000s||1/8000s|
|Continuous Shooting||11 shutter flaps/s||5 shutter flaps/s|
|Electronic Shutter||no E-Shutter||YES|
|Time-Lapse Photography||Intervalometer built-in||no Intervalometer|
|Fill Flash||no On-Board Flash||no On-Board Flash|
|Storage Medium||CF or XQD cards||MS or SDXC cards|
|Second Storage Option||Dual card slots||Single card slot|
|Connectivity Specs||Nikon D4||Sony A7S|
|Studio Flash||PC Sync socket||no PC Sync|
|USB Connector||USB 2.0||USB 2.0|
|HDMI Port||micro HDMI||micro HDMI|
|Microphone Port||External MIC port||External MIC port|
|Headphone Socket||Headphone port||Headphone port|
|Wifi Support||no Wifi||Wifi built-in|
|Near-Field Communication||no NFC||NFC built-in|
|Body Specs||Nikon D4||Sony A7S|
|Environmental Sealing||Weathersealed body||Weathersealed body|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||2600 shots per charge||380 shots per charge|
|In-Camera Charging||no USB charging||USB charging|
160 x 157 x 91 mm
(6.3 x 6.2 x 3.6 in)
127 x 94 x 48 mm
(5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9 in)
|Camera Weight||1340 g (47.3 oz)||489 g (17.2 oz)|
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