Nikon D2Xs Design

With the established reputations of Nikon's pro digital SLRs resting securely behind it, the D2Xs continues the high quality and performance that demanding pros expect. Offering the same exceptional exposure control and a range of features embodying the ultimate in flexibility and control, the D2Xs maintains the same functional design as Nikon's film-based pro SLR line. I've mentioned the Nikon-coined term "cameraness" before, which describes the combination of features, functionality, and above all, user interface design that defines how a camera operates as a photographic tool. Key to Nikon's strategy is that their digital SLRs embody the same "cameraness" as their film models, so practicing pros can switch back and forth between film and digital bodies without having to stop and adjust their shooting style or practices. Like the previous models, the D2Xs fulfills this goal admirably, with an operational design that will be immediately familiar to users of the Nikon F5. Though sophisticated, the D2Xs's user interface is clean, straightforward, and quick to navigate, with a no-frills, four-page menu system, plus the addition of a "Recent Settings" tab. (We've both really enjoyed working with the Nikon D2Xs, finding it surprisingly capable and well built; worthy of the name stamped into the metal over the lens.)

While the camera bodies may look very similar, the D2Xs sports a number of new upgrades and features over the previous D1X model. For starters, the D2Xs has a slightly different control layout, and a couple of new buttons to handle previous menu options. Internally, the D2Xs offers a 12.2-megapixel CMOS image sensor for higher resolution images than Nikon has yet offered. The sensor can also operate in High speed crop mode, allowing capture of up to 8 frames per second. It also has a large LCD monitor for better menu and image review, a Voice Memo mode, and an Anti-Dust option. One of the most interesting capabilities of the D2Xs is only available via a separate accessory: the wireless transmitter, now upgraded to 802.11g. With the WT-2A wireless transmitter attached (as shown above), you can wirelessly send image files from the camera to a computer, or even out over the Internet.

Measuring 6.2 x 5.9 x 3.4 inches (158 x 150 x 86 millimeters), the physical dimensions of the D2Xs are practically identical to those of the D1, D1X, D2X, D1H, and D2H models. Weighing in at a hefty two pounds, 6 ounces (1,070 grams) excluding batteries and memory card, the D2Xs is a definite handful, but nonetheless falls about the middle of the range for pro digital SLRs. Thanks to a cast-alloy body (see the photo above), the D2Xs carries forward the "built like a tank" ruggedness of previous Nikon Pro SLRs.


Introduced with the D2H, and continued in the D2Xs is a much more complete system of environmental seals on the body than we've seen on Nikon cameras before, as shown above. The result is a camera that's by no means waterproof, but one that's at least highly resistant to water and dust. We were able to test this live while shooting at a local race track, and Nikon personnel were completely unconcerned to have us go out into the rain to shoot with the D2Xs and some very expensive lenses.


The front of the camera features a standard Nikon F lens mount, complete with AF coupling and AF contacts. As with Nikon's other Digital SLRs, the D2Xs body contains the necessary contacts to support Nikon's latest AF-S "silent wave" autofocus lenses, and also supports Nikon's designed-for-digital DX-series lenses. There's also a Depth of Field Preview button, a programmable Function button, Sub-Command dial, sync terminal for an external flash, 10-pin remote terminal, Lens Release button, Focus Mode Selector dial, ambient light sensor, self-timer lamp, and secondary Sub-Command dial. A substantial hand grip on the right side of the camera features a rubbery covering that provides a very secure finger grip. A thick rib running along the bottom of the body provides a hand grip when the camera is rotated for vertical-format shots, covered with the same textured, rubbery surface.


The top of the Nikon D2Xs features the Power switch, Shutter button, Mode and Exposure Compensation buttons, and a large status display panel that reports most of the camera's settings without forcing you to resort to the rear-panel's color LCD screen. Also on top of the D2Xs is a diopter adjustment dial for the optical viewfinder and Metering dial (both on right side of the hot-shoe mount, when viewing the camera from the rear). On the other side of the hot-shoe mount are the Mode dial (with lock button), as well as the Flash Sync Mode, Bracketing, and Command Lock buttons. The top hot-shoe accommodates a variety of Nikon Speedlight external flash units. The hot shoe has the standard trigger terminal in the center, as well as three other contacts for interfacing to Nikon's dedicated speedlights.


On the right side of the D2Xs, a second Shutter Release button makes vertical shooting much easier. A locking dial surrounds the button to prevent accidental triggering. Also on this side of the camera is one of the eyelets for attaching the neck strap.


The opposite side of the D2Xs features the battery and connector compartments, and the second neck strap eyelet. Both connector compartments are covered by rubbery flaps that remain tethered to the camera when opened, and fit snugly into place. The top compartment houses the AV Out and DC In jacks, with the USB 2.0 jack in the compartment below. A rotating latch locks the battery compartment cover in place. The cover is actually a separate piece from the camera, removing completely to expose the battery chamber. When a battery is inserted, the compartment cover locks onto the battery, but can be released by pressing a tiny button just inside the outer lip.


The back panel of the D2Xs holds the remaining camera controls, which are extensive. The large, bright 2.5" LCD screen features a removable protective cover which pops on and off. The protective cover is a helpful accessory for those who use camera straps, as the LCD projects out from the back of the camera further than any other feature, and so could be subject to abrasion, sliding back and forth across your jacket or shirt front when the camera is hanging from its neck strap (it does fog up, though). The protective cover is transparent, making it possible to see and navigate the LCD menu system without removing it. A light-tight shutter can be flipped closed across the viewfinder eyepiece, preventing stray light from affecting exposures when the camera is used on a tripod. This shutter is opened and closed by a small lever at the top left of the eyepiece. Across the top are several command buttons, including the Playback, Delete, AE/AF Lock, and AF-On buttons, in addition to the Main command dial. The LCD monitor panel rests in the left center of the back panel, along with a Five-Way Arrow Rocker, or MultiSelector pad. A dial surrounds the MultiSelector to turn it on or off (Lock). A card slot cover release button (beneath a small, plastic flap) is located to the left of the CompactFlash door, whose slot supports Type-I and II CompactFlash cards, as well as MicroDrives. Card activity is indicated courtesy of a small LED just above the release button, and to the left of the CompactFlash card slot, on the back of the camera. Lining the left side of the LCD monitor is another set of control buttons, including the Menu, Thumbnail, Protect, and Enter buttons. A small rear control panel beneath the LCD monitor works in conjunction with a series of buttons below it, which include Sensitivity, Quality / Size, and White Balance buttons. The AF Area mode selector and Voice Memo button of the D2Xs are next to the lower right corner of the LCD monitor, and a secondary AF-On button and Command dial for vertical shooting are in the lower right corner of the rear panel. Finally, a small speaker just to the left of the small status display panel plays back voice memos recorded via the small microphone to the right of the White Balance button.


The very flat bottom of the camera has only the metal tripod mount and the connector jack for the optional wireless transmitter accessory. I appreciate the fact that neither the batteries nor the CompactFlash slot on the Nikon D2Xs are accessed from the bottom of the camera, which lets you change the batteries and memory card without dismounting from a tripod. The large surface area of the camera's bottom combines with the high-friction rubberized surface to produce a very stable mounting surface for use with a tripod. The central position of the tripod mount with respect to the depth of the camera body, and the center-line of the lens, will help both with mounting stability and to reduce parallax error when shooting panoramas.


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