Nikon D2Xs Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Nikon D2Xs
Resolution: 12.40 Megapixels
Sensor size: APS-C
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: Optical / No LCD
ISO: 100-3200
Shutter: 30-1/8000
Max Aperture: n/a
Dimensions: 6.2 x 5.9 x 3.4 in.
(158 x 150 x 86 mm)
Weight: 37.7 oz (1,070 g)
MSRP: $4,700
Availability:  
Manufacturer: Nikon
12.40
Megapixels
Nikon F mount APS-C
size sensor
image of Nikon D2Xs
Front side of Nikon D2Xs digital camera Back side of Nikon D2Xs digital camera Top side of Nikon D2Xs digital camera Left side of Nikon D2Xs digital camera Right side of Nikon D2Xs digital camera

Nikon D2Xs Overview

by Dave Etchells
and Shawn Barnett
Review Date: 02/20/07

As with the original D2X, the Nikon D2xs is a professional digital SLR that features a 12.4 megapixel CMOS sensor, and offers five frames per second shooting plus the ability to shoot even faster - up to eight frames per second - by switching to a lower resolution 6.8 megapixel mode. This high-speed burst mode operates by reading only from the center of the imager, which means that to get the higher speed, the focal length crop changes from the regular 1.5x of a DX sensor, to 2.0x. Probably the most significant changes in the D2Xs' functionality relative to its predecessor are in this area. Where the D2X relied on red markings in the viewfinder to indicate the smaller cropped area, the D2Xs indicates the area by shading everything that is cropped out of the image, leaving the uncropped portion of the image somewhat brighter. This method seems like it should be much more intuitive, making it easier to frame cropped images quickly - although the shading can be disabled should the user desire. Another improvement related to the cropped mode is a change to the metering system - both matrix and center-weighted metering now adjust to work solely within the cropped area when in that mode.

The Nikon D2Xs uses the same Multi-Cam2000 AF sensor found in the D2H and D2X, offering 11-point focusing with nine cross-type sensors (only nine of these points are available in the high-speed cropped mode, but all nine are the cross-type sensors). The LCD display used in the D2Xs has been changed to the one used in the D200, which offers a 170-degree wide viewing angle and is said to have been factory calibrated for consistent color. A new EN-EL4a battery refreshes the original EN-EL4, and offers 2500 mAh - good for roughly 3,500 shots.

Other updates include a black and white image mode (Raw files shot in this mode can have the color restored if needed), in-camera image cropping of any image type in playback mode, the ability to save and load camera settings (great if you share a pool of cameras between photographers), a "Recent Settings" menu as seen in the D200 (which allows you to quickly recall settings you changed recently to adjust them without digging through the menu system), more ISO sensitivity settings (although the overall range is unchanged) including an Auto setting, a new menu color scheme, and increased burst depth. You can also now select the duration of focus lock when using focus tracking, load multiple custom tone curves into the camera, and select the desired shutter speed when using the automatic ISO sensitivity setting. Image authentication is possible using a separately available solution consisting of both hardware (a USB key) / and software, so as to ensure the software hasn't been hacked. The D2Xs will also be compatible with Nikon's upcoming Capture NX software, as well as a remote control package dubbed "Camera Control Pro".

As noted, the D2Xs is really just a running upgrade of the original D2X, adding a few enhancements and improving performance slightly, but leaving the basic operation unchanged. Reflecting this, most of this review is lifted directly from our earlier review of the D2X, although all test images were reshot, and the analysis of what we found there is all-new.

Here's a table listing the improvements the D2Xs offers:

New or Enhanced Feature
D2X
D2Xs
High-Speed Crop (HSC) mode viewfinder mask
With Type W III focusing screen
New automatic viewfinder mask
Continuous Burst (buffer) in HSC (6.8MP) mode
35 JPEG, 29 NEF
38 JPEG, 29 NEF
Loaded Custom Tone Curves
1
3
Save and Load Settings
No
Yes, via CompactFlash card
ISO Boost increments
HI-1, HI-2: 1 stop increments
HI-1, HI-2: 1/3 stop increments
Black and White Capture mode
No
Yes, with viewfinder indicator
Focus Tracking Lock On options
No
Yes (Long, Normal, Short, Off)
LCD
2.5" 232,000 pixel TFT LCD
2.5" 232,000 pixel TFT LCD with
170 degree wide-angle viewing
Battery
EN-EL4 (compatible with EN-EL4a)
EN-EL4a (compatible with EN-EL4)
In-Camera Trimming (Cropping)
No
Yes

 

Highlights

  • 12.4-megapixel (effective), 23.3 x 15.5mm CMOS image sensor delivering image resolutions as high as 4,288 x 2,848 pixels (12.21 megapixels).
  • High-speed crop mode for 8fps performance at 6.87 megapixels (3,216 x 2,136) with improved viewfinder indication.
  • Single-lens reflex digital camera with interchangeable lenses (supports essentially all standard Nikon F mount lenses).
  • Variable ISO (100 to 800 with "Hi" settings equivalent to 1,600 and 3,200).
  • TTL optical viewfinder with detailed information display.
  • 2.5-inch, low-temperature polysilicon TFT color LCD with 232,000 pixels and 170 degree viewing angle.
  • Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual exposure modes.
  • Exposure / Flash / White Balance Bracketing, Interval photography, and Multiple Exposure modes.
  • Image Overlay function combines two RAW images to form a single new image.
  • Depth of field preview.
  • Adjustable Low-Speed (1 to 7 fps) and High-Speed (8 fps) Continuous Shooting modes, plus Single-Shot, Self-Timer and Mirror-Lockup modes.
  • Variable White Balance with nine modes, including a manual setting, fine tuning capability and ability to choose a color temperature from 2,500 to 10,000K (31 steps).
  • 11-point TTL autofocus with Single-Area (manual), Dynamic-Area, Group Dynamic, and Dynamic-Area w/ Closest Subject Priority options to select AF point(s).
  • Topside hot shoe for external flash connection of Nikon Speedlight as well as a second PC-style flash sync socket.
  • Flash exposure determined by combination of TTL 1,005 pixel Matrix sensor and Five-Segment Multi sensor.
  • Front-Curtain Sync, Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow-Sync, Slow Sync, and Rear-Curtain Sync flash sync modes. (With compatible external speedlight.)
  • 3D-Color Matrix, Center-Weighted, and Spot metering options.
  • Adjustable exposure compensation from -5 to +5 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third, one-half, or one-step increments, in all exposure modes.
  • Fine Tune Exposure custom setting allows adjustment of the camera's default exposure value +/-1EV in 1/6EV.
  • Variable Lock-on mode prevents camera from losing focus lock when something briefly passes between lens and subject.
  • Shutter speeds from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds in one-third, one-half, or one f-stop increments, and a Bulb setting for longer exposures.
  • Color Mode, Sharpening, Tone Compensation, Hue Adjustment and new B&W capture options.
  • Self-timer with programmable duration from two to 20 seconds.
  • Secondary shutter release with lock for vertical-format shooting.
  • Image storage on CompactFlash Type I or II, or Microdrive.
  • JPEG, uncompressed TIFF (RGB), and NEF (RAW) data file formats.
  • Two JPEG compression modes: Size priority (for greater predictability of remaining images) and Optimal quality.
  • 10-pin remote terminal for optional remote control accessory.
  • Optional wireless transmitter accessory for wireless image transfer to a computer. (FTP and PTP/IP over 802.11g wireless LAN.)
  • NTSC / PAL-compatible A/V Out jack and included video cable for connection to a television set.
  • DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) compliant.
  • Powered by EN-EL4 lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack (battery and charger included), or optional AC adapter.

 

Nikon D2Xs User Report

by Shawn Barnett

As noted above, the D2Xs is in most ways identical to the D2X that preceded it. Accordingly, the majority of my comments below are unchanged from my report on the D2X. I have made a few minor modifications where there were noticeable differences though.

True to the pro tradition of SLR design, the Nikon D2Xs 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 D2Xs' 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs.

The Nikon D2Xs 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. In one of the few changes from the D2X, the LCD on the D2Xs sports a considerably wider viewing angle, a generous 170 degrees. 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 D2Xs, 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 removable: 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 D2Xs. - 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 D2Xs, 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 original Nikon D2X since mid-September of 2004, I should mention a few items that stood out. By far the biggest deal with the D2Xs 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. Once I had a little hands-on time with the original D2X though, I decided that it was such a good idea that I couldn'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 D2Xs should be able to capture the critical action in far less than the High-speed Crop mode's 4.25 second runtime. Though it costs a bit more than the D2Hs (about $800-900 more at typical street prices), the D2Xs 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 review one. 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 D2Xs delivered some excellent, relatively low-noise images.

Nevertheless, I like not only the bright viewfinder and clear, bright LED focus indicators on the Nikon D2Xs, but I also like their method of telling the user when High-speed crop mode is active. On the previous D2X, four corner brackets lit up each time the shutter was pressed, and a small crop icon flashed in the status display. Lines running between these illuminated corners more clearly indicated the capture area, but users could also replace the default focusing screen with another that only showed the corner brackets. On the D2Xs, an internal, translucent LCD overlay automatically masks-off the edges of the frame in high-speed mode. This is handy, because it gives a very accurate indication of the active area, while it still gives you some visibility of objects approaching the active area from any angle. (This latter is a great help for less-experienced sports shooters like myself, in that it gives you a bit more time to react to an approaching subject than you'd have otherwise, increasing the number of "keepers" in a shoot with active subjects.)

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 D2Xs 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/D2Xs. 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.

Following closely in the footsteps of the original D2X, the D2Xs looks like another winner from Nikon. Frankly, before shooting with the D2X, I was concerned about Nikon's position in the high-end camera market. At the time, the D70 was a great camera for consumers, and a fine answer to competitors' offerings, but in the pro arena they had clearly lagged for year or two. The D2X (and now the D2Xs) brought them right back into competition in the pro arena, with a camera that's not only rugged, good looking, and of high quality, but that excels where it counts: image quality. - And 2006 saw them come roaring back in the consumer/prosumer SLR arena as well, with an exceptionally strong lineup consisting of the D40, D80, and D200. No question about it, Nikon now holds a commanding position across the SLR market spectrum, and the D2Xs does an excellent job of anchoring their line from the flagship position.

 

Nikon D2Xs Included Software

The D2Xs ships with the Nikon Picture Project software, which provides basic manipulation and cataloging capabilities for images captured by the camera, and which can interpret the raw CCD format "NEF" files. More advanced packages called Nikon Capture and Nikon Capture NX are available separately. A thirty-day trial version of Capture NX is included in the box. (Read our review of Nikon Capture NX for more details on an excellent image-editing application.) Users will also want to check out the third-party applications Bibble and Qimage Pro, both of which offer enhanced interpolation of NEF files, for even higher image resolution. Bibble also offers very sophisticated noise-reduction processing and highlight recovery algorithms, making it a particularly capable RAW-file processor.

 

In the Box

Included in the box with the D2Xs are the following items:

  • Nikon D2Xs body with body cap, eyepiece cap, eyecup, and LCD monitor cover.
  • Neck strap.
  • EN-EL4a battery and MH-21 quick charger.
  • Battery chamber cover.
  • USB cable.
  • Audio/Video cable.
  • Transparent LCD monitor cover.
  • Type-B focusing screen.
  • PictureProject CD-ROM.
  • Quickstart guide.
  • Instruction manual.
  • Registration kit.

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Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Really excellent resolution in full-frame mode, images hold together very well when printed large
  • Untouched camera JPEGs are slightly soft, but the upside is that they're very smooth, virtually no digital artifacts
  • 8 frame/second top speed in high-speed shooting mode (6.9 MP cropped images), very fast buffer clearing with fast memory cards.
  • Cropped high-speed shooting mode is very useful: Longer effective focal lengths (2x vs 1.5x crop factor) very useful for a lot of sports shooting, new masked viewfinder makes it easy to see approaching subjects
  • Very fast mirror operation for very short viewfinder blackout (essential when shooting at very high frame rates)
  • Fast 11-area Multi-CAM 2000 AF system sports sophisticated focus-tracking modes
  • Very good image-tweaking ability: Adjustments for contrast, saturation, hue, color modes
  • White balance system is unusually flexible, fine-tuning adjustments provided in all but Kelvin and Preset WB modes, Kelvin scale is very fine-grained
  • Total of five preset (manual) white balance settings for quick changes between custom settings
  • Preset (manual) white balance screen shows image each white balance setting was taken from
  • Nikon 3D Color Matrix metering for typically excellent exposure accuracy
  • Excellent TTL flash metering with Nikon Speedlights (Including multiple wireless remote units, using SB-800 strobe as on-camera controller)
  • Fast flash x-sync speed of 1/250 second
  • Very large, bright viewfinder
  • High viewfinder eyepoint makes for easier use with eyeglasses
  • Very ruggedly-built body, with extensive environmental seals
  • Excellent ergonomics (it's a heavy beast though), very well thought-out controls
  • New LCD display is bright, contrasty, with excellent viewing angle
  • Essentially zero startup time, very fast shutter response
  • Loads of custom settings for very deep control of camera operating characteristics
  • Great flexibility to vary operation of external buttons and controls to suit personal shooting styles/needs
  • Very long battery life, with excellent battery-condition information (both capacity remaining, and "charging life" indication of relative age/condition of batteries)
  • Unusually sophisticated intervalometer capability built-in (including delated start time), for unattended time-lapse sequences.
  • Four memory banks for storing custom settings and shooting parameters (Good for multiple users, and/or quick changes between radically different shooting environments)
  • Image authentication support a real plus for law enforcement use (requires use of optional additional software)
  • Supports GPS data recording (NEMA compatible, requires optional cable)
  • Optional WiFi transmitter for wireless transfer of captured images
  • Detailed help screens for many menu options
  • Auto white balance tends to struggle with artificial light sources
  • Image noise at ISO 1600 and 3200 is higher than some competing models, anti-noise processing loses some subtle subject detail
  • "Official" sensitivity range of ISO 100-800 is smaller than any competing models
  • Contrast adjustment has a somewhat limited range, we'd like to see more adjustment in the low-contrast direction, to help with harsh lighting and contrasty subjects
  • Help screens could provide a little more info for some options
  • Included software provides only limited handling of RAW-format (NEF) files. Full RAW exploit requires extra-cost software or a third-party application.

 

While it represents only a relatively minor upgrade relative to the original D2X, the Nikon D2Xs remains an exceptionally strong competitor in the professional SLR market. It offers exceptional versatility through its dual-resolution, dual-speed design, satisfying the needs of sports shooters and studio photographers alike, in one superbly-constructed body. (If, like us, you're initially skeptical about the value of the dual-resolution feature of the D2Xs, we highly encourage you to beg, borrow or rent a unit to work with for a day or two: We think you'll come to love this feature as much as we did, once we got out and shooting with it.) Combine this with Nikon's unrivalled Advanced Wireless Lighting system for TTL metering with multiple remote strobe units, and you have a system literally without peer, at least in the current state of the market. Our feeling about the camera is pretty well summed up in the list of pros and cons above: There's just a load of things to like about this camera, and precious little to complain about! Kudos to Nikon on a beautifully designed pro SLR, a design that's already stood the test of time in the form of the original D2X, and that likely has years of life left in it yet.

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