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A weekly column by Mike Johnston

November 23, 2003

Camera Envy: the Nikon D2H

Nikon D2H

I've got a bad case of camera envy. The virus hits me about as often as a cold. Sometimes it's just a passing annoyance, and at other times it really knocks me out.

Strange to say, the camera that's got me sklonkered at the moment is a big DSLR, Nikon's imminent D2H. The D2H, like many another digital product, has long been lost in the announcement-to-availabilty (A-to-A) limbo. It was announced in July, and here it is November and it's just beginning to trickle into reality. Hmm, I wonder if that's the same limbo where my forthcoming book is apparently stuck (more on that below...).

I have to wonder about the wisdom of of long A-to-A times. News has its greatest impact when it first breaks. Do you happen to remember all those reports that the outgoing Clinton folks "vandalized" the White House before the Bushies moved in? There was widespread exaggeration in the corporate-owned media, until it sounded like the outgoing Democrats were indistinguishable from a crowd of high-school vandals. Months later, after a long and costly investigation, it was determined that there was no basis at all for any of those reports. All that had happened was that a number of Clinton staffers had removed the "W" keys from their computer keyboards as a joke. But we didn't hear so much about that the lasting impression was the one given by the breaking story.

I got a similar feeling about the Olympus E-1. There was a lot of talk about it before its introduction including from me. Interest seemed to peak at around the time of the announcement. Maybe it's just me, but my sense was that the buzz had dissipated by the time the actual camera arrived.

The reason I like the idea of the D2H (I haven't laid eyes on one yet) is that it seems to have all the qualities I like in all kinds of cameras foremost among which are superb responsiveness and a big, bright, clear viewfinder. Shutter lag is supposedly a mere 38ms, which is fantastic even for a film camera, with a total mirror blackout of 80ms. This thing must be sharp as a razor. As Homer would say, wooo-hooo! The viewfinder is 100%, and the LCD is extra-large. The D2H's formidable complement of pro features, its promising white balance capabilities, and the other features that optimize responsiveness (quick turn-on, large buffer, fast sequences) are all icing on a very appealing cake. Even if the thing does turn out to be yesterday's news by the time it finally gets here, I think I'd choose its qualities over those of, say, the EOS 1Ds, even if the Nikon does have only 4 megapixels.

The other thing that attracts me to the D2H is that I've really been smitten by the example pictures I've seen thus far. The rich, saturated colors and extraordinary clarity really seem appealing. A great argument in favor of fewer but better-implemented megapixels, if you ask me. Final judgment will have to await full reviews and firsthand experience, of course, but I have to say, this is the first big DSLR that's really gotten under my skin. I can't wait to see one.

Photo by Jim Brandenburg from Looking for the Summer

A Brandenburg Fan

I'm not the biggest fan of nature photography. It seems a poor substitute for the real thing. Most of it is merely pretty, and some of it amounts almost to propaganda I often don't see how anybody can be "engaged" with the landscape without becoming totally preoccupied with despoilment, encroachment, exploitation, species death, etc.

But much of the enjoyment I have derived from nature photography has come compliments of Jim Brandenburg, one of the nature guys I think is an honest-to-God artist. Brandenburg's latest book, Looking for the Summer, is only a minor addition to his list of accomplishments, but it's a gem. Yes, it's pretty always suspicious but it's also fearless and inventive, doesn't try too hard to impress, and conveys a real sense of personal exploration and joy. What Brandenburg does that other nature photographs don't is to get personal. I like that in a photographer. You can see the pictures at Jim's website, but I also recommend you take a look at the book. Even if it doesn't grab you directly, I'll bet it would make a nice Christmas gift for someone you know.

It's also groundbreaking, in a way when it shows up in National Georgraphic, as planned, it will be the first 100% digital feature in that proud magazine's history.

Mike Johnston

P.S. I still don't have a firm date for the book. Most recently we're trying to track down the font of a little type device that I'd forgotten I'd used. In case you're getting annoyed, just think of what I'm going through every time I think about this for too long, I hyperventilate until I have to hit the La-Z-Boy and chug a bromo. It's making me as tense as a Union organizer deep in the bowels of Wal-Mart. I'll post an update as soon as I know anything.

Mike Johnston writes and publishes an old-fashioned, entertaining quarterly ink-on-paper newsletter called The 37th Frame ( He has a B.F.A. in Photography from the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., where he was a student of the late Steve Szabo and of Joe Cameron.

He was East Coast Editor of Camera & Darkroom magazine from 1988 to 1994 and Editor-in-Chief of PHOTO Techniques magazine from 1994-2000, where his editorial column "The 37th Frame" was a popular feature and where he presented, among other things, a set of three articles on "bokeh" by John Kennerdell, Oren Grad, and Harold Merklinger that were subsequently widely discussed among photographers.

His critical and technical writings have appeared in various publications and newsletters such as The Washington Review and D-Max. A number of his articles written under the pseudonym "L. T. Gray" (el Tigre) appeared in the English magazine Darkroom User.

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