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The D4 is slightly less than 3x the cost of the D600 at MSRP.

In terms of bare specs, the D4 exceeds the D600 by a level or two in numerous areas, but the gap is relatively small when one compares it to everything the D600 is already capable of.

Could someone please explain to me Nikon's customer segmentation strategy here? Who are the people whose needs cannot be met by the D600, who simply must use the D4?

For the purposes of this question please ignore the "money is no object" angle. Nikon clearly has a marketing plan - from their perspective who are the D4 customers that would never be cannibalized by the D600? I'm very curious.

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Nikon sports photographers and photojournalists. If you are a professional the 3x price difference isn't your main concern, 11fps as compared to 5 is. It is pretty cut and dry. –  dpollitt Jan 28 '13 at 4:01
    
I am a happy owner of a D4! I needed to take pictures of a spectacle with dancers using high ISO. The dancers were very satisfied with my pictures, sometimes at 8000 ISO and no noise at all! Unbelievable! The only question I worried about with my D4 is why did they put less pixels (16 MP), when all the starting DSLRS by Nikon have 24 MP? You cannot say in the publicity that a camera like the D600, with the 24 MP, takes the same clean pictures as the D4 and at the same time the D4 needs absolutely to have only 16 MP to stay clean. –  user19658 Apr 29 '13 at 19:37

4 Answers 4

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Note that I cannot make a statement for Nikon but I have been reviewing digital cameras for 7 years, including all of Nikon's latest cameras.

Speed is the driving factor and so the D4 is primarily aimed at action photographers. It can shoot considerably faster than the D600 or D800. Not only that, its greater sensitivity range lets it use faster shutter-speeds in the same circumstances. Compound this with a deep buffer (170 JPEG or 90 RAW @ 11 FPS) and you can see why the Nikon D4 is made to catch high-speed action at its peak. Read my Nikon D4 review to find out more about what sets it apart.

You will notice Canon offers something similar with its EOS 1D X which is also considerably faster and more expensive than their other DSLRs like the 5D Mark III and 6D.

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Agree, mainly speed. Possibly slightly better build/weather sealing? –  MikeW Jan 28 '13 at 4:07
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There are tons of other improvements but speed is the critical one. The D4 is definitely tougher and with a 2600 shots-per-charge battery-life, you don't even have to take a pause shooting :) –  Itai Jan 28 '13 at 4:09
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Overall build is also much higher quality, with a much more personal touch than a sterile manufacturing process, as many top-end parts and final assembly are done by hand. I also believe for both Canon and Nikon, the top-tier bodies are each individually inspected for quality before shipping, where as for lower-tier bodies only samples of the total are inspected. –  jrista Jan 28 '13 at 16:27
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@jrista - You would be surprised how much is made by hand now! I am! I have seen them hand-paint the Nikon logos on mid-range cameras. Chinese labor is that cheap! –  Itai Jan 28 '13 at 16:44
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@Itai: Well, I still think the principal stands. I've seen the manual inspection procedures for the Canon 1D line, and it is quite extensive, and performed by skilled technicians. I'm not sure the bottom-barrel cheapest chinese labor to hand-paint a logo is of the same caliber of technical inspection and quality review as you get for a top-tier body. –  jrista Jan 28 '13 at 17:09

The D4 and the EOS 1Dx are aimed at a few working pros. They are built for the needs of less than one percent of the DSLR market. They are faster, can shoot more frames per second for longer periods, and are built like tanks. They will get beat up by a pro shooting many hours per day, for year.

The next tier down are aimed at pros who work in nicer conditions, say a studio or a wedding. And they are lust objects for us enthusiasts.

There are very few folks who need these cameras so their sales numbers can never be very high. There is serious engineering in them, and that cost has to be spread across the expected sales. An entry level DSLR will sell millions of units, so the per-unit cost of the engineering is tiny. The highest end pro cameras will in the thousands, so on engineering cost alone, their millions of dollars of engineering costs thousands of dollars per body.

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As others said, speed is basically the biggest difference. Everything about the D4 (and any of the Dx series) is simply faster than any other model. Frame rate is the obvious one, but the built-in AF motor is also much stronger than lower-end models, for example.

In terms of bare specs, the D4 exceeds the D600 by a level or two in numerous areas, but the gap is relatively small when one compares it to everything the D600 is already capable of.

I have to dispute this. The gap is small only for your needs (I assume). Create in-depth comparisons and you'll find many differences that add up to two very different cameras. Under difficult circumstances, those differences are substantial and are what let you get a shot with the D4 and miss it with the D600. A big difference is the AF system: you won't realize how much better the D4's is until you use it in difficult situations. There's simply no substitute for shooting at ISO 204,600 with the D4 (as opposed to the D600's 25,600). If you need those capabilities the D600 is simply not able to do the job, and that's all there is to it.

More importantly, the minor features of the D4 are what really make it stand out, and are maybe even things that will one day trickle down to consumer-grade cameras. The feature of the D4 I most lust after is the illuminated controls -- all of the buttons are backlit to make them easy to see in the dark. By all accounts, the small joysticks are very fast and easy to use. The D4's self-diagnostic shutter mechanism likely helps attain that super-high 400k shutter life (compared to the d600's 150k). (So, in fact, you would need to buy almost three D600s to reach the typical shutter life of a D4 -- and hey, you would have spent the same amount of money at that point, too!)

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Well, you can send the D600 for shutter replacement when it happens, for a fraction of the price. But I agree on everything else. Heck I agree also with that argument on shutter durability, but I would focus on the lower chance of it breaking when you are shooting something important rather than repair price. –  Marco Mp Jan 28 '13 at 16:02

Most of the answers here have addressed the technical differences between the two cameras. The question still remains: Who is Nikon aiming this camera with such a high price?

Those whose livelihoods depend on getting that marginal difference between the performance of the two cameras in every shot they sell to their client or produce for their employer.

While it is very true that the photographer's skill, judgement, and experience are the most important ingredient in the production of a quality photograph (as compared to a photograph with technical image quality), the same photographer can produce quality photographs with better technical image quality when using higher quality gear. Also, at some point the less capable equipment is unable to deal with difficult shooting conditions and can't get the shot at all. This is, of course, also true of the highest end gear. The difference lies in where that limit of capability is for each camera and how often the photographer spends time in the space between the two camera's capabilities.

The world of commercial photography is extremely competitive. For every client willing to pay a handsome fee for top notch images there are thousands of capable photographers who would like to be contracted for the job. Even for staff positions that pay a more moderate salary there is intense competition for those coveted slots among scores of qualified candidates. Anything that can give one shooter a slight advantage over another (or put that shooter on equal technical footing with the equally well equipped competition) may be the difference between working with subjects the photographer is genuinely interested in while getting paid well for it or working with mundane tasks that hardly pay anything - if they pay at all.

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