Nikon’s recently-released D2Hs digital SLR replaces the D2H model that raised the performance stakes for DSLRs when it appeared in 2004. Like its predecessor, it’s targeted specifically at sports photographers and photojournalists who cover action of any kind. Unlike Nikon’s D2X model, which can only shoot at eight frames/ second in cropped mode (producing 6.8 megapixel images), the D2Hs supports continuous shooting at eight frames/second for up to 50 JPEG frames or 40 NEF-RAW frames. . . [more]
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Nikon’s recently-released D2Hs digital SLR replaces the D2H model that raised the performance stakes for DSLRs when it appeared in 2004. Like its predecessor, it’s targeted specifically at sports photographers and photojournalists who cover action of any kind. Unlike Nikon’s D2X model, which can only shoot at eight frames/ second in cropped mode (producing 6.8 megapixel images), the D2Hs supports continuous shooting at eight fps for up to 50 JPEG frames or 40 NEF-RAW frames.
The new model has the same JFET (Junction Field Effect Transistor) LBCAST (Lateral Buried Charge Accumulator and Sensing Transistor array) sensor that made its first appearance in the Nikon D2H. This imager has been credited with delivering four advantages over standard CCD and CMOS sensors: faster image signal reading, better sensitivity and colour reproducibility, and lower power consumption. However, Canon’s EOS-1D supports burst speeds of up to 8.5 fps for up to 40 shots at a resolution of 8-megapixels, which rather steals Nikon’s thunder.
Fortunately, the D2Hs has some significant improvements in functionality and nice refinements that serious action photographers will welcome.
When you pick up the D2Hs, the most obvious difference between it and its predecessor is the viewfinder, which is bigger, brighter and more comfortable to use. The LCD monitor has also been improved, with higher resolution and a re-engineered interface that is clear and flicker-free, plus an easier-to-read menu (see illustration). In image playback mode, the new display supports up to 15x of playback magnification, which is great for checking focus and will highlight bright areas where detail has not been recorded. It also includes a new, selectable RGB histogram that allows photographers to view the three colour channels separately. This allows users to see when the image colour balance is out of whack and shows the direction of colour shifts.
However, the biggest differences between the D2Hs and its predecessor are beneath-the-surface features that improve operating parameters and functionality. Some of these result from improvements to the 12-bit application-specific (ASIC) image processing chip and relate to image quality, while others enhance functionality. The D2Hs has been fitted with the latest version of Nikon’s 3D Matrix metering system, which uses improved algorithms to evaluate and adjust data from the 1005-pixel RGB sensor and promises greater exposure accuracy.
Autofocusing has also been speeded up through faster subject acquisition and tracking algorithms. As well as providing 11 selectable focus areas, the D2Hs also includes a new Group dynamic-AF which focuses the lens on the closest subject in a selected area in the frame. This speeds focusing because the camera does not have to select the focus area. Predictive focus tracking, which automatically detects a moving subject when the shutter is half-pressed, is also available in single or continuous AF mode.
Nikon has tweaked the white balance, allowing the Auto White Balance (AWB) and Auto Tone Control (ATC) systems to combine data from three sensors: the 1005-pixel RGB Exposure/Colour Matrix Metering Sensor, the LBCAST image sensor, and the external Ambient Light Sensor. Full manual white balance control options include white balance presets, and the direct setting of Kelvin colour temperature values. White balance bracketing can be set to cover up to nine frames for a single shot.
Although continuous shooting capacities have been increased somewhat, the frame rate remains the same as the D2H at eight fps. The new model can record up to 40 RAW or 50 JPEG images in a burst, compared with 25 and 40 frames respectively for the D2H. A new sYCC colour space has been added so photographers can produce JPEG files that match the colour gamut of the latest digital printers. The standard two sRGB colour modes plus Adobe RGB are also provided.
Another interesting addition is the Image Comment function, which allows photographers to record brief text comments with image files by selecting letters with the cursor from an alphanumeric display. You can also record voice memos with individual shots. Engaging the Auto Image Rotation function displays shots taken in portrait format the right way up on the LCD screen.
Like its predecessor, the D2Hs is compatible with Nikon’s optional Wireless Transmitter WT-1/1A, which allowed files to be transmitted directly from the camera in a managed Wireless LAN environment. It can also be used with the new, optional Wireless Transmitter WT-2/2A, which supports the faster IEEE 802.11g protocol and provides increased security. It is compatible with other network protocols, including PTP/IP, which allows the camera to be controlled remotely from a computer running Nikon Capture 4 (Ver. 4.2.1 or later). Note: This application, which is also used for RAW file conversion is NOT supplied with the camera and costs an additional $349 to purchase.
Built-in GPS compatibility allows photographers to record locational and time data from a compatible (NMEA 0183 (ver.2.01) interface) GPS device in the image’s metadata. An optional cable interface is required. A new World Time menu allows globetrotting photographers to re-set the camera to the local time quickly and easily and a Recent Settings list, similar to that on the D2X, allows them to track settings changes chronologically.
Nobody could have complained about the D2H’s response times, but the D2Hs is, if anything, even faster. Start-up is close to instantaneous and shutter lag is too short to measure accurately. The only time the camera slows down is when one or both of the selectable noise-reduction settings are engaged, both of which roughly double the image processing times. Fortunately, noise reduction is seldom needed as the camera produces clean image files with little visible noise for all ‘in spec’ ISO settings up to ISO 1600, and surprisingly little noise with the Hi-1 and Hi-2 settings, which are technically out-of-spec. ranges.
What’s Not New
The D2H was a very feature- and function-rich camera and all of the bells and whistles on the earlier model have been preserved in the D2Hs. Much has been written about the relatively low pixel count of the D2H and many of the same comments apply equally to the D2Hs. However, it’s important to view this camera in the light of its main user category: sports photographers and photojournalists whose images will appear in print. For such users, the 4.1-megapixel resolution of the D2Hs is both adequate and appropriate. Image files of 2464 x 1632 pixels have more than enough to produce excellent full-page prints in glossy magazines and the smaller 1840 x 1224 pixel shots are fine for printing at a similar size in newspapers.
Other factors that favour the smaller sensor and resulting file sizes include:
- The ability to store more files on a CF card;
- Faster RAW processing;
- Faster transmission of files within the camera and over WiFi networks;
- Faster burst speeds with higher capacities.
For the target market for this camera, the critical requirement for workflow efficiency is to have files that are big enough and no bigger than needed. The D2Hs delivers exactly that.
In use, the D2Hs was comfortable to handle for such a large camera and most controls were easily accessed – despite the complexity of the adjustments offered. We found the autofocus system worked well on the whole. However, the predictive AF setting was only really effective with slow-moving subjects, where the camera focused accurately instantaneously, regardless of the lens focal length setting. When the action really speeded up and subjects moved rapidly across the field of view, we found it could be slow to lock onto the subject at long focal lengths, especially when there were background items to ‘grab’ its attention.
The test camera produced image files that were generally clean and colour accurate. Colour saturation was modest, ensuring natural-looking shots. Refinements to the exposure and white balance systems meant that few errors in either parameter were encountered and the extensive manual white balance controls meant that even the most challenging mixed lighting could be handled with ease. Image noise was even lower than other Nikon pro DSLRs we’ve tested and the selectable noise reduction systems (high sensitivity and slow shutter speeds) made little visible difference to shots at ISO settings up to 1600 and with exposure times up to 30 seconds.
Imatest showed image resolution to be slightly lower than you would expect from the sensor’s specifications but shots were generally sharp enough to make good A4 sized prints. No excessive sharpening was detected and moire was negligible in all test images.
We were unable to test the full range of the camera’s capabilities in the absence of the many accessories that make this camera so useful for its target market. We were also limited in our workflow tests by the supplied Picture Project software – which is totally inadequate for a camera of this calibre. 
Image sensor: 23.3 x 15.5mm JFET image sensor LBCAST with 4.26 million photosites (4.1 megapixels effective)
Lens mount: Nikon F mount (with AF coupling and contacts)
Lens multiplier factor: 1.5x
Image formats: NEF-RAW (uncompressed 12-bit or compressed RAW), TIFF, JPEG (Exif 2.21-compliant)
Shutter speed range: 30-1/8000 sec
ISO range: Auto, ISO 200-1600 (Hi-1 and Hi-2 available))
Dimensions (wxhxd): 157.5 x 149.5 x 85.5mm
Weight: 1070g (without lens, battery, memory card or body cap)
Focus system/modes: TTL phase detection by Nikon Multi-CAM 2000 autofocus module; single and continuous servo AF with focus tracking plus manual focus
Exposure metering/control: TTL full-aperture metering with 3D Colour Matrix, centre-weighted and spot metering; P, A, S, M modes
White balance: Auto (hybrid with 1005-pixel RGB sensor, LBCAST sensor and external ambient light sensor), six manual modes with fine tuning, 5 presets, 31 Kelvin settings, white balance bracketing possible
Sequence shooting: 8 fps for up to 50 JPEG or 40 TIFF or NEF-RAW files
Storage Media: CompactFlash/Microdrive (no card supplied)
Viewfinder: Eye-level pentaprism; built-in diopter adjustment (-3 to +1m -1); approx. 100% coverage
LCD monitor: 2.5-inch, 232,000-dot, low-temperature polysilicon TFT LCD with backlighting and brightness adjustment
Interfaces: USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed), WT-2/2A (IEEE 802.11b/g)
Power supply: EN-EL4 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
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