Nikon D1xNikon ups the ante with 5.33 million pixels (5.9 megapixel file size), improved color, and exceptional noise performance!
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Page 12:Test Results & ConclusionReview First Posted: 6/16/2001
The biggest news with the D1X is its resolution. Compared to what has gone before it, it's a remarkably affordable 6 megapixel professional SLR, but its rectangular pixels have led many to wonder how it would perform on a practical basis.
We've put together two illustrations below showing the D1X's performance on our ISO-standard resolution test target, and have also assembled clips from our high-resolution "House" poster test to show how the camera stacks up on a more "natural" subject. Finally, we compared the camera's own interpolation to that of two third-party programs (Bibble and Qimage), working from the NEF files. How's it do? Read on!
ISO Res Target Vertical Resolution Tests
ISO Res Target Horizontal Resolution Tests
"Natural Object" Resolution Tests
Well, that's very interesting, but how does the D1X handle more ordinary images of natural objects? Quite well, actually: Here's some samples, making the same model comparisons as the res target crops above.
|Here's a crop from our high-resolution "House" poster. The D1X reveals an exceptional amount of detail, although the image is characterized by the slight softness we observed in all the D1X's images. As we'll see though, this is simply the result of very conservative unsharp masking applied in the camera, a good approach for a professional camera.||
|This is the same image as above, only with strong, low-radius unsharp masking (0.4 pixel radius, 125 percent) applied in Photoshop(tm). The result is almost startling, the tiniest details pop out incredibly.||
|This is a crop of the same area from the 5.1 megapixel Minolta Dimage 7, a prosumer-level digicam we recently reviewed with much applause. The detail is very good, but obviously doesn't rise to nearly the level seen in the D1X.||
|This is a shot of the same area, cropped from our test image shot with the original D1 SLR. It looks like there's a lot of fine detail there, but it's hard to tell just how it compares with the images above.||
|Here's that same D1 image, only now resampled in Photoshop to the same size as the D1X and Dimage 7 shots. We confess we were quite surprised by the amount of detail present here: To our eye, it looks like there's at least as much information in this image as in that from the Dimage 7, possibly more. Still though, the D1X easily surpasses the performance of it's older sibling.
Bibble & Qimage Interpolation Examples
The D1x is interesting in that it can save the "Raw" image data directly as it comes from the CCD array. Particularly in light of the unusual rectangular pixel format, this opens the possibility for third-party software to offer alternate interpolation schemes, possibly extracting more data. As it happens, two programs that became popular with D1 users have now been adapted to work with the D1x's raw "NEF" formatted files, and do indeed offer alternative interpolation schemes. Both applications process the D1x's NEF format into larger images, but seem to extract noticeably more image information than the D1x does on its own. (We're waiting to receive the Nikon Capture application to work with the D1x's files, in addition to the Nikon View. If we find significant differences relative to the D1x's internal interpolation, we'll update this report.)
Bibble turns the NEF file into a 4018 x 2624 pixel image, while Qimage makes a 4020 x 2638 file. As you can see from the samples below, there's a slight resolution improvement in the vertical direction, but quite a dramatic one in the horizontal. (The originals wouldn't fit our layout, so we've scaled the images below to 40-50% of actual size: Click on an image to see the full-sized version.)
"Real World" Interpolation examples
As noted earlier, resolution targets are one thing, but real-world images are another. The illustration below again compares the camera's own processing (bicubic interpolated to match the size of the third-party-processed files) with samples processed in Bibble and Qimage. In this case, Qimage produced the sharpest-looking image, but our (very subjective) opinion was that it seemed to have artifacts not present in the original subject. Bibble was less sharp, but closer to the original subject. The D1x's own interpolation was a softer, but improved when we applied unsharp masking in Photoshop. (The full-sized image reached by clicking the photo below has had no Photoshop processing applied to any of the images.) (Once again, the image below is reduced in size to fit the page layout. Click on it to see the full-sized version. - The differences between the three approaches are really only visible in the full-sized image.) This is very much a subjective judgement call though: We'd advise that interested parties download both applications, along with a NEF file from our sample pictures page, and play with them yourselves: Sharpness and artifacts are very much in the eye of the beholder!
Flash! MORE Comparison Images!
Several of you asked about further comparisons between the D1x and other Pro SLRs. Always happy to oblige, we've produced the "Great Digital SLR Shootout" Page, shown in thumbnail form at right. We've cropped out sections of the Davebox target, House poster, and ISO Res target, from shots taken with the D1x, the original D1, the Canon D30, the Minolta Dimage 7, the Olympus E10, and the Fuji S1. Check it out by clicking here!
Other Test Results
Apart from the increased resolution, we found big improvements in image noise and color handling relative to the earlier D1. Rather than repeat all our comments in this section, we refer interested readers to the detailed analysis on our Sample Pictures Page for the D1x.
But I will let you know that I've just recently become aware of some amazing and very affordable Photoshop "actions" developed by pro photographer Fred Miranda that do an incredible job of reducing image noise without significantly impacting detail. I first saw this software work its magic on the Nikon Coolpix 5000, and literally hundreds of IR readers have taken advantage of it. Now Fred's developed a custom set of actions specifically tuned to the D1x's image characteristics. They do an absolutely fantastic job of cleaning up the D1x's chroma noise, especially at high ISOs. (The ISOR filter cuts the image noise by almost two stops, making ISO 1600 look nearly as good as 400, etc.) The D1x's increased noise at very high ISOs is a limitation a number of pros have lamented over: The dramatic improvement Fred's Actions provide could really make the camera usable for a lot of pros who need lower noise levels in low light shooting conditions.
It's really hard to overstate the impact of Fred's "ISOR" actions. The photo above shows an isolated example of what the D1x ISOR can do for a D1x image shot at ISO 1600. Click the image to see a larger version, or follow the link below to read more about the ISOR action itself and see more examples. If you have Photoshop (NOTE that you need version 6.0 or higher), I think the $15 for Fred's "ISOR" actions should be a complete no-brainer for any D1x owner.- Click here for more information, or to buy them! (Congrats to Fred on an amazing job with this!)
Colors from the D1x appeared very natural and well-balanced. The sRGB default color space produces much more accurate colors on typical computer monitors than did the NTSC color space of the original D1. The optional "Adobe RGB" color space (accessed via the Custom Settings Menu) provides significantly greater color gamut for critical work, and is most suited for use in a color-managed environment and workflow.
We commented at several points throughout this review and the sample pictures page on the remarkably low levels of image noise we saw in the D1x's photos. At low ISO settings, image noise is for all intents and purposes completely absent. Even at ISO 800, the noise level is still quite acceptable for most uses. We're not sure what Nikon did to cut the noise so significantly, but the D1x certainly seems to set a new standard in that area, particularly given its high resolution. (Higher resolution and smaller pixel sizes tend to increase noise, so we're doubly surprised to see the D1x's noise turn out to be so low.) Compared to film-based photos at any given ISO level, the "grain" of the D1x is almost certainly less apparent.
Exposure metering with the D1x is very accurate, thanks to Nikon's sophisticated 3D Color Matrix metering. We did have some exposure problems with our "indoor portrait" test shot, but determined that this was almost certainly due to using the camera on a tripod with strong ambient light, and not using the protective eyepiece shutter to prevent stray light from affecting the exposure calculations.
In our low light test, the D1x went all the way down to our test's limit of 1/16 of a foot-candle (0.17 lux), with excellent color and tonal balance, and an amazingly low noise level.
The D1x's optical viewfinder was pretty accurate, but not the near-100% we personally prefer to see on high-end cameras. (It tested out at about 95% frame coverage, matching Nikon's published specs.)
As expected (due to the rectangular pixel geometry), the D1x showed significantly higher resolution horizontally than vertically, as measured on our ISO-12233 resolution target. Vertically, the D1x showed "clean" resolution (totally devoid of artifacts) to 620 lines per picture height, "strong detail" (target lines resolved clearly, albeit with some aliasing) to 1030 lines, and "extinction" (the camera stopped responding to the target lines altogether) at 1240 lines. Horizontally, the corresponding numbers were 750 lines of "clean" resolution, 1270 lines for "strong detail", and 1600+ lines for "extinction." The third-party programs Qimage and Bibble improve vertical resolution slightly and horizontal resolution dramatically when working from the raw NEF file format.
In this section of our reviews, we normally also summarize test results involving lens performance. In the case of the D1x, optical characteristics will obviously vary depending on the particular lens being used, so the optical distortion measurements we'd normally report here really aren't applicable. (Likewise flash range and coverage.)
It's rare for a single product to change the ground rules for an entire marketplace, but Nikon's original D1 did just that for professional digital SLR cameras when it first shipped about a year and a half ago. With the release of the D1x, Nikon's done it again. They've managed to simultaneously improve nearly every operating parameter, from color quality, to resolution, to image noise, while at the same time incorporating numerous user-interface improvements and ergonomic niceties. It'll be interesting to see how some of the other 6 megapixel cameras due to market soon from other manufacturers will compare. We can say confidently though, that they'll have a very hard time beating the D1x: This is a digital SLR truly deserving of the august Nikon name, and one that we predict will be the deciding factor for many photographers to finally throw over film for an all-digital workflow. Outstanding in every respect!
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