It’s over a year since we last reviewed a Nikon DSLR camera and almost two years since we saw a professional model, which makes the new D2X particularly interesting. The D2X’s core capabilities are almost the same as those of the D2H, which we reviewed in Photo Review October/November 2003 issue and both cameras look similar, which suggests similar handling characteristics. Despite its size and weight, the D2X has a comfortable grip in its standard horizontal configuration and is almost as good with the vertical grip. However, the underlying technologies in the new camera are quite different. . . [more]
Rating (out of 10)
Ease of use: 9.0
Image quality: 9.0
Value for money: 8.5
It’s over a year since we last reviewed a Nikon DSLR camera and almost two years since we saw a professional model, which makes the new D2X particularly interesting.
The D2X’s core capabilities are almost the same as those of the D2H, which we reviewed in Photo Review October/November 2003 issue and both cameras look similar, which suggests similar handling characteristics. Despite its size and weight, the D2X has a comfortable grip in its standard horizontal configuration and is almost as good with the vertical grip. However, the underlying technologies in the new camera are quite different.
The D2H’s 4.1-megapixel JFET/LBCAST sensor has been replaced by a new 12.4-megapixel (effective) CMOS sensor which, we have reason to believe, is made by Sony and features a modified version of Sony’s new Column-QV noise suppression technology. Interestingly, the camera lists its highest resolution as ‘12.2M’ and it calculates out as equivalent to 21.2122 million pixels. But we digress.
Resolution-wise, the D2X sits at the top of Nikon’s line-up and is the company’s most feature-rich model to date and the most highly-configurable camera on the market. Six ‘banks’ of custom settings covering autofocus, metering/exposure, timers/AE and AF lock, shooting/display, bracketing/flash and controls support this claim. It’s also the first model with in-camera multiple exposure capability (up to 10 images can be superimposed) and sports a new Image Overlay function that allows two NEF-RAW images to be combined in the camera to produce a separate image. A new programmable Function button allows faster access to key controls like flash, bracketing, metering and mode settings, with options assigned via Custom setting f4.
Two ‘image size’ shooting modes are provided: a full-size (12.2M) mode that can record continuous shots at five frames/second using the full pixel array and a new High Speed Cropped Image mode that captures 6.8-megapixel shots at eight frames/second. This mode uses only part of the sensor – delineated by an inner rectangle etched on the new Type-V focusing screen that comes with the camera. Nine of the 11 AF sensors fit into this area, leaving the other two available only for full 12.2M recording.
Three image sizes are available in each mode. At 12.2M, the ‘L’ setting produces 4288 x 2848 pixel image files, the ‘M’ setting gives 3216 x 2136 pixel images and the ‘S’ setting produces 2144 x 1424 pixels. With the High Speed Crop on, the ‘L’ setting produces 3126 x 2136 pixel images, the ‘M’ setting yields 2400 x 1600 pixel shots and the ‘S’ setting produces 1600 x 1024 pixel shots. Images can be captured in NEF-RAW (either with or without an attached JPEG), compressed or uncompressed TIFF (RGB) or with three levels of JPEG compression. Buffer limits are 21 JPEG or 15 NEF-RAW frames for 12.2M files and 35 JPEG or 26 NEF-RAW frames for 6.8M. Both modes rely on the sensor delivering simultaneous four-channel data readout plus fast and efficient data processing.
The D2X has a wider sensitivity range than most other Nikon DSLRs, with ISO settings starting at 100 and extending to ISO 800, plus two ‘Hi’ settings that roughly equate to ISO1600 and 3200. Photographers can adjust sensitivity by 1/3 steps between the standard settings. Exposure bracketing is also among the widest available, with a range of up to 9 EV adjustable in 1/3, ½ and 1 step increments. Colour space options are also broad. Unlike other Nikon DSLRs, which restrict Colour Modes I and III to the sRGB colour space, the D2X allows users to select Adobe RGB in all three colour modes – as well as for JPEG and TIFF capture. And it’s the first camera to support the sYCC colour space for use with certain direct printing applications.
Another useful feature is the histogram display, which can now be configured to show individual R, G and B channels, allowing users to detect potential colour casts on the spot. The read/write times for the memory cards have been boosted through improved image data processing, giving high-resolution shot-to-shot times of less than a second with SanDisk’s new Extreme III memory cards. The D2X is also the first to offer a secure interface between the memory card and the camera. Once configured, images stored on the card can only be accessed by the designated D2X camera with matching encryption keys or via password access on a PC, providing a high level of security for photographers who document confidential or classified information. (This new function is available only when the D2X is used with specific Lexar memory cards.)
Nikon’s 3D Colour Matrix Metering has been given its first major revision in the D2X since the F5 was released and the Multi-CAM 2000 AF system has been similarly enhanced. The new camera is also compatible with a wide range of Nikon Speedlight flash units (there’s no built-in flash) and includes GPS compatibility and World Time functionality. It also supports the new high-speed, IEE802.11b/g-compatible Wireless Transmitter WT-2/2A, which lets users transmit files directly from the camera to a computer. Optional accessories are required but enhanced image transfer protocols and increased security are offered with this function. A built-intervalometer is provided for time-lapse photography, along with auto image rotation. Battery performance has also been greatly improved.
RAW File Conversion
The D2X comes with Nikon’s PictureProject software, a consumer-style application that is bundled with all Nikon digital cameras, from entry-level Coolpix models up. It includes an NEF plug-in that allows you to open NEF-RAW and YCC TIFF files in Photoshop at 8-bit depth. This is supposed to load automatically into the plug-ins folder in the most recent Adobe editing program you loaded. However, we had to find it in the Photoshop Elements 3.0 folder and transfer it to Photoshop CS2, even though the former was loaded earlier.
PictureProject’s capabilities are limited when compared with the facilities offered by Adobe’s Camera Raw. According to its instruction manual, the NEF Plug-in LE: “allows RAW images taken with Nikon digital cameras to be copied at a bit depth of eight bits using Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 or later or Adobe Photoshop version 6.0 or later (Windows) or 7.0 or later (Macintosh). To open RAW files at a bit depth of sixteen bits, use Nikon Capture 4 version 4.1 or later.” Note: Nikon Capture 4 will cost you an additional $349. Its high level of automation and multitude of very consumer-orientated ‘sharing’ facilities will also frustrate anyone who simply wants to convert RAW files and save them in a designated folder – as you can with Camera Raw (see the comparison GUIs below). 
For comparison: the PictureProject user interfaces are shown above left and right, while the Adobe Camera Raw interface is below.
Photographers who want the consistency and facility of Adobe’s Camera Raw for RAW file conversions may be disappointed when they start to work with RAW files from the D2X via the PictureProject interface – especially if it’s an older version. We had to source the latest version of PictureProject (V. 1.5.1) before we could even open NEF-RAW files from the camera and the application was quite clumsy and slow. It took approximately a minute and a half to open each RAW file. If you don’t want to purchase Nikon Capture 4, the camera’s TIFF capture format delivers 8-bit/channel files, producing 36.5 MB images at top resolution. (In contrast the NEF-RAW format records 12 bits/channel.)
Around the time our tests were done the Internet was alive with articles about Nikon’s decision to “obscure” some of the data required for processing RAW files. Readers who are interested in this topic should visit Adobe’s Photoshop News website (http://photoshopnews.com/?p=226) and monitor the postings on www.dpreview.com. By the time this review was posted, Nikon and Adobe were in discussions about the issue and Adobe had released an update to Camera Raw with support for RAW files from the D2X (and Canon’s EOS 350D). It can be downloaded free of charge from http://www.adobe.com/support/downloads/new.jsp (We plan to poll readers on their usage of RAW files shortly and will investigate RAW file conversion in a future issue of Photo Review Australia.)
Overall, the performance of the Nikon D2X was everything you would expect from a high-quality professional camera. Photographers looking for a responsive DSLR with ultra-fast autofocusing and superb usability should have few reasons to complain. Start-up time was almost instantaneous and shutter lag time was too brief for us to measure accurately. Both burst modes performed to specifications and file transfer was suitably fast.
Noise is not an issue with the D2X for sensitivities up to ISO 800 – and it remains low at the Hi-1 and Hi-2 settings thanks to automatic real-time noise reduction applied by the camera’s image processor. Users can also opt for non-real-time noise reduction for either standard or high ISO settings (ISO 800 and above) via the camera’s menu system and select long-exposure noise reduction for shutter speeds slower than about 15 seconds. This setting uses the dark frame subtraction method but, instead of doubling the processing time (as in most cameras) it requires only about 30% more. In all cases, noise reduction was effective, making the D2X a good choice for low light shooting.
Imaging performance was also well above average. Imatest showed the D2X to be capable of both high resolution and high colour accuracy, regardless of whether it was used in NEF-RAW, TIFF or JPEG format. Chromatic aberration was negligible with the 17-55mm DX digital lens – although slightly higher with the VR 24-120mm lens that was initially supplied with the camera and is designed for use on 35mm film SLRs. The camera’s white balance system was a competent performer and offered a high degree of adjustability that allowed colour settings to be fine-tuned at will. Battery performance was outstanding.
Photographers who need a robust, high-performing DSLR that will produce images that can be printed at A2 size will find the improvements in picture quality offered by the D2x worthwhile. They will also appreciate the extra frame speed and faster, more effective in-camera processing plus the unparalleled functionality of the new model.
Excellent resolution with minimal potential for aliasing and a smooth edge profile suggests this camera will produce superb print quality right up to A1 size.
Chromatic aberration is negligible.
Outstanding colour accuracy and well-controlled colour saturation shows this camera to be usable for demanding tasks.
The above chart confirms the L*a*b* colour error results and suggests that image noise should present few problems at normal ISO settings.
Image sensor: 23.7 x 15.7mm Dual-area CMOS sensor with 12.84 million photosites (12.4 megapixels effective)
Lens mount: AF Nikkor (including AF-S, DX, VR and D-/G-type)
Lens multiplier factor: 1.5x (High-Speed Cropped image – approx. 2x)
Shutter speed range: 30 to 1/8000 sec. plus Bulb; flash synch at 1/250 sec.
Storage Media: CompactFlash (CF) Card (Type I / II) and Microdrive
Interfaces: USB 2.0 Hi-Speed; FTP file-transfer with optional Wireless Transmitter WT-1/1A (IEEE 802.11b) and WT-2/2A (IEEE 802.11b/g)
Body dimensions (wxhxd): 157.5 x 149.5 x 85.5mm
Weight: Approx. 1,070 g (body only)
Image formats: RAW (12bit) and EXIF 2.21-compliant DCF 2.0 and DPOF
(uncompressed TIFF-RGB or compressed JPEG)
Focus system/AF point selection: TTL phase detection Nikon Multi-CAM2000 AF module; 11 AF points
Exposure metering/control: TTL full aperture metering; 3D-Colour Matrix Metering II, centre-weighted, spot metering; P, A, S and M
White balance: Auto, Manual (6 steps with fine tuning), 5 presets, 31 Kelvin settings
Colour space settings: sRGB, sYCC or Adobe RGB
Flash type/GN (ISO auto): Retractable, auto pop-up E-TTL II flash; GN 13 (ISO 100, in metres); coverage to 17mm lens
ISO range: ISO 100-800 in 1.0, 0.5 or 0.3 EV steps (1600/3200 via boost)
Sequence shooting: CH mode: Full Image; 5 fps / High Speed Cropped Image; 8 fps
Viewfinder: Eye-level pentaprism with 100% coverage; diopter adjustment (-3 to +1m-1) and eyepiece shutter
LCD monitor: 2.5-in., 235,000-dot, low temp. polysilicon digital flicker-free TFT display
Power supply: Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL4 (11.1V DC)
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