Cradling the Nikon D4 in your hands, it's immediately obvious that this is a beast of a camera. It sits at the top of Nikon's DSLR line-up, offering professionals the best of what Nikon can pour into a camera.

But Nikon was keen to stress exactly where the modifications came from, saying that it wasn't a camera built by Nikon, but by photographers. It's a sentiment we often hear, but when you're talking about a professional shooting device at nearly £5000 - before adding any glass - then you have to mean it.

From the exterior the camera is very similar to the model it now supplants, the Nikon D3 and subsequent D3s. Ergonomically there have been a few changes to make access to controls a little easier. There are now mirrored controls for your thumb for landscape and portrait grips, as well as an additional thumb grip on portrait side, so it's more comfortable. 

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The shutter button also sees itself on a slightly different slope. It now sits on a 35-degree slope rather than 27, which is supposedly more comfortable. We can't say that in the brief time we spent with the camera we noticed much difference, but if you spend most of your day poised ready to shoot, it may well make a difference.

One thing that is more obvious are the backlit controls. Backlighting is triggered with a flick of the power lever. The effect is very nice and it's impressive that it extends up to the mode dial too. It makes perfect sense to include this on a camera that offers impressive low light shooting credentials.

The other noticeable change is the display on the back. At 3.2-inches it is slightly larger than the D3s, but offers the same 921k-dot resolution. It isn't the highest resolution display you'll find on the back of a DSLR, but it looks fantastic, with great viewing angles and wonderful colours - closer to sRGB is the claim from Nikon. 

Nikon also tells us that a layer of gel resin sits between the glass cover and the LCD panel to reduce unwanted reflection and the effects of things like fogging due to temperature change. 

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Of course during our brief hands-on time with the camera (from which we weren't allowed to take away any shots) it's impossible to say much about the performance improvements that have been made. It's certainly swift in action, fast to focus and from previewed shots we took it didn't have any problems shooting in low light, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating as they say, and in this instance we have no pudding.

In the D4 video capture is taken seriously. The onboard HDMI will offer a clean uncompressed output of your video (i.e., without overlays) for professional quality editing and there are a host of audio controls too. A video capture button sits on the top behind the shutter button for easy instant access.

The full-sized Ethernet port doesn't look too out of place either, but gives professionals the chance to skip the computer from their workflow if they want to, connecting their camera direct to the network. We saw some of the networking in action, offering HTTP control via an iPad using the WT-5 Wireless Transmitter for wireless remote control (which you can read more about here).

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You'll also find both XQD and CF card slots in the bay. The Nikon D4 is the first camera to support XQD and we expect to hear more about what will be on offer from the new standard of memory card very soon. We know it will come in 16 and 32GB sizes and offer data rates of 125MB/s.

Overall there is only so much you can say from the first tussle with a camera of this type. Its specs are hugely impressive (more detail can be found here) and Nikon are confident they'll be able to get this camera into the hands of professional photographers from 16 February 2012.

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