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Canon 1Dx vs. Nikon D4 – Battle Lines

Canon & Nikon Heavyweights

Some have asked me why I haven’t written or commented on the Canon 1Dx when it was first released.  My response, I knew Nikon was right behind with a release of their next Pro body.  It’s not a real surprise that both these companies have released these bodies when they have, heck the Summer 2012 Olympics are right around the corner.  What surprises me is Canon is first out of the gate with an announcement of their 1Dx but it looks like Nikon will be first out with an actual release of the camera.

The Specs


Both bodies are now full frame with Canon’s 18.1 megapixel edging out Nikon’s 16.2 megapixel.  Having said that image quality (IQ) is where it is all at and proof is yet to be determined.  As a Canon shooter I have to say I like the 1.3x crop of the 1D4 body for my wildlife shooting.

Winner: Canon 1DX (but has to prove IQ)


Let’s call these machines what they are… speed demons.  Both are FAST and designed as such for sports and wildlife photographers.  At their fastest settings the 1Dx delivers a blistering fast rate of 14 frames per second vs. D4’s 11 fps.  It should be noted that this speed is achieved by maintaining the initial focus and exposure from the first frame.  During this rapid fire sequence the mirror remains in the upright position.

Winner: Canon 1DX

ISO range

Remember the days when shooting ISO 800 on film was treading on dangerous grainy territory?  In the digital world these concerns are gone, with the D4’s standard range of 100-12,800 and 1Dx’s range of 100-51,200 it’s difficult to really say which is better although at the standard ISO range Canon does have a full 2 stop of light advantage.  Only when we are able to get our hands images from real life shooting will we really be able to say which has a cleaner image in terms of digital noise.

Winner: Canon 1Dx (but could be called a Tie as how many shooters are really shooting over 12,800?)

AutoFocus capability

Many shooters use multiple auto focus points when shooting in fast action environments.  In shooting wildlife I typically only use 1 focus point and will move it around in the viewfinder for compositional purposes.  The 1Dx has 61 AF points whereas the D4 has 51.  One would immediately think that the 1Dx has this one won, however Canon in its infinite wisdom decided that autofocus would only work with lenses with a maximum aperture of f/5.6 vs. f/8.0 for Nikon.  Why does this matter?  Well, as soon as you put your 1.4x or 2.0x teleconverter on your 100-400mm f/4.5 – 5.6 lens you will no longer have autofocus.

Winner: Draw (Canon for 61 AF points; Nikon for maximum aperture focusing)


This is one area that comes right down to personal preference.  Both cameras have some nice features added that you’ll like.  I’ve often told people when they are looking to buy their first DSLR they should hold the camera in their hand and get a feel for the camera, which one feels natural to them to use.  Check out the menu, buttons, dials, displays, etc.

Canon has redesigned the menu system in the 1Dx and finally (Thank you) added an additional mini-joystick controller (for vertical shooting).  Nikon has added two mini-joysticks and button illumination for using the camera in low-light situations (oh yah).

Winner: You choose!


This is an area that Canon has excelled at since the release of the 5D Mark II.  Canon also has great video in their 7D, 60D and 1D4 bodies.  Nikon clearly had to catch up in the Video department.  It’s surprising just how quickly video has become important to the pro photographer’s overall arsenal of tools.

While Canon excelled at video with the 5D Mark II, Nikon has one upped it with some interesting features in the D4 by offering different formats with the same lens for different crops and depth of field effects.

Canon has a new Digic 5 processor on board to reduce noise from video.  At the same time the camera is now capable of automatically creating separate files once 4GB of video has been recorded.

Winner: Tie (mostly because I’m a still photographer first, I’ll let the video guys  debate this one but either body will be awesome HD cameras)

Memory Cards

About the time Canon finally decides to put two CF cards in their pro line body, Nikon goes in a different direction by going away from two CF cards to having one CF card and one Sony XQD card.  While the XQD card is faster and smaller than the CF card, one has to wonder where it will lead to (Remember the Sony Beta tape?)

While I personally like the size of the CF cards over that of the SD cards I have to admit I can see why camera manufacturers like the smaller SD cards over that of the much larger CF cards.  Only time will tell the success of XQD cards, but it does look like the overall industry is in favour of them.

Winner: Who knows?  But thank you Canon for finally putting two CF cards in the body and eliminating the one SD card slot has gone mostly empty by most pros.  Nikon, thank you for taking a leading edge approach to camera design and not afraid to take a chance.


It’s difficult to say at this point which camera will truly come out on top.  Canon has the image resolution, frame rate edge over Nikon, however Nikon has always excelled with unique little features (memory cards) that make it a very attractive offering.

Nikon has a suggested retail price coming in lower than Canon and with an earlier delivery by 1 month (likely not enough to dissuade a buyer from Canon over Nikon).  In the end I tell every user “pick the body you like for the reasons you like… you truly can’t go wrong with either!”

nikon d4 vs canon 1dx

Nikon D4 vs canon 1Dx

Rule of Thirds Photography Article End

9 responses to “Canon 1Dx vs. Nikon D4 – Battle Lines”

  1. larry says:

    Slow motion video??? Sony has this available on a $600 body, why don’t these guys? Would be great for sports and wildlife to be able to shoot at the much higher frame rate for slo-mo analysis later.

    Second… will the Canon really Auto Focus right? After the 1DMkIII I am shooting with 1DMkIIn bodies and seriously considering the switch to Nikon.

  2. Kelly Bolin says:

    Larry, you are absolutely right about video and Canon auto focus. I believe Canon will do everything possible to get it right with the Summer Olympics occurring this year. It’s no mistake that Canon and Nikon have released these camera bodies when they did. Only real in field use will truly tell the story of who comes out on top.

  3. As an event photographer often in very low light situations ( awards, school balls, etc) I can wait to get my hands on the D4. Yes I am paying for the extra video functionality – which I won’t use. But my work will be 10 x better.

  4. […] this together.I personally look foreword to the photographic advances of this coming year! With the new dSLR’s being released, more advanced software, and a growing online community to help each other through […]

  5. Brandon Bolin says:

    Yes, the D4 will definitely excel in those conditions – and you might be surprised at how often you’ll actually use that video function. Obviously not to a pro level as a videographer, but I use it more and more for small quick personal projects.

  6. Colormetric says:

    Let us not forget that Nikon dominates in the external flash and has a commanding lead over the competition and with this being said a D4 with an SB900 or SB910 is icing on the cake.

    Yes, I realize external flashes are not part of the specific camera review but it is an intricate and valuable accessory that I feel should be part of the review as a complete unit.

  7. Colormetric says:

    The review uses higher numbers to base which camera wins. This is farther from the truth and there are many more functions that have not been mentioned which would give the D4 the lead.

    One thing I have learned over the years is specifications do not speak for results. Soon we will see and hear the truth.

  8. keyboardkungfu says:

    how did the canon 1D4 win the first two shootouts? i thought this was between the 1Dx and the D4 ? lol

    I was almost set in the Canon 1Dx (pending actual reviews of the released working camera) until I read that autofocus would only work with lenses with a maximum aperture of f/5.6. In my opinion, that is going to be a show stopper for many, including this guy.

  9. Kelly Bolin says:

    Stay tuned on the Canon 1Dx and the maximum aperture of f/5.6, one would think that a simple firmware change would rectify that. Given the negative comments on this one would hope that Canon is listening.

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