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Nikon D1H

All the color and image-quality enhancements from the D1x, but 2.7 megapixels and 5 frames/second, and 1,000 lower price!

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Page 2:Executive Overview

Review First Posted: 11/16/2001

Executive Overview
The Nikon D1h is the second of a pair of pro digital SLR bodies Nikon released in 2001, the first being the 5.47 megapixel D1x. The D1h provides half that level of resolution, matching the pixel and sensor dimensions of the original Nikon D1. (2.74-megapixels, 23.7 x 15.6mm CCD area) Like the D1x though, the electronics and signal processing algorithms in the D1h were redesigned from the ground up to reduce image noise and improve tonality and color reproduction. With the same familiar, F5-inspired body design, the D1h offers the look and feel that film-based pros are accustomed to, and is quick to get to know. The D1h offers the same redesigned user interface I liked so much on the D1x, overall one of the most functional and straightforward I've yet seen on a professional SLR. Intended for photojournalists, sports shooters, and others needing high shot to shot speeds, the D1h provides half the resolution of the D1x, but a zippy five frame per second maximum frame rate, and a huge 40-frame buffer memory.

The D1h continues with the standard Nikon F lens mount, which means that you can attach most of Nikon's 35mm lenses with no problem (great for current Nikon 35mm shooters who already have a full kit of lenses). With a weight of 2.5 pounds (1.1kg), the D1h has the heft I've come to associate with professional SLRs, but somehow manages to not feel bulky or awkward in the hand. A pro accustomed to shooting with Nikon's F5 bodies will find the D1h very comfortable and familiar. In exchange for the substantial heft though, the D1h's magnesium-alloy body provides an exceptionally rugged and rigid optical platform capable of absorbing unreasonable abuse without complaint. With both hot shoe and PC-style flash sync connections, the D1h will interface with most any flash equipment, whether in the field or studio.

The D1h's accurate TTL (through the lens) optical viewfinder means that you have no need for the LCD panel as a viewfinder, a good thing, since the SLR optics mean that the LCD can't be used as a "live" viewfinder anyway. (By its nature, barring a "pellicle" mirror or beam splitter optics, the very design of an SLR precludes a "live" LCD viewfinder.) In addition to a dioptric adjustment dial and an internal shutter to prevent stray light from affecting exposures when the camera is used on a tripod, the viewfinder features a detailed information display that reports most of the camera's exposure settings and also shows a set of five autofocus targets. A very flexible autofocus system means that you can determine the type of autofocus (single, continuous, or manual), designate how it's used (single area, dynamic area, etc.) and even designate the location of the autofocus target within the frame. Exposure-wise, there are so many features on this camera that you'll have to read the entire review to get them all. I'll just mention a few of the primary options here.

To begin, you have the option of working in Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual exposure modes. Exposure settings are easily changed by using a combination of control buttons and command dials, or through the LCD menu system. The extensive Custom Settings menu provides access to a huge range of camera settings, including how various elements of the user interface itself work. For example, you can decide which command dial controls the shutter speed or aperture, adjust the image sharpness and contrast, determine whether or not the aperture changes as the lens zooms, or set exposure variables for the automatic bracketing, among many others (there are 36 Custom Settings menu options in all). With the D1h, you have a broad exposure compensation range, with a variable adjustment from -5 to +5 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments. (A custom settings menu option also lets you set the EV compensation step size to one-half or one EV unit.) White balance also has a lot of flexibility, with options for Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, Flash, Overcast, and Shade, all of which are adjustable from -3 to +3 (arbitrary units) in their intensity. A Preset white balance setting serves as the manual adjustment, and the D1h can store up to three presets.

Three metering modes are available: Spot, Center-Weighted, and a very accurate Color 3D Matrix metering option. ISO can be set anywhere from 200 to 1,600, giving you excellent exposure flexibility. (Special "ISO Boost" modes are available that extend the effective ISO to 3,200 or 6,400, albeit at the cost of significantly increased image noise.) The auto bracketing feature takes three exposures of the same subject at different exposure settings, with the exposure step between shots being configurable via the settings menu. There's even a black and white monochrome exposure mode. As I mentioned earlier, a Continuous Shooting mode lets you capture up to 40 consecutive images as quickly as five frames per second, and here again, you can select both the maximum number of shots as well as the frame rate. The camera's flash sync mode menu lets you select when and how the external flash fires. Choices include Front-Curtain Sync, Slow-Sync, Rear-Curtain Sync, Red-Eye Reduction, and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync. Because the D1h accommodates a variety of Nikon's Speedlights, specific flash power and operation will vary depending on the particular model you're using. Note that some options such as red eye reduction are only available with Nikon flash units or others conforming closely to the flash-interface protocols used by the D1h.

The 2.7-megapixel CCD delivers an image resolution of 2,000 x 1,312 pixels. Image quality options include the usual Basic, Normal, and Fine but also RGB TIFF, YCbCr TIFF, and both compressed and uncompressed RAW formats (all listed under the High quality option in the capture-mode menu system). Image storage is on CompactFlash Type I or II, and the D1h supports the IBM MicroDrives for huge on-the-go storage capacity. (Although semiconductor memory cards have now caught up to the MicroDrives in the capacity race.) The D1h utilizes a custom EN-4 NiMH battery pack for power and an AC adapter/charger is included in the box. (I also highly recommend a spare battery pack). A design plus I really appreciate in a pro camera is that the battery pack and card slot are both accessible from the sides of the camera, meaning that you don't have to dismount the camera from the tripod to access either compartment .

To my mind, the real story about the D1h is its image quality. The D1h supports both sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces. The sRGB space is its default, while Adobe RGB can be set via a Custom Settings Menu option. I'm pleased to see a major manufacturer provide color space options like this. The Microsoft/HP-dictated sRGB color space is fine for generic computer displays and web work, but its color gamut (the range of colors that can be accurately represented) is too small for professional use in color-critical applications. By making Adobe RGB available as an option, Nikon is helping promote a move away from the overly restrictive "standard" that's dominated the industry for years. The thing that really surprised me about the D1h's photos though, was the almost complete absence of image noise at normal ISO settings. These are some of the "cleanest" images I've seen from any digicam to date.

The original Nikon D1 raised the bar on the entire pro digital SLR category. The D1h ups the ante with higher shooting speed, huge buffer capacity, and significantly improved color rendition an image noise levels. Despite the excellent capabilities of the original D1, the improvements in the D1h are substantial enough that I suspect many D1 owners will be tempted to upgrade. Nikon's pro SLRs are no-excuses digital cameras that are first and foremost cameras, and the D1h follows suit: A true Nikon SLR in every respect!


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