Nikon D2XBy: Dave Etchells and Shawn Barnett
Nikon introduces a 12.2 megapixel hybrid pro SLR that can be either high resolution or high speed as the job requires.
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Page 2:User ReportReview First Posted: 04/14/2005, Updated: 06/10/2005
By Shawn Barnett
True to the pro tradition of SLR design, the Nikon D2X is big and heavy. A joint in my thumb was quickly complaining about the weight as I walked about town taking Gallery shots. This is no D70, the D2X's comparatively light and well-balanced sibling. Not that it's terribly unbalanced, it was just a noticeable difference. Very much like its D1x predecessor and the D2H in construction and design, the D2X has an excellent grip both front and back, and an almost equally robust vertical grip. I love the cut of the main grip, with an indent running along the length, offering a place for the pads of the fingers to get a good purchase. This is missing from the vertical grip, however.
Control buttons on the back are big and well-marked, quite a bit larger, more plentiful, and easier to manipulate than on the previous D1x. I prefer Nikon's simpler menu system to other pro cameras on the market, and the menu system on the D2X is both easier to navigate and more attractive than the menu systems on previous Nikon d-SLRs. It is a straightforward menu system whose use is immediately obvious to any computer or digital camera user, and doesn't require too many special button combinations to execute. Exceptions to this rule are applied well, as in the case of the Format function, which requires the user to press the Enter button instead of the usual right arrow button to perform this critical action. I'm also a fan of Nikon's button-based Format option. Just hold down the Delete and Mode buttons for a set amount of time and the camera formats the card.
Also, if you need to quickly return most settings to default, you can do so with another button combination: hold down the ISO and WB buttons on the back for more than two seconds and the Focus area, Exposure mode, Flexible program, Exposure Compensation, AE hold, Aperture lock, Shutter-speed lock, Bracketing, and Flash sync mode are all reset to default values. Image quality, size, white balance, and ISO are also reset. Custom Settings are not reset. You'll want to go back through all the items that are reset to make sure you're happy in almost all auto modes with Normal compression instead of Fine. But it's a good way to get back to some known state in a complex camera like the Nikon D2X.
The Nikon D2X LCD is a big 2.5 inch TFT design that's very sharp and clear, with a few more pixels than past models, making image review and menu item selection that much easier. What's even better is that big bright optical viewfinder with a very high eyepoint, great for eyeglass wearers. A switch to the viewfinder's upper left closes a pretty impressive two-stage door from behind the viewfinder glass to keep out stray light during long exposures on a tripod.
Nikon includes a translucent plastic stand-off LCD cover with the D2X, presumably to protect the LCD surface from scratches. I've frankly never understood its utility. I have never scratched an LCD glass on the back of a digital SLR, but I've fogged up this silly cover often enough from a mere breath while looking through the optical viewfinder that I've taken to tossing it on a desk or stowing it permanently in a camera bag. Others have told me they've scratched plenty of LCDs on shirt buttons and zippers, so I suppose there's a purpose; I just don't use camera straps, and I tend to hold my camera in the right hand by the grip or in the left around the lens barrel, away from buttons and zippers. Thankfully, this cover is removeable: the first feature I use when handed a Nikon digital SLR.
While it's easy to get lost and forget about an important setting on a camera like this, I found it relatively easy to get back to proper settings, despite the many options on the D2X. - Its user interface is intuitive, and presents a very shallow learning curve despite the fact that I'm more accustomed to shooting Canon SLRs. Switching AF points on the Nikon D2X, for example, is as easy as assuring you're in single point AF mode, pressing the shutter halfway, and using the Multi Controller to move the point around. You can use the illuminated red brackets in the viewfinder, but I more often use the graphic in the top status LCD. ISO, Quality, and White Balance are easily set with a button press and a turn of the Main command dial; and these settings have their own LCD for easy confirmation.
Though the news has been out on the Nikon D2X since mid-September of 2004, I should mention a few items that stood out. By far the biggest deal with the D2X is its dual-resolution nature. It can be used as either a high resolution 12.21 megapixel SLR capable of around 20 JPEG shots at five frames per second, or change to a 6.87 megapixel speed demon that can deliver up to 34 JPEGs at eight frames per second. That's a far more versatile camera than Nikon has ever offered.
Initially, I found this dual-resolution feature a little perplexing, and wondered how much sense it made in the marketplace. Now that I've had hands on with the camera, I think it's such a good idea that I can't help but wonder who would buy the recently announced 4 megapixel Nikon D2Hs, whose only major apparent advantage is its buffer depth. Otherwise, it too is capable of eight frames per second, but offers only 4 megapixel images. (Albeit with a lower focal-length multiplication factor and a full-frame viewfinder.) With a few exceptions, the experienced photographer waits for the right moment to get the shot, rather than relying on the motor drive to accidentally capture the peak. In most instances where high speed continuous shooting does help, the Nikon D2X should be able to capture the critical action in far less than the High-speed Crop mode's 4.25 second runtime. Though it'll cost a bit more than the D2Hs, the D2X will be a better choice for most photographers in need of a high resolution, high speed digital SLR. What the D2Hs might offer in addition to speed and buffer depth will have to wait until we receive one for review. High-ISO image quality is an obvious area where there could be a difference between the two cameras, where the significantly larger pixels of the D2Hs might help quite a bit; but our test results reveal that the D2X delivers some excellent, relatively low-noise images.
Nevertheless, I like not only the bright viewfinder and clear, bright LED focus indicators on the Nikon D2X (which I think are abysmal on the D70), but I also like their method of telling the user when High-speed crop mode is active. Four corner brackets light up each time the shutter is pressed, and a small crop icon flashes in the status display. Lines run between these illuminated corners to more clearly indicate the capture area, but users can also replace the default focusing screen with another that only shows the corner brackets. That would be less distracting, but the lines are fine enough that I think most users won't care.
One minor usability note that I've seen affect others is that while holding the camera in the normal grip mode, you'll sometimes notice strange things happening to your settings, and sometimes you'll even fire off a shot without having your finger on the shutter release. This happens on the D2X if you have the vertical shutter release and secondary Sub-command dial unlocked. I've not experienced this with Canon pro cameras, because the vertical shutter release is just a little further down, and mounted on an angled surface.
Rumored to be a Sony part, the other big news here is Nikon's use of a CMOS image sensor in the D2X. Like many other recent digital SLRs, the sensor is APS-size (23.7 x 15.7mm), giving the lenses a 1.5x multiplier when in full 12.21 megapixel mode, but a 2x multiplier when in Hi-speed Crop mode.
If first impressions still hold value, the Nikon D2X seems likely to be a winner. Frankly, before shooting with the D2X, I was concerned about Nikon's position in the high-end camera market. The D70 was a great camera for consumers, and a fine answer to competitors' offerings, but in the pro arena they've clearly lagged in the last year or two. I think the D2X brings them right back into contention with a pro camera that's not only rugged, good looking, and high quality, but that excels where it counts: image quality.