Nikon D2Xs Exposure

The D2Xs offers the many of the same (exceptional) exposure controls and multiple options I liked so much on previous Nikon digital SLRs. First of all, the D2Xs gives you a choice between Program AE, Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority exposure modes with shutter speeds from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds available, as well as a Bulb setting for longer exposures (which doesn't appear to be time-limited - I took test shots as long as three minutes). A very nice touch is that, while in Program AE mode, you can rotate the Command dial to select different combinations of aperture and shutter speed settings than those normally chosen by the autoexposure system. (That is, if the automatic program would have chosen 1/125-second and f/5.6, you could instead direct the camera to use 1/60 at f/8 or 1/30 at f/11, to get greater depth of field.) This feature, referred to as a "Flexible Program" mode, is a very handy option for those times when you need some measure of increased control, but still want the camera to do most of the work for you. You can also set the exposure step size for adjusting the shutter speed, to one-third, one-half, or one full EV unit, through the Custom Settings menu.

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 D2Xs, 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. ISO values of 1,000, 1,100, 1,250, 1,600 and 3,200 can be set by selecting "H 0.3", "H 0.5", "H 0.7", "H 1" or "H 2" respectively. Through the Custom Settings menu, you can also activate an Auto ISO option, which disables the five high sensitivity settings. The D2Xs'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 D2Xs'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 D2Xs'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 D2Xs'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.

Camera Display-->-3 -2 -101 2 3
Direct Sunlight5,600 5,400 5,300 5,200 5,000 4,900 4,800
Shade 9,200 8,800 8,4008,0007,5007,100 6,700
Cloudy6,600 6,4006,2006,000 5,800 5,600 5,400
Incandescent 3,300 3,200 3,1003,000 2,9002,800 2,700
Fluorescent7,200 6,500 5,000 4,2003,7003,000 2,700
Flash6,000 5,800 5,600 5,400 5,200 5,000 4,800

Three metering options are available on the D2Xs: 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs'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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs 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 D2Xs 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.


The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D2Xs Photo Gallery .

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