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 6:Exposure & FlashReview First Posted: 04/14/2005, Updated: 06/10/2005
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An interesting feature when using Manual exposure mode is the electronic analog exposure display visible in both the optical viewfinder and the top-panel data readout. This shows the amount an image will be over- or underexposed, based on the settings you have selected, and helps you find the best exposure for the subject. I also liked the Command Lock feature (activated by pressing the Command Lock button on the top panel) which locks the shutter speed and/or aperture setting so that it is not accidentally changed when using the Command dial for another purpose. (If you set either the shutter speed or aperture before activating the Command Lock function on the D2X, a "lock" icon will appear next to the corresponding setting in both the viewfinder and data readout displays, and that setting can't be changed until you change the Command Lock option.)
ISO can be set to a range of values from 100 to 800 via the ISO button on the back panel, and to values of 1,600 or 3,200 by selecting the "Hi-1" and "Hi-2" settings. Through the Custom Settings menu, you can also activate an Auto ISO option, which disables the two high sensitivity settings. The D2X's improved White balance system offers Auto (useful from 3,500K to 8,000K), Incandescent (set to about 3,000K), Fluorescent (4,200K), Direct Sunlight (5,200K), Flash (5,400K), Cloudy (6,000K), Shade (8,000K), Color Temperature (manually selectable from 2,500K to 10,000K), and Preset (which allows you to manually adjust the white value by using a white card or object as a reference point). You can store as many as five Presets for instant recall. All white balance settings can be adjusted from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale by turning the Sub-Command dial (on the front of the hand grip) while holding down the White Balance button (with the exception of the Color Temperature and Preset options, which are not adjustable). Higher values correspond to a decrease in the camera's white point, in degrees Kelvin (meaning the images become "cooler" in appearance). This is a very nice feature, as I often wish I could use one of a camera's standard white-balance settings, though just a bit warmer or cooler. To be sure, some experimentation would be required to familiarize yourself with the impact of these tweaked white balance settings, but having them available is a definite plus. In addition to manually tweaking the white balance, you can automatically capture a bracketed series of images at different white balance adjustments with one press of the Shutter button. Rotating the Nikon D2X's Command dial while holding down the Bracket button lets you set the number of images in the series. Pressing the Bracket button while rotating the Sub-Command dial lets you set the adjustment variable between shots.
The D2X's white balance system looks to me to have seen some improvements relative to that in the preceding D2H model, as it did somewhat better with difficult lighting conditions than I recall the D2H doing. What I can't understand is why Nikon continues to limit the Auto mode's range of usable color temperatures to a minimum of roughly 3500K. Conventional incandescent lighting is far more warm-toned than this (household incandescent lighting is typically in the range of 2400-2500K), so there's a vast range of lighting environments likely to be encountered by working photographers that the Nikon D2X's Auto white balance option won't be able to handle.
The table below shows approximate white point temperatures in degrees Kelvin for the various adjustments in each of the major white balance settings.
Three metering options are available on the D2X: 3D Color Matrix, Center-Weighted, and Spot. The 3D Color Matrix setting uses a 1,005-pixel CCD sensor (separate from the main image sensor) to meter exposure based on several areas in the frame (useful when brightly colored or very dark subjects occupy a significant portion of the frame). This is the same 3D Color Matrix metering system used on the Nikon F5 and the previous D1, D1X, and D1H models. Center-Weighted metering measures light from the entire frame but places the greatest emphasis on a circular area in the center. (You can adjust the size of the area through a Custom Settings menu option.) Spot metering is pretty self-explanatory, taking a reading from the dead center of the image (best when using the AE Lock function). The D2X has a nifty trick with spot focus though. With D-type lenses, and in the proper focus-area mode, the spot metering actually centers on the focus area selected, giving you the option for off-center spot metering. You can also link the spot with the center of the Group Dynamic Area setting.
Exposure compensation on the D2X is adjustable from -5 to +5 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, and is controllable in all exposure modes. (Through the Custom Settings menu, you can also opt for one-half or one full step size.) The Auto Bracketing feature on the Nikon D2X takes as many as nine shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined by either the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes. Exposure settings for bracketing can vary from -2 to +2 EV (values are added to the already chosen exposure compensation value), with step sizes of one-third, one-half, or one EV unit, and the bracketing biased toward either underexposure, overexposure, or centered around the main exposure value. Through the Custom Settings menu, you can designate whether the bracketing sequence adjusts the exposure, the flash, both flash and exposure, or white balance (described above). For an exposure series, the camera doesn't automatically snap a series of images with one press of the Shutter button. Instead, the exposure varies with each subsequent press of the Shutter button, and an indicator on the top status display panel reports where you are in the sequence. By pressing the Bracket button and rotating the Command dial, you can set the number of images you'll capture in the series. Pressing the Bracket button while turning the Sub-Command dial sets the exposure increment each shot will vary by.
On a more mundane level, the D2X has a self-timer feature that allows you to set the time interval anywhere from two to 20 seconds, activated by fully pressing the Shutter button.
An interesting feature on the Nikon D2X is the Mirror-Up Mode, accessed on the Drive dial. Mirror-Up raises the mirror with the first press of the Shutter button, then captures the exposure with a second press. The mirror is lowered automatically after the exposure. (Obviously meant for times when the camera is on a tripod.) This mode allows you to take images without worrying about extended shutter delay from an arbitrary anti-vibration delay or any vibration from the mirror.
The D2X also offers image Sharpness, Tone Compensation (Contrast), Color Mode, and Hue Adjustment options. The Sharpness setting includes Medium Low and Medium High options in addition to the standard Auto, Normal, Low, High, and None settings. As with previous camera models, the Tone Compensation option’s Custom setting allows you to download a custom tone curve from your computer. (If no curve is downloaded, the Custom setting defaults to the Normal setting.) The Hue adjustment offers arbitrary adjustments from -9 to +9 degrees, set in three-degree increments. Raising the Hue setting in the positive direction results in a stronger yellow cast in the image, causing blues to shift toward neutral. Alternatively, lowering the Hue setting to negative values introduces a blue cast, which consequently shifts a yellow cast toward neutral. The Color Mode option allows you to capture images in sRGB I or II, or Adobe RGB color. The first sRGB setting is calibrated for portraits, while the second is better for nature and landscape shots.
When reviewing images on the Nikon D2X's LCD monitor, you can pull up a histogram and a highlight function to give you a complete readout on the exposure. This is a useful tool to examine your exposure in the camera instead of waiting to download images and then deciding to reshoot.
Continuous Shooting Mode
The D2X offers Low and High Speed Continuous Shooting modes, for capturing a rapid series of images. In Low Speed Continuous Shooting, the camera records from approximately one to four frames per second, for as long as the Shutter button is held down (this increases to 1-7 frames per second in High-speed crop mode is set). The actual frame rate and the number of shots in the series is determined through the Custom Settings menu. High Speed Continuous Shooting captures at a much faster rate, approximately eight frames per second. Once the designated frame limit is reached, the camera won't record any more photographs until at least one of the images is transferred from the buffer memory to the memory card.
Voice Memo Mode
A Voice Memo recording option lets you record short sound clips up to 60 seconds to accompany captured images. You can set the D2X to automatically record voice memos after capture, or opt to manually record memos by pressing and holding the Microphone button on the rear panel. This can either be done immediately after capturing a photo, or while reviewing images.
Interval Shooting Mode
Another feature on the Nikon D2X that first appeared on the D2H is Interval Shooting mode, which facilitates time-lapse photography by taking a series of images at preset intervals. You can set the starting and ending times for the series, as well as the amount of time between shots and the total number of shots to be captured. This is a good way to capture a timeline of slower events, such as clouds passing across the sky, tidal changes, a flower opening, etc.
Like most professional SLRs, the D2X doesn't carry a built-in flash, but rather is designed to work with external strobe systems, or Nikon Speedlights. The camera features an external flash hot-shoe on its top panel, as well as a secondary PC Sync socket on the front of the camera. The Flash button on top of the camera accesses the five sync modes, which include Front Curtain Sync, Slow Sync, Rear Curtain Sync / Slow Rear Curtain Sync (Aperture Priority and Program modes), Red-Eye Reduction, and Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync. Just as these modes sound, the camera times the flash exposure with either the opening or closing of the shutter. Red-Eye Reduction simply means that a small pre-flash fires before the full-strength flash to eliminate the effects of Red-Eye in portraits. The Slow Sync setting times the flash with a slower shutter speed, which in turn allows more ambient light into the frame.
The SB-800 Speedlight
By far the most advanced integrated flash system announced by Nikon (or anyone else, for that matter) to date, the SB-800 features "i-TTL" wireless through-the-lens flash exposure control when used with the D2X. - While the SB-800 can be used with other Nikon cameras, many of its groundbreaking features are only available when coupled with the D2X or D2H. (Although we can expect that this is a new standard for Nikon Speedlights, so future camera bodies will doubtless also support the full range of SB-800 features). See the video of how we used SB-800 and SB-600 flashes in combination with two light boxes to capture images of the many new cameras at PMA 2005.
The Nikon SB-800 AF offers a range of new features, including an advanced wireless control system by which multiple SB-800 speedlights can be controlled from a single master unit, with full wireless control over relative exposure levels between units, and full "i-TTL" through-the-lens metering. Other new features include a new Auto FP high-speed sync, flash color information communication for improved color accuracy, a flash value ("FV") exposure lock, and a new wide-area AF-assist illuminator that's tailor-made for the D2X's 11-area Multi-Cam 2000 AF sensor unit.
One of the most technologically impressive aspects of the SB-800 AF is its use of Nikon's Advanced Data Communication system, which uses rapid pulses of the flash units during the pre-flash metering period to pass setup and exposure information between multiple units. With this system, you can control four independent sets of SB-800 speedlights wirelessly from the camera itself. The four groups consist of the speedlight attached to the camera (the master), and three separate sets of remote units, each of which can consist of any number of SB-800 units for the ultimate in lighting flexibility. Settings for each group of speedlights are made via the control panel and large LCD panel on the Master unit attached to the camera. It deserves repeating that all speedlights in all groups can operate in i-TTL mode for completely automatic flash exposures, including relative exposure differences dialed-in for each group from the Master controller. (You can also run different groups in different flash modes if you'd like, setting two groups to i-TTL, and another to Manual mode, for instance.)
When you press the shutter button, the Master fires each group of speedlights in turn, collecting exposure information via the camera's TTL metering system. This exposure information is then integrated by the D2X, power levels are set for all groups, and the shutter and speedlights are fired for the exposure itself. If it sounds like there's a lot going on, it's because there is, but the whole process takes only as much time as does the normal pre-exposure metering flash from a conventional "smart" strobe unit.
It's hard to overstate how effortless the SB-800 makes multi-flash lashups. If you've ever had to climb up and down a ladder or crawl behind a set a few dozen times to get flash levels set properly, you'll immediately understand the benefit of being able to set the exposure levels for up to 3 groups of remote strobes, without leaving the camera.
Wireless TTL multi-flash functionality is only part of the story though, as the SB-800 offers a range of other new features as well. Here's a list, copied from Nikon's marketing materials:
- Auto White Balance Adjustment using Flash Color Temperature
Information: The SB-800 achieves a high level of color accuracy when used with the D2X digital SLR camera. With changes in the duration of light emitted by a speedlight, there are slight variations of color temperature. Using the D2X in Auto White Balance mode, the SB-800 communicates these slight variations in color data back to D2X and the camera’s auto white balance system implements the fine adjustment needed for overall excellent white balance.
- FV-Lock: FV-Lock (Flash Value Lock) is comparable to the way an AE-Lock functions in a camera. Once the camera measures a correct flash value, the SB-800 locks this value until the photographer resets it helping to maintain the flash value for correct exposure of the subject.
- Auto FP High-Speed Sync Flash: The SB-800’s Auto FP function can automatically fire the speedlight in i-TTL mode at shutter speeds up to 1/8,000 second, offering excellent opportunities to use flash in bright light with fast aperture lenses. (My own note: This is a really significant capability, as it makes delicate fill-flash lighting possible even in full sunlight when using a f/2.8 lens.)
- Modeling Flash: A modeling flash feature in the SB-800 fires a stroboscopic burst of light for approximately one second, allowing photographers to visually confirm lighting and shadow effects before shooting.
- Quick Battery Recycle Pack: Included with the SB-800 Speedlight is the SD-800 Quick Battery Recycle pack that cuts recycling time in the SB-800 to as short as 2.7 seconds for full power manual flash.
- Additional features: Additional features in the SB-800 include zoom coverage, bounce and rotating flash head, large LCD read-out panel, accessory filters for special color effects and emulation of fluorescent and incandescent lighting, robust locking flash shoe, and autofocus assist light.
It's no stretch to say that the SB-800 is by far the most impressive flash system I've seen to date. It makes wireless, TTL-metered, multi-flash photography not only possible but easy. I expect Nikon will sell SB-800DXs by the thousands.
Top 3 photos this month win:
1 Canon PIXMA PRO-100
2 Canon PIXMA MG6320
3 Canon PIXMA MG5420