Nikon D1X SLR Review

Steve's Digicams

Steve's Conclusion

A little over two years ago Nikon changed the world of professional digital cameras forever when it released the D1 -- and we're still feeling the after-shocks. Kodak has been steadily dropping the MSRP of their professional DCS cameras, they just announced that the new DCS 720x will sell for $6995. Well, it's now round two and Nikon comes out slugging -- this time they've taken the D1's 2.74-megapixel resolution and doubled it, improved almost every aspect of the camera and pricing it even lower. Ritz Camera is selling them for $5349, the D1 originally sold for $5850!

The Nikon D1 quickly became the "digital tool" of choice for photojournalists but it left many commercial photographers wanting for more, more resolution and better color rendition. If you're one of those that passed the D1 by for these reasons then you'll be happy to know that the D1X will now fill the bill nicely. The first thing I noticed was how much richer the colors are, especially when taking "people" pictures. The D1 often produced skin tones that were too magenta, the D1X has no such problem, I was totally impressed with the studio shots we took with it. And needless to say that the 3008 x 1960 pixel images generate enlargements that easily hold their own against any made with film. I haven't had a chance to use the new Nikon Capture 2 yet but was able to manipulate the D1X's raw NEF files with the latest version of Bibble and the results were terrific.

If you've used a D1 then you'll be very happy with the new user interface of the D1X. Nikon has put the 2-inch color LCD to good use with a new menu system that lets you change all of the Custom settings without need of the manual. The D1 used the color LCD for image review only, the D1X uses it for everything except for setting the camera's basic functions. The Shooting menu lets you change resolution and quality, ISO speed and the AF Area mode easily. The Playback options now mimic those found on the consumer cameras with zoomed playback and pan, thumbnail review and several screens of camera and exposure data as well as a histogram display. Even the color LCD itself has been improved with more resolution and energy-efficient white LEDs for its illumination.

Besides the overall color improvements Nikon has been hard at work to make the D1X produce exceptionally low noise images. I was a believer after I shot some night pictures with shutter speeds in the 20 and 30 second range. The D30 did well at the same speeds but it was apparent that it was doing some kind of dark frame subtraction routine as it doubled the processing time when noise reduction was used. The D1X does its magic on the fly and it wasn't but a few seconds after a 30-second exposure before I was able to review it on the color LCD. You can see a 20 and 30 second exposure on the sample pictures page that will show you just how noise free these long exposures really are, they're quite impressive.

Anyone familiar with the Nikon F5 or F100 will feel instantly at home with the D1X as the basic camera controls and ergonomics are the same. This is a big and heavy camera by consumer camera standards, it weighs a good two and half pounds before you stick a lens on it. The camera body is made of a magnesium alloy and designed to take the day to day beating of a war correspondant as well as resisting dust and moisture in the harshest environments. I'm sure that many Nikon F5's have been used as weapons to fend off rioters and others attempting to do the photographer harm while they were covering a "hot" story. You may not have to endure the Los Angeles riots but it's nice to know that airport baggage handlers aren't going to destroy your expensive equipment with their typical TLC handling. The D1X is more than capable of surviving in the real world.

You can almost get lost in the feature set of the D1X. The ISO sensitivity is variable from 125 to 800 with a user-selectable variation between ISO steps of 1, 1/2 or 1/3. The ISO Boost allows for ISO 1600 and 3200 for those times when you're willing to give up some image quality to get that special shot. There are a myriad of options for focusing; single or continuous servo AF, single focus area or dynamic or select one of the five focus points on the fly, and of course full manual focus as well. Every exposure option possible; Manual, Program AE with shift, Shutter speed priority up to 1/16,000 sec, Aperture priority, AE Bracketing, exposure compensation of +/-5EV in 1/3EV steps, single frame drive mode or continuous at 3fps with a maximum depth of nine full resolution images, the framerate and maximum number are user-selectable. White balance options are also numerous with presets for Auto, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, Flash, Overcast and Shade which all can be fine tuned +/-3 plus three manual white balance presets. Three metering modes; 3D Color Matrix, Center-weighted averaging (with your choice of the metered area: 6mm, 8mm, 10mm, 13mm or the entire frame) or 4mm Spot.

The D1X has a regular PC flash sync connector so it can be used with any type of studio lights or external flash units. It also has a flash hot shoe to accomodate Nikon Speedlights. For true TTL flash you need the Nikon SB-28DX or SB-50DX Speedlight. The SB-28DX (and new SB-50DX) features 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash (with D-type AF Nikkor lenses) and were designed specifically for the D1 series. The SB-28DX (and SB-50DX) also offers Auto Aperture flash capability and top flash sync speeds up to 1/500 second. Five flash modes: Front-Curtain Sync (normal sync), Red-Eye Reduction, Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync, Slow Sync and Rear-Curtain Sync

And then of course we have the image capture options with the size being 3008 x 1960 (Large) or 2000 x 1312 (Medium) which is the size of the old D1. The images can be in-camera processed as finished JPEG with Fine 1/4, Normal 1/8 or Basic 1/16 compression. If you want artifact-free images you can select between TIFF YcbCr, TIFF RGB, or raw NEF compressed or uncompressed formats. Even the color space is selectable between sRGB and Adobe RGB with the Adobe RGB offering a wider and richer gammut of colors. The physical storage of your images is on any CompactFlash Type I or II device including the IBM Microdrives. The media of choice for most working professionals are the Lexar Pro Series 12x speed 320MB JumpSHOT CF cards. The Microdrives are the largest capacity and least expensive per megabyte but they are mechanical devices and are not as reliable as solid state flash memory cards.

As with any digital camera, even the $5000 ones, there are a few gotchas. Probably the worst of them is the problem of keeping the CCD imager clean. This is a problem with all interchangeable lens digital cameras, it is not specific to the D1 series. No matter how careful you are when changing lenses there's always the chance of dirt or other contaminants getting onto the anti-aliasing filter. Those of us that use these digital SLRs always keep a can of compressed air handy to "blow" away most of those contaminants but it doesn't always work. Sooner or later the camera has to be sent in to a service center for a thorough cleaning. Unlike Kodak Professional and Fujifilm, Nikon does not endorse the use of Sensor Swabs to physically clean the imager. To use the custom setting for keeping the mirror up for imager cleaning you need to buy the optional AC power supply. The supplied battery charger SHOULD also function as the AC supply for this camera and the custom setting for cleaning the imager SHOULD work when the camera is powered by a fully charged battery.

And while I'm talking about things that SHOULD be included with this camera, the Nikon Capture 2 software should be in the package. There are two excellent third-party alternatives for those wishing to be able to fully manipulate the D1X's raw NEF files. The

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