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Nikon D4, Canon EOS-1D X: Is $6,000 too much for a camera?

Nikon D4, Canon EOS-1D X: Is $6,000 too much for a camera?

Nikon and Canon recently introduced two new state-of-the-art, high-priced DSLR (digital-single-len-reflex) professional cameras. To be exact, the manufacturers of the Nikon D4 list the suggested retail price as $5999.95, and Canon doesn’t list the price of the EOS-1D X on its site, but chatter on the Web puts it somewhere around $6,800.

Throw in a few lenses and you’re at the price of a modest new car. Usually the cost of technology goes down with improvements and time, but that doesn’t seem to be happening here.

Who needs a camera this good and this expensive? Certainly the No. 1 user would be the photographer who shoots sports for a living, where there’s a need for speed in low light conditions, like dimly lighted outdoor football fields or dingy indoor arenas. Over the years, this has probably been the best advancement in the digital technology I have seen. These cameras have brought available-light photo journalism to a new level, so far past the days of film or the infancy of digital technology.

We used to try all sorts of techniques, from push-processing the film to the IS0 (film speed) limit, but it’s nothing compared to these super-sensitive, high-quality chips inside the Nikon D4 (with ISO sensitivity up to 204, 800 and 51-point auto-focus system) or Canon EOS-1D X.

Canon doesn’t hold back on its new entry into the super-expensive line of cameras, calling it the “phenomenal model: the new flagship of the EOS line.” Nikon isn’t shy, either, with its praise of the D4, spouting words on its website such as exquisite, remarkable, stunning, and cutting-edge.

Photographers have been able to move away from setting up strobes in the rafters of arenas because of the difference. Eliminating the electronic flash allows photographers to shoot faster because they don’t need to wait for the lights to recycle.

Nikon also introduced the WT-5A Wireless Transmitter, which works with the Nikon D4 DSLR camera.  This is great for transmitting your photographs to a computer or FTP site if you have a Wi-Fi connection. Also, it gives you control of the camera with an iPhone or iPad. I wish this nifty piece of gear were included. Be prepared to reach into your wallet for $877 (list price). I never said photography was a cheap hobby. Remember, you’re saving money on film and processing.

These premium model cameras set the new standard for the industry. Well, at least for another year. It all seems like a broken record.

Most likely, the noticeable difference between the previous Nikon D3 and the new D4 is its upgraded movie-making capabilities, which feature full 1920 x 1080  HD video along its uncompressed video output. This should compete well with the high-end movie-capable Canon EOS 5D and 1D X.

A look at who should buy this camera:

1. Professional newspaper or magazine photographers who shoot sports
2. Staff photographers at a National Geographic-type publication
3. Lotto winners

Let’s take a look at a few cheaper alternatives that might fill your needs.

With the Nikon D700 and Canon EOS 5D Mark II, you’re looking at spending half as much. The full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II should handle most photographer’s needs with its full-frame sensor image quality and outstanding video. It’s also much smaller and easier to carry, and has an affordable list price of $2,499.00. I threw in the word “affordable” to see if you’re paying attention. The Nikon D700 sells for a list price of $2,699.95. The Canon 5D II gets my pick because it features 1920 x 1080 HD video. You may want to hold off on this purchase because there are rumors of a Canon 5D Mark III on the horizon.

Now it’s time for the realistically priced camera, which is closer to most consumers’ price range: The Nikon D5100 has a list price of $849.95 and the Canon EOS Rebel T3i  rings in at $849.99, which includes the 18-55mm kit lens, making them my recommendations.

These cameras have fewer features and custom functions, but most people never figure out how to use them anyway. Who needs more than nine auto focusing points? They also include the 1920 x 1080 HD video.

Both cameras have plenty of pixels and are considered consumer cameras. These cameras produce photographs with more noise and contrast in low-light conditions than the more expensive versions. Also, they’re lighter and smaller, which means they can’t handle the bumps and bruises of the tougher, professional line of cameras.

Above: “Why,” a sports action video filmed by Corey Rich with the new Nikon D4.

Above: “Livin’ The Blues,” a portrait of New Orleans musician Little Freddie King filmed by Joe McNally with the Nikon D4.

Read more reviews and photography tips by Robert Lachman


  1. January 25, 2012, 10:51 pm

    Great piece! I still use original 5D (no video, ISO up to 1600) and while it certainly does the trick, my main subject is a one-year-old and we are often in low light conditions so I look forward to when I need to upgrade 🙂

    Thanks for the Mach III tip. I was getting close to caving for the Mach II but will wait now.

    A couple of questions re: 5D auto focus – I am having troubles with my auto focus. It often just doesn’t work/has been letting me down quite a bit. Is this a damning problem or an easy/cheap fix? A problem with the body or the lens typically?


  2. January 27, 2012, 4:14 pm

    In regards to autofocus, the performance has to do with both the lens and body. the top end cameras will usually specify the minimum exposure value (EV) the camera can AF at, and also the minimum aperture required for autofocus. (you might have to poke around different official sites to get the specs) to put it simply, the lower the EV a camera body can AF at, the better it's low light AF performance is. For example, the 5DMii can AF down to EV of -0.5, where as the D700 can AF at EV -1. As comparison, the soon to be top of the line camera from Nikon, the D4, can AF down to EV -2, and that's about moon light conditions!
    As I said earlier, AF performance is also affected by the lens. The camera usually will specify the required maximum aperture of a lens that the camera can AF with. A lot of times the middle focus points can work with smaller aperture lens (say ones that has a max of f/5.6), but the outer focus points require lenses with wider aperture (say f/2.8 lenses). So if you have hard time AF w/ outer AF points, you might need a faster lens.
    I don't know how much the 5Dmiii's AF will improve.. sure it will have few more AF points (rumored to be 19), but i think the D800's AF at low light will still be better, as even the D700 has 51 AF points and can AF at EV -1.
    this was a bit off topic since the article was about the D4 and 1Dx. So it's worth noting that the D4 can AF with a f/8 set up (i.e. a f/4 super telephoto + 2x teleconverter), where as the 1Dx can AF with only f/5.6 and faster. anything slower than that you have to use manual focus.

    By: memmener
  3. January 25, 2012, 11:48 pm

    the nikon doesn't shoot uncompressed video. while it looks great, it isn't uncompressed.

    By: cpccccp
  4. January 26, 2012, 11:37 pm

    You can record uncompressed video if you connect an external HDMI recorder.

    For the people that really need it it should be a small price to pay 😉

    By: Husselang
  5. January 27, 2012, 2:54 am

    the article says "uncompressed video output". the D4 outputs uncompressed video through its HDMI port, something the 1Dx doesn't do. You can connect an external recording device or monitor to it. the D4 also has headphone jack for audio monitoring, 2 crop modes, and smooth aperture control during recording.
    i think the D4 has more video features because canon also makes video cameras, and it doesn't want the 1Dx to cannibalize into those sales.

    By: memmener
  6. January 26, 2012, 10:07 am

    Why buy a canon 1 series body ? 1 serie has;

    – better autofocuspoints. The AF points of the 5D and 5D2 are not on the right places

    – better and faster autofocus. 2 Af motors ( 1D4 and 1Dx) 5D2 only one AF motor

    -higher imageburst, especially in raw

    – better protection for dust and water. More rubbers

    – better material of where the body is made of

    – a shutter with a higher imagecount. Shutterlife is almost twice as a 5D

  7. January 26, 2012, 11:03 am

    Where's the videos on Canon's behalf? Seems like a marketing ploy with a Nikon Bias to me…

    By: Daniel
  8. January 26, 2012, 3:16 pm

    With the current state of the photo industry and the complete devaluation of quality photography, I might argue that only the lotto winner on that list could actually be able to afford these cameras.

  9. January 26, 2012, 3:17 pm

    Robert: You're forgetting professional wedding photographers. For us, low-light performance is critical. Besides, anything that makes my images better is worth the money.

    By: jant
  10. January 26, 2012, 7:33 pm

    $6000 for 16megapixels is not "plenty of pixels" for that money you should be in the 30s and up!

    By: aww
  11. January 27, 2012, 12:26 pm

    The selection of 16.9 megapixels was not made lightly, nor for a cost savings. Do some research and you'll see that Nikon felt this was the current sweet spot. More pixels in the same sensor size = less light for each pixel. That would increase noise and decrease dynamic range.

    By: KenC
  12. January 27, 2012, 4:08 pm

    Digital medium format cameras tend to cost about $1000 per MP. By that metric, these cameras should be $16,000 and $18,000 respectively.

    So really, it's a bargain! (not really serious)

  13. January 28, 2012, 1:47 pm

    HAHAHA !!!!! You obviously don't shoot sports, weddings, or events. For me, a pro camera with more than 16MP is worthless to me. It would have horrible low-light/high ISO performance. A 30MP camera might be great for landscape photogs. The higher the MP count, the worse the high ISO performance.

  14. February 2, 2012, 9:39 pm

    It's hard for anyone to argue against what Nikon is claiming, but I understand how easy it is to deride a camera that has not made it to the marketplace. Go to
    Take time to listen to how dynamic the camera is in the dark and for sports photographers. Then once it's available, go out and rent it before you pass judgement.

  15. January 27, 2012, 3:49 am

    @ cpccccp When you attache a hard-disk instead of the CF cards you get uncompressed 4.2.2. video.

    By: Fred Vloo
  16. January 27, 2012, 6:35 am

    Regarding the increased pricing, we have to consider that the dollar has been losing ground against the Yen for ages. The result has to be increased prices in the US.

    By: x@y.vom
  17. January 27, 2012, 11:07 am

    Nikon D800 with 36MP will be released on Feb 7th. Full HD video too. $3000. It's Nikon's answer to the Canon 5d2 & 5d3. I'm sure both cameras will be fantastic…flip a coin.

  18. January 27, 2012, 1:46 pm

    Whenever anyone compares Nikon vs. Cannon it's complete crap. Anyone who uses nikon won't read up about a 1Dx and be like, that has more features, i'm going to suddenly switch. It's pointless to compare the two in regards to what someone should buy. Professional Nikon users will stick with nikon and vice versa.

  19. January 28, 2012, 8:06 am

    A question about audio: Do the cameras allow videographers to set and monitor levels? I see all these reviews of great still cameras that shoot video, but no mention of their audio capabilities. If the audio is bad, the video is horrendous.

    By: dance1400
  20. January 28, 2012, 2:03 pm

    None of these two cameras are made for me and for my budget. Good luck to those who are paying such amount of money for them.

    By: Marcos Veiga
  21. January 28, 2012, 3:53 pm

    An amateur for 45 years, I have a Nikon D700 with three fx lenses. Wonderful camera, fabulous lenses. The weight all together is over 11 pounds not including tripod, ball head, etceteras. Recently, I bought a Leica M-8 with two lenses: 35mm f/1.4 and a 90mm f/2.5. The combined weight is maybe 3 pounds. What is lost (aside from the extra weight)? I can't do super telephoto nor multi-fps on the Leca. What is gained? The best landscape and portrait shots I have ever taken. Better color, incredibly easy handling. I take the Leica everywhere except into the bath.

    By: gordon
  22. October 21, 2012, 7:53 pm

    $6000 sounds too much for a camera. I am better off with an $800 canon eos that has lenses and a tripod packaged with the unit.

    By: Linda

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