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Camera Reviews

Nikon D2X

Jerry Burnell (Jerry Burnell)


Keywords: nikon, d2x, camera, bodies

Show pages (4 Pages)

Taking a first look

Is the Nikon D2X just another notch in the log for Nikon? Not in my world. It is a destination that I have been looking for, for over 35 years. I wanted a quick and simple way to make fairly large (16X20 in.), crisp, vibrant, realistic, and yet creative images. That is not asking much for the naive, but I believe I have found it.

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Nikon D2X with 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor

 

 

 

I am not new to digital. I have been tinkering with it in different forms for the past eighteen years. In the past I have scanned prints, scanned film, owned a D1. I have owned nine different Nikon models and the D2X is a bit more than I expected or even hoped for in some ways. The Nikon D2X is just plain fun and exciting to shoot.

As a jeweler I had been using a D1 for my small product photography. It was quit adequate for shooting small objects that would only be used as part of one magazine ad page. I also do salon competition and Nikon’s D1X, D1H or D2Hs did not give me the quality I was looking for in that area, so that area was still relegated to film base. I waited until the announcement of the Nikon D2X last September. I did the math, and it would do, with minimal interpolation (resampling), my standard printing of 13X19 in. and larger. The Nikon D2X captures 4288 X 2848 pixels. That equates to 14.3 X 9.5 in. @ 300 dpi. This not only works for my salon work, but also fills a standard full-page “ full bleed” magazine ad with room to spare.

That highly anticipated Monday, when the cameras first arrived at retailers, I had a Nikon D2X already setting in my wish list at B&H. When I saw “in stock” I quickly hit “add to my cart” and it was on its way. The day it was to arrive I was excited. Was it really worth the five grand?

When my D2x arrived, I had to wait for the Nikon battery to charge up. I love Nikon’s choice of Li-ion batteries for this camera. Twice the number of recharges of nickel metal hydrides, and very little fall off of power, unlike alkalines. This lets the camera have almost peak power through the full battery charge and allows for the new five segment battery readout. With the new clip on end cap, it makes each battery smaller and they are interchangeable with my Nikon F6 (and the Nikon D2H) also. The battery charge lasted me almost two days of shooting, because with the new instant start up, one very quickly gets into the habit of shutting off the camera after the shot. It goes ahead and reads it to the card even if you turn it off. And turning it on immediately before you are ready to go again. It almost becomes a reflex.

The wait gave me a chance to look the camera over. The camera looked very professionally appointed as I expected, nice finish, good feel and balance, attention to detail and layout, snug plug in covers, replaceable protector for the monitor screen, a color menu screen with variable intensity that is easy to use even in brighter light, quality all the way, unlike many of the other lesser expensive DSLRs I had seen in the recent past from many companies.

When it was ¾ charged, (the accepted advice is to calibrate new batteries 3 times before use, for maximum performance), I put on my 70-200mm f/2.8 AF-S VR and went to the back door, opened it, VERY bright viewfinder, and finely, auto focus sensors where they should be, in the corners of a thirds layout. I leaned against the door- jamb for stability and Click. (A softer click than even my Nikon D1, much like my new Nikon F6) This was my first picture from the most expensive camera body I had ever purchased. I looked at the back ... Wow? Well not really, it worked, but a gray overcast day with barren trees and a gray parking lot, just didn't ring my chimes. It did look incredibly crisp on the back of the camera. Zoom it up 27 times (in large format) and pan to see just how crisp it is. Great feature, you don’t even have to plug it into the computer to check for sharpness or blur. This image looked crisp and promising at a 20X magnification.

The menu screen is “very thorough” but logically laid-out. One will have to allow some time in, that dastardly pursuit of, reading the manual to get the full benefit and understanding of all the options that are available. Even the most demanding professionals will not use half the options presented, but when you end up in one of those rare “I wish it could” situations, it is probably there.

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I took it home and did some “arm chair” testing. It is easy to operate with the control placements and ergonomics slightly improved from my previous Nikons. The size is still a bit large for my hands but after seeing interior renderings of the camera, there is not any wasted space to pear down.

The mode, exposure compensation, and lens release buttons are larger and shaped to be tactilely discernable, so that you can drop your finger on them and instantly know where you are, without fiddling to sort them out (also used on Nikon D2H and Nikon F6). Some of the controls are slightly different but there are enough in the same form and placement, as previous high end Nikons, that the learning curve is quite easy.

I liked the offset Auto focus on, and the exposure lock buttons, easier to feel. Play back and delete have much easier to identify Icons. Two presses on the “dumpster” and it is gone. I set the function button, to change between high-speed crop modes. It is a stretch with my squatty bodied fingers to reach the function button and main command dial at the same time. But it works smoothly otherwise for a quick change between continuous shooting modes. Unless one needs the speed of 8 frames a second or to save disk space, I would shoot in full frame most of the time. On the other hand I can see how wildlife photographers will appreciate the larger crop factor. For normal use, you can always crop it to a smaller format later if you need to and it allows one the luxury of following moving objects easier and cropping when the timing is not as frantic. Late night front room testing and the auto focus locked on in all nine cross type focus brackets. Humm!


Nikon D2X On the Road

The next night I had to pack and get on an airplane to fly to Memphis to give four seminars on digital photography of jewelry. It was nice that I didn't have to worry about fogged film from any security devices this trip. After the weekend of seminars, it was off to try the camera out.

We went on a tour and I attached my urban assault lens (24-120mm AF-S VR Nikkor).

 

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Nikon D2X with 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor
Hand held @ 24mm, f/3.5, 1/6 second, ISO 200, available light

 

I am showing three pictures here that should not have turned out.

 

 


Nikon D2X under Available Daylight - Interiors

The first one was in Memphis, a hand held shot of a famous front room at 1/6 second, F3.5, 24mm, available light. Everything was shot at ISO 100. I also selected the new, larger color space of Adobe RGB. There were too many other parameters fluctuating and I really wanted to see the maximum that the Nikon D2X would do. I knew this shot was not going to work, gray overcast outside, incandescent lighting, too slow of a shutter speed to hand hold, and they didn't allow tripods, or flash, but so what, it was digital and I could delete it. Click:

Oh! my goodness! Where had this camera and lens been, all my life? I tipped the camera sidewise so my wife could see the monitor, and her Eyes got big and she exclaimed, “If … I … had a camera like that … even, I … could take good pictures.” (She is usually hard to impress. She is not a photographer, and, unfortunately she already knew how many thousands of dollars I had paid for it). The white rug bounced the light into the room and the camera sorted out the auto white balance, exposure, and auto focus wonderfully, as the lens gave me the stability that was necessary. The VR really worked. I usually do not shoot handheld but I might just start again (once in a while). There was a downpour an hour later and we headed south for New Orleans. Tuck the camera under the coat and run.

All the images in this article are drastically compressed so that they will load quickly over the Internet, this wipes out a considerable amount of detail and brilliance in all areas, especially shadows and all but the last one could be nicely improved through an imaging program. All were shot Raw-uncompressed then saved as Tiff and converted to JPGs for this article. The raw images are visibly sharper, than the uncompressed JPGs even on the screen.

I use 2 Gig. Sandisk Extreme cards which give you 99 shots with raw-uncompressed, or 72 shots with Raw + jpg. If you are using Raw uncompressed you can figure about a “36 roll and a half” per Gig. With Raw +Jpg one would get about 36 shots per gig without downloading or deleting. You can decide what your maximum shots per day is, and buy Gigs accordingly.

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With these fast cards, the faster throughput and write speeds of the Nikon D2X, and it’s larger internal buffer, I never had to wait for the camera to catch up with me. It was always ready. The normal reaction for a person is about ¼ second (deciding to do something and then doing it). If, you have already decided you are going to do something your reaction time is usually around 1/10 of a second. The Nikon D2X now has a “shutter” lag time of 37/1000 of a second. That is about six times faster than you are, when you have to decide to do something. In other words you will no longer notice a “shutter” lag time with the Nikon D2X. It will continue to be a discussion for the “technical” but for almost all human and practical purposes the digital lag problem no longer exists if you are using a Nikon D2X.


Nikon D2X under Available Daylight - Exteriors

The next morning we headed for Oak Ally 26 miles west of New Orleans. There are, twenty-eight, 300 year old, oak trees in two rows, and a 150 year old mansion. Click:

Green trees, slightly pink sidewalk and house, a disaster in the making, with no forgiveness, except after many layers or color correction in Photoshop, I figured.

The camera favored the green very slightly but what can one expect, the light was actually green after filtering through the leaves. So the auto white balance hit it again.

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AVAILABLE DAYLIGHT - OVERCAST

That afternoon we went to Jackson square and I shot the classical, overcast, tripod shot. Click. I looked at the scene and I looked at the back of the camera. The camera image actually seemed sharper than looking at the scene with my naked eye. I zoomed the monitor in again and sure enough the edges of the carriages were extremely crisp, unbelievably crisp.

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That evening I downloaded the image to my laptop and the 17 in. monitor and confirmed that these images were unbelievably sharp. I checked the camera. Auto sharpening was a default. So in my infinite wisdom, I turned it off, because every one knows that the advanced sharpening in Photoshop etc. is far superior and more controllable than in-camera. Later I discovered, Wrong again. The auto-sharp in the camera gives one, optimum sharpness without the degree of halos that you get in
even from Photoshop unsharp mask.

The gradation between the white horse’s back and the black post in places is side-by-side black and white pixels no gray in the original NEF file. You cannot get any sharper than that in a digital image. You can also do it (or undo it) in Nikon Capture but if you use it “in camera” that is one step forgone later. If you are going manual, stick to low or medium sharpening (and none in high contrast situations).


Nikon D2x: Before Dawn

The next morning I was up before dawn to shoot some street scenes without people. Our hotel was right behind this church and I had scouted out places I wanted to be. At this point I decided not to even put film in my Nikon F6 for now. One camera body, one lens, a tripod, an extra battery and a spare disk, I almost felt naked without the extra bodies for different films, a stack of color balancing filters, etc. that I usually carry. A block and a half down from our hotel I set up my Gitzo G1328 with Arca Swiss B2 head again and Click:

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Nikon D2X with 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor
Hand held @ 32mm, f/3.8, 1/2.5 second, ISO 200, available light

 

 

It was before dawn and, with the signage and mixed lighting, I was amazed at how well the new Nikon D2X came out, set on Auto White balance. It held, quite well, the subtle colors and texture of the paints.

Then, back to Jackson Square, I set it on bracket, 3 exposures + & - 1 EV and mirror lock up. The first release locks up the mirror and the second one releases the shutter. A very quick and wonderful new feature when one needs the extra stability without mirror slap vibration. (The new Mirror Lock Up is now so easy that it is useful for almost all static shots) Click: 42mm 1.5 sec f/4.5

Mercury vapor lights in the foreground, high intensity incandescents on the church, blue and magenta lighting from the just emerging sunrise clouds, and…the church came out white. Six minuets before six, the original NEF was crisp enough to read the clock a block away. It was hard to believe again. When I went back and checked this was the +1 EV shot. The direct meter reading without bracketing would have been preferred by some.

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We went on to another Plantation. They allowed tripods so I took mine. I had no problems with “locking on” with the nine new cross-focusing centers in any of the interior, exterior, daytime or night pictures.

I simply de-saturated it and upped the contrast very slightly in Photoshop. The full frame NEF has grain in the wood of the piano and detail in every thing but the windows outside.

The dynamic range of even this crude B&W is quite nice. (The slight square vignette is software created; an old trick from one of Ansel’s books)

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Product Photography with the Nikon D2x

After arriving back home, I decided today to see if the camera would actually do what I bought it for and pay for it’s self. I am a jeweler by trade and I do all my own advertising shots so here it is: electronic flash, tented light box, 1/60 sec. @ f29, 70-180mm f/4.5-5.6D ED AF Zoom Micro Nikkor.

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This image has been “massaged” in Photoshop and Corel PhotoPaint. Pictures from any digital camera, most of the time, can be slightly tweaked to make them even better. The Nikon D2X produced the soft subtle gradation of yellows and browns in the gold of this picture that were very difficult to fully achieve in the past. To be able to get the saturation without harsh contrast and yet hold the wide gamut of vivid colors needed to correctly portray a piece of jewelry like this one is now easy. In the past it required very large pieces of film and hours of set up to achieve these nuances. This was a twenty-minute shot from start to printed-paper. I sold my Sinar P2 4X5 to get the Nikon D2X. I think it works. Hours saved, are “money in the bank” for most photographers.


Nikon D2X Review Conclusions

Since most of us are film based in our photographic knowledge, we tend to forget that digital is not film based at all. 12.4 Mega pixels is a nice status symbol and sometimes we think that the camera with the most pixels (finest grain) is going to be the best, because that is a quantifiable, tangible number. The real question is how good and clean are the pixels and what does the camera do with these plain old modulated electrical signals after the shutter closes. Without a very sophisticated built-in computer to interpret this multitude of electrical impulses, one would simply have a very weak modulated electrical current.

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Nikon D2X with 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR Zoom Nikkor

 

 

So I postulate that, the built-in computer and the algorithms (calculation procedures) that are built into the camera, are even more important than the finite number of pixels, but they are hard to quantify. Given that the lens is the same quality, it is easy to see that the better the interpretation of that signal, the better the picture. Therefore, buy the camera with the latest “technology” and you get the finest pictures.

Tomorrow they will build even better cameras, as camera designers continue to build on today’s technology. The only way we can even humbly approach to appreciate, how much work that had been expended to create the technological wonders in this cameras, is to view the finished product. It was easy to see that my older D1 with 2.7 MP put out better pictures than many point and shoots with much higher pixel counts.

I do not even claim to scratch the surface of knowledge of how these cameras work, above a superficial gloss over of the processes, but I do have enough knowledge to be totally amazed and appreciative. The D2X is definitely one of these technological wonders, and it is here today.

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This camera is a natural for many walks of the photography realm. Because of it's speed in many areas, and increased “magnification factor”, it is a natural for the sports photographer and the nature photographer, shooting moving, inaccessible or off limits subjects. With it’s wireless capabilities it is the fastest link to the news desk possible through a remote computer.

The output size at 300 DPI was configured to be slightly larger than the 8 ¾ X 11 ½ in size, for a full bleed magazine page; so small product and magazine publication are slam dunks. The smooth gradations, and yet contrast with out harshness, and the ability to output a print at full 8X10 or 8 ½ X 11, and the large body size -which says “professional”- is an easy choice for the wedding photographer. When I was shooting, people would walk up to me and ask if I was a professional (It must be the haggard looks). Funny how with the shrinking of the point and shoot, a full size SLR with an attached battery pack, is now a “professional” size to the general public.

The Nikon D2X produces a 19.8 meg Raw file, that gives me a sharper, with better color characteristics image, than I get from a 210 meg , Velvia 100 35mm image, scanned at high resolution (5400 dpi, 16bit) with the same lens and printer. Is film dead? No, but since I already have a high-resolution digital projector, it is going to be very difficult buying film for my F6 now. Every one that I have shown the end product prints to have been very impressed with the quality, pro and non-photographer alike.

If you haven’t already guessed, I feel the Five Grand is already worth it.
I am my only commercial customer and I figure the pay back on this body is about eight months over the D1 and then that much goes to the bottom line every eight months thereafter. That is a no brainier. The real question is not what each feature does to what degree, it is: does it do what I really need it to do?

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If your present camera does what you need it to do then you may not need a Nikon D2X. There is no need for a D3 in my future. It will take many years and many venues to test all of the D2X’s benefits and features. This one does what I need it to do, now. The future is here for me, and it is … the Nikon D2X.

I am going to shoot part of the sand hill crane migration next week on the Platt River in Nebraska and again the first of May in Kansas USA. I will enjoy the no wait, as one can just keep on shooting until the card is full most of the time. I have already tried the “select nearest object” with my Nikon F6 and it is great for panning with birds in bright light (especially if you have ever tried manual focusing in these situations). I should get a chance to try out the increased “magnification factor”, follow-predictive focus and closest focus lock on, in the low early, misty light of morning. If I get any decent pictures I will try to share them here. I wish you good shooting.

Thank you,
Jerry Burnell

Burnell's
Wichita, Kansas USA

 

(5 Votes )
Show pages (4 Pages)

Originally written on October 23, 2005

Last updated on June 12, 2016

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